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What You Should Know About Charter School Alternative Education Campuses

What You Should Know About Charter School Alternative Education Campuses

June 12, 2023

Charter schools, as we know, are innovative public schools created to close the opportunity gap and deliver an excellent education to every student. A lesser-known subset of charter schools, typically referred to as charter school Alternative Education Campuses (AECs), are profiled in a new report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Going the Extra Mile: An Overview of Charter School Alternative Education Campuses explores how these specialized schools leverage the autonomy offered by the charter school model to create hundreds of unique learning environments across the county specifically designed for students who have experienced challenges that make attending and succeeding in school more difficult.  

Some charter school AECs provide credit recovery to over-age and under-credited youth, while others provide flexible scheduling, childcare, and support services for parenting teens. There are project-based AECs, career and technical education focused AECs, and AECs that offer competency-based models where mastery of content, rather than seat time, drives students’ progression through school. 

While charter school AECs share a common goal of supporting students who have been underserved in other school settings, they can look very different in their approach to school. AECs vary in their missions, targeted student populations, design, instructional modality, and structure of the school day and year.

Here are a few facts about charter school AECs:

  • In the 2021- 2022 school year, there were 555 charter school AECs across 34 states enrolling 141,669 students
  • Most charter school AEC students (95%) are enrolled in grades 9-12
  • 74% of charter school AEC students are students of color and 47% are reported as Hispanic/Latino
  • 68% of charter school AEC students are economically disadvantaged
  • 16% of charter school AEC students are students with disabilities
  • Charter schools, which serve more than 7% of public school students, make up 20% of AECs and serve 42% of students enrolled in AECs

Measuring charter school AEC performance is complicated. Using common school performance metrics, such as state assessments, which are not always aligned with the needs of AEC students, charter school AECs tend to modestly outperform district-run AECs. However, when school performance metrics are adjusted to meet the needs of AEC students, such as tracking a five-year or six-year adjusted cohort graduation rate2 (ACGR), rather than a four-year ACGR, charter school AECs can demonstrate their success much more clearly.

Accountability for charter school AECs should be permitted to take into account the unique missions and target student populations of these schools. Metrics such as academic growth, as opposed to proficiency rates, student preparedness, as well as flexibility around student engagement measures, such as attendance, are more meaningful and will allow schools to demonstrate their success with students who are further behind than traditional students. Aligned and appropriate accountability expectations will help reduce barriers to opening new charter school AECs to serve students in need.   

Katie Burke is the senior director of policy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

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