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New Article on Charter School Performance Accountability: "The Accountability Bind"

April 5, 2002

DATE: 10/2/01

MODERATOR:

NACSA Members and Colleagues,

You may be interested in an article entitled "Educational Performance and Charter School Authorizers: The Accountability Bind" (by Katrina Bulkley, Rutgers University) that has just been published by the Education Policy
Analysis Archives. An abstract of the article and a hotlink are below. I have not read the article yet myself, but I plan to. The author is an active researcher in the charter school field, so it's likely to be widely read and have some influence in charter school policy circles. I wanted to let you know about this article, as I'm sure we'll be hearing more about it, and some of you may have strong reactions to it or be asked to comment on it.

Attached below the article abstract are some quick reactions shared by Bryan Hassel of Public Impact, another charter school researcher whom many of you know. You may find these thoughts useful in trying to respond constructively to the article's conclusions and implications. The "SRF
project" mentioned in Bryan's message is the national study of charter school renewal and revocation decisions that he's leading (funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation), which Bryan described at NACSA's meeting in June 2001.

From: AERA-L Division L: Educational Policy and Politics
Subject: EPAA Publishes Vol 9 No. 37 Bulkley: The Accountability Bind


The Education Policy Analysis Archives is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal freely accessible on the internet at Education Policy Analysis Archives

EPAA has just published Volume 9 Number 37 "Educational >Performance and Charter School Authorizers: The >Accountability Bind" by Katrina Bulkley, Rutgers University.

The article can be accessed directly at
http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v9n37.html

An abstract follows:

Educational Performance and Charter School
Authorizers: The Accountability Bind

Katrina Bulkley
Rutgers University

Aabstract
Charter schools involve a trading of autonomy for accountability. This accountability comes through two forces--markets through the choices of parents and students, and accountability to government through the writing of contracts that must be renewed for schools to continue to operate. Charter schools are supposed to be more
accountable for educational performance than traditional public schools because authorizers have the ability to revoke charter contracts. Here, I focus on one central component of
accountability to government: performance accountability or accountability for educational outcomes to charter school authorizers through the revocation or non-renewal of charter
contracts. In this paper, I suggest that contract-based accountability for educational performance in charter schools may not be working as proponents argued it would. This article
explores some explanations for why there are very few examples of charter schools that have been closed primarily because of failure to demonstrate educational performance or improvement. Future work will need to test if these challenges for authorizers hold in a variety of contexts. The conclusion examines the implications of these findings for the future of charter school accountability.


From: Bryan Hassel

Sent: Tuesday, October 02, 2001 2:55 PM

A few thoughts:

* I'm somewhat convinced that closure is not a credible threat for charter schools that are keeping their books adequately, filing their reports on time, and enrolling enough parents.

* There is a lot of rhetoric from charter advocates stressing the shut-down aspect of accountability. I've done it myself!

* In addition to changing the rhetoric to stress up-front and ongoing approaches to accountability, with closure as a last resort, should help muzzle the critics.

* One thing we should try to accumulate is examples of schools that have seen turn-arounds or great improvements as a result of accountability interventions by authorizers.

* Another thing I'm hoping to explore with the SRF case studies is the extent to which academic factors were in fact in play in more of the
closures than we think. The conventional wisdom is that charters only close due to financial, compliance and management problems. If you look at the paper record, that's true. But one hypothesis is that when it comes time to close a school, authorizers look for the most clear-cut, defensible reasons to close schools officially, and these are the reasons that get written up in the official documents. These tend to be financial, compliance and management b/c it is easier to document and justify closing a school on those grounds than on poor achievement grounds. In a couple of the cases I am looking at in the SRF project, schools that closed had
severe achievement problems that caught the attention of authorizers, but they used financial and special ed reasons to justify shut down.

* Another hypothesis: authorizers exert more energy to help / save schools that are OK academically than those that aren't. Authorizers have a lot of discretion regarding how hard they work to keep a school afloat. There seem to be cases in which authorizers have not shut down schools, but have let them run themselves into the ground. There are other cases where schools appeared headed for failure and authorizers helped rescue them. This is not equivalent to "shutting down low performing schools,"
but it has the same effect and thus is a form of results-based accountability.

* But all of that said, I also think that authorizers need to think through alternatives to closure in the cases of chronic low-performers. Closure is not a credible threat in part because it's sodrastic in its impact on the charter school's students, who are sent back to the schools they fled in the first place. Authorizers might have better luck with reconstitution charter-style -- leaving the school in place, but under new management / governance. Rather than close a school, the
authorizer would in effect run a competition for the right to assume control of it. The students would not have to go back to their undesirable
original schools, but there would be a fresh start at the charter school.

* This wouldn't work in situations where parents and students are fiercely loyal to management or the board, which I imagine is the case in many
situations.

* My sense is that reconstitution in the regular public schools has never really amounted to much, but perhaps charter authorizers are in a better
position to make reconstitution a credible threat since, in theory, they have a clearer performance contract.




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