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Report: It's One Thing to Pass Charter Laws, Another to Build 'Healthy' Systems

By Arianna Prothero. Cross-posted from Charters & Choice.

The District of Columbia and the state of Louisiana have the "healthiest" charter school systems, while Oregon and Nevada have the weakest sectors, according to a new report released Wednesday by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The inaugural Health of the Charter Sector report examines the gap between policy and practice by looking at the levels of growth, quality and innovation in state's charter sectors.

NAPCS already ranks states every year based on the strength of their charter school laws, but this is the first time the Washington-based advocacy organization has judged states on how well they are implementing their laws.

The report shows that for the most part, states considered to have strong charter laws also have healthy sectors, but there were exceptions to the rule with some state charters performing well despite weak laws.

"They've done this through authorizers that have implemented best practices, and encouraged the replication and expansion of high performing schools," said Todd Ziebarth, who is senior vice president of state advocacy and support at NAPCS and co-author of the report.

The reverse was also true in a few cases, which can indicate an issue in implementation or timing. "It sometimes takes time for supportive laws to move the needle on states that have experienced challenges," Ziebarth said. "Minnesota is a good example, as is New Mexico and Nevada."

Not all states with charter schools were ranked.

In order to be included in the report's rankings, states had to meet two criteria: at least 1 percent of the state's public school student population had to be enrolled charter schools, and the state must have participated in the 2013 Center for Research on Education Outcomes' National Charter School Study. That allowed NAPCS to make state-to-state comparisons, something that's notoriously difficult to do in a national sector governed by a patchwork of state laws.

For some context, here are a few features of the D.C.'s charter school sector that landed it at the top of the rankings:

  • The city's charter schools served a higher percentage of racial and ethnic minority students compared to traditional schools.
  • Charter students showed higher academic growth compared to traditional district school peers.
  • A significant proportion of charters reported using one of several innovative practices tracked by NAPCS, such as extended days or a year-round calendar. 
  • The rate of charter school closures was high enough to prove that D.C. shuts down poorly performing schools, but low enough to show it has adequate authorizing standards.

Twenty-six states in all were ranked, although the report includes a thorough look at all states with charter school laws. See below for the full rankings.

NAPCS ranking (2).pngChart from 'The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: A State-By-State Analysis,' by Todd Ziebarth, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools senior vice president of state advocacy, and Louann Bierlein Palmer, professor of educaitonal leadership and policy at Western Michigan University. 


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