Authorizing Data in Depth: Discipline

What role should authorizers play in overseeing and holding charter schools accountable for school discipline policies and practices?

School discipline and charter schools continues to be a “hot topic” in education reform, receiving continuous national and local media attention. In order to begin understanding authorizer perspectives and actions, NACSA surveyed the nation’s authorizers on a number of topics related to school discipline. Here is what survey respondents told NACSA.

For a further examination of authorizer practices and perspectives on school discipline, read our report “Authorizers Are Not Monolithic on School Discipline.”

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Authorizing Practices & School Discipline


  • NACSA asked authorizers if they use certain application, oversight, and accountability practices for school discipline, either currently, or at least once over the last two years.
  • Authorizer use of these specific practices varies markedly. Seventy percent or more require applicants to submit discipline plans and collect and monitor suspension and expulsion rates. Far fewer publicly report suspension and expulsion rates, and very few set expectations for suspension and expulsion rates.


Authorizing Practices & School Discipline Challenges

  • Authorizers were asked which practices addressing school discipline challenges they would require of authorized schools. “Yes” responses mean either the practice was used over the last two years, the practice is currently in place, or the authorizer would consider using this practice in the future.
  • A very low percent of authorizers have, are, or will consider requiring schools to use a range of interventions. The most frequently cited practice was requiring schools to change their remediation/action plans (26%), and the least frequently mentioned practice was revoking or not renewing a charter for persistent school discipline policy violations (4%).


Authorizing Perspectives on School Discipline

  • Authorizers were asked about their perspectives on school discipline rates, performance expectations, and autonomy on a scale from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree), with 3 being “neither agree nor disagree.”
  • For these questions, a relatively high percentage of authorizers appear to be “neutral.” In all but one response, the percentage of authorizers who neither agreed nor disagreed was higher than the proportion of authorizers who agreed or strongly agreed and the proportion of authorizers who disagreed or strongly disagreed.
  • Authorizers appear to be split on the degree to which charter schools should have full autonomy in suspension and expulsion practices, with 36% indicating they agree or strongly agree, 35% disagree or strongly disagree, and 28 percent neither agree nor disagree.



Since 2008, NACSA has annually surveyed our nation’s authorizers. Along the way, we have learned about current practices, challenges, strengths, and shortcomings in authorizing. Survey findings provide an annual measuring stick for those in the field of authorizing, and they help education decision makers, foundations, legislators, and researchers inform their understanding of the field of charter school authorizing.

The 2015 survey asked authorizers to complete 107 questions on a range of topics related to charter school authorizing, as well as perspectives and practices on discipline and special education. Typically the authorizing organization’s day-to-day decision maker (e.g. charter school director, executive director, superintendent) responds to NACSA’s survey, not authorizer governing board members. Thus, data drawn for this paper represent the perspectives and practices of authorizers as understood and executed by day-to-day decision makers, and are not necessarily an official position of the authorizing institution.

NACSA intentionally seeks a near universal sampling of authorizers with large portfolios (authorizers overseeing 10 or more schools) resulting in an expansive and representative sample of those authorizers, but also in underrepresentation of other authorizers. The sample of authorizers participating in the survey (N=164) includes authorizers from every state with charter schools. They collectively oversee just over 70 percent of all U.S. charter schools. Approximately 75 percent of all large authorizers participated in the 2015 survey, and the sample is highly representative of those authorizers (by portfolio size, type, and region). The authorizer to school ratio in this sample is 1 to 28.0 (or 28 schools per authorizer), compared to an approximate national rate of 1 to 6.5 (or 6.5 schools per authorizer). Relative to all authorizers nationally (irrespective of portfolio size), the sample contains a lower proportion of school district authorizers (61 percent compared to 90 percent nationally), and a slightly higher proportion of higher education, state charter board, state board/department of education, and not-for-profit authorizers. The sample also contains a lower proportion of authorizers from the western U.S. (35 percent compared to 49 percent nationally) and a higher proportion of authorizers from southern states (28 percent compared to 15 percent nationally).