Getting tough on charter authorizing

Ohio has long struggled with the issues related to charter school quality. While policy improvements have been made in recent years, it is refreshing to see State Superintendent Dick Ross and his team walking the walk, when it comes to cracking down on poor charter-authorizing practices. One can read the details in a Columbus Dispatch piece that cites unacceptable conditions—including fights, spotty food service, inaccurate tracking of students, and failure to educate students—at two brand-new charter schools authorized by the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center.

Charter school authorizers, of which Fordham is one, play a critical yet largely unrecognized role in the life cycle of a charter school. For those unaware, authorizers (also called “sponsors”) are the entities responsible for reviewing new school applications; granting a charter (or not); monitoring the school’s educational, fiscal, governance, and operational health once the school is up and running; making charter-renewal decisions; and, when necessary, closing schools. In Ohio, a charter school authorizer may be a nonprofit organization (like Fordham), a traditional school district’s board of education, a state university, an educational service center, or the Ohio Department of Education.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) acknowledges that authorizing is complex work that requires specialized knowledge, skills, and commitment. Authorizing also requires adherence to professional standards; indeed, NACSA’s Principles & Standards are widely recognized in the field as the gold standard of charter school authorizing. Institutions that do authorizing well purposefully develop internal structures and devote human and financial capital to their work. Resources are available to do the work, but all the resources in the world are nothing without institutional commitment.

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