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.


Jeff K

Wrong on at least one point: The charter school is most definitely funded by the DOE unless it is a private school and not a charter. In any case, if the computer is being used for special education it is probably at least partially funded by the feds also.


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.


Joe D

Rick, you've left out one thing (that everyone else in these comments has, as well): buy-in from the *parents*. From the charter lottery application through daily homework supervision, the parents are interested in the education of these children. *That* is the thing that doesn't scale well.


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.


I am an assistant principal at a public school and have limited knowledge on the operations of a charter school. The only thing I know is that every year I receive one or two students who were dismissed from a charter school, because they could not cut the mustard. Yes, they must take the kids from a lottery but, they don't say anything about getting rid of that kid once they find out the student won't assimilate to their strict rules and procedures.

There are vast differences between public and charter schools and far too many reasons why the public schools are the way they are.

A serious analysis needs to be done to accurately examine both options.


all of you are blessed because u know the difference between charter school, public school, private schools and i dont.can somebody explain to me the difference?me,the school i went to in in small african village is the school of life.we learn differently because our realities are totally different from yours.our way is much long as we can self rely,that is took me too long to type this email because my child is teaching me english and some it skills.he is 10 and i will graduate from his school soon but he too will graduate from mine because motherhood is a free school.he is teaching me free because he says that is his way to pay back the lessons i taught day, i am sure i will join one of all the schools you mentioned in your debate.good luck to you all.

Billy D

So, let's restate those 5 qualities more cynically. The 5 qualities that most influence a charter school's test score effectiveness are:

1. Frequently reminding teachers that tests are important.
2. Instructing to the test.
3. High-dosage tutoring to the test.
4. Extra time spent instructing to the test.
5. Constantly remind everyone about the tests.

So we're back to the old argument: Do high test scores = better education?

Enter your name...

It depends: Does your test happen to measure a good education?

For example, frequent testing of basic arithmetic facts leads to more students being able to quickly and accurately give the right answer to questions like "What is 6 times 7?". If you believe that mastering those facts is part of a "good education", then you ought to be giving those tests, and the scores on those tests will accurately tell you whether the students are getting (that part of) a good education.

This works for both simple issues (for example, how well can you type) and for complex ones (how well can you sort out a complex mechanical problem or how well can you analyze a work of literature). The only real difference is that tests for simple subjects are easier to design and much cheaper to grade.

On the other hand, if you think that "good education" means acquiring certain attitudes (for example, about people, education, government, or society) or character qualities (for example, perseverance, empathy, or love of liberty), then the answer is no: a structured test is not likely to tell you whether you're getting a "good education".



I am a middle school teacher. I can tell you ONE SIMPLE CHANGE that I believe needs to be made to "fix" education.

I can do a good job teaching a class of even 100 WELL-BEHAVED students...or I can do a mediocre job teaching a class of 25 students if a number of them are poorly behaved. Yet school district after school district mixes in "rough" kids with well-behaved ones.

Now, I'm not talking about ESE students who may have learning difficulties. I have some of those in my class and they are some of the quietest, hardest workers! They understand that they will have to exert more effort to get the same result as some of the other students.

No, I'm talking about students who are BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS. The ones who don't care, who may be defiant, constantly in trouble, come late, enjoy skipping, etc. These students should not be mixed in the with general population! It makes teaching and learning difficult when every few seconds you have to play "whack-a-mole" with disruptive students.

SOLUTION: Put a single great teachers in with LARGER (but well-behaved) classes...but put multiple teachers in with difficult students. Two strong teachers in a class of 7-15 difficult students can make a difference for THOSE students! For they are forced to pay better attention, are (hopefully) a bit more intimidated by having so many adult eyes on them at all times, and will, I trust, put forth a much better effort on their papers. I would almost wager my annual salary that this will work wonders--for well-behaved and not-so-well-behaved students!

How do we find out who is who? The teachers will tell you. Names that keep coming up over and over...move them into these special, smaller, better supervised classes. Sometimes, the difference between and great class and a terrible one or two students. It's just the lifeboat game all over--sometimes someone has to go in order that the others can survive. Fortunately, we'er not throwing these kids overboard, but simply loading them onto another lifeboat--one that can do a better job bringing them to shore.


Jack Skellington, Esq

It's interesting the amount of antagonism drawn by teachers unions on this thread. It's almost as if it were an existing talking point being echoed by the downstream masses with zero attempt at intellectual rigor. Surely it can't be that. No, it's far more plausible that organizations who represent people who have chosen education as a profession are ruthless extortionists who care nothing for children. Makes sense.

Unions aside (the effects of which this research doesn't touch upon *at all*), I took the extraordinary, nay, borderline insane, step of actually reading the paper.

Do differentiate from the group of comments who clearly haven't, I'll offer a few points I found interesting.

Let's begin with

"Market-based reforms such as school choice
or school vouchers have, at best, a modest impact on student achievement...(various cites)...This suggests that competition alone is unlikely to significantly increase the efficiency
of the public school system."

So the working basis of the paper basically assumes the fact that the problem absolutely isn't that public school teachers are complacent or that parents (through a market based solution) are very good at choosing the best schools for their children.

There's a fair amount of the paper dedicated to discussing this at length. There's also this interesting correlation, oddly absent from the post summary here, but one might think, at least superficially much more profound.

"Teachers at high achieving schools also work longer hours than teachers at other charter schools; an additional 7.75 hours per week at the elementary level and 10.29 hours per week at the middle school level. Despite this higher workload, the maximum salary of teachers at high achieving schools is the same or somewhat lower than other charter schools."

Interesting that "Instructional staff works 25% longer for no increase in pay" is transformed to "Increased instructional time". I imagine most organizations would be more effective if employees worked 25% more hours for free. One suspects the correlation here is probably stronger than the correlation with "Relentless focus on academic achievement" If only there were a school where they relented, but the staff still worked overtime in their noble pursuit of mediocrity.

Left out, also, from the paper (correctly) and (mostly)the comments here, is the inherent selection bias of a lottery system. Children who have parents motivated enough to opt into a selection process for they perceive is a "better" school are difficult to control for when compared to the populations of schools where all children are not only excepted, but frequently forced by law to attend, regardless of motivation.

While there's a good attempt to control for other variables, the crux of the concept really begs the question on the point of motivated instructors. Teachers who are willing to work additional hours and receive more feedback are more successful educators seems to be the overarching point. The problem, of course, is the "chicken or egg" nature of how you attract these people to a school.

In all cases, the study revolves around teachers who are generally an exception, working outside of the "normal" public education system. Are those without advanced degrees more motivated because they lack opportunity in the traditional public setting? Would they continue to be as motivated if these "philosophies" were applied to the larger set of public schools? What are the teachers ages, and other demographic data. Not really discussed, but would be interesting. Do these teachers not have advanced degrees by choice, or are they 25? There are a lot of open questions. The data is interesting, although the conclusion not particularly compelling.

Challenging children to do well with teachers willing to accept feedback and work long hours for free correlates with achievement. Great. There are numerous reasons this can work in the institutions that are the "exception" and that it can't be applied to the entire set of public schools. No, there probably aren't "hero" teachers, and that myth is dangerous, but it's likely that there isn't a "hero" philosophy, either. Education is a stunningly complex interaction among numerous systems and actors. There aren't "5" anything that easily explain achievement gaps.

"It's complex" rarely sells mangy page views, or gets one tenure, though, I suppose.



Basically, the study shows/concludes that if you obsess over test scores (points 1, 2, 3, and 5), then you will get higher test scores. I don't think that's very revolutionary; in fact, it's called cheating in some places, or gaming the system in other places.

Maybe more qualified teachers get lower test scores because they understand child and cognitive development and refuse to teach to the test.


As a teacher in a high-achieving urban charter school which is beating the odds, I can tell you that what is widely maligned as "teaching to the test" is actually, quite simply, teaching the standards! Do those who object to "teaching to the test" really want to get rid of the curricular standards set for each grade level? I bet that they, as parents, were very on top of their own children being "kindergarten ready." Not all parents have the educational tools to do this. Hence, schools like ours which incorporate all five of the qualities Fryer's research found to be essential.

Steve Chambers

It always comes down to the Unions.

Unions drive mediocrity.

Kill the Union and performance will rise.

Robert V. Rose, M.D. (retired)

I have done on-line teacher research showing that measurable fluency in writing the alphabet in grades K-1 leads to successful literacy.

An email attachment of our study is available on request.

My email address is:


Well, given that the authors defined "effective" schools as ones which produce "achievement," which is measured by test scores, it's hardly surprising to find on the list "data driven instruction" (i.e., teaching to the test) and "relentless focus on academic achievement" (i.e., making test scores the goal of education). I gather that "frequent teacher feedback" means frequent reminders to teachers of how their students are scoring on the tests.

So I would sum up those 3 factors as: "If you focus on testing, test scores will rise."

I'm not surprised to see increased instructional time and high-dosage tutoring on the list, but I don't understand why the authors don't consider them "resource-based solutions," since they both increase the amount spent per student.