NCLB CHOICES FOR PARENTS
Innovations In Education: Supporting Charter School Excellence Through Quality Authorizing
June 2007
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Authorizers Support New School

After an authorizer grants a charter to the individual or group who will run the charter school, the real work of school start-up begins. The majority of the school's and the authorizer's responsibilities start after the charter is granted: The authorizer and the school must define their obligations to one another and the methods by which the authorizer will hold the school accountable. During the first few months—even up to the first year—of a school's operation, these authorizers provide intensive support to help ensure that the school's goals and responsibilities are clear, and that the school has everything in place that will support its success.

Assist schools in developing meaningful measures of student performance

After the charter is granted, but before the school opens, it is important to define the school's student performance goals and how they will be measured. Most of these organizations follow a yearlong process during which they work with the school to develop rigorous performance goals. In some cases, authorizers allow schools one year after opening to develop their accountability plans. These authorizers report that working with schools over an extended period of time allows them to define meaningful performance goals based on students' incoming performance levels.

Each authorizer profiled in this guide includes student performance measures that are the same for all of its schools. This allows each authorizer to compare the performance of its schools to each other and to other schools with similar student populations. While some offices continue to include school-specific performance measures in the accountability plan or contract, others do not encourage schools to include school-specific indicators, largely because it is challenging for schools to develop rigorous assessments to measure these indicators. Those who continue to include schoolspecific indicators argue that such indicators benefit schools because they allow the schools to evaluate their success in meeting unique missions. These authorizers also argue that schoolspecific indicators allow schools to counter the problems associated with using only one statewide standardized test (such as test results reported too late to be useful to teachers). The Massachusetts charter office, for example, has written guidelines that refer to this dilemma by noting, "The solution to the challenge posed by the limitations of one assessment tool is to use assessments strategically and in combination."

The charter school accountability system in Massachusetts requires schools to establish specific five-year performance objectives designed to measure the school's progress in three areas: 1) raising student achievement, 2) establishing a viable organization (e.g., one that has financial stability), and 3) fulfilling the terms of its charter. These objectives are included in each school's accountability plan. Schools are required to submit their initial plan by Aug. 1 after their first year of operation. Every Aug. 1 thereafter, each school submits an annual report that discusses the school's interim progress on each goal and presents evidence to validate its claims.

In order to help schools undertake the daunting task of writing an accountability plan that measures progress in so many different areas, the Massachusetts charter office has developed Guidelines for Writing Charter School Accountability Plans.12 This document provides schools with detailed instructions on developing goals and measures and includes references to many common pitfalls. For example, the guidelines note in the first few pages:

An accountability plan is not designed to describe all of the outcomes a charter school has set for itself. It sets objectives for the most critical areas of performance that will inform a decision about whether to renew the school's charter. Effective measurement and reporting can require a significant commitment of time and resources, and even concise goals can yield a lengthy Annual Report. A more powerful case is made when schools measure fewer things better than many things incompletely or superficially.

Relative to the other authorizers, the SUNY Institute and the Indianapolis mayor's office have fairly prescriptive performance requirements for the schools they authorize. SUNY Institute charter schools are required to develop an accountability plan during the first year of their charter that includes goals that are organized into two sections—"academic" and "unique programmatic areas." Charter schools authorized by the Indianapolis mayor's office also are required to develop an accountability plan during the first year of their charter.

In SUNY Institute-authorized schools, student performance must be measured in absolute terms, using value-added measures (e.g., assessments that measure students' academic growth), and compared to the performance of local district schools or the district school where the charter school's students would have been assigned to attend. SUNY Institute expects at least 75 percent of all its schools' students to score at proficiency levels on state reading and math exams. SUNY Institute staff members offer workshops for schools as well as individual guidance to help them develop meaningful and measurable goals for student performance.

Charter schools authorized by the Indianapolis mayor's office are required to measure students' performance not only using state standardized tests but also using the Northwest Evaluation Association's Measures of Academic Progress reading and math tests in the fall and spring. (See fig. 6 for the Indianapolis mayor's office timeline for accountability plan development, implementation, and oversight, which describes when the schools submit testing data and other performance indicators to the mayor's office.) This consistent year-to-year testing allows the mayor's office to assess the "value-added" by each school—the school's contribution to the learning of its students. The charter schools office at CMU also conducts a value-added analysis of its schools' performance, using a Web-based, realtime assessment system called Scantron's Performance Series, which it makes available to all of its schools. Schools administer the test every fall and spring and use the testing data to track students' learning progress over time. The Indianapolis mayor's office also encourages schools to develop school-specific performance goals, but schools are not required to do so.

Figure 6. Indianapolis Mayor's Office Timeline for Accountability Plan Development, Implementation, and Oversight

Year 1
Summer Pre-Opening School finalize initial common and school-specific performance indicators and assessments and makes plans for baseline data gathering. A representative from the Mayor's Office visits each school to ensure the school is ready for operation
Fall School collects baseline data on all initial performance indicators. External team visits school to assess implementation of basic system and processes, and provides feedback to school.
Winter School submits baseline data on all initial performance indicators to the Mayor's Office.
Spring School continues gathering data on all initial performance indicators. External team visits school to assess implementation of systems and processes, and provides feedback to school. External organization surveys staff and parents at school.
Summer (by June 1) School submits data reporting annual progress on all initial performance indicators to the Mayor's Office.
Year 2
Ongoing School continues gathering data on all performance indicators. External team may visit school to monitor performance and provide feedback.
Fall School submits draft school-specific indicators. External team may visit school to monitor performance and provide feedback.
Winter Mayor's Office and school finalize school-specific indicators.
Spring External organization surveys staff and parents at school.
Summer (by June 1) School submits data reporting annual progress on all performance indicators to the Mayor's Office.
Year 3
Ongoing School continues gathering data on all performance indicators. External team may visit school to monitor performance and provide feedback.
Spring School conducts self-evaluation of performance. External organization surveys staff and parents at school.
Summer (by June 1) School submits data reporting annual progress on all performance indicators to the Mayor's Office.
Year 4
Ongoing School continues gathering data on all performance indicators.
Fall or Spring External team visits school for several days to corroborate third-year self-evaluation and provide additional information and detailed report to Mayor's Office. Mayor's Office provides feedback to school on issues that may affect the renewal of the school's charter. External organization surveys staff and parents at school.
Summer (by June 1)
(to be scheduled)
School submits data reporting annual progress on all performance indicators to the Mayor's Office.
School leadership meets with Mayor's Office to discuss an action plan for addressing areas needing improvement identified in the previous academic year's site visit report. If necessary, school completes a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Mayor's Office regarding this action plan.
Year 5
Ongoing School continues gathering data on all performance indicators. School addresses areas needing improvement identified by third-year self-evaluation and fourth-year external report. External team may visit school to monitor performance and provide feedback.
Spring External organization surveys staff and parents at school.
Summer (by June 1) School submits data reporting annual progress on all performance indicators to the Mayor's Office.
Year 6
Ongoing School continues gathering data on all performance indicators. School continues addressing areas needing improvement identified by third-year self-evaluation and fourth-year external report, if not yet resolved. External team may visit school to monitor performance and provide feedback.
Spring External organization surveys staff and parents at school.
Summer (by June 1)
(by August 1)
School submits data reporting annual progress on all performance indicators to the Mayor's Office.
School submits charter renewal application by August 1st. The renewal application will be an in-depth analysis of the school's performance over the previous six years.

SUNY Institute-authorized schools may include additional measures of student performance beyond outcomes on state standardized tests. (See fig. 7 for SUNY's guidelines for writing accountability plans that include required and optional accountability measures.) However, SUNY Institute does not encourage schools to do so without demonstrating a clear understanding both of how to develop the measures and the determination of what the measures will contribute to students' success. According to Jennifer Sneed, the senior vice president of the SUNY Institute, she and other institute staff tell schools: "If this will help you in the administration of the school, is part and parcel of your mission, and will be useful to you internally, then by all means include it in your accountability plan. But the fact is, it is a lot of work. You may want to do these things, but not include them in your plan." In the development of schools' accountability plans, the SUNY Institute staff members place primary value on students' learning progress and mastery of core subjects. If schools wish to develop additional, school-specific measures of success that assess unique aspects of their school's program (such as arts performance), they must do so largely on their own.

Support schools during the incubation and planning period

These authorizers have found through experience that the most critical phase of a charter school's development is often in the first few months after it receives a charter, during which it must prepare the school for students and staff. Even the most experienced school leaders have probably not had to prepare a facility, hire an entirely new staff, develop a curriculum, attract students and prepare a budget—all in a relatively short time span. Accordingly, these authorizers provide more intensive support during this period—between the initial grant of a charter and the first day of school opening, and in some cases throughout the school's first year—than they provide after this start-up period.

In Minnesota, one of the tools that the VOA of Mn charter office uses to help schools become established initially is a detailed checklist of actions they need to take before and during the first year the school is open (see fig. 8). This checklist, which has been through several revisions, is organized as a timeline so that school leaders know what they need to do and when. The Massachusetts charter office uses a similar checklist called "Summary of All Action Items," covering what needs to be done by when. This six-page checklist is at the beginning of a handbook produced by the Massachusetts charter office to guide schools through opening. The Opening Procedures Handbook13 also includes guidelines on such issues as governance, enrollment, school safety, and hiring.

In both Chicago and New York City, authorizers use additional strategies to support schools during this critical period. The Chicago Public Schools Office of New Schools has worked with one of its partners, the Renaissance Schools Fund,* to provide each new school with funding for three staff positions, usually including the school leader, to prepare for the school’s opening during the eight months leading up to its first day of classes. In addition, CPS provides optional office space and technology support so that new school leaders have adequate work space as they prepare to open. In 2006, at the time of this study, it was too early to evaluate the impact that this incubation support, which began in 2004, would have on the future success of the new schools, but initial reports from participating school leaders were positive. In the future, the CPS Office of New Schools would like to further improve the start-up process by bringing in intermediary organizations that can provide technical assistance to address common challenges, such as board development and student recruitment.

Figure 7. Excerpt From SUNY Institute's Guidelines for Writing Accountability Plans

______Charter (High) School

ACCOUNTABILITY PLAN FOR THE CHARTER PERIOD 2006-2010 25

English Language Arts

Goal: Students will ___________________________

Absolute Proficiency
Requires outcome measures

75% of each high school accountability cohort 26 will score at least 65 on the New York State English Regents exam.

Each year, the school's aggregate Performance Index on the State ELA exam will meet its Annual Measurable Objective set forth in the state's NCLB accountability system.

Operational outcome measure(s) 27

Each year, __________________________

Each year, __________________________

Comparative Proficiency on State Exams
Required outcome measures

Each year, the percent of students in the high school accountability cohort passing the English Regents Exam with a score of 65 or above will exceed that of the cohort of all students from the local school district.

For each high school cohort, the percentage of students scoring above 65 on the English Regents Exam will place the school in the top quartile of all similar schools as determined by the institute and based on similar school categories as generated by the State Education Department and New York City Department of Education.

_____________________________

25 The Accountability Plan for a school operating in its first charter period is in effect for four years, up to the time the school would apply for charter renewal.

26 The high school accountability cohort is defined as all students who entered the ninth grade anywhere for the first time four years previously and were enrolled in a school on BEDS day of year four (excluding students no longer in the school after BEDS day for extra-ordinary reasons).

27 The outcome measure includes: an expected level of performance for students to achieve; the assessment tool to determine the performance; who will administer and score the instrument (if it is not a standardized test); when it will be administered, and to which students.

NYC charter schools have the benefit of a similar program that offers even more direct technical assistance. That is, in addition to incubation space (a desk, phone, and computer) at the nonprofit New York City Center for Charter School Excellence (CCSE), leaders of new schools also have access to leadership and management training, school development workshops, facilities planning, and school assessments that highlight students’ strengths and weaknesses. (See fig. 9 for CCSE school support plan for development and operational phases.)

Every charter school authorized by the NYC office of Charter Schools also receives a preopening visit from a staff member from the charter office during the summer preceding its first year.

Figure 8. VOA of MN Charter School Start-up Progress Checklist

Figure 9. NYC CCSE individual Charter School Support Plan

NYC CENTER FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS EXCELLENCE - INDIVIDUAL CHARTER SCHOOL SUPPORT PLAN 2005-2006 SCHOOL YEAR
Our school support actions are designed to promote quality as a critical friend, impacting new school development and results through open communication, school agreement, strong relationships and effective resources allocation. Our charter school support criteria is driven by a quality charter school model.
Fall 2005

SCHOOL SUPPORT ACTIONS DURING CHARTER SCHOOL DEVELOPMENT PHASE (BEFORE SCHOOL OPENS TO STUDENTS):

Education/Awareness Planning/Start Up Tools Consultations/Assessments
Introductory Forums Capacity Review/Guidance Technical Assistance Reviews
Web site/Print Materials Pipeline of New School Opportunities Alternative Tracks for School Ideas
Strong School Recruitment Technical Assistance Needs by School Identification of Strong Schools
Capacity Training and Self Assesmnet-
Quality Charter School Model
Stimulate School Replications Referrals to Allied Organizations
Application Development Referrals Planning Grants Application Issue Identification
Strategic Leadership/Management Training Governance Development Assessment of strengths and weaknesses
School Development Workshops (Academics,
Governance, Facilities)
Incubation Space Critical Friends Reviews
Facilitate School Visits Leadership Identification Authorizer Information Sharing
Readiness Reviews Back Office Plan/Structures Resource Recommendations
Best Practices Sharing Staffing Plan Staffing Support
  Facilities Plan Facilities Setup
  Facilities Plan Facilities Setup
  Funding (Public/Private) Development Operations Setup
  Leadership Support/Capacity Building  

SCHOOL SUPPORT ACTIONS DURING CHARTER SCHOOL OPERATIONAL PHASE (AFTER SCHOOL OPENS TO STUDENTS);

School Services School Support Tools Consultations/Assessments
Academics - Guidebooks, Student Assessment
Tool Kit, Training, Coaching, Resources
Grants/Consultancies School Reviews - Critical Friend School Reviews,Coaching, Authorizer Reviews, Interventions
Operations - Guidebooks, Training, Coaching,Resources, Staffing, Back Office Systems, Shared Services, Obstacle Remover Use of Center Space Annual School Reviews and School Needs Assessments
Facilities - Real Estate Development Consultation, Site Identification Assistance, Facility Management Resources Strategic Planning Principal Coaching
Principal Development - Pipeline, Training,Coaching Best practice Sharing Governance Development
Teacher Development - Recruiting, Certifications Support, Professional Development Networks Shared Space Support Weak Spot Action Planning/Strategic Planning
Communications - Materials, Consultations, External Relations Coordinated Communication Platform-Charter Leader News (CLN) email Updates of crucial opportunities for the charter school community Renewal Preparations Referrals
Governance - Guidebooks, Recruiting, Training Resources Cross School Leader Networks  
Fundraising - Guidebooks, Training, Brokering    

All Schools Support: Quality Model, Advocacy Authorizer Process/Systems, Knowledge Management

The visit is based on a "school readiness review" protocol and focuses mainly on elements of successful school opening, including staffing, curriculum, facilities, and board governance. This protocol addresses factors regarding whether the school has what it needs to serve students on the first day. during this visit, staff members collect information, such as certificates of occupancy, fiscal policy manuals, job descriptions, operations manuals, and materials regarding insurance. They also make sure that school administrators know how to obtain any such missing documents before the first day of school.

Many charter school boards seek out and contract for services with school management organizations during this early stage. Such contracts are particularly common in Michigan, and CMU's charter office has become a national leader in helping charter leaders negotiate effective contracts with what they call "Educational Service Providers" or ESPs. The CMU Board of Trustees implemented its Educational Service Provider Policies14 in 1999 to help its charter school boards negotiate agreements with ESPs and establish relationships with ESPs that will be beneficial for the schools. (See fig. 10 for an educational service provider agreement included in the CMU policy guide.) The policies require, for example, that the charter school board retain its own legal counsel and demonstrate a responsible and thorough search for an ESP.

* The Renaissance Schools Fund is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money to support the mayor's Renaissance 2010 initiative to open 100 new schools in Chicago by the year 2010.


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Last Modified: 05/26/2009