School & District Management Opinion

7 Ways States & Districts Can Use Authorizing to Boost Quality & Innovation

By Tom Vander Ark — February 22, 2013 3 min read
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Performance contracting is a services agreement with clear outcomes. States and districts have been using performance contracts for public charter schools,
private school special education placements, information and business services, and for energy efficiency partnerships.

The art and science of performance contracting has matured over the last twenty years. A North Carolina partnership captured

best practices in energy efficiency partnerships

. State Auditors captured best practices in contracting. The
National Association of Charter School Authorizers have codified best practices in

Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing


States and districts should make more extensive use of performance contracting to procure high quality options and services for students and families. In
fact, performance contracting could be used for all service delivery --all schools could operate under a performance contract that would spell out
obligations by both parties over a defined term. It could replace a low value accreditation system and, what in most states, is a weak and ineffective
accountability system.

There are more than 6,000 charter schools in the U.S. but most state chartering laws haven’t been updated to deal with the wide variety of circumstances
being addressed. In an effort to screen out weak proposals and applicants, the application process has become much longer--often taking 18-24 months--and
more bureaucratic.

As noted previously, states and big districts
should consider seven distinct contracting pathways:

1. Standard:
first time applicants proposing a single school.

2. Expedited:
a short-form application with quick turnaround for operators of two or more high performing schools (with potential for multi-campus approvals).

3. Innovation:
potential for conditional approval (i.e., shorter time frame with more review) for innovative school models that incorporate novel assessment systems,
performance-based progress, unique staffing and compensation models, distributed learning (i.e., multiple locations including community resources), blended
institutions (i.e., high school and college) and/or year-round learning. (See yesterday’s summary of a Ted Kolderie proposal.)

4. Statewide:
virtual operators seeking to enroll students statewide (or across a region under a reciprocal charter agreement) on a full or part time basis.

5. Turnaround:
a two step process that would 1) create a list of certified vendors and 2) match them with turnaround or restart opportunities. The first step could
include collaborative solutions development like Michigan’s

Education Achievement Authority partnership with Agilix


6. Conversion:
a pathway for conversion of public and private schools with a requirement for state (not district) authorization to ensure real charter status.

7. Subject:
a pathway for statewide providers for one or more subjects (e.g., English, foreign language, STEM, etc). Teacher led businesses could provide instruction
on a contract basis across a district/state/region. A blended language acquisition business could contract for statewide services that combined computer
based instruction, virtual tutoring, and social networking (i.e., interacting with native speakers). Subject specific instruction vendors may fit more
easily under a statewide preferred vendor list rather than an authorizing pathway-same for business management organizations, transportation providers,
food vendors, etc.

In addition to multiple pathways for contracting, proactive and innovative procurement strategies focus submissions and guide investment:

While states are updating their charter and online learning laws, creating a multiple pathways authorizing strategy and adopting innovative procurement
strategies would help to accelerate growth of high quality options for American students.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.