The Charter Blog


Nina Rees


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Monthly Update

President’s Day is just around the corner; so it’s a fitting time to reflect on how important presidents have been for charter schools. The federal Charter Schools Program was authorized as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1994, with the support of President Clinton. It was expanded under President George W. Bush; and has grown even more under President Barack Obama. It’s a rare issue in these polarized political times that enjoys such bipartisan support. But it’s easy to see why-who can argue against the success charter schools are having in preparing some of our most disadvantaged children for college and the workforce. With charter schools getting increasingly better over time, here’s hoping they continue to be a priority to future presidents. Also, I wanted to let you know I will be on the Fox News show Fox & Friends tomorrow morning (2/14) at 7:20a.m. Eastern time. I hope you’ll tune in.

Enjoy the long weekend!

Best regards,
Nina Rees

Increasing Federal Support for Charter Schools

Yesterday more than two-dozen leaders of state charter school organizations teamed up with the National Alliance’s federal affairs team to meet with more than 100 members of the U.S. House and Senate and their staffs. From Hawaii to Idaho to New York, these charter community leaders were all delivering the same message: federal support for charter schools is critical. The federal Charter Schools Program is the only federal money dedicated to supporting the creation of new charter schools and the expansion of proven, high-quality charters. We are asking Congress to increase the federal appropriation for the Charter Schools Program to $330 million in 2015.

In the coming weeks, we will be reaching out to you to ask for your help in this effort. We will be rallying charter school advocates from across the country to contact their Representatives and Senators to ask for more support for charter schools. The Department of Education only spends $248 million on the Charter Schools Program, less than 1 percent of its budget. With nearly 1 million names on charter school waiting lists, we believe Congress can do better for our students. We will need your help to make a difference.

Progress in the States

The ranking showed that a dozen states made significantly positive changes to their laws in the last legislative session by making it easier for high-quality charter schools to open, closing the funding gap between charter students and their peers at district-run schools, and bringing more accountability and transparency into the charter approval and closure processes. Minnesota is hanging on to our top-ranked spot by a thread; and Maryland became the lowest-ranked state. You can see how your state ranked here.

One reason we do this annual ranking is to identify states whose laws need to be improved. This year, our top priority state for improving its charter law is Oklahoma, ranked 36 out of 43. We are working with the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and others to eliminate the barriers to opening high-quality charter schools in the Sooner State. Oklahoma has had a charter school law on the books since 1999, but the law primarily limits charter schools to the two urban areas in the state-Oklahoma City and Tulsa. We believe children in other communities deserve high-quality school options too and are working to ease the restrictions in the law to allow charters to open in any community where there is a need.

Charter School Impact on College Outcomes and Future Earnings

A new study by Mathematica Policy Research shows that students who graduate from a charter school in Chicago or Florida have a better chance of entering and finishing at least two years of college. But the truly groundbreaking finding is that charter high school graduates in Florida actually go on to have higher earnings in early adulthood compared to their peers. While much more research into this question will be done over time, the initial results show that high-quality charter schools can have a positive impact on life outcomes beyond K-12 education.

More Charter Schools and Students than Ever

Sometimes we don’t need research to tell us charter schools are making a difference; sometimes we just need to look at what’s happening in communities from coast to coast. This school year, more charter schools opened their doors than ever before and a record number of students enrolled in them. Yesterday we released the state-by-state details on the number of charter schools open this school year and the number of charter school students. Nationwide, there are now more than 6,400 charter schools and more than 2.5 million charter students. That’s 100% growth in the number of charter school students since the 2008-09 school year. What’s more, 288,000 new students are enrolled in charters this year, the largest single-year enrollment jump we have seen since we started to collect these figures. See your state’s numbers here.

There’s Always an Outlier…

The 10 largest cities in America have many things in common, among them, they all have Democratic mayors. Nine out of ten have embraced charter schools as critical partners in meeting the educational needs of disadvantaged students. Who’s the outlier? New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio. Mayor de Blasio is making aggressive moves to limit the number of charter schools in New York City and take away their funding. Mayor de Blasio recently announced he is redirecting school building funds dedicated for charter schools to fund pre-school programs; he is putting a hold on 33 new building-sharing agreements between charter and district schools that were slated to take effect this coming school year; and he has said he may start charging charter schools rent if they use a public school building, even though no other public schools in the city pay rent. What happens in New York City matters-it has one of the largest concentrations of charter school students and some of the very best charter schools in the country. We continue to work with our partners in New York to show Mayor de Blasio how important charter schools have been in creating opportunities for the very families he was elected to serve.

Like ‘Breaking Bad’? Then Don’t Miss the National Charter Schools Conference.

If you were a fan of the hit series Breaking Bad, you won’t want to miss the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas June 30-July 2. Real-life charter school parent and Albuquerque school board member Steven Michael Quezada, who played DEA agent Steven Gomez in the show, will offer his insights on how charter schools have worked for his children and being a school reform activist. In addition to hearing from inspirational speakers like Steven Quezada and Sal Khan, the conference will feature more than 100 breakout sessions offering practical, actionable tools applicable to you, and plenty of time to network with your peers from charter schools around the country. Register here today.

We Need You!

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the only national organization dedicated solely to advancing the charter school movement. By advocating on behalf of charter schools, their students, parents, and leaders at the federal level, serving as a clearinghouse of information, and working to pass charter school laws in states without them and strengthen laws in states with weak ones, we are helping to make more high-quality public schools available to all American children. But we can’t do it without you. Please join us by making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you!

Nick Fickler


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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News

  • “3 Things That Should Be Done to Help Rural Schools,” op-ed by Nina Rees (President & CEO), U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 11
  • “Texas adds 52 charter schools, 4th most nationwide,” National Alliance mentioned, Houston Chronicle, Feb. 12
  • “Charter schools: California leads nation in school openings, students,” Nina quoted, San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 13
  • “Killing the golden goose,” National Alliance mentioned, The Economist, Feb. 14

News to Know

  • “Charter Schools Are Working, But New York’s Mayor Wants to Stop Them,” Economist, Feb. 14
  • “Charter School Student Population Tops 2.5 Million,” Education Week, Feb. 13
  • “Raising the Bar on San Diego Charter Schools – Again,” Voice of San Diego, Feb. 12
  • “Study: Charging Rent Would Lead to Charter School Decline,” National Review, Feb. 11
  • “The War on Charter Kids,” Fox News, Feb. 10


Audience Favorites

Facebook— Thanks to the work of dedicated teachers, school leaders, and community members across the country, more than 2.5 million students now attend nearly 6,500 charter schools. That’s 288,000 new students this school year! Read more here to find out how your state did:

Twitter— Did you know charter schools added 288,000 new students this school year?

You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

Kim Kober


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Public Charter School Events Receive Attention from Federal Lawmakers

Over the past two weeks, the National Alliance has coordinated several events to give federal lawmakers the opportunity to learn more about the public charter schools. Here are just a few key highlights:

Members of Congress Celebrate School Choice Week at D.C. Charter School

NLK_5442During School Choice Week, the National Alliance hosted members of Congress at DC Prep’s Edgewood Elementary Campus to celebrate National School Choice Week. Congressmen Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Tom Petri (R-WI), and Jared Polis (D-CO) toured the school’s Pre-K to 3rd grade campus and observed teacher-led classrooms, small group learning, and students engaged with tablets and computers. DC Prep CEO Emily Lawson spoke with the congressmen about the importance of federal support for charter schools. DC Prep has been named Washington, D.C.’s highest-performing network of public charter schools for the second consecutive year. Network-wide, the school serves roughly 80 percent students from low-income backgrounds.

 Photo: Emily Lawson, Rep. Paulsen, and Rep. Petri speak with a third grade student. Photo credit: Nora Kern

Senate Charter Schools Caucus Hosts Panel on Special Education in Charter Schools

NLK_5302 - CopyOn Tuesday, January 28, the Senate Charter Schools Caucus, co-chaired by Senator Landrieu (D-LA) and Senator Alexander (R-TN), hosted a panel on special education in charter schools. National Alliance President and CEO Nina Rees moderated the panel that featured school leaders and a parent from Bridges Public Charter School, a public charter school in Washington, D.C. Nina was joined on the panel by Paul O’Neil with the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) and Alex Medler with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. For more information about the work of the National Alliance and NCSECS, see Improving Access and Creating Exceptional Opportunities for Students with Disabilities in Public Charter School.

Photo: Keesha Blythe, Bridges Public Charter School Director of Student Support Services, explained the challenges specific to classrooms that serve children with high-level special education needs. Photo credit: Nora Kern.

National Alliance Organizes Day on Capitol Hill for State Charter School Leaders

On February 11th and 12th, 25 state leaders from charter support organizations across the country met with more than 100 U.S. senators, representatives, and their staffs to educate them about public charter schools and to advocate for increased funding for the federal Charter Schools Program. During the visits, the state leaders encouraged members of Congress to visit a public charter school in their state. To learn more about this day of advocacy and how you can ask your members of Congress to support charter schools, sign up to receive our newsletters.

Kim Kober is the federal policy coordinator at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


Christy Wolfe


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Some Federal Implications of NACSA Quality Recommendations

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) released Replicating Quality: Policy Recommendations to Support the Replication and Growth of High-Performing Charter Schools and Networks in collaboration with the Charter School Growth Fund last week. This report lays out key policies and practices for legislators, authorizers, and state education agencies that have the greatest potential to accelerate the growth of high-performing charter schools. Although the report is focused on state policies, there are implications for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) and how it prioritizes funds to states.

As we outline in our guiding principles for ESEA reauthorization, Free to Succeed, the National Alliance supports prioritizing federal funds for charter schools for states with laws that are best positioned to encourage quality charter schools.

Unless ESEA is reauthorized and includes our recommendations before the next round of five year state CSP grants are awarded in FY 2015, the department should set priorities for the next competition that are effective in directing funds to states with strong charter school laws.  Several of NACSA’s policy recommendations are well-aligned with our recommendations for state law priorities for the Charter Schools Program including:

  • Independent Charter Boards:  To ensure authorizers are committed to quality (NACSA Policy Recommendation #2), NACSA advocates that states adopt  the National Alliance’s Model Law recommendation for creating at least one statewide authorizing entity.  Federal law already encourages states to create a statewide authorizer, so this would be a plus for applicants in the grant competition process.
  • Remove caps on growth: To allow quality charters to grow, states should remove caps from their laws (NACSA Policy Recommendation #3). Charter caps limit replication of proven, quality charter schools. In Free to Succeed we call for a funding priority to be given to states with charter laws that allow for high-quality school growth without artificial caps.
  • Differentiated renewal processes:  NACSA recommends differentiating and streamlining the renewal process for high-performing charters (NACSA Policy Recommendation #5). For example, Texas and Delaware offer ten-year reviews for their highest-performing charter schools. Federal law, however, prioritizes states that review all charters at least every five years. The next grant competition should not penalize states that have developed a more nuanced renewal process that supports high-quality charters.

NACSA’s report also underscores that creating high-quality charter schools is not as simple as coming up with a federal definition of quality. It takes a comprehensive effort to develop the essential policies and practices at the state, authorizer, and school level.  Federal priorities for state grants should recognize state, authorizer, and school-driven efforts to implement these important strategies.

Christy Wolfe is senior policy advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nora Kern, senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, also contributed to this blog post.

Renita Thukral


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Weighted Lotteries: Bringing Federal Rules in Line with State Charter School Laws

For years, charter schools across the country have been trying to give preferences to underserved students in their lotteries, only to find themselves barred from federal funding by the Department of Education. In an issue brief published in May 2012, titled “A Mission to Serve: How Public Charter Schools Are Designed to Meet the Diverse Demands of Our Communities,”the National Alliance identified this federal barrier as a major obstacle for the charter school community and urged the department to reconsider its position. Now, they have.

On January 29th, the department released new non-regulatory guidance permitting the targeted use of weighted lotteries. Randomized lotteries still will be used to enroll students on waitlists;, however, a slight preference may be given to certain groups of students – for instance, students with special needs, those who are low-income, homeless or neglected, or those who are learning English.  The updated guidance establishes that a charter school may give a slightly better chance of admission to these educationally disadvantaged students and still be eligible for federal dollars.

The department is not requiring, encouraging, or discouraging schools to use weighted lotteries; this new guidance simply offers charter schools an additional tool to better serve these students. The use of weighted lotteries remains completely voluntary.

So, what does this mean for a school interested in conducting weighted lotteries?  The impact of the new guidance will hinge on state law. Specifically, according to the revised language, a charter school may use a weighted lottery only if such lottery is permitted under state law.

The guidance details several ways in which state law may articulate such permission:  either expressly in statute, policy or regulation, or in a written opinion by the state attorney general. Moreover, if state law provides permission, additional criteria must be satisfied in order for the Department to sign off on a grantee’s eligibility to receive federal dollars. Such additional criteria include whether there is an oversight entity (such as an authorizer) monitoring the use of weighted lotteries, whether such lotteries serve the approved mission of the school, and whether the weights assigned through the lottery are reasonable.

This new guidance brings the federal government in line with existing state statutes and policies and offers another tool to charter schools to enroll a greater number of educationally disadvantaged students.

Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern


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Research shows NYC public charter schools have lower student transfer rates

The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) released a study last month that examined whether students transfer out of charter schools at higher rates than traditional public schools. This issue is important because researchers have found that changing schools can affect student achievement, and it may be a contributor to the achievement gap for minority and disadvantaged students who change schools frequently.

For the study, IBO monitored a cohort of students starting kindergarten in 2008 at 53 charter schools and 116 traditional public schools, and followed these students through their third grade year. The study found that on average, students attending public charter schools stay enrolled in the same school at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional public schools. Specifically:

  • About 70 percent of students attending charter schools in school year 2008-2009 remained in the same school three years later.
  • 61 percent of the traditional school student cohort attended the same school three years later.
  • Charter schools continued to show a higher retention rate when students are compared by gender, race/ethnicity, poverty level, and English language learner status.

The one exception is special education students, who transfer from charter schools at a higher rate than either general education students in charter schools or special education students in traditional public schools. While we don’t know why these students are leaving charter schools and there were very few special needs students in the study, we are concerned by this finding. To continue work on this issue, the National Alliance is working closely with the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools to help charter schools better serve students with special needs.

The study further found that—regardless of school type—students who remained in the same school from kindergarten through third grade scored higher on standardized math and reading tests in third grade than their peers who switched schools. This is an important policy issue for New York City as Mayor de Blasio considers ending co-location and facility funding for public charter schools. If charter schools are financially forced out of operation and students have to transfer to a different school, research shows that their students, especially those who are most disadvantaged, will suffer.

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


Nick Fickler


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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News

  • “Why the GOP Should Get On Board With Preschool,” op-ed by Nina Rees (President & CEO), U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 3
  • “Preferential treatment: Fed eases rules to admit disadvantaged students through lotteries,” Nina quoted, Watchdog, Feb. 3
  • “Threshold staff, students celebrate school choice,” National Alliance mentioned, Ionia Sentinel-Standard, Feb. 4

News to Know

  • “Charging Rent for New York Charters Hits Wrinkle,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 7
  • “Editorial: A Bad Deal for D.C. Charter Schools,” Washington Post, Feb. 6
  • “Charter School Inequality,” Houston Chronicle, Feb. 5
  • “De Blasio Says He Won’t Allow Co-Locations for Charter Schools,” New York Post, Feb. 4
  • “Washington State Approves Its First Batch of Charter Schools,” Education Week, Feb. 3


Audience Favorites

Facebook— Can attending a charter high school help you go to college and make more money? Our latest blog post has the answer

Twitter—Study: #charterschool students earn more than traditional public school peers cc: @MathPolResearch

 You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.



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Using Charter Schools to Strengthen Rural Education

Bellwether recently released a new report on the promise of charter schooling in rural America—and the very real challenges facing it. The paper is part the ROCI initiative, a two-year project on rural education reform funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

We went into this project knowing relatively little about rural charters. It turns out that this is partially because there are so few of them. There are a mere 785 rural charter schools, and only 111 of them are in the most remote rural areas.

High-performing charter schools have accomplished great things for many inner-city kids, so we wondered whether they could do the same in rural areas.

The need is great. There are 11 million students in rural public schools, and kids in rural America are more likely than their peers in any other geography to live in poverty. Only 27 percent of rural high school graduates go on to college, and just one in five rural adults has earned a bachelor’s degree.

But bringing public charter schools to these communities is knottier than we imagined. First, “rural” defies a simple definition. As one scholar put it, the term includes “hollows in the Appalachian Mountains, former sharecroppers’ shacks in the Mississippi Delta, desolate Indian reservations on the Great Plains, and emerging colonia along the Rio Grande.”  What is good for one rural community may not be for another.

Second, since many rural areas are isolated and sparsely populated, a new schools strategy faces numerous obstacles, such as enrolling enough students, acquiring facilities, and recruiting teachers and administrators.

Third, it’s often the case that a rural district-run school is the largest employer in the area, the hub of local activities, and one of the few visible public investments for miles. As a result, the existing district school is woven tightly into the community’s fabric. New charter schools are often seen through narrowed eyes.

But our research also gave us reason for encouragement. There are numerous examples of successful rural charters, from KIPP’s cluster in the Mississippi Delta to the Upper Carmen Charter School in Idaho. There have been heartening instances where charter schools enabled a community—threatened by a consolidation effort—to maintain a local school, preserving the community and its heritage.

The paper is sprinkled with facts that we found fascinating, often surprising, and occasionally frustrating.

  • Very few charter management organizations (CMOs) operate in rural areas.
  • Of the nation’s 10 most rural states, 7 have no charter law.
  • States without one of the nation’s 50 largest cities are more likely to lack a charter school law, and, when they do have one, it’s more likely to be rated poorly by both the National Alliance and Center for Education Reform.
  • Some state charter schools laws have provisions that make starting a rural charter nearly impossible or prohibited.
  • Rural charter schools get substantially less funding than district-run schools and face high costs related to transportation and buildings. 

The report makes a number of recommendations related to teacher preparation and certification, technology, charter caps, funding, and transportation. There are clearly a number of policies that states ought to revisit.

But a big takeaway from this project is that better policy alone won’t expand the public school options available to rural kids. Charter school advocates need to better understand rural communities, their strengths, and their challenges. And given the differences among rural communities, different approaches are going to be needed for deciding if, when, where, and how a new charter school should emerge.

Andy Smarick is a partner at Bellwhether Education Partners and author of A New Frontier, Using Charter Schooling to Strengthen Rural Education.  Juliet Squire is an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners.

Click here to view the National Alliance’s recent video, The Story of Rural Charter Schools.

Todd Ziebarth


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Major takeaways from our 2014 rankings of state charter school laws

We recently released the fifth annual edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws. This report evaluates, scores, and ranks each of the country’s 43 state charter school laws against the 20 essential components from the National Alliance model law.

Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 5.12.43 PMOver the past few years, there has been significant activity in state capitols to improve public charter school laws, and 2013 was no exception. Governors and legislators from coast to coast worked to lift caps that are constraining growth, enhance quality controls to better encourage the opening of great schools, and provide additional funding to decrease the equity gap between public charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools. All of this work was done with one simple goal in mind: create more high-quality public charter schools to meet surging parental demand.

Given all of the state legislative activity across the country, there were several notable moves within our rankings this year. Here are the major takeaways:

  • Minnesota remained #1, but just barely.
  • Indiana moved up seven spots from #9 to #2 because it enacted legislation that strengthened charter renewal processes, created statutory guidelines for relationships between charter schools and educational service providers, and created statutory guidelines to govern the expansion of high-quality charter schools through multi-school charter contracts.
  • Mississippi moved up 29 spots from #43 to #14, the largest jump in rankings in the five years we have been producing this report. Mississippi enacted a significant overhaul of its charter school law in 2013. Under its previous charter school law, the state allowed only up to 12 chronically low-performing schools to convert to charter status; provided weak autonomy, accountability, and funding; and required applicants to apply to the state board of education. Under its new charter school law, the state allows up to 15 start-ups and conversions per year; provided strong autonomy, accountability, and operational and categorical funding; and created a new state authorizer to be the state’s sole authorizing entity.
  • Idaho moved up 12 spots from #32 to #20, the second largest jump in the 2014 rankings. Idaho enacted two major pieces of charter school legislation in 2013. The first expanded the types of entities that can serve as authorizers, created performance frameworks as part of charter contracts, and created charter renewal processes. The second provided facilities funding.
  • Nevada moved up nine spots from #22 to #13. Nevada enacted two major pieces of charter school legislation in 2013. The first created performance frameworks as part of charter contracts, strengthened the application and renewal processes, and provided for stronger authorizer accountability. The second provided facilities support.
  • States with weak or no charter laws are basing new legislation on the experiences of states with stronger laws, while states that fell in the rankings did so because other states enacted stronger laws. These changes represent progress for the movement.
  • Despite significant improvements in several states in 2013, our highest-scoring state only received 75 percent of the total points, meaning there is still much work to do to improve policies for charters, especially in the areas of operational and capital funding equity.

Look for a new annual report from us about the health of the public charter school sector in each state later this year. This report, meant to be a companion to our annual state charter school laws rankings report, will analyze the impact of charter laws by looking at growth, innovation, and quality with the public charter school sector in each state.

In the meantime, we hope that the most recent edition of the state charter school laws rankings report will be used by charter advocates to help push for laws that support the creation of high-quality public charter schools, particularly for those students most in need of a better public school option.

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


Nora Kern


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Can attending a charter high school help you go to college and earn more money?

A new working paper released by Mathematica Policy Research and sponsored by the Joyce Foundation finds that public charter schools in Florida and Chicago are helping more students get into college and earn higher incomes once they graduate. Compared to their traditional school peers, the study found:

  • Enrolling in a charter high school increases a student’s probability of graduating from high school and entering college by 11 percentage points in Florida and by seven in Chicago.
  • Enrollment in a Florida charter high school leads to a 10 percentage point increase in the probability of attending college.
  • Chicago charter schools boost their students’ chances of attending college by 11 percentage points.
  • Florida charter high school graduates have a 13 percentage point advantage for completing at least two consecutive years of college.
  • Florida charter high schools may raise their students’ earnings in their mid-20s by as much as 12.7 percent. 

College Attendance Graph

Source: Kevin Booker, Brian Gill, Tim Sass, and Ron Zimmre,Charter High Schools’ Effects on Educational Attainment and Earnings, Mathematica Policy Research, January 2014.

This report is particularly compelling when you consider the methodology. Most charter school studies use a lottery admission strategy, one that compares students who enrolled in an oversubscribed charter school lottery and either won admission to the charter or enrolled in a traditional public school. This Mathematica study, however, looks at students who were enrolled in charter schools in 8th grade, and either enrolled in a charter or switched to a traditional public school for high school. Therefore all the students had previously shown the disposition to enroll in a charter school. The study further controlled for student characteristics such as test scores, race/ethnicity, poverty, mobility, and special education status.

While this report’s methodology is rigorous, it still doesn’t answer the “secret sauce” question of what these public charter schools are doing to achieve these great results for their students’ long-term outcomes and acknowledged the need for further research. But regardless of further research, it’s clear that public charter school students in Chicago and Florida are seeing significant academic results that are helping them well beyond their K-12 years.  

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