Accountability is part of the charter school DNA, but a new state-by-state review of charter school state policies by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers reveals plenty of room for improvement.
NACSA’s new report scores state laws on the quality and accountability provisions for charter schools and the agencies that authorize them. State laws that clearly articulate expectations and provide real consequences for success or failure score high. States without clear expectations or consequences score low. Most states (25 out of 43) received fewer than half of the available points.
States with NACSA’s recommended policies have a legal framework to do the following:
- Approve only good new charter schools
- Monitor the performance of all charter schools
- Empower successful schools to remain open and possibly grow
- Close charter schools that persistently fail
Among states where school districts authorize most charter schools, South Carolina scored the highest. Among states with multiple authorizers, Indiana received the most points. Among states where most charter schools are authorized by one or two non-district entities, Washington scored the highest.
NACSA’s analysis is of the provisions of state law—not of the quality of the charter schools nor the actual practices of authorizers. Most charter school laws were passed in the 1990s and contained few strong accountability provisions. Over time, as states gained experience, some strengthened their laws.
Ironically, states that were experiencing quality and accountability problems were more likely to strengthen their laws than those that were not. Thus, some states, like Massachusetts and New York, generally have high quality charter schools and well-regarded authorizers, yet their state laws score low. Others, like Texas and Ohio, experienced problems and have passed laws to strengthen accountability.
Whatever the reason, all states would do well to strengthen these accountability laws. There are hundreds of charter schools across the country providing children with an excellent education. Yet there are also many others that are academically failing, financially mismanaged, or both. By strengthening the accountability provisions of our state laws, we can have more excellent charter schools and fewer that are failing.