Roland Fryer Identifies Five Habits of Successful Charter Schools

Harvard economist (and Freakonomics friend) Roland Fryer has a new paper out (full version here) that takes a look at the specific successful habits of charter schools. Along with co-author Will Dobbie, Fryer collected “unparalleled data” on 35 elementary and middle charter schools in New York City by conducting extensive interviews and videotaping classrooms.

Their results are fairly counter-intuitive. They showed that traditional solutions like class size, per-pupil expenditure, and the number of teachers with advanced degrees are not correlated with effectiveness, and in fact, “resource-based solutions” actually lowered school effectiveness.

Instead, they found five qualities that made up about 50 percent of a charter school’s effectiveness.  These are:

1. Frequent teacher feedback
2. Data driven instruction
3. High-dosage tutoring
4. Increased instructional time
5. Relentless focus on academic achievement. 

For example, a high-achieving charter middle-school teacher gets feedback 13.42 times per semester, versus 6.35 times at other charter schools. Similarly, high achieving middle-schools test their students 4 times per semester, compared to 2.4 at other schools.

Perhaps even more interesting, these qualities remained paramount to a successful charter school despite different styles of environment, such as “Whole Child,” “No Excuses” (like KIPP), and teacher-retention.

John B

"They showed that traditional solutions like class size, per-pupil expenditure, and the number of teachers with advanced degrees are not correlated with effectiveness, and in fact, “resource-based solutions” actually lowered school effectiveness."

But all of the above things greatly increases the amount of money spent on education--which is the goal of the NEA, AFT, etc. Money and power-not student achievement, are the goals of the unions and their political friends.


So you're saying that charter schools (which are private businesses) are superior to public schools, in part because teachers unions are more focused on money than charter schools?

Wow. Pots and kettles.

John B

Charter Schools are public schools operated under authority of the state. They are exempt from some of the public school rules, have smaller beaurocracies, often pay teachers higher salaries because they do not have to give m0ney to teacher's unions (which is really money laundering for certain politicians).

Contrary to teacher's union talking points, charter schools have to take children with special needs. special ed, disabled children, etc. Charter schools select children by lottery, meaning they have to teach whoever is selected by chance. Most charter school students are primarily minority children who now have an opportunity to succeed.

These are the facts, but it is easier to make false claims.

Joe J

Not surprising in the least. the things that don't matter are actually pushed by teachers unions. i.e. higher teacher degrees, as barriors to entry to give better job security. More money= higher pay, smaller class size= more teachers needed.

Too bad with the unions being so powerful these observations will never be allowed to be implimented in schools.


I don't think it was the unions that kept you from being able to spell "barrier" or "implemented".


i would like to point out that fitzgerald was a poor speller, and that your jab was quite unnecessary in this context of good-spirited debate.


HABIT 1: Make sure you don't take any kids with special needs. No special ed, no disabled kids, no behavioral issues.

Burt Mustin


I doubt what I say will have an effect on your position, but in a rational, adult conversation you can't just make up facts.

My children go to a charter school in New York City, and just two hours ago I was in one daughter's classroom waiting for her class to return from science (in Kindergarten, by the way - science every day!), where I was going to assist the class in their chess lesson (again, in Kindergarten)

While I waited, a young girl from my daughter's class with autism (apparently somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, although I am no expert) was receiving direct, TWO-ON-ONE tutoring with a special computer paid for by the charter network (not the DOE) and was learning how to use a mouse, describe the behavior of what was happening in the computer lesson, and laughing loudly whenever she made a new accomplishment.

To say that charter schools don't accept special needs children is simply untrue. I have spent countless hours at hearings and meetings with you friendly anti-charter folks, and I keep hearing two major objections -- one, that charters don't accept special needs children, which is a goofy thing to hang your hat on since it is quite easily proven false, as I have just demonstrated; and two, that charters aren't public, which is also ridiculous. Just because charter schools legal structure includes a non-profit corporation to run things is nowhere same thing as equating charters with GE or Halliburton.

Charter schools are free and funded by my taxes (which are way too high, thank you corrupt, union-backed New York politicians), they are almost always located (as they should be) alongside other public schools, and they are approved and overseen by the DOE and the state. How is that not public?

There is no profit motive, no shareholders, no purpose other than to give my daughters an amazing education that they would not be getting if anti-charter advocates had their way. If you want to oppose charter schools that is certainly your right, although the status quo has given us 30+% of New York City students not even completing high school, massive failures affecting the most economically disadvantaged populations, and huge benefits and power for a ridiculously large 'Corporation' known as the teachers union.

I sincerely believe that you are on the wrong side of history and that if all schools emulated what the high-performing charter schools were doing then there would be no need for them in the first place. Instead you want to maintain your tenure and your political power and your rules that prevent schools from getting better. Truly that cannot be the best thing for kids.



re: John B
Correct. The goal of NEA and teacher's union is NEVER about the kids. It's always about getting more benefit and money for the member.


And it differs from other unions in that respect how? How much do the auto workers' union care about fuel efficiency or car safety? Why do we hold teachers' unions to a different standard than other unions?


Some of us don't. That's why we drive Hondas and Toyotas.


So charter schools that are more effective focus more on academics (point 3,4 and 5) rather than sports and extra-curriculars. They teach more, they make the students study harder and leave them too exhausted at the end of the day to get themselves into any kind of trouble on the streets.
Where else do we see this kind of education system? Yes, in Asia. Do we want American kids to be like Asians when they grow up? With good academics but low social skills? Maybe we want our poor to be like that, hence most charter schools cater to poor neighborhoods.

The fact of the matter is:
1. Charter schools emphasize on academics at the cost of extra curricular activities
2. Charter school students spend more time learning, have a higher learning burden and spend more time in school than others
3. This additional time results in them performing better on standardized tests for math, reading and writing, just like many Asian schools
4. For most inner-city kids, higher test scores leading to a hard major (like economics, science, math, business as poopsed to soft majors like Art history, English literature in Africa, Film Making, Pottery, etc.) at a better college are the only way to escape poverty and enter the middle / upper middle class. Yes, this strategy may give the US less basketball /football players and less artists, actors, etc. but it gives the poor kids a much better statistical chance of succeeding in life (read: escaping povery) than if they would have invested their time in sports.

So the results of the finding should not surprise us one bit. Poor parents clearly prefer charter schools to regular inner city schools. Why not make all (or most) inner-city schools charter schools, so people do not have to enter a lottery to get their kids admitted.



I would rather have students with high academics and low social skills. Than low academics and high social skills, plus I have yet to meet athletes with better social skills than an academics, especially the ones I see interviewed on television; their ability to articulate is found lacking.


The hard part about these findings is that the identified qualities are also "resource-based".

1) Frequent teacher feedback and 2) Data driven instruction require allocation of administrative staff time, more time for teacher professional development, and IT investments to support these practices.

3) High-dosage tutoring requires human capital and additional management to ensure effectiveness.

4) Increased instructional time is obviously expensive. Schools like KIPP pay overtime.

5) This one may be the X factor, not requiring more resources per se, but also hard to quantify.

So far, charter schools (and some of the most innovative district schools) benefit from being a small segment of the population - they can compete for the best teachers who are willing to put in extra time for minimal extra pay. I taught in one of these schools when I was 23, and I actually liked trading extra hours with the kids for less paperwork on academics and discipline problems (the kids were the same, but our approaches meant fewer problems that had to be written up). However, I could not teach in one of these schools now - the pay and the hours don't fit with having a family.

Scaling up these practices is necessary, but it won't be done without significant resources. Just look at the many rejected Race to the Top applications that were full of these practices. These proposals would have made schools better, but they would not have saved money. We can disagree about the role of unions, etc., but we need to agree that good schools cost a lot more than we spend right now.



Jason, well said. My district in Texas does not have charter schools that I know of but has magnet schools. These are located in underused physical plants where there is a declining enrollment. They specialize in various subject areas (Some examples, International school of arts (music), Design and Technology (academic), Automotive (vocational), etc. Generally students in the magnet schools take 30-60% of their courses from the magnet school faculty and the rest from the home school faculty. Results are great. There is a dedicated administrative and counseling staff for each magnet school. Cost per student is an additional 2000 - 5000 per student. Interestingly enough the highest cost per student increase was in the vocational magnet schools with automotive being the highest.
Admission is by lottery among the applicants though students must have a teacher recommendation and a counselor recommendation to apply.

I think the key factors are:
1. Students in the program are there because they want to be there. Huge in my opinion.
2. Faculty are there for the same reason.
3. There is a tremendous amount of support from faculty and administration.
There is also student tutoring services (students teaching students).
4. There is a community service volunteer requirement.

All of this of course takes time and money. Having said that, just throwing money at students that don't want to be there in the first place won't help. Ways have to be found to ignite the desire to learn.



I would argue that a better title for this article would be Five Habits of Successful Schools.
It really doesn't matter if the school is a traditional public school, a public school academy (charter school), or a private school. The best schools are the ones that follow these five habits rigorously.
I have seen success in all three types of schools and they all have in common the pursuit of excellence through these habits, particularly 1,2, and 4.