Five Habits of Highly Renewable Charter Schools

Authorizers are scrutinizing charter schools more than ever before. We have read hundreds of renewal recommendation reports, and have worked on more than fifty renewal applications. Charter schools that get renewed share common “renewable” habits. Read on for our take on the habits schools need to get full-term renewals in today’s climate.

Habit #1 – Performance

It should come as little surprise that schools receiving full terms have strong records of student achievement, evidenced almost entirely by state test scores. These schools have a compelling and consistent record of exceeding the performance of the local district, peer groups, and have made annual gains in achievement with their own students. In these schools, there are rarely “hard to explain” flat years where performance dips.

Habit #2 – Strong Instructional Program

Once inside highly renewable schools, you will find the qualities that drive the performance in Habit #1.  These qualities typically include rigorous instruction where the students are challenged with doing the heavy lifting, and teachers facilitate that learning.  Instructional coaching is practiced and polished and when asked, teachers in these high quality settings will usually report they know exactly what is expected of them, and that they are fully supported. You will also find exemplar use of interim data to not only track student progress, but also drive ongoing instruction.

Habit #3 – No Drama

In highly renewable schools, personalities never overwhelm the school as a whole.  There is little-to-no drama. The organization is so strong and successful, it can withstand unsettling events, and quickly move on. In schools with challenging renewals, you will likely find some drama, and it almost always involves the adults.  “We would have done better in the last several years, but a very popular group of founding teachers left together, and we have not been the same since.” “ELA would have been stronger, but our Board was reluctant to get the Principal more ELA support because it would use funds being saved for a new gymnasium.”  Do you see a pattern?

Habit #4 – Organizational Effectiveness

In highly renewable schools, every group knows that its overall role is to support the academic program: from the Board, to the operations team, to the consultants. Highly effective schools also have an engaged community with strong evidence of parent satisfaction and demand.  If you ask any group in a highly effective school what the emphasis is for that particular year, they will be able to tell you. Teacher attrition is lower than average, because teachers are carefully vetted before hire, and developed once they get there.  Students rarely leave. Seats are coveted because the school does so well.  Finally, these schools take seriously their role in recruiting economically disadvantaged, Special Education, and English Language Learners. Therefore, their enrollment looks like their community.

Habit #5 – Sustainability

Schools that are sustainable have the stability, finances, and energy to keep performing at a high level into another charter term.  They don’t exhaust all of their energy and resources on a “charter saving” couple of years at the close of the last term, only to be too exhausted (financially and organizationally) to keep it going. These schools think big and are always planning for the next charter term, and the next after that.

Ask yourselves what your habits are, and how you would stack up if your renewal submission was tomorrow.