High-quality charter schools start with high-quality authorizing.
So, what differentiates great authorizing leaders from the pack? Our evidence shows that, in addition to abiding by national best practices, the best authorizers in the field have three qualities in common:
- Leadership: Great authorizers are dedicated to a mission of giving more children access to better schools through the proactive creation and replication of high-quality charter schools and the closure of academically low-performing ones.
- Commitment: Great authorizers reflect their institution’s commitment to quality authorizing. Authorizing is visible, championed, and adequately resourced, rather than buried in a bureaucracy. The people responsible for day-to-day authorizing functions have influence over decision making.
- Judgment: Great authorizers make decisions based on what will drive student outcomes, not based on checking boxes or on personal beliefs.
Our research shows this to be true, yet, there seems to be an unsettling trend of legislators ignoring this evidence and pushing unsupportive authorizers—: either by tapping institutions to authorize without seeking their input or establishing processes to mandate districts to authorize. It is hard to imagine the path for unwilling authorizers to become great ones and deliver exceptional results for students and communities.
NACSA supports the expansion of quality authorizing, but quality is the key. Forcing unwilling entities to be authorizers will not lead to an expansion of quality options. However, there are instances where expansion of authorizing is needed and warranted. If authorizing is getting stuck in political fights that prevent high-quality schools from being established or from growing, states should consider other approaches to growing quality options, such as authorizing expansion.
- New authorizers should apply, or at least register, in order to authorize: Only institutions that have a strong desire, understanding, and commitment to quality should authorize charter schools. That’s why new school district authorizers and non-district authorizers should be required to apply to the state for the ability to authorize. If they are only required to register, then they should at least provide a strong public rationale of commitment and capacity. It is then the state’s responsibility to ensure any new authorizer is able to execute critical authorizing functions exceptionally well, in service of excellent schools.
- State policy should endorse professional standards for quality charter school authorizing: State policy should require all authorizers to meet high standards, ideally based on NACSA’s Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing.
- A state entity should evaluate authorizers on their practices as well as the performance of their school portfolio: In most circumstances, the entity responsible for evaluating authorizers is the state’s Department of Education (sometimes known as a State Education Agency, or SEA). In some states, responsibility for conducting evaluations may rest with other parties, such as a legislative committee.
- A state entity should enforce consequences for authorizers with bad practices or those with a high proportion of persistently failing schools: Authorizers should face sanctions, including removal of authority to authorize schools, removal of authority to authorize new schools, and transfer of schools to other authorizers. However, a state policy of authorizer sanctions may be counterproductive quality public school option when there is only one authorizer in the state or particular jurisdiction. In states with limited authorizers, standards can still inform expectations and evaluations, but they must enable efforts to improve practices rather than harming applicants’ or charter schools’ access to authorizers.
Students, families, and communities are rightly demanding high-quality, innovative, and equitable educational opportunities. We must listen. We must act. We must deliver on their demands for quality.