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Focus Area:
District-Charter Collaboration

As school choice grows, policymakers and practitioners increasingly seek engagement and cooperation between charter schools and traditional school districts.

CRPE studied these efforts to determine how leaders can overcome the challenges of working across traditionally competitive boundaries. When done well, collective action can lead to tangible results:

For Charter Schools:

  • Improved access to facilities, funding, and student enrollment
  • Reduced political tensions
  • Greater exposure to district expertise
  • Expanded reach and impact beyond school walls

For School Districts:

  • Partnering in the work of ensuring high-quality schools in all neighborhoods
  • Sharing costs, including recruitment and transportation
  • Gaining access to innovative professional development and curriculum

For the Community:

  • More high-quality school options available for students
  • Better services for English language learners and special education students
  • Streamlined school information and enrollment systems

Major Research:

CRPE’s studies on district-charter relationships focused most closely on 23 cities with District-Charter Collaboration Compacts supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Between 2011 and 2017, under a grant from the Foundation, we regularly interviewed leaders in school districts, charter schools, and support organizations to track progress on these agreements, reported on local political, legal, and financial barriers to collaboration, and facilitated networking and problem-solving between cities. In January 2017 we published our seminal study, Bridging the District-Charter Divide to Help More Students Succeed. In cities with size-able charter school student populations, we concluded that cross-sector policy coordination is a necessity, not a nicety. However, despite the urgent need, cooperation on common issues was too often treated as a time-limited, forced marriage rather than as a sustained effort and long-term relationship. This study built upon our 2013 interim assessment of 16 Compact Cities.

Our work has provided us the opportunity to dive in to specific policies and programs related to collaboration.

Our reports include:

  • How sectors share instructional practices and cooperate on colocated campuses.
  • How charter schools can access facilities owned by districts via state laws and local best practices.
  • How local politics and diverse charter interests shape the work of collaboration.
  • How partnership schools offer a “third-way” governance model for new school options or turning around neighborhood schools.
  • How cooperation with charter schools can help districts in times of declining enrollment.
  • How districts and charter schools created common accountability frameworks and school discipline policies.
  • How boundary spanners cross between sectors and increase knowledge transfer
  • How district and charter schools can create unified enrollment systems and consider policies such as “backfill.”
  • How states can promote cooperation.

Additional Research:

Many of CRPE’s other reports offer examples of district-charter cooperation, including:

  • Stepping Up: Performance outcomes and system reforms in 18 “high-choice” cities
  • Sticking Points: How school districts implemented the portfolio strategy
  • Making School Choice Work: How parents experience public school choice

In Washington State, COVID-19 created a unique opportunity for charter-district collaboration

Charters and traditional schools are often portrayed as at odds with each other. But this collaboration shows that isn’t always the case—and it shows promise for the future.

New York Joins Movement to Abandon Use of Student Tests in Teacher Evaluations

Robin Lake is quoted in this New York Times article on whether teachers should be rated according to their students’ success on standardized exams.

Denver’s longtime superintendent turned the city into a national school reform favorite

Robin Lake is quoted in Chalkbeat about former Denver Public Schools superintendent Tom Boasberg, who encouraged reform through close collaboration between district and charter schools.

An Interview with Paymon Rouhanifard: Charting Camden’s Path to Improvement

Paymon Rouhanifard has been the superintendent of Camden City Public Schools in New Jersey since 2013 when the district was put under state receivership. Camden still has a long way to go, but the changes...

We Need to Prepare A New Generation of Education Systems Leaders

For more than a year, the U.S. Secretary of Education and the president of the American Federation of Teachers have been engaged in a bitter dispute about the public and private purposes of education in...

Yes, Charter Schools Inflict Some Costs on Districts. But Districts’ Financial Problems Are Far Deeper Than That

I recently wrote an essay explaining fundamental flaws in a paper by Gordon Lafer, a professor and longtime labor union analyst who published through an Oakland, California–based think tank called In the Public Interest. I...

Lessons Learned About District-Charter Partnerships: How Sharing Instructional Practices Can Pave the Way for More Collaboration

An overview of the district-charter collaboration landscape and one strategy that many cities are pursuing: sharing instructional practices across district and charter schools.

Reflecting on the Portfolio Strategy and School Improvement in San Antonio

A 15-minute drive from the Alamo, Ira C. Ogden Elementary School is in its first year of an ambitious turnaround effort. At the beginning of March, as part of CRPE’s 15th Portfolio Network Meeting, I...

Wanted: District Leaders Who Can Make Tough Choices

The many big cities now looking for school superintendents—Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Newark, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., among them—need to pay attention to what has happened in Chicago. Like Chicago, these districts face big...

Creating District-Charter Partnerships in the Lone Star State

The State of Texas passed an innovation law (Senate Bill 1882) in summer 2017 to foster partnership schools, much like those profiled in CRPE’s recent brief. CRPE research analyst Sean Gill spoke with Molly Weiner,...

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