Center for Reinventing Public Education
Robin Lake, Brianna Dusseault, Melissa Bowen, Allison Demeritt, Paul Hill
June 2010

This publication contains interim findings from a nationwide study of Charter Management Organization (CMO) effectiveness. Started in May 2008 and expected to conclude summer 2011,  the work was commissioned by New Schools Venture Fund and is being conducted jointly by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., and The University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. The point of the project is to examine the effectiveness of CMOs (non-profit organizations that manage “more than one school with a unified management team responsible for delivering the educational program and supervising school leaders”) by investigating their operations, internal structures, growth strategies, missions, and challenges.

The findings come from 43 of the 82 known CMOs (as of 2007) and highlight educational programs, school cultures, teacher accountability systems, and the economics of starting and sustaining CMO operations. Most interesting among the takeaways is that while many of the CMOs firmly believe that their particular educational approach is critical to the success of their programs, their approaches differ widely. This confirms what, anecdotally, we’ve seen from an authorizer perspective: the school leadership and people at the front of the classroom matter most. It also gives credence to another anecdotal observation: all individual schools have different needs – even schools under the umbrella of the same management organization - and individual schools must have the ability to adjust quickly to meet internal (e.g., human resource) needs and the needs of students. Although this study focuses on charter schools, the latter observation likely applies to non-charter public schools as well.

The report also notes the challenges CMOs face with growth, particularly the fine line between developing internal procedures to efficiently manage operations and layering on rules and procedures, thereby becoming the very bureaucracy many of these CMOs sought to avoid. Interestingly, the larger the CMO, the more control the central office is likely to exert over the individual schools and their operations. 

The authors also set forth next steps in their research, which include four issues that definitely make this work worth revisiting in 2011 in the final report: 1) how differences between CMOs and districts relate to outcomes, 2) the costs and benefits of increased instructional time, 3) whether there is an optimal CMO size, and 4) an analysis of CMO cost structures and sustainability. Read it here.

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