April 2018 Newsletter

What Can Happen Now in Virtual Charter School Accountability

Many parents view the virtual school option as an advantage, especially in cases where their child has failed to thrive in more traditional environments. Virtual charter schools educate about 180,000 students in 23 states (7 percent of charter school enrollment), but many states and authorizers are struggling with the question of how to hold virtual charter schools accountable for their outcomes. The NCSRC, in collaboration with the National Association for Charter School Authorizers, developed a tool for authorizers and states to provide more effective oversight of virtual charter schools. This resource deals with the world as it is and intends to give state education agencies (SEAs) and the authorizers in their states the tools and perspectives needed to provide better-informed and more effective oversight right now.

SEAs and authorizers should be working closely with virtual charter schools to hold them to the same high standards as other public schools; however, virtual charter schools do raise unique questions about accountability. This paper, along with a shorter accompanying primer, provides recommendations for the specific oversight of virtual charter schools that do not necessarily apply to other kinds of schools.

You can view the full report here.

Charter School Rankings Measure Policy Success Across Nation

This report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (the Alliance) examines state policy changes. It summarizes major changes and ranks states against the Alliance’s Model Charter School Law. The report highlights policy wins in the charter school sector and demonstrates that many states are strengthening charter laws.

Kentucky became the latest state to add a new charter school, while other states made major changes improving charter school financing. For example, Florida and Colorado increased charter schools’ access to local funding sources, and Texas and Tennessee each provided new funding for facilities. The Model Law ranks Indiana as number one among states, with Colorado taking the second spot based on their financing improvements.

Bay Area Charter School Growth Slowing - Why? And What Can We Do About It?

This report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) examines the recent slow-down in charter growth in the California Bay Area. The 2016-2017 school year was the first in a decade that more Bay Area charter schools closed than opened. The study should be of interest to other communities that face similar challenges and that have a recent slow-down in charter growth.

Interviews conducted by CRPE revealed an already fatigued sector dealing with a trifecta of brakes that are slowing growth. As charters have become a more significant presence, especially in their target cities, they face scarce facilities, increased competition with each other, and growing political opposition. The strategies of philanthropists may also be contributing to the decline. Targeting foundation dollars on a few operators makes it harder for new operators to start.

Gentrification of urban neighborhoods also challenges Bay Area operators with a mission to serve low-income students. Many low-income families are priced out of the California neighborhoods where foundations have historically focused. These families often relocate to nearby communities that are not prioritized by charter funders. The expense of real estate in the areas the foundations support, and the competition for the declining number of low-income students who remain there, make growth difficult. Despite the lack of foundation support, some operators hope to expand in nearby counties where their target students now live and where facilities may be more manageable.

To revitalize charter growth, CRPE recommends:

  • Helping schools secure suitable long-term facilities;
  • Coordinating to address inefficiencies in cities with high concentrations of charters or to start growing charters in new localities;
  • Building a more diverse supply of charter providers; and
  • Addressing toxic local politics.

Instructional Practices and How They Can Be Shared Between Districts and Charters

Districts and charter schools are working together to share best practices to improve teaching and learning. CRPE’s latest report, Passing Notes: Learning from Efforts to Share Instructional Practices Across District-Charter Lines, describes efforts in Chicago, Boston, and New York City. These case studies provide lessons for other programs or cities interested in encouraging collaboration that includes all types of schools.

According to CRPE, “staff reported improved district-charter relationships at the system level and more willingness among educators to collaborate across sector lines. The Summit Learning Program and Uncommon Impact can also point to some early evidence of improved student engagement and outcomes.”

Challenges include:

  • Getting beyond the early adopters;
  • Adapting schoolwide strategies for use in other settings; and
  • Putting adequate attention to district-level policy barriers.

To succeed, CRPE recommends that other cities:

  • Pay attention to local contexts;
  • Be clear on non-negotiables that will support successful dissemination; and
  • Secure commitment from district, charter, and other partner organizations.

NCSRC Resources

  • Intentionally Diverse Charter Schools: A Toolkit for Charter School Leaders: This toolkit is designed to help charter school leaders and their stakeholders design and implement intentionally diverse charter schools. It presents decisions and actions for school leaders’ consideration. Using this toolkit, leaders will learn how to measure student diversity, how to intentionally recruit and retain students, how to ensure that diversity is supported, and how to create and run schools that help all children thrive.
  • An Analysis of the Charter School Facility Landscape in Delaware: This analysis of the charter school facility landscape and facilities expenditures in Delaware found that Delaware charter schools face significant challenges in securing adequate facilities to accommodate enrollment demand. The NCSRC, the Colorado League of Charter Schools, the Delaware Charter Schools Network, and the Alliance collaborated to collect data and information for this report under the Charter School Facilities Initiative, a national project funded by the U.S. Department of Education that researches charter school facilities and facilities expenditures across the country. Key findings include:
    • Meeting demand may require new statewide facilities solutions;
    • Charters spend operating dollars on facilities. (The amount varies depending on who owns the building);
    • Delaware charter schools have limited access to state and local facilities funding;
    • Delaware charter schools have limited access to space in district facilities;
    • Physical education and recreational options may be limited; and
    • Serving meals can be a challenge for many Delaware charter schools.
  • SEA Webinar: The State Role in Supporting Charter Innovation: In this interactive webinar, a panel of thought leaders representing foundations, researchers, authorizers, and former SEA officials shared their thoughts on the state role in supporting charter innovation. They explored the need for innovation as well as opportunities to support innovation or reduce state-level barriers to innovation through various tools, practices, and ideas. Along with a focus on removing obstacles to foster innovation, the webinar addressed designing activities through the CSP grant or broadly through the SEA to provide incentives for innovation.

NCSRC Partner Resources

Education News

  • Memphis Charter School Creates Classroom Inside International Manufacturing Hub: Ten students from a Memphis charter school—Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering—will spend most of their senior year training at the global technology firm Smith & Nephew. They spend four hours at the firm each day. This allows them to learn about medical engineering and get hands-on experience before heading to college.

Events