Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise
States should expand charter school autonomy by waiving most rules that apply to regular public schools, while authorizers should "think twice" before imposing broad policies and schools should "negotiate aggressively" on issues of freedom.
So counsels the executive summary of an April 2010 report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact. The study assesses the extent to which state law and authorizers impact charter school autonomy, finding that, on average, states earn a B- for the freedom conferred on their charter schools.
The study examined charter laws in the 26 states that are home to more than 90 percent of the nation’s charter schools and charter contracts for 100 schools associated with the nation’s 50 most active authorizers. It found that charter schools were most likely to face restrictions on teacher certification, revising their charters, and making mid-course changes to their programs, while they enjoyed the greatest autonomy over curricula, school calendars, teacher work rules, staff dismissals, and procurement.
The study identified state laws as the primary sources of constraint on charter school autonomy. While grading charter school autonomy at an average B- nationwide, nearly half of the 26 states surveyed for the study earned Bs, while five states earned As, seven earned Cs, and two states each earned Ds and Fs.
About 60 percent of charter contracts imposed restrictions beyond state requirements, the study said, arguing that 30 percent of the 50 authorizers surveyed reduced autonomy by more than a letter grade. School districts and institutions of higher education serving as authorizers typically imposed the most additional constrains, while nonprofit organizations and state boards of education imposed the least, the study said.
Follow these links for information about the study, a PowerPoint presentation of key findings, and the full report can be downloaded at the link above.
- Free to Lead: Autonomy In Highly Successful Charter Schools
- Charter Schools in California: A Review of Their Autonomy and Resource Allocation Practices
- The Promise of Citywide Charter Strategies
- Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws
- A Sum Greater Than the Parts: What States Can Teach Each Other About Charter Schooling