LinkedIn recently reminded me of my five-year anniversary at NACSA. Like most unsolicited emails from an App, it was an unwelcome reminder that an algorithm in a server farm is better at tracking my life than I am. It also led me to think about the last decade of charter school policy development. That is timely because this week NACSA released a report on policies that support strong authorizing. On the Road to Better Accountability: An Analysis of State Charter School Policy, presents eight policies we recommend that support accountability and excellence in the charter sector and details the extent to which each state has adopted similar policies.
We hope this report will inform and stimulate discussions about each state’s charter authorizing environment. In the coming weeks, I’ll write about specific policies and lessons learned. In this post, , I’d like to share a note on where these ideas came from.
All of the ideas in this report – bar none – came from the inspiring work of authorizers, charter educators, policymakers, and leaders in our field.
My colleagues at NACSA have been busy for the past 15 years. They have reviewed more than a hundred charter applications for various authorizers; they have evaluated or provided technical assistance to authorizers responsible for overseeing about 40 percent of the charter schools in the country. Our staff have been on the ground, evaluating authorizers, helping them to design and implement tools for performance management; and they have helped emerging professionals engage in the work of authorizing.
The experiences of these authorizers informs all our work at NACSA. In my five years, one of the tasks has been to bridge between that knowledge and a parallel set of knowledge we have gained by working with charter advocates and authorizers in the field involved in state policy discussions. We are regularly invited into state-level policy discussions by authorizers, charter school advocates, legislators, governors, and other education leaders and asked to respond to policy proposals.
Leaders in the charter school sector often advance what opponents of charters consider “ironic” proposals. That includes proposed laws from charter support organizations seeking to mandate the closure of failing schools in Ohio and Florida; or schemes to sanction the worst authorizers, promoted by pro-charter chiefs in Indiana and charter advocates in Minnesota.
The heads of state-wide authorizers, in places like Nevada and South Carolina, asked NACSA to help them establish policies that gave them the authority and responsibility to use performance frameworks, performance contracts, and differentiated strategies to replicate high-quality schools.
After policies were underway, we were asked to help refine policies. In Indiana, the State’s Charter School Board and major authorizers sought help in closing the worst schools. Soon they needed to figure out how to stop authorizer hopping by failing schools that were attempting to switch from a rigorous authorizer, intent on closing their school, to one willing to let them stay open.
In Colorado, I had the pleasure of personally chairing a state task force composed of school district leaders and charter school and authorizer representatives. That effort was prompted by the Colorado League of Charter Schools. We were charged with reviewing and recommending standards for charter school authorizing that were based on NACSA’s own Principles & Standards and eventually adopted by the State Board in state rules.