The State of Charter School Authorizing 2011

In its fourth
annual report
, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers
offers a snapshot of the nation’s charter sponsors, capturing their size, their
shape, and how many schools they open and shutter. For example, the majority of
the nation’s authorizers are local education agencies (52 percent), and an even
greater percentage are small (86 percent authorized fewer than six schools). More
interestingly, charter-closure rates are on the decline. Just 6.2 percent of
the nation’s charter schools up for renewal were shuttered (or non-renewed) in
2010-11, down from 8.8 percent the year before and 12.6 percent in 2008-09.
Unfortunately, NACSA doesn’t link these stats to performance data, meaning that
we can’t know if this trend indicates increased quality of charters, leniency
of authorizers, or political pressures to keep them open. Digging further,
NACSA reports that nonprofit authorizers (like Fordham) represent the smallest
percentage of those that oversee charter schools but employ the most of NACSA’s
own dozen “essential
practices
.” They’ve also closed more schools, on average, than other types
of authorizers (including districts, institutions of higher ed, and independent
chartering boards). Likewise, authorizers with a larger portfolio of schools
were more likely to implement NACSA’s guidelines. Back in the fall, Andy
Rotherham argued
that we need to embrace risk-taking and consider that
establishing a vibrant charter sector means occasionally allowing the creation
of schools that turn out to falter. NACSA’s rather different view is not that
the charter approval process should avoid all risk but, rather, that
authorizers at least ask the right questions before okaying a school’s launch. Rotherham
is right that the price of innovation includes some failures. But until we adopt
the right benchmarks at the beginning, we should be less patient about living
with them.

National Association of Charter School Authorizers, The State of Charter School Authorizing 2011
(Chicago, IL: National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 2012).

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