October 14, 2016

Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital

By Juliet Squire | Allison Crean Davis

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Tens of thousands of individuals across the United States volunteer their time, energy, and expertise as members of charter school boards. Yet as the charter sector has grown, we’ve learned remarkably little about these individuals who make key operational decisions about their schools and have legal and moral responsibilities for the education of children in their communities.

Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital” is one of the first attempts to use quantitative survey data to explore the relationship between charter boards and school quality. In partnership with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Bellwether authors Juliet Squire and Allison Crean Davis queried charter school board members in Washington, D.C. — a city with one of the highest percentage of public charter school students in the nation — to determine who serves on District charter boards and which board practices are associated with school quality.


Key findings include:

  • Charter school board members in D.C. tend to be affluent, highly educated individuals with liberal or moderate political leanings. Three-quarters of them have served fewer than four years on their board. A slight majority is white, and one-third are African American. They are fairly evenly distributed by age and have a wide range of occupational backgrounds, although almost one-third work in education.
  • Board members of high-quality charters are more knowledgeable about their schools and more likely to know their school’s quality ranking from the DC Public Charter School Board. These board members are also more accurate in estimating the percentage of their school’s population that is eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches and indicating whether their school finished the previous fiscal year with a budget deficit.
  • Board members of high-quality schools are more likely to engage in strategic planning, meet monthly, and participate in specific trainings on budgeting, strategic planning, and legal and policy issues.
  • Board members of high-quality schools are significantly more likely to evaluate their school leaders and use staff satisfaction as a factor in such evaluations.
  • Regardless of school quality, charter school board members have much in common, including beliefs about the importance of academic achievement, similar school finance practices, and an understanding of their role and responsibilities.

While focused on charter board members in Washington D.C., the report nonetheless offers valuable insights for charter advocates in other cities. By recruiting informed and dedicated volunteers to lend their time to these boards — and nudging them to implement sound practices — advocates may be able to replicate some of the successes from one of America’s most robust charter sectors.

Read the full paper here or expand the viewer below for more.

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