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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

The Slowdown in Bay Area Charter School Growth: Causes and Solutions

This report examines why charter school growth in the San Francisco Bay Area has slowed dramatically and offers solutions for cities nationwide to encourage the development of new high-quality schools.

Collision Course: Embracing Politics to Succeed in District-Charter Collaboration

This report examines how politics shapes the work of district-charter collaboration and offers strategies for district and charter leaders to improve their chances of success.

Public School Choice, Any Way You Slice It

Our new report, Stepping Up: How Are American Cities Delivering on the Promise of Public School Choice?, finds a variety of public school choice available in cities—district-run magnet, innovation, and open-enrollment schools; charter schools overseen...

Opening the Schoolhouse Door: Helping Charter Schools Access Space in District-Owned Facilities

This paper reviews state policies on providing charter schools with facilities and recommends better incentives for districts to share space.

For public school choice, focus on reality—not rhetoric

School choice is probably the most controversial topic in public education today. The Trump administration’s support for private school vouchers has set off a rhetorical war in Washington that is increasingly playing out in states....

For Portfolio Supporters, Skeptics, and Would-Be Adopters: Some Thoughts From CRPE

This paper provides an honest assessment of the portfolio strategy’s strengths, weaknesses, and necessary evolution.

Stepping Up: How Are American Cities Delivering on the Promise of Public School Choice?

This analysis examines 18 cities offering public school choice to determine whether 1) their education systems are continuously improving, 2) all their students have equitable access to high-quality schools, and 3) their strategies are rooted in the community.

A Flexible “Third Way” Option: Partnership Schools on the Rise

Across the country, in Atlanta, Camden, Indianapolis and at least ten other cities, more schools are operating under a kind of partnership school model: a “third way” governance strategy that breaks through district-charter divides. Some...

Communities Need Districts and Charters to Collaborate More and Compete Less

Our report, Better Together: Ensuring Quality District Schools in Times of Charter Growth and Declining Enrollment, takes an honest look at an urgent problem that has long divided education leaders. To help inform and advance...

Brokering the Grand Bargain

Our report, Better Together: Ensuring Quality District Schools in Times of Charter Growth and Declining Enrollment, takes an honest look at an urgent problem that has long divided education leaders. To help inform and advance...

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