Students in too many communities still lack access to great schools that meet their needs and aspirations. We need more excellent schools and flexible ways of organizing teaching and learning, led by a more diverse group of folks. But in order to do that we need to rethink the application process for prospective new charter schools.
Over several months NACSA conducted interviews, focus groups, data analysis, and research—prioritizing the voices and perspectives of historically under-resourced communities. Those conversations resulted in these recommendations on how to rethink the new school application. NACSA will be using these recommendations to create tools and resources for authorizers, leading to more high-quality, innovative schools led by those with ties to the lived experiences of students.
Double down on known quality authorizing practices
- Cultivate quality schools that meet community aspirations and needs.
- Provide clear guidance and requirements on the application content, format, and process as well as clear and transparent evaluation criteria.
- Rigorously conduct due diligence on applicants.
- Engage evaluators with diverse and relevant experience.
- Provide quality actionable feedback to applicants.
Shift rigor from paper to people
- Engage in a more through process of assessing the capacity of the proposed founding team to achieve great outcomes for students.
- Shorten the written application.
Align the application process to how new schools actually develop
- Rethink what information is needed at what stage of the application process and consider multi-phased approvals.
- Use the time applicants spend developing their school as part of the application process.
- Make better use of a more hands-on ready-to-open process.
Create innovation portfolios
- Designate a portion of authorized schools (e.g., 10-20% of schools) to focus on dramatically different approaches to teaching and learning, with rigorous yet different expected student and school outcomes.
- Lean into pilot programs or other small learning communities as a means to explore innovation on a small scale and grow (as appropriate) when success is evident.
Collaborate and communicate: authorizers, charter support organizations, CMOs, incubators, and community
- Support school developers in accessing information, support, and resources.
- Proactively seek out potential charter operators (from both inside and outside the K-12 education sector).
Evolve definitions of school quality
- Continue to emphasize strong literacy and numeracy while expanding how we define a great education.
- Require applicants to tell a more comprehensive story about their mission and purpose and what strong outcomes look like.
Change who authorizes in some contexts
- In places that are too bureaucratic and refuse to change (or in places with hostile authorizers), new authorizers, with quality provisions, may be needed.
- Consider state policy to encourage or require authorizers lacking the expertise, desire, or capacity to exit the profession.
Better assess need and demand
- Explore new ways of assessing need and demand.
- Utilize a broader body of need and demand evidence and consider the appropriate timing of the evidence.