National Alliance Encourages Researchers, Federal Government to Correctly Classify Alternative Charter Schools
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National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

For Immediate Release
May 9, 2016

Riya V. Anandwala
202 521 2833

New Report Finds Nearly Half of Charter High Schools Have Excellent Graduation Rates; A Subset Underperforms
National Alliance Encourages Researchers, Federal Government to Correctly Classify Alternative Charter Schools

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly half of all charter public high schools across the country (44 percent) are graduating at least 85 percent of their students, well ahead of the national average, according to a report released today by Grad Nation. The report did find that 30 percent of charter schools had a graduation rate of 67 percent or below, although this finding is based on an inconsistent classification of regular and alternative charter high schools. 

These results are based on recently released data from the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education. Grad Nation’s findings follows reports from U.S. News and World Report and The Washington Post, which show that charter high schools are overrepresented on national lists of the best and most challenging high schools. Nearly one-third of the top 100 schools on both lists are charter schools. 

“As the evidence continues to mount that charter high schools are overrepresented among the top high schools in the country, we’re pleased to see that they are also having their greatest impact in underserved communities,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “We need to find ways to make sure that more schools like these are available so that even more underserved communities have access to better options.” 

Despite 44 percent of charter schools being identified as high-graduation-rate schools, Grad Nation found that 30 percent of charter schools had low graduation rates of 67 percent or below. However, the report incorrectly identified as regular charter schools many “alternative schools,” often known as “second-chance” schools that specifically cater to dropouts and, in many cases, adult students. This misclassification skews the report’s conclusions. While alternative district high schools are separately classified in this report and therefore do not negatively impact a district’s graduation rate, the vast majority of alternative charter high schools are classified as regular charter schools. This makes charter schools’ graduation rates appear much lower. 

As an example, the National Alliance pointed to Five Keys Charter School based in San Francisco, Calif. The first public high school to be opened inside a county jail and the California Charter Schools Association’s 2014 Charter School of the Year, Five Keys serves a population consisting entirely of students who previously failed to earn a high school diploma and have become caught up in the criminal justice system. Based on the methodology used for the Grad Nation report, Five Keys is one of more than 100 alternative charter high schools incorrectly classified as a regular charter school. 

“The research community, the federal government and the charter school community need to classify alternative charter high schools correctly in order to ensure that we are comparing apples to apples,” Rees said. “The fact is, today there are hundreds of incredible alternative charter high schools across the nation like Five Keys that are succeeding with students who struggled in or failed out of the traditional public school system. Many families, rightly so, depend on these schools.” 

“Still, there is a segment of charter schools identified in this report, along with too many virtual charter schools, that are failing to graduate many of their students,” Rees added. “This is cause for concern, and the National Alliance will be working with state policymakers to ensure that the right policies are in place to hold these schools accountable and allow better options to take their place.”

About Charter Schools
Charter schools are independent, public, and tuition-free schools that are given the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. Since 2010, many research studies have found that students in charter schools do better in school than their traditional school peers. For example, one study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that charter schools do a better job teaching low income students, minority students, and students who are still learning English than traditional schools. Separate studies by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Policy Research have found that charter school students are more likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, stay in college and have higher earnings in early adulthood.
About the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the public charter school movement. Our mission is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter sector. For more information, please visit