School Choice & Charters Opinion

Charter School Boards—Not Boring, Very Important!

By Sara Mead — July 12, 2010 1 min read
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Greg Richmond has a great and important commentary about charter school board independence in this week’s EdWeek. And while “charter school board independence” may sound like a snoozer of an issue, it’s actually critically important.

I’ve found that most people not closely engaged in charter school issues don’t really understand the importance of charter school boards. The public imagination tends to identify charter schools with visionary school leaders and founders, or well-known EMOs and CMOs, such as Edison or KIPP. But it’s the independent governing boards of charter schools who are actually central to what makes public charter schools, public charter schools.

They’re the ones who hold the school’s charter, and it’s they who are ultimately accountable to authorizers for charter schools’ student performance, appropriate use of public funds, and fulfillment of their responsibilities as public schools. Along with authorizers, charter school boards are the entities responsible for ensuring that charter schools act in the public interest. EMOs, CMOs, and school leaders should work for governing boards—not the other way around. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case, but authorizers and the charter community have learned from early missteps what’s necessary to ensure well-functioning, independent charter school boards—although, as Greg notes, state policymakers [ahem, Ohio!] don’t always heed these lessons.

Greg’s piece describes the six criteria for ensuring strong, independent board governance of charter schools. I should add that while Greg focuses on independence in cases where EMOs and CMOs are involved, we’ve learned that it’s equally problematic when a visionary school leader or founder selects the school’s board and wields influence over them$mdash;and sometimes a harder problem to address.

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The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook 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.