I've been attending the NACSA conference in Savannah, GA. Yesterday's luncheon speaker was Steve Barr, the Founder and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools. The teachers at the failing Locke HS in Los Angeles recently voted to have Green Dot take over their school. During one of the meetings leading up to this vote, a teacher said, "The only time the district [Los Angeles Unified School District] comes out to our school is when someone gets shot and the only time our teacher's union comes out is when Green Dot is here." Green Dot's mission is to change the second-largest school district in the nation (LA Unified) rather than creating numerous charter schools across the nation.
There's been lots of discussion about two hot topics to charter authorizers: management companies and how to hold charter schools accountable. In Colorado, many authorizers (school districts) still operate with old policies that don't contemplate receiving a charter application from a management company. It's common for routine disclosure information not to be included in the charter application, which leads to problems during the hearing phase.
Many authorizers realize how important the interview process is. In fact, today I heard someone say the interview should be with the full board and that it's also a good idea to have the management company representatives leave the room during part of the interview. This allows the authorizer to determine how much individual board members know about their charter application and especially, the mission of the school.
State laws differ considerably. Several authorizers from other states manage the charter school governing board process to the point where they "approve" individual board members after they've undergone a criminal background check and an interview. Some state charter laws encourage this type of behavior by requiring authorizers to "appoint" governing board members. For states like Colorado, asking for the charter board's bylaws and basic policies, such as Conflict of Interest policies, brings out the type of information an authorizer needs to have in order to make a sound decision on a charter application. I found it interesting in discussions the last two days that nepotism is commonly frowned upon and yet so many authorizers in Colorado fail to even ask the charter applicant how they would handle that issue. A charter founding team being related to each other is not a sufficient reason to deny a charter application, but it may be indicative of how the charter school board will operate, if approved.
Accountability is another hot topic. Authorizers have varied beliefs on what type of data should be monitored and evaluated. There is consensus, however, that the measures should be varied, meaningful and agreed upon in the application and contract phase.
Additionally, I've been pleased to hear so many people focusing on academic excellence in charter schools. In the early years of the charter movement, quantity was emphasized over quality. That has definitely shifted!