Authorizer Survey on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
What do authorizers share in common with the students and communities they serve?
From “Super Sessions” to panels, and from hallway chats to dinner conversations, diversity (in all its forms) was a central theme at our recent NACSA Leadership Conference in Atlanta.
It was clear that the profession of authorizing must grow what it knows—and what it does—specific to diversity, equity, and inclusion. One conference participant put it bluntly: “We don’t even know the basics about diversity and authorizers, and we need NACSA to help lead in this space.”
NACSA is, in fact, already digging into that work. In collaboration with Bellwether Education Partners, we recently surveyed the field to learn more about just who is authorizing our nation’s charter schools.
Among authorizers overseeing 10 or more schools, we asked leaders (i.e., day-to-day heads of authorizing offices) and select staff about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We learned a lot. Here are five key findings.
- Authorizing leaders experienced challenges in their own K-12 careers. More than one-third (36 percent) of authorizing leaders are the first in their families to attend college, and more than one-third (36 percent) qualified for free or reduced price lunch during their K-12 careers. While these proportions are lower than average charter school student demographics, it demonstrates that authorizing leadership have experienced some of the same access and opportunity challenges many public school students face today.
- Many authorizers are people of color, more than other educational professions but fewer than the students they serve. About one-third of authorizing leaders are people of color as are an estimated 44 percent of authorizing staff. While these percentages are lower than students of color served by charter schools in many places across the country (approximately 65 percent of charter school students are of color nationally) these percentages are higher than the nation’s teaching and educational leadership workforce.
- Authorizing leaders are parents. Nearly 70 percent of authorizing leaders are parents and/or guardians. This suggests most authorizing leaders are intimately familiar with the opportunities and challenges of family life and raising children.
- Authorizing leaders have long-standing connections—including as teachers—to the communities they serve. Of all authorizing leaders, 40 percent have lived for more than a decade in the community where they authorize schools. Moreover, more than one-third (36 percent) were teachers in a school in the community where they authorize, and more than one-half (54 percent) were born and raised in the region of the country where they authorize charter schools.
- Beliefs in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion are high, but actions are low. Among a select group of authorizing staff across the country, while 78 percent believed their authorizing organization valued diversity and worked to create an inclusive environment for staff of all backgrounds, only 30 percent felt authorizing leaders prioritized diversity, equity, and inclusion. Moreover, only 24 percent of staff indicated their organization sets measurable goals related to diversity, equity, and inclusion and tracks progress towards those goals.
These facts paint a picture of a profession that is more connected to the experiences and challenges of public school students and parents than one might think.
This data also provides all of us with a deeper understanding of the authorizing profession’s room for growth. Let’s work together with this knowledge to address these challenges, learn from each other, and strengthen the authorizing profession.
THOUGHTS FROM THE FIELD
“Let’s be honest: in most authorizing offices and in most districts, we don’t reflect the student demographics of the students that we’re there to serve. I am proud that we have a decent amount of diversity in our charter authorizing office, but it still is not reflective in any way, shape, or form—especially when you get to the socioeconomic components—of the students that we’re serving…”
— DawnLynne Kacer, Executive Director, Charter Schools Office, School District of Philadelphia
“I’m glad that we as a sector aren’t ducking the tough conversations on this issue because I think, as a nation—I’m an old civics teacher, so I’m all about civil discourse—that’s the way that we’ve made progress on these things. We can be a model—we authorizers, we the charter school community—for other sectors of how we confront these issues. Not pretend that they don’t exist, not paper over them, and not get into shouting matches at each other or talking past each other on these issues, but instead really deeply engage, try to understand the other side.”
— Colleston Morgan, Chief Strategy Officer, Orleans Parish School Board
“I do think that racial issues within our country are at an all-time high… And I realize that, in a lot of ways, those issues are distinct from education and charter schools. But the vast majority of our students are African-American, when we look at our public school population. So, inevitably, those issues are impacting our students and they’re impacting our charter school students as well. I think, as a charter school authorizer, it’s important to see those connections.”
— Aarti Sharma, Director, District Flexibility and Charter Schools, Georgia Department of Education