Anecdotes Aren’t Enough: An Evidence-Based Approach to Accountability for Alternative Charter Schools

New from a workgroup of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), this report maps an oft-overlooked space in the charter-accountability world: How charters that serve special populations, such as students who have dropped out, are held accountable for performance. Two key points emerge (which are really applicable to all charters): (1) Make the charter contract the central instrument of accountability and (2) be open to different yet detailed and rigorous approaches to evaluating academic success or failure. Interestingly, the report recommends not making significant changes to operational and financial indicators or methods of oversight for alternative schools. Approaches to the performance frameworks can vary from setting different cut scores to wholly different accountability measures specific to alternative schools. The report discusses proficiency, growth, and multiyear graduation rates, as well as providing credit for re-engaging students who have dropped out and improving attendance, mastery of material, and college/career readiness. Some of the more thought-provoking proposed measurements included job stability and time employed in a particular position, reconnecting with family members, personal growth, and volunteer work. For programs targeting formerly incarcerated students, recidivism rates could be examined; for programs that work with addiction, perhaps the time a student remains drug/alcohol free might be a measure. Additionally, the authors also include a synthesis of several studies of dropout prevention (including one that starts in first grade). In Ohio, we as an authorizer are considering re-writing our own accountability agreements with the schools we authorize. Several of the measures—especially the idea of weights given to different indicators—seem promising as a means to fairly gauge whether and to what degree schools are educating their students, regardless of the focus of the program. Those developing or tweaking performance frameworks, for alternative schools or otherwise, should give this report a read.

SOURCE: National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Anecdotes Aren’t Enough: An Evidence-Based Approach to Accountability for Alternative Charter Schools (Chicago: National Association of Charter School Authorizers, October 2013).

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