Fordham Charter School Report of Little Value for Guiding Policy
May 26, 2010

Report claiming less regulation of charters will enhance their performance lacks evidence, according to new review

Contact: Teri Battaglieri (517) 203-2940;
Charisse Gulosino (617) 287-7583;

EAST LANSING, Mi., (May 26, 2010) – A recently released report claims that charter schools would be more effective and innovative if they had more autonomy. A new review of that report finds that the report assumes the positive impact of such autonomy and fails to provide any supporting empirical evidence for this claim.

The report, Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise, was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by professor Charisse Gulosino of the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

The report examines state charter school laws and then hands out letter grades to states on the basis of how much autonomy their enabling laws grant charters. In her review, Gulosino finds numerous flaws in the report, the most obvious and important of which is "the arbitrariness of the report's scoring, weighting and grading system." She writes: "The report's interpretation of the effects on autonomy of each state's statute language leaves a lot of room for arbitrariness in the metric scores and grade ranges."

In addition, she writes, the report "is missing evidence establishing the level of constraints on charter autonomy or how such constraints adversely affect school performance." The report's rationale "is largely rhetorical, not empirical," Gulosino writes. It simply assumes the benefits of greater freedom for charters. At the same time, she notes, it ignores the point "that charter school autonomy comes at a price: state educational bodies that may authorize charter schools bargain autonomy for accountability."

Gulosino also refutes the report's claim that local education agencies and higher education institutions are associated with low levels of autonomy. Her own examination of the data finds that the level of school autonomy is not in fact associated with the type of charter authorizer; instead, it is states with more authorizing options that are linked to higher "grades" for autonomy and greater numbers of charters. "With multiple types of chartering authorities, charter applicants may have fewer barriers to entry and more opportunities to self-select based on preferred authorizing standards/practices."

Gulosino concludes: "The report does not further our understanding of this issue and is of little or no help in guiding policy for charter school authorizers, state legislators, school district leaders, donors, school leaders, teachers, parents, or even charter school supporters."

Find Charisse Gulosino's review on the web and a link to the Fordham Institute report at:

Think Tank Research Quality: Lessons for Policy Makers, the Media, and the Public, a new book based on the work of the Think Twice/ Think Tank Review Project, is now available at:

About The Think Twice Project
The Think Twice project provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. It is a collaboration of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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