In their interim report on a National Study of Charter Management Organization Effectiveness, Mathematica and the Center on Reinventing Public Education contrast charter management organizations (CMOs) with coexisting public school districts and explain how the leaders of the former have considerable latitude in terms of hiring, firing and other institutional practices.
“In contrast to typical school districts in which school leaders frequently complain about the lack of flexibility in allocating school resources, well over one-third of surveyed CMOs (41 percent) allow their schools to determine the number of teaching positions needed and in which areas, and to allocate teachers to those positions without CMO input,” write the authors.
CMOs, as defined by the authors, are nonprofit charter school operators “managing more than one school with a unified management team responsible for delivering the educational program and supervising skill leaders.”
“…And while most school districts set teacher compensation centrally, in almost half of all CMOs (46 percent), decisions about compensation are made at least in part based on input from schools,” they write.
The national study, in its 2011 form, will address how students’ academic achievement is affected by CMOs. However, the interim report released this June focused on structural aspects among the 43 studied CMOs.
In the fourth section, “The Complex Relationships Between CMOS and School Districts,” the writers outlined “notable differences” between CMOs and local school districts. They write,
“CMO leaders, many of whom had worked in or led district central offices, report that CMOs are:
- less political and more mission-oriented than traditional school district central offices and governing boards;
- more responsive to school needs; and
- more determined to attract executive and school-level talent from external sources.”
“In addition to central office distinctions, there are also noteworthy differences between CMO- and district-managed schools,” they write (italics in original).
“Based on our CMO survey results, case study visits and financial analysis, schools overseen by CMOs are more likely to
- offer more instructional time and smaller schools;
- reward teachers and principals for performance, not experience;
- emphasize teacher accountability for performance over parent/community involvement; and
- enjoy greater flexibility to allocate school resources.”
The Center on Reinventing Public Education is run through the University of Washington, where the report’s five authors—including Prof.’s Robin Lake and Paul Hill—work. In the study they identified 82 CMOs nationwide but excluded about half of them due to size (30), prior for-profit status (4), serving only a specialized population (3) and “operational control” of schools as of 2007 (2). The remaining 43 CMOs were surveyed and the researchers focused on ten “CMO case study sites.”
They quote an anonymous CMO chief academic officer, and former public school superintendent, who argued against elected school boards:
“Having an appointed board versus an elected board is a benefit. [Appointed boards have] no agendas, no axe to grind. For example, they aren’t on the board to get the football coach fired. [At the CMO], we have a supportive board that shares the same mission. This is vastly different.” (italics in original).
Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.