Students have diverse passions, talents, and needs. They should have access to a wide range of high-quality, diverse educational models that respond to their strengths and interests and prepare them for life-long success.
Yet communities only have access to the charter schools that authorizers approve. As communities demand schools that serve student and community interests–from experiential learning to dual language and from Montessori to early college–we wanted to know if authorizers are approving a diverse mix of school models.
As part of NACSA’s Pipeline Project, we’ve discovered that, nationally, authorizer approval of diverse charter school models is helping to broaden and transform public school options accessible to students and communities.
Special focus charter schools are those with a unique focus, instructional approach, or way of arranging learning as identified in the charter school application. This research includes all school models included in the Pipeline Project research that were not categorized as a general charter school model.
Authorizers Are Receiving and Approving a More Diverse Mix of Charter School Models
Authorizers are receiving and approving a diverse array of charter schools. This highlights that both school founders and authorizers are working to meet the diverse aspirations and needs of students and families. For context, a study of existing charter school models using 2012 data and the same school model definitions as our present analysis (yet sourced from existing school websites instead of applications), indicated that about 42 percent of existing charter schools, across the same states we’ve analyzed, had a special focus model.
NACSA Findings on the Diverse Charter School Models Pipeline
Chart 1 shows the percent of all schools proposed to, and approved by, charter school authorizers with a special focus school model from 2013 to 2018. It illustrates that 70 percent of all schools proposed had a special focus, and 69 percent of all schools approved had a special focus across five years. It suggests that people seeking to open new charter schools are focusing on a broad range of models and approaches, and that authorizers are approving a wide range of models and approaches without a bias favoring general school models.
Chart 2 shows the percent of all charter schools approved by charter school authorizers with a special focus school model from 2013 to 2018 for each of the 20 jurisdictions we studied. It illustrates some variability between jurisdictions, but also illustrates that in every jurisdiction at least half of all approved schools over this five–year period had a special focus. It suggests that a broad range of models and approaches being available to students and communities is widespread and not confined to just a few localities.
Chart 3 shows the percent of all charter school applications approved by charter school authorizers with a special focus school model in each of the five years of study. It illustrates that the percent of special focus charter school approvals has been relatively consistent across the five years of study. It suggests that approving a wide range of models and approaches has been a relatively consistent feature of charter school approvals, not just a one- or two-year occurrence.
Chart 4 describes the individual school models that comprise the approved applications with special focus school models in each of the five years of study. For example, in 2013-14 20 percent of all approved applications with special focus school models were identified as “Inquiry-Based” and 15 percent were identified as “STEM”. This chart illustrates that authorizers are approving a broad range of school models and that the specific models approved vary across time.
COVID-19 and our nation’s racial reckoning has amplified and created new demands for excellent and innovative ways of arranging learning. While the foundation of approving a diverse range of charter school models is important to build upon, this trajectory will need to evolve. Communities, in partnership with funders, advocates, and authorizers, need to grow more unique and excellent learning arrangements, led by an increasingly diverse set of school founders and those with deep ties to local communities, to meet new aspirations and needs.
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More Research on the Charter School Pipeline