Archive for December, 2010

Who Will Lead the Charter Schools?

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

 As the charter movement matures from its youth of experimentation and independence to become a recognized part of the education establishment, charter schools are having to face issues of leadership and succession. A new report from the National Charter School Research Project at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) found that many charter schools were not prepared for smooth transitions when they had changes in leadership. Well-planned leadership succession, the report writes, is “an essential piece of the reform’s approach to sustainability.”

The report, entitled You’re Leaving? Succession and Sustainability in Charter Schools, found that while leadership turnover rates were about the same in charter and traditional public schools, on average, some features of charter schools can make leadership transitions much trickier. While public school districts often develop pipelines of educators being groomed for leadership roles, independent charter schools don’t have such talent pools to draw on. Also, while charter leaders have the same responsibilities as principals in traditional public schools, they also may have to carry out some duties handled at the public school district level, such as fundraising, government and public relations, and accountability – especially if they are not part of networks or management organizations. Further, charter schools often define themselves through a specific mission or culture making it tricky to find a new leader who “fits” completely. Similarly, one of the hardest transitions can occur when a charter school’s original founder leaves and a new leader must figure out how to assert him- or herself as a leader without upsetting the school’s identity, which may be closely tied to the founder. Still, the CRPE report found that schools experiencing “life-cycle changes” such as a new growth phase often decided to bring in new leaders to direct the changes.

CRPE based its conclusions on surveys of 400 charter school leaders and fieldwork in 24 charter schools in California, Hawaii, and Texas. Highlights from the survey included that 71 percent of charter school leaders said they expected to leave their schools within five years, one-third of schools had no succession plan in place, and schools run by charter management organizations were much more likely to have succession plans than independent schools. The fieldwork at 24 schools produced these findings, among others:

  • 5 schools changed leaders during the study’s two years of fieldwork.
  • 10 schools were still led by their original founders.
  • 12 schools were grooming or considering current staff as possible leaders, taking advantage of their familiarity with the school’s culture and mission.
  • 14 schools had no leadership succession plan and only 5 had fully developed plans that identified and worked with current strengths and weaknesses, identified potential leaders from the staff, and developed job descriptions in case the board decided to recruit from outside.

The report notes that planning for succession often gets lost in the day-to-day pressures of running a school. It concludes with several recommendations including that charter schools should look to nonprofit organizations for examples in successful leadership transitions since they share many characteristics with charter schools; that charter school governing boards need to be more assertive about accountability, oversight, and strategic planning; that authorizers should work with charter schools to ensure that viable succession plans are in place; that current school leaders should mentor potential successors; and that schools should develop plans for both long-term orderly successions and short-term emergency replacements to make sure the school keeps operating if something unexpected happens to the current leader.


Read these papers from NCSC researchers about leadership in schools of choice.

Leadership Practices, School Choice, and Student Achievement Growth

Leadership Practices and School Choice

Interrelationships between Principal Leadership and the Teachers They Serve in Charter and Traditional Public Schools

SmartMoney Cites Choice Center Research

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

For readers with illusions that charter schools are superior to traditional public schools, SmartMoney magazine published a piece recently that seeks to set the record straight. The piece, posted online Dec. 6, compares charter and traditional public schools on several characteristics, drawing on anecdotes and research. One paper it cites is Teacher Turnover in Charter Schools by David A. Stuit and Thomas M. Smith of Vanderbilt, whose study was conducted through the NCSC. The magazine notes some of their findings – that charter teachers are more likely to leave teaching than peers in traditional public schools, and their departures often arise from dissatisfaction with working conditions. Other findings in the Stuit-Smith paper include:

  • Charter school teachers are also more likely to switch schools than teachers in traditional public schools.
  • Among charter schools, attrition is likelier to be higher in schools started from the ground up than those converted from traditional public schools.
  • Differences in teacher characteristics explain much of the differences in attrition among charter and traditional public school teachers. For example, charter teachers are more likely to be part time and less likely to have state certification – two factors found to contribute to turnover.
  • Charter school teachers are more likely to leave involuntarily, possibly because of staffing action at the school, than are teachers in traditional public schools. The study found little evidence, however, that turnover is higher at charter schools because they exercise greater flexibility in personnel practices.

The SmartMoney piece is entitled “10 Things Charter Schools Won’t Tell You” (although we think they actually might if you ask them nicely). Examples of the charter school secrets it cites include that they don’t produce better academic outcomes, on average, than traditional public schools; that their teachers are less likely to be certified than TPS teachers; that charter schools tend to have lower proportions of students with disabilities; that they sometimes are affiliated with religious groups; that they sometimes use cheesy ploys to recruit students and then have greater freedom to limit enrollments than traditional public schools; and that they often benefit from private money that allows them to provide expensive signature services such as longer school days that make them unlikely prototypes for broad-based reforms.


Check out these papers from the NCSC archives on charter school issues mentioned by SmartMoney.

Instructional Conditions in Charter Schools and Students’ Mathematics Achievement Gains

The Qualifications and Classroom Performance of Teachers Moving to Charter Schools

Comparing Teacher Characteristics, Job Choices, and Job Preferences by School Type 

The NCSC is funded by a 5 year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Its lead institution is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The center is housed on the campus of Peabody College, one of the nation's top graduate schools of education.