Charter commission floats revamped accountability model

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission is gathering input on a proposed accountability model that would ease up and streamline performance expectations for the nearly 60 charter schools under its purview.

A renewal committee of three charter commissioners held its second round of public hearings on the “performance framework flexibilities exploration project” Monday at Idaho State University.

The current framework complies with Idaho code but contains standards that “cannot realistically be met by some schools in the (commission’s) portfolio,” the commission concluded after a December listening session and survey results from dozens of charter school educators.

On Monday, newly hired commission director Jenn Thompson walked a handful of administrators through proposed changes in the framework the commission uses to make charter renewal decisions:

  • Aligning data-reporting requirements with those placed on traditional schools, “for the sake of efficiency in school reporting and data analysis.”
  • Placing added emphasis on student-growth indicators, as opposed to learning outcomes.
  • Comparing learning outcomes to schools with “like attributes.”
  • Simplifying the process for calculating high school graduation rates.
  • Requiring “mission-specific” goals for charter high schools.

Charter educators at Monday’s meeting expressed general support for the recommendations, but voiced concerns over optional mission-specific goals for charter high schools.

“Why in the world would we give that to someone with the capability of hitting us over the head with it?” said Joel Lovestedt, director of Connor Academy.

Commissioner Wanda Quinn, a member of the renewal committee, said the recommendation isn’t a “gotcha.” “It’s a chance for educators to enhance their schools.”

Other discussion revolved around allowing a committee of local charter leaders, rather than commission staff, to shape recommendations.

Some feedback underscored a recent upheaval between the commission and some of the schools it oversees. Efforts to revamp the framework follow a summer of controversy that left leaders at some of Idaho’s lower-performing charters lobbying lawmakers to rein in commission staff.

“We want the same amount (of accountability) as traditional public schools, not more restrictions than traditional public schools,” Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families board member Karen McGee told EdNews Monday.

Other leaders have voiced support for the commission — and rebuffed calls to loosen up accountability requirements.

“You folks are doing great,” one anonymous charter leader told commissioners in the recent survey. “Don’t let the low expectations crowd beat you down. The charter commission is only relevant as an authorizer if being authorized actually takes some effort and means something.”

The seven-member charter commission serves under the State Board and oversees nearly three-fourths of Idaho’s 57 public charter schools.

The renewal committee includes Quinn and fellow commissioners Kathleen Kunz and Nils Peterson.

Monday’s meeting marked the second of four scheduled in regions across Idaho. The committee met Jan. 22 in North Idaho and at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the College of Southern Idaho’s Health Sciences & Human Services building in Twin Falls. The final meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Len B. Jordan Building, 650 West State Street, Boise.
The committee hopes to present a final recommendation to the commission in April.
Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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