This past spring, NAPCS conducted a survey of public charter schools across the country. (The national survey provided data for our estimate of 610,000 students on waiting lists to attend charter schools (see here, here, and here).) There were over 5,600 charter schools operating nationwide when we administered the survey in 2011-2012, and we know that charter schools are not a uniform category of schools. One of NAPCS’ goals through the school survey was to collect information that would help us better understand the wide range of instructional strategies charter schools use. We asked charter schools to select their instructional focus from a list of 44 categories (schools could select more than one area of focus). We started with a list from the 2006 Fordham Institute study, Playing to Type: Mapping the Charter School Landscape and revised the list (adding some categories, deleting others) based on work NAPCS has done work collecting information about charter schools nationwide.
Crunching through the survey data, we found that over 40 percent of charter schools responded that their instructional focus is “college-prep.” The term “college-prep” may generate images of a particular type of school: students in uniforms, college and university banners hanging in hallways, a “no excuses” mantra. But when we looked a little deeper at the survey data, we found wide variation in how charter schools go about implementing the focus of preparing students for college. Charter schools use service-learning, project-based instruction, community service, arts, technology, and STEM, among a variety of other instructional methods, to prepare students for college. The survey data reflects the reality that charter schools are not a homogenous set of schools. The infographic below presents findings from the survey (we have a PDF version of the infographic, too).
This week and next NAPCS will use the Charter Blog to feature public charter schools that prepare students for college using a range of instructional strategies. We have asked school leaders to tell us in their own words how they use service-learning, project-based instruction, child-centered methods, etc. to create a “college-prep” focus. By combining data on instructional strategies from a national survey with on the ground stories of the work of charter schools, we hope to show the wide scope of possibilities in how charter schools can provide great learning environments for students.