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Editor’s note: This post was originally published here by The74 and written by Andrew Lewis, an education and political consultant and the former longtime executive vice president of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. Charter schools operate within a framework of flexibility for accountability. At first glance, this may seem like a simple equation, but in fact, is quite a complex formula that involves the schools, the authorizers, the state, the boards of directors, the districts and communities in which charter schools operate, etc. This article is an enlightening look at the players involved in fulfilling the public charter school promise. It examines the need for more balance as it relates to regulation of charter schools—with too much regulation threatening the flexibility promise of those schools. We discussed the need for balance between the authorizers, governing board, and resources in this CHARTER EDtalk with Darlene Chambers. This post is similar but highlights the consequences of over-regulation by state policymakers, as well as the responsibilities of authorizers and school boards, and then touches on the accountability of the schools to live up to their end of the contract. 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.
“America’s charter schools resemble an artist who is expected to paint masterpieces while forced to wear thick mittens.”
Chester Finn, president emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, noted in the 2010 study “Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise,” “America’s charter schools resemble an artist who is expected to paint masterpieces while forced to wear thick mittens. Our policymakers and school authorizers, by and large, have not fulfilled their part of the grand ‘bargain’ that undergirds the charter school concept: that these new and independent schools will deliver solid academic results for needy kids in return for the freedom to do it their own way. There’s been plenty of attention in recent years to the results side of that bargain, but precious little to the freedom side.”
The role of a charter school authorizer, whether a local board of education or a dedicated state authorizer, is to provide quality oversight, ensuring the charter school is meeting the obligations set in its charter contract. It is then up to the governing board of the charter school to make decisions on mission, vision, and other determinations the board deems is in the school community’s best interest.
This is an area that requires far more out of local districts and state policymakers. Authorizers are often quick to meddle in the decision-making of a charter school board, influencing decisions through various means.
Georgia, where I have worked in the charter sector for 15 years, is an example of the broken promise to charters. In recent years, my state has:
Georgia, like so many other chartering states, continues down a path of adding layer upon layer of bureaucracy in charter contracts, in law and in rule, causing charter schools to resemble traditional public schools rather than the laboratories of innovation they are supposed to be.
And what is a charter school board to do if it finds such meddling erroneous? It is a rare occasion when a charter school board takes its authorizer or the state to task, fearing retribution down the line. Call it human nature or what you will, there is a reluctance to challenge the very entity that holds your life in its hands.
At the same time, boards of charter schools in too many cases have also failed their constituents on the charter promise. Too many charter school boards do not provide a level of quality governance and oversight necessary for the charter school to operate satisfactorily. Unwieldy, incestuous and unreliable charter school boards are too common across the country. Charter schools must do a better job of instilling strong governance through committed community members with varying backgrounds if the charter is to fulfill its promise. Where you find a strong charter school, I will show you good governance and committed leaders who understand their roles and responsibilities.
The last part of the charter equation we all must better understand is accountability. If a charter school is not living up to its obligations, it runs the risk of closure, the highest accountability in public K-12 education. But authorizer accountability needs to be consistent and fact-based, something that is lacking across the nation.
Authorizers must do their due diligence to make sure any closure or reprimand of a charter school is done as part of a transparent and thorough process. It is unfair to any charter school and the parents and students the charter serves to reprimand or close the school without providing the charter with opportunities to first understand and then remedy the issues at hand.
To increase standards across the United States, we must start holding charter authorizers accountable. Policies must hold charter authorizers accountable similar to how we hold an individual charter school accountable. If an authorizer, which is receiving funding from the very charter schools it oversees, is unable to perform its duties for its charters, shouldn’t the authorizer lose the ability to authorize altogether? States need to look at the example set by Minnesota, which has shut down 40 of its 70 charter school authorizers in recent years.
For charter schools not meeting their obligations academically and/or operationally to their various constituencies — do not complain about the very accountability you signed up for in your charter contract. Accountability matters. Failing to recognize appropriate accountability in the charter sector makes the sector hypocritical toward the standards we say we live by.
So the next time we read about a charter school closure, we must consider how policymakers, charter school authorizers, and charter schools themselves have all played a role in an unfulfilled promise to children and families. The promise is a good one.
Now everyone needs to uphold their end of the bargain.
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