Joe Ferrare, associate professor in IAS, recently published an article that examines variation in charter school outcomes across different types of authorizers. Charter schools are a type of public school that are often exempt from rules and regulations that govern traditional public schools (e.g., collective bargaining agreements, curricular requirements, school calendar), and can be operated by a wide variety of public and private (both for-profit and non-profit) organizations. In order to legally operate in the public sphere, charter schools must be approved and monitored by an authorizing agency, such as a state board, local school district, or a university. Authorizers review applications and monitor charter schools to ensure public accountability, but their roles create varying incentives for doing this work.
Ferrare and co-authors published the article, “Insufficient Accountability? Heterogeneous Effects of Charter Schools Across Authorizing Agencies,” in the American Educational Research Journal. Despite the central role authorizers play in holding charter schools accountable to their public mandate, there was surprisingly little research about them prior to their study. The research made use of over 10 years of data from Indiana, where charter schools are relatively popular and authorized by numerous different agencies. Ferrare and colleagues found substantial variation in the effects of charter schools on student achievement across Indiana’s different authorizers. Most notably, students in charter schools authorized by public and private universities tended to perform poorly relative to their traditional public counterparts. This was, in part, driven by the authorization of for-profit virtual (i.e., fully online) schools, but the article details many other factors that add nuance to the issue.
Based on their findings, Ferrare and colleagues recommended that policymakers consider the varying incentives that authorizers have to carry out their work. In particular, they recommended that policymakers (1) reconsider how authorizer fees are assessed; (2) add clarity to how authorizers are supposed to impose corrective measures when charter schools fail to meet the conditions of their charter; and (3) strengthen authorizer accountability, especially for those who authorize virtual schools.