NACSA asked authorizers throughout the country to give us their feedback on the Quality Practice Project. Read their response to our questions below.
Why is the QPP project, with its focus on practices linked to outcomes, important for the profession of authorizing?
The QPP project is important because there is so much we as authorizers can learn from each other’s best practices and it is valuable to have these practices linked to outcomes aggregated in a user-friendly manner.
The QPP project is fundamental to advancing authorizing, providing a rigorous look at the practices of authorizers and shining a light on the practices that lead to the best school choices for kids and families. The findings speak to the actions that high quality authorizers – or any individual responsible for the quality of a cluster of autonomous schools – should employ to be a champion for quality and equity for all.
The Quality Practice Project takes the bold step of linking “quality authorizing” with the most important indicator of all: student outcomes. While there is more to explore and study in terms of identifying and understanding best practices in this field, QPP represents an important shift in focus—from inputs to outputs—for both authorizers as well as the charter portfolios they oversee.
In this era of competing resources, high-stakes accountability, and an urgent need to improve outcomes for students of color and poverty, authorizing—and our growing sector of charter schools—will sink or swim on its results. With this urgency as backdrop, the QPP rightly shifts the narrative in our profession from one of inputs to outputs—we’ve spent a lot of time developing sound principles and standards, and now we can evolve these practices based on what works and what does not.
I love one authorizer’s observation that good authorizing ‘isn’t paint by numbers.’ So often in education policy, we want to believe that if we just get the right policies, protocols, and rules we’ll have good results. And good authorizing certainly requires good processes and systems. This report underscores that realizing the promise of the charter bargain—autonomy for accountability—requires much more. Authorizer leadership, culture, and skilled staff executing evidence-based professional judgment are crucial. This should be a call to action for recognizing the importance of authorizing as a profession.
Focusing on outcomes is what gets good schools to kids. The work becomes not about whether a school is a charter, a private school, or a traditional public school, but about whether the school is in the best interest of students and meeting the needs of families and communities.
Great outcomes for kids cannot be disconnected from great authorizing practices. NACSA’s latest project will help authorizers deliver on their responsibility and opportunity to empower and support excellent schools around the country. Bottom line, parents deserve an answer to the most basic question: “Is this a good school?” Great authorizing demands a clear answer when it comes to our students and outcomes.
The Quality Practice Project has been a great opportunity to work with others in the authorizing community, using an evidence-based lens to take stock of authorizing practices across the nation. Education leaders and stakeholders must be willing to think differently and creatively in order to stay relevant and effective. In Massachusetts, our authorizing practices–and judgment in how they are used— help us navigate the creative tension between accountability and autonomy.”
The profession of authorizing has developed in many different ways over the last 20 plus years. The QPP is incredibly important as it seeks to link practices to outcomes and identify those practices that seem to result in high-quality educational opportunities for all students. While the project has not yielded a causal relationship between authorizer practices and outcomes, there are enough successful correlates to draw conclusions that there are indeed best practices that, if applied, result in excellent opportunities for all students.
We have learned over many years, across many states and cities, that good authorizing is more likely to result in a strong charter school sector. NACSA has for years defined the basic building blocks of good authorizing. The QPP project takes that a step further, looking beyond basic practices to more foundational conditions, such as the beliefs, approaches, and organizational structures that characterize strong charter authorizers.”
By incorporating the authorizing practices linked to strong outcomes identified in NACSA’s latest report, authorizers around the country can help charter schools live up to their fullest potential.
What excites me most about the QPP project is the validation that it provides to all authorizers. As authorizers, we worry about whether we are meeting the demands of the authorizing profession as we review applications, monitor active schools, and, unfortunately, close schools that are ineffective. The QPP project is tool that provides a realistic window into many authorizers and assuages the guilt that many of us feel that we aren’t doing everything perfectly. There is no ‘perfect’ and the QPP project helps to delineate what ultimately makes an authorizer successful.
For us we have recently received an Authorizer Evaluation Report from NACSA and we are creating next steps. I’m quite interested in looking at how the practices of Strong Authorizers can influence our improvement plan.
I am looking forward to the QPP report because the report the first of its kind, is ‘research-based,’ documents the subtle, yet powerful, differences between ‘Average Portfolios’ and ‘Strong Portfolios,’ and is very comprehensive analyzing data across multiple practices that ‘matter.’ I am excited to use the QPP as a benchmark for our office to conduct a self-evaluation to help refine our own agenda of practices we wish to improve.
As an authorizing leader in the profession, what excites me most about the QPP project is I can use it as on measurement tool to assess where I fit in the pack; in regards to quality authorizing. I saw areas where I was strong and noticed other areas that I would like to shore up. Additionally, there were several sections that I would love to learn more about, so that I could ensure that I understand the nuances of the comments. I know it is extremely difficult to convey meanings in phrases, and I would like to know more because I am not certain that I agree with some of the points. More importantly, I think that our practices might not align with Best Practice.
Making decisions based on outcomes is at the heart of authorizing. High-functioning authorizers focus on the effectiveness of the academic program in changing students’ trajectories. Getting those measures right is no easy task but it is a critical one. By studying what has worked, what still needs to be learned, NACSA will be able to provide key guidance to authorizers around the country.
Authorizers are the gatekeepers of quality—they are responsible for the quality of, number of, and variety of school choices families and kids have available to them in their community. And just like we have high expectations for our students and schools, we must also have high expectations for authorizers and discuss their outcomes at a systems level to ensure students are getting the best.
Our focus is on giving parents strong choices. We authorize strong schools that not only create a love of learning, but actually ensure students learn. If still more parents want that program, we replicate it, because that gives parents more strong choices. When schools fail to live up to their mission, they close. The Institute’s mission? #moregreatseatsforkids
Outcomes in authorizing matter because it is critical to the ability to constantly measure and analyze the impact of our work and make adjustments to our practices accordingly.
Ultimately, outcomes are why we exist. We can and should debate the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of authorizing—and share and hone our practices around these core functions—but no matter what, the bottom line is whether our practices are driving results for students.
Elliot Smalley, South Carolina Public Charter School District
Unless authorizers place appropriate emphasis on outcomes and refrain from co-opting rhetoric defending the status quo of education, the charter movement risks becoming undermined by the very agencies, boards, and governments charged to protect and promote it.
What one finding from the project do you think will make the biggest difference in advancing quality authorizing in your office?
The one finding from the project that will allow our office to open schools that have the propensity for success is to selectively interview applicants and to analyze the interview thoroughly. Not only is how the question answered important, but the person who takes the lead in answering the questions should be taken into account.
Because we are currently in a process where we are stepping back to look at how we’ve operated for 5 years and what changes we can make to become a stronger authorizer moving forward I think the whole section of Application & School Opening will be particularly helpful. If we can start off with a strong process we can be more likely to have strong schools from the start.
The item that continues to pop out to me that align with my work every day are the [practices] under data obsessed culture. I think ‘Data is actively explored’ is an understatement.
Our office is currently revising some of our Monitoring & Intervention policies and practices; thus, the entire section on Monitoring & Intervention is valuable to our office. One of our goals is to better align our interventions with our monitoring and this section provides a great benchmark for helping us to better craft our policies and practices.
Our office has crafted a mission statement, which vocalizes the purpose of the work of our office and its intended effects in the community. We are liberally sharing this information in our communications. On a personal note, I wish to lead our office in becoming a ‘data obsessed culture.’ I acknowledge that this is one of my weaker areas. I have relied on our Research and Evaluation Department, but there is increasingly high turnover in this position. It is my responsibility to train the individuals, who come to the task from varying backgrounds; and I need to increase my technical knowledge so that I can instruct the individual(s) in the unique needs of charter oversight. This is taking a larger portion of my time and energy.