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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Charter Schools

September 2017


What are best practices for preparing and further supporting the development of charter school leaders? What programs or strategies are available on how to retain charter school leaders?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, evaluative studies, and descriptive studies on charter school leadership. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to leader development, support, and retention. For details on the databases and sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Berman, I. (2008). Improving charter school leadership. Washington DC: NGA Center for Best Practices. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “After the quality of a school’s teachers, the quality of a school’s leaders is the most influential school-based factor affecting student learning, and research indicates that leadership impacts student achievement the most in academic settings serving students who traditionally have not done well in school. In an effort to provide high-quality K-12 education options, particularly for the many students across the country who attend low-performing schools, governors and other state policymakers are looking to alternative approaches, such as charter schools, to maximize investments in public education. Forty states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow for fiscally independent, tuition-free charter schools that operate under a performance contract. As the number of students attending these schools continues to rise, state leaders have a growing interest in ensuring that this education sector is well-equipped to meet the goals of improving student achievement, especially for low-income and minority families who have been underserved by the traditional education system. Without strong leaders, charter schools will not be well-positioned to meet their promise of raising student achievement. Strong charter school leaders are necessary to establish and achieve a clear school mission; to recruit, develop, and retain effective educators; and to provide teachers the leadership support they need to deliver high-quality instruction. Governors and policymakers interested in expanding and strengthening their respective charter school options will need to consider what policy levers to use to increase the supply and quality of charter school leaders. Six strategies are discussed: (1) Support new and existing university-based charter school leadership training programs and partnerships and nontraditional providers; (2) Help secure funding for charter leadership programs by soliciting private support or using federal funding; (3) Enhance charter school directors’ ability to hire qualified teachers by allowing charter schools or programs to run their own teacher training programs; (4) Increase directors’ ability to attract and retain effective staff by offering state benefits for charter school teachers; (5) Provide ongoing and relevant professional development for school directors across the district and charter school sectors; and (6) Encourage and support charter board member training.”

Campbell, C. & Grubb, B. J. (2008). Closing the skill gap: New options for charter school leadership development. Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “With 400 new charter schools opening their doors each year and 4,000 charter schools up and running, a strong supply of leaders is crucial to the sustainability of charter schools. But charter school leaders face a unique set of challenges, and traditional principal training programs, where the majority of charter leaders are currently trained, often leave them with a daunting skills gap.

In response, a new crop of specialty training programs for charter school leaders has developed in recent years. CRPE researchers surveyed those programs to learn how many leaders they train and what types of training they offer. They find that these new training options show promise in their responsiveness, course relevance, and methods of instruction, especially when compared to traditional leadership training programs. They also are more likely to cover some topics—such as personnel and labor relations, financial management, and academic accountability—that seem fundamental to effective leadership, not just for charter schools.

Still, the programs miss or treat too lightly some of the issues charter leaders struggle with most, including engaging parents, raising funds and managing finances, and negotiating with local school districts. What’s more, the specialty training programs are few and small in size, training only 100 new charter school leaders each year.

The report concludes with strategies to address the challenges of building a strong charter school leadership pipeline, including expanding successful programs and popular professional development programs; tapping into local university public administration, nonprofit, and business leadership training programs; and expanding online training options.”

Campbell, C. (2010). You’re leaving? Sustainability and succession in charter schools. Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education. Retrieved from

From the summary: “Seventy-one percent of charter school leaders surveyed for this study say they expect to leave their schools within five years. For the nation’s 5,000 charter schools, this raises important questions. Who will be ready to take over? How will the school maintain its instructional program and culture from leader to leader? How does a school survive founder transitions? Where will new leaders come from and how can they be ready to lead existing schools? The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington spent four years studying charter school teachers and leaders: CRPE’s survey of 400 charter school leader respondents and fieldwork in 24 charter schools in California, Hawaii, and Texas has yielded important insights into these questions and the future of maturing charter schools. CRPE’s research finds that many charter schools are unprepared when it comes to leadership turnover. Only half of the charter school leaders surveyed for this study reported having succession plans in place, and many of those plans are weak. For the few schools with strong plans, two elements were common: the school leaders (all with prior business experience) had taken charge of future plans, and these schools were not in the midst of crisis. This report concludes with important steps charter schools can take to stabilize a school and better position it to choose the best possible leader.”

Carpenter, D. M., II, & Peak, C. (2013). Leading charters: How charter school administrators define their roles and their ability to lead. Management in Education, 27(4), 150–158. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Charter schools have been studied from numerous perspectives. One topic that remains under-researched, however, is charter school leadership. Therefore, we examine how charter administrators define their leadership roles and their ability to lead. Results indicate that charter principals see three primary functions in their leadership—building and moving the internal school community in a common direction, managing staff, and school safety. Charter school principals expressed general confidence in their ability to lead in these areas but less confidence in leading in the areas of math and literacy. Charter leaders spend more time conducting meetings and handling parent issues and less time on hiring staff and fundraising. Finally, time differential statistics revealed that, although principals recognize the value of instructional leadership, less time than desired is spent on this area. Implications from the research indicate that charter boards and aspiring leaders should pay attention to alignment between how each defines leadership and what each party expects of the role.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Chadwick, C., & Kowal, J. (2011). Preparing for growth: Human capital innovations in charter public schools. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Charter schools and successful charter management organizations that run them have grown significantly over the past decade but they must dramatically increase their scale in order to meet the demand for high-quality public-school options for America’s children. The limited supply of effective leaders and teachers is one of the key barriers standing in the way of more rapid growth for CMOs. Unless CMOs find strategies to overcome this challenge, they will not be able to meet the demand for growth. To learn more about CMOs’ human capital initiatives aimed toward overcoming this barrier, the authors conducted case studies of CMOs that have dealt with issues of growth and addressed human capital constraints. Through their study they identified key strategies and lessons learned from the practices of six CMOs. In this paper, they summarize those strategies and provide ideas for next-generation growth. They found that successful CMOs: (1) Formalize processes and infrastructure; (2) Make the most of the people they attract; and (3) Import and induct management talent.”

Dolan, K. K. (2013). Meeting Colorado’s demand for excellent leaders. The school leadership pipeline series. Part 1. Denver, CO: Donnell-Kay Foundation. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “During the fall of 2012, the Donnell-Kay Foundation surveyed the state’s superintendents and charter network leaders to better understand the principalship in Colorado today. Some key findings of the survey are presented in this report. The findings include perceptions that there is a shortage of quality leaders to run Colorado’s schools, that the quality of principal preparation is extremely poor, and that professional development and accountability are levers to improve the quality of leadership. Information gathered in the survey, as well as research into national trends and promising practices on school leadership, serve as the basis for the recommendations presented.”

Doyle, D., & Steiner, L. (2011). Developing education talent pipelines for charter schools: A citywide approach. Washington, DC: National Charter School Resource Center. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This white paper highlights six indicators of a robust talent pipeline so that charter supporters of all kinds—including charter school leaders, talent providers, charter support organizations, philanthropies, and politicians—can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own efforts. It also shows through the examples of Indianapolis and New Orleans how charter supporters have been able to grow the supply of effective charter school teachers and leaders by focusing on these indicators. This white paper is part of a three-piece series continuing the discussion from a National Charter School Resource Center / U.S. Department of Education conference exploring emerging city-based movements that embrace high-quality charters as an integral component of their reform strategy.”

Furgeson, J., Knechtel, V., Sullivan, M., Tuttle, C., Akers, L., Anderson, M. A., Barna, M., & Nichols-Barrer, I. (2014). KIPP leadership practices through 2010–2011. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from

From the introduction: “Leadership practices are a key component of the KIPP model, and as the largest and one of the most influential charter school networks, KIPP leadership practices matter for American public education. This report seeks to describe KIPP leadership practices in place prior to receipt of the i3 grant. In this report, we focus each chapter on one research question: How do KIPP regions and schools structure leadership roles?… How do KIPP regions and schools select principals and build a leadership pipeline?… How are KIPP leaders developed and evaluated?… What is the transition process between leaders at KIPP schools?… Many KIPP principals also eventually become regional leaders. Consistent with the i3 grant, this report focuses on the principal pipeline. This report focuses on leadership practices in spring 2011 to provide a baseline, or starting point, for examining how KIPP leadership practices change as i3 funding is distributed. The majority of the data reflects leadership practices at a specific point in time; practices have continued to evolve since that time, in part due to i3 funding. This report also aims to identify key leadership challenges and promising leadership practices, as part of an i3 grant commitment and consistent with KIPP’s desire to share what it learns with other schools and educators.”

Knechtel, V., Anderson, M. A., Burnett, A., Coen, T., Sullivan, M., Tuttle, C. C., & Gleason, P. (2015). Understanding the effect of KIPP as it scales: Volume II, leadership practices at KIPP. Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from

From the executive summary: “To document how leadership practices at KIPP changed over the grant period and to facilitate replication of promising leadership practices, Mathematica conducted an independent evaluation of leadership practices at KIPP as the network grew to scale. In this volume, we describe the leadership practices in place at KIPP schools, in regions, and across the KIPP network by drawing on (1) surveys of all KIPP principals and regional leaders, (2) the KIPP Foundation’s administrative records, and (3) interviews with KIPP Foundation staff responsible for training. Next, to facilitate the replication of successful leadership practices both within KIPP and in other school systems, we detail promising leadership practices identified during site visits to five regions that contain high-performing KIPP schools. Finally, we explore the relationship between practices implemented at individual KIPP schools and regions and their impacts, highlighting promising practices for future study. Below, we summarize the major findings from the analyses.”

Ni, Y., Sun, M., & Rorrer, A. (2015). Principal turnover: Upheaval and uncertainty in charter schools? Educational Administration Quarterly, 51(3), 409–437. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Informed by literature on labor market and school choice, this study aims to examine the dynamics of principal career movements in charter schools by comparing principal turnover rates and patterns between charter schools and traditional public schools. Research Methods/Approach: This study uses longitudinal data on Utah principals and schools from 2004 to 2011. The Aalen-Johansen estimator and discrete-time competing risk models are used to analyze principal turnover rates and transition patterns in charter schools in relation to those in traditional schools. We also explore the extent to which school contextual and principal background factors contribute to principal turnover. Findings: Our analyses show that charter schools had a higher principal turnover rate than traditional schools and very different principal transition patterns. When charter principals left, they tended to move to nonprincipal positions or leave the Utah public school system altogether, instead of moving to another school as principals. In contrast, when traditional school principals left, they tended to continue to be principals in another school, mostly within the same school district. Conclusions and Implications: The findings suggest that unlike the traditional school principal position that is often regarded as a ‘stepping stone’ along an established career path, the charter school principal position is more likely to be a ‘stopping point.’ This may cause overall principal shortage in charter schools and highlights the need for supportive systems that develop and sustain strong leadership in charter schools.”

Perry, E. (2008). Charter school executives: Toward a new generation of leadership. Washington, DC: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Retrieved from

From the executive summary: “The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools received a one-year grant from the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation to explore how to expand the pool of high-quality charter school leaders in order to meet community needs for quality new schools and ensure continuity in existing schools. To accomplish this goal, the Alliance did three things: First, the Alliance commissioned a quantitative research study by the National Charter School Research Project at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, examining the characteristics of charter school leaders in three states and their professional development experiences, needs, and plans for the future. That work was then supplemented by the Center’s further analysis of national data from the Schools and Staffing Survey published by the National Center for Education Statistics. Second, the Alliance commissioned Dr. Eleanor Perry, founder of the Leadership for Educational Entrepreneurs (LEE) Program at Arizona State University, to lead a working group of school leaders and innovative organizations currently developing their own ‘next generation’ of charter school leaders. The Working Group comprised a wide range of perspectives including that of non-profit and for-profit charter management organizations (CMOs); funders; non-profits developing leaders for charters and other public schools; and charter support organizations working largely with freestanding charter schools (unaffiliated with a CMO or school network). Through in-person meetings and conference calls, the Working Group shared experiences and developed recommendations… Third, Dr. Perry and her colleagues sought opportunities for wider consultation at national and state charter meetings, including breakouts at the 2007 National Charter Schools Conference sponsored by the Alliance. These conversations provided rich context for the more structured research and Working Group efforts. Drafts of the final report were reviewed by the Working Group and numerous Charter movement leaders prior to release.”

Portin, B., Schneider, P., DeArmond, M., & Gundlach, L. (2003). Making sense of leading schools: A study of the school principalship. Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This report documents a study that examined what school leaders actually do to effectively lead schools. It then presents what this implies for policy and leadership development. Data for the study were collected from interviews with principals, vice principals, and teachers from 21 public, private, charter, contract, and magnet schools in 4 cities in 4 states. From the interviews came five major conclusions: (1) The core of the principal’s job is diagnosing the school’s particular needs and deciding how to meet them; (2) regardless of school type, leadership is needed in seven areas: instructional, cultural, managerial, human resources, strategic, external development, and micropolitical; (3) principals are responsible for ensuring that leadership happens, but they do not have to provide it; (4) a school’s governance structure affects the ways key leadership functions are performed; and (5) principals learn by doing and acquire skills on the job. The results suggest that a variety of leaders and leadership models can work within schools. The report concludes with some suggestions about how district and state policymakers and colleges of education can change to better support the variety of leaders and leadership.”

Sloan, K., Pereira-Leon, M., & Honeyford, M. (2010). Investigating the impact of EPIC professional development on Perspectives Charter School principals: An evaluation of the EPIC professional learning model. (Evaluation Brief). New York, NY: New Leaders for New Schools. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In 2009-10, New Leaders for New Schools partnered with the Perspectives Charter School Network in Chicago to pilot an innovative leadership development program for principals. The program is part of the Effective Practice Incentive Community (EPIC) initiative, which was created by New Leaders in 2006 to identify, reward, and share effective practices leading to dramatic achievement gains in high-need urban schools. To date, New Leaders for New Schools has awarded nearly $13 million to EPIC-awarded schools. In exchange, school leaders and their leadership teams engage in rigorous investigation of practice to document the decisions, strategies, and tools driving student gains and, with New Leaders, author a case study for the Knowledge System, EPIC’s online professional development platform. This rich repository of over 150 video case studies and related artifacts allows educators in the EPIC consortium—including the five schools in the Perspectives network and over 500 district and charter schools nationwide—to share effective practices and learn from others’ success. The partnership with Perspectives allowed New Leaders to meet two of its goals: (1) to build the capacity of its partners to leverage the Knowledge System resources and (2) to test and evolve the professional learning model built around EPIC resources. The EPIC model, which guides principals in their own self-study of leadership practice, gives partners the opportunity to tailor the professional learning experience to local and individual principal needs. For Perspectives, that meant selecting videos and crafting sessions aligned with ongoing efforts to create strong professional learning communities in each school and build the leadership capacity among its teachers. This research brief reports on what Perspectives principals and New Leaders learned from the pilot implementation of the EPIC professional learning model and the impact of the program on principals’ knowledge, skills, and application of effective practices in their schools. Overall, principals reported that the sessions helped them further develop their leadership practices. They agreed that the Knowledge System videos provided valuable examples of effective practice and that structured conversations with colleagues were a rare, welcome opportunity. The presession planning and collaboration between New Leaders, Perspectives, and the facilitator resulted in a program that clearly reflected local goals--borne out in survey results showing that all six participants said the sessions were relevant to their needs and that most (83 percent) rated them ‘extremely relevant.’ All of the principals gained insight into how they could build capacity in others and left with tools and strategies to help them share leadership responsibilities and bring focus to data conversations and the work of professional learning communities.”

Sun, M., & Ni, Y. (2016). Work environments and labor markets: Explaining principal turnover gap between charter schools and traditional public schools. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(1), 144–183. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Knowledge about principals’ leadership roles in charter schools’ success has become more important as the number of charter schools increases and as we have learned more about the influence of principal leadership on school effectiveness. To contribute to the limited empirical literature on the principal labor market, this study explores the reasons for the disparity of turnover rates between charter school principals and their counterparts in traditional public schools (TPSs). It focuses on the differential distributions of observable factors, including principal characteristics, principal leadership practices, school contexts, and working conditions. It also examines how the associations between these observables and the likelihood of principal turnover differ between these two types of schools. Research Methods/Approach: This study uses data on a nationally representative sample of principals from the Schools and Staffing Survey in the 2007-2008 school year and its following-year Principal Follow-up Survey. The main analytic strategies include logit models and the Fairlie nonlinear decomposition technique. Findings: A statistically significant difference in charter-TPS principal turnover rates was confirmed. The explanatory variables collectively explained about 49% of the charter-TPS turnover gap: Principal characteristics explained 3%, principal leadership quality explained 4%, school contexts explained 2%, and working conditions explained 28%. Moreover, relative to TPS peers, three factors have stronger associations with the likelihood of charter school principal turnover: principal leadership quality, barriers to the dismissal of poor-performing or incompetent teachers, and salary. Implications for Research and Practice: This is one of first few studies that empirically explore the charter school principal workforce and labor market movements. Findings are practically informative for retaining principals in charter schools.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

National Charter School Resource Center –

From the website: “The NCSRC is dedicated to helping charter schools reach their aspirations and furthering understanding of charter schools. To meet those goals, we offer a diverse selection of objective resources on every aspect of the charter school sector. These resources are compiled from trusted sources and also originally produced by the NCSRC.”

Minnesota Association of Charter Schools –

From the website:“Charter Board Partners is a nonprofit organization committed to strengthening the governance and quality of public charter schools. We believe that independent governance is the key differentiator between public charter schools and other public schools. Independently governed boards put in place the context for success, shield schools from the ever-changing forces of politics, and insist on results. Boards also provide charter schools with volunteer board members who bring valuable talents and resources that public schools generally have a hard time accessing. And serving on the board of a public school gives those individuals the opportunity to play a meaningful role in public education reform, give back to their communities, and make a real difference in the lives of children.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • charter leadership +descriptor:“Charter Schools”

  • charter leader develop +descriptor:“Charter Schools”

  • “new leaders for new schools” charter

  • “fisher fellowship” kipp

  • “KIPP Fisher Fellowship” leader training development support retention

  • charter school leader retention

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.