Success Factors in Single-Campus Charter School Expansion
Updated: Mar 22, 2019
by Todd Landry,
Public charter schools in the United States have become a popular and growing choice option for families (Bellwether Education Partners, 2016). With demand for charter school spots exceeding supply, a critical issue facing the charter school movement is how to expand successful charter schools. While large charter management organizations (CMOs) will meet some of that demand, single campus charter schools must also be prepared to expand when needed and desired.
The charter movement in the United States recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Charter schools currently exist in 42 states and the District of Columbia and include over 6,800 schools educating nearly 3 million students (National Alliance celebrates 25th anniversary of charter schools, 2016). Limited research exists on successful scaling factors specific to charter schools and existing research focuses primarily on CMOs.
As part of my doctoral dissertation, I conducted a qualitative research project that provides a framework of success factors based on a study of five successful single campus charter school expansions in four states and the District of Columbia. This framework addresses a gap in the literature and helps to answer the key question: What are the essential success factors for single campus charter expansion? This is a vital question to answer because, if single campus charter leaders can be more efficient and effective in expansions, more of their crucial time and effort can be spent on improving student achievement.
Using a qualitative, in-depth interview approach, a national perspective was obtained by interviewing five charter leaders in four different states and the District of Columbia who had successfully expanded their single campus charter school. These leaders represented charters in Texas, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. Based on the results, the “roadmap” below was developed for leaders to consider when expanding.
The interviewed charter leaders generally espoused an “organic” model of growth. The most often cited reason for the organic growth was demand by current families and families on their respective waitlists. This growth orientation is in contrast to a “premeditated” method of growth that is sometimes evident with larger CMOs (Farrell et al, 2013).
One factor – Human Capital – emerged as the consistently dominant factor and charter leaders should consider focusing on Human Capital as a leading strategy toward successful expansion. Responding to this challenge should include early and ongoing engagement of the board and community, involvement of staff in planning and implementing the expansion, prioritizing continuity of culture by ensuring the leader of the expanded or replicated campus is not “new” to the organization, and “seeding” the new campus with current successful teachers and staff.
While the Human Capital success factor emerged as the consistently dominant factor, the relative importance of the factors was context driven – essentially, context matters when it comes to charter school expansion. This context is primarily dependent on state and local policies which will drive the relative importance of the success factors.
For example, in states where facility selection, procurement, and funding are not provided by the state education agency, the Logistics success factor will become critically important for the charter leader. However, in states where the facility is provided by the state education agency or by other means, other factors, such as the Political factor, are likely to become more important.One success factor emerged that surprised me – the importance of Personal Motivation or Personal Satisfaction of the charter leader toward successful expansion. This factor points to the need to rely on the charter leader’s tenacity, grit, and determination to “drive” the project to successful completion. Without a doubt, charter expansion is a difficult task and leaders need to be mindful of the time and effort that will be needed to deliver a successful expansion or replication.
The previously mentioned reliance on an organic growth model tended to minimize the importance of several success factors, including Environmental, Historical, Social, Financial, and Educational. These factors were generally considered less important to the interviewed charter leaders. However, it is important to note that context will drive the importance of these factors and charter leaders would be wise to consider them during their expansion processes.
After 25 years, public charter schools have become part of the public education fabric in the United States. The charter school movement will benefit from expansions of successful charter schools – both large CMOs and independent charters. From the view of independent, single campus charter schools, this study points to successful expansion factors to enable further growth which will help to meet the increasing public demand for high-quality charter schools.
References and Resources:
Bellwether Education Partners. The US Education Innovation Index. Bellwether Education Partners, 2016.
Farrell, C., Nayfack, M. B., Smith, J., & Wohlstetter, P. (2013). One size does not fit all: Understanding the variation in charter management scale-up. Journal of Educational Change, 15(1), 77-97. doi:10.1007/s10833-013-9216-7
National alliance celebrates 25th anniversary of charter schools. Retrieved from http://www.publiccharters.org/press/25th-anniversary-of-charter-schools/