Thursday, October 18, 2012

Implementing the School Leaders and Teachers Evaluation Law

There's been much discussion about how charter schools should implement SB 10-191, the Ensuring School Quality Through Educator Effectiveness law that was adopted in 2010.

Like many education laws, this one isn't a very good match for charter schools because it was intended for general public schools. The needs of charter schools are quite often different. Many public school districts are bound by collective bargaining agreements, or teacher's union contracts. Quite the opposite, charter schools utilize at-will employment and many of them also use performance pay systems.

The law requires principals and teachers to be evaluated using a system that takes in to account student academic performance for at least 50% of their performance evaluation.

This portion of the statutes, C.R.S. 22-9-106, is one of the 13 statutes automatically waived for charter schools by the State Board of Education. However, guidance from the department states that charter schools may waive this law, but they still must meet the legislative intent.

Which leads to the role of the charter school authorizer in implementing the law. It is the authorizer that submits the waiver request to the department for State Board approval and therefore needs to approve of the replacement plan and rationale for the waiver before it is submitted.

At least one authorizer in the state doesn't think SB 191 is relevant for charter schools, many of which have more sophisticated or higher standards in their performance evaluation systems, and isn't going to ensure compliance. Still other districts believe it has the obligation to ensure compliance by ensuring the charter school's replacement plan and rationale meet the legislative intent of SB 191.

This can be monitored and evaluated in a variety of ways. First, charter contract language should be updated to include annual evaluation of the lead administrator by the governing board and annual evaluation of the teaching staff by administration. Second, the Annual Performance Report (APR) should contain an item for the charter school to show their evaluation instruments and relevant board policies to the district.

It should be noted that the charter school shouldn't need to show the results of these evaluations to the district, only evidence that they were conducted according to policy.

As with most issues, charter schools should be held accountable for results. The schools already have the means to hold their staff accountable via at-will employment so if their academic achievement needs to be improved, they have the mechanism already in place to make a change.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Interviewing Potential Charter School Leaders

In authorizer vernacular it's called a "capacity interview." This means staff, representing the board that will vote on the charter school application, interviews the founding committee or board of the proposed charter school.

Typically, when district staff reviews a charter application, comments and questions are recorded for each component of the application. Many of these questions will be asked of the applicants and the applicants will be asked to either respond in writing or verbally.

Sometimes the questions stem from just needing further clarification about something that was written in the application. Sometimes the questions serve to elucidate who came up with a particular concept for the educational program or the motivation to start a new charter school. An astute authorizer will also use the interview process to get additional documentation that will eventually become an issue for contract negotiations. For example, if the plan to serve disabled students isn't comprehensive enough, additional documentation will serve to clarify roles should the application be approved.

It's considered a best practice by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to have a capacity interview. Many authorizers make decisions about whether or not a proposed charter school should be approved by the capacity of the founders to open and operate a brand new school. While many people have good ideas, not everyone has the capacity to actually make the ideas come to reality.

In a day and age when charter school applications are online, it's easy for an applicant to pull together a good application. It's quite another to do the work of recruiting students, registering them, hiring a staff, ordering furniture and equipment, training teachers before the doors open, and training the governing board.

A strong founding committee makes their charter application come to life through the passion they express during the interview. This conveys the sense that the founders will do whatever it takes to make sure their school is successful.