Implications for Authorizing
Authorizing shapes the quality and availability of schools in communities and this new data reveals a much more diverse school pipeline than the charter sector is often credited for.
But given that charter school waitlists continue to grow, and many children still lack access to good school options, the findings underscore the need for more charter school applicants, the need for better prepared applicants, and the need for smarter evaluation of applications.
To best respond to these research findings and the needs they underscore, authorizers will have to do more than just build a stronger set of technical skills among their staff. Authorizers will have to step up and demonstrate leadership in their communities—acting as catalysts, rather than passive recipients and evaluators of proposals. Our north star must always be creating more great schools for children.
As we continue to analyze the charter school pipeline, there is much to learn, especially at the local level. We look forward to continuing the conversation about what authorizing leadership looks like and how we can together create more great schools for millions more children.
Authorizers should identify community needs and actively cultivate a pipeline of potential schools that respond to those needs.
This starts with authorizers assessing application data through a lens of what will provide better schools for children, and constantly revaluating through this lens. Does a comparison of proposed schools versus approved schools reveal any surprising trends? Are the proposals and approvals seeking to serve neighborhoods and students most in need? If not, why not? What can be done about that?
As part of this assessment, authorizers must engage with their communities, especially parents and families. What do parents and other stakeholders value and need? What types of schools are they seeking? How does this align with other data and evidence?
It’s important for authorizers to signal that meeting local needs is a critical strategy to increase, not restrict, opportunities for students and communities. This could mean asking applicants to describe the specific need they are addressing and processes they went through to identify it. It could mean authorizers issuing a call for proposals that outlines priorities for the coming application cycle, among other strategies. How can authorizers signal an eagerness for more and different kinds of school proposals? How can authorizers help applicants work with their communities to develop proposals, not just check boxes? Authorizers must also stand up to charter school critics that seek to give the false impression that there is not community need for more good schools.
Authorizers should collaborate with partners to increase the pipeline of strong applications.
Community leaders, advocates, incubators, and philanthropists all have a role in creating an ecosystem of quality schools for all students, with a healthy pipeline of qualified, diverse school proposals. Authorizers can use their unique perspectives to identify additional factors that communities need to increase the number of strong applications, and who else is needed to fill the gaps. For instance, what if a city lacks an incubator? What can partners do to fill that gap?
Additionally, authorizers must recognize and address inequitable access to the resources and support it takes to craft school proposals. A group of local teachers or community members with a great idea for a new school does not have the same access to resources and support as a large management organization. Authorizers should take a leadership role, working with partners to identify and target support to promising yet under-resourced potential applicants.
Authorizers must be ready and able to evaluate a wide range of proposals while maintaining high standards.
The differences between the percentage of applications proposed and approved in this report are likely the result of authorizers screening applications for quality and denying deficient proposals. It’s also likely that some authorizers are missing opportunities to open more schools that would benefit students, especially when evaluating certain models, freestanding proposals, or those that lack external support.
With a healthy, reinvigorated pipeline, all authorizers will at some point receive a proposal they have never or rarely seen, one that may have only an indirect evidence base, or an application that looks great but lacks the backing of a management organization or philanthropy. How can authorizing processes change to evaluate these proposals so the next great school isn’t missed? How can authorizers focus on evaluating the school leadership team’s ability to run a successful school, not its ability to craft an application that checks all the boxes?