CharterFolk Contributor – Karega Rausch, Some Thoughts on Professionalizing and Modernizing Authorizing

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today it is our pleasure to share with you a Contributor Column from Karega Rausch, President and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

I provide a bio for Karega below.

Karega Rausch is the President and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), responsible for ensuring NACSA advances and strengthens the ideas and practices of authorizing so that students and communities, especially those who are historically under resourced, thrive. 

He has extensive charter school authorizing, education research and policy, community engagement, and strategic advocacy experience. Before being appointed CEO at NACSA, Karega headed NACSA’s research initiatives, was a former Education & Charter Schools Director with the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office, the Board Chair of the Indiana Charter Schools Board (Indiana’s statewide authorizer), the Director of the Indianapolis affiliate of Stand for Children, and on the leadership team of Indiana University’s Equity Project, housed at the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.

Karega has authored or co-authored numerous professional publications and has presented at many research conferences across the country on charter school authorizing, racial/ethnic disproportionality in school discipline, and special education reform.

Karega earned his Ph.D. and master’s degree in educational psychology from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.

Karega enjoys spending time with his family, running, twirling a cane, and engaging friends at his local church.

Let’s get straight to his post.

Some Thoughts on Professionalizing and Modernizing Authorizing

Every charter school has an authorizer. That means the decisions authorizers make, over time, directly impact quality, availability, and accessibility of schools for students and communities. When done well, as we have seen in many places across the country, authorizing and chartering is providing life-changing opportunities for many students and communities, particularly students who look like me.

Yet, we have also seen too many examples of charter schooling and authorizing upholding the status quo. We have observed a clear need to evolve the work of authorizing to meet unmet aspirations and needs of communities, particularly in lieu of the global health pandemic and racial reckoning that continues to be at the center of dialogue and action in K-12 schooling.

Here are three ideas about how we can get serious about elevating, prioritizing, and modernizing the role of authorizing.

Evolving Authorizing Infrastructure

Schooling is evolving in front of our eyes – from brick-and-mortar institutions to very new and different ways of organizing learning not contemplated even a year or two ago. And parents, especially parents of color, are telling us they want something significantly different in schooling opportunities. We need to make sure that these new approaches to schooling result in great opportunities for kids, and that means evolving the infrastructure we use to ensure quality. That includes re-thinking how we evaluate applications for new schools, so we get a broader range of high-quality learning opportunities led by a more diverse group of educators and entrepreneurs. In addition to ensuring comparable, valid, and reliable assessments of student learning are in place, we need to build a policy and practice infrastructure for a rigorous and broader definition of school quality to emerge, linked more closely to the additional ways schools are advancing student and community ambitions, valuing parent expectations, and more closely tied to what students need for success in college and careers.

We also need better ways of listening to, centering, and acting from the aspirations of families. Communities—particularly under-resourced communities—defining the kinds of educational opportunities their students need isn’t just the right way; it’s the best way. We have seen this approach work to produce better, more sustainable results. Collectively, this will begin the process of ensuring that communities have access to a wide array of excellent, innovative, and equitable schools that match their aspirations and needs – operated by more Black, Brown, Indigenous and other people of color and those with stronger connections to the lived experiences of students and communities.

Institutional Commitment

Just a few years ago, NACSA conducted some important research comparing authorizers with really strong portfolios of schools – strong academic performance, small or nonexistent gaps in achievement among student subgroups, relatively strong financial and operational performance, little to no evidence of fraud and financial mismanagement and more – to those with less strong results.

Across a range of types and sizes of authorizers, among the most important finding from that research was the critical importance of institutional commitment to authorizing. When comparing how authorizers with strong vs. less strong portfolios were situated, we learned that institutions with strong charter portfolios ensured that:

  • Authorizing was championed within the institution, and did not keep that function “behind the scenes”;
  • Professional authorizing staff were highly visible and not buried in bureaucracy;
  • Authorizing professionals had direct access to final decision-makers, usually as direct reports; and
  • Authorizing activities were appropriately resourced.

If we want to achieve the goals and ambitions communities and families have for students, committing to structuring authorizing in such a way is important.

Diversifying Authorizing

Educational improvement work is stronger and more sustainable when communities see themselves reflected in both the kinds of people involved in the work and in the high expectations they have for excellence and equity. Authorizing needs more Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, and those with deep ties to the lived experiences of students, entering the field and thriving. These ties and experiences will result in better decision making about educational opportunities for all students and communities because of shared values and perspectives, and a more diverse profession can support longer-term sustainability efforts.

In some instances, this means hiring more authorizing professionals who reflect the students in charter schools. In other instances, it means paying closer attention to staff and contractors who help with application reviews, school site visits, and making recommendations on charter school renewals and more. It’s not enough, however, to just elevate authorizing to a more diverse group of people. We must make sure a more diverse workforce can thrive in authorizing institutions. And that requires a close examination of institutional policies, practices, and cultures to ensure all adults can do excellent work in this field.

Let’s Make it Happen

We know all students deserve and can access high-quality educational opportunities – and fortunately the chartering space is home to countless examples of excellence and equity. But, the world is different. New and bolder approaches to educational improvement are required – especially now. Time to get to work, CharterFolk.