Friday, November 25, 2011

What is Quality Authorizing?

The State Board of Education has been considering what makes a quality charter school authorizer in their consideration of principles and standards for authorizers in state board rule. It's probably safe to say that everyone agrees that charter schools can be better if they're in an environment that allows them to flourish rather than a contentious environment where the charter school is continually fighting for autonomy.

It's also probably safe to assume that everyone agrees it's appropriate to set a high bar for charter school performance and expect student academic achievement to be the top priority for evaluating charter school performance.

But when does that high bar go too far? And is having those high expectations realistic if it impacts students who are being served better than if they were in district-operated schools? It's not fair to look at what is quality authorizing without also looking at what is NOT quality. Too much of a "good" thing isn't always a good thing!

And now that the State Board of Education is considering the adoption of rules regarding charter school authorizing, who decides if an authorizer is being fair or not? It's easy to know there are going to be differing opinions about what is "quality."

The state rules under consideration don't come with a regulator. There isn't going to be anyone going around and evaluating authorizers. It's up to each authorizer to rate themselves on the new standards and principles and make their own case.

What can charter schools do to improve their situation in light of these authorizer standards? First, engage in discussion with the authorizer. Using the standards, discuss each one and talk about what is the evidence that the authorizer is, or is not, demonstrating quality. Talk about what "quality" means in these discussions. Second, use this platform to improve practices. If, through discussion, both the authorizer and the charter school leader decide transparency is a key to quality, then the charter school leader should show a good faith effort by being more transparent and engaging in more communication. Sometimes that can be accomplished simply by copying the authorizer on an email.

What should charter school authorizers do with these new standards? Take an honest look at how practices -- and people -- in the district send a message to the district's charter schools. Sometimes the entire environment can change simply by a focus on professionalism (rather than contention) and the demeanor of the staff member that communicates with the schools. Most contentious environments could be alleviated with a few simple changes. That's not to say that everyone will agree on how situations should be handled, but there isn't any need to be deceptive, retaliatory or just plain mean -- ever!

Throughout the state, these new charter school authorizer standards should drive meaningful discussions about the role of authorizers in the charter school environment. Historically, several school districts in Colorado haven't really understood what proper oversight and monitoring included. These standards will drive discussions that are likely to change things dramatically. But everyone involved should keep in mind that decisions should be made based on the needs of students, not adults!

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