Measuring Success and Quality in Charter Schools

One of the six original purposes established for Minnesota’s charter schools outlines in statute was to measure learning outcomes and create different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes”. Today, some twenty three years later the reality is that while learning outcomes are being measured according to federal and state requirements, little in the way of creating different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes has taken place. A notable exception is the HOPE Study which measures student aspirations.

The short answer for why there has been little in the way of different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes, is that there has been untold amounts of money and massive lobbying efforts over the years to ensure that public policy recognizes and accepts standardized tests as the primary, if not the ultimate outcomes measurement.

If success on tests was the measure of success in life, then our public policy might make some sense, but test taking is not the ultimate measure of success. In fact, it is probably not even in the top 100 ways people measure success in their lives – yet, that is what public policy has determined to be the measure success of young people, teachers and schools.

Yesterday, I attended a Brunch and Learn at CliftonLarsonAllen where by Bob Wedl, former Minnesota Commissioner of Education gave a short presentation that posed four fundamental questions about measuring success and quality in charter schools. Why do we measure? What do we measure? When do we measure? And, How do we measure, success and quality?

These are the questions that public policy should address about measuring outcomes. Maybe, if we answered these questions honestly we would find that there are different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes.  We might also just find what are real and meaningful measures of success which schools contribute to the lives of young people and society.

Senate E-12 Education Finance & Policy Committees Joint Hearing on Facilities

Last Thursday, November 13th the MN State Senate E-12 Finance and Policy Committees held a joint hearing on school facilities in Minnesota. The focus of the hearing was the School Facilities Financing Work Group Report that was presented to the legislature last session.

In terms of charter schools the Report makes one recommendation: Provide funding increases for charter schools comparable to increases provided to school districts.

In testimony before the joint hearing we did three things:

  1. Laid out a short history of charter school facility policy and funding,
  2. Outlined the current status of charter school facilities,
  3. Highlighted a proposal for direct ownership of facilities and a funding mechanism for bonding of charter school facilities.

The Association distributed two handouts to committee members, both of which are available on the MACS website.

It is expected that the financing of school district and charter school facilities will be significant issues in the 2015 legislative session.


Association News – November 5, 2014


The Annual Meeting & Public Policy Forum of the Association will be held on Wednesday, December 3, 2014 at the Edinburgh Event Center in Brooklyn Park from 11:30 am – 3:30 pm. The event will begin with Lunch and the Annual Meeting and followed immediately by the Public Policy Forum.

To register for the Annual Meeting & Public Policy Forum:


We want to thank all of the school directors who took time to attend and participate in the Fall Regional School Directors meetings over the last month. The conversations at the various meetings raised a number of public policy questions and issues; suggestions for technical assistance and resources the Association might provide, and ideas for building greater community among schools. The staff, appropriate Work Groups and Board of Directors are sorting through all of the ideas and will address them over the coming months.

The Winter Regional Meetings will be held in late January and early February.


1] Participation in Board Training Classes this Fall has been gratifyinga number of classes have reached their enrollment capacity and there are folks on stand-by enrollment lists if openings become available..

2] The Winter (January- March) Board Training Course Catalog will be published the first week in December. The Spring (April- June) Board Training Course Catalog will be published in early March.  NO Classes will be offered in July or August – course offering will begin in September

3] The Association is implement online course evaluation process this month. Course participants will receive an online evaluation via email after their participation in the course. Certificates of course completion will be mailed to participants after participants complete the evaluation. The evaluations are an important means of doing continuous improvement of our board training and soliciting ideas for additional board training offerings and  board resource tools.


In a recent (September 24, 2014) Open Letter On School Accountability to State Superintendents of Education and Governors published under the auspices of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the signers raised three problems and contradictions of the current accountability policies of states.

“1] State accountability systems serve a range of different purposes, which can conflict with or limit each other’s impact.
2] New expectations and assessments have increased burdens on students and schools, without providing enough actionable information in return.
3] Rigid requirements can stifle innovation and lead to efforts to game the system rather than foster systemic change.”

The authors of the letter hope that it will spark a conversation on the purposes of state accountability systems and reconstitute them based on sound principles, eight of which they propose as the basis for a new generation of accountability and assessment systems.

On October 15th, the Council of Chief School Officers and the Council of Great City Schools released a statement, Commitments from CCSSO and CGCE on High-Quality Assessments. In that statement the two groups lay out three basis principles about assessments: 1] Assessments should be high quality; 2] Assessments should be part of a coherent system; and 3] Assessments should be meaningful.

The organizations then go on to outline commitments to implement those three principles.

COMMENT: There is a need for a honest debate about accountability and assessment policies; what it means, what is its real purpose, what is it that accountability/assessment systems should measure, who do accountability systems serve, and what is the value of accountability.  Thankfully, there are a growing number of voices across the nation and in our state calling for accountability and assessment policies that really are focused on what really will improve teaching and learning, and not on what will score political points. Every educator needs to become actively engaged in this debate and not leave the design of the next generation of assessments and accountability systems to politicians, foundations and think tanks.

2014 Charter School Facility Finance Landscape – NEW REPORT

Last month the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) published a report entitled the 2014 Charter School Facility Finance Landscape. The report “provides an updated snapshot of the charter school facility financing sector, including private philanthropies and nonprofit organizations active in the sector, information on charter school access to the tax-exempt bond market, federal policies supportive of charter school facilities and state policies in all 43 jurisdictions with a charter law.”

  • According to the Report Minnesota is:
    one of 13 jurisdictions with per pupil funding for facilities,
    one of 36 jurisdictions with Conduit Bond Issuers,
    one of 38 jurisdictions with QZAB Eligibility*, and
    one of 36 jurisdictions with QSCB Eligibility *.

* No charter schools in Minnesota have accessed financing through either QZAB or QSCB programs.

Bond Issuance in Minnesota – 2012-2014

The report also lists Charter School Bond Issues in each state for the period of June 1, 2012 – May 1, 2014. In Minnesota, during that period, there were twelve (12) bond issues for charter school through local governments including; the cities of Minneapolis, Woodbury, Ramsey, Deephaven, Forest Lake, Baytown Township, Anoka County and the Housing and Redevelopment Authority of St. Paul.

The 12 bond issues amounted to $133,295,000.00. Piper Jaffray and Dougherty & Company LLC each were the lead underwriters on six (6) of the twelve bond issuance.
Link to report

The 2014 Charter School Facility Finance Landscape is the fourth report in a series of studies LISC has published since 2005. LISC has also published a companion report, Charter School Bond Issuance: A Complete History Volume 2.  According to that report there were 30 bond issuances through local governments in Minnesota prior to the June 1, 2012.

COMMENT: The Association is drafting legislation to deal with charter school facility ownership and related facility issues for the 2015 legislative session.


2014 Version of Minnesota’s Charter School Law – NOW AVAILABLE!

The Minnesota Legislature’s Office of the Revisor of Statutes has completed its work incorporating all of the legislative changes enacted during the 2014 legislative session into the Statute Books. The 2014 version of the Charter School Law (MN Statutes 124D.10) and Revenue for Charter Schools (MN Statutes 124D.11) are now available on the Revisor’s website.

Charter Law:  https:/

Charter Revenue Law:

NOTE: According to the Revisor’s Office the re-codification of the charter school law directed by the legislature will be completed after the 2015 legislative session.  Re-codification is the process of putting the provisions of the law in a logical order or in a systematic arrangement. When the process is complete the charter school law will have a new number/letter.

Public Accountability for Charter Schools – Another Report!

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, recently released Public Accountability for Charter Schools: Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight.

1] The introduction states: “The semi-independent charter school model, first applied in 1991, aimed to look outside traditional school structures and develop innovative strategies that could be applied at scale across all public schools. Early charters schools took on this challenge, and many succeeded. But over the last two decades, those who envision charters as competing with and ultimately replacing traditional public schools have become some of the most dominant voices in the policy debate over the reform. Chartering has become an industry, and in many cases, rapid expansion has replaced innovation and excellence as goals. Almost 2,000 charter schools have opened in the past five years, along with a burgeoning market of management service providers, vendors, think tanks, policy shops, and advocacy organizations.”

As the birthplace of the charter school movement, Minnesota has not to this point succumbed to the voices that rapid expansion is the goal of the chartering movement, and hopefully we never will. The chartering movement in this state has never been about ultimately replacing traditional public schools. It has, and hopefully will always be, about unleashing education from the conventions that inhibit education from being innovative and providing students with the best possible education in which they can achieve their goals and aspirations.

2] The Annenberg Report is interesting in that it seems to make three assumptions: 1] that state charter school laws have not kept up with the dynamic change in chartering; 2] that traditional school districts are the authorizers of charter schools; and 3] that charter schools are for the most part operated by outside charter management organizations.

While these assumptions may be the reality in other states, none of these are the reality in Minnesota.

Our reality is that: 1] we have annually amended our charter school law to address the changing dynamics of the lived experience of chartering; 2] we have seen traditional school districts withdraw as authorizers when new accountability provisions have been put in place, and 3] all but a handful of charters in this state are operated by local folks and, not an organization from another state.