How to oversee and evaluate charter schools is relatively new territory for the hundreds of school boards, universities, nonprofit groups, and other organizations that now have the responsibility for authorizing such schools. To help them with that task, the board of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers has approved a set of voluntary standards.
“We think strong authorizing practices will lead to good charter schools and improved student achievement,” said Greg Richmond, the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based group and the director of the charter school office for the Chicago public schools. “These are things that we have learned, as experienced authorizers, are good practices that will develop good schools for kids.”
The document, “Principles and Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing,” was adopted this month. It addresses core areas for which authorizers are responsible, including designing and overseeing the application process, negotiating contracts, providing oversight and evaluation of charter schools, and deciding whether their contracts should be renewed.
By using the principles and standards, said Mark Cannon, the group’s executive director, authorizers can honor the autonomy of charter schools while holding them, as recipients of public funding, accountable for student achievement.
‘Set Out a Marker’
The question of whether authorizers are adequately evaluating the quality of charter schools has been the subject of recent studies and debate. (“Study: Charter Evaluations Have Room for Improvement,” Feb. 25, 2004.)
The association, which represents 50 authorizers in 21 states and the District of Columbia, has been trying to improve such practices. Last year, it released a paper describing critical issues facing charter school authorizers, with examples of how such issues were being addressed around the country.
Because authorizers face legal, financial, and other constraints, said Mr. Cannon, the group’s board decided to make the principles and standards available as guidance. Members are not required to follow them, nor does the document prescribe an exclusive approach to authorizing charter schools.
Board members decided “the best way to encourage widespread adoption of quality practices would be to set out a marker and encourage authorizers to freely and voluntarily associate themselves with this approach,” Mr. Cannon said.
Among other actions, the principles state that high-caliber authorizers should approach their role deliberately and thoughtfully; strive for clarity, consistency, and transparency in what they do; and use objective and verifiable measures of student achievement as the primary measure of school quality.
The standards stress the importance of fair procedures and rigorous criteria for evaluating charter school applications. They also advocate that charter school contracts clearly articulate the rights and responsibilities of each party regarding school autonomy, expected outcomes, measures for evaluating success or failure, the conditions under which the authorizer may intervene in the school’s operation or revoke a contract, and the terms for renewal.
As part of the continuing oversight and evaluation of such schools, the standards say that authorizers should provide “clear, adequate, and evidence-based” notice of problems, allow reasonable time for problems to be fixed, and make decisions about whether and how to intervene on a clear and consistent basis.
According to the standards, authorizers should grant renewals only to a school with a “high- quality educational program that has achieved the goals and standards identified in its contract, is organizationally and financially viable, and has been faithful to the terms of its contract and applicable law.” Authorizers also should outline a protocol for the orderly closure of schools, when necessary.
A version of this article appeared in the May 26, 2004 edition of Education Week as Standards for Authorizers Of Charter Schools Issued