Nora Kern


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New study shows Los Angeles charter schools students are beating the odds

A new report released last week by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that public charter schools in Los Angeles, which serve the largest number of students in the country, are outperforming traditional public schools. Following the methodology of CREDO’s 2013 National Charter School study, which found charter schools are outperforming their district peers across the country, the report translates the impact of attending a charter school into additional days of learning. This study finds that the typical student in a Los Angeles public charter school gains about 50 more days of learning in reading and an additional 79 days of learning in math.

Credo Graphic

Source: CREDO, pg. 37,

The study also found public charter schools are greatly impacting Hispanic students living in poverty— with these students gaining an additional half year of learning in math by being enrolled in a charter school. Below are the positive study results by different demographic groups, grade levels, type of charter school, and years enrolled.  In each of these cases, “additional days of learning” is compared to traditional public school students.

  Reading Math
Charter Student Characteristics

Additional Days of Learning

Poverty (overall) 14 43
Black 14 14
Black in Poverty 36 58
Hispanic 43 72
Hispanic in Poverty 58 115
White 14 N/A
Asian 14 N/A
ELL 36 N/A
Grade Levels
Elementary 58 50
Middle 36 158
High 50 58
Multi-Level 36 65
Charter School Characteristics
CMO affiliated 65 122
Non-CMO affiliated 36 43
Urban 50 79
Suburban 65 101
Years of Charter Enrollment
1 Year 50 101
2 Years 58 72
3 Years 58 187

The report concludes with a strong endorsement of these results across student groups and  over time: “…The typical student in a Los Angeles charter school gains more learning in a year than her [traditional public school] counterpart…These positive patterns emerge in a student’s first year of charter attendance and persist over time. Black and Hispanic students in poverty especially benefit from attendance at charter schools. A substantial share of Los Angeles charter schools appear to outpace [traditional public schools] in how well they support academic learning gains in their students in both reading and math.”

The findings of this report show yet again that when public charter schools are allowed to thrive, so do our students. Click here to read the full Charter School Performance in Los Angeles report.

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

Nora Kern


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Academic Performance in Charter Schools: A Year in Review

As 2013 comes to a close, here is a look at a few studies released this year on the academic performance in charter schools. From major multi-year reports to working papers, these are a few findings that are worth keeping on your radar:

  • Overall Academic Achievement. The 2013 national CREDO study looked at charter schools in 27 states through the 2010-2011 school year, covering 95 percent of students attending charter schools across the country. Overall, the study found that students in public charter schools are outperforming their traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average seven days of learning per year, and performing as well as students in traditional public schools in math. The results were particularly impressive for students from certain demographic backgrounds—such as English Language Learners and minority students.
  • Raising the Bar for All Schools. Yusuke Jinnai, a Ph.D candidate in Economics at the University of Rochester, examinedthe impact of opening public charter schools on achievement levels for students at neighboring district schools in North Carolina. He found that traditional public schools do in fact respond to the presence of public charter schools; further, the paper debunks the myth that the success of public charter schools comes at the detriment of neighboring traditional public schools. In North Carolina, public charter schools contribute to education reform by serving low-performing students and encouraging high standards of performance for nearby traditional public schools.
  • Measuring Results. A Mathematica study  found that KIPP middle schools have a strong and meaningful impact on student performance. For example, KIPP schools reduced the achievement gap in math between white and black students by 40 percent. The study also examined the characteristics of students attending KIPP middle schools and found little evidence that KIPP schools only succeed by taking high performing students out of district schools. And similar to results from the KIPP study on attrition, this study finds that attrition rates for KIPP schools are the same as traditional public schools.
  • Making Sure All Students Succeed. A working paper by Ron Zimmer and Cassandra Guarino provides additional evidence that public charter schools are not pushing out low-performing students. The study examined patterns of student transfers in an anonymous school district with more than 60 charter schools. The study found no evidence that public charter schools were more likely to push out low-performing students. Conversely, the study finds that below-average students were five percent more likely to leave traditional public schools than below-average students in charter schools.
  • Predicting Future Success. The CREDO two volume study, Charter School Growth and Expansion, tackled a range of research questions including a ranking of charter school networks based on student achievement in math and reading. It also introduced a paradigm shift in terms of thinking about charter school quality: namely, that early performance of charter schools almost entirely predicts future performance. In other words, if a charter school starts out low-performing, it has a very slim chance of making improvements. This is sobering but important information about what we can expect from charter school performance and for shaping how we think about ensuring all charters are high-quality schools.

This year proved, yet again, that charter schools continue to offer high-quality options to parents and families. For more information on other studies of charter school performance, check out our compilation of studies that have been conducted on public charter school student performance since 2010.

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


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Federal Data Resources for Information on Public Charter Schools

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education released a number of new data resources that provide great information about public charter schools. As the year comes to a close, here is a rundown of all the new releases that help inform our work:

  • Achievement Results for State Assessments in Reading/Language Arts and Mathematics: For the first time, performance data that the U.S. Department of Education collects from state departments of education through EDFactswas made publicly available. The files include data for all public schools across the country and are available for the 2008-09 through 2011-12 school years. The data files for four years can be accessed through
  • Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates: Also available through are school-level four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates for the 2010-11 school year. Not only is this the first time that graduation rate data for all public schools has been available from one data source, but it is the first time that school-level graduation rate data using the same measure (i.e., four-year cohort) has been available from all states.
  • 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): In November, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released 2013 NAEP results in mathematics and reading for fourth and eighth graders. There is a helpful online data explorer that can be used to compare public charter school and non-charter school data at the national, state, and district levels.
  • Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS): NCES also released the 2011-12 administration of SASS data, which includes descriptive statistics about teachers and school leaders in public charter schools and non-charter schools across the country. This is the best source of information about school personnel. For an overview of the charter school data, check out our blog write-up.
  • School Improvement Grant (SIG): If you are interested in a list of public schools eligible for school improvement grants (SIG) and schools that have received SIG grants, you can find information here.
  • Common Core of Data (CCD)The Common Core of Data (CCD), a complete listing of public schools along with descriptive information about the schools, is available through the 2010-11 school year, with a preliminary data file available for 2011-12. We expect that the full 2011-12 data file will be released in early 2014 and the preliminary 2012-13 data file should be released shortly after that.

Looking for more? The National Alliance’s Public Charter School Dashboard provides additional data on public charter schools and is a comprehensive resource for pulling data about individual school districts, states, and nationwide. The National Charter School Resource Center’s National Authorizer – Charter School Catalog is also a helpful database for charter school authorizers. Be sure to keep up with the latest available information about your state or school by checking out these sites.

Anna Nicotera is the senior director of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Todd Ziebarth


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Updates to Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law Desperately Needed

In 2011, charter school supporters were optimistic that Pennsylvania was finally going to make some much-needed updates to its charter school law. Over the past three years, there have been a number of attempts to do so, but they’ve come up short each time.

While Pennsylvania lawmakers have failed to act, policymakers in other states have been making significant improvements to their charter laws. As a result, Pennsylvania’s charter school law continues to fall in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual rankings. It came in at #12 in January 2010, but fell to #19 by January 2013. With a number of states making improvements to their laws this year, Pennsylvania is sure to drop even further in our next report in January 2014.

In the most recent attempt to overhaul the state’s charter school law, a coalition of six organizations–the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter SchoolsPhiladelphia Charters for Excellence, Philadelphia’s Black Alliance for Educational OptionsStudents First PAPennCAN, and StudentsFirst–released a “Position Paper on SB 1085 Charter School Reform Legislation.” 

This paper details some important and overdue changes that these organizations are supporting in Senate Bill 1085, including allowing universities to serve as authorizers, creating an academic performance matrix to inform authorizers’ decisions during the charter renewal process, and allowing high-performing charter schools with multiple campuses to combine and operate under the governance of a single board. The paper also calls for the creation of a commission to study how charter schools should be funded in the state.

As the organizations acknowledge, SB 1085 is not perfect, and they are working to improve the bill as it makes it way through the legislative process. SB 1085 recently passed the Senate Appropriations Committee with additional amendments on a 15-11 vote. The most controversial issue is university authorizers, which isn’t surprising given the potential game-changing impact of that provision. The amended bill now moves to the full senate for a vote, either later this year or in January. We remain hopeful that the hard work of Pennsylvania’s charter school advocates will result in a bill that creates more high-quality public charter school options for the state’s students.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern


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Report Shows Continued Growth of Charter School Management Organizations

Last week, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder released their greatly anticipatedreport profiling nonprofit and for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) using 2011-2012 school year data. In that school year, approximately 44 percent of public charter students attended a school managed by a nonprofit or for-profit EMO. Here are some key findings for each type of management organization in 2011-2012:

Nonprofit management organizations

  • A total of 1,206 public schools (charter schools and a few district schools) were managed by nonprofit EMOs.
  • Nonprofit management companies operated in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
  • The number of students in nonprofit EMO-managed schools increased dramatically, from 237,591 students in 2009-2010 to 445,052 students during 2011-2012.
  • KIPP is the largest nonprofit network, running 98 schools serving more than 35,000 students.
  • The states with the largest numbers of nonprofit management organizations, by number of operators, include California, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and New York.

For-profit management organizations

  • For-profit EMOs are contracted by district and charter school boards to operate and manage schools. In total, 94.6 percent of EMO-managed schools are charter schools, and 5.4 percent are district schools.
  • For-profit EMOs operated in 35 states.
  • More than 800 public schools across the country, serving more than 460,000 students are run by for-profit EMOs.
  • The growth of the for-profit sector has been focused online—10.8 percent of all for-profit-managed schools are virtual.
    • K12 Inc.’s enrollment vastly exceeds any other management organization’s (both nonprofit and for-profit) total enrollment.
  • Nearly 80 percent of charter schools in Michigan are run by for-profit EMOs; at least 30 percent of charter schools in Florida, Ohio, and Arizona are run by for-profit EMOs.

The full NEPC report contains further breakouts by management organization size, number of schools, student enrollment, state-based trends, and profiles of each operator. While both nonprofit and for-profit management organizations have seen rapid growth, especially within the charter school community, it is important to note that the majority of public charter schools are still freestanding, nonprofits.

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


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How Do Charter School Students Compare to International Peers? New Test to Reveal the Answer

Next week, results from the 2012 administration of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be released. PISA is an international assessment covering math, reading, and science administered every three years to a sample of 15-year-old students in roughly 70 countries. OECD and a number of partner organizations will host a webinar on December 3, 2013 to discuss the results. (Information about the webinar can be found at

The PISA results will likely receive significant media attention. Even though international assessments tend to show the United States performing in the middle of the pack, there is always great interest in seeing how our students stack up against their international peers.

While the results are a valuable benchmark, they don’t breakdown individual school performance. Fortunately, that is starting to change. Earlier this year, OECD released results for 100 high schools across the United States that participated in a pilot assessment aligned to PISA called the OECD Test for Schools. Two charter schools, BASIS Tucson North and North Star Academy, performed extraordinarily well on assessment. In fact, students from BASIS Tucson North topped the scores, out-performing every single country in reading, math, and science.

The OECD Test for Schools is officially launching in the 2013-14 school year, and any high school can sign up to administer the assessment to their 15-year-old students. Schools will take the assessment in the spring of 2014 and receive results and detailed reports in the summer. The National Alliance has partnered with the Kern Family Foundation to provide subsidies to a limited number of charter high schools to take the assessment. There are still opportunities for charter high schools to sign up with the National Alliance and take advantage of the subsidy. Interested schools should reach out to the National Alliance for more information.

Anna Nicotera is the senior director of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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

Nora Kern


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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. 

Nora Kern


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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.

Nora Kern


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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.