Conversion Charter Schools: A Closer Look


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Conversion charter schools have a strong presence in California's educational landscape, represent a unique school reform strategy, and have maintained a steady growth in numbers since 1993. But what do they look like and how are they doing?

California's charter public schools are diverse, ranging in size, grades, and educational approach. The majority of charter schools are independent start-ups. These tend to operate in communities where parents demand better or unique educational options and are usually fully independent from the local school district. California's charter school movement also included 139 conversion charters as of the 2010-11 school year - traditional public schools that converted into charter public schools. Conversion charters represent 16% of California's charter school movement, but serve 25% of all charter school students since they usually have larger student bodies. Limited research has been done to better understand the impacts of this reform strategy despite their growing presence in California.

CCSA has conducted this analysis using publicly available data to paint a more detailed picture of outcomes at conversion charters. The analysis was an attempt to determine whether converting to a charter school is associated with changes in the school's academic performance or demographics. CCSA also looked at charter schools' varying levels of autonomy from their local districts and whether that was associated with changes in school outcomes.

In this analysis, CCSA split conversion charters into two groups - autonomous and non-autonomous. Autonomous charter schools are fully independent from their local school districts and receive funding directly from the state. Non-autonomous charter schools have the majority of their board members appointed by their local district, are not incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, or are subject to a combination of other factors that do not make them fully autonomous (see page 6 for detailed definition).

The results of this analysis show that conversion charter schools have achieved high levels of academic performance. Conversion charters that are fully autonomous from their local school districts are making rapid academic gains with underserved students and have increased their enrollments of underserved students over time.

Autonomous Conversion Charters with the Highest Academic Growth since Conversion


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Autonomous Conversion Charters with the Biggest Subgroup Growth Since Conversion


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Other major findings from this report include:

  • The rate of traditional schools undergoing conversion has not increased dramatically over time. It has stayed relatively stable since the earliest conversions took place in California in 1993, with an average of eight traditional public schools converting each year.
  • The majority of conversion charters outpaced traditional schools on academic growth after converting; this was especially true for fully autonomous conversions.
  • On average, conversion charters outperformed traditional public schools in the 2011-12 school year across several academic performance metrics, including California's Academic Performance Index (API), proficiency rates in English Language Arts and proficiency rates in math. This was particularly true for non-autonomous conversions.
  • Looking through the lens of school autonomy, we saw two distinct profiles emerge:
    • Most autonomous conversion charters (38 schools in the 2010-11 school year) increased their percentages of underserved student subgroups more rapidly than traditional schools after converting. In 2010-11, they enrolled larger percentages of Latinos, English learners, and low-income students than traditional schools. They were also more likely to achieve higher levels of academic growth than traditional schools after converting.
    • Non-autonomous conversions had high levels of academic performance prior to conversion and generally maintained this status over time. The majority of these schools did not grow their enrollments of underserved student populations compared to traditional schools. They also served less diverse student populations than autonomous conversions did in 2010-11.
Conversion Charter Schools: A Closer Look An analysis of publicly-available data published by CCSA detailing the academic performance and demographic trends of traditional public schools that converted into charter public schools

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