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ERIC Number: ED530059
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010-May
Pages: 47
Abstractor: ERIC
Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise
Brinson, Dana; Rosch, Jacob
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
For nearly two decades, charter founders have opened schools across the land on the basis of a distinctive education bargain: operational autonomy--freedom from restrictions typically placed on public schools--in exchange for strong results-based accountability. During that time, many have studied the "results" and "accountability" side of this arrangement, yet to everyone's knowledge there has never before been a systematic national appraisal of the autonomy side. Despite the importance of autonomy to the charter concept--and notwithstanding innumerable anecdotes about various infringements on these freedoms--amazingly little is known about how free (or hamstrung) charter schools really are. Yet such information is fundamental to examining the state of the charter school movement in America and to appraising its value and its potential to advance American education. This study begins to fill that vexing information gap via a national review of charter school autonomy. In the fall of 2009, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute teamed up with Public Impact to grade the autonomy extended by charter laws in twenty-six states that are home to more than 90 percent of America's charter schools. Analysts also examined 100 individual charter contracts in those states to uncover further restrictions imposed by fifty of the country's most active charter authorizers, entities that collectively oversee nearly half of the country's current crop of charter schools. The authors reveal the following nationwide findings: (1) State laws were the primary sources of constraint on charter school autonomy; (2) Still, they average a B+ in terms of how much autonomy they provide to schools; (3) Charter contracts drop the national average autonomy grade to B-; (4) The ultimate autonomy experienced by the average charter school is likely no better than a C+; (5) Charter schools were most likely to face restrictions on teacher hiring (95 percent); and (6) Schools enjoyed the greatest autonomy over curricula, school calendars, teacher work rules, procurement policies, and staff dismissals. State-level findings include: (1) The extent of state-level constraint on school autonomy varied widely; and (2) State-imposed restrictions were most acute in the realms of teacher certification. Authorizer-level findings include: (1) Authorizers added constraints; (2) Authorizers varied significantly in the extent of constraint they imposed; and (3) Authorizers' impact on school autonomy varied by authorizer type. Appended are: (1) Advisory Panel; (2) Autonomy Metric and Scoring Procedures; (3) Procedures; (4) Charter School Types; and (5) Interview Protocol. Errata are included. (Contains 7 figures, 7 tables and 29 endnotes.) [Foreword by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Amber M. Winkler. For "Review of "Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise", see ED530053.
Thomas B. Fordham Institute. 1701 K Street NW Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20006. Tel: 202-223-5452; Fax: 202-223-9226; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Thomas B. Fordham Foundation