School Choice & Charters

Charters Harder to Get Than Before, Suggests Survey of Authorizers

May 09, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Charter school authorizers are getting “choosier” about which applications for schools they will accept and are basing decisions not to renew charters more on student-achievement issues than previously recognized, an analysis by a pro-charter organization finds.

At the same time, the report says, almost half of authorizers, especially smaller ones, practice “limited oversight” of their schools.

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a group that strongly backs charter schools, issued two reports last week that seek to look “under the hood” of the charter school movement. One focuses on the different types of authorizers, and the other analyzes different types of the independent but publicly financed schools.

“The big message is that the charter school movement is not monolithic,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the vice president for national programs and policy at the Washington-based Fordham Foundation. “The differences within the charter school movement, we believe, are just as interesting and important as the differences between charters and regular public schools.”

“Trends in Charter School Authorizing” and “Playing to Type: Mapping the Charter School Landscape” are available from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

The first report, “Trends in Charter School Authorizing,” was based on a survey last year of active authorizers, the bodies responsible for sponsoring and overseeing charter schools.

From January 2003 to January 2005, the report says, the 184 authorizers who responded to the survey reported approving just over half of applications for charter schools. By contrast, they reported giving the go-ahead to about 68 percent of applications before 2003.

The report notes a decline in the approval rate both in states that have caps on the total number of charters and in those that don’t have such caps.

Authorizers “are getting choos-ier on the front end, and they’re getting tougher on the back end,” Mr. Petrilli said.

Nonrenewals Analyzed

Contrary to some earlier findings, the report says, authorizers are basing decisions not to renew charters more often on student achievement than on such other factors as governance or finances. Of 34 cases cited in which charters were not renewed since the authorizers began granting charters, decisions in 75 percent were based on low achievement, the survey found.

The report makes a distinction between nonrenewals of charters and actual revocations of them.

“When it comes to closing schools before their contracts are up, authorizers act not because of low test scores, but because schools are self-destructing financially or organizationally,” Mr. Petrilli and Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Fordham Foundation, write in a foreword.

Joan A. Devlin, an associate director of the American Federation of Teachers, questioned some of the report’s conclusions, which she argued may be guided more by “opinion than based on fact.”

For instance, she wondered whether student achievement really drove nonrenewal decisions.

“That’s self-reporting and slightly questionable,” she said.

Also, while Ms. Devlin said she was pleased that authorizers appear to be getting choosier in approving applicants, she said it’s not clear what that means.

“They’re approving fewer charters, but we don’t know the reason,” she said. “I’m not sure if it’s about quality and scrutiny.”

The report finds that authorizers have a long way to go in providing adequate oversight of charter schools. It categorizes 44 percent of respondents as having “limited oversight,” generally a weak focus both on quality and compliance matters. It suggests that smaller authorizing bodies especially fell into that category.

The analysis rates nonprofit organizations and independent chartering boards as the strongest authorizers. The Fordham Foundation itself has authorized charters in Dayton, Ohio, and it appears on the list.

County-level authorizers and school districts tend to practice limited oversight, the report says. However, fewer than a quarter of the 492 school districts contacted for the survey participated.

“We conclude that most authorizers at least know what they should be doing,” the report says. “But for the charter school movement to survive and excel, it needs all charter authorizers to make the jump from knowing what to do to doing it.”

The second report, which examines different types of charter schools, is an extended version of a preliminary report issued last fall. The final report includes new analysis of student-achievement differences among various school types.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 2006 edition of Education Week as Charters Harder toGet Than Before, Suggests Survey of Authorizers

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
Professional Wellness Strategies to Enhance Student Learning and Live Your Best Life
Reduce educator burnout with research-affirmed daily routines and strategies that enhance achievement of educators and students alike. 
Content provided by Solution Tree
English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Biden Administration Tightens Rules on Charter School Funding Program
The U.S. Department of Education responded to over 25,000 public comments in making its final revision of charter school funding rules.
7 min read
Students in Monica Farren’s 6th grade English class read outside during a poetry exercise at Albert Einstein Academy Charter Middle School in San Diego.
Students in a 6th grade English class read outside during a poetry exercise at Albert Einstein Academy Charter Middle School in San Diego. The U.S. Department of Education released final rules for the Charter School Program, a federal grant that provides money to schools in their first three years of operation.
Sandy Huffaker for Education Week
School Choice & Charters Opinion The Biden Administration Is Right: Charters Need to Be More Accountable
The proposed changes to the federal Charter School Program are just common sense, write Jitu Brown and Randi Weingarten.
Jitu Brown & Randi Weingarten
3 min read
Illustration of students and teachers holding puzzle pieces.
<b>F. Sheehan/Education Week and iStock/Getty</b>
School Choice & Charters What's Behind the Fight Over the Biden Administration's Stance on Charter School Funding
Proposed new rules for federal charter school funding have drawn the ire of many in the charter school community.
8 min read
Publish Charter school parents stage a counter protest as thousands of public school teachers, administrators and supports march through the streets of Sacramento during a protest held at the California State Capitol urging state legislators to provide more funding for public schools in Sacramento, Calif., on May 22, 2019.
Publish Charter school parents stage a counter protest during a march in Sacramento, Calif., that advocated for more funding for public schools in 2019.
Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via AP
School Choice & Charters Opinion Families May Like Their School But Want More Options. That’s Where Course Choice Comes In
Educational choices have grown inside each school as a result of the pandemic. Families should take advantage of this.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty