We spend plenty of time talking about the why and how of our work, as we seek to ensure more high-quality, innovative, and equitable educational opportunities for children. But every few years, it’s critical that we also talk about the who. Who is doing the work of charter school authorizing today, how is that changing, and why does that matter?
Today we release Authorizing by the Numbers, a comprehensive study of the numbers and types of authorizers, the size of their portfolios, and how authorizing has changed from 2016 to 2020. We invite you to explore this new data. Here are some key themes:
Fewer authorizers oversee more charter schools, and the data suggests that’s generally a good thing.
There were nearly 70 net fewer authorizers in 2020 compared to 2016, but remaining authorizers oversee a growing charter school sector. Authorizers exiting the profession oversaw few charter schools: 95% of authorizers exiting oversaw three or fewer schools, including more than three–quarters that oversaw only one school. Exiting authorizers also seem to be confined to just a few multi–authorizer states, including places that implemented state policies designed to evaluate and strengthen authorizing, like Ohio and Minnesota. It’s also notable that there are some additional Independent Charter Board (ICB) and State Education Agency (SEA) authorizers, as they tend to have the requisite capacity and commitment to execute authorizing responsibilities well–two important elements linked to strong student and public interest outcomes–and have grown their portfolios of schools more rapidly than other authorizer types.
There is churn among school district authorizers.
The vast majority of institutions leaving and entering authorizing are school district authorizers overseeing few charter schools. It’s important that new authorizers have the requisite capacity, foundational practices, and long–term vision for authorizing, something state policy can help advance. While school districts remain the biggest group of authorizers, the data also shows that they do not oversee the majority of our nation’s charter schools: only 48% of all charters were overseen by districts in 2020, down from 52% in 2016.
As high–quality charter schooling expands, innovative thinking about who authorizes could be key to expanding quality opportunities for students.
NACSA will continue to support policies that enable potential charter schools to have access to more than one quality authorizer within
a state, along with policies and practices ensuring that multiple authorizers do not dilute quality. Now is an excellent time—as public education leaders work harder to listen and respond to the aspirations and needs of local communities—to imagine new possibilities for
authorizing. Some worth exploring include Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), career and technical colleges and universities, and mayors offices. These, and other interesting ideas like specialized authorizing focused on new ways of organizing teaching and learning, not only can provide high–quality, innovative, and equitable educational opportunities, but may also lead to a more diverse, thriving profession resulting in stronger student outcomes.
Over the coming months, we will explore these and other key themes more deeply to extract key learnings for authorizing, policymaking, and other school oversight approaches. Be on the lookout for additional data, perspectives, webinars, and more.
We’ll also discuss the impact of this research at our upcoming leadership conference, NACSACon 2022: Excellence from Communities. If you haven’t already registered, it isn’t too late! Come and be part of some fascinating and inspiring conversations as we build the future