Charter Blog by Author


Robert Reed


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New Report Provides Clarity on the Use of Weighted Lotteries in Schools That Receive Federal Charter School Funding

This week, the Senate began debating the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Tucked in the law is a program called the Charter School Program (CSP) that provides critical funds to help launch and replicate new charter schools. As a condition of receiving federal funds, these schools must conduct a blind lottery if they receive more applications than they can accommodate. This provision was put in place due to the long-held belief that charter schools are open enrollment schools and to guard against the potential for some schools to cream the best and the brightest. In reality though, this provision has had a negative impact on charter schools that are trying to attract the most disadvantaged students – as every child gets equal weights when they enter a lottery.

To address these concerns, in early 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance on weighted lotteries for charter schools. Under the new guidance, charter schools receiving CSP funds were allowed to give educationally disadvantaged students slightly better chances for admission through the use of a weighted lottery if state law permits.

That caveat—if state law permits—has some cause for concern because few states have language that clearly permits weighted lotteries. In a new report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, State Laws on Weighted Lottery and Enrollment Practices: Summary of Findings, we studied state laws and policies to better understand the potential impact of the new guidance. What we found was that most states did not have a clear answer.

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Four states expressly permit the use of weighted lotteries (Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Rhode Island).
  • No states expressly prohibit the use of weighted lotteries.
  • There are 16 states with statutes that may be interpreted to prohibit the use of weighted lotteries (Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin).
  • Seven states are silent on the issue (Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, and Maryland).
  • Nineteen state statues may be interpreted to permit the use of weighted lotteries (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah).

Fortunately, both the House and Senate versions of the reauthorization bills include our policy recommendations to ensure that weighted lotteries are permitted unless state law specifically prohibits the practice. Since our findings show that no states expressly prohibit the practice, this proposal would make it significantly easier for schools to take advantage of weighted lotteries to serve more educationally disadvantaged students.

Riya Anandwala


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New Report: Charter Schools and pre-K education

Last week, the National Alliance and Thomas B. Fordham Institute rolled out a new report that analyzes pre-K offerings in public charter schools. What did they find? Charter schools in 36 jurisdictions are significantly restricted from offering pre-K programs – mainly because of policymaking and financial limitations, excluding them from the pool of pre-K providers.

The report dove deep into each state’s political environment for starting pre-K programs and found astonishing results. In the map, you’ll see states that have hospitable, somewhat hospitable and not so hospital climates for charters to offer pre-K education.

Also important to note, in states that do allow charter schools to offer pre-K, the schools still face several roadblocks, ranging from limited pre-K funding to restrictions on new providers. Charter schools are also often barred from automatically enrolling pre-K students into kindergarten programs without first administering a lottery for enrollment.

Investing in early childhood development is important in shaping a child’s education and career ahead. Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance, explains three essential factors lawmakers need to keep in mind while formulating the next pre-K imitative in her latest U.S. News and World Report blog.


pre-k map


Riya Anandwala


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Ashley Judd to Speak at 15th Annual National Charter School Conference

Actor, activist and humanitarian Ashley Judd will address the National Charter Schools Conference general session in New Orleans on Monday, June 22.

Actor, activist and humanitarian Ashley Judd will address the National Charter Schools Conference general session in New Orleans on Monday, June 22. Best known for her performances in Ruby in Paradise, Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy, De-Lovely and most recently the Divergent franchise, Judd is a longstanding advocate and supporter of education.

 A devoted humanitarian, Judd is committed to telling personal stories and being the voice of the underprivileged locally as well as internationally. Her remarks at National Alliance’s conference will focus on the power of political activism and the ability of education to empower young people and defy poverty – two principles closely aligned with the charter schools movement.

The National Charter Schools Conference, which runs from June 21-24, is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, leaders, administrators, board members and advocates from across the country. The two and a half day event will provide keynote sessions, breakout sessions, and numerous networking opportunities for more than 4,500 charter school professionals and policymakers.

For conference agenda details, visit






Riya Anandwala


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Study: Charter School Students in LA Report Higher Graduation Rates, SAT Scores

According to a new study by the California Policy Center, Los Angeles Unified School District’s charter high schools perform significantly better than the district’s traditionally operated public schools, despite receiving a lower per student funding amount.

This report offers more evidence about the positive impact of charter schools on students, communities and the public education system. Specifically, the study found charter students had higher performance rates on three counts:

Academic Performance Index scores: 762 vs. 701

Graduation rates: 92 percent vs. 84 percent

Normalized SAT scores: 1417 vs. 1299

Just last month during National Charter Schools Week, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report that profiles ten big cities with a large wait list of student names to attend charter schools. Los Angeles has the second largest wait list with more than 68,000 students. The wait list numbers – which are over a million nationwide – along with strong academic performance is case in point for the need of additional federal money to help start new charter schools, especially in cities where the wait lists are in the tens of thousands.

This study is an excellent showcase of what charter schools are achieving in one of the biggest cities in the nation, and a reminder that a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work for every family. There are thousands of students who could benefit from a charter school education and accomplish the kind of academic excellence that prepares them for a solid college career.

Riya Anandwala


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Hall of Fame 2015

The National Alliance has announced its 2015 Hall of Fame Inductees: Senator Mary Landrieu, Nelson Smith and Dr. Deborah McGriff.

Mary Landrieu Former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu spent 35 years in public service, demonstrating her passionate commitment to children and families as a Louisiana state legislator, state treasurer and U.S. senator.
Nelson Smith Nelson Smith is senior advisor to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. From 2004 to 2011 he was president and CEO and then senior advisor to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Deborah McGriff Deborah M. McGriff is a managing partner with NewSchools Venture Fund where she focuses on closing the demographic gap between students, executive leaders and governing boards.

These individuals are being recognized for their pioneering efforts in the growth of charter schools, their long-term commitment and contributions to charter schools, and their innovative ideas and successful implementation of those ideas.

Congratulations to our new inductees! We are grateful for their contributions to the growth of effective, high-quality public charter schools that now serve nearly three million students.


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My First Charter School Visit

As someone who had never visited a charter school before, my tour of KIPP DC’s Shaw Campus was a great opportunity to see what happens in one of the most successful schools in Washington, D.C. The diverse teaching staff, friendly environment, and college-striving atmosphere demonstrate why KIPP schools nationally succeed.

photo (1)Environment
The tagline “Work hard. Be nice.” is painted on hallway walls to remind students that their school is a place for learning and interacting with peers. This anti-bullying environment was apparent in the friendly collaboration I witnessed in a 7th grade reading class. Students know that their school is a place where they are safe and supported by their peers.

In each age group, there was a noticeably consistent level of student engagement. At KIPP’s Grow Academy, serving PreK3-Kindergarten, they played games together in a way that was inclusive and exciting for every child in the classroom. In an elementary math class I visited, almost every student raised his or her hand to eagerly answer the questions asked by the math teacher (with the correct answer, too). Students in a 7th grade reading class worked with partners to analyze a passage from a novel about slavery. Put simply, the students showed a positive, engaging attitude toward the curriculum and their classmates.

Part of why KIPP is successful is likely due to the school’s forward thinking. They have ambitious plans to double the number of students that are served and are college-ready. As part of their future goals, they plan to open 20 or more schools each year. KIPP’s growth is good news for the students waiting to attend their high-quality schools.  

College readiness
From an early age, KIPP students see pendants, names, and symbols of colleges throughout the halls. By exposing them to the idea of college early, and instilling its benefits, the kids take it on as a goal throughout their school years. Not only do they strive to attend the colleges they see pinned on the walls, but the KIPP Through College program ensures that each student receives support from alumni and better prepare for their future career. For many of the school’s low-income students, reaching college is life-changing for their entire family.

KIPP Schools are providing  opportunities that students may not have had otherwise.  Forty percent of KIPP alumni have earned a four-year college degree, which is greater than the national average of 29 percent, and more than four times the low-income average of only eight percent. Additionally, 93 percent of KIPP students graduate from high school, and 82 percent of those graduates go on to college.

My tour of KIPP DC’s Shaw Campus revealed that smart education beginning in early childhood, diverse and enthusiastic staff, and a focus on college-readiness give KIPP DC students a great start in life. I’m ready to see more schools now. Knowing that charter schools thrive on innovative learning models, unique school cultures, and varied curriculums, I would definitely say that seeing one school does not mean that you’ve seen them all.

Thank you KIPP DC for allowing me to tour your Shaw Campus!

Dylan Kama is an intern for the federal government relations team at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Susan Aud Pendergrass


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How are Michigan charter schools performing?

A recent news series by the Detroit Free Press has questioned the performance of Michigan charter schools. Unfortunately, the series fails to acknowledge or glosses over key facts. So here is a look at the evidence regarding the performance of charter schools in Michigan.

Michigan charter schools have a proven track record of academic performance.

Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has been conducting rigorous analyses of charter school performance data to determine how charter school students would have fared if they had attended a traditional public school. In CREDO’s 2013 study of Michigan charter schools, they found that Michigan is among the highest performing charter school states they have studied to date. In fact, charter school students in Michigan gained an additional two months of learning in reading and math compared to their traditional public school peers. Charter students in Detroit are performing even better than their peers in the rest of the state – gaining nearly 3 months achievement for each year they attend a charter school.

Michigan charter schools are serving higher percentages of disadvantaged students.

Charter schools in Michigan serve greater percentages of low-income and minority students, making their achievement gains even more remarkable. In the 2009-10 school year, 70 percent of charter school students in Michigan were living in poverty, compared to 43 percent in traditional public schools, and 33 percent were White, compared to 73 percent in traditional public schools. Even the students in the feeder schools (the traditional public schools from which students transfer to charter schools) had a lower percentage of low-income students (55 percent) and more White students (64 percent).

Michigan charter schools are closing the achievement gap.

The gaps in performance gains between White and Black students and between White and Hispanic students is a constant concern in public education. The CREDO study found that both of these gaps were smaller for students in charter schools than for students in traditional public schools in both reading and math. The same result was found for students living in poverty and for the combined groups of Black students in poverty and Hispanic students in poverty.

To track the achievement gap in individual schools, the Michigan Department of Education categorizes schools as “Focus” schools.  Focus schools are the 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between their top 30 percent of students and their bottom 30 percent of students. Twenty of the 347 schools identified as Focus schools in 2012-13 were charter schools. This represents 6 percent of the group, even though 10 percent of schools in Michigan are charters.

Michigan is closing poor performing charter schools.

A critical component of the charter school bargain is that underperforming schools should not be allowed to keep their doors open. Between 2005 and 2010, some 94 charter schools in Michigan were opened and 55 were closed, or about ten per year. The effort to hold schools accountable is paying off. In 2012-13, of the 86 charter schools in Detroit, only eight were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings. That same year, 25 of the 129 traditional public schools in Detroit, or nearly 20 percent, were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings.

We believe strongly in accountability and welcome any examination into the performance of charter schools. However, it is important that all facts are presented accurately.

Susan Aud is Senior Director of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 

Susan Aud Pendergrass


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Charter Schools in St. Louis Giving Students Greater Access to a High-Quality Education, Paving the Way for Even More Success

The city of St. Louis recently released a study that showed public education is improving for their students. The study, produced by IFF, looks at where children live, where they go to school, and if they have access to a high-quality schools, based on state accreditation. The study uses 2013 data and is an update to a similar study produced five years ago.

Contrary to what is happening in many of our nation’s urban areas, public school enrollment in St. Louis increased by five percent over the last five years. This is partly due to parents having more options and choosing to keep their children in the public school system. During that time, enrollment in neighborhood schools declined, while enrollment in charter, magnet, and select magnet schools increased.

More importantly, access to accredited schools (those that met the state proficiency standards) has increased dramatically. In 2008, just over 6,000 of the approximately 33,000 public school students in St. Louis attended schools that were performing at half of the state accreditation level or better. By 2013, more than double that number (12,500) of students were in quality seats, meaning that their schools were fully accredited or accredited with distinction.

Further, 40 percent of the quality seats were in charter schools, even though charter schools only account for 23 percent of enrollment in the St. Louis school district. This means that about 5,000 of the city’s 8,000 charter school students, or 62 percent, are in quality seats versus about 28 percent of students in traditional public schools.

One critical contribution of the study is that it calculates a gap between the number of children in a given neighborhood or zip code and the availability of quality seats. This information is being used by the city to prioritize the placement of new charter schools, and to target and close poor-performing schools to pave the way for more high-quality schools in these under-served neighborhoods.

“Closing poor-performing schools, including poor-performing charter schools, does not decrease the access to good schools,” said Dr. Doug Thaman, Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association. “In fact, closing poor-performing schools opens the door for the addition of new, innovative and successful options.”

This fall, two new charters – KIPP: Victory and The International School – are opening their doors, followed by five additional charters in 2015. Based on the findings of this study, the city’s targeted and strategic decision to place these new charter schools where they are most-needed will continue to improve the quality of public education in St. Louis.

Susan Aud is the senior director for research and evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

Susan Aud Pendergrass


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Why School Closures Matter

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has consistently believed that all schools should be held accountable for the performance of their students and any school that isn’t performing should be closed.

But closing a school can be difficult, and the impact of any closure ripples through the community and the lives of the students. Some question whether the disruption is worth it. In the traditional public school system, avoiding this disruption almost always carries the day and, in the rare event that a school is closed, it’s usually due to persistent dwindling enrollment. Fortunately, we have emerging research that sheds light on the effect of school closures on students who attended those schools.

The Fordham Institute has conducted a study that measures the achievement trends of nearly 23,000 students who attended one of 198 urban schools in Ohio, both traditional and public charter schools, that closed between 2006 and 2012. With the use of student-level longitudinal data provided by the Ohio Department of Education, the Fordham researchers were able to determine how the students from the closed schools fared after they were moved to a new school. The study found that school closures had a positive impact on students, with substantial learning gains three years after their schools closed. Students from the traditional public schools that closed achieved learning gains in both reading and math, and students from charter schools achieved learning gains in math.  

Operating under a limited amount of time – usually three to eight years – to meet performance targets is an integral part of the charter school equation and has been from the beginning. This study suggests that traditional public schools and their students would likely benefit from a similar approach.


Susan Aud Pendergrass is the Senior Director for Research and Evaluation 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.