Sunday, July 12, 2015

Authorizer Reputations

Charter school authorizers have a reputation with the charter schools they authorize. Some are very friendly and respect the autonomy of charter schools. Some authorizers change over time and so does their reputation. Denver is a good example of this. During the first year of charter school applications in Colorado, Denver denied an application from the Thurgood Marshall middle school. That denial eventually made it's way to the state Supreme Court. That's how hard Denver fought that charter school application!

There are a potential of 179 authorizers in Colorado since all school districts and the state Charter School Institute can authorize charter schools.

When the Charter Schools Act became law in 1993, it was for a group of charter school founders to operate autonomously, separately from their district. Many leaders in the charter school community have repeatedly expressed concerns about recreating the bureaucracy that we created the Charter Schools Act to separate from.

At least one charter school authorizer in Colorado has exceeded the bureaucracy and imposed a heavy level of control, far worse than many school district. The charter school community has been talking about this authorizer and the "gotcha" mentality conveyed to its charter schools.

If charter schools are operating successfully, the philosophy is that they should be able to operate with autonomy in exchange for results. This one authorizer, instead, imposes higher standards, which are far beyond that of a district-operated school. Should charter schools be held to a standard higher than other public schools? Should the performance metrics be different -- and higher -- for charter schools?

Most charter schools just want to be treated fairly. This means a professional working relationship built on trust, respect and transparency. Charter school leaders relish the opportunity to exceed the performance of their district-operated counterparts if that aligns with their mission and is supported by a solid curriculum. But what about the schools that have a different educational philosophy that doesn't align with the state's accountability system? For example, a dual language immersion charter school may sacrifice Reading achievement in the early elementary grades for language acquisition and instead prioritize academic achievement at higher grade levels. Still other charter schools don't place value on the state assessment system, that keeps changing, and instead focuses on the ACT or internal assessments such as NWEA's MAPS.

What is "fair" in charter school authorizing? Allowing the charter school to set goals to match its vision and mission is important. These discussions should occur when the charter school application is being considered. The evaluation of a charter school's success should not change over time, or at the whim of the charter school authorizer.

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