As charter school authorizers and states have increased performance expectations and grown less hesitant to close failing schools, “authorizer shopping” has emerged as a growing threat to overall charter school quality. Authorizer shopping happens when a charter school chooses or changes its authorizer specifically to avoid accountability. A low-performing school may shop for a new authorizer to avoid closure, or reopen under a new authorizer after closure. This report considers five examples of authorizer shopping in action and provides specific guidance to authorizers, policymakers, and advocates to address authorizer shopping.
Charter School Authorizing
Charter schools identified for closure do not always shut their doors. Instead, some charter schools identify and “hop” to a new authorizer willing to work with them to avoid accountability and remain open. This brief for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers explores how and why authorizer hopping happens and offers recommendations to stop it.
More than 40 North Carolina education leaders convened in January 2014 to consider the challenges and opportunities of an expanding charter sector since the cap was lifted in 2011, and ways that district and charter leaders can work collaboratively to improve how charter schools serve North Carolina students. This report, from Self-Help, The A. J. Fletcher Foundation, and Public Impact, reflects their thoughts on policies, practices, and outcomes related to the state’s charter application and approval process, and the oversight and measurement of charter school performance. It details recommendations to improve charter authorizing practices and increase accountability. The report also addresses equity and funding issues that exacerbate distrust between districts and charter schools, and examines ways in which the two sectors may work together to improve opportunities for all students to attend charter schools and to increase charter schools’ access to district resources that would enhance their ability to serve all types of students.
Recommendations include convening district and charter leaders regularly to discuss district-charter collaboration; bringing North Carolina charter authorizing and performance legislation, policy, and practices in closer alignment with national standards to improve charter school quality; and using charter-district pilots to explore mechanisms such as common enrollment and sharing of resources that would give all students equal access to all public schools.
The Indiana Charter School Board (ICSB) released its first annual report on March 20, 2014, highlighting the ICSB’s five-year strategic plan, focus on innovation, processes for applicant evaluation and accountability, and school performance. The annual report includes a history of the ICSB, an overview of the Indiana charter landscape, and biographies of current and former board members and staff. It also provides detailed “Authorized School Reports” for all of the ICSB’s authorized schools.
Opening Blended Learning Charter Schools: Indiana Schools Aim for Success Through Innovation
Case studies on two Indianapolis charter schools—Phalen Leadership Academy and Carpe Diem-Meridian—examine the schools’ approaches to blended learning in their first years. Commissioned by statewide charter authorizer the Indiana Charter School Board, the case studies provide lessons for potential school leaders considering similar schools.
Replicating Quality: Policy Recommendations to Support the Replication and Growth of High-Performing Charter Schools and Networks
Could adoption of judicious policies and practices in the charter sector create a million more excellent opportunities for students over the next decade? This report, prepared by Public Impact for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the Charter School Growth Fund, makes recommendations that legislators, authorizers, and state education agencies can use to build a policy environment that will substantially increase the prevalence and impact of high-quality charter schools. The recommendations support four strategies to promote quality in the sector: differentiating charter operators based on performance, building system capacity to cultivate and support high-performing schools and networks, facilitating replication of high performers and accelerating closure of low performers.
Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality sheds light on charter performance in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis. The study, conducted jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact, found that charter schools in these five cities outperformed their home districts’ schools, which had similar levels of student poverty. Though schools statewide had significantly lower levels of poverty than the charters (and urban districts), the study also compared charter performance to the higher standard of average statewide performance. Charters in all five cities trailed the state overall—often by a wide margin. Within each district, quality varied widely, with very high-performing charter schools and dismal ones. But a simulation shows how the charter sectors could improve under an aggressive charter closure and replication policy. In Cleveland, for example, if the bottom 10 percent of performers were closed while the top performers expanded by an equal percentage, citywide charter school performance would substantially outperform the home district, and perform on par with all statewide public schools in five years.
This issue brief for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers deals with the unique challenges of authorizing blended charter schools, which combine digital learning with instruction at supervised brick-and-mortar locations. Authorizing blended charter schools requires a mix of application review and oversight methods applicable to typical brick-and-mortar charter schools and full-time online charter schools. This brief begins with an explanation of the variety of blended charter school models, followed by a brief discussion of key issues for authorizer awareness and consideration in the blended school context, with attention to both initial approval and ongoing oversight. It then provides more specific guidance on evaluating proposals for blended charter schools. Finally, the brief provides general recommendations for overseeing and evaluating blended charter schools.
[pdf] This publication highlights eight charter school authorizers – the agencies responsible for approving, monitoring, assisting and evaluating charter schools – that are advancing the quality and growth of charter schools across the country. Developed by Lucy Steiner, Julie Kowal, Sarah Crittenden and Bryan Hassel, in partnership with WestEd, for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, the Guide explores the practices and policies of these authorizing offices and is designed to inform and inspire others to follow their lead in creating and supporting high-quality charter schools.
When a school fails to meet student learning needs year after year – or, in the case of a charter school, fails to meet the terms of its charter contact – closure is sometimes the only responsible intervention. In this report, prepared for the Center on Reinventing Public Education’s National Charter School Research Project, Julie Kowal and Bryan Hassel draw upon interviews with high-quality charter school authorizers and school districts to offer a framework and preliminary lessons for improving the process of school closures. Recommendations include involving key stakeholders early in the closure process, developing clear and objective criteria for selecting schools to be closed, enlisting external evaluators to make tough calls, and creating support structures to help displaced students secure quality alternatives.
Closing bad schools is necessary to maintain quality in a system based on performance accountability. However, even “failing” schools may have pockets of strength and/or “assets” that are worth preserving: a committed parent body, high-quality teachers, a valuable school building in a tight real estate market. In this report, prepared for the Center on Reinventing Public Education’s National Charter School Research Project, Lucy Steiner and Bryan Hassel draw upon interviews with high-quality charter school authorizers and school districts to offer a framework and preliminary lessons for considering alternatives to school closures. Three approaches — installation of new leaders, school reconstitution (where governance structures and personnel are replaced but students remain) and facility acquisition (new school operator takes over a failing school’s facility) — have shown promise for intervening in failing schools when closure is not the best option.
States create the environment in which charter school authorizing happens. As a result, state policymakers are in a strong position to influence charter school quality by laying the groundwork for good authorizing. Public Impact organized and edited this series of brief “policy guides” for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers designed to help state policymakers meet this challenge.
Each installment tackles a different policy issue facing states, including: multiple charter authorizers, authorizer funding, the charter application process, appeals, contracts, performance accountability, replicating successful schools, and “starting fresh” in previously failing schools. The briefs provide background, walk policymakers through key questions and consideration, and conclude with a set of recommendations. Beyond Public Impact’s organizing and editing role, Senior Consultant Lauren Morando Rhim also authored two of the briefs, on replicating successful charter schools and “starting fresh.”
[pdf] This brief helps state policymakers think through what kind of alternative authorizing structures may make sense for their states. The paper presents the advantages, disadvantages and policy considerations for each of the seven types of alternative authorizers. In addition, it discusses the critical design issues facing states interested in creating alternative authorizers.
This brief, written by Bryan Hassel and Robin Halsband, explores the ways in which authorizers can, indirectly and directly, affect a school’s ability to obtain the financing necessary for a schoolhouse. Part I examines the indirect impact: how the quality of the authorizer, as perceived by a financial institution, can affect loan decisions. Part II considers the direct, proactive roles that some authorizers have taken to help schools meet their facilities financing needs.
This two-part NACSA issue brief series by Lauren Morando Rhim identifies the issues related to navigating special education in the charter school sector. The first brief introduces the basic foundation underlying provision of special education in public schools and research findings regarding key challenges and strategies charter schools are using to build capacity to provide special education and related services. The second brief outlines authorizers’ roles in ensuring the development of quality special education programs in charter schools. It also identify issues authorizers should consider when reviewing applications and developing accountable systems.
Mayor of Indianapolis Charter School Initiative
Public Impact played a leading role in the design of a charter school program for Bart Peterson, former Mayor of Indianapolis, and the nation’s only mayor with chartering authority. We helped design the application review process, the accountability system, and the effort to attract highly qualified charter applicants. Harvard named the initiative the 2006 winner of its presitigious Innovations in American Government Award. Read a write up about the mayor’s initiative in Education Next, and our Progressive Policy Institute monograph, Fast Break in Indianapolis: A New Approach to Charter Schooling.
In July 2005, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation became Ohio’s first nonprofit organization to sponsor charter schools. Public Impact played a lead role in helping to craft the organization’s charter application process. This first annual report offers a comprehensive account of Fordham’s sponsorship policies and practices – as well as individual profiles of all Fordham-sponsored schools. Included in the profiles are descriptions of each school’s educational program, school philosophy, and overall academic performance based on state achievement data.
Charter school authorizers across the country are confronted with how to put into action one of the central ideas behind charter schools – their accountability for results. Developed with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, this guide examines the challenges of setting appropriate terms for accountability, gathering meaningful information about schools, and using the data to make good decisions. Drawing on the experiences of some leading authorizers, it lays out the issues and options that those holding schools accountable need to consider.
High Stakes: Findings from a National Study of Life-or-Death Decisions by Charter School Authorizers
This national research project, funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation, examined 50 cases of charter schools that have come up for high-stakes decisions – having their charters renewed, not renewed, or revoked. The study investigated how clear authorizers’ expectations for the schools were, the information authorizers used to judge progress, and how they made their decisions.