The authorizer mystique

Guest Blogger

Guest blogger Alex Medler is the VP for Research and Evaluation at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). Medler chaired the board of directors of Colorado's Charter School Institute, a statewide charter authorizer.

When people hear about a charter school that is struggling, it's pretty easy to second guess the school's authorizer.? If a charter applicant is not ready to open a great school, they shouldn't get a charter.? And if a charter school is failing, the authorizer should close it down.? Otherwise, the authorizer should stay the heck out of the way!? Sounds like simple work. Why then are there so many charter schools out there that we wouldn't send our own children to? And why do we hear so many stories about authorizers crushing the autonomy of ?their schools??

Good authorizing shouldn't be a mystery.? It is a set of practices that can be performed well or badly.? The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA ) captures these best practices in its Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing. The challenge is getting all authorizers to embrace and implement practices that will maintain high standards for all schools, while still protecting each school's autonomy as well as the rights of students and the public.? Otherwise, weak applicants will continue to get approved; failing schools will stay open; and everyone else will be needled by their overzealous authorizer overlords.[pullquote]Some authorizers refuse to provide quality control. Others want to do a good job, but lack the resources to do their work.[/pullquote]

Some authorizers refuse to provide quality control. Others want to do a good job, but lack the resources to do their work. Too many authorizers fall short of our expectations because they don't know what to do; or they know what they want to do, but they have been too busy to put in place all those practices.

Regardless of the reason for not implementing best practices, NACSA is launching an effort to take the mystery out of bad charter school authorizing.? Achieving authorizer accountability is a multi-stage task. First, articulate a set of essential practices based on our Principles and Standards that all authorizers should implement.? Second, gather data on the practices of all the nation's large authorizers.? Third, report whether or not each authorizer is doing these tasks.

To further this strategy, NACSA recently released a major study that grades the nation's authorizers on a 12-point Index of Essential Practices. Taking data from more than 120 authorizers who responded to our 2011 survey of authorizers, the study reports whether each authorizer implements each of the recommended practices.

The next steps will rely on people on the ground.? The goal of this endeavor is to shine light on the role of authorizers in the charter school movement and to initiate much-needed conversations about improving charter school quality by ratcheting up the quality of authorizers' practices.? We hope authorizers will look at the index and see which practices they need to add.? Of course, just adopting a practice doesn't mean an authorizer does it well.? Authorizers also need to ask themselves how they can strengthen the practices they already have in place.? Policymakers and other leaders can also use the data to examine individual authorizers as well as the whole set of authorizers serving a particular state.

Authorizers have a profound responsibility.? Observers are justified in demanding that all authorizers fulfill their public obligations.? More transparency about charter school authorizers and their practices should take some of the mystery out of their work and its impact on kids.

-Alex Medler

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