Accountability in public education describes how states and communities ensure that schools are effectively using public dollars to meet their students’ needs. Public school quality is usually measured by student performance (e.g., test scores), but can also include measures of transparency and community satisfaction. The specific ways in which states hold public school districts and charter schools accountable vary based on (1) who oversees school performance, (2) which state-level rules and regulations govern school operations, and (3) which schools are authorized to operate.
Governance: Traditional public school districts are governed by local school boards, while charter schools are authorized and managed by state-approved sponsors.1 Missouri’s charter school sponsors include higher education institutions (e.g., University of Missouri, Washington University), local school boards (Kansas City & St. Louis Public Schools) and the Missouri Charter Public School Commission (MCPSC).2 Sponsorship by district school boards is one approach to hold charter schools directly accountable to the community’s locally elected officials. While its members are appointed and not elected, independent sponsoring entities like the MCPSC are another approach meant to improve sponsor quality and accountability.
Rules & transparency: Missouri charter schools are exempt from several of the rules and regulations (e.g., instructional requirements, school board composition) that govern traditional public schools.3 Charter school advocates argue that the flexibility created by these exemptions promotes school innovation and improves personalized learning, especially when responding to sudden changes like the COVID-19 pandemic.4 Critics argue, however, that fewer rules lead to decreased transparency & increased fraud. While Missouri requires annual audits for its charter and non-charter public schools, there are recent examples of specific charters inappropriately spending state funds (e.g., unsupported employee bonuses & credit transactions) and not providing sufficient oversight of accounting and hiring practices.5
School performance: The Missouri State Board of Education uses Annual Performance Reports (APRs) to evaluate public school performance in the state. For school districts, APRs are used to determine a school’s accreditation status, while charter school APRs are primarily used to determine reauthorization or closure.6 While the risk of school closure is a strong accountability measure, a major critique is that closures are a particularly destabilizing consequence and disproportionately affect minoritized students.7
Governance: Some approaches to increasing charter school accountability are minimizing the role of for-profit operators and management companies and encouraging charter school sponsorship by local school districts or independent commissions/boards.
Rules & transparency: Most states, including Missouri, waive several of the rules and regulations that govern school districts and specify a minimum subset of statutes that cannot be waived (e.g., state health & safety, civil rights).
School performance: States use different approaches to ensure that charter school authorization and closure reflect the state’s academic performance standards. While tying performance to the ability for schools to be open is a direct form of accountability, there are concerns about the destabilizing impact of school closures and their disproportionate impact on minoritized students.7