School Choice & Charters

Report Examines ‘Authorizers’ of Charter Schools

By Debra Viadero — June 11, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Even though they often operate in contentious policy environments, the public entities that authorize charter schools generally are doing an adequate job, a report released last week concludes.

The report, “Charter School Authorizing: Are States Making the Grade?,” is available from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute said its evaluation is the first to grade the work of charter school “authorizers"—the hundreds of school boards, universities, nonprofit groups, and other organizations that states have charged with nurturing and monitoring this relatively new breed of public schools. The report rates the monitoring and support practices for charter schools in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

The evaluation gave a grade of B-minus or better to 15 states for the jobs their charter authorizers were doing. In comparison, only four states were rated as that high for providing policy environments that are supportive of charter schools.

“Many states are not at all supportive of authorizers, and they are basically left out to dry,” said Louann Bierlein Palmer, the lead author of the report.

Charter experts praised the researchers for looking at an understudied aspect of the charter movement. They also suggested, however, that the report’s grading system should be interpreted with caution, since it starts from the premise that charter schools will improve schooling.

“They’ve interviewed people who are largely sympathetic to charter schools,” said Katrina E. Bulkley, a researcher from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., who has also studied charter school authorizers. “This is a good beginning step, but the real question is whether there will be a connection between what the authorizers do and what actually happens in the schools.”

‘Coyotes and Rabbits’

More than 500 organizations are responsible for sponsoring the nation’s 2,700 charter schools, helping them along, and closing them if they fail to produce results, the report says. The idea behind charter schools is to allow them to operate free from red tape, provided they are able to produce improved student learning.

To rate the job the authorizers do and the circumstances in which they operate, the researchers gave each state three grades: one for the authorizers’ work; one for the state’s policy environment; and an overall grade.

In the authorizers’ category, for instance, the grades were based on ratings for 56 criteria, ranging from the degree to which the sponsoring organizations shielded the schools from excessive regulation to whether the entities granted charters based on merit or on politics.

The researchers developed their ratings from responses to surveys sent to a total of 900 charter operators, authorizers, and knowledgeable “charter observers.” The latter group included charter advocates, state legislative staff members, charter-network administrators, and others, according to the report.

The highest overall grades—B-plus—went to Massachusetts and Texas. New Mexico scored the lowest, with a D, followed closely by California and Pennsylvania, which both earned grades of D-plus.

One of the report’s key findings is that local school boards were generally judged to do a poor job of authorizing.

“Many of them don’t want the job,” said Ms. Bierlein, who is an education professor at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. “They still view charters as competitors, or they give the job of authorizing to someone with 20 other jobs.”

The arrangement, said Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Fordham Institute and related Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is akin to “trusting coyotes to raise rabbits.”

“We’ve tried it,” he said in a press release, “and, with rare exceptions, the bunnies suffer.”

By the same token, the researchers found, adding more authorizers does not necessarily improve oversight. The higher-rated states tended to be those with fewer authorizers and enough employees and financial resources set aside to focus on the job, an approach taken by Massachusetts.

The researchers said their evaluation showed that “compliance creep” was setting in among many of the authorizing organizations, as states have begun to increase the number of requirements that charter schools must meet.

“The point is to let the experiment run its course with the best possibility of succeeding,” Mr. Finn said in an interview. “It seems to me we want to hope for the politics to let this happen, rather than drive it into the sea.”

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
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
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Science of Reading: Emphasis on Language Comprehension
Dive into language comprehension through a breakdown of the Science of Reading with an interactive demonstration.
Content provided by Be GLAD
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.

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 Opinion What's the State of Charter Schools Today?
Even though there's momentum behind the charter school movement, charters face many of the same challenges as traditional public schools.
10 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters As Private School Choice Grows, Critics Push for More Guardrails
Calls are growing for more scrutiny over where state funds for private school choice go and how students are faring in the classroom.
7 min read
Illustration of completed tasks, accomplishment, finished checklist, achievement or project progression concept. Person holding pencil tick all completed task checkbox.
Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty
School Choice & Charters How a District Hopes to Save an ESSER-Funded Program
As a one-time infusion of federal funding expires, districts are searching for creative ways to keep programs they funded with it running.
6 min read
Chicago charter school teacher Angela McByrd works on her laptop to teach remotely from her home in Chicago, Sept. 24, 2020.
Chicago charter school teacher Angela McByrd works on her laptop to teach remotely from her home in Chicago, Sept. 24, 2020. In Montana, a district hopes to save a virtual instruction program by converting it into a charter school.
Nam Y. Huh/AP
School Choice & Charters Q&A How the Charter School Movement Is Changing: A Top Charter Advocate Looks Back and Ahead
Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, plans to step down as leader of the group at the end of the year.
6 min read
Nina Rees, CEO of the National Public Charter School Association.
Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, emphasizes that she has "always thought of [charter schools] as laboratories of innovation with the hopes of replicating those innovations in district-run schools."
Courtesy of McLendon Photography