Posts by Nora Kern


Nora Kern


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Trends in Public Charter Schools’ Instructional Delivery and Focus

During the spring of 2012, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) conducted its first national public charter school survey. The survey asked public charter school leaders to respond to questions on school waitlistscurriculumfacilities and a variety of other operational elements. A primary goal of the survey was to collect information that would help to better understand the wide range of instructional strategies public charter schools use.

With 6,000 autonomous charter schools operating nationwide, the responses to our first national survey demonstrate that public charter schools are a varied bunch. Our new report analyzes the survey responses to provide new details about emerging trends and differences in the instructional delivery strategies and focus of public charter schools. Top trends identified by the survey include:

  • Almost three-quarters (71.8 percent) of the respondents use a combination of off-the-shelf and customized curriculum;
  • Over half (57.7 percent) of respondents from charter schools that enroll students in grades 9 through 12 described their schools as having a “college-prep” instructional focus;
  • Half (49.3 percent) of the respondents indicated an extended school day to increase instructional learning time; and
  • Nearly half (48.8 percent) of the respondents from charter schools that enroll students in grades 9 through 12 said their students take classes at local universities or colleges.

The survey asked public charter schools to select their instructional focus from a list of 44 options, including a write-in option, and two out of five public charter schools (40.5 percent) respondents indicated a college-prep instructional focus. Based on the many approaches that schools use to implement a “college-prep” instructional focus, we asked charter school leaders tell us in their own words how they use different instructional methods to achieve their school’s mission. For example, The Intergenerational School in Cleveland, Ohio, pairs students with adult and senior citizen mentors to let the generations learn from each other, while the Paulo Freire Freedom School, a charter middle school in Tucson, Arizona, adopted project-based learning to impart knowledge through experiences that are authentic and engaging. These are just two of the many innovative approaches that public charter schools use to make a difference in the lives of children. You can also check out blogs from a virtual school in Hawaii, a Japanese immersion charter in Oregon, a wellness-focused charter in New York, and a service-learning school in Pennsylvania.

Whether through a customized curriculum or extended learning time, public charter schools are innovating to meet their students’ needs. Charter schools use their autonomy to select instructional focuses that run the gamut: from career-based to vocational and from traditional to project-based learning.

Instr Strategy Infographic

Nora Kern


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Public Charter School Facilities Trends

Obtaining the financing and physical space for facilities that are adequate to support a growing student population is a consistent struggle for public charter schools. To gather data points about facilities struggles, the Colorado League of Charter Schools worked with NAPCS to launch the Charter School Facilities Initiative (CSFI)—a national research effort with the ultimate goal of identifying prominent shortcomings in the current capital landscape and to develop public policy recommendations for providing adequate and equitable facilities for public charter schools. CSFI conducted in-depth studies in ten states and recently launched a national report on its findings.

During the spring of 2012, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) conducted its first national public charter school survey. One of the primary goals of the survey was to collect information that would help to better understand the ways public charter school finance and use school facilities. Building on the work conducted by the CDFI, NAPCS’s new report, Public Charter School Facilities: Results from the NAPCS National Charter School Survey, School Year 2011-2012, shares facilities-related survey findings. Notably, over half (56 percent) of the public charter school survey respondents do not have access to a facility that will be adequate for enrollment in five years.

In the past five years, the growth of public charter school student enrollment has increased nearly 80 percent, and the number of schools has grown by 40 percent. Given this demand, the ability to access and finance adequate facilities is a critical part of public charter school growth.

Facilities Infographic blog image












Click here to see a larger version of the infographic.

Nora Kern


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

New Analysis Indicates that Public Charter Schools Do Not Lead to Increased Segregation

In a recent piece on the Brookings Institute blog, Matthew Chingos explored the question ‘Does Expanding School Choice Increase Segregation?’ Through analysis of nine years of data from the Common Core of Data (CCD), the federal government’s annual census of all public schools, Chingos delves into the demographic characteristics of charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools, which is often cited by public charter school critics as evidence that choice leads to segregation (even though previous research has indicated that public charter schools often match the demographics of the local traditional public schools).

For each of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S., Chingos calculated an “exposure index” (measures the portion of non-minority students at the schools attended by the average under-represented minority student over time), “dissimilarity index” (an alternative measure of segregation), and panel data analysis that uses all nine years of CCD to estimate the relationship between charter enrollment and segregation using only the changes within counties over time. The results of all three measures consistently indicated no meaningful relationship between school choice and segregation. As Chingos summarizes, “the findings reported here indicate that it is unlikely that charter schools—a prominent effort to increase school choice, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds—are making the problem worse.”

NAPCS noted in an issue brief released last year that one of the most exceptional developments within the first two decades of the public charter school movement has been the rise of high performing public charter schools with missions intently focused on educating students from traditionally underserved communities. Given that the demographics of these communities are often homogenous, it is no surprise the demographics of these schools are that way as well. In fact, the student populations at these public charter schools usually mirror the populations in nearby district schools.

While much media attention rightly has been given to these schools, the past decade or so also has seen a noteworthy rise in high performing public charter schools with missions intentionally designed to serve racially and economically integrated student populations. These schools are utilizing their autonomy to achieve a diverse student population through location-based strategies, recruitment efforts and enrollment processes.

Perhaps most notably, a growing number of cities—and the parents and educators in them—are welcoming both types of public charter school models for their respective (and in some cases unprecedented) contributions to raising student achievement, particularly for students who have previously struggled in school. Chingos’s analyses add to the evidence that the public school choice allows parents of choose the school environment that suits their student’s needs and is not a primary contributing factor to school (re)segregation.

Nora Kern


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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.