Charter Schools Are Closing the Achievement Gap, Report Shows; Sets Performance Benchmarks for Increased Accountability

February 23, 2011

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For Immediate Release

Contact: Vicky Waters, CCSA
(415) 505-7575

New annual report, Portrait of the Movement, rates state's charter schools' performance; details strengths and weaknesses; and sets new, higher minimum performance expectations

SACRAMENTO, California

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) today released its first annual Portrait of the Movement report, which reviews the academic performance of charter schools across the state and provides a framework of minimum performance criteria to press for greater accountability for low-performing charter schools.

The most significant finding in Portrait of the Movement is that charters are contributing significantly to accelerating the closure of the performance gap between low-income and affluent communities. Specifically, CCSA's analysis shows that charters serving low-income populations are generating significantly better academic results than traditional public schools serving the same populations, thus demonstrating that charter schools are weakening the link between poverty and underperformance that is so prevalent in the traditional system. Indeed, the impact of family income on charter schools' performance is four times less than the impact of family income on non-charters' performance.

Portrait of the Movement examines school performance in part by using the Similar Students Measure (SSM), a metric developed by CCSA and vetted by an advisory panel of external research and evaluation experts. Using publicly-available data, the SSM provides an approximation of the added value a school provides to its students, allowing researchers to identify schools that significantly exceed or under-perform a prediction based on their students' background. The SSM reveals that charters are over four times as likely as non-charters to far exceed predicted performance, and that more than twice as many students are served by charter schools performing far above their prediction than by under-performing ones. Charters are also more concentrated than non-charters among under-performing schools, however we see some evidence that the number and proportion of under-performing charters is decreasing over time.

"Charters have built tremendous momentum during the past decade, especially in California, but growth alone is not enough," said Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association. "This report shows that a strikingly large number of California's charter schools are among the very best public schools in the state, and that charters are serving low-income students more effectively than traditional public schools."

In addition to the SSM, the CCSA accountability framework includes measures of rigor (in the form of a school's status as measured by its Academic Performance Index, or API, score) and momentum (in the form of growth in API over a three-year period). API is a numeric score used for school accountability purposes ranging from 200 to 1,000 that summarizes a school's performance on California's standardized tests. By combining the measures of current API status and three-year pattern of growth to the approximated added value as measured by SSM, the framework provides a more comprehensive performance management construct to assess school progress than any one metric alone. Schools are then divided into four quadrants: high status-high growth; high status-low growth; low status-high growth; and low status-low growth.

Portrait of the Movement shows that charters are more concentrated than non-charters among schools with high academic status and high growth. Charter schools are also more concentrated among schools with low academic status and low growth, but proportionally serve fewer students than low-performing non-charters. Additionally, charter schools serving low-income populations are more likely to have high academic status and high growth and less likely to have low academic status and low growth than non-charters serving low-income populations.

"It is unprecedented for a membership organization to issue a report like this, publicly identifying where we need to make improvements," said Myrna Castrejón, CCSA's senior vice president, Achievement and Performance Management. "We are modeling a new level of transparency because we strongly believe we must, and can, do better. We believe that turning this candid lens upon our schools' performance shows the depth of charters' relentless commitment to improving the quality of public education in California."

The framework also guides minimum performance criteria for identifying schools that perform at the high and low ends on all three measures of status, growth and the SSM. Under the framework, in 2010, thirty (30) schools were below the minimum criteria for charter school performance, while seventy-seven (77) schools were identified as "high impact" schools for their combination of high API and high SSM scores. As context, if we were to apply the "high impact" definition to non-charter schools, only 5.5% of schools would qualify. In comparison, 10.7% of California's charters qualify as a "high impact" school.

Charter schools, which must be renewed by their authorizing entity every five years, are currently held to the standards established by AB 1137, a 2003 law that has resulted in inconsistencies in oversight and loopholes in the renewal process. These inconsistencies have led to an unacceptable number of chronically under-performing charter schools receiving renewals. In alignment with its accountability framework, CCSA has sponsored a bill in the California Legislature to increase the minimum academic criteria necessary for a charter to be renewed.

"It is immensely gratifying to release a report which demonstrates that high numbers of charter schools are generating results that provide hope that public education's most intractable problems can be addressed, in spite of all the challenges charters face. CCSA and its membership will continue to work to ensure success for all students, and will advance concrete policy initiatives designed raise the performance bar and to support those charter schools that are having a high impact on their students' futures," said Wallace, the Association's president and CEO.

CCSA has involved its members in the accountability initiative throughout the last two years. The SSM and the performance framework have been a joint endeavor with CCSA's Member Council, an advisory group representing member charter schools of every school type and geographic location. Member schools four years and older received their individual school results on the accountability framework in fall 2010, in the form of "report cards," which they were encouraged to share with staff and parents.

"Accountability is at the heart of the charter school movement, and the Member Council has actively supported CCSA in its quest to always put student achievement at the forefront of our work," said Diane Tavenner, co-founder of four Bay Area charter schools and chair of CCSA's Member Council, as well as a member of the CCSA Board of Directors. "This report is a critical tool we will all use to improve educational outcomes for every child."

About the California Charter Schools Association*

The California Charter Schools Association is the membership and professional organization serving 912 charter public schools and more than 365,000 students in the state of California. The Vision of the California Charter Schools Association is to usher in a new era in public education so all students attend independent, innovative, accountable schools of choice. The Mission of the California Charter Schools Association is to influence the legislative and policy environments, leverage collective advocacy, and provide resources to support our members in developing and operating high quality, charter schools reflective of California's student population. For more information, please visit

Note to reporters/editors: This report is concurrently released with a searchable map that compares all public charter and traditional public schools, a spreadsheet detailing the performance results of every charter in California for which data is available, as well as an interactive scatter-plot that shows the results of charters four years and older on the CCSA Accountability Framework, described in this publication. For more information, visit

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