As more and more charter schools turn to management organizations to handle their operations, researchers are asking how this approach affects important functions such as resource allocation and student performance, and how these schools differ from other charter and traditional public schools. A new research brief on the NCSC Web site explains a study that examined a successful charter school – Chicago International Charter School (CICS) — whose unusual structure includes several campuses and contracts with multiple education management organizations (EMOs). While CICS has a strong academic record overall, there is variation among the campuses, so the study sought to better understand CICS performance at both the system-wide and campus levels. It focused on resource allocation decisions by the EMOs and management practices by CICS to hold the EMOs accountable. The central research question was: To what extent can fiscal and operational decision-making processes used by Chicago International and its partner EMOs explain student success at the school?
The research brief also includes a box describing Chicago International, which enrolls more than 8,000 students on campuses across the city. The CICS network has a central office that functions like a mini-school district, providing administrative services across the network. Each EMO is responsible for all activities that occur “within the walls of the school,” such as hiring and training staff, designing curricular maps, maintaining the school environment, and handling family and community relations. The EMO contracts include performance measures to hold the organizations accountable.
The main findings of the study, which is described in the paper Resource Allocation and Performance Management in Charter Schools: Connections to Student Success, were:
- Student achievement patterns cannot be linked, through statistical analysis, to differences in EMO spending across CICS campuses. One reason for this finding was that annual audits did not provide enough detail to fully understand decisions about allocation of resources. Nonetheless, the analyses did indicate that achievement gains were across the board regardless of student race and special education status.
- The success of Chicago International can be attributed to a mission-driven approach that focuses on high-quality instruction, insistence on a disciplined environment, and ongoing performance evaluation. Chicago International hires EMOs that share its mission and vision and that are contractually obligated to meet specific goals in statutory compliance, site-based budgeting, curricular design, and student performance. The CICS central office assesses the performance of each campus and EMO continuously, according to these targets.
- Collaborative processes with EMOs – and the clear delineation of duties between EMOs and the CICS central office – also contribute to CICS success. The EMOs participate in developing their annual performance targets and are invited to verify all data used in their evaluations.
The findings have several implications for policy. The lack of financial detail discovered through the analyses makes clear the need for more comparable financial data as well as a method for reliably comparing charter and traditional school spending decisions. This study also highlights the value of forging performance-based contracts with EMOs that hold them accountable for student outcomes, not educational inputs. Finally, the paper suggests that performance incentives are at least as important for student achievement as levels of funding.
As with all NCSC research briefs, the text is written in lay language and the main points of the research are explained.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To read more about charter schools in Chicago and charter school management check out these papers from the NCSC archives: