Success is in the Details at High-Performing Charter Management Organizations



James A. Peyser,, NewSchools Venture Fund
Janice B. Riddell,, External Relations, Education Next

Success is in the Details at High-Performing Charter Management Organizations

A “no excuses” approach to teaching and learning and tight management make the difference

Cambridge, MA – A new analysis of charter schools shows that while there is no “secret sauce,” there are identifiable practices that produce their success.  The highest-performing charters are those that that have most fully embraced a “no excuses” approach to teaching and learning; have created strong school cultures based on explicit expectations for both academic achievement and behavior;  have an intensive focus on literacy and numeracy as the first foundation for academic achievement;  feature a relatively heavy reliance on direct instruction and differentiated grouping, especially in the early grades;  and are increasingly focused on comprehensive student assessment systems.

James A. Peyser, managing partner at the NewSchools Venture Fund, writes that his investigation of the eighteen charter management organizations (CMOs) in the NewSchools Venture Fund portfolio reveals that these common ingredients include “an unflagging attention to detail and an uncompromising commitment to excellence in all things, from the classroom, to the hallway, to the principal’s office.”  His article, “Unlocking the Secrets of High-Performing Charters,” will appear in the Fall 2011 issue of Education Next and is currently available at

Charter schools in the NewSchools’ portfolio achieve proficiency rates in reading and math that are about 9 percentage points higher, on average, than those achieved by schools in their host districts.  When comparing only low-income students, NewSchools charters outperform their district peers by an average of almost 12 percentage points.  Limiting the sample to charter schools open five years or more, NewSchools charters outperform district schools by an average of 14 percentage points.

College-going rates for NewSchools’ graduates are significantly higher than national rates:  84 percent of graduating seniors from its CMO schools last year enrolled in college the following fall, compared to college-going rates of 70 percent nationally and 57 percent for low-income graduates.

The highest-performing CMOs invest more on recruiting and developing talent, as well as building instructional support systems grounded in the use of performance data.  Successful CMOs have tended to add new schools at a steady incremental rate over time, while the low performers tended to grow faster early in their development.  Peyser notes that over the past five years, the size of CMOs’ central office staffs (about 4.5 staff on average per school) has been declining and the size of their education staffs has grown.

Charter management organizations came on the scene roughly a decade after the nation’s first charter school opened in 1991.  NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit grantmaking organization, operates in several major cities across the U.S.  CMOs in its portfolio work exclusively in urban neighborhoods, serve predominantly low-income students, with demographics that are similar to those of their local public school peers.

About the Author

James A. Peyser is managing partner for city funds at NewSchools Venture Fund and a former chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education.  He is available for interviews; please contact him at

About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform.  Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

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