When CSI was established by law in 2004, it was charged with serving as an alternative to the existing district authorizers. It was also charged with serving as a model authorizer and making best practices available to district authorizers.
Back in 2020, we shared some of the ways we share knowledge and experiences with the field in our Model Authorizing: Sharing Best Practices blog. We continue to share our experiences and practices within the state and nation through our regular engagement in various organizations, committees, and working groups.
While a seemingly simple phrase, the term model authorizer can be met with many questions and varying interpretations. Here’s how we view our very important role as model authorizer:
A model authorizer follows standards for high-quality authorizing.
The national principles and standards for quality charter school authorizing are established by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). These standards set forth expectations related to:
- Maintaining high standards for schools
- Upholding school autonomy
- Protecting student and public interests
These standards are not only nationally-based, but they have been adopted by the Colorado State Board of Education. The Colorado standards for charter schools and charter school authorizers serve as guiding principles for the State Board when considering charter school appeals and decisions about exclusive chartering authority of district authorizers.
Quality authorizers maintain high standards for charter school performance.
For many authorizers in Colorado, the state’s School Performance Framework (SPF) provides the basis of its annual evaluation of its charter schools.
In addition to looking at academic performance from state assessments, CSI’s performance framework also considers additional measures to evaluate charter school viability. The CSI Performance Framework explicitly defines the measures by which CSI holds schools accountable with regards to academic, financial, and organizational performance. These performance standards are used in authorizer decision-making, such as CSI’s merit-based renewal decisions. More on CSI’s Renewal Process can be found on the CSI website.
Quality authorizers are protectors and promoters of autonomy.
Upholding charter school autonomy while maintaining safety and transparency is a high priority for CSI. Autonomy, and the promise of improved outcomes, are what set charter public schools (and, innovation schools, to some extent) apart from their traditional public school peers. Given the appropriate level of autonomy, charter schools can provide high-quality education that meets the needs of their communities and result in improved outcomes for students.
While we set clear expectations for academic, financial, and operational performance, we do not dictate inputs such as curriculum, staffing structure, or instructional approach. Because of our model-agnostic approach, we maintain a diverse portfolio with over 16 unique educational models. When we look at our portfolio’s performance, we can see success across a variety of models within a variety of communities, reinforcing the belief that there is not one right way to educate children, but rather a variety of approaches that can lead to positive outcomes.
For example, eleven CSI schools were accredited with a “Performance with Distinction” rating for the 2021-22 school year. These schools rank in the top 25% of all schools in Colorado with reportable academic data and have demonstrated strong financial and organizational performance as well. The schools that received this rating are located in different areas of the state, utilize unique educational models, and serve distinct communities. These schools include, among others:
- Colorado International Language Academy, a K-6 Language Immersion school in Colorado Springs
- Salida Montessori Charter School, a PK-8 Montessori school in Salida
- Golden View Classical Academy, a K-12 Classical school in Golden
Quality authorizers protect student and public interests.
Last but not least, quality authorizers should protect both student and public interests. CSI manages this responsibility in a variety of ways:
- Compliance monitoring of statutory and regulatory requirements, such as those related to the Financial Transparency Act
- Reviews and audits of school policies and policy implementation, such as enrollment policies and grievance policies
- Templates and checklist for policy considerations
- Training and technical assistance for school leaders, boards, and staff, including:
- School board training and resources on requirements and best practices,
- Training and improvement planning focused around student access and equity measures,
- Facilitation of school safety training, supports, and reviews
CSI takes its call to model authorizing seriously. We strive to find the right balance between encouraging autonomy and maintaining accountability for our 40+ charter public schools across the state. In doing so, we promote a culture of continuous improvement – both for our schools and for CSI – and will continue to share best practices and learn from other authorizers across the country.