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School Inspections

April 5, 2002

DATE: 6/11/01


MODERATOR:
Following are the responses received from NACSA members - Larry
Gabbert (Delaware), Louise Wilson (Minnesota), and Nelson Smith (Washington,
DC) - in response to another member's question on how authorizers conduct
formal school inspections. Below is the initial question, followed by the
responses:

QUESTION:
In what years do authorizers perform formal inspections of the schools they monitor? Do they use any kind of template or rubric as the basis for the evaluation? And, how do they communicate findings to the individual school? Public report? Letter to school?

At our Membership Meeting on June 25-26, 2001, we will have roundtable discussions on the wide-ranging, authorizers' bread-and-butter topics of
"Accountability, Oversight, Evaluation and Intervention" as well as "Charter Renewal Processes and Decision-making." These discussions should provide a good opportunity to get more detail on the processes described below, as well as the practices followed by those of you who did not have time to write in.

1. From Larry Gabbert, DELAWARE DEPT. OF EDUCATION:

In Delaware, I make periodic inspections each year to identify potential problems right away. The inspections begin before the school opens, as I obtain constructions plans and schedules on facilities and make on-site visits in the months before the school opens. I try to meet with each board of directors at least once during the initial year. I conduct monthly desk audits of each charter and contact schools when they appear to be out of compliance. In addition, I make frequent unannounced site visits to each school to observe their operation.

We sign a performance agreement with every school and then require an annual report (the format of which we develop) on specific factors including the measurable objectives in each performance agreement. The state auditor makes an audit annually of each school and we receive and review each audit.

Six months before the charter period ends, we begin preparing the school for the renewal evaluation, which includes - a report from the school on the success of the school in meeting the terms of its charter during the charter
period and a detailed plan for the charter renewal period. We develop a formal report is developed on each school under evaluation for renewal.

Our process of evaluation begins with the initial charter application, on-going monitoring, targeted technical assistance, due process proceedings, and then charter renewal.


2. From Louise Wilson, BETHEL COLLEGE, MINNESOTA:

In Minnesota, we do the final "inspection" and report to them during the final year of their contract. This is in anticipation of submitting the request for a new contract. The Minnesota Association of Charter Schools (MACS) is working on an evaluation template that schools and authorizers will be able to use now and in the future. They are piloting it currently with a few schools. In addition, the school that Bethel College sponsors is working with North Central Association on a charter school accreditation
model. That may be of interest to some of you as well. Unfortunately, I won't be able to be in Boulder this year because of too many other
commitments this week, but if others are there from Minnesota they may be able to answer questions about the MACS process.


3. From Nelson Smith, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL BOARD:

Interesting question, since we're beginning a review of this whole process.

We do a full-scale "Implementation review" in each school's first year; it includes a self-study and site visit, plus a separate external review of the school's financial control structure. It is a lot like an accreditation
process, and we provide the school (here and in others reviews) with ample feedback; we also execute an MOU laying out specific improvement goals as they go into the second year of operation.

Each subsequent year we do an Annual Performance Review, which begins with a paper analysis comparing achievements reported in the school's annual report to the goals in its accountability plan, and then follows with interviews of
school leaders (4 hours, total) about barriers to performance.

We're currently doing an operations review each year at each school; usually a half-day, it looks at nuts and bolts issues (are background checks on
file; is there a current certificate of occupancy, etc.). We're also doing a review to ensure that special ed services are being delivered.

And we've developed draft guidelines for the year-five review (required under DC law) that determines whether a charter is to be revoked for failure to meet goals. Our approach is to use the annual performance reviews and do kind of a "meta-analysis" of results to see if the school has made
sufficient progress.

That said, I'm really looking forward to talking with colleagues in Boulder, because we're taking a hard look at this structure. Now that our most senior schools are closing out their third year, we want to be sure that this cycle not only provides what we need for compliance/accountability, but also provides the schools good feedback for program improvement. Also looking at the relationship of this structure to accreditation.

All the best...

Nelson Smith
DC Public Charter School Board
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