Posts by Nora Kern


Nora Kern


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Research Provides Link between Educational Field Trips and Student Learning: Several Charter Schools Already Leading the Way

In these days of constrained budgets and increased testing, the cultural enrichment field trip has taken a hit. But new research from Jay Greene and colleagues at University of Arkansas demonstrates that after a single guided tour of an art museum, students showed increased critical thinking, recall, tolerance, empathy, and cultural interest.

The study is the first large-scale, randomized controlled trial  measuring student learning from a field trip. Each school visit toCrystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas included a one-hour guided tour of the museum’s permanent collection, a discussion and activity session around a Common Core State Standards-aligned theme, and lunch at the museum’s restaurant. The museum also provided funding for the museum visit, including transportation, substitute teachers, lunch, and educational materials.

During the first two semesters of the school tour program, the museum received 525 applications from school groups representing 38,347 students in kindergarten through grade 12. Due to this demand, the researchers worked with the museum to conduct a lottery for the available tour slots. The study matched schools, based on similarity in grade level and other demographic factors, into pairs of those that won a museum tour via the lottery and the control group who were deferred to a later tour date. The researchers administered surveys to a total of 10,912 students and 489 teachers at 123 different schools in the paired tour and control groups three weeks, on average, after the treatment group received its tour.

The students who attended the museum field trip showed:

  • ability to recall the details and themes of their tours at very high rates—even up to 8 weeks post-visit with no sign of fading out;
  • increased likeliness to develop a taste for returning to art museums and cultural institutions—measured by the actual rate at which they returned to the museum as well as their survey responses;
  • higher levels of tolerance and greater historical empathy (understanding what it is like to live in other times and places); and
  • stronger critical thinking about art—measured by students’ short essay responses to a new painting.

All of these observed benefits were significantly larger for disadvantaged students (minority, low-income, or rural students). You can read an article with further details about the study’s methodology and findings in Education Next.

Several public charter schools throughout the country employ a museum school model to go beyond the single-visit benefits measured in the Arkansas University:

  • The Museum School in Decatur, Georgia notes, “The museum concept is a proven school model that provides project-based learning through partnerships with museums and other community organizations.”
  • The mission statement of the Miami Children’s Museum Charter School in Florida states, “Through the use of the museum exhibits, facilities and resources, we provide a unique learning environment that challenges students to reach their full potential and become independent lifelong learners.”
  • The Museum School of San Diego, California, describes its mission as one that “…celebrates, nurtures and enhances the abilities of all participants through experiential, project-based learning. Infusing the arts whenever appropriate the Museum School utilizes the wealth of resources available at local museums and within the San Diego community.”

These charter schools have used their autonomy to make arts education part of their core curriculum and boost student achievement. Given the findings from Greene’s study, these charter schools should expect to see tangible increases in student learning as a result of the partnerships with museums.

Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 


Photo Credit: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Stephen Ironside/Ironside Photography

Painting Credit: Bo Bartlett “The Box,” Bo Bartlett

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Harlem Children’s Zone Shows Positive Long-Term Results for Students

A new working paper by Harvard’s Roland G. Fryer, Jr. and Princeton’s Will Dobbie tracked more than 400 students in sixth grade who were chosen in a lottery to attend Promise Academy, a public charter middle school that is part of the Harlem Children’s Zone. The Medium-Term Impacts of High-Achieving Charter Schools on Non-Test Score Outcomes gathers data from the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), the New York City Department of Education, the National Student Clearinghouse, and survey results from Promise Academy students and their peers who did not win a seat via the lottery.

The study is distinctive for going beyond traditional measures of student success and examining longer-range life outcomes. The research found improved “human capital” and diminished “risky behaviors” among lottery winners. Notably, when compared to their non-lottery winning peers, the Promise Academy students were:

  • 14.1 percentage points more likely to enroll in college;
  • 12.1 percentage points less likely to be pregnant;
  • 4.3 percentage points less likely to be in prison or jail (boys);
  • scoring higher on math and reading exams; and
  • more likely to take and pass exams in courses such as chemistry and geometry.

This study builds on research showing that comprehensive HCZ programs focused on promoting social well-being continue to yieldresults for low-income families in New York City.

Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

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New Study Shows Large Achievement Gains for Public Charter Schools in Boston

Boston’s public charter schools have received much media attention for their positive impact on student achievement due to numerous  high-quality research studies showing that charter schools outperform their traditional public school counterparts.

Earlier this year, a study released by CREDO found that for each year students attended a public charter school in Boston, they gained an entire additional year of learning in both math and reading when compared with similar students in traditional public schools.

The Boston Foundation (TBF) has funded a series of reports on charter school performance and instructional practices in Boston. Their first study, in 2009, found significant achievement impacts for middle and high schools students attending public charter schools. Remarkably, middle school gains in mathematics cut the black-white achievement gap in half.

Academic achievement in Boston charter schools also goes beyond math and reading gains. In May 2013, TBF released a report on secondary outcomes for students attending charter schools. The study found that students attending public charter schools not only do well on standardized tests, but are more likely to take and pass Advanced Placement (AP ) exams, receive higher SAT scores, and pass the Massachusetts high school exit exam required for graduation.

Last week, TFB released a follow-up to the 2009 TBF achievement study. Once again, the study found significant gains in charter school student performance in math and reading for both middle and high school students. The study found that academic gains were largest for minority students, English language learners (ELL), and students who performed the lowest on baseline exams.

Despite these great results, the study also found that these groups of students are the least likely to attend charter schools. Charter schools in the area serve a smaller percentage of English Language Learners (ELL) and students with disabilities than traditional Boston public schools, although the latter gap is shrinking. Access to ELL and special education services is a concern throughout the charter school movement, which is why the National Alliance has created toolkits to help charter schools better understand existing legal frameworks and best practices for providing these important services.

TBF’s report also notes that access to high-quality schools remains a concern. Although the Massachusetts legislature has raised the cap on public charter schools in the state’s lowest-performing school districts in recognition of the tremendous impact public charter schools have on student performance, there still are not enough high-quality public charter schools to meet the demand from families throughout the state.

Nora Kern is the senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Can “Grit” and “Hope” Predict Student Success?

Researchers are beginning to investigate how a student’s mentality—particularly non-cognitive factors like “grit” and “hope”—are predictors of success in life.

Dr. Angela Duckworth, a professor at University of Pennsylvania, was recently awarded a MacArthur Genius grant for her work clarifying the role that intellectual strengths and personality traits play in educational achievement. The two traits that Duckworth’s work examines are grit, the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals, and self-control, the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses. She has found that grit predicts success in acts that require perseverance, such as placing in a national spelling bee or graduating from a rough high school, better than standardized test scores. Similarly, self-control predicts report card grades and improvements over time better than measured intelligence.

Hope is another non-cognitive factor that is being used to predict academic outcomes. Gallup senior scientist Dr. Shane Lopezdefines hope as the ideas and energy one has for the future. Through analysis of over 50 studies on hope, Lopez quantified that all other conditions held equal, hope leads to a 12 percent bump in achievement and leads to higher rates of  school attendance, earning course credits, and academic performance. To further this research, Gallup has initiated a Student Poll, which “will track for 10 years the hope, engagement, and wellbeing of public school students in grades 5 through 12 across the United States.”

Because research has shown that characteristics like grit and hope can be taught, an increasing number of public charter schools are using their freedom to incorporate character education into the classroom, a trend that is likely to boost academic achievement across the board. KIPP NYC schools, for example, are piloting a character education program that takes into accountseven highly predictive character strengths: zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. This program was designed to support KIPP’s goal of getting all students to and through college.

This research is still young and it will be exciting to watch what schools learn about teaching these traits and how they incorporate them into their instructional practices over time.

Nora Kern is the senior manager of research and analysis at the National Association of Public Charter Schools.


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Worth Repeating: Study Shows Public Charter Schools Don’t Push Out Low Performers

Earlier this year, we reviewed a working paper by Ron Zimmer and Cassandra Guarino whose findings countered the critique that public charter schools “push out” low-performing students. The final study, published by the American Educational Research Association, looks at the exit patterns of low-performing students in an unnamed large urban school district with a significant charter school market share. The data from school years 2000-01 through 2006-07 showed that although low-performing students do leave charter schools at a slightly higher rate than higher-performing students, this pattern is consistent with the exit rate of low-performing students in traditional public schools. The authors conclude, “our analysis suggests that there is no evidence consistent with the claim that charter schools are in general or at the individual level pushing out low-performing students.”

You must pay to access the full study, but you can read the abstract for Is There Empirical Evidence That Charter Schools “Push Out” Low-Performing Students?.

Nora Kern is the senior manager of research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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National Polls Show Parents Support Public Charter Schools

Last week, three national polls from AP-NORC, PDK/Gallup and EdNext measuring Americans’ attitudes on education were released. The Associated Press-NORC poll did not ask specific questions about public charter schools, but for the other two polls that did charter school breakouts, the results were overwhelmingly positive. All three polls canvassed a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 adults.

The big picture charter findings from the 45th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools include:

  • Nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools (This is up from less than 40 percent 11 years ago)
  • Two of three Americans support new public charter schools in their communities.
  • A majority of Americans said that public charter schools provide a better education than other public schools.

The table below shows the national responses to the 2013 poll questions about public charter schools.

National total responses to public charter school-related poll questions, 2013 PDK Gallup
As you may know, charter schools operate under a charter or contract that frees them from many of the state regulations imposed on public schools and permits them to operate independently. Do you favor or oppose the idea of charter schools?
Favor 68% Oppose 29% Don’t know/refused 3%
Would you support new public charter schools in your community?
Yes 67% No 32% Don’t know/refused 1%
Generally speaking, would you support a large increase in the number of public charter schools operating in the United States?
Yes 59% No 39% Don’t know/refused 1%


Do you believe students receive a better education at a public charter school than at other public schools?
Public charter

schools 52%

Other public

schools 31%

No difference 9% Don’t know/refused 8%

The seventh annual Education Next (EdNext) poll asks a variety of questions to test the level of support and understand about public charter schools among the public, teachers, parents, African Americans, and Hispanics. The poll hit several charter “myths,” including questions about whether charters can charge tuition, hold religious services, and hold a lottery if there is more demand for enrollment than available; unfortunately, 50 percent or more of the public respondents indicated “don’t know” to these questions—so the charter sector has some work to do to clarify those misconceptions.

The table below shows responses to the EdNext question about the degree of support for public charter schools.

Responses to 2013 EdNext Poll
As you  may know, many states permit the formation of charter schools, which are publicly funded but are not managed by the local school board. These schools are expected to meet promised objectives, but are exempt from many state regulations. Do you support or oppose the formation of charter schools?


Public Teachers Parents African Americans Hispanics
Completely Support 18% 20% 17% 19% 21%


Somewhat Support 33%


21% 32% 34% 33%
Somewhat Oppose 18%


23% 19% 16% 18%
Completely Oppose 8%


25% 7% 9% 4%
Neither               Support nor Oppose 24%


12% 26% 23% 24%

The polls are great tools to gauge public perceptions about education reform issues, and their positive findings about public charter schools are no surprise to us. With nearly one million student names on waitlists to attend public charter schools across the nation, the polls’ findings echo the hopes of so many families demanding quality educational options.

Nora Kern is senior manager for research & analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Learn more:

Eduwonk blog: “Triple Crown Of Education Opinion Research

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Public Charter Schools Growing on Native American Reservations

This week, we released a new Details from the Dashboard report, which shows that public charter schools are growing on Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) lands across the country. Some key findings from the report include:

  • Between 2005 and 2010, the number of public charter schools on reservations increased from 19 to 31, accounting for 15 percent of all public schools on reservations.
  • Public charter schools are on reservations located in Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.
  • Most Native American charter schools – 61 percent – are on reservations geographically located in Arizona and California.

The report also looks into how public charter schools are providing options for Native Americans to open and expand their own schools on their own lands given a Congressional moratorium on new educational programs funded by the BIA, and state or tribal agencies that have approved charter school applications. The growth in charter schools and student enrollment on Native American reservations shows that charter schools are increasingly providing Native communities with a viable schooling option to meet their educational needs.

Nora Kern is senior manager for research & analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Learn more:

Public Charter Schools on Bureau of Indian Affairs Land [Report]

Public Charter Schools on Bureau of Indian Affairs Land [Map]

Public Charter Schools Growing on Native American Reservations [Press Release]

BIA Details from the Dashboard Map 1

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Keeping up with KIPP: research on KIPP performance

Last week, the annual KIPP School Summit (KSS) brought together “Team and Family” members from the nation’s largest public charter school network—141 KIPP schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia serve more than 50,000 students. In honor of KSS, let’s take a look back at what the data say about KIPP’s academic results.

Mathematica study on KIPP middle schools was released in February 2013, building on previous research commissioned by KIPP and conducted by Mathematica (see the studies released in 2010 and 2012), and found positive and sizeable performance results in math, reading, science, and social studies (check out our blog to see graphs that translate study effect sizes into additional months of learning equivalencies). In addition to mathematics, the study looked at the characteristics of students attending KIPP middle schools and found little evidence that KIPP schools cream students based on performance, poverty, or race. And similar to results from the KIPP study on attrition, this study showed that attrition rates for KIPP schools are the same as comparison traditional public schools.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego released a meta-analysis of studies on charter school achievement in October 2011. This “study of studies” strategy, popularized by the medical research field, pulls together the results from a body of research and analyzes the overall effect of the program. Given the large number of studies on KIPP charter schools, the authors were able to break out the findings, which revealed large, positive results for KIPP middle schools in reading and math.

It should be noted that in addition to the stellar academic gains, KIPP schools deserve kudos for commissioning ongoing research that goes beyond academics and seeks to understand how their schools operationally function and serve students. This knowledge is critical to determining whether the KIPP model can lead to improvements throughout the public education system.

Nora Kern is senior manager for research & analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

KIPP gala video image for blog
KIPP School Summit 2013 Gala Video

Learn more:
The Charter Blog: New Study Shows Positive Performance Results for KIPP Middle Schools

Our president & CEO Nina Rees attended KSS; see her tweets by searching @Ninacharters and #KSS2013.

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Latin Language is Alive and Serving Students Well in Atlanta Charter School

Maureen Downey’s AJC blog featured a piece by Latin Academy Charter School chair Eric Wearne that proudly touts the school’s success. And he’s got good reason to boast: in the school’s first year of operation, 97.8 percent of Latin Academy’s students achieved a “met or exceeded standards” in reading, and 79.1 percent of its students met or exceeded standards in math on the Georgia CRCT exam. It should be noted that the school’s 90 sixth graders—93 percent of whom are free and reduced priced luncheligible—achieved these outcomes while studying Latin. As research has shown that early performance of charter schools almost entirely predicts future performance, Latin Academy should look forward to a bright future.

We featured Latin Charter on our blog last year when it was only three weeks into its first year. Check out this report to see how other public charter schools are using their instructional focus to drive student success.

Latin Academy






Latin Academy Charter School Class of 2023 Receives their Class Banner. image via Latin Academy Charter School website.

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Digging Deeper on the CREDO Public Charter Schools National Study

As we noted yesterday, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released a study using data from 25 states along with New York City and the District of Columbia, and it had a lot of good news about academic achievement in public charter schools. Let’s take a closer look at some of the positive findings.

In the breakouts by demographic backgrounds, the statistically significant findings of the impact of attending a public charter school compared to a traditional school include:

  • Black students gained 14 days of learning in reading and 14 days of learning in math.
    • The learning gains for low-income black students in charter schools increase to 29 additional learning days in reading and 36 additional learning days in math.
  • Low-income Hispanic students gained 14 days of learning in reading and 22 days of learning in math.
    • For Hispanic students designated as English Language Learners (ELL), the increased learning jumps to 50 additional days in reading and 43 additional days in math.
  • Low-income students, regardless of race, gained 14 days of learning in reading and 22 days of learning in math.
  • ELL students, regardless of race, gained 36 days of learning in reading and 36 days of learning in math.
  • Students with disabilities gained 14 additional learning days in math.

The gains in learning days are a significant step toward closing the achievement gap—especially when students from disadvantaged backgrounds are showing the greatest positive impact from attending a public charter school.

By grade level breakouts, middle school students gained the most additional learning days: 29 in reading and 36 in math. Elementary public charter school students gained 22 days in reading and 14 in math. The results in high school were not statistically significant, while multi-level schools had a negative impact on math results.

Interestingly, being run by a non-profit management organization (CMO) did not result in any additional learning days in reading or math. However, independent charter schools gained 7 days of additional learning in reading.

The number of years a student was enrolled in a public charter school had a great impact on their learning gains—with students who attended a public charter school the longest seeing the highest additional learning gains. Students enrolled in charter schools for one year saw negative results, while attending a charter for 2-4 years steadily increased learning gains in reading and math. Once a student is enrolled for four or more years in a public charter school, their learning gains outpace their traditional school peers by 50 days in reading and 43 days in math per year.

Moving from the national results into state data, the biggest gains in additional learning days on the 2013 CREDO report were seen in Rhode Island, Tennessee, the District of Columbia, Louisiana, and Michigan.

2013 CREDO Results Reading Math
State Standard Deviations Days of Learning Standard Deviations Days of Learning
District of Columbia 0.10** 72 0.14** 101
Louisiana 0.07** 50 0.09** 65
Michigan 0.06** 43 0.06** 43
Rhode Island 0.12** 86 0.15** 108
Tennessee 0.12** 86 0.10** 72

Source: CREDO

Considering that the standard school year is 180 days for traditional district schools, public charter school students in Rhode Island are gaining nearly half a year (48 percent) more learning in reading and over half a year (60 percent more) learning time in math.

The 2013 CREDO results are consistent with an overall trend among more recent high quality charter school studies that show a positive impact on student performance (see here and here). As the CREDO report notes, the positive trends in public charter school student performance is uneven across the states and across schools. As a sector, we must continue to work to ensure that all public charter schools provide great learning opportunities for all students.