The National Study of Charter Management Organization (CMO) Effectiveness: Report on Interim Findings
Robin Lake, Brianna Dusseault, Melissa Bowen, Allison Demeritt, Paul Hill
Center on Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
June 2010


Abstract:

Charter management organizations (CMOs), nonprofit entities that directly manage public charter schools, are a significant force in today’s public K–12 charter school landscape.

CMOs were developed to solve serious problems limiting the numbers and quality of charter schools. The CMO model is meant to meld the benefits of school districts—including economies of scale, collaboration among similar schools, and support structures—with the autonomies and entrepreneurial drive of the charter sector.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the major philanthropies funding charter schools invested heavily in CMOs and similar organizations, spending an estimated total of $500 million between 1999 and 2009. Ultimately, those who invest in CMOs want to achieve a significantly higher number of high-quality schools in the charter school sector. Their investments in CMO growth have been targeted to specific urban school districts that have been considered difficult, if not impossible, to reform.

In recent years, the strong reputations of CMOs in cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have led many policy leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, to call for greater replication of high-performing charter schools via CMOs, especially as a strategy for turning around or replacing chronically low-performing public schools.

Despite the amount of investment and policy attention on CMOs, there has been limited research to assess their impact and their potential for improving public schools at scale.

The National Study of Charter Management Organization Effectiveness was designed to better understand which practices and contextual factors are associated with CMO impacts. This interim report presents partial and preliminary findings, based primarily on visits to CMO central offices and CMO-operated schools, a survey of CMO central offices, interviews with school district officials, and a review of financial data, business plans, and other CMO documents.

The final report is due out summer 2011. It will report on CMO outcomes, such as test score results and measures of ways charter schools benefit, in terms of organizational health and instructional coherence, from affiliation with CMOs.


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