For Immediate Release: March 17, 2021
Contact: Jenn Clark, [email protected], 704.975.8718
First-of-its-kind survey sheds light on charter school experience primarily among students of color and highlights recommendations for improvement
Virtual release event: Wednesday, March 17 at 3 PM ET
New York, NY — As the United States marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of charter schools, a new, first-of-its-kind public survey of more than 300 diverse charter school alumni from a broad range of schools reveals that, while 64 percent feel mostly positive about their school experience, less than half believe discipline practices at their school were fair. The survey was released by Next100, a startup think tank for and by the next generation of policy leaders, powered by The Century Foundation.
Nearly all (95 percent) of the survey’s respondents were students of color, primarily Latinx and Black alumni, providing unparalleled insight into the charter school experience for these groups of students. These students were most likely to enroll in a charter school for its perceived quality (59 percent), curriculum (56 percent), and discipline (50 percent). While two in three (67 percent) would send their own children to a charter school, many acknowledged that charter schools had room to improve, particularly around discipline and teacher diversity.
“The charter school debate is no less complicated than it was three decades ago. But we now have the insights of a generation of students who attended charter schools and felt the impact of each decision made by charters and policymakers,” says Roquel Crutcher, policy entrepreneur at Next100, charter alum, and author of the report. “This survey underscores that charter alums are not a monolith, but by listening to and learning from what they have to say, charters can better navigate their next 30 years.”
Pulling rich insights from charter alums, the report elevates voices from those rarely centered in discussions on education policy. For instance, on discipline, one respondent shared, “I would think 9/10 [times] if a student is getting into constant trouble, the student is either going through something at home or has personal issues in which [they] would need help from social workers or psychologists.”
The report, Charting New Voices: Changing the Voices Leading the Charter Narrative, outlines a set of recommendations for schools and policymakers to improve charter schools based on the perspectives and experiences of charter school alumni. These alumni attended schools across the country, and these recommendations reflect their diverse experiences.
Recommendations for charter school administrators include:
- Alumni voice: Charter management organizations (CMOs) and individual schools must prioritize alumni seats on decision-making bodies, such as Boards of Directors.
- Discipline: Discipline practices at charter schools must be culturally competent, fair, and restorative, prioritizing healing and understanding, not punishment.
- Educator Diversity: Prioritize finding educators that mirror the community’s demographic makeup and providing culturally competent training for all teachers regardless of their race or ethnicity.
- Student supports, including mental health: School leadership must prioritize and provide mental health support, increasing student access to nurses and social workers.
- Curriculum: Schools should use their flexibility on curricula to promote instructional materials that match the cultural, racial, and ethnic background of the students they serve and include more Latinx authors, Black history, and Indigenous teachings.
- Zoom Out of Test Prep Focus: School leaders must allow teachers to cut back on the time spent on strict assessment prep to ensure students are learning skills that are needed for life beyond test prep.
- Extracurricular and Enrichment: Prioritize the parts of school beyond academics that highlight social development, such as sports, arts, and meditation.
- Enrollment: Create an enrollment system that is consistently fair, transparent and adhered to.
- Homework: Teachers and administrators should focus assignments on ensuring students understand the work and its value to overall learning, rather than relying on heavy homework loads.
Recommendations for policymakers include:
- Include alumni feedback in charter reauthorization decisions: To ensure schools are gaining insight from former students, charter school authorizers should require charters to include a section in each required annual report that centers alumni voice, experience, and recommendations for the next year in order to receive reauthorization.
- Provide mental health support to students and prioritize mental health support in discipline: Limited state and federal funds exist for schools and networks to provide different types of non-academic student support. Policymakers should allocate more funds to schools so that they have the resources to provide mental health support, particularly as an alternative to punishment.
- Increase diversity on charter school boards: To strengthen community involvement and equity, the federal government should require that the demographics of charter school leaders and boards actually reflect the communities they serve as a condition for receiving federal funding. At the state level, authorizers should not approve a charter if it has not built a diverse board that reflects its community.
- Restrict enrollment practices that harm the community: The federal government should require charter schools that receive funds to report on enrollment and retention of all students by student group (race, age, disability status, etc), and restrict or deny funding to charters that cherry pick easy-to-serve students or expel students who are harder to serve. Schools and networks that follow this practice could again be restricted by states and authorizers, making it impossible to receive federal funding.
Next100 is a startup think tank for and by the next generation of policy leaders, powered by The Century Foundation, a leading progressive think tank. Next100 is working to change the face and future of progressive policy, and to build a more inclusive, equal, and just America.