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.

Fordham’s latest study, 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. Authors Juliet Squire and Allison Crean Davis of Bellwether Education Partners 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 (a) who serves on District charter boards and (b) 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. These board members are more likely to know their school's quality rating from the DC Public Charter School Board, can more accurately estimate the percentage of their school’s population that is eligible for free or reduced priced lunches, and are more knowledgeable about school finances.
  • Board members of high-quality schools are more likely to participate in training, engage in strategic planning, and meet monthly. In particular, board members at high-performing schools are more likely to have received training in developing the school budget, 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 understanding 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—they may be able to replicate some of the successes of one of America’s most robust charter sectors.

Policy Priority:

Juliet Squire is a principal in the Policy and Thought Leadership area at Bellwether Education Partners, where she focuses on school choice, governance, and rural education, among other topics. She most recently worked at the New Jersey Department of Education, where she directed strategies for advancing technology-driven innovation and oversaw the state’s Race to the Top program. Previously, she managed school…

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Allison Crean Davis is a senior adviser to Bellwether Education Partners, focusing on issues related to evaluation and planning, predictive analytics, and extended learning. Allison is co-founder of New Legacy Partnerships, LLC, a consulting firm that provides technical and research/evaluation assistance to schools, districts, state education agencies, nonprofits, and foundations. She also acts as coordinator for…

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