Growing Pains: Scaling Up the Nation's Best Charter Schools

Mickey Muldoon

Education Sector
November 2009 

This latest report from Education Sector summarizes the operational challenges that face nonprofit charter management organizations (CMOs) as they attempt to grow and support their networks of charter schools.

The report profiles a who’s who of nationally recognized CMOs (Achievement First, KIPP, Uncommon Schools), highlights successes, and documents challenges (e.g., high student attrition, finding and retaining quality teachers and school leaders, putting CMOs – and their schools – on a path to financial sustainability). The challenges won’t be a surprise to anyone connected with charter schools, and an underlying message of the report is simply that when it comes to developing a sustainable CMO operation that provides a high quality education to poor urban students, CMOs are learning as they go. It is also apparent that successful networks identify potential problems early on and immediately make a course correction. The ability to identify problems and implement a successful correction strategy – just as in other domains – separates the truly excellent performers from the rest.

Growing Pains concludes with a number of recommendations aimed at policy makers, including eliminating requirements that every charter school have its own board of directors, eliminating caps (or using “smart caps,” see here), providing successful CMO networks access to facilities and expanding the federal Public Charter School Program grant to permit funding facilities, and allowing public schools that deliver results, including charters, to not just be equally funded, but receive funding to reflect their additional costs. Those interested in a brief history of the CMO movement as well as the entrepreneurial side of nonprofit education will find this report worth a read. A copy is available here.

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