Innovations In Education: Supporting Charter School Excellence Through Quality Authorizing
June 2007
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Overview of This Guide

Part 1 of this guide describes the common practices of the eight charter authorizers profiled here. Although these authorizers represent very different kinds of entities, they all share several fundamental characteristics, including strong internal capacity, a rigorous process for selecting which schools to authorize, transparent oversight policies, and willingness to make hard decisions. The details of how they implement these processes differ from office to office, but all are focused on constant improvement in the service of expanding education options for students.

In particular, this guide describes how effective authorizers:

  • Build a strong organization by recruiting and retaining qualified staff members and using external resources strategically.
  • Develop a strong talent pool, including seeking strong applicants that are aligned with the authorizer’s mission.
  • Select for quality by employing a variety of evaluation methods to assess applicants’ capacity, requiring strong evidence of community support, and engaging in responsible risk-taking.
  • Support new school operators by assisting schools in developing meaningful measures of student performance and supporting schools during the incubation and planning period.
  • Provide meaningful and transparent oversight by using information and technology to streamline compliance, using site visits strategically, and approaching oversight with a sense of purpose and respect for schools’ autonomy.
  • Hold schools accountable for meeting performance goals, including intervening early as problems arise and closing or renewing schools based on solid evidence.

All of the activities and processes described in Part I are important elements of effective charter authorizing. But the quality of what charter authorizers can accomplish is dependent not only on what the authorizers do—the set of practices described in this guide that authorizers must undertake well in order to be successful—but also is dependent on the broader policy environment in which authorizers operate. Accordingly, Part II of this guide describes the kinds of policy factors that can either support or hinder quality charter authorizing practices.

The policy issues that affect each entity’s ability to authorize high-quality charter schools include:

  • Level and type of external accountability;
  • Level of operational autonomy;
  • Vulnerability to political change;
  • Limits on charter school growth; and
  • Level and type of funding.

As interviews with the authorizers profiled in this guide revealed with clarity, each authorizer operates in a unique environment that has its own set of challenges and opportunities. The strength of many of these offices is that they are able to operate effectively—and to find opportunity—in spite of the policy constraints (such as legal restrictions on the number of charter schools) that could easily limit their effectiveness.

Part III of this guide offers profiles of each of the eight authorizers that are highlighted throughout Parts I and II. The profiles cover the history of each of these authorizers and provide more detail on the contexts in which they operate.

Table 1. Selected Variables of Profiled Authorizers and Their Schools (Data collected as of 2005-06 school year unless otherwise noted)

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Last Modified: 05/26/2009