Why Independent Charter Schools Outperform District-Operated Autonomous Schools

Report analyzes differing autonomous school strategies in Boston, Memphis, Denver, & LA and offers recommendations for in-district models in other cities

Why Independent Charter Schools Outperform District-Operated Autonomous Schools

WASHINGTON–The Reinventing America’s Schools Project at the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) today released a new report examining district-operated autonomous schools in four cities and comparing their performance to local charter schools. In three of the four cities, charter schools outperformed the “charter-lite” district schools.

The report, authored by PPI’s David Osborne and Emily Langhorne, is based on analysis of test scores from 2015 and 2016 and interviews with participants in Boston, Memphis, Denver, and Los Angeles. It examines  different models of autonomous schools, looks at their results, and draws out lessons for other districts considering an autonomy strategy.

 Facing competition from public charters, urban school districts across the country are looking for ways to increase student achievement. Some have attempted to spur charter-like innovation by granting traditional public school leaders more autonomy over staffing, learning models, curriculum, school budgets, school calendars and schedules, and other matters.

 According to Osborne and Langhorne, public charter schools outperform both traditional public schools and district-run autonomous schools for five primary reasons:

  • Most independent charter schools have true autonomy.
  • Most charter schools are schools of choice.
  • Most independent charters are held accountable for student performance and closed or replaced if it lags too far behind grade levels.
  • Most independent charters go through a careful authorization process.
  • Independent charter sectors are more sustainable than in-district autonomous zones.

 “The evidence strongly suggests that cities can create better outcomes by building strong charter sectors,” Osborne and Langhorne write. “But, in contentious political environments, it is often easier to create in-district autonomous schools than independent charters.” In cities with political landscapes that make it difficult to invest in a growing charter sector, they add, in-district autonomous models are the second best option. 

 “If they can give school leaders true autonomy and hold their schools accountable for results, districts can use in-district autonomous models to produce an increase in student achievement – perhaps approaching that of strong charter sectors. By following these recommendations, districts can create self-renewing systems of schools in which every school has the incentives and the autonomy to continuously innovate and improve. At the same time, they can offer a variety of school models to families to meet a variety of children’s needs.”

 The recommendations for districts include:

  • Protect unrestricted autonomy.
  • Create a district office or independent board to support and protect autonomous schools.
  • Articulate a district-wide theory of action and secure buy-in from central office staff.
  • Turn some central services into public enterprises that must sell their services to schools, in competition with other providers.
  • Authorize district-run autonomous schools like charter schools.
  • Ensure continuous improvement by using a clear system of accountability to close and/ or replace failing schools.
  • Invest in the development of autonomous school leaders.

Download the report here.

 

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Anonymous
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Anonymous

Looks like protecting teacher autonomy from district administrators was key. Big surprise.

Wade Stevenson
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Wade Stevenson

Typical conservative “third way” analysis…one of the authors writes in Forbes Magazine .. I’d be totally surprised if a conservative third way think tank came up anything but this kind of drivel.

Sue
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Sue

Did you actually read the report or you’re dismissing any findings out of hand because of the middle of the road leanings of the author and the fact that he writes for Forbes?

Wade
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Wade

Yes I read the study. I also know a little bit about how “studies” get done and who funds them, which is why I believe the authors came to conclusions that fit their organization’s and funders’ biases to a T. But, hey, you believe what you want to believe. Perhaps who directs and pays them has no bearing on their research.

Sue
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Sue

Who’ s funding “the studies” that demonstrate what an awesome and responsive job mainstream public schools are doing meeting the needs of diverse learners?

-Editor
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-Editor

Great question. Any idea?

Wade
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Wade

Look it up. I’m not defending any particular studies. All I’m saying is “who pays the Piper calls the tune.”.

f07
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f07

I agree, that is often true. Having said that, we would like to point out that this is not FactCheck, but an attempt to inspire and encourage an exchange of ideas and dialogue. In that spirit we welcome your comments and insights and hope others take advantage of the articles and opinions we are trying to bring together.

Thus was the decision to provide the opportunity to engage without “having” to identify oneself. And, in order to maintain focus on the dialectics, we are very serious about maintaining decorum.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

That could kinda be a blanket statement for almost any research.