Meeting of the Board of Regents | June 2010
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
John B. King, Jr.
A New Approach to Charter School Authorizing
June 7, 2010
Issue for Discussion
A review of public charter school authorizing and the oversight role and responsibility of the Board of Regents, including:
- current Board of Regents authorizing practice;
- the New York State Charter Schools Act, and updates from Chapter 101 of the Laws of 2010;
- quality, professional authorizing practice as defined by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA);
- the practice of high functioning, quality authorizers across the country; and
- suggested improvements in both Board of Regents practice and Department staff work.
Reason(s) for Consideration
Review of Policy
This item will come before the Regents EMSC Committee for discussion in June 2010.
The Charter Schools Act of 1998 granted the Board of Regents authorizing power to grant charters for the purpose of organizing and operating independent and autonomous public charter schools. The Act also outlined the Board of Regents’ responsibility for the oversight of the public charter schools in the state, including the partnership with the State University of New York Board of Trustees and their Charter Schools Institute, which carries out their charter authorizing work. Through a state charter cap lift during the last week of May 2010, 460 start-up (non-conversion) public charter schools now can operate in New York State.
From 1998 to March 2010, the work of overseeing the state’s charter schools was split between two offices – one in Brooklyn that interfaced mainly with charter schools in New York City; and one office in Albany that interfaced with charter schools located “upstate.” These offices functioned independently from one another, each with its own manager. The systems, structures and procedures that the downstate and downstate office used to oversee and monitor its share of public charter schools were loosely coordinated with little alignment between the two offices.
In March 2010, in accordance with a plan approved by the Regents in December 2009 and the State’s Race to the Top Round One application, the Department created the Office of Innovative School Models to (1) create optimal state-level policy and operating conditions for dramatic school intervention and ensure that local educational agencies can build on successful and innovative practices; and (2) oversee the Department's charter authorizing work. The state’s charter authorizing work now falls under this new office and the “downstate” Brooklyn office and “upstate” Albany office have been merged into one, new Charter School Office (CSO) (please see the new CSO organization chart, Attachment A).
The Department hired Sally Bachofer as the Executive Director for the Office of Innovative School Models. Sally brings deep experience in program administration and charter authorizing experience. Sally comes to us from the National Association for Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). NACSA is a professional organization of authorizers and other educational leaders who work together to achieve quality public charter schools (www.qualitycharters.org). While at NACSA, Sally served as the organization’s key point person for school and district accountability and authorizer policy and practice. Sally developed, with support from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, a set of model authorizer resources in all areas of oversight responsibility. These resources, covering authorizing Board policy and charter contracting, through to school monitoring and renewal decision-making, now guide NACSA field staff, consultants and members in their day-to-day authorizing work. Sally was deployed to work with NACSA clients to improve both Board level policy setting and day-to-day management of work. During her time at NACSA, she delivered training and consultation to: Oakland Unified School District; Los Angeles Unified School District; Denver Public Schools; Chicago Public Schools; and the State Boards of Education in Arizona, Missouri, New Mexico, and Louisiana.
Sally also has prior experience in large urban district administration and State Education policy. Before working at NACSA, she worked at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, under then Commissioner David Driscoll. While in Massachusetts, Sally oversaw the Department’s performance based charter school accountability system. During her tenure, she implemented charter school renewal standards, refined annual site visit protocol and annual reporting requirements. She also successfully brought forward two school non-renewal recommendations and one school revocation recommendation based on school academic underperformance and fiscal mismanagement. Her last year at the Department was with the Accountability and Targeted Assistance Unit, overseeing the Commonwealth’s underperforming schools. Sally helped implement the Board’s regulations on Underperforming Schools and Districts, managing school and district review and the conversion of four chronically underperforming schools to Commonwealth Pilot School status.
We have asked her to draw on her knowledge and experience to design an approach for the Board of Regents charter authorizing practice that incorporates rigorous elements of performance based accountability while protecting school site based autonomies. Above all, the proposed approach that we are sharing with you today is designed to protect the public trust – public monies and public school students – of the State of New York.
Current NYSED Position:
The State Education Department, reporting to the Commissioner of Education, acts as staff to the Board of Regents. The Charter School Office manages the day-to-day operational work of authorization and oversight of the schools directly authorized by the Board of Regents, and the schools authorized in partnership with the Buffalo Board of Education and the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.
The Department has built an effective system of public charter school oversight that is in compliance with state law.
As part of the charter application process, the New York State Education Department:
- reviews all charter school applications submitted directly to the Board of Regents or to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, the New York City Department of Education or local boards of education.
- makes recommendations to the Board of Regents for granting, renewing and revising charters.
- manages the issuance of corporate documents for all public charter schools in the state.
- manages the issuance of formal charter agreements for schools directly authorized by the Board of Regents.
As part of its oversight responsibility for charter schools, the New York State Education Department:
- schedules and carries out regular charter school oversight visits.
- reviews annual reports from schools authorized by the Board of Regents.
- reviews annual financial audits from schools authorized by the Board of Regents.
As part of the charter revision process, the New York State Education Department:
- reviews requests for charter revisions from all charter schools in the state.
- prepares all necessary legal documents and charter revisions.
- prepares all materials necessary for issuance of charter revisions for the Board of Regents.
As part of the charter renewal process, the New York State Education Department:
- reviews charter school renewal requests that are submitted directly to the Board of Regents or by the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, the New York City Department of Education, and the Buffalo Board of Education.
- makes recommendations for charter renewal to the Board of Regents.
- issues corporate documents for all public charter schools in the state.
- issues formal charter renewal agreements for schools directly authorized by the Board of Regents.
To advance transparency in charter school operations, the New York State Education Department:
- responds to all public inquiries about the state’s public charter schools.
- manages the internal and external status and informational reports on the state’s public charter schools.
- manages the federal Charter Schools Grant.
Currently, staff in the Charter School Office is organized by regions. Each staff person is a generalist, and is responsible for all aspects of a school’s “lifecycle.” The regional liaisons manage all application reviews, monitoring and oversight, accountability and program evaluation, as well as preparing for renewal decision-making. In addition, when a request for public information on a school is received, or if the Department is engaged in a legal issue with a charter school, the regional liaison responsible for that school is the staff person responsible for filling the request. Staff is not currently matched to the needs of the work.
The Commissioner and staff are recommending changes and improvements to the way in which the Board of Regents approaches its authorizing work, and the way in which staff carries out the oversight work of the public charter schools in the state. Our goal is greater accountability and transparency, following the direction that the Regents have set. We must hold public charter schools to the core of the charter school initiative – greater public accountability in exchange for increased site based autonomy over program and operation.
NACSA has distilled the work of quality charter authorizers to three core responsibilities:
- Authorizers have a responsibility to maintain high standards and to hold schools accountable for achieving those standards.
- Authorizers have a responsibility to protect student and public interests.
- Authorizers have a responsibility to preserve the autonomy of the schools they oversee.
NACSA’s 2009 Principles and Standards for quality charter school authorizing provide a roadmap for how authorizers should orient their work to ensure public charter schools are held accountable for results. The Principles and Standards state that authorizers should:
- Define clear, measurable, and attainable student achievement goals that the school must meet as a condition for renewal including, but not limited to, state accountability standards and set organizational performance goals.
- Articulate rigorous performance indicators and standards relative to each of the stated goals.
- Stipulate the process for evaluation, including but not limited to: the types of academic, organizational, financial, and compliance data monitored and used for high stakes decisions, and the process and frequency for gathering and reporting such data.
- Establish performance thresholds for renewal, intervention, revocation, and non-renewal explaining the consequences for meeting, or failing to meet them. Establishes and explains procedures for renewal, intervention, revocation and non-renewal.
The Board of Regents and staff in the Department need to re-orient time and efforts to better support the three core responsibilities of charter school authorizers. The Board of Regents should focus its time on highstakes decision-making related to issuing new charters and charter renewals. Staff should focus its time on rigorously and appropriately monitoring charter school academic performance, fiscal health and school governance health
Timetable for Implementation
Beginning in the 2010-2011 school year, staff will work to draft and implement the following improvements to the charter school oversight work:
By August 1, 2010
- Staff will develop a new application review process that focuses on assessing the will, skill and capacity of the founding school governing board to launch and sustain a successful public charter school. The application review process will address the call for a request for proposals (RFP) that is outlined in Chapter 101 of the Laws of 2010. This application review process will be codified in an application handbook which will contain:
- A written Application for a Public Charter School that outlines the founding group’s vision and specific plans with linked, measurable performance/outcome goals for the school’s academic program; curriculum; assessment systems; instructional programs; governance structure; legal and regulatory compliance; and financial systems.
- An Application Evaluation Rubric for reviewers linked directly to the written application that structures reviewer’s assessment of the strengths and areas of concern of the founding group’s written application against a set of written criteria.
- A structured face-to-face interview protocol for the application reviewers to further assess the applicant group’s will, skill and capacity to launch the proposed school. The interview team draws questions and lines of inquiry for the interview from their and the review team’s summary findings from the paper application.
- Guidance for a set of written findings and recommendations, created by the application review and interview team, that leads to a recommendation to senior staff, the Commissioner and Regents for (approval or non-approval) of charter award.
- Staff should develop a new approach to school evaluation and school review. We must develop an appropriate sequencing of monitoring events by focus area – compliance, academic, and operational/fiscal – over the course of a school’s charter term. The Board of Regents charter school monitoring will include:
- A model set of pre-opening requirements used by staff to assess a school’s readiness before the first day of instruction begins to ensure schools have in place a high-quality, safe and compliant school for children;
- A series of desk audits and on-site school visits that will generate quantitative and qualitative evidence and data reflecting the academic program performance of the school.
- Sequenced compliance visits to ensure the health and safety; as well as access to programs for all students at the school.
- Comprehensive financial performance reviews including but not limited to:
- Independent financial annual audits
- Review of school governing board approved budgets
- Quarterly financial reports (balance sheet, cash flow, budget-actuals)
- The Board of Regents should adopt a set of Board Policies to guide its work with the public charter schools it oversees. These Board Policies should outline the Board of Regents role and responsibility as well as staff’s role and responsibility for all aspects of public charter school oversight from charter granting and performance contracting to renewal decision-making. Please see the attached outline of Board Policies for your consideration (Attachment B).
- The Board of Regents should set academic and operational performance standards for the public charter schools it oversees. These standards, or renewal criteria, are a set of statements that define “how good is good enough” for all areas of charter school performance. These performance driven standards set the bar for renewal of a school’s charter and benchmark school performance throughout the course of the charter term. The standards should be integrated into the initial application for a charter, and also provide the framework for all oversight activities and renewal decision-making.
- Staff should develop a new charter contracting arrangement with the schools that the Board of Regents oversees. The contract should clearly and fully define each party’s rights and responsibilities. The contract should outline material and non-material terms of the school’s charter and reference, not incorporate, the school’s initial charter application.
- Staff should develop a new system of performance contracting or accountability plan arrangement with the schools that the Board of Regents oversees. The performance contract contains a completed set of indicators, measures, metrics and targets in the following areas of charter school accountability: academic program performance, operational program performance, and, if applicable, elements drawn from a school’s specific design. Staff will develop a performance management dashboard which will drive ongoing monitoring of schools and will set parameters for acceptable levels of performance in the following areas:
- Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)
- Student Achievement Level (Status)
- Student Progress Over Time (Growth)
- Post Secondary Readiness and Success (for High Schools)
- Student Engagement
- Financial Performance and Sustainability
- Board Performance and Stewardship
- Parent and Community Engagement
- Staff should develop formalized school closure procedures. These policies and processes will be used for the timely, safe and orderly shut down of a public charter school in the event of charter revocation or charter non-renewal.
There is an immediate need to issue a regulatory change to the Education Law to relieve a burden from the Regents unrelated to school quality and to define the requirements and process for a school to request a revision to its charter. To date, practice has been to bring all revisions, no matter how small or large, before the Board of Regents. This practice is a distraction from the core responsibilities of the Regents’ work, and can be better handled by delegating some of the decision-making to the Commissioner. Through the proposed regulatory revisions, the Board of Regents will define what will require your formal approval, and what revisions to a school’s charter can be reviewed and acted on by the Commissioner.
In support of this regulatory change, staff has developed a Technical Advisory for schools that outlines the definition of material and non-material term of a charter. The Technical Advisory creates conditions under which a school may request a change it its charter, and sets specific criteria that a school must follow and meet when submitting its request. The Technical Advisory also sets one intake point during the year for staff to consider and process enrollment increase and grade addition requests for charter amendments, to ensure that schools are in compliance with fiscal, academic and legal reporting, and are planning ahead for their academic and operational programs.
Proposed Organization Chart for Charter School Office
Attachment A - Continued
Responsibilities and Tasks by Focus Area
Charter School Office
Board of Regents Charter School Policies
- Policies for the Charter School Application Process
A. Purpose of Application Process
B. Board of Regents Chartering Authority
C. Application Criteria
D. Application for a Public Charter School
E. Application Review and Decisionmaking Process
F. Approval to Open a New Charter School
G. Appeals Process
H. Support and Resources for Applicants
I. Board Member Code of Conduct with Applicants
- Policies for Charter School Enrollment
- Policies for Charter School Staff
- Policies for Charter School Funding
- Policies for Charter School Monitoring
A. Purpose of charter school monitoring
B. Performance review criteria (performance plan template)
C. Timeframe for events (monitoring plan)
D. Consequences for underperformance
- Complaint Procedures
- Amendments to Charters
- Policies for the Charter School Renewal Process
A. Purpose of Renewal
B. Board of Regents Renewal Authority
C. Renewal Criteria
D. Renewal Timeline
E. Charter Renewal and Decisionmaking Process
F. Support and Resources for Renewal Applicants
G. Board Member Code of Conduct with Renewal Applicants
- School Closure
A. Board of Regents Closure Authority
- Appeals process
- Required notification
- Assets and real property