Written by WestEd’s Aimee Evan, Senior Research Associate and School Improvement Specialist, and Robin Chait, Senior School Choice Policy Associate.

As the charter sector evolves and seeks new ways to ensure equitable access to high-quality charter schools, some authorizers now recommend comprehensive school improvement rather than closure for those schools that fail to meet performance expectations.

How can charter leaders drive comprehensive school improvement in a way that acknowledges and draws upon charter schools’ unique differences, needs, and qualities?

In a recent webinar, we suggest charter schools assess several critical areas to guide improvement efforts. These areas are summarized in WestEd’s Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement, a framework originally developed for traditional public schools.

The four domains are:

  • Turnaround leadership
  • Talent development
  • Instructional transformation
  • Culture shift

Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement for Charter Schools

While the practices within each of the four domain are similar across all schools, the context in which these practices operate is different for charter schools.

With this fundamental difference in mind, WestEd recently developed a version of the Four Domains framework specifically for public charter schools that considers charter school autonomy, these schools’ unique needs, and the turnaround practices that have proven effective for these schools. State education offices, authorizers, charter leaders, and organizations that support school turnaround can use the framework to guide their thinking about improvement strategies.

Four Domains for Charter Schools


Research and practice about sustainable school improvement show that the keys to success are often linked to cohesive planning, preparation, and implementation based on a holistic approach to the elements within each of these areas. School improvement is not exclusively about strategic planning, fiscal sustainability, or operations. It is also not just about leadership, instruction, culture, and talent.

Improvement is more likely when many promising practices work together to create conditions for success.

Using the framework, education leaders can design a strategy that supports systemic thinking around school improvement.

The Four Domains Framework in a Real-World Context

Opened in 2012, the Honors Academy of Literature (HAL) charter school in Reno, Nevada, serves 200 students, grades K–8. In a recent WestEd webinar, Andi Morency, principal and executive director of HAL, shared lessons learned from her school’s improvement journey and described how her school coordinated practices across the domains.

In partnership with WestEd, Morency and her staff used the Four Domains framework to:

  • Enact a distributed leadership model to empower teacher leaders and increase teacher support (turnaround leadership/talent development)
  • Implement curriculum mapping to guide rigorous instruction (instructional transformation)
  • Develop a teacher evaluation framework (instructional transformation)
  • Enable staff to conduct deep reflective conversations about teaching and learning (instructional transformation/culture shift)
  • Create scope and sequence documents to extend goals for literacy instruction (instructional transformation)

Overall, Morency’s most important goal was to “adopt a school improvement cycle — a systematic way of looking at student data” and incorporate a process of reflecting on data, using tools and protocols to engage in conversations with staff. This process highlights the connections among all four domains and how they work together for sustainable improvement.

Watch our webinar to learn more about school improvement in the charter context.


Learn about Charters & Choice at WestEd.

Access Four Domains for Rapid School Improvement resources.

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