9 Traits of Successful U.S. Charter Schools

The overall performance of any charter school depends on a variety of factors, none of which will ever be the quite same for any two schools. Operational structure, student body composition, geographic location, and steady financial planning can all contribute to the success of your school. That said, there are some common traits which may lend themselves to a charter school’s success. So what, exactly, are the characteristics of high-quality schools that can potentially be replicated at your school?

If you want to realize significant progress at your school, take a look at the following features which have a positive impact on successful charter schools across the country.

1. A Comprehensive Behavior Policy

As one disruptive student can destroy the focused learning environment and negatively impact all the other students in a classroom, it is imperative to have a “no excuses” behavior program in place that everyone in the school follows (including a zero-tolerance policy for potentially dangerous activities). The high expectations and accompanying consequences must be communicated openly to everyone, and they must be fair.

As the school climate established by each educator can have a serious impact on a pupil’s motivation level and attitude towards learning, there should be strict enforcement of the rules governing behavior, and discipline and comportment should always be emphasized. Research indicates that a system based on rewards and sanctions was one of the biggest indicators of charter school success. Further, punishing small infractions was just as important as focusing on large violations.

2. Community Accountability

Great schools know they are responsible to not only their students and staff, but to the families and wider communities. To improve your charter school’s success, make sure you go through an independent financial audit at least once a year. Send out family and student satisfaction surveys and post the results publicly. Have parents on the board, and, if your teachers are not part of a collective bargaining associate, have teachers on the board as well. By giving teachers in the policy decisions, you can strengthen their sense of ownership in the school’s mission. This also helps ensure that the board’s resolutions are realistic solutions to any actual problems at the school.

Finally, speak to the wider community, including people whose children are not at your school, to get a sense of the reputation of your school and set about fixing and negative impressions others may have.

3. Parental Engagement

It is well-known that there is a huge benefit to children and their schools when parents are involved members of the learning community. Highly successful charter schools work hard to cultivate strong relationships with parents/caregivers and the wider community. This means actively keeping parents engaged and widely disbursing the message that the whole school is an extended family.

Asking parents to volunteer and be visible partners in the school is important. Some schools require parents to donate a specific number of volunteer hours each term and engage parents in preparing food for special events, participating in school cleanup days, having them coach sports teams or leading a club, and having them assist with health screenings. Keep track of which parents volunteer regularly and try to enlist new parents who have not yet been able to offer their time.

Other schools reach out to parents by visiting them at home at least once a year, meeting with parents whenever the parents ask, holding parent-teacher meetings at least three times a year, and sending out regular newsletters and calendars. Your school can, in turn, support parents by offering childcare for younger siblings during meetings and conferences, hiring interpreters if school personnel don’t speak the language of a parent, or opening up computer labs to parents for ESL classes. Your charter school’s success depends on engaging your students’ parents as much as possible.

4. Be Flexible

Highly successful charter schools are able to change and adapt to new situations and circumstances quickly and adroitly. They are capable of making fast adjustments because they trust their “on the ground” staff to make important decisions and they permit their teachers to exercise leadership.

Great schools also allow staff at all levels to experiment and be creative in terms of academic and administrative operations. This means trying out unique scheduling plans, testing innovative curricula, and experimenting with different organization techniques. They then consistently inform school leaders about what is working and what is not, thus allowing for change or replication of systems as needed.

5. Recruit and Retain Top Talent

A significant portion of a charter school’s success depends on the quality of its teachers and staff. As every school has a distinct mission, you need to recruit, hire, and hold on to talented individuals who share the values of your organization. You also need to constantly cultivate their proficiencies and abilities by offering opportunities for professional growth.

Empower your teachers to apply their individual expertise in non-traditional areas, and actively encourage an atmosphere of collegiality by providing teachers weekly sessions to meet together, share problems, analyze student work and curricula, vent, and brainstorm new ideas. This will encourage teachers to feel they are part of a symbiotic system, a system that cares about them as much as they care about it, and not just “hired help.”

6. High-Dosage Tutoring

While a relatively new program, high-dosage tutoring has been shown to dramatically increase a charter school’s success in terms of the academic development of its most challenged students. A great example of the benefits of this system is at the Match Charter Public School in Boston.

Match is now one of the top performing schools in the country, and administrators believe it is due in part to their innovative tutoring program. They developed a tutor corp with highly educated tutors living on campus and providing students with intense .academic support throughout the entire day. Each student receives eight hours of tutoring per week, and the tutors develop strong relationships with the students and families.

After only one year of the program’s institution, the results were dramatic: a majority of the school’s 9th-grade class went from falling behind to excelling on the state math achievement test. This type of high-dosage tutoring is now being adopted by other schools and districts across the country.

7. Constant Coaching for Teachers

A charter school’s success also depends on ongoing, collaborative professional learning for teachers––as lasting and meaningful change is an ongoing process. Educators need to improve not only their teaching skills, but also increase their mastery of various subjects. Research suggests that there is a powerful connection between a teacher’s material knowledge and student learning. Classroom-based coaching and a meticulous self-evaluation process for teachers have proven to be especially effective.

8. Prioritizing Student Achievement

There is a positive correlation between a charter school’s intense concentration on academic achievement as a main cornerstone of that school’s mission and its student’s math and English/language scores. A relatively easy way to boost your charter school’s success is to create and communicate a high achievement-focused mission that is lived daily by everyone in the school.

In your school, there should be rigorous focus on academic goals,having students meet those goals, and the prioritization of scholarly success above all else.

9. Curriculum and Instruction Adjustment

Teaching students where they are, and not where they “should” be based on age or grade level, is a sure way to increase your charter school’s success. Some schools administer mid-year preliminary exams in all core subjects or even regroup students every few weeks based on reading and math scores. Data-driven refinement can ensure that when problems and issues in student learning arise, solutions are implemented immediately, such as planning professional development for teachers or changing the teaching focus to a specific area of a curriculum.

Great schools have transparent policies and systems in place to continuously assess students’ strengths, learning styles, and interests, where student-focused instructional planning includes analyzing student performance down to the level of questions on comprehensive exams.

Success Takes Time––and Funding

Not every high-performing charter school has all of the traits listed above, nor should you try to replicate every single one of them all at once. To increase your charter school’s success, first evaluate where your shortcomings are and then pick the low-hanging fruit first. Start with an achievement-focused mission. Get your students’ parents involved in the day-to-day life of the school. And if you need funding for new programs or facilities expansion, consider additional financial resources from charter school funding sources like Charter Asset Management.

CAM has been supporting charter schools for over 15 years. We provide dependable, efficient, and affordable short-term funding for charter schools in 17 states. Take a look at our funding programs and contact us today for more information.