What factors are key indicators of a successful charter school?

Every charter school strikes a bargain with its state.

The charter school gets to choose its staff, manage its own budget, and design its own curriculum. In exchange, the state monitors its success and holds the power to renew or revoke its charter.

It’s not enough for a charter school to have good intentions for its students. It must demonstrate results. If you’re a charter school operator, or planning to open a charter school soon, how should you go about measuring success?

High School Completion Rate

Your charter school’s high school completion rate is one way to measure whether your school is meeting key indicators of success such as postsecondary readiness. Consider how many of your graduates finish their high school education within four years.

Standardized Test Scores and Charter School Enrollment

It goes without saying that standardized tests are an important way of measuring charter school success. Regardless of personal opinions about the effectiveness of testing, standardized tests heavily impact whether a state will renew a school’s charter. Test scores also impact charter school enrollment, and enrollment is perhaps the clearest indicator of whether or not a school is successful.
Grades in Specific Subject Areas

Track student success based on subject areas. You may find that your students do exceptionally well in English but struggle overall in math. Paying attention to these trends will allow you to plan strategically. If you notice poor scores, avoid the urge to overhaul entire lesson plans. You don’t want to impact processes that are already working well. Instead, identify why students seem to struggle in one subject area and address that problem specifically.

Frequent Teacher Feedback and High Expectations

According to one study by Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer, pursuing frequent teacher feedback and setting high expectations are two activities that set highly effective charter schools apart from poorly performing ones. Schools that do this in addition to providing data-driven instruction, intensified tutoring, and increased instructional time are more accurately able to predict student success compared to schools that simply focus on hiring and retaining top-tier teachers.

Increased Student and Faculty Attendance Rates

Charter school attendance is a quick way to predict what your charter school’s enrollment will look like in the future. Students who don’t show up likely won’t perform well on tests, or may transfer to a different school the following year. Poor faculty attendance also signals bad news, since those teachers might already be looking for new jobs. Keeping track of attendance rates is an important way to measure your current (and future) charter school success.

Retention Rates of Your Best Staff

Are your best teachers leaving at the end of the year? Perhaps they aren’t receiving enough support, professional development resources, or advancement opportunities. If your best teachers leave, consider the domino effect this might have on your school’s overall environment or test scores. Cultivate a relationship with star faculty members and keep an eye on retention rates.

Infrastructure Improvements and Maintenance Efforts

Charter school success isn’t solely dependent on student success. The overall management of your institution also affects your charter school enrollment rates and prosperity. Consider the following questions about your school:

  • What is the state of your school’s infrastructure?
  • How long does it take to carry out maintenance work from request to completion?
  • How comfortable are staff and students in the building?
  • How recently have you audited your existing vendors to ensure you’re receiving the best price compared to the competition?

Parent Satisfaction and Engagement

How involved are parents in your charter school’s activities? How happy are they overall?

Parent satisfaction is usually a sign of how well students are doing (which, in turn, is a sign of how well the charter school is doing). Unhappy parents have a detrimental effect on your charter school enrollment, since these parents are unlikely to speak positively about the school. Even when your school is going through temporary challenges, bring parents into the fold and maintain lines of communication. Being transparent with parents will more often create advocates than detractors.

Partnerships and Community Involvement

How committed is the community to your charter school’s mission? Your charter school enrollment rates depend on a population that believes in your pedagogical approach. Perhaps it’s time to conduct some outreach or research in the community. One way to quickly gauge whether support has risen or fallen is to compare your yearly rates of financial donations and partnerships with the community.

Goal setting and measurement is necessary for running a charter school. If you don’t do it, the state will. In order to keep providing creative education solutions, charter school leaders will need to track their progress and catch negative signs before they become trends.


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