Posts by Nora Kern


Nora Kern


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Public Charter Schools Represented on Newsweek’s Best and Transformative High School Rankings

Newsweek has released its 2013 America’s Best High Schools rankings of the 2,000 best public high schools in the nation—and 13 public charter schools are among the top 100. Two BASIS schools are in the top 10 (BASIS Scottsdale #3 and BASIS Tucson North #7), which has been the trend.

Newsweek defines “Best” as high schools that have proven to be the most effective in turning out college-ready grads. The list is based on six components: graduation rate (25 percent), college acceptance rate (25 percent), AP/IB/AICE tests taken per student (25 percent), average SAT/ACT scores (10 percent), average AP/IB/AICE scores (10 percent), and percent of students enrolled in at least one AP/IB/AICE course (5 percent).

Newsweek conducts further breakouts of its Best High Schools, including the “Transformative High Schools” list that factors in the percentage of students who are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches, a leading indicator of socioeconomic status. Sixteen public charter schools, which is 64 percent of the list, earned the “Transformative” distinction. Public charter schools also held all of the top 5 rankings, and were 80 percent of the top 10 Transformative schools.

The number of public charter schools among those named as the 25 “Transformative High Schools” has grown over the past several years:

  • 2011: 5 public charter schools
  • 2012: 15 public charter schools
  • 2013: 16 public charter schools

Congratulations to these public charter schools, recognized as the best in the nation for college-readiness and closing the achievement gap.

Preuss Transformative







Graduates of the Preuss School UCSD, the #1 ranked “Transformative High School.” Image via The Daily Beast website.

Nora Kern


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Two BASIS Schools Top U.S. News Best High School Rankings

As we noted yesterday, public charter schools represented 28 percent of the Top 100 on the U.S. News Best High School Rankings. Three public charter schools held spots in the Top 5—and two of those three top public charter schools are part of the BASIS Schools network. Our president and CEO remarked that BASIS Schools’ incredible academic performance “is a sign that there is something in their formula that needs to be replicated as quickly as possible, because it seems to be producing great results.” You can learn more about BASIS schools at the National Charter Schools Conference, where BASIS board chair Dr. Craig Barrett, who was fromerly Intel’s president (in 1997), CEO (in 1998) and chairman of the board (in 2005), will be part of a keynote panel on “Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders.”

Dr. Barrett





Dr. Craig Barrett

Nora Kern


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Public Charter Schools Top U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools Rankings

Today, the U.S. News & World Report released its 2013 Best High Schools Rankings, and 28 public charter schools are among the top 100. Three public charter high schools are ranked in the top 10: BASIS Tucson (#2), Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (#3), and BASIS Scottsdale (#5).

U.S. News teamed up with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to produce the 2013 rankings. Public high schools were evaluatedby their students’ performance on state-mandated assessments, minority and economically disadvantaged student performance, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam results to determine preparedness for college-level work.

Public charter school representation in the top 100 of the U.S. News Best High Schools Rankings has grown dramatically over the past five years:

  • 10 public charter schools in 2009
  • 18 public charter schools in 2010
  • 18 public charter schools in 2011
  • 17 public charter schools in 2012
  • 28 public charter schools in 2013

Based on the two major rankings released this year, 28 is a lucky number for public charter high schools (28 public charter schools were also on the Washington Post’s top 100 Challenge Index rankings last week). Place your bets now for Newsweek’s America’s Best High Schools rankings.

Congratulations to these charter schools recognized as the top public high schools in the nation!

US News Rankings 2013








Image via U.S. News & World Report website

Nora Kern


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Public Charter Schools Hold Top Rankings on Washington Post’s Challenge Index

Recently, the Washington Post released the results of its annual Challenge Index rankings. The index score is calculated by the number of college-level tests given at a school in 2012, divided by the number of graduates that year (education columnist Jay Mathews answers Challenge Index FAQs here). Also noted are the percentage of students who come from families that qualify for lunch subsidies and the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test during their high school career, indicators called equity and excellence for the Challenge Index.

This year, 28 public charter schools are among the 2012-2013 Challenge Index top 100 schools—including the #1 American Indian Public Charter (Oakland, CA), #4 Corbett Charter (Corbett, OR), #8 Signature (Evansville, IN), and #10 Gwinnett School of Math, Science & Tech (Lawrenceville, GA).

Having a public charter school at the top of the Challenge Index is not a new occurrence. In last year’s 2011-2012 Challenge Index, BASIS Tucson held the top rank. A total of 25 public charter schools ranked among the top 100 schools—including three charter schools in the top 10.

In 2010-2011 (the last year that we have grade configuration information for traditional public schools), there were 2,186 public charter schools serving the high school grades and 25,513 traditional public schools with high school grades. So public charter schools were 8.6 percent of the total number of high schools, yet comprised 17 percent of the Challenge Index ranked schools in the top 100 schools.

In the past three years, public charter schools have grown from 17 percent, to 25 percent, and this year 28 percent of the schools in the top 100 Challenge Index high schools. Public charter schools are over-represented on this ranking list, and the percentage is growing. Congratulations to these public charter schools being recognized for providing a rigorous academic experience for their students.

Challenge Index





Image via Washington Post

Nora Kern


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Model Law March Madness

With the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament under way, we’ve all become experts in bracketology (see President Obama’s picks here). But how would the tournament play out if teams advanced according to their state’s ranking on our model law?

In the Midwest region, we’d see an immediate fall of the number one seed. As one of only eight states that does not allow parents the opportunity to choose a public charter school for their child, Kentucky-based Louisville would quickly be knocked out. Second seed Duke would also be eliminated in the first round—New York-based Albany holds the eighth spot on our model law, while North Carolina is twenty-fourth. Despite its eighth seed in the tournament rankings, Colorado State’s home base holds the fourth strongest public charter school legislation in the nation, which would carry it to win the Midwest region.

The West region would advance according to the top tournament seed. Gonzaga is located in Washington, which comes in third on our model law rankings. Unlike in actual tournamet play, this high model law ranking would easily carry the first seed Gonzaga to win the region. On the other side of the bracket, Ohio State University falls in the bottom half of the 42 states with public charter school legislation, and would be upset by Iona’s New York-based ranking as one of the top ten states on our model law.

In the East, we’d see strong several strong contenders: Indiana (ranked 9 on our model law) would vie with California (seventh spot on the model law), and Butler (Pennsylvania is 19th on our model law) would duke it out with Colorado (fourth in the model law rankings)—which would go on to win the East region.

Finally, the South region would behold the ultimate Cinderella story. Minnesota tops our model law rankings, which would carry the 11 seed to win the entire tournament.

While we would not recommend actually filling out your bracket according to this methodology, this theoretical tournament bracket does point out states that are committed to improving the statutes that enable a thriving public charter school sector.

Model Law Bracket 1



Model law map


Nora Kern


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A Moment of Truth for the No Excuses Public Charter Schools

An article by Robert Pondiscio in the Spring edition of Education Next looks at “no excuses” public charter school networks (CMOs) at a critical juncture. These networks stake their reputation on college-prep coursework and college acceptance rates, but is their focus actually translating into college completion? Now is the “put up, or shut up” moment for networks like KIPP, who has 1,000 former students in college in the 2012-13 school year. The number will surge to 10,000 KIPP graduates in colleges in just three academic years.

Schools like KIPP and YES Prep, who tout their graduates’ college acceptance rates, are also transparent about their struggle to boost college completion rates. The six-year college completion rate for KIPP middle school graduates is 33 percent. Despite YES Prep’s 100 percent college acceptance rate, their six-year college completion rate is 41 percent.

But true to their no excuses credo, these networks are aggressively forging ahead with ways to support their graduates through the uphill battle to a college degree. Besides academic preparedness, there are many obstacles to college success, ranging from difficulty completing financial aid forms to the myriad distractions that come with campus life. To address these issues, KIPP and other no excuses charter networks are forming partnerships with colleges which aim to demystify college life and create meaningful support networks for minority and first-generation college attendees. Additionally, character education emphasizing “grit” and perseverance is increasingly being incorporated into the charter school cultures. Even with the odds against them—only one out of every 12 low-income black and Hispanic students who are accepted to college earns a bachelor’s degree—the no excuses schools are sticking to their mantra.








KIPP classroom. San Francisco, California. © Allison V. Smith


Nora Kern


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What do Special Education Enrollment Figures Really Tell Us?

Critics say that public charter schools do not serve students with disabilities. But simple comparisons of the relative number of students with special needs served do not tell the full story. The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) recently released a report that gives some context. It describes the distribution of students with disabilities in New York State charter and district-run schools. The analysis compares charter and district-run schools at the state level, and then conducts further break outs by school type, district, and authorizer.

The different comparison levels yield different results. Of particular note is that comparisons of state-level and other large data sets mask important information and variation. More specifically, the report finds:

  • The statewide comparison of the difference in charter and district enrollment is too simplistic—charter schools on average serve a smaller share of special education students than New York’s district-run schools, but the distribution and range of enrollment are not that different from the district-run schools’ composition
  • Charter middle and high school special education enrollments are indistinguishable from district enrollments, while charter elementary schools show underenrollment of students with disabilities.
  • There is variation among charter authorizers—some oversee schools with special education enrollments that closely track those of nearby district-run schools; others do not.

Given the variation of special education enrollment across charter and district schools, the report calls for nuanced policies. Rather than using sweeping measures such as enrollment targets, policymakers and authorizers should conduct further research to identify where special education underenrollment exists in charter schools and examine possible explanations. Then work should be done with the charter school community to develop innovative strategies to address specific problems.

The charter community is taking this work very seriously. Last summer, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a reportthat found that charter schools, on average, serve a smaller proportion of students with disabilities than district-run public schools. As a response to these concerns and to better serve their students and community, public charter schools, advocates in districts, states, and courts across the country have sought to improve access. The new analysis by CRPE helps the public charter community understand the problem and create appropriate responses.

Nora Kern


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Conference Focuses on Charter and District Public School Collaboration

“Collaboration and partnerships can be powerful multipliers of innovations.”

Last week, NAPCS was proud to co-host the second National Best Cooperative Practices between Charter & Traditional Public Schools Conference (NBCP Conference) in Denver, Colorado. One of the foundational principles of the public charter school model is that charter schools use their autonomy to serve as laboratories of innovation; road testing promising practices that would then be shared with the traditional schools for maximum impact. The NBCP Conference was designed to showcase examples of cooperative practices that serve as models for replications and spark ideas for how all sectors of public education can work together.

Schools from throughout the country shared their practices during breakout sessions on topics including: curriculum and instruction; performance and accountability; college and career readiness; facilities; operations; and services. The general and breakout sessions demonstrated:

  • Examples of cooperation on a small scale
  • How charters can help fill gaps to address needs in the local public education space
  • Where there is strong district leadership supporting charters, there are more opportunities
  • Where charters are considered equal partners in educating kids, cooperation and collaboration happen naturally

Shalvey 2







Image: Keynote speaker Don Shalvey

A panel discussion on barriers to charter and traditional public school collaboration identified the following ground rules for cooperative work:

  • This work is inherently political
  • Build relationships to build trust
  • Educate past the myths about charter and district interests
  • Focus on mutual wins

Panel 2




Image: “Anticipating and Overcoming Obstacles to Collaboration” Panel Discussion

While nobody at the conference claimed this work is easy, there was consistent testimony by both charter leaders and school district representatives that the effort to work with traditional schools broadened their impact. Further, in several instances, cooperation with district schools was an explicit part of the charter school’s mission. This seemed particularly true for successful standalone charters that wanted to magnify their impact without replicating their school. Please visit the NBCP Conference webpage to learn more about public schools working together.

Nora Kern


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Parent Demand Outpaces New Public Charter School Openings

It’s back to school season. And as students, parents, and teachers prepare to start a new school year, a new cohort of public charter schools is ready to open their doors for the first time. This year will mark the opening of the first charter school in Maine—which has already received more applications than it has seats available, meaning it will have to hold a lottery for admissions. Meeting parent demand for public school options is an issue throughout the sector. The results of our national survey conducted in the spring of 2012 found over 600,000 students on waiting lists to attend a public charter school. Over the past four academic years, the public charter school sector has seen an average 7 percent growth in the total number of charter schools. We’re in the process of identifying new charter schools opening this fall, and if the sector grows like it has over the last couple of years, roughly 400 new public charter schools will help to meet parental demand for high quality educational opportunities. Welcome back to school!

Academic Year Number of New Charter Schools in the Fall % Growth in Number of Charter Schools
2008-2009 478 7.5%
2009-2010 436 6.1%
2010-2011 517 7.1%
2011-2012 538 7.0%
Average 492.3 6.9%
Nora Kern


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Public Charter School Alum Will Swim for Olympic Gold

Have you succumbed to Olympic feverWe certainly have. So we were excited to discover that Andrew Gemmell, who will be representing the USA in the Men’s 1500 meter freestyle race (a.k.a. the marathon of swimming), proudly hails from a public charter high school. Gemmell graduated from the Charter School of Wilmington—which has been recognized as one of the Best High Schools on the U.S. News & World Report rankings—in 2009. The Men’s 1500-meter freestyle has heats on Friday, August 3, and the medal round is on Saturday August 4 at 2:36 p.m. ET. Best of luck to Andrew!

Andrew Gemmell Picture









Photo: Andrew Gemmell, via USA Swimming National Team Bios