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Massachusetts Charter Schools

Update to the renewal process memo 2016-17

To:Charter School Leaders and Board Chairs
From:Alison Bagg, Director, Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign
Date:December 23, 2016

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This memorandum summarizes new improvements in the process for charter school renewals. These improvements are designed to provide the most valuable and relevant information in a readily understandable form and to enhance efficiency in compiling and summarizing this charter renewal information. To this end, documents relating to charter renewal will focus on elements outlined in the charter school statute, G.L. c. 71, § 89, and regulations, 603 CMR 1.00.

Introduction

Pursuant to the charter school statute, G.L. c. 71, § 89, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) authorizes and oversees all charter schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) and the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (Commissioner) serve as staff to the Board in conducting oversight activities and making recommendations to the Board. The Commissioner also takes certain actions on behalf of the Board, including the approval of some charter amendments and charter renewals, pursuant to delegated authority.1 With respect to renewals, the Commissioner acts on behalf of the Board in granting charter renewals that do not involve probation. He notifies the Board in advance of such actions and the Board may choose to discuss and act on the renewal. The Commissioner reports to the Board on all renewals.

Charter renewal is not automatic. Between March 1st of the third year and August 1st following the fourth year of a school's charter term, the school's board of trustees may submit an application for renewal of its charter for five years. While the charter school statute and regulations provide specific grounds for the Board to suspend or revoke a school's charter for cause at any time during the charter period, the renewal process enables the Department to assess a school's record and decide whether the school should continue to operate, based on the standards in the statute and regulations and further elaborated in the Charter School Performance Criteria.

Charter Renewal Process

Since 1993, the Massachusetts charter renewal process has evolved based on experience and best practices in charter school authorizing. With the goal of increased efficiency and clearer communication about charter school accountability, the Department is further refining the renewal process to focus on the statutory requirements for renewal. Massachusetts has been recognized as a national exemplar for its charter school authorizing practices. A commitment to quality oversight of charter school performance remains at the heart of the Department's renewal work.

For the past three years, beginning in fiscal year 2014, the Department utilized a rating system to summarize a charter school's performance against the Charter School Performance Criteria (Criteria). The renewal process for every school culminated in the presentation of 16 ratings, covering ten criteria and six key indicators under some of the criteria. Memoranda sent to the Board containing the Commissioner's renewal decisions or recommendations included these 16 ratings and a brief narrative summary. A sample memorandum is included at Attachment A. The recommendations in memoranda were supported by evidence and data displays contained in the Summary of Review (SOR), an extensive account of the school's performance with respect to the criteria during the charter term. The extensive SORs were also provided to the Board for every renewal. The visual display of data in the SOR has been particularly helpful to the Commissioner and the Board.

A few factors compel the Department to make changes to the contents contained in the SOR to better align with the statutory requirements for charter renewal. Based on our review of the renewal process over the last three years, we have concluded that providing an SOR with16 separate ratings paired with extensive evidence was unnecessarily lengthy. Additionally, we have determined that the informative data displays found in the SORs assist the Board and Commissioner to make renewal decisions. The charter school statute outlines clear areas of school performance that are considered for renewal. Given these factors, starting with the renewal cycle for 2016-2017, the Department will focus information provided to the Board in the SOR for each school, providing the most valuable and relevant information in a readily understandable form and enhancing efficiency in compiling and summarizing this information.

While the SORs will present evidence related to a sub-set of the Criteria, the Department is not revising, or reducing the scope of the existing Criteria. The Criteria continue to outline expectations for charter school performance. The Department continues to gather evidence of how a charter school is performing against the Criteria. This performance is documented in mid-cycle site visits and during the renewal inspection visit. When viewed in total, the school's mid-cycle site visit reports, renewal inspection visit report, and the SOR will provide evidence of the school's performance against the extensive Criteria. Further, the SOR may include evidence related to elements of the Criteria not outlined by the statute if the school's performance, as needed. Additional elements include, but are not limited to, elements of concern or areas of school performance that are exemplars as they relate to the Criteria.

Statutory Requirements

The charter school statute, at G.L. c. 71, § 89(dd),a authorizes the Board to develop procedures and guidelines for renewal of a school's charter. When renewing a charter, the Board must consider "progress made in student academic achievement[;] whether the school has met its obligations and commitments under the charter[; and] the extent to which the school has followed its recruitment and retention plan by using deliberate, specific strategies . . . and the extent to which the school has enhanced its plan as necessary." G.L. c. 71, § 89(dd). Additionally, the Board must consider "the annual attrition of students" and "innovations that have been successfully implemented by the charter school and the evidence that supports the effectiveness of these practices." G.L. c. 71, § 89(dd). For Horace Mann charter schools, renewing a charter requires the approval of the school committee and the local collective bargaining unit of the district in which the charter school is located. For Commonwealth charter schools, renewing a charter requires the board of trustees of the school to document in a manner approved by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that it has provided models for replication and best practices to the Commissioner and to other public schools in the district where the charter school is located. The charter school regulations are consistent with these requirements. See 603 CMR 1.11 ("Renewal of Charters").b

New Summary of Review Contents

Starting with the renewal cycle for 2016-17, all SORs will focus on the six key criteria that address the indicators and evidence contemplated by the charter school statute, as demonstrated in the table below. The Department will provide ratings2, findings, and evidence for these six criteria in every SOR.

CriteriaRelated Statutory and Regulatory Language
  1. Mission and Key Design Elements: The school is faithful to its mission, implements the key design elements outlined in its charter, and substantially meets its accountability plan goals.
"[W]hether the school has met its obligations and commitments under the charter." G.L. c. 71, § 89(dd).

"The decision by the Board to renew a charter shall be based upon the presentation of affirmative evidence regarding the faithfulness of the school to the terms of its charter" 603 CMR 1.11(2).
  1. Access and Equity: The school ensures program access and equity for all students eligible to attend the school.
The "extent to which the school has followed its recruitment and retention plan by using deliberate, specific strategies towards recruiting and retaining the categories of students enumerated in paragraph (3) of subsection (i) and the extent to which the school has enhanced its plan as necessary"

"When deciding on charter renewal, the board shall take into account the annual attrition of students" G.L. c. 71, § 89(dd).

"The decision by the Board to renew a charter shall be based upon the presentation of affirmative evidence … including the extent to which the school has followed its recruitment and retention plan" 603 CMR 1.11(2).
  1. Compliance: The school compiles a record of compliance with the terms of its charter and applicable state and federal laws and regulations.
For all charter schools: "[W]hether the school has met its obligations and commitments under the charter."

For Horace Mann charter schools: "a charter for a Horace Mann charter school shall not be renewed by the board without a majority vote of the school committee and local collective bargaining unit in the district where said charter school is located." G.L. c. 71, § 89(dd).
  1. Dissemination: The school provides innovative models for replication and best practices to other public schools in the district where the charter school is located.
For commonwealth charter schools: A "commonwealth charter shall not be renewed unless the board of trustees of the charter school has documented in a manner approved by the board that said commonwealth charter school has provided models for replication and best practices to the commissioner and to other public schools in the district where the charter school is located."

For all charter schools:
"The board shall also consider innovations that have been successfully implemented by the charter school and the evidence that supports the effectiveness of these practices." G.L. c. 71, § 89(dd).

For all charter schools: "The decision by the Board to renew a charter shall be based upon the presentation of affirmative evidence …including the extent to which the school …. has disseminated best practices." 603 CMR 1.11(2).
  1. Student Performance: The school consistently meets state student performance standards for academic growth, proficiency, and college and career readiness.
"[P]rogress made in student academic achievement." G.L. c. 71, § 89(dd).

Evidence of academic success for all students is essential for charter renewal 603 CMR 1.11(2).
  1. Governance: Members of the board of trustees act as public agents authorized by the state and provide competent and appropriate governance to ensure the success and sustainability of the school.
The Board grants charters to charter boards of trustees under the charter school statute, G.L. c. 71, § 89(c). "The board of trustees of a commonwealth charter school, upon receiving a charter from the board, shall be deemed to be public agents authorized by the commonwealth to supervise and control the charter school." G.L. c. 71, § 89(c). "A Horace Mann charter school shall be operated and managed by a board of trustees independent of the school committee which approved the school." G.L. c. 71, § 89(c).

The decision by the Board to renew a charter shall be based upon "… the viability of the school as an organization." 603 CMR 1.11(2).

Summaries of Review presented for any renewal decisions will provide detailed evidence for Criteria 1-5, and 9. Every SOR will have additional data displays with evidence regarding Criterion 2: Access and Equity; Criterion 5: Student Performance; and Criterion 10: Finance. Every SOR will continue to provide a summary of the school's history and will contain additional evidence, as needed, relating to other elements of the Criteria. Please see Appendix B for a sample SOR aligned with these new expectations.

Renewal memoranda provided to the Board will contain a renewal recommendation or decision, a summary of the evidence outlined in the SOR, and will include the SORs as attachments.

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If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Alison Bagg, Director of the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign, at 781-338-3218; or Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner, at 781-338-3222.

Download MS WORD Document
Attachment A: Sample Memorandum to the Board from 2015-16


Note:

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1 Through both regulation and motion, the Board has delegated authority to the Commissioner, in accordance with G.L. c. 15, § 1F, paragraph 3, to take certain actions on the Board's behalf. These actions include imposing conditions on the charters of charter schools; granting charter renewals that do not involve probation; approving charter amendments that do not involve changes in grade span, maximum enrollment, or districts served; and removing or continuing conditions imposed on charters of charter schools. See 603 CMR 1.12 and February 2013 Approved Board Meeting Minutes, page 11.

2 Criterion 5 will not receive a rating, but will instead reflect the school's accountability level and percentile.

a Section 89(dd)) of G.L. c. 71 provides as follows:

b 603 CMR 1.11: Renewal of Charters is as follows:

A charter school seeking renewal of its charter shall proceed as follows:



Last Updated: December 22, 2016
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