The secrets of high-performing charter schools

High-performing charter management organizations spend more per student at the school level, using some of that money to fund a more teachers per student, writes James Peyser of New Schools Venture Fund in Education Next. The high flyers also invest more in recruiting and developing talented teachers and “building instructional support systems that are grounded in the use of performance data.”

. . . the most successful organizations strive to create enthusiasm for learning and an expectation of college success for all, with a commitment to hard work and persistence in the face of initial failures or setbacks. They have adopted standards-based curricula, with an intensive focus on literacy and numeracy as the first foundation for academic achievement, which typically manifests itself in extra time for reading and math each day and a relatively heavy reliance on direct instruction and differentiated grouping, especially in the early grades. And they are increasingly focused on developing and deploying comprehensive student assessment and coaching systems to ensure more effective and consistent classroom practice, not just from year to year but during the course of each school year.

The five highest-performing CMOs in NewSchools’ portfolio operate 85 schools with more than 28,000 students. Their low-income students have proficiency rates that are more than 25 percentage points higher than those in their local districts.

On average, NewSchools’ CMOs score 9 points higher on reading and math proficiency than district schools, 12 points higher when low-income students are compared and 14 points higher comparing schools open five years or more.

Critics often suggest that superior performance in the charter sector is a result of high levels of attrition, caused by implicit or explicit efforts on the part of school staff to “counsel out” the students who are hardest to educate. Excluding students who move away, our data show average attrition rates of about 12 percent, compared to many schools in high-poverty urban neighborhoods that have annual attrition rates of close to one-third. Interestingly, the highest performers in our portfolio have below-average attrition rates of approximately 9 percent, while the lowest performers have above-average attrition rates of close to 20 percent.

NewSchools CMO students are more likely to graduate from high school than other low-income, minority students and much more likely to enroll in college, Peyser writes.