Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School Is at Risk of Failing

Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School Is at Risk of Failing

While many charter schools have demonstrated considerable success, perhaps the greatest threat to the legitimacy of the charter school movement is the continuing presence of chronically failing schools. One strategy for reducing the number of failing charter schools is to deny them the opportunity to open their doors in the first place. That is, reject the applications of schools that are unlikely to succeed.

In this study, we use predictive modeling to identify risk factors in the written content of charter applications that signal that an applicant is unlikely to succeed in operating a quality school. We define risk factors as easy-to-spot and hard-to-game indicators that increase the likelihood that the proposed charter school will struggle academically in its first years. Our findings suggest that there are three risk factors that charter authorizers should look out for and evaluate carefully:

  1. Lack of identified leadership: Charter applications that propose a self-managed school without naming a school leader.
  2. High risk, low dose: Charter applications that propose to serve at-risk pupils but plan to employ “low dose” academic programs that do not include sufficient academic supports, such as intensive small-group instruction or extensive individual tutoring.
  3. A child-centered curriculum: Charter applications that propose to deploy child-centered, inquiry-based pedagogies, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Paideia, or experiential programs.

If an application includes one or more of these risk factors, but the authorizer believes that the school meets the needs of the students it intends to serve, the authorizer should be prepared to provide additional support to ensure that the school can succeed.

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