After new charter legislation went into effect in 2016, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) had to develop a condensed application review process in a short timeframe. The state department turned to SchoolWorks for expertise and guidance in developing and overseeing a transparent review process that reflects the growing body of knowledge about what makes charter schools effective.
“We had to ensure that the standards in our applications were appropriate and aligned to best practices in charter schools nationwide,” says Pascale Pierre, RIDE charter school specialist. “We knew we would benefit from national expertise to ensure quality was reflected in our process.”
Chief among RIDE’s challenges was evaluating local charter applications against nationwide best practices in a way stakeholders would find credible, says SchoolWorks Senior Project Manager Dave Hartman. “An accountable process requires clear business plans and evidence from applicants to show that an investment by the state is a wise one,” Hartman says. “It was clear that RIDE needed every proposal to proceed through a public evaluation with consistent expectations.”
Based on its experience evaluating charter applications in Louisiana, Chicago, and elsewhere, Hartman and other SchoolWorks staff evaluated the state’s RFP criteria to develop a common understanding of its criteria. Working on a compressed timetable to review applications for the 2017-18 school year, RIDE and SchoolWorks staff worked together to develop a transparent process focused on eliciting evidence from applicants.
“We worked together to identify clear pieces of evidence we could use to support the ratings,” Hartman says. “We wanted to ask tough questions and generate meaningful evidence from them.”
SchoolWorks evaluated three applications for new charter schools in fall 2016, recommending one for approval to the state board of education in December. After the state board authorized the expansion, Rhode Island charter seats increased by 1,770 for the 2017-18 school year.
Authorized to continue the review process for up to five years, SchoolWorks provided significant feedback in revising the charter RFP for the 2018-19 school year. “We also were able to lend some perspective on their process as it evolves, and how it can be strengthened over time,” Hartman says.
“Much of the feedback put into revising the RFP came from SchoolWorks after we had gone through the initial cycle,” Pierre says, crediting Hartman and other SchoolWorks staff with understanding Rhode Island’s small-state context.
“SchoolWorks has the ability to zoom out and have an eye on best practices nationwide, yet apply it to the experience of a small state,” Pierre says. “They were able to make connections appropriate for Rhode Island and our charter sector.”