City-Based Strategies For Excellent Charter Schools

A number of forward looking cities have set aside contentious debates about charter schools, and have instead chosen to embrace high-quality charter schools in their reform strategies. This is a welcome development for students stuck in underperforming schools. But these city-based movements are not without challenges.

Addressing these challenges is the focus of three new white papers a Public Impact team led by Lucy Steiner recently produced with the support of the National Charter School Resource Center and the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program. The papers in this series, co-authored by Steiner, Daniela Doyle and Joe Ableidinger, offer practical ways for city-based organizations to support creation of high-quality charter schools, foster development of talent pipelines, and guide prospective investors. Here’s a quick synopsis of all three papers.

Growing the best charter schools is one strategy Public Impact has previously addressed.  But starting excellent new schools is essential, too. Incubating High-Quality Charter Schools: Innovations in City-Based Organizations explores how the members of a national network of city-based organizations—the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust—are using one promising approach to creating high-quality school options: incubating charter school leaders.

These are the major lessons learned by CEE-Trust member organizations:

  • Attract and develop effective school or CMO leaders by building local and national recruitment pipelines, while also removing candidates who fall short.
  • Partner strategically to help leaders open and operate high-quality charter schools and CMOs by delegating some training and support responsibilities to external partners and pooling resources and tools such as application materials with other incubators.
  • Champion school leaders in the community both by introducing leaders to communities in advance of school opening and recruiting exceptional board members.
  • Coordinate advocacy to support new charter leaders by enlisting partners to push for supportive policies, building relationships with local districts and authorizers, and publicizing success.

Developing Education Talent Pipelines for Charter Schools: A Citywide Approach explores how New Orleans and Indianapolis are developing robust talent pipelines to expand the supply of effective charter school teachers and leaders in their cities. The paper highlights the indicators of a robust talent pipeline so that charter supporters of all kinds can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own efforts.  The six indicators include:

  • A facilitator who focuses specifically on the talent pipeline
  • Local and national talent providers
  • High-performing charter schools (because they become magnets for talent)
  • Philanthropic funding for education talent initiatives
  • Political support
  • A favorable state policy environment

Developing City-Based Funding Strategies: Investments to Create a Robust Charter Sector outlines five lessons learned from veteran charter school investors:

  • Address market failures by targeting a bottleneck in the sector that others are unwilling to fund or have not yet identified. School leaders and facilities are common examples.
  • Have a laser focus on quality. Charter schools’ credibility and transformative powers rest in their quality.
  • Scale what works. The charter sector has produced some remarkable proof points.  Yet the best charter schools serve just a tiny fraction of the students who need them, causing demand to far outstrip supply.
  • Leverage investments by funding fewer projects more deeply.
  • Identify opportunities for district collaboration. One of the best ways to maximize each dollar is to invest in efforts that not only improve the charter sector in a city, but the district school system as well.

While federal support and state-level legislative changes are crucial to wide-scale excellence in the charter sector, city leaders need not sit on the sidelines. Indeed, city-based organizations can take charge to attract and grow excellent charter schools using these strategies.

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