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Nora Kern

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Parents’ Perspective on School Choice

This month, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a report, How Parents Experience Public School Choice, which contains survey findings from 4,000 parents of K-12 students living in eight “high-choice” U.S. cities, defined as those with many non-neighborhood-based schools and with a range of oversight structures. The 500 parents from each location—Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—answered questions about their ability to access other school options, their impression of the trajectory of their school district, their priorities for selecting a school, and their ability to find a school that fits their student’s needs.

Some key findings include:

  • In districts that offer parents an alternative to their assigned school, parents are utilizing their ability to choose. On the high end, 87 percent of New Orleans parents choose an alternative to their neighborhood school, while 35 percent of Indianapolis parents choose public charter schools.
  • School choice experiences vary for parents in different cities. Sixty percent of Denver parents said they had another good public school option in addition to their child’s current school. Just 40 percent of Philadelphia parents reported another quality option.
  • Navigating school choice options is more challenging for parents with less education, minority parents, and those whose children have special needs.
  • There have been uneven investments in school choice supports—namely, centralized information, enrollment, and transportation systems—among the high-choice cities.

In these eight cities, CPRE found that at least half of the city’s parents were choosing a school other than their assigned district school. This corresponds with the data in our latest A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities report, in which Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. rank among the top ten school districts in the nation for the highest charter school enrollment share, and Baltimore and Denver are both in the top 25.

It’s no surprise that parents in Denver, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. reported more positive results. These cities have been actively investing in developing high-quality school options, closing low performers, developing transportation systems, creating accessible information on school features and performance, and implementing a common enrollment system. CRPE notes “more than half of the parents in these cities reported that their cities’ schools are getting better, compared to less than a third of parents in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.” Further, 80 percent of D.C. parents and 79 percent of those in New Orleans reported that academics are the most important factor in choosing a school—over safety and location. This is a testament that families in these cities have access to safe schools.

The report concludes that “all cities have work to do to ensure choice works for all families.” To improve access to high-quality schools, CRPE recommends expanding the supply of high-quality schools, providing for specialized student needs, providing free and safe transportation to schools, and investing in information systems to help parents make informed choices.

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

Susan Aud Pendergrass

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Public Charter School Enrollment Share Continues to Grow Across U.S. Communities

Twenty years ago, charter schools were a novel idea in most communities. States began passing laws that allowed groups of motivated individuals to create innovative public schools outside of the traditional system. It took some time for parents and students to get to know these new and unique public schools. Now, however, charter schools are a growing, thriving, and integral part of more and more communities. The National Alliance’s most recent report on enrollment share shows that we now have seven major urban school districts with more than one-third of their students attending charter schools. In three of these – Detroit, Mich., Washington, D.C., and Flint, Mich. – about half of all public school students attend a charter school. For school districts that have struggled to “fix” their schools for decades, parents are clearly taking advantage of the opportunity to choose charters instead.

Not only are there more districts with a large charter enrollment share, there are also 30 districts from 19 different states that have more than 10,000 students in charter schools. In these districts, charter schools and their students are simply part of the education landscape. And 23 of those districts with the largest number of charter school students grew by more than 10 percent in just the last year. These districts show that the demand for charters gets stronger as they become more prevalent.

At the National Alliance, we collect data on student enrollment and demographics for every charter school in the US. Our database allows us to track trends in enrollment, school openings and closings, and the unmet demand that still exists in the form of students being on wait lists instead of in the charter of their choice.  Our latest report on enrollment share is the ninth in the series and like the previous editions, demonstrates that the charter school movement continues to grow.

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, http://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/Los_Angeles_report_2014_FINAL_000.pdf. 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 Data.gov.
  • Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates: Also available through Data.gov 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 PISADay.org.) 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. 
nnn 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.