Portrait of the Movement


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CCSA's Fourth Annual Report on Charter School Performance and Accountability

Portrait of th eMovement

The Portrait of the Movement: Five Year Retrospective - A Charter Sector Growing in Numbers and Strength report, released in August 2014, reviews charter school performance across California and presses the case for improved accountability for persistently underperforming charter schools, based on a better framework and tools. Portrait of the Movement, first published in February 2011, introduced a performance framework that includes the Similar Students Measure (SSM), a tool developed by CCSA and vetted by an advisory panel of external research and accountability experts.

Download the full Portrait of the Movement 2014 Report.
Download the Portrait of the Movement 2014 Fact Sheet. (Spanish version)

Portrait of the Movement
When the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) released the first Portrait of the Movement in February 2011, we presented an image that highlighted both an inspiring promise and a daunting challenge. The image was "The Shape of the U," a graph depicting a distribution of academic performance for charter schools showing that in the 2007-08 school year, controlling for demographics of students served, approximately 21% of California charter schools were performing in the bottom tenth of all public schools in the state, with another 21% in the top tenth, and strikingly few in the middle. The image resonated with many in our movement because it crystalized what we knew intuitively and with emerging research. While the California charter school movement had a strikingly large number of far outperforming schools, it also had an unacceptable number of persistently underperforming schools. We believe the image also resonated because it highlighted another sobering reality: the sad fact that no one seemed to be acting with resolve to do anything about it.

Portrait of the Movement

Since the publication of CCSA's first "Portrait of the Movement" document, it has become clear that many within California and across the nation did in fact hear the wake-up call and took action. Those efforts have initiated a course correction that has led to substantial - and statistically significant - improvement in the overall performance of charter schools relative to the traditional public school system. Today, just five years since we first presented "The Shape of the U," we see that California has reduced by approximately one third the percentage of charter schools performing in the bottom tenth, and has held nearly constant the large percentage of charters in the top tenth. Is this good enough? Absolutely not. Have we made enough progress to declare, "mission accomplished?" Far from it. We still have too many persistently underperforming charter schools in California and the nation. But we think it essential that our movement and the broader public recognize the progress that has been made both to celebrate and to provide evidence to remaining skeptics that such progress is in fact possible.

This report is a story about what has happened over the past five years, why it has happened, and what we can do to keep things moving in a positive direction. It is a story of collective response, as we see that the strengthening that has happened in California's charter schools has not come from any one type of school, but has been driven by nearly every category of school improving its overall performance. It is also a story of collective courage, as it involves leaders from many different kinds of charter schools from across California coming together to create minimum performance expectations and enforcement provisions which undoubtedly helped move the overall sector in a positive direction. And, it is a story of hope: that it is in fact possible to improve performance across a sector as vast as California's. Moreover, the positive trends highlighted in this report appear likely to continue and perhaps accelerate in the years to come if we maintain our collective commitment to improve charter school performance.

Key Findings

  1. Over the past five years, California has reduced by approximately one third the percentage of charter schools performing in the bottom tenth, and has held nearly constant the large percentage of charters in the top tenth.
  2. Students at charter schools serving low-income populations are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in a school that is among the top five or ten percent of all public schools statewide. More than half of the students (52%) attending charters that serve a majority of high poverty population attend charter schools that are in the top quartile of all public schools statewide (vs. only 26% of similar students attending traditional public schools).
  3. More than a quarter of all English learners, African-American, and Latino charter students attend charter schools that are among the most outperforming public schools in California. In fact, students at charter schools serving a majority of historically disadvantaged students are likely to be among the most outperforming schools in the state (three times more likely to be in the top tenth percentile and five-to-six times more likely to be in the top fifth percentile).
  4. Almost 40% of Charter Management Organization (CMO) schools (97 of 259) are among the most outperforming public schools (top tenth) in California. CMO schools are also less likely than other types of charter schools or traditional public schools to be among the most underperforming (only 7% in the bottom 10th).
  5. A large number of successful, small CMOs have appeared in California that are driving growth, and the performance of these CMOs has improved from already strong outperformance five years ago.
  6. Classroom-based charter schools are outperforming, a trend that has been consistently documented in each Portrait of the Movement report.
  7. Historically, CCSA has documented that nonclassroom-based schools tend to perform less well on the Similar Students Measure (see side bar for more information) performance spectrum. However, over the past five years CCSA has seen an encouraging shift. Nonclassroom-based charters have improved from a "reverse J" five years ago to a strengthening U-shape today. Furthermore, CCSA sees big decreases in the bottom tenth (from 27% to 19%) and increases in the top tenth (from 13% to 19%).
  8. Conversion charter schools as a whole are relatively evenly distributed across the spectrum of performance. When autonomous conversions are isolated, you see that almost 50% of these schools (23 of 51 schools) are in the top quartile of the distribution.
  9. Of the 40 charter schools that closed in 2012-13, 25 had data allowing CCSA to run a full analysis. Of those 25, eight (32%) were in the bottom tenth, and 15 (60%) were in the bottom quartile. The fact that one-third of these closed schools were in the bottom ten percent of all schools statewide and almost two-thirds were in the bottom 25 percent provides evidence that underperforming schools are closing.
  10. CCSA has played a role in accelerating progress in the California charter school movement by pursuing an assertive academic accountability and school support agenda.

Learn More:

Performance Framework

The SSM is a key element of CCSA's performance framework, which also includes measures of rigor (in the form of a school's API score) and momentum (by considering growth in API over a three-year period). By combining the pattern of a three-year cycle using current API, cumulative growth, and predicted performance, the framework provides a more comprehensive performance management construct to assess school progress. This is paired with an in-depth "second look" process to help schools mine non-public sources of data when the publicly available data do not tell the full story of academic achievement. In addition to receiving a SSM Performance Band, schools are divided into four quadrants based upon their level of academic status and growth over time.

Similar Students Measure (SSM) Map

A detailed, interactive map which shows all charter and traditional public schools and their results on the Similar Students Measure (SSM), which identifies schools that persistently over- and under-perform a prediction based on student background. Explore the Map.

School Report Cards

Look up the CCSA Academic Accountability Report Card for any charter school to see results on the Similar Students Measure (SSM), the Status/Growth/SSM Framework, and the CCSA Minimum Criteria for Renewal. Explore the Report Cards.

Disaggregated results by region, county, district:

Generate Regional Snapshots of charter and non-charter results on the Accountability Framework disaggregated by region, county, district, authorizer, or zip code. The reports include additional information about enrollment, performance of subgroups, and growth over time.

Explore the Regional Snapshots.
For ease of access, find the Regional Snapshots for selected school districts here:

Sortable List of all Charter Schools:

A list of charters to see their placement on the accountability framework of SSM, status and growth. Download the list. Portrait of the Movement will continue to be a useful tool in the Association's attempts to press for greater accountability for low-performing charter schools and for support of "high impact" charters that are adding significant value to their students.

View the 1st Annual Portrait of the Movement published in 2011.
View the 2nd Annual Portrait of the Movement published in 2012.
View the 3rd Annual Portrait of the Movement published in 2013.

Technical Guide

Researchers, more information on the construction and intended use of the Similar Students Measure and the Annual School Performance Prediction is available in the Technical Guide to the Construction of the Annual School Performance Prediction (ASPP) and Similar Students Measure (SSM).

Download the Technical Guide.

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