Quality Authorizing for Online and Blended-Learning Charter Schools

A new monograph from the National Association of Charter
School Authorizers examines authorizer (aka sponsor) oversight practices for
online and “blended” (online instruction combined with traditional classroom
instruction) charter schools, and finds that the development of authorizing
practices for these schools lags behind the rate at which such schools are
opening across the county.

According to the report, online authorizing practices –
including the review of applications, school renewal, and annual oversight –
are still in their early stages. (It’s worth noting, though, that some online
programs are roughly 10 years old; one hopes that this finding is limited to
states where online schools are much newer.) The report also finds that
accounting for student achievement is a challenge, given the sometimes unique
situations of students in online/blended schools (e.g., students who enroll in
online school temporarily to deal with an unusual life circumstance); that
governing boards of online schools sometimes do not have the expertise or
capacity to adequately oversee the school; that special education presents
special challenges in an online context; and, that funding levels and methods
for enrollment counts are in flux at a policy level in several states.

Some of these issues are not unique to online/blended
models; for example, governance and funding present challenges for any
authorizer of any type of charter school. And there are of course minimum
performance expectations that can and should be written into a charter (aka
contract for sponsorship) regardless of whether the school is online, blended,
or brick and mortar (e.g., goals for academic and operational performance).

Most importantly, the report points out that policy must
keep pace with the growth of online learning. The absence of best authorizing
practices could hamper the long-term viability and quality of online and
blended programs which, to be sure, will be part of the nation’s K-12
educational landscape for the foreseeable future. Note to selves, Ohio, on both
the online and blended fronts.

Authorizing for Online and Blended-Learning Charter Schools

National Association of Charter School Authorizers
John Watson and Chris Rapp
April 2011