At last week’s quarterly meeting, the State Board of Education (SBE) released its latest evaluation of Tennessee’s charter school authorizers. The State Board evaluates Tennessee’s six charter school authorizers at least once every two years. In 2021 evaluations were delivered for Hamilton County Schools, Knox County Schools, and Shelby County Schools. That left the Achievement School District, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the TN Public Charter School Commission for this year.

In 2019, Tennessee became the fourth state in the U.S. to implement authorizer evaluations when the State General Assembly passed legislation charging the SBE with conducting periodic evaluations of authorizers to determine authorizer compliance and evaluate quality. To bring this charge to fruition, the State Board partnered with SchoolWorks, an education consulting group with experience in authorizer evaluations.

As part of that development process, the State Board gathered feedback from operators, authorizers, and charter school stakeholders on its Quality Charter Authorizing Standards. Furthermore, they conducted focus groups to review feedback, connected with the three other states that had established authorizer evaluation systems, and, established a task force that included authorizers and operators to share in the development of the evaluation process. In addition, the State Board implemented a pilot evaluation with two (2) authorizers participating voluntarily in the Fall of 2020.

Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) was one of the two pilot evaluations in 2020, at that time they received a score of 2.25, or “satisfactory.” Key areas of concern were listed as being:

  • The authorizer lacks clear systems of oversight and monitoring compliance to its schools which may negatively impact the authorizer’s ability to consistently apply interventions when needed.
  • The authorizer’s monthly site visits and standardized data collection regardless of school performance creates an undue administrative burden on its charter schools.
  • The authorizer did not submit evidence of the criteria used to drive high-stakes decisions for renewals and amendment petitions which may lead to inconsistencies that expose the authorizer to criticism and leave charter schools without a clear understanding of the standards to which they are held. The Quality Charter Authorizing Standards require authorizers to set clear criteria to help authorizers make transparent and consistent high-stakes decisions.
  • The authorizer requires its open and operating charter schools to submit an application fee upon renewal. It is unclear if this is permitted by state law, which only provides for an application fee for new-start charter applications.

On the newest evaluation, they scored a 2.2, or satisfactory. All of the areas of concern previously cited have been reclassified as “areas for growth”.

MNPS is home to 27 charter schools, serving 13,014 students in the 2021-22 school year.

The Achievement School District (ASD) was the other school evaluated as part of the pilot year. That evaluation scored the ASD as “approaching satisfactory” with a 1.61 score. This year’s evaluation drops them to a 1.5, listing the following as areas for growth:

  • The authorizer’s charter agreements lack clearly defined rights and responsibilities of the school, annual performance standards, and the criteria for renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions.
  • The authorizer lacks consistent compliance and performance monitoring systems, such as a formal site visit with stated purposes and direct alignment to performance outcomes and a comprehensive accountability and performance monitoring system to ensure student rights are protected and the terms of the charter agreement are followed.
  • The authorizer has not established an intervention policy that outlines and clearly communicates a problem-solving process, states the conditions that may trigger intervention, allows reasonable time for remediation, and preserves school autonomy and responsibility.

The ASD is a state-level authorizer within the Tennessee Department of Education that was established by law in 2011 to serve as an intervention for some of the state’s lowest-performing schools. Since its inception, it has repeatedly come under fire for failing to improve student learning and is currently undergoing a reorganization.

Of the three authorizers rated this year, the TN Charter School Commission scored the highest – a 3.9 out of 5 or “exemplary”. The board cited competent leadership and a rigorous selection process for review committee members as areas of strength. Under areas of growth, it was noted that the authorizer lacks transparency and clear descriptions for its use of funds to demonstrate adequate resources are allocated to support authorizing.

The Charter Commission is a state agency established in 2019 by Public Chapter 219 of the 111th General Assembly to serve as the state’s charter school appellate body and authorizer for any charter school that it approves upon appeal. The Charter Commission began serving as the state’s appellate body on January 1, 2021, and all schools previously authorized by the State Board of Education transferred to the Charter Commission on July 1, 2021. Currently, they oversee 9 schools, with 5 in development.

Per the SBE press release:

Each charter school authorizer evaluation begins with the formation of an evaluation team and an examination of the authorizer’s performance based on the Board’s Quality Charter Authorizing Standards rubric. At the conclusion of the evaluation, authorizers receive a final report detailing specific feedback, scores on the rubric’s standards, an overall rating, and follow-up actions. Authorizers can earn an overall rating on a scale from zero to four, with score ranges indicating unsatisfactory/incomplete, approaching satisfactory, satisfactory, commendable, and exemplary designations.

The release of these last three evaluations marks the completion of the State Board’s first full cycle of evaluations.

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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]. He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.
Photo “Teacher and Students in a Classroom” by Ilya Sonin.