Second Annual "Portrait of the Movement" Report Rates California's Charter Schools' Performance

February 23, 2012

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For Immediate Release

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

SACRAMENTO, California.--The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) today released its second annual Portrait of the Movement report, which provides findings from our analysis of the academic performance of California charters schools and discusses how the CCSA framework can be used to push for greater accountability for underperforming schools, as well as the support and expansion of schools demonstrating high impact.

The Performance of Charters Remains in a "U-Shaped" Distribution

CCSA's research has revealed that charter public schools are more likely than non-charter public schools to exceed at remarkably high rates, particularly among schools serving primarily socioeconomically-disadvantaged students. However, charter schools are also more likely than non-charters to persistently underperform. A comparison of the distribution of performance of charter schools with that of non-charter schools essentially reveals a "U-shaped" distribution for charter schools.

More Students Served in High Performing Charters than Underperforming Charters

When looking at charter performance in terms of students served, charters are more heavily concentrated at the top of the statewide distribution. About twice as many students in 2011 were served by schools far exceeding their prediction (please see backgrounder for description) than were served by far underperforming schools.

Low-Income Students Continue to be Well-Served by Charters

Charters that serve low-income students exceeded their prediction at high rates relative to the traditional system; students at charters serving low-income populations are five times more likely than their non-charter counterparts to be served by a school in the top 5th percentile. The impact of family income on charter schools' API performance was nearly four times less than the impact of family income on non-charters' performance. That is, charters are amplifying the benefit to low-income students in particular.

High Percentage of Charters are "High Impact" Compared with Non-Charters

The CCSA Accountability Framework also guides our work to identify "High Impact" schools that persistently exceed a prediction based on student background, while also demonstrating success in absolute academic performance. CCSA's definition of "High Impact" schools is a high bar; only six percent of non-charter schools would qualify. However, 92 charters, or 11% of the state's charters, qualified as a "High Impact" school in 2011. These schools are varied in curricular approach, management model and geographic location, and much can be learned from what they are doing and what challenges they have had to overcome in order to sustain such results.

"As the membership and professional organization representing 982 charter schools currently operating across the state, CCSA is committed to advancing the aim of the charter movement to improve academic outcomes for students, particularly for those most underserved by the traditional public school system," 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."

Looking more closely at charter performance patterns for 2011, we arrive at a number of additional key findings:

  • High-performing schools are replicating. Charters that were part of an organization that opened new schools in 2011 were highly concentrated at the top end of the statewide distribution.
  • Charters operated by a Charter Management Organization (CMO) were highly concentrated in the top 10th percentile.
  • Young and mature schools have similar performance distributions overall, however this pattern varies by the management model of the school. By the time they reach five years old, CMO and network schools are very likely to far exceed their prediction and are not likely to under-perform, while freestanding schools are more likely to remain under-performing as they age.
  • Both classroom-based and non-classroom-based charter schools were represented across the performance distribution; however, classroom-based charters were more skewed towards the top end of the statewide distribution.
  • Charter patterns vary by region. For example, charters in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) are very concentrated at the top end of the statewide distribution. Forty-eight percent (48%) of OUSD charters were in the top 10th percentile compared to 8% of OUSD non-charters, which are more concentrated in the bottom 10th percentile .

"While this pattern of mixed performance confirms past findings about California charter school performance, our work extends on prior research on charter performance in a number of ways," said Samantha Brown Olivieri, director, Accountability, CCSA, and lead author of the report. "Rather than simply comparing averages, we look at a distribution of performance that measures the schools' impact on actual student performance, and we disaggregate findings by a host of charter school characteristics to generate a very precise view into each individual school's performance. In addition, we present an actionable performance framework for increasing accountability and supporting highly successful schools."

Persistent Concentration of Charters at Bottom End of Distribution Warrants Attention

CCSA has defined Minimum Criteria for Renewal based on the three elements in our framework: the Similar Students Measure (SSM) (please see backgrounder for description), academic status, and growth over time. Several trends underscore why adopting this minimum standard can help to promote consistency in how accountability is upheld:

  • A small number of low-performing charters were closed after the 2010-11 school year. While 29 charters closed in total, only 5 of them were in the bottom 10th percentile.
  • The concentration of both low- and high-performing charters has persisted over time. Projecting forward based upon past trends, we would not expect this pattern to radically change.
  • The adoption of the CCSA Minimum Criteria for Renewal would have a significant impact on reducing the concentration of under-performing charters, by accelerating the pace of eliminating under-performing charters by three times the current pace given past trends.

"These efforts to bring transparency and deep awareness of the distribution of performance among charter schools reflect CCSA's commitment to holding up a mirror to the movement," added Wallace. "Measuring our collective progress, identifying success to be replicated, and proactively addressing areas of weakness are all critical to our movement's growth and efforts to serve students across the state."

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About the California Charter Schools Association

The California Charter Schools Association is the membership and professional organization serving 982 charter public schools and more than 412,000 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

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