Calls to close loophole known as “authorizer shopping” in order to provide better opportunities for kids
A new report released today by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) finds authorizer shopping—when a charter school chooses or changes its authorizer specifically to avoid accountability—is an ongoing threat to charter school quality throughout the nation. The report, “Authorizing Shopping: Lessons from Experience and Ideas for the Future,” provides five mini-case studies of the practice in action and calls for changes to practices and policies to prevent it.
“As authorizers and states have increased performance expectations for charter schools, failing schools have taken advantage of loopholes in state policy to remain open,” said Greg Richmond, NACSA President and CEO. “This goes against everything quality authorizing stands for, which is to ensure that only great schools given the privilege of educating our children.”
The report includes detailed cases of shopping—from the initial charter application to the closure process—in Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. In many cases, a school facing non-renewal or closure will seek a new authorizer to keep it open. In other cases, an authorizer will close a low-performing school, only to later see that school “recycled” with a new name and new authorizer.
“Authorizers play an important role ensuring quality public school options exist for students and families,” concluded Ethan Gray of Education Cities. “Authorizer shopping creates real problems for those working to increase access to great public schools in cities across the country, and must be addressed.”
“Problematic authorizing shopping takes many forms, but always starts with an attempt to avoid accountability,” said John Hedstrom, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at NACSA. “The good news is there are known policies and practices we can adopt at the state level to help make sure no one is open for business when a failing school goes out shopping.”
The paper provides a suite of solutions that authorizers, policymakers and advocates can use to create a solution that works in their local context, including:
- Tackle authorizing shopping head on by defining problematic shopping and creating sanctions in legislation. States like Indiana have passed legislation requiring authorizers to share data with one another in cases of potential shopping, raising awareness of bad actors and helping prevent shopping “success.”
- Enact accountability for authorizers with professional standards, authorizer performance evaluations, and sanctions for failing portfolios. States like Minnesota require the state commission to review each authorizer’s performance at least every five years. The commissioner can subject authorizers to sanctions if they have failing portfolios or do not meet quality standards.
- Set a threshold for default closure so any school performing below the accepted threshold must close, eliminating the possibility of “shopping” to avoid accountability.
- Use rigorous approval and renewal processes. If a state’s authorizer are consistent and rigorous in their processes and professional standards, low-performing schools will have nowhere to shop.
The report is the result of detailed interviews with participants spanning nine states, and a May 2015 working group hosted by NACSA and Education Cities. More than 20 interviews were conducted with key stakeholders across the country, and more than 30 participants representing authorizers, state charter associations, policymakers, and education leaders convened to explore the causes and impacts of authorizing shopping and potential solutions.
NACSA has a long-standing interest in preventing authorizing shopping, given its focus on growing a quality charter sector.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) is an independent voice for effective charter school policy and thoughtful charter authorizing practices that lead to more great public schools. Our research, policy, and consultation work advances excellence and accountability in the charter school sector. With authorizers and other partners, we have built the gold standard for charter school authorizing. Through smart charter school growth, these authorizers will give hundreds of thousands of children an opportunity for a better education each year. More at www.qualitycharters.org.