March 2016 Newsletter: Rural Charter Schools Report

Harvesting Success, Charter Schools in Rural America

While urban charter schools are achieving impressive gains, can charter schools improve outcomes for rural America? This topic is an important one with more than 11 million students attending rural schools and facing lower college enrollment than their urban peers. The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) recently published a report, Harvesting Success: Charter Schools in Rural America, on challenges facing rural charter schools and responses from some innovative schools. This publication highlights how charter schools are uniquely positioned to increase educational outcomes for rural communities.

While the charter community is familiar with the challenges of human capital, transportation, and facilities, the report describes how geographic isolation and low population density exacerbate their impact for rural schools.

The report also highlights a number of innovative charter schools and their successful approaches to rural challenges.

Please see here for the full report.

For additional research and publications on rural education and the role of charter schools, please see the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho (ROCI) website here. ROCI was established in 2014 to strengthen the research base for issues facing rural education. 

A Tennessee Charter School Shows Promise of Turnaround Efforts

Lester School was a neighborhood school serving grades K-5 in the Binghampton area of Memphis. Nearly 90% of its students were eligible for free or reduced lunch. In 2012, Lester School had the worst Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) scores in the state. Although Lester was underperforming, the surrounding community had a deep affection for its neighborhood school of many decades. This was the situation Cornerstone Prep faced when it welcomed Lester’s former students in the 2012-2013 school year.

Cornerstone Prep is part of the Achievement School District (ASD), a statewide district commissioned by the Tennessee Department of Education to turnaround failing schools. The ASD’s goal is to transform the bottom 5% of schools into the top 25% of schools. In its first three years, Cornerstone quadrupled the number of students at or above grade level and is zealously pursuing the ASD’s top quarter goal. Along with impressive academic gains, Cornerstone has made great strides in community relations

The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) recently visite­­d Cornerstone as it was entering its fourth year serving the Binghampton neighborhood and documented findings in a video case study.

The full case study can be accessed here

Students with Disabilities Webinar

The content of this webinar covered several research reports that examine issues around students with disabilities and charter schools. In this webinar, Paul T. O’Neill, Co-Founder of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) and Betheny Gross, from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), discussed research-based practices such as charter school collaboration and enrollment practices. These presenters co-authored two reports last year on special education. Betheny Gross’s Special Education in Charter Schools: What We've Learned and What We Still Need to Know and Paul T. O’Neill’s Equity at Scale: How Public Charter School Networks Can Innovate and Improve Services for Students with Disabilities both informed the webinar.

You can access the webinar here.

Charter School Growth: What has Changed in the Last 10 Years

In November, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) released its 10th annual student enrollment share report, A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities, which identifies communities with the highest enrollment share and the largest number of students attending charter schools.

The national enrollment in charter schools is now three million, triple what it was ten years ago. Many factors have contributed to the growth in enrollment, including more states authorizing charter schools and existing laws being modified to allow for charter schools to expand. In 2015, the top ten districts in terms of enrollment share had at least 30 percent of students enrolled in charter public schools in 2014-15. Ten years ago, only New Orleans met this 30 percent benchmark.

The table below shows the ten-year trends for the top ten districts on this year’s report for highest enrollment share and largest number of students served:

The report can be accessed here.

In conjunction to the growth in the sector, another NAPCS report published in February shows that more than 270 charter schools were closed last year. The closures are evidence of the accountability process that maintains the quality of charter schools. Florida, California, and Arizona were among the states with the largest number of closures. The new report is available here

Authorizer Growth: Growing in Number and Activity

Confirming findings from the NAPCS report, a new report by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) shows that authorizers are successfully closing schools outside of the renewal process. The report summarizes authorizing trends across the nation—the most notable being the significant growth in the number of authorizers propelled by the growth in local school district authorizers. This can be beneficial as districts manage a portfolio of both traditional public schools and charter schools. The report and data are available here.

News Clips

Guidance on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Melody Musgrove, from The Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, recently posted a new “Dear Colleague Letter” to clarify that all IEP goals must be aligned with state grade-level content standards. The letter stresses that an IEP must enable the student to participate and to make progress in the general education curriculum. However, the Department does recognize that alternative academic achievement standards may be appropriate for a small number of students with severe cognitive disabilities.

The letter also provides an example of how a school’s special education team can create an IEP that meets the needs of students with disabilities while helping them reach the content standards appropriate to their grade level.  

Read more here.

91 School Districts and Charters Utilize Socioeconomic Integration Policies to Increase Student Outcomes

The Century Foundation released a report highlighting the work that districts and charter schools are doing to promote socioeconomic integration across the nation. A large body of research shows current school enrollment trends in low-income communities, where over 70% of students come from a single racial or ethnic group, can make it increasingly difficult to encourage tolerance and reduce inequality. The report highlights the integration policies of 91 districts and charters that enroll diverse student populations at their schools (see chart below).

Read more here.

State Legislators Strike a Deal to Save Washington’s Charter Schools

On September 4th, 2015 the Washington Supreme Court declared the state’s voter-approved charter law unconstitutional. The majority of court justices said charter schools should not receive state funding, primarily because they are run by appointed, rather than elected, board members. Since then, charter supporters, parents, and students have lobbied legislators to save the 1,100 students who attend Washington’s charter schools. In March 2016, lawmakers were able to pass a new bill that addresses the issues brought up in the court ruling by changing the way charters are funded. Now all that remains to restore funding for charters is Governor Jay Inslee’s signature.

Read more here.


Institute of Education Sciences - Free Webinar Series from REL Mid-Atlantic

March 18, 2016: Using Beliefs, Policies, and Practices to Address Disproportionality (12:00 - 1:30 p.m. ET)


April 1, 2016: Key Activities to Reflect on Biases in Addressing Disproportionality (12:00 - 1:30 p.m. ET)


April 8, 2016: Practitioner Implementation Practices for Addressing Disproportionality (12:00 - 1:30 p.m. ET)


March 31 - April 1, 2016: The Green School Conference and Expo

Pittsburgh, PA

April 25 - 26, 2016: 32nd Annual Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity

Honolulu, HI