Authorized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Education Reform Act of 1993, charter schools are independent public schools that operate under five year charters granted by the Commonwealth's Board of Education.
The increased freedom available to charter schools coupled with increased accountability, infuses all aspects of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's oversight of charter schools, beginning with the rigorous application process that groups must go through to receive a charter. Once the Board of Education has awarded a charter, the new charter school has the freedom to organize around a core mission, curriculum, theme, or teaching method. It is allowed to control its own budget and hire (and fire) teachers and staff. In return for this freedom, a charter school must demonstrate good results within five years or risk losing its charter.
The Board of Education is obligated by Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 71, Section 89, and attendant regulations to conduct an ongoing review of charter schools and, in the fifth year of a school's operation, decide whether its charter should be renewed. Specifically, the renewal of a public school charter is based on affirmative answers to three questions:
- Is the academic program a success?
- Is the school a viable organization?
- Is the school faithful to the terms of its charter?
The answers to these questions are based on a variety of information that is both provided by the school and gathered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. An overview of the accountability process can be found in the Accountability Guide listed below.