Getting Schooled by Other States on CMOs

November 18th, 2011

Category: News, Policy and Practice

Earlier this month, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) in collaboration with Mathematica Policy Research released its study on the effectiveness of charter management organizations, or CMOs. CMOs are the groups that manage the much-heralded and highly successful charters networks like KIPP and Rocketship. The study looks at 40 CMOs managing 292 schools located in 14 states (not including Delaware) and includes surveys, interviews, comparisons with nearby conventional public schools, site visits, business and financial plans, and school records with student achievement data.

In addition to the report’s findings on CMO effectiveness, it is also a great primer on characteristics of CMOs in general. Here are some of its key findings:

  • Approximately 130 CMOs exist, serving 250,000 students. They represent 20% of all charters, and are growing faster than non-CMO charter schools.
  • CMOs serve higher populations of black, Hispanic, and low-income students
  • CMOs generally have better performance than their charter peers and conventional schools, but there are significant differences in achievement between high- and low-performing CMOs

The report also states that the more effective CMOs tend to have the follow practices:

  • Comprehensive behavior policies
  • Intensive coaching of teachers
  • Teach For America teachers  and those from similar alternate routes
  • Data driven instruction
  • Extended Learning time
  • Larger networks of schools (the report cited 8 schools or more)

So what does this have to do with Delaware? Well, the good news is that some of the effective practices CMOs have are initiatives we are working to implement in our districts. For example, all districts are using data coaches to help teachers implement data driven instruction, and several districts and schools have TFA teachers and extended learning time.

However, perhaps the most relevant portion of the study is what it doesn’t mention—us. Delaware has no CMOs. The report clearly says that while not all CMOs are highly effective, some of them are (and there’s plenty of hints and clues as to who those are). The study found that 80% of all CMO charters are located in Texas, California, Arizona, and Ohio. Why? Because those states have charter laws that allow them to operate effectively, and they provide more funding to charter schools than we do.

A recent study showed Delaware provides $3,665 less than it does for their conventional public school counterparts, one of the biggest gaps in funding across the country. In addition, our current regulations don’t allow charter schools operators to operate multiple schools (unless they are different grade configurations or a restart of a closed charter school), making it very difficult for a CMO to operate (especially successful ones, which the report points to as benefiting from operating larger networks of schools). CMOs trying to come to Delaware not only have to deal with this funding shortfall, but they also have to wrestle with a current policy environment that isn’t favorable to them at all.

States are trying their best to attract successful CMOs; some like Maryland and New York have even incorporated them into their own education reform strategies (for examples, see this report on the portfolio district strategy). Meanwhile Delaware is falling behind. We are providing plenty of support and best practices for our district schools, but if Delaware is to truly be the first state in the nation in education, we need to provide our students with a full array of choices, and that means providing our charters with more support so they have a better chance at success and bringing in a highly effective CMO network into our state.

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Brian Yin



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