New Study Finds Charter Schools Pivoted Quickly During the Pandemic 

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Earlier this week, Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released new survey-based research illuminating the experiences of charter school leaders in California, New York, and Washington State from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 through the end of the 2020-21 school year. Since there has been a fair amount of attention in research to quantifying the unequal impact of the pandemic, CREDO determined it was important to look at how unequal impact is connected to a school’s governance model: thus, the purpose of the study is to uncover how charter school autonomy and flexibility enabled them to deal with disruption. 

CREDO’s study offers a window into how charter schools were able to cope with the challenges set before them and quickly pivot and make changes to meet the needs of their students at the start of the pandemic. It found that the majority of charter schools in the survey demonstrated “resilience and creativity” in responding to the needs of the students.   

Charter Schools Quickly Pivoted to Remote Learning 

On average, it only took charter schools 3.5 days to transition to remote learning in March 2020. By comparison, most traditional districts didn’t catch up with remote learning until May. In fact, another study from CRPE found that nearly 70% of districts nationally did not provide instruction in Spring 2020. This holds true to what we found in our look at how charter schools served students during COVID-19 closures.  

Charter Schools Stayed Connected to Students and Families 

95% of charter schools reported using daily touch points to determine if students were present during remote instruction, compared to 70% of all schools in a study by RAND. And, more than half of charter schools reported increases in time spent communicating with families.  

Charter Schools Supported Students and Teachers Online 

By the end of the Spring 2020 semester, charter schools had secured devices and internet connections for nearly all of their students and teachers—critical given our findings that more than 1 in 5 charter school students live in areas with low internet access. And, charter schools provided remote professional development to nearly 100% of their teachers, compared to 50% of district operating plans.  

 The survey did not find that charter school students were somehow less impacted by COVID—15% of students lost family members to COVID and 20% of charter school students experienced significant learning loss. The study did find that the legal and regulatory parameters—a.k.a. flexibility and autonomy in making decisions about things such as curriculum and how they spend their money—gave charter schools the ability to quickly respond. And, the researchers main takeaway? That the pandemic only illustrated how important the charter school model is to public education and that all schools should benefit from more autonomy. 


Christy Wolfe is the vice president for policy and planning at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools,