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This week at the Fordham Foundation’s event on the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s new state-by-state report on the health of the charter school movement, Scott Pearson, Executive Director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board and a member of NACSA’s Board of Directors made a critical point. When asked about the reasons behind the success of charter schools in his city (D.C. was ranked first in the nation in the Alliance report), Scott explained that in addition to a strong charter law, a vibrant philanthropic and advocacy community and a wealth of great people, the District also has an effective authorizer. Moreover, he said, the District doesn’t just have an authorizer that is committed to quality–one that only approves schools that are likely to succeed and closes those that are failing–but also “an authorizer that has a real commitment to equity, making sure that charter schools act as public schools, that they serve all students.”

Scott is absolutely right. The success of charter schools doesn’t doesn’t just depend on strong policy, great people, and energetic support. Charter school success also depends on quality authorizers–authorizers who uphold high standards, ensure that schools have the flexibility they need to succeed and protect student rights and the public interest.

In describing his authorizing organization’s commitment to equity, Scott highlighted a practice that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and one that I hope other authorizers across the country will emulate. Scott described DCPCSB’s Mystery Shopper Program–a strategy his organization uses to ensure that charter schools are not discouraging students with special needs from applying and enrolling. Throughout the school year, DCPCSB staff pretending to be prospective parents of special education students randomly call schools to inquire about enrollment. Schools that discourage “mystery shoppers” from enrolling “mystery children” are held accountable, and schools with repeated violations can have their charters revoked.

This is a bold but totally reasonable–and effective–practice that demonstrates that DCPCSB does not just talk about equity. It takes concrete steps to ensure it. It’s not a program designed to punish schools; it’s not used as a gotcha–schools were informed of the effort before it began and know that they could be called at any time. Rather, it puts schools on notice that they are truly public schools with real public obligations and real consequences for failure to live up to them. It demonstrates that charter schools really are accountable in ways that other public schools are not–accountable to their authorizers and to the public whose trust they are charged with upholding.

School choice doesn’t just happen. It takes real work. Authorizers play a critical role in making it work for all children.

Want to learn more about DCPCSB’s Myster Shopper program? Join us at NACSA’s Annual Leadership Conference. We’ll be talking about this and other ways that charter school authorizers are working to ensure that the schools they authorize live up to their promise and act like the public schools they are.

 

NACSA’s Alex Medler and I have published an op-ed over at Real Clear Education on steps that charter school governing boards, authorizers, and policy makers can take to prevent charter school collapse:

While many charters will thrive, inevitably some will need to close. But not all charter school closures are the same. Many of the schools that have closed over the past month never should have been approved to open in the first place, or the boards of these schools should not have tried to start the new school year. It’s only a month into the new school year, and already charter schools have closed in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania North Carolina, and Ohio.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are steps that charter school leaders, authorizers, and policymakers can take to ensure that bad schools never get approved and that those that do fail are closed with as little disruption as possible. With smart policy, strong authorizing, and responsible governance, many of these closures are preventable. Others can be timed and managed better.

Check out the whole thing here.

 

logoEPNACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond has joined the Advisory Board of Education Post, a new organization created to foster a better conversation “about public education and what our children need — an honest and civil conversation of many voices, united by a common belief in the power of education to transform lives.”

Greg made his own contribution to this better conversation in a post about the need for ideologues on both sides of the charter school debate to turn down the rhetoric and consider ways that we can learn from each other and work together. Greg notes that “Charter critics often dismiss [Al] Shanker’s vision of collaboration because the debate is consumed by an “us versus them mentality” and the baseless notion that charters exist solely to “privatize” education, destroy unions and drain traditional schools of money and motivated students.” Opponents, he says “should be delighted to learn that Shanker’s vision is alive and well in district-charter partnerships across the nation” but that these partnerships, while promising are far from the norm.

Too often, the political rhetoric surrounding charter schools is so toxic that district and neighborhood educators feel uneasy meeting with “the enemy” — much less acknowledging they may be able to learn from each other.

Read the whole thing here.

 

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) released the following statement in response to the recommendations in a report on authorizer accountability released yesterday by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University:

“The Annenberg Institute’s report on “Public Accountability for Charter Schools” is a disappointing entry in the important discussion of how to improve education for America’s children. Its recommendations are incomplete, judgmental, and not based on research or data. If the report’s recommendations were implemented, charter schools would become clones of traditional public schools, losing the flexibility needed to be innovative and better.

In Annenberg’s report, a significant number of important accountability standards and authorizing practices are unaddressed or superficially addressed. Throughout the report, the author repeatedly assumes the worst about charter schools and fails to acknowledge the thousands of charter schools that are working well and the millions of families who believe a charter school is the best choice for their children. The citations that the author offers in support of her recommendations are almost entirely newspaper articles and blog posts. This is surprisingly sloppy work for an institute housed at Brown University.

We appreciate that the author did take the time to look at our work and our Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing, which were developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Education and are considered the most comprehensive and detailed authorizing standards in the country. Our standards have been publicly developed, reviewed, criticized, tested and modified for more than ten years. Numerous states have embraced our standards in law and in practice. Unlike the Annenberg report, the names of our board members and the individuals who contributed to the development of our standards are printed clearly on the front cover of our Principles & Standards. Almost all of those individuals actually work in this field.

More importantly, when put into practice, our standards enhance accountability in order to strengthen school quality and honor the autonomy charter schools need to innovate, while protecting the rights of students and the interests of the public. We need more states to set truly high standards for their authorizers, through mechanisms like endorsing our own Principles & Standards. We welcome all allies in our effort to promote high expectations for authorizers, but a new set of deeply flawed recommendations is not helpful. And while we appreciate Annenberg’s interest in this important topic, its report leaves much to be desired and makes little progress toward our shared goal: for all children to have the opportunity to attend great schools that prepare them for success in life.”

 

This is the final in a series of letters from NACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond to Michigan authorizers, operators, policymakers and advocates highlighting the importance of quality authorizing practices.

Last week, I shared with you my response to the Free Press series on charter schools and the ways that NACSA’s Principles & Standards speak to many of the issues identified in the series. Today, I want to share with you a few of the ways that Michigan could strengthen its law. NACSA supports policies that promote the growth of quality schools, the closure of those that fail, and flexibility, transparency and accountability for all. These include immediate steps as well as some that would likely require a longer process and a more comprehensive approach. The following ideas should be part of those discussions.

  • Require authorizers to implement practices that meet professional standards;
  • Strengthen the current default closure provisions;
  • Strengthen the state’s existing authorizer accountability provisions;
  • Give authorizers the authority and tools to implement best practices; and
  • Pursue comprehensive changes that improve governance and transparency.

None of these policy changes are silver bullets and the details of their design will take considerable care. But they can promote high standards for students, schools and authorizers and better protect the public trust without impeding on school success.

Michigan’s charter sector is not broken. There are many schools that are doing amazing things for kids. But much work remains to be done. Stronger policy, stronger authorizing, and stronger governance are needed.

I reiterate NACSA’s commitment to working with authorizers, policy makers and other stakeholders to ensure that the bad behavior of a few does not further impede the amazing work of the many great charter schools across Michigan and the nation. We look forward to your continued partnership.

Sincerely,

Greg Richmond
President and CEO

 

 

This is the third in a series of letters from NACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond to Michigan authorizers, operators, policymakers and advocates highlighting the importance of quality authorizing practices.

As promised, I am writing again to share some of the principles and practices that define quality authorizing and that are important to keep in focus as we consider ways to address the legitimate concerns raised by the series in the Free Press. Today, I would like to highlight standards related to making decisions to renew or not renew a charter.

NACSA’s Principles & Standards state, “A quality authorizer designs and implements a transparent and rigorous process that uses comprehensive academic, financial, and operational performance data to make merit-based renewal decisions, and revokes charters when necessary to protect student and public interests.”  Specifically, a quality authorizer:

  • Clearly communicates to schools the criteria for charter revocation, renewal, and non-renewal decisions that are consistent with the charter contract.
  • Grants renewal only to schools that have achieved the standards and targets stated in the charter contract, are organizationally and fiscally viable, and have been faithful to the terms of the contract and applicable law
  • Does not make renewal decisions, including granting probationary or short-term renewals, on the basis of political or community pressure or solely on promises of future improvement.

The charter school renewal process is intended to be a summative evaluation leading to a high-stakes decision. It should not be a formative, school improvement process.

Two years ago, NACSA looked at performance data from across the country and saw many high performing schools. Unfortunately, we also found roughly 1000 charter schools performing in the bottom 15th percentile of all public schools in their state.  While it is true that many charter schools serve a high proportion of at risk students, the charter school idea is supposed to be about providing those students better schools, not more failing schools.  We launched our One Million Lives campaign to open 2000 more great charter schools and to close 1000 failing charter schools.

Michigan authorizers are an important part of this work.  Without doubt, Michigan authorizers have closed dozens of failing schools over the years, but too many failing schools remain open.  Working together, by improving our policies and practices in the weeks ahead, we can deliver on the charter school promise to provide better schools to more children.

Sincerely,

Greg Richmond
President and CEO

 

 

This is the second in a series of letters from NACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond to Michigan authorizers, operators, policymakers and advocates highlighting the importance of due diligence when screening applications from existing operators.

Yesterday, I shared with you my response to the Free Press series on charter schools and the ways that NACSA is helping authorizers do more to prevent violations of the public trust in the future. It is not enough to respond to wrongdoing when it is reported by others. Authorizers have a responsibility to conduct rigorous, ongoing oversight without infringing on school autonomy. Even though many of the events reported are old news and have been addressed by authorizers and in state law, there is clearly still much work to be done.

Today, I’m sharing with you another excerpt from NACSA’s Principles & Standards, this one addressing elements needed in an application for a new charter school when the applicant is proposing to hire a management company. We know that great schools can be replicated, but we also know that replicating bad schools only produces more bad schools. Authorizers should not approve applications for new schools operated by providers that have a track record of failure or governed by boards that lack independence and capacity needed to oversee and hold the provider accountable for its performance. Good due diligence is paramount.

NACSA’s Principles & Standards state that applicants proposing to hire a management company should be required to provide:

-        Evidence of the service provider’s educational and management success;

-        The proposed management agreement with all key terms including roles and responsibilities of the parties, services and resources provided, performance evaluation measures, fee structure, financial control, oversight and disclosure, and renewal and termination.

-        Disclosure and explanation of any existing or potential conflicts of interest between the school governing board and proposed service provider or any affiliated business entities.

These requirements are critical for the evaluation of replication proposals involving a management provider, and should play a key role in whether an application is approved.

Operating a charter school is an enormous undertaking involving great public trust and responsibility. When operators have a track record of performance, they should be judged on that record. As we emphasize in our One Million Lives campaign, we need thousands more great charter schools, and we need to close those that are failing. What we don’t need is any more bad schools.

Tomorrow, we will share with you some of the principles and practices that are more broadly applicable to good authorizing, beyond situations that involve management companies.

Monday, we will share ways to strengthen Michigan’s charter school law.

NACSA is committed to working with authorizers, policy makers and other stakeholders to ensure that the bad behavior of a few does not further impede the amazing work of the many great charter schools across Michigan and the nation. We look forward to your continued partnership.

Sincerely,

Greg Richmond
President and CEO

 

 

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