What’s in a name?

In the case of the newly minted Charter School Review Board, that answer encompasses the entirety of the entity’s new charge and function.

Formerly known as the Charter School Advisory Board, or CSAB, this government body has moved from an advisory to a regulatory capacity. It no longer makes recommendations to the State Board of Education on cases involving the granting, renewal, suspension, and termination of North Carolina’s charter school agreements. The CSRB is now first chair. It is where the buck stops. The BOE only serves as the course by which CSRB decisions can be appealed.

Why is this positive?

“The professionals who make up the Charter School Review Board represent many decades of experience in NC charter schools,” said CSRB Chair Bruce Friend.

“Given that many of us oversee the operations of our own schools, we have first-hand experience in what it takes to both launch and maintain a quality charter school; CSRB members, with the support of the Office of Charter Schools, spend countless hours reviewing applications, interviewing candidates, and assessing the performance of existing schools — all in the effort to ensure high-quality charter schools,” said Friend. “This is not only the mission of our Board, but also vital to the overall success of public schools in NC.”

His fellow CSRB members are certainly in agreement on the direction in which the board is headed.

“The most important part of all this is that existing charter schools see the CSRB as having greater authority over their operation, and I think that’s particularly important when it comes to low-performing or failing charter schools,” said CSRB member and former CSAB Chair Alex Quigley.

Quigley is also executive director of Durham Charter, a once deemed near-failing charter school that he himself worked to turn around. So he speaks from experience on both angles.

Quigley cites the streamlining of duties for the CSRB as a factor that can only improve and quicken the board’s responsiveness in cases of charter revocation or termination. Recommendations for closure that once had to go through at least two CSAB meetings before being forwarded to the BOE for final approval and potential appeal can now be more directly handled. This can save charter operators and school administrators months of waiting, making the entire process more efficient even if the circumstances are unfortunate.

To dovetail, the most recent nationwide charter school study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) states the following on state authorizing entities such as the CSRB: “Authorizers are expected to behave as governors of quality. They set the bar to receive initial permission to operate, which exerts quality and safety controls at the outset.”

CREDO’s data points strongly to what Quigley is saying, be it on the front end or the back end of the charter agreement life cycle: Strong charter school policy framework is ultimately what determines the strength of a state’s charter school system, and that framework is set in place by the authorizer.

“It’s important for the sector to see their authorizer as being empowered to hold them accountable; I also think it may expedite some policy recommendations or actions that are sorely needed,” Quigley concluded.

When it comes to policy, the BOE is — by design and mandate — focused on all public schools; they could not possibly focus exclusively on charter schools. The CSRB, by contrast, is set up to do exactly that. Its membership is intimately familiar with what it takes to run a successful charter school, from following state regulations to maintaining fidelity with individual charter agreements to answering for academic outcomes.

At its November meeting alone, the CSRB heard reports regarding three new charter school applicants and eight existing charter school renewals from across the state.

“I have had the opportunity to serve on both the Charter School Advisory Board and now the Charter School Review Board,” said CSRB Vice Chair Dr. John Eldridge, who also serves as superintendent of both Chatham Charter School and Central Carolina Academy. “Our primary goal has not changed; we are responsible for making sure the charter schools that are approved to open and that are renewed are of the highest quality and meet the needs of their students. That being said, now that we are responsible for the final decision on applications and renewals, our focus on this mission has intensified.”

The name has changed and so has the level of responsibility. We believe that North Carolina’s Charter School Review Board is, without a doubt, up to the challenge.