Friday, December 03, 2010

Can charter management organizations deliver quality education at scale?

Education Next interviewed Robin Lake of the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) CEO Kevin Hall about the challenges charter-management organizations (CMOs) face in delivering quality education at scale and the impact they could have:

EN: What is the largest number of high-quality charter schools you could see existing CMOs creating over the next five years? What's the theory that envisions how these schools will have an impact on the larger system?

KH: Over the past 10 years, the total number of students attending schools run by high-performing CMOs increased at least tenfold, from approximately 10,000 students in 2000 to more than 100,000 students today. Over the next decade, the opportunity exists for CMOs to continue this pace of growth and serve more than 1 million students by 2020.

Growth in the CMO sector will come in three main areas: 1) Existing CMOs will continue to scale up. Most CMOs are adding one to five new schools per year as well as filling out their existing schools, and a few over the next several years may begin to expand to new regions. Currently, the CMOs in our portfolio are averaging annual growth rates of about 30 percent. 2) New CMOs will emerge from outstanding single schools, particularly in regions where many high-performing schools were launched over the past five to seven years. 3) Next-generation models showing promising early results will take root. Rocketship Education, a CMO based in northern California, uses a "hybrid" model that combines learning technology with great teaching to deliver outstanding results at much lower school site–level costs.

High-quality CMOs will set the bar for the entire K–12 sector when it comes to educating disadvantaged students. Over the next decade, several successful operators will serve a significant share of their local market (at least 10 to 15 percent of all students). More importantly, based on continuing their historic levels of performance, these schools could double the number of low-income students going on to college in these communities. Even though charter school enrollment is relatively small, we expect charter schools to dramatically increase the number of low-income students graduating from four-year colleges, and, in many cases, exceed the number of college graduates emerging from the much larger local district schools. This level of performance at scale will have a deep impact in those communities on the expectations for what schools can accomplish.

About half of the public school students in the U.S. attend schools in districts that have fewer than 10,000 students. Many CMOs that started from scratch over the last decade will grow to be among the largest 10 percent of districts in the country. Aggressive smaller districts may adopt some of the practices of these CMOs, including how they recruit, select, and develop talent; the culture they build in their schools; and the way they manage multiple schools, more effectively pairing accountability and decisionmaking rights throughout the school system.

…KH: In the next decade, the highest-performing CMOs have a tremendous opportunity to transform American education and ensure that demography is not destiny for our nation's students. By 2020, the following is possible: High-performing CMOs will be graduating more than 80 percent of their students college- and work-ready regardless of family income. Their schools will set the pace both locally and nationally for achievement performance, particularly for low-income students. More than 200 CMO organizations will be delivering a consistent level of high-quality education, creating this performance across many cities and states. A small number of CMOs will have grown to serve at least 20,000 students, placing them among the largest 2 percent of school districts nationally in terms of size, while delivering a level of performance that will change the current paradigm of delivering performance at scale. Many CMOs will serve more than 10 percent of the students in a local market and will help to more than double the number of low-income students going to college in their community. Several CMOs will become the leading-edge providers using "hybrid" approaches that combine the best of emerging adaptive learning technologies with great teaching talent and school cultures to provide more personalized and effective instruction for students.

There is no "silver bullet" that will transform K–12 education in our country. However, the creation and rise of very high performing charter management organizations that have a very distinct culture, operating philosophy, and ability to deliver results will be an important element in driving change.



The $500 million Question

Can charter management organizations deliver quality education at scale?

By Kevin Hall and Robin Lake

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