Ranking charter school laws' authorizer provisions

Back in 2012, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) began evaluating and ranking state charter laws based on eight policies they consider “cornerstones of charter school excellence.” These policies—quite reasonable in our view—are based on the principles of access, autonomy, and accountability and require each state to:

  1. Have at least two high quality authorizers, one of which is an alternative to the local district
  2. Endorse national professional authorizer standards
  3. Evaluate authorizers regularly or as needed
  4. Sanction authorizers that do not meet professional standards or that oversee persistently failing schools
  5. Require authorizers to report annually and publicly on the academic performance of each school they oversee
  6. Require authorizers to maintain charter contracts with academic performance expectations, and encourage high-performers to replicate
  7. Maintain strong renewal standards that permit authorizers to hold schools accountable for failing to meet academic expectations
  8. Close charter schools that perform below an established threshold of academic performance

In their latest annual state policy analysis, NACSA notes a few key changes from last year. Michigan, for instance, gets props for establishing default closure for schools that perform beneath a minimum threshold. Missouri smoothed the way for high-performing charters to replicate, and now mandates annual charter school performance reports. Kudos also go out to Washington for the advocacy campaign that restored the state’s charter law, and to New York’s courts for upholding authorizers’ right to implement “a strong standard of renewal.”

As for rankings, the results are largely similar to the previous year’s report. The forty-four states with charter laws were evaluated based on the eight cornerstone policies, and could earn up to thirty-three points on NACSA’s rubric. The top three states—Indiana, Nevada, and Washington—tie for first place with perfect scores; Ohio and Alabama follow with thirty-two and thirty-one points, respectively.

The report notes that while some states, like Nevada, have risen in the rankings after adopting NACSA’s recommended policies in response to concerns over sector quality, other states, like Alabama, have newer charter laws and thus don’t yet have evidence of implementation outcomes. And it’s fair to point that that some states with great charter school outcomes—like New York—get only middling scores from NACSA—proof that not all that matters can be easily measured.

The lowest-ranking states—Oregon, Wyoming, Alaska, Maryland, Virginia, and Kansas in order—earn between five and zero points—with the last-place Sunflower State the only to get a glaring goose egg.

The most informative part of the report by far, though, is the individual state profiles and their detailed breakdown of each state’s status. These profiles don’t just show points earned, overall score, and ranking, but also include a description of the state’s charter landscape, a comparison between last year and this year’s scores, and specific recommendations to improve the quality of charter school oversight in that particular state. 

Overall, NACSA’s latest report is a useful analysis that both identifies problems and offers solutions. Despite their focus on improving charter law, however, the authors are careful to admit that good policy is only part of the equation—committed advocates and rigorous implementation are also vital.

SOURCE: “On the Road to Great Charter Schools: State Policy Analysis 2016,” National Association of Charter School Authorizers, (December 2016).

Jessica Poiner
Jessica Poiner is an Education Policy Analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.