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charter authorizers Archives - North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools

New Fordham Report on N.C. Charter Authorization and School Success

By News, Research

Do charter authorizers successfully predict which schools will flourish and which will fail? A new report from the Fordham Institute tackles that very question, evaluating North Carolina’s track record for applications filed between 2012-13 and the summer of 2017. Study authors then followed schools from one to four years, until the start of the pandemic, to see how they fared.

At the time, members of the then-Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB) served as frontline reviewers, making recommendations on new charter schools to the State Board of Education (SBE). SBE then voted as the sole authorizer to approve or reject recommendations.  (Now, due to 2023 legislation, the state’s Charter Schools Review Board approves or rejects new applications and renewals. The State Board of Education serves as an appellate entity.)

During the time period researchers studied, CSAB considered 179 applications, representing four cohorts of applications. CSAB recommended 53 of those applications–around 30%–and 43 opened as schools. The State Board of Education acted in line with CSAB’s recommendations for 90% of the applications.

Here’s the application table from the study:

Source: Adam Kho, Shelby Leigh Smith, and Douglas Lee Lauen, “Do Authorizer Evaluations Predict the Success of New Charter Schools?” Fordham Institute, March 2024.

To characterize the strength of an application, researchers assessed five main application domains: mission and purposes; education plan; governance and capacity; operations; and financial plan. What did they learn? Authorizers’ views were linked to several components of charter success–but there was no surefire way to predict a winner. Specifically, schools with more support from CSAB reviewers were better prepared to launch, but not to meet enrollment goals. In addition, reviewer approval was linked to stronger math performance; the quality of applicants’ education and financial plans also impacted math performance.

Here are the more detailed report findings from Fordham:

First, schools that more reviewers voted to approve were more likely to open their doors on time but no more likely to meet their enrollment targets. In other words, there is some evidence that reviewers were able to identify applicants that had their ducks in a row (though many schools that received fewer votes from reviewers also opened on time).

Second, schools that more reviewers voted to approve performed slightly better in math but not in reading. In other words, reviewers’ collective judgment also said something about how well a new school was likely to perform academically (though again, most of the variation in new schools’ performance was not explained by reviewers’ votes).

Third, ratings for specific application domains mostly weren’t predictive of new schools’ success, but the quality of a school’s education and financial plans did predict math performance. Importantly, these domain-specific ratings were based exclusively on evaluations of schools’ written applications (unlike reviewers’ final votes, which also reflected their interviews with applicants and whatever other information was at hand).

Finally, despite the predictivity of reviewers’ votes, simulations show that raising the bar for approval would have had little effect on the success rate of new schools. For example, reducing the share of applications that were approved from 30 percent to 15 percent wouldn’t have discernibly boosted approved schools’ reading or math performance, nor would increasing the number of “yes” votes required for approval.

Researchers provide three key takeaways from the study:

  • In general, CSAB was able to differentiate between stronger and weaker applications.
  • Board members’ professional judgment is at least as important as whatever appears in a school’s written application.
  • Raising the bar for approval wouldn’t significantly improve charters’ chances of success.

Finally, researchers make several recommendations for charter authorizers, moving forward:

  • First, closely evaluate applicants’ education or financial plans.
  • Next, include “multiple data sources and perspectives” in consideration.
  • Finally, hold “approved schools accountable for results.”

Read EdNC’s coverage of the study. View the full report by clicking here or below.