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Massachusetts Charter Schools

Considerations for Charter School Renewal

To:Massachusetts Charter School Leaders and Board
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:October 7, 2013

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As the 2013-2014 charter school renewal decision season commences, and in response to feedback from the field, this memorandum is intended to document key considerations related to accountability decisions for charter schools, including decisions to not renew or to revoke schools' charters. These considerations are not new; they have been developed and employed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) for the past several years.

Introduction

Pursuant to the Massachusetts Charter School Statute, M.G.L. c. 71, § 89, the Board authorizes and oversees all charter schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Department and the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education (Commissioner) serve as staff to the Board to conduct oversight activities on behalf of, and to make recommendations to, the Board. The Commissioner also takes certain actions on behalf of the Board, including the approval of certain charter amendments and charter renewals, pursuant to delegated authority.1

The Massachusetts Charter School Statute provides increased autonomy to the boards of trustees of charter schools to operate charter schools in return for increased accountability. Charter renewal is not automatic. Between March 1st of the third year and the August 1st following a school's fourth year in its charter term, a charter school's board of trustees may submit an application for renewal of the charter for an additional five year term. While the charter school law 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 of academic program success and decide whether to permit a school to continue to operate.

General Considerations

Every charter school undergoes a rigorous renewal process during the final year of its charter term to determine whether or not the school can continue to operate. The renewal process includes the submission of a renewal application, a renewal inspection visit, and an analysis of all evidence related to the charter school's performance, including quantitative and qualitative evidence collected through the Department's charter school accountability process. This process results in a recommendation regarding charter renewal.

The Charter School Performance Criteria (Criteria) provide the lens of inquiry for the charter renewal process. There are ten criteria articulated in the three key areas of charter school accountability: faithfulness to charter, academic program success, and organizational viability.

The Department comprehensively analyzes the evidence in all areas of school performance when considering a charter school's application for renewal. Student academic achievement, however, is of paramount importance. M.G.L. c. 71, § 89(dd), states that "when deciding on charter renewal, the board shall consider progress made in student academic achievement…" In particular, the Department and the Commissioner uses "increases in student academic achievement for all groups of students described in Section 1111(b)(2)(C)(v) of the ESEA as the most important factor when determining to renew or revoke a school's charter."2 The measures that reflect the priority given to student academic achievement are outlined in Criterion 5, student performance.

The Department, in evaluating charter school performance, and the Commissioner and the Board, in making renewal decisions, also carefully consider the following:

  • Early warning whenever possible. Because renewal is a summative decision that determines the future existence of a school, it must be based on affirmative evidence of success. Because of the significance of this decision, the Department endeavors to clearly communicate concerns or issues to schools prior to renewal. The Department provides feedback to schools against the Criteria through the regular accountability process, including the review of annual data and site visits. When concerns rise to a level requiring stronger and more direct oversight, the Department, Commissioner, and the Board consider imposing conditions on a charter to identify even more clearly those areas in which a school must improve. If a school fails to address conditions adequately, or if the imposition of a condition alone would be insufficient to remediate the problem, the Commissioner may recommend that the Board place a school on probation, with conditions to be met related to the areas of concern. Particularly serious or egregious situations related to developments such as criminal violations, fraud, an unsafe environment, or organizational instability, may lead to an immediate closure of a school or revocation of a school's charter prior to the end of its charter term. Such closure or revocation may occur on an emergency basis.
  • Context and trends. Failure to meet every performance criteria will not necessarily result in a non-renewal; the Criteria set a high standard for performance. Performance relative to the Criteria is considered within the context of the school's performance trends and stage of development. The Commissioner and the Board ultimately make these accountability decisions based upon the totality of evidence presented by the charter school. The Commissioner and the Board consider all qualitative and quantitative evidence when making these decisions.
  • Subsequent renewals. As previously stated, for all renewal decisions, the most important factor when determining a renewal outcome is student academic performance. The Board and Department understand, however, that the context of evaluation for a first renewal may be substantively different than for subsequent renewals. In subsequent renewal reviews, the Board and Department place even greater emphasis on student performance, consistent with the length of time that a school has been in operation and the corresponding increase in the quantity and quality of student achievement data that the school has generated.

Renewal Outcomes

In general, the renewal process results in one of the following outcomes:

  • Unconditional Renewal (decision delegated to the Commissioner): A school's charter may be renewed for another term of five years, without conditions. Generally, to receive a renewal without conditions, the school must have a strong and compelling record of meeting or exceeding the Criteria. This decision places particular emphasis on Criterion 5, student performance.
  • Renewal with Conditions (decision delegated to the Commissioner): A school's charter may be renewed for another term of five years and have conditions imposed on its charter that requires the school to address specific areas of concern. In general, conditions are linked to substandard performance relative to one or more areas of the Criteria.
  • Renewal with Probationary Conditions (Board vote): The Board may renew a school's charter for another term of five years, place the school on probation, and impose conditions on the school's charter that require the school to address specific areas of concern. A renewal with probation signals strong concern about a school's viability and would permit the Board to summarily revoke a school's charter if the school fails to remedy the causes of its probation.
  • Non-Renewal (Board vote): The Board will not renew a school's charter if the school does not apply for renewal or if the school lacks affirmative evidence regarding academic program success, organizational viability, and faithfulness to the terms of its charter, including the extent to which the school has followed its recruitment and retention plan. In the case of non-renewal, a school's charter expires at the end of its term and the school must comply with the Department's Closing Procedures to ensure an orderly closure.

If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Cliff Chuang, Associate Commissioner at cchuang@doe.mass.edu or 781-338-3222). Thank you.

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Last Updated: October 24, 2013
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