Evaluating the Effectiveness of Charter Management Organizations (CMOs)

Prepared for
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation

Charter management organizations (CMOs) are nonprofit entities that start and manage new charter schools. CMOs operate multiple charter schools under a common structure and philosophy, attempting to implement promising educational practices on a large scale. In the past few years, the number and reach of CMOs have increased substantially, leading to a diverse array of organizational models and school designs. By 2012, there were at least 130 CMOs nationwide, accounting for about 16 percent of all charter schools. 

Mathematica and the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington were research partners for a multiyear national study of CMO effectiveness, commissioned by the NewSchools Venture Fund. The study, the first rigorous, nationwide examination of CMOs, examined the impact that CMOs had on student achievement, high school graduation, and college entry. It also looked at the CMO structures, practices, and policy contexts that may have influenced these outcomes. The impact analysis employed both experimental and quasi-experimental methods. Data sources included school and district records; site visits; interviews with CMO school and central office staff members; CMO and district cost data; and surveys of CMOs, principals, and teachers.


The study showed that:

  • Many CMOs have a significant positive impact on students’ academic achievement, as captured by test scores, and others have significant negative impacts.
  • Each CMO’s impact on test scores is typically consistent across schools, suggesting that CMOs are having some success in promoting uniformity (whether in a positive or negative direction).
  • Some—but not all—CMOs substantially boost students’ chances of graduating from high school and enrolling in postsecondary education. Of the six CMOs for which relevant high school data were available, three had significant positive impacts on graduation. Of the four CMOs with data on postsecondary enrollment, two had large positive impacts.
  • Some CMOs have implemented policies, programs, and procedures that allow them to systematically outperform other CMOs. CMOs with positive student achievement impacts have schools that emphasize two practices: (1) student behavior policies, and (2) intensive teacher coaching and monitoring.