Get Your School’s Performance Data Renewal Ready!

By Annice Weinstein, Senior Manager, Assessment Data & Analysis

December 14, 2017

Charter renewal is a very time intensive process, and it can be even more demanding if you haven’t already collected the necessary performance data. The following three steps will set you up to have your data ready when the time comes to start working on your renewal petition, so you can focus your energy on putting together a sound analysis and a strong narrative that highlight your school’s achievements!

  • Download your student level data files for state tests as soon as the state makes them available. These files may not be available in your account when it’s time for renewal, so it’s best to download the files annually as they are released. For example, the Test Operations Management System (TOMS) currently stores just two years of summative test results, so make sure to have your LEA CAASPP coordinator download the files as soon as the state indicates they are ready. You can find the files in TOMS (https://caaspp.ets.org/) under Reports (on the left), LEA Reports. Scroll down to the bottom to download the Student Results Report-Student Score Data Extract for each year available. CalTAC has recently removed the 2014-15 files, so you may need to contact them directly if you didn’t already download these files. You may reach CalTAC at 800-955-2954 or caltac@ets.org.
  • Keep track of your comparison schools. Does your authorizer require comparisons to specific schools? Are there other schools in your area, or schools with demographics or programs similar to yours, that you strive to outperform? If most of the relevant comparison schools are within the same district, take a look at the California School Dashboard Five-by-Five grids to see how your school stacks up on the Dashboard indicators: http://www6.cde.ca.gov/californiamodel/. And keep an eye on your Academic Accountability Report with the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA): http://snapshots.ccsa.org/aar. CCSA produces a Similar Students Measure that will give you an idea of how your school’s performance on the SBAC compares to that of demographically similar schools.
  • Select LCAP performance metrics that track longitudinal progress for the same set of students. This will help you stay on track with annual data collection and give you a boost when you want to share your longitudinal progress on local assessments with your authorizers. The metrics can include performance on NWEA MAP, developmental reading assessments, or i-Ready. Working the tests into your LCAP metrics is a good way to ensure that you review progress annually and have the data necessary for your renewal.

Keep Calm and Review Your CALPADS Reports!

By Gerald Cockrell, Data and Categorical Program Specialist

November 13, 2017

Given the large amount of data reported for CALPADS Fall I, and the multitude of certification reports available, it can be difficult to determine which data are the most important and where to find them!  To help ease the frustration, we’ve created a list of the most important reports and included detail about the information each report contains and who should be reviewing them.

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There are many other reports available as well, but starting with the ones listed in this table will provide a clear view of the data that affect your funding and accountability.  As a reminder, special attention should be paid to FRPM data, EL data, and high school graduate data.

If you have any concerns about the data being reported for Fall I, feel free to reach out to EdTec’s data team to discuss how we can help. You can reach Gerald at gerald.cockrell@edtec.com, or 213.292. 6620 x414.

Benchmarking for Charter School Budgeting

By Yoon Chang, Client Manager, EdTec

Originally published November 2015

Since our founding in 2001, EdTec has had the privilege of working with more than 300 charter school leaders, district personnel, board members, charter management organizations, and the like.  Given our experience, EdTec’s school partners often ask how other charter schools approach their budgets and what spending metrics they should use for their own budget planning.  In response, since 2012, EdTec has prepared and updated a benchmarking study of charter school financial data from charter schools across the state of California.

The information provided in this year’s update once again yields useful and interesting findings to charter developers and seasoned charter school operators alike for their budget planning and evaluation of budget efficiency.  The updated study that follows provides a starting place to compare existing budgets and to inform plans for the future.  Every school will have its own priorities and variations in spending, but looking at data for other schools can be a good sanity check.

Data Sources

We drew from the following sources for the findings in this benchmarking analysis:

  • Unaudited actuals data from more than 450 charter schools for years 2011-12 through 2013-14
  • Public schools database
  • 2013-14 Salary and Benefits Schedule for the Certificated Bargaining Unit
  • Sample payroll data from EdTec’s school partners in 2014
  • EDCOE SELPA’s and CCSA study’s district encroachment

How to Use the Data

EdTec made interesting findings when pulling together this information, but the goal was never to prove a hypothesis. Rather, our aim is to provide schools leaders and boards with additional context around budgeting decisions so they can be better informed when making their own.  It’s best to use benchmark data in the following ways:

  • Budget planning: to establish a baseline budget for new schools and conduct sensibility checks for existing schools
  • Evaluate budget efficiency: how does your school compare to others; how has spending changed over time; explain outliers in your spending

Keep in mind that this information should not dictate what your budget should eventually look like, be used to set salary schedules or justify expenditures.  This information should be used to explore variations and fence in discussion, and the budget should ultimately reflect the capacity and priorities of each school and its specific profile at that time.

Spending Trends as a Whole

The charts that follow illustrate charter school spending as a whole across all charters in our sample.

Charter School Spending as a WholeGiven that schools rely heavily on personnel, it’s not surprising that on average charters spend a majority of their budgets, 59%, on salaries and benefits.  Services & Other Operating expenses include leases, back-office services, special education encroachment, and additional programming.  Use this chart as a litmus test for your school’s budget.  Identify areas that differ in your budget and then explore them in greater detail.

Charter School Spending: New vs. Existing Schools

Spending patterns change over time based on the age of the school.  Spending shifts with priorities; budgets generally grow; schools become more efficient with their spending.As shown above, schools that have been around for a while tend to spend more on salaries and benefits (64%) than brand new schools (53%).  This could be a result of long-established schools bringing traditionally outsourced functions in-house, such as back-office services and special education.  As expected, new schools spend more of their budget on books and supplies than their established counterparts.

This data provides a good general overview of how resources are allocated across charters in California.  Age and school type will dictate some spending, but one thing that charter budgets all have in common is their biggest expense – salaries and benefits.

A Closer Look: Salaries at Districts vs. Charters

Teacher salaries vary among charters as compared to districts, as seen in the charts below.  We analyzed the 2013-14 CALPADS teacher salary and experience data.  On a statewide scale, the average teacher tenure is fourteen years and the average salary is $71,396.  Below is a comparison of district averages to charter schools operating within those districts.

FUSD is Fresno Unified School District; HUSD is Hayward Unified School District

As is shown above, factors such as years of teaching experience have a real impact on salaries.  Other variables that affect teacher salary: collective bargaining, non-salary pay (bonuses, stipends), and local cost of living.

Certificated Salaries

Across all charters in our sample, certificated salaries are a significant expense.  Charters consistently spend between 38-39% on certificated salaries; it is the largest per ADA line item expense.

Note that independent study schools must spend 40% of revenues on certificated salaries and benefits, so the high number of non-classroom based schools (14% of total ADA) may pull up the average.  Again, salaries vary depending on geography.  Use EdData as a resource for additional district- and county-wide comparisons.

Certificated Administrators salaries (1300 series) include a number of positions such as Executive Directors, Superintendents, Principals, Assistant Principals, Directors, and Deans.  When compared to teacher salaries, the range and distribution for this expense is narrower.

When comparing administrators’ salaries between CMOs and stand-alone charters, we can see that average expenditures per ADA, and the percentage of the budget dedicated to school leadership, are higher for standalones than CMOs.

Keep in mind that there are fewer employees in these positions per school compared to teachers, and boards of directors set school leaders salaries at their discretion.  Additionally, the leadership structure can vary widely in charter schools, e.g. assistant principals, lead teachers with administrative responsibilities, and non-certificated administrators.

To look closer at Executive Director salaries specifically, we crunched the numbers of our own partner schools.  The chart to the right shows salaries for 49 Executive Directors:

The average salary is $112,094, ranging from a low of $46,400 to a high of $199,500.  Even when keeping outliers in the data (very high and very low), Executive Director salaries cluster around $100,000, even for small schools.  It is possible that Executive Director salaries plateau sooner (vs. teachers) and that there is less variance by grades served.  That is, a high school Director can expect about the same salary as a middle school Director.

Concluding Thoughts

Putting together an efficient, well-allocated budget can sometimes feel like an insurmountable task.  But the reality is that many charter world people have been in the same position.  Using benchmarking data can provide a snapshot of finances of charters across the state.  When comparing, it’s important to remember that charter schools can vary widely in composition, geography, and demographics.  Also, averages and medians don’t tell the whole story.  Expect variances from the norms and be able to rationalize them.  Use this data to test budget efficiency, make comparisons, and plan a meaningful, robust future for your school!

HELP! I need a Student Information System! Practical Considerations for Today’s Charter School Leaders

By Chris Lim, Director of Data Management, EdTec 

Originally published April 2013

In the current educational climate, it’s essential that a school has the ability to track, organize and report on its data. From managing day-to-day operations to meeting various reporting requirements, it has become virtually impossible to run a school effectively without an efficient data management system in place. Some schools valiantly try to
manage their data manually, but this approach is both time-consuming and error-prone, and they find themselves reconciling data from several different systems and spreadsheets. Schools that try to get by without an established Student Information System in their first year of operation find it hard enough to understand the reporting requirements, let alone manage all the data that is associated with them.

A Student Information System (SIS) is a software application that a school uses to manage its data. Ideally, an SIS allows a school to efficiently manage and track a number of crucial pieces of its operations, including scheduling, attendance, grading and reporting. For a new charter school operator, choosing the system that best fits the needs of the organization can have a profound effect on how smoothly the school runs.

This spring, we spoke with decision-makers at a handful of both new and established California charter schools about their experiences with data management, in an effort to glean some wisdom from those who have already embarked on the road to SIS evaluation and implementation. We learned that as they grow, high-performing charter schools come to understand the importance of data and how it can help school leaders make better decisions for their schools. We hope the information below helps recently-approved and new schools in their search for the best Student Information System to fit their unique needs. As we’ll learn, just like so many other aspects of the charter world: it’s never one-size-fits-all.

Time’s Up. Put Down Your Calculator.

The San Carlos Charter Learning Center (CLC) was granted the very first California state charter number (#001) in February 1993, making it the oldest charter school in California and one of the oldest charter schools in the United States. Stacy Emory, Director of Curriculum and Resources, explains the value of an SIS for her school: “Even with basic tasks like pulling up a class list, or having a way to track student medical information with something other than paper binders, having an SIS made all of these routine tasks easier and allowed us to focus on more important things.” Given all of the other resource constraints charter schools typically face, manual data management isn’t the best use of any staff member’s time.

It’s often hard for teachers and administrators to understand why so much data needs to be collected and how it all really matters at the end of the day. There are many answers, but one simple one: Reporting poor data to the CA Department of Education (CDE) can have disastrous implications for a school’s funding stream. Failing to report data to the CDE in a timely manner can be grounds for a charter to be revoked. Not having key student performance data readily available can severely reduce a school’s chances of a successful renewal.

For a new charter school, mulling through the various SIS options and choosing the best fit can be a daunting task. Financial costs aside, there are a number of other factors that schools must consider when trying to figure out which Student Information System is the best fit for the school and its stakeholders. Laurie Inman, Chief Executive and Academic Officer at Apple Academy Charter Public Schools in Los Angeles, which opened in fall 2012, says, “An SIS allows for many functions to be done much more efficiently. I would never suggest a manual route over having an SIS – it is neither cost-effective nor the best use of human resources.”

Although a student information system isn’t a panacea, it should be the cornerstone of any school’s data strategy. An SIS will be the main system of record when it comes to students, teachers and staff, which will ultimately flow to any other systems a school uses.

It Has To Work for Everybody

One crucial thing to understand when evaluating SIS options is that the system must work for an assortment of end-users, not just school leadership. Heather Berkley, Systems Project Manager at Aspire Public Schools, explained how their organization defined system evaluation criteria based on the use cases for each of their major end-user groups:

  1. For Office Managers – focus on enrollment & attendance verification functionality
  2. For Teachers – focus on gradebook, report card and attendance-taking
  3. For Registrar & Administrative Staff – focus on course catalog, transcript and discipline management
  4. For District – focus on ensuring the SIS can capture data that may be required from the authorizer as a part of any MOU they have with the school
  5. For Everyone – focus on mass import/export and mass update functionality, full access to import/export data, site stability, scalability and support services

Berkley noted that mass handling functionality is hugely important because without it, schools end up spending considerably more time on basic functions – scheduling, attendance reconciliation, and contact updates. Additionally, the interface itself must be a user-friendly experience with functionality organized in an intuitive manner to ease the training and adoption burden. After all, everybody in your organization will be coming in with different kinds of knowledge and different levels of tech-savvy. It’s crucial that everybody who will be working with the SIS feels comfortable and that you take all those different responsibilities, personalities and capabilities into account.

Compliance Broke the Camel’s Back

In California, average daily attendance, or ADA, accounts for as much as 60% of a school’s annual funding. The process for reporting ADA can vary from school to school depending on the school’s authorizer, the type of program offered (site-based vs. independent study, etc.) and the grade levels served. Since attendance makes up such a large percentage of a school’s total funding, school leaders need to evaluate whether they can report their school’s attendance accurately while meeting all the necessary compliance requirements.

One of the first things to confirm when evaluating an SIS is whether or not it supports the State data reporting system, known as CALPADS here in California. San Carlos Charter Learning Center’s Stacy Emory explains, “As the demand for data has increased from the state, having a central place where we can easily pull out the data we need has become more and more valuable over time. It’s also extremely important to know that our SIS routinely stays up to date with all of these State data reporting requirements.”

CALPADS was created to meet federal requirements as outlined in No Child Left Behind and brought about a number of changes in the scope and the methods in which data must be reported to the State. Starting in 2009, California began requiring schools to submit student-level data to CALPADS. In addition to student data, CALPADS now asks for staff-level data, course enrollment and completion data, discipline data and more. Tracking all this data and understanding the relationship between the different sets of data can be onerous for even the most seasoned data analysts.

The best Student Information Systems have reporting mechanisms that allow schools to extract the data that needs to be reported for each of the various submissions.  More importantly, the better systems will produce extracts that are in a format that can be read by CALPADS.  In addition, some systems have built-in tools that allow a user to identify missing data or flag data that violates specific “business rules” in CALPADS. To an office manager or an administrative clerk, these tools become invaluable very quickly.

One area that is often overlooked is a vendor’s commitment to keeping their SIS up-to-date with the state’s requirements. As Aspire’s Heather Berkley notes: “Continuous product development to remain current with the changing state requirements and customer requested enhancements is essential.” If a vendor doesn’t keep up with the requirements, you may end up working with a system that isn’t able to pull the data you need, or even worse, pull incorrect data. Lack of ongoing support along these lines can end up meaning more work for your school staff if the data coming out of your system can’t be reasonably relied upon. Given the stakes involved, a school can’t afford to get a system that is only partially supported or inconsistently supported.

TOP COMPLIANCE QUESTIONS TO ASK SIS VENDORS:

·         Can teachers take attendance simply and effectively with the system?

·         Does the system provide tools to evaluate whether attendance is being submitted?

·         Does the system have tools to identify and resolve attendance errors?

·         Can the system generate weekly attendance rosters?

·         Can the system generate monthly attendance summaries and supporting detail reports?

·         Does the system allow you to configure how attendance is being calculated and reported?

Your Model Determines Your System

School leaders often ask the EdTec Data team: “What’s the best Student Information System out there?” The most honest answer is, “It depends.” Charter schools come in all different shapes and sizes and on top of that, they each choose a different approach when it comes to educating their students. Given this variability, an SIS that works for one type of school could be a complete disaster for another.  Finding the “best” system is really about finding a system that best fits your school’s instructional model and instructional goals.

Let’s look at the unique SIS needs of a growing charter educational model, full-time independent study…

With a full-time independent study program, students are not instructed inside a classroom but instead are assigned work to be completed outside of the classroom. Often, a student will never physically meet the teacher who has assigned the work to him or her. Nevertheless, a credentialed teacher still evaluates the completed work to determine whether the student should receive academic credit and attendance credit. Clearly, the documentation requirements around independent study are far more burdensome than they are for traditional schools.

For example, independent study schools must keep copies of signed master agreements from each student, a daily work log, and samples of the student’s work. Unfortunately, most Student Information Systems are designed for traditional, site-based schools. For schools that run a full-time independent study program, EdTec typically refer them to an SIS that is designed for independent study programs even if other SIS’s have more features. A system that is designed with independent study schools in mind has built-in functionality to help manage the school’s master agreements with all its students. Such a system would also allow teachers to track gradebook assignments against the master agreement and have functionality for students and parents in keeping a daily activity log. It’s fairly obvious that most site-based schools have no need for this type of functionality, but for independent study schools, it’s a show-stopper if these features are missing. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many features an SIS has if it can’t natively support your school’s core operations and instructional model.

New Kids on the Block:  Common Core and Blended Learning

With the move nationally to Common Core standards, many schools will begin shifting away from a traditional-based grading model to a more standards-based model. If a school chooses to “grade” students based on standards, it’s important that a school chooses an SIS that supports standards-based grading. Most SIS’s should have this functionality available but a school should evaluate how each system approaches it from the standpoint of students, teachers, and administrators. Does the system allow for the level of granularity and flexibility your school may need? Can sub-standards be rolled up to an overall standard score? Can an assignment be associated with multiple standards and vice versa? Can the standards be easily reported out of the system for report cards, progress reports, etc.? The answers to these questions will vary from school to school but knowing the answers to these questions will help you choose the SIS that best fits your grading model.

Finally, there is a growing interest in the charter school space around blended learning models. In a blended learning model, traditional classroom learning is supplemented by online learning and mobile learning. Although the literature is still relatively mixed on how effective this model is, more and more schools are finding ways to incorporate elements of this model into their traditional curriculum. If your school plans to offer a blended learning program, it’s important that you choose a platform that can support the type of program you envision. Given that there are very few SIS’s that can support a blended learning model at the moment, it’s actually more important that you find an SIS that can integrate with the platform you’re using. One of the vendors we reached out to had this to say: “To address the growing demand for blended learning models, we’re committed to developing education content and resources that can be turned on through our various K-12 platforms. Our plans include creating complete interoperability between our SIS and these platforms.” Ultimately, if a school is planning to deliver curriculum through non-traditional methods, it should be looking for an SIS that is open, or at the very least, one that provides a framework for integrating with these other educational support systems.

Hello Operator

Charter schools typically do not have the luxury of hiring a local SIS expert to manage all of their data needs. And no matter how intuitive or user-friendly an SIS may be, school staff will inevitably need help, whether that involves training on new features or troubleshooting everyday issues and software bugs. Therefore, it pays to understand the type and level of support you can expect to get with the purchase of the system in order to get the most out of it. Heather Berkley, at Aspire, notes, “Sufficient customer support is a necessity. We’re putting our trust in a vendor that is responsible for critical student data; it’s imperative that they include training and technical/development staff who will be there to provide the level of service necessary for that.”

Choosing an SIS should be seen as a long-term investment and part of that investment involves making sure resources are available to ensure your staff will have the support necessary to help them succeed.

TOP CUSTOMER SERVICE QUESTIONS TO ASK SIS VENDORS:

·         How comprehensive is the initial training?

·         How can my staff get help?

·         How responsive is the support staff?

·         Are resources such as an online knowledgebase or manual available?

·         Is there a strong community of users we can tap into?

·         Are there vendors who can provide comparable support or training services?

Growing Up Together

You want to choose a system that can grow with your school, so its important to try to anticipate what your school’s unique needs will be a few years down the road. As your school becomes more sophisticated, you may need to adopt additional software tailored to fit specific niches in your program, such as student assessment systems, behavioral management systems, application management systems, and student alert and notification systems. Since the intention is that the SIS you choose will be your system of record for the long haul, it’s important to choose a system that has the infrastructure in place to communicate with all of these other systems. A system that is open and emphasizes interoperability will allow your school to scale its service effectively as your organization grows.

Stacy Emory, Director of Curriculum and Resources at CLC reflects, “We started working with our SIS eight years ago – before that we had nothing, and we lost track of so much data. We’ve been around for 20 years now, and have alumni who are out of college! If we had an SIS from the beginning, we would be able to tap into it now. Unfortunately, we don’t have any records to look at for those students, which also means we can’t look at long-term trends or evaluate the long-term effectiveness of our program.”

In the midst of all the excitement surrounding your initial charter approval, it can be difficult to think about what your school’s needs may look like 3, 5, even 10 years down the line. Still, it’s important to choose vendors who can satisfy your changing needs over time, and to remember that those changes will be coming both internally – from the school itself, and externally – from the District or State level.

So, what if you want to change from one SIS to another SIS down the road? The EdTec Data team gets this question a lot, often from schools that have been in existence for quite some time. Most often, they get excited about some new functionality that’s available in another SIS, or they seem to think another SIS looks easier to use. Although these are definitely valid reasons to consider other systems, they are usually not valid reasons for actually making a switch. Each SIS database, and even the underlying logic of how the data is organized, can differ dramatically from system-to-system. As a result, data does not always migrate cleanly from one SIS to another. Even worse, some data cannot be migrated at all. In the latter case, EdTec has observed situations in which student schedules and student assignment scores from previous years could not be migrated to a new instance of the same SIS. If there is that much data loss from moving data within the same SIS, imagine the potential data loss that can result from migrating data between two different SIS’s. At the end of the day, a school needs to determine whether the new functionality they would get from a new system outweighs the risk to the integrity of their data.

“Why can’t we make it work this way?”   |   Making the Case for Customization

TOP CUSTOMIZATION QUESTIONS TO ASK SIS VENDORS:

·         What is the vendor’s vision towards customization? Is the vendor more end-user centric or vendor-centric in this regard?

·         Does the system allow me to add fields to track information (i.e. student, staff, course) that is unique to my school?

·         Is it easy for me to create customized reports if the ones included by the vendor don’t suit my needs?

·         Does the system allow me to make modifications to the interface or change the user experience?

Not to belabor the point, but, each charter school is unique. Because of this, the ability to customize a system to fit your school’s particular needs can play a big part in deciding which SIS to choose. Customization can be something as simple as being able to set up a field to track data that isn’t included out-of-the-box to something as complex as altering the SIS’s interface and building in new logic around how the data flows through your system. When schools consider purchasing an SIS, they’re usually concerned about the core functionality of an SIS and aren’t necessarily concerned with the need to personalize or customize their experience within their SIS for the first couple of years. But invariably, as a school grows, the school and its various stakeholders will want and need to measure their students in non-traditional ways, or will want to make the experience within their SIS more consistent with the way the school actually operates. This isn’t possible if the SIS doesn’t allow the end-user to control the customization process. When this happens, it often puts a school at the mercy of the vendor when it comes to enhancing their SIS. For example, even if a vendor’s system can be customized, the customization itself will need to be implemented by the vendor and not the end-user – and usually at a cost that is prohibitive for most charter schools.

Picking a Winner

As the charter school movement continues to grow, the number of options available to perform crucial school operational functions will continue to expand. The purpose of any student information system is to make your job easier, but in this day and age, the amount of data itself, and the requirements around reporting all that data, can be overwhelming. CLC’s Stacy Emory, Director of Curriculum and Resources: “The depth of data we’re talking about nowadays requires the right toolkit to mine it. We’ve used a combination of our SIS’s online resource, customer support and third party support to make sure we were using the SIS the way it was designed to be used.” As you evaluate your options, keep in mind that the one you choose just needs to work best for you and your stakeholders. The type of school you run and the unique ways it will grow in the coming years, the make-up of your staff and their support needs, and the compliance requirements applicable to you will help determine the best fit.

To discuss your specific needs and learn more about the options that would best suit your school, contact Gerald Cockrell at gerald.cockrell@edtec.com.

Charter Renewal Do’s and Don’ts from an Authorizer’s Lens

By Stephanie Cho, Business Development Manager, EdTec 

Originally published October 2011

Renewal can be a daunting process for even the most prepared and organized charter schools. The process is time-consuming and often produces anxiety within the community. The uncertainty and politics that surround charter approvals and renewals. In an effort to shed light on what authorizers look for from schools going through renewal, EdTec conducted interviews with authorizers from around the state, to provide their charter renewal advice and get their take on how schools can equip themselves to emerge successful.

Keith Butler

Business Advisory Services Consultant

San Diego County Office of Education

Q: What have you seen schools do that make for a successful renewal petition?

A: Successful schools start early and carefully watch for deadlines (often in June). Schools that don’t plan ahead and are still making significant corrections in March and April are bound to fall short. It’s important for schools to come to an agreement with their authorizers on oversight. Figure out what is expected ahead of time in this area and address those expectations.

Q: What are some common issues you see schools fail to address in their petitions that hurt their renewal efforts?

A: Common pitfalls tend to happen in the budget assumptions. I want to be sure that the numbers presented in the petition budget are based on reality. The school needs to be able to back up their enrollment numbers and provide evidence to support other assumptions. This can be a growth plan, and other details such as what a school is paying for its liability insurance. Schools can run into problems when the funding rates used are not from SSC (School Services of California), the ADA isn’t sufficiently backed up, or cash flow timing isn’t accurate or consistent with county projections. Expenses should tie to both the school’s historical data and incorporate what’s on the horizon. For example, healthcare costs year over year should be consistent with previous policies (e.g. a cap) and anticipate future needs. Expenses should be clearly laid out and classified by category and object code. Overall, the financials should include actuals as well as a good list of assumptions for the projections.

Q: What would you like to see more of when you review renewal petitions?

A: More documentation and specification that backs up what’s written. For example, the school’s learning outcomes – what methods exactly is the school using to achieve those outcomes? I would like to see how schools are meeting the various measurable pupil outcomes (MPOs). When shortcomings are identified, I’d like to see schools put a system in place that lays out exactly how to drive change and what results are expected to come of it.

Q: Sometimes schools put in very aggressive goals in their original petitions, often at the request of the authorizer, and then fall short of meeting those goals. What can a charter do in that situation?

A: Revise your projections early with various scenarios that are reasonable. For example, show that you’ve thought through the different scenarios that could happen. Have projections based on current data, current projections plus a cost of living adjustment to your salaries, current projections plus cuts, etc. On the instructional side, the goal is to show that you know what you’re doing and are able to offer realistic alternatives if the status quo isn’t working.

Q: What is your main piece of charter renewal advice to schools that are going through the renewal process this year?

A: My main piece of charter renewal advice is to agree with your authorizer on expectations regarding oversight guidelines, keep communications up, and it should go smoothly.

José J. Cole-Gutiérrez

Director, Charter Schools

Innovation and Charter Schools Division, LAUSD

Q: What have you seen schools do that make for a successful renewal petition?

A: More effective schools are the ones planning well ahead the year before renewal. These schools have gone through each and every year, well aware of how they have done performance-wise, engaged their communities, engaged their boards, and have made the time for self-assessment. This is why they earn another five years. These schools can also address what they can improve in the next five years. Smaller things that schools have done include looking at the LAUSD oversight report on a yearly basis, taking corrective action when necessary, and communicating with their assigned renewal team well ahead of time. Schools that do well have addressed problems in advance. During the actual renewal process LAUSD should not have to go back to those issues. On the finance side, finances should be in good order and the cash flow and balance sheet need to look strong.

Q: What would you like to see more of when you review renewal petitions?

A: More of a demonstration of community and staff support. I’d also like to see folks addressing outstanding issues and what they want to accomplish in the next five years. Ultimately, I want to see a strong performing school that meets what leaders said they would do and the standard of the law.

Q: What is your main piece of charter renewal advice to schools that are going through the renewal process this year?

A: Be very clear and proud of your accomplishments as candidly as possible. Celebrate! At the same time, let us know what challenges you face and how you plan to deal with them. Looking back, ask yourself how did we do? What did we do well and how can we do more of that? Looking forward, how will we change? Regarding financial challenges, how can we be more prudent?

Q: Do you have any other comments?

A: LAUSD has 30 schools up for renewal this year. In many cases, this is more than districts have in charters total. We want to make it an efficient process for community, staff, and the school, and we value a collaborative approach with schools. LAUSD believes in high performing schools and holding schools accountable. We are open to those conversations on how schools have done.

Gail Greely

Coordinator, Office of Charter Schools

Oakland Unified School District

Q: What have you seen schools do that make for a successful renewal petition?

A: Our office publishes both a Petition Evaluation Instrument for all charter petitions and a Charter Renewal Handbook that includes guidance on the renewal process and on the charter renewal quality standards.  Using these resources can help a school produce a more complete document that supports their case for renewal with specific evidence related to our standards. However, the specific content of the school’s renewal petition is less important than the quality of its performance throughout the preceding charter term.

Q: What are some common issues you see schools fail to address in their petitions that hurt their renewal efforts?

A: Our quality standards cover four key questions: 1) Is the school academically sound?; 2) Is the school an effective and viable organization?; 3) Has the school been faithful to the terms of its charter?; and 4) Is the school’s petition reasonably comprehensive?  A school that has not implemented the program described in the charter and has not met or made substantial progress towards meeting the measurable pupil outcomes (MPOs) in its charter is unlikely to be renewed.  Note that making a case for meeting or making substantial progress towards MPOs involves using data that the school has been collecting over the entire term of the charter, so strong data collection systems are critical. We respect the charter as an agreement between the district and the school. The school accepts strong accountability in exchange for increased autonomy. They are accountable for achieving the outcomes described in their charter, so schools that fail to address these, or fail to describe why they have taken a different approach, hurt their renewal efforts.

Q: What would you like to see more of when you review renewal petitions?

A: Charter renewal provides a chance for the school to reflect on the preceding years and engage in serious self-evaluation, involving all stakeholders. We believe a quality school should take this opportunity to revise its charter to include plans for continuous improvement in all aspects of the academic program, management, and governance.

Q: Sometimes schools put in very aggressive goals in its original petition, often at the request of the authorizer, and then fall short of meeting those goals. What can a charter do in that situation?

A: Our quality standards look for student outcomes that are aligned with the school’s mission: clear, specific and measurable, and ambitious yet attainable. Because we review a school’s performance with respect to its student outcomes every year, a school concerned about over-ambitious goals should be raising the issue with our office during the charter term. Then during charter renewal, the school can provide in its petition an explanation (based on reliable data) of why the outcomes were not met (or substantial progress was not made) and describe what they propose as ambitious and attainable goals for the next charter term.

Q: When do you advise a school to submit their petition, and what specific information do you request, above and beyond the normal petition?

A: We accept charter renewal petitions no earlier than October 1st of the charter’s final year and recommend submission no later than the end of January. Schools that consider themselves at risk of denial may wish to submit earlier to allow time for appeals. In addition to the charter petition, we require a Performance Report that is to be prepared in draft prior to our site inspection and then finalized as part of the charter renewal submission.

Q: Are there things prior to the one year renewal process that you would like to see charters do? What would you like to see three years ahead of renewal? Two years?

A: From the first day of operation, schools should make sure that they are tracking the MPOs to which they have committed in their charters. Progress toward achievement of these outcomes should be checked regularly throughout the school year, with program adjustments made in response. As renewal approaches, but while there is still time for meaningful change, schools should review the renewal quality standards published by our office and honestly assess their own performance. Rather than viewing charter renewal as a periodic compliance task, the MPOs and charter renewal standards should be integrated into the school’s continuous improvement process.

Dr. Lucretia D. Peebles

Director, Charter Schools Department

Santa Clara County Office of Education

Q: What have you seen schools do that make for a successful renewal petition?

A: The ones that are successful are conscious of new laws pertaining to renewals. Successful schools also set up meetings, understand expectations, understand if anything has changed in the guidelines, and get the information up front to find out the requirements. It is the school’s responsibility to know the laws, understand what the guidelines are ahead of time, and understand logistics.

Q: What would you like to see more of when you review renewal petitions?

A: More comprehensive in the educational program section, more clarity in governance, and how parents will be included.

Q: Sometimes schools put in very aggressive goals in its original petition, often at the request of the authorizer, and then fall short of meeting those goals. What can a charter do in that situation?

A: Be as transparent about your goals as you can. Develop realistic objectives and be aware of what you can implement. You might need to do a material revision if you aren’t meeting goals, and you should talk to your authorizer about the best way to go about this. Be up front about your problems.

Q: When do you advise a school to submit their petition, and what specific information do you request, above and beyond the normal petition?

A: Early fall for a charter expiring the following June would be best practice.

Q: What is your main piece of charter renewal advice to schools that are going through the renewal process this year?

A: Become familiar with guidelines and work with your authorizer so that you understand how the process will be handled. Know times and roles and responsibilities.

 

EdTec would like to thank the above authorizers for contributing their time, knowledge and charter renewal advice. All of the authorizers echoed throughout each interview that renewal should not be viewed as simply an obligatory assignment to be completed every five years, but rather, a continuous process to track progress and improve the school. All charters face renewal at some point, and no matter where your school might currently fall on that timeline, it’s always a good time to:

  • Stay in the know on requirements and timelines. Rules and laws related to the renewal process are continually changing and it’s critical to stay on top of which ones apply to your school. Furthermore, your authorizer might have specific oversight guidelines and timelines they want you to follow. In general, it is recommended you start drafting your renewal petition 18 months to no less than a year in advance of the charter expiration date. This will give you adequate time for back and forth communications between you and your authorizer and an appeals process if necessary. Check with your authorizer regarding exact timelines for submitting the renewal petition.
  • Maintain constant and open contact with your authorizer. Communication is particularly important because you want to create context around both the successes and shortcomings of your school well before the renewal year. Authorizers appreciate transparency and want schools to be realistic about their plans. Come to an agreement on oversight ahead of time and know what their expectations are so you can tailor your petition to address any specific concerns.
  • Utilize data assessment and analysis. While qualitative aspects such as positive testimonials are important, authorizers like to see hard facts and longitudinal assessment data to substantiate how you are meeting your goals and delivering results. Concrete, specific and measurable data is a convincing way to show your authorizer that you can both back up your claims on past performance and have a tool for formative assessments going forward. Use data analysis to showcase your successes. At the same time, the data can expose your weaknesses – so be honest about the areas you’re looking to improve, and how you plan to focus on those areas.
  • Get a strong handle on your finances. The petition budget and cash flow are concrete areas that your authorizer will review closely, especially in this unforgiving economic environment. Make sure your assumptions make sense with the goals outlined in the rest of your petition. Be able to speak intelligently on the financial situation of your school. If you are working with any consultants or back-office providers in this area, leverage them to go through every assumption with you so that you have a thorough understanding of your finances.
  • Engage key stakeholders. Don’t wait until you are walking into your renewal hearing to garner community support. Authorizers want to see an active, involved board that is well aware of the details of the renewal petition, along with parents, staff, and students who are genuinely excited and interested in the continued existence of their school.
  • Set aside time for regular self-evaluation. Throughout each year, periodically reflect on how your school is meeting the MPOs pledged in its original charter. Set up a process for developing program adjustments to address any deficiencies. Have a team devoted to self assessment and responsible for executing and holding the school accountable to a results-oriented action plan.
  • Budget time and resources for strategic planning. In addition to regular check-ins on the progress of meeting the charter’s MPOs, plan time for key stakeholders to establish real, viable tactics for the long-term health and wellbeing of your school. Conduct a needs assessment and develop a clear strategic roadmap to establish and tackle long-term objectives for the sustainability of your school.

Though many aspects of the renewal process can be trying, you should remember that it is also a great opportunity to showcase your school’s strengths and accomplishments. Stay in control of the process by starting early and regularly communicating with your authorizer. This gives yourself the best chance possible at getting your charter renewed.