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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

Conclusion – Will District Collaboration Neuter or Propel the Charter School Movement? (HFR ’11)

In this chapter Robin Lake discusses the charter school side of the emerging trend toward district/charter school collaboration.

Overview – Consorting With the Enemy: When Charter Schools and District Schools Work Together (HFR ’11)

This overview of Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charters Schools in 2011 introduces the key areas explored in this year’s volume.

Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2011

The 6th annual edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality provides a clear roadmap for school districts and charter schools interested in working together to improve education options. The report explains the risks and technical challenges...

Eliminating the Achievement Gap: A White Paper on How Charter Schools Can Help District Leaders

Drawing from the experiences of high-performing charter school networks, this white paper examines why districts struggle to close the achievement gap, what portfolio district leaders can find when they look outside the traditional system for...

Reforming Districts Through Choice, Autonomy, Equity, and Accountability: An Overview of the Voluntary Public School Choice Directors Meeting

In February 2011, the Center on Reinventing Public Education convened a conference to help districts implementing school choice under the U.S. Department of Education’s Voluntary Public School Choice program. This paper summarizes the two-day conversation...

Special Needs and Choice Districts

This report focuses on the evidence to date on how students with special needs fare under choice, and promising new ideas that have yet to be tried.

Strategic Communications for Portfolio School District Reform

This paper, one of a series of papers designed to assist leaders in portfolio district reform efforts, argues that effective, strategic communications policies and practices are a key element of successful portfolio reform.

Ch. 5 – Achieving the Ripple Effect: How Can Charters Prompt District Improvement? (HFR ’09)

In this chapter, Robin Lake takes up the questions of whether and how charter schools can prompt school districts to become more innovative and performance-oriented.

Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2009

This edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality explores the lessons high-performing charter schools offer for other public schools, including the alignment of lesson content with state curriculum, frequent formative assessment mirroring high-stakes tests, and the...

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