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Editor’s note: This post on charter school authorizing was originally published on February 27, 2108, by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and written by Kevin Hesla, the Director of Research and Evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In an earlier CHARTER EDtalk with Darlene Chambers Sr. Vice President for Programs and Services, National Charter Schools Institute, we discussed the importance of balance as it pertains to the authorizer/charter school relationship. This is another interesting look at the role of authorizers as examined in the newest NACSA study, Elements of Successful Charter School Authorizing. It not only highlights the essential qualities of successful authorizing as shared in this post but also the essential practices – in four key areas – of successful charter school authorizing.
We think it’s vital to keep tabs on the pulse of all things related to charter schools, including informational resources, and how to support charter school growth. We hope you find this—and any other article we curate—both interesting and valuable.
Great Leadership: “Great authorizers are dedicated to a mission of giving more children access to better schools through the proactive creation and replication of high-quality charter schools and the closure of academically low-performing ones.”
Institutional Commitment: “Great authorizers reflect their institution’s commitment to quality authorizing. Authorizing is visible, championed, and adequately resourced, rather than buried in a bureaucracy. The people responsible for day-to-day authorizing functions have influence over decision making.”
Professional Judgement: “Great authorizers make decisions based on what will drive student outcomes, not based on checking boxes or personal beliefs.”
Along with these three essential qualities, NACSA also looked at essential practices among four key areas: culture, staff development, and norms; the application and pre-opening process; monitoring and intervention; and charter school renewal, expansion, and closure. Among these four topic areas, NACSA found a number of practices that differentiate strong authorizers from average authorizers.
“our nation’s strongest authorizers create environments where charter schools thrive [and they] help charter schools live up to their fullest potential.”
Culture, Staff Development, and Norms.
High-performing authorizers developed a culture and staff competencies that were grounded in their mission of providing expanded educational opportunities to students and families. They used data as a tool to help drive decision making, but they also applied their professional judgement in interpreting the data and understanding its limitations. They created a culture where staff felt empowered to make decisions and were not “bound by protocols, templates, or other authorizing tools that limit decision making.” High-performing authorizers built strong and supportive relationships with their schools while also drawing a “very clear line between providing support and direction.” They frequently sought out new and best practices from other authorizers (and at times other sectors) and modified them to fit their organizational context. They created an environment with structured and regular opportunities for “staff reflection and self-critique on practices and systems.” They had a “history of long-tenured senior leadership, including multiple long-tenured executive directors.” And they spent a great deal of time developing their staff, including cross-training on other authorizing functions and developing “explicit strategies to ensure a shared understanding of, and expertise in, quality authorizing.”
Application and Pre-Opening Process.
High-performing authorizers were transparent in their decision-making process, they often encouraged denied applicants to reapply, and they supported schools in the pre-opening process. They provided applicants and the public with “detailed information about the application process including timelines, evaluation criteria, [and] previously submitted and reviewed applications.” They looked at the application holistically while also ensuring that “all parts of the application [were] internally coherent and reinforcing.” They assessed geographic and community need while being careful not to “specify a preference for specific types of schools.” They used the approved application as a detailed blueprint for the opening and operation of the school. Unlike in other areas of the authorizing practice, high-performing authorizers were “very hands on (sometimes quite intensively) in the pre-opening process” and they used the pre-opening process to “build relationships, set expectations, and provide technical assistance to schools.” In addition, they reviewed their application process after each cycle to improve its efficiency and validity.
Monitoring and Intervention.
High-performing authorizers conducted ongoing monitoring that was clearly aligned with the expectations laid out in the charter contract, they did not ask for data that they could easily obtain from public sources, and they used professional judgement in determining if interventions were necessary. High-performing authorizers provided formal and informal feedback to schools so that there was consistency and clarity about where schools stood relative to their expectations. They used “formal site visits to collect information about schools [and] facilitate difficult conversations with schools when needed.” They used a transparent, regular, and predictable system to collect data from schools and they did not ask schools for data that they could easily obtain from public sources. In addition, they used their professional judgement to determine if interventions were necessary and, if so, the specific nature of the intervention.
Renewal, Expansion, and Closure.
High-performing authorizers provided clear information about whether or not schools were meeting expectations, they provided incentives for replication and expansion, and they took an active role when a school was closed. High-performing authorizers regularly communicated with schools and alerted them to any potential underperformance or concerns long before formal decision were made about renewal, expansion, or closure. They did not approve replication and expansion plans automatically but they did provide incentives for replication and/or expansion by, for example, reducing per-student oversight fees, expediting the application process, and providing access to facilities. In addition, they took an active role when a school was closed by finding a replacement operator and/or ensuring that students had access to other schools.
The report notes that “authorizing is, ultimately, an intensely human endeavor. Like all bureaucratic functions, authorizing certainly must be grounded in good laws and policies, sound principles and standards, and—day-to-day—smart processes, rubrics, and benchmarks.” But NACSA points out that the best authorizers take a much more proactive approach to their work, specifically “our nation’s strongest authorizers create environments where charter schools thrive [and they] help charter schools live up to their fullest potential.”
Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We help schools access, leverage, and sustain the resources charter schools need to thrive, allowing them to focus on what matters most – educating students. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!Learn More