New Fordham Report: Colorado Charters Lagging in True Autonomy

One of the main ingredients that gives public charter schools the opportunity to thrive in a competitive environment is the degree of autonomy to determine its own culture, curriculum, program, budget and personnel policies. But just how much autonomy do they have?

We know that because of different laws and policies, all states certainly aren’t equal. The Center for Education Reform’s annual report card on states’ charter-friendliness is the leading example.

But today the Fordham Institute released a report that takes a closer look at 100 charter schools in 26 different states, rating them on a carefully-developed metric of autonomy in the areas of: Vision and Culture, Program, Staffing, and Financial and Governance.

An interesting aspect of the report was not only taking into account the effect of state laws but also adding the impact of contracts signed between charter schools and their authorizers (e.g., school districts) on autonomy in these different areas.

I have to say that I was somewhat surprised to see where Colorado ranked. According to this report, only five state laws ranked lower in charter autonomy: Maryland, New Mexico, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Georgia (conversion schools only, not-start ups). The four Colorado schools looked at ranked from C- to D+, or about 65th to 75th out of 100 (authorizer’s names in parentheses, grade in bold):

To be clear, these grades don’t reflect on how well a school performs — for example, West Denver Prep is a top-flight performer in improving opportunity and achievement for middle school students from poorer families — just how much autonomy they are provided to do the hard work of educating their students. But Colorado policy makers may have some serious considerations to examine here that would help raise our state’s grades.