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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Charter Schools

September 2017

Question:

What are best practices and policies for creating/establishing a charter school governance board? What resources are available on how to train board members to understand roles and responsibilities and make data driven decisions?



Response:

Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, summaries, and guides on the best practices for creating charter school governance boards. In addition, we searched for resources on how to train board members to understand roles and responsibilities and make data-driven decisions. For details on the databases and sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

References

Ableidinger, J., Steiner, L., Spong, A., & Hassel, B. C. (2012). Fulfilling the compact: Building a breakthrough, results-driven public charter school sector. Washington DC: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED535316

From the ERIC abstract: “In 2005, the Task Force on Charter School Quality and Accountability issued ‘Renewing the Compact,’ a position statement for the charter school sector that presented recommendations for achieving the goals of growth and quality. This report evaluates the sector’s progress on those goals and recommends bold actions to capitalize on its successes while confronting persistent challenges. By taking these bold actions now, critical stakeholders can build a breakthrough sector and create a results-driven culture, which will improve the impact of charter schools on student outcomes and the education system.”

Butler, E. A. (2008). Creating and sustaining high-quality charter school governing boards. A guide for state policymakers. New York, NY: National Resource Center on Charter School Finance and Governance. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED536003

From the ERIC abstract: “This guide for state policymakers examines the laws, policies, and programs that states are using to create and sustain high-quality charter school governing boards. In particular, the guide focuses on the two aspects of governing boards that interviews with state administrators revealed are most critical for a board’s success: board composition and recruitment and board training. States address board composition and recruitment in three ways. First, charter school laws in 14 states require (or prohibit) each charter school’s governing board to include specific types of people, most commonly, teachers or parents. Second, three jurisdictions have created pools of potential board members to help match schools with qualified board members who have the time, skills, and aptitude to serve. Third, in four states, authorizers appoint or approve board members rather than placing this authority with individual charter schools. Although board training is mandated by law in only one state, interviewees in eleven states reported that training requirements are imposed by the state department of education or charter school authorizers. In addition, numerous states provide voluntary board training opportunities. The guide outlines the pros and cons of the prevalent policy options related to board composition and recruitment and board training with illustrative examples from existing state law and practice. It also raises issues state policymakers may want to consider in adopting new policies and aims to help them identify approaches that best meet the needs of charter schools in their state.”

Campbell, C. (2009). Missed opportunity: Improving charter school governing boards. In Lake, R. (Ed.), Hopes, fears, and reality: A balanced look at charter schools in 2009 (pp. 59–68). Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education. Retrieved from https://www.crpe.org/publications/ch-6-missed-opportunity-improving-charter-school-governing-boards-hfr-09

From the abstract: “In this chapter, Christine Campbell explores an underutilized opportunity for strengthening charter schools: addressing the quality of charter school governing boards. Too often, charter boards suffer from the same challenges as their public school brethren, reports Campbell. They tend to be either too disengaged or too meddlesome. What is required is neither a meddlesome nor a rubber-stamp board, but rather a steward of the school’s values. She concludes by urging expanded recruitment and training for charter board members, along with authorizers who pay more attention to board functioning. In the search to scale-up high-performing schools, improving the quality of governing boards may be a high-leverage investment opportunity for funders and policymakers.”

Cornell-Feist, M. (2005). Steering the course for success: Authorizers and effective charter school governance. Authorizer Issue Brief. Number 9. Chicago, IL: National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED541308

From the abstract: “Researcher Gary Gruber has stated, ‘No other singular variable is more important for the health and vitality of a school than the way that it is governed. Teacher competencies, student achievement, parental and community support, adequate facilities and resources are all critical and essential for success. Governance will determine how those characteristics are initiated, managed, supported and promoted.’ In the charter school setting, effective governance is vital for delivering on promises made to students, parents and the community. Because of the importance of governance, charter school authorizers have a vested interest in ensuring that the schools they oversee are effectively governed. Therefore, it is important that authorizers understand governance and know what makes for effective governance. Presented in two parts, this issue brief defines effective governance in the charter school setting (Part I) and highlights concrete strategies authorizers employ to promote, support and reinforce strong charter school governance (Part II).”

Cornell-Feist, M. (2007). GOOD to GOVERN: Evaluating the capacity of charter school founding boards. Chicago, IL: National Association of Charter School Authorizers. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED539287

From the ERIC abstract: “It is the board that selects, supports, and terminates when necessary, the school leader. It is the board that ensures that the school is operationally and financially viable. It is the board that partners with the school leader to define academic excellence and then holds the bar high insisting that the school delivers. An authorizer’s success in creating quality public schools hinges upon knowing who you are giving the charter to, making sure that they are prepared to govern effectively, and ultimately holding them accountable for the performance of the school. Therefore, successful authorizing must place a great deal of stock in vetting, probing, and orienting the founding board. This Issue Brief identifies some of the key characteristics and qualities of effective charter school founding boards and offers concrete suggestions about how the charter school authorizing process can set boards up for success from the very beginning. Boards that get it right from the outset are likely to deliver on the academic promises outlined in their charters. Boards that start out on the wrong foot are almost certain not to deliver the academic excellence their students deserve.”

Dingerson, L. (2014). Public accountability for charter schools: Standards and policy recommendations for effective oversight. Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED558016

From the ERIC abstract: “In 2012-2013, a working group of grassroots organizers and leaders from around the country met under the auspices of the ‘Annenberg Institute for School Reform’ (AISR) and ‘Communities for Public Education Reform’ (CPER) to explore the impact of rapid charter expansion on parents, students, and communities. The participants, from Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark, New York, and other cities, brought first-hand experience and years of working directly with impacted communities and families, rather than relying only on limited measures such as standardized test scores to assess impact. The group found some common concerns: uneven academic performance; practices that pushed or kept students out of charter schools; overly harsh discipline policies; funding patterns that destabilized traditional schools; and a lack of representative governance, transparency, and adequate oversight, leading to potential conflicts of interest and instances of fraud and other problems. To better understand how current charter policy and practice have impacted communities and how they might be revised to provide solutions for these concerns the set of standards and recommendations presented in this report is the culmination of this work. This report hopes to provide guidance to state legislatures, charter authorizers, and other bodies tasked with charter school oversight and to provide communities with concrete recommendations to take to policymakers as they continue to press for access, equity, and public accountability.”

Finn, C. E., Jr., Manno, B. V., & Wright, B. L. (2017). Improve governance for charters. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(6), 63–69. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1132649

From the ERIC abstract: “With 25 years of experience, the charter sector has had enough time to experience a host of unanticipated and unresolved problems related to the complex ways in which charter school governance relates to school leadership. The time has come for the sector to revisit some fundamental decisions about how charter schools and networks are governed, both to tighten arrangements that are excessively loose and to encourage further innovation. The future of chartering should not be a linear extension of the past. If we left some problems unsolved in 1991 (or had no idea that they would become problems), that is no reason not to take stock of things as they stand today and to set matters right before moving forward. This article is based on the authors’ book, ‘Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities.’”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Ford, M. R., & Ihrke, D. M. (2016). Comparing nonprofit charter and traditional public school board member perceptions of the public, conflict, and financial responsibility: Is there a difference and does it matter? Public Management Review, 18(7), 972–992. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14719037.2015.1028975

From the abstract: “In this paper, survey data collected from nonprofit charter school board and elected public school board members in Minnesota is used to test three hypotheses relating to theories of New Public Management, democratic governance, and small group dynamics. We find that nonprofit charter school board members perceive lower levels of conflict, place less priority on the general public, and perceive a higher degree of governance responsibly in the area of financial management, than elected board members. We conclude that the increased use of nonprofit charter schools has potentially substantial implications on accountability and effectiveness in the delivery of public education.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Ford, M. R., & Ihrke, D. M. (2016). Do school board governance best practices improve district performance? Testing the key work of school boards in Wisconsin. International Journal of Public Administration, 39(2), 87–94. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01900692.2014.982293

From the abstract: “The most prominent set of school board governance best practices used in the United States is the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA’s) Key Work of School Boards. In this article, we operationalize adherence to the Key Work of School Boards with multiple survey items answered by Wisconsin school board members. Using multivariate regression models, we find that adherence to the best practices results in improved achievement in districts represented by board members who have served for five or more years. The findings support the idea that school board governance behaviors are linked to district-level academic outcomes.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Ford, M., & Ihrke, D. M. (2017). School board member definitions of accountability: A comparison of charter and traditional public school board members. Journal of Educational Administration, 55(3), 280–296. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1135431

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this paper is to determine the differing ways in which nonprofit charter and traditional public school board members define the concept of accountability in the school or schools they oversee. The findings speak to the governing consequences of shifting oversight of public education from democratically elected bodies to unelected nonprofit governing boards. Design/methodology/approach: The authors use originally collected survey data from democratically elected school board members and nonprofit charter school board members in Minnesota to test for differences in how these two populations view accountability. Open-ended survey questions are coded according to a previously used accountability typology. Findings: The authors find that charter school board members are more likely than traditional public school board members to define accountability through high stakes testing as opposed to staff professionalization and bureaucratic systems. Originality/value: The results speak to the link between board governance structure and accountability in the public education sector, providing new understanding on the way in which non-elected charter school board members view their accountability function.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Kronholz, J. (2015). Boot camps for charter boards. Education Next, 15(3), 40–46. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1062938

From the ERIC abstract: “This article addresses the question of who owns the responsibility when a charter school gets into trouble—when its students aren’t learning, or it misses its enrollment targets, or money runs short, or it closes. Upon presenting this question to a director of a charter school, a board member, and a Massachusetts-based education consultant and entrepreneur, author June Kronholz writes that there appears to be a consensus of opinions that the failure of a charter is ultimately the failure of the board. Which is why an organization called Charter Board Partners (CBP) gathered a World Bank strategist, a couple of advertising executives, a behavioral psychologist, a retired English teacher, a former Exxon executive, and perhaps two dozen other professionals for what it called a governance boot camp. CBP’s boot camp began simply enough with a lecture on what, exactly, a charter school is. The discussion quickly moved to governance nuts and bolts: committee organization, budget oversight, school-leader evaluations, and, by afternoon, a mock charter-school board meeting. Since its 2010 launch, Charter Board Partners has recruited, trained, and placed 100 people like these onto D.C. charter-school boards. At the end of this boot camp, another 67 candidates were ready to join boards that ask for them. About two dozen boards—not quite half of the charter-school boards in D.C.—already contract with CBP, paying up to $15,000 a year for CBP’s matchmaking services, governance workshops, personal coach, and help with such problems as how to ‘preplan’ a school leader’s succession, or how to move board paperwork online. In addition to recruiting and coaching boards, CBP provides its subscribers with professional development through a library of online training tools.”

Martinelli, F. (2000). Creating an effective charter school governing board guidebook. St. Paul, MN: Charter Friends National Network.

From the introduction: “The Creating an Effective Governing Board Guidebook offers charter developers information on how to prepare and sustain board directors to lead an autonomous public school. It attempts to builds upon the best of nonprofit, district and private school governance training and resources.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Additional Organizations to Consult

MN Association of Charter Schools – http://www.mncharterschools.org/resources/board-governance.php

From the website: “Effective governance is one of the great challenges of any organization, whether it is a nonprofit, a private enterprise, or a public institution. It is an especially challenging task for charter schools because of their unique organizational structure. Successful charter school governance is hard work that requires a board to function at a high level of effectiveness. The Association is committed to assisting member schools in addressing the challenges of governance. Our goal is to enhance the capacity of charter school boards to function at the high level of effectiveness that the governance model in our charter school law presumes and to which our students, parents and staff are entitled. We seek to fulfill our goal by providing a variety of technical assistance resources, training opportunities and publications for member charter school boards.”

Charter Board Partners – https://charterboards.org

“Charter Board Partners is a nonprofit organization committed to strengthening the governance and quality of public charter schools. We believe that independent governance is the key differentiator between public charter schools and other public schools. Independently governed boards put in place the context for success, shield schools from the ever-changing forces of politics, and insist on results. Boards also provide charter schools with volunteer board members who bring valuable talents and resources that public schools generally have a hard time accessing. And serving on the board of a public school gives those individuals the opportunity to play a meaningful role in public education reform, give back to their communities, and make a real difference in the lives of children.”

Methods

Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • descriptor:governance descriptor:“charter school”

  • governance

  • charter school board

  • charter school governance

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.