Charter School Authorizers and Student Achievement

December 2010

This paper was originally published December 2010, and revised December 2012.

Charter schools continue to be controversial, as many debate the merit of whether we should promote these schools through formal policies. The debate has intensified over the last few years with release of studies with conflicting outcomes as well as the promotion of charter schools by the Obama administration.

However, some have moved beyond the overarching debate of whether we should have charter schools to a discussion of how best to design charter policies. Crucial to this discussion is the charter authorizing process, which varies across the nation. For instance, some states only allow districts to authorize charter schools while other states allow a range of authorizers, including the state, districts, nonprofit organizations, counties, and higher educational institutions.

This working paper uses individual student-level data from Ohio (which has a range of authorizers) to examine the effectiveness of various types of authorizers. The findings suggest that charter schools authorized by nonprofit organizations in Ohio are less effective in promoting student achievement than are other charter schools (though there are likely to be more differences among individual authorizers than across authorizer types). Given that nearly all of the recent growth in the state's charter sector involved nonprofit authorizers, there may be a tension between maximizing charter quality and rapidly increasing the number of charter schools.

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