Charter School Oversight Through the Pandemic
A Conversation Among Authorizers
School closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically impacted the oversight capabilities of charter school authorizers. To provide a forum for authorizers to share ideas about mitigating this challenge, SchoolWorks hosted a free virtual webinar for authorizers on March 30, 2020 featuring a panel of esteemed guests:
- Peng Chao, Executive Director, School District of Philadelphia Charter Schools Office
- Tess Stovall, Director of Charter Schools, Tennessee State Board of Education
- Jason Sarsfield, Deputy Director, Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University
Over 50 authorizers took part in this event, representing school districts, state education agencies, independent charter boards, and higher education institutions with a wide array of portfolio sizes. SchoolWorks is pleased to share these key takeaways with the community at large.
First Things First
Before devoting time and resources to adjusting oversight practices, panelists reported that they first focused on the immediate needs of their portfolio schools. According to Peng Chao of the School District of Philadelphia’s Charter Schools Office, “In early March we realized that we were about to enter a situation that would be so far from anything that anyone had ever imagined or even planned for. We made a really conscious decision to pivot quite a bit from oversight into just supporting schools and making sure that we understood their needs and could help fill that gap, as quickly as possible.” In response to new state legislation requiring charter school authorizers to support schools and provide oversight over continuity of education plans at the same time, the SDP Charter Schools Office is currently in the process of charting a course both for the immediate pandemic-impacted future, and for its continued oversight practice.
Acknowledging the constraints of school closures on the collection of academic evidence, panelists stated that local assessments may need to bridge the gap created by the absence of state assessments. Panelists collectively anticipated asking schools to provide the most up-to-date internal data.