Description of the Authorizer
Grand Valley State University (GVSU) has a long-standing tradition and commitment to providing quality education for students. As part of this mission, the GVSU Board of Trustees seeks to impact public K-12 education through its leadership in Michigan's charter schools. In 2015, GVSU's dedication to fostering choice in K-12 education and positive public reform is stronger than ever.
GVSU chartered its first 3 schools in 1995, serving a total of 350 students. Today, in the 20th year as an authorizer, GVSU charters 69 school buildings, serving over 32,000 students. GVSU charters seek to provide choice to students in historically underperforming traditional public school districts across Michigan. Students enrolled in GVSU schools are predominately of low socio economic levels, as 69% qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch; however, despite high rates of poverty in GVSU schools, GVSU schools outperform schools with similar levels of poverty, as GVSU schools typically demonstrate 160% of normal instructional growth in reading and math each school year according to NWEA Measures of Academic Progress Test data.
GVSU’s Charter Schools Office executes its mission by:
Notably, GVSU does not rely on rigorous compliance to build the capacity of GVSU schools; rather, compliance processes are recognized as essential, non-negotiable components of a GVSU school. In many ways, GVSU develops performance with “carrots,” instead of “sticks.” Resources are prioritized and strategically leveraged across the portfolio for building the capacity of GVSU schools and include teacher professional development, student assessment, governance training, research on teaching and learning, reading assistance, class management seminars, and performance incentives. From resource allocation to process design to staffing, the GVSU Charter Schools Office is designed to build the capacity of GVSU schools.
Before a board receives a GVSU charter enabling them to serve students, the board and its proposed operator navigate a rigorous application process. GVSU encourages the highest quality applicants to apply for a GVSU charter. GVSU recruits applicants nationally with strong record for serving students to partner with Michigan community leaders who have expressed interest in a school choice option. Using national performance data and research studies on Education Service Providers (ESP) performance, GVSU matches potential ESPs with communities and their philanthropic funders with a demonstrated need and interest in supporting a quality public school choice. Applicants apply through a rigorous, highly selective two-stage process that realizes only15% of applications successfully achieving a GVSU charter. Once approved, applicants are provided governance and compliance training and zero-year office space to train, hire, and build a team to ensure a smooth launch.
Schools that have persistently failed to meet GVSU’s performance requirements, which include growth and proficiency targets in addition to sound financial stewardship, face closure. GVSU has ended its partnership with 15 schools since 1995 because of inadequate academic and/or fiscal performance. GVSU maintains the highest degree of compliance oversight to ensure full compliance with state, local, and charter contract regulation using a secure, web-based system that ensures real-time compliance with all requirements. Additionally, GVSU staff attend all board meetings to support board governance with robust academic and financial reports.
GVSU’s work is within its schools. Only by being embedded within the schools, communities, and boards that they serve can GVSU provide effective oversight. The feedback that team members continuously derive from their ongoing presence within schools is set against the objective student outcome and financial data used render authorizing decisions. GVSU’s oversight is not cyclical and dependent on charter contract renewal dates. GVSU’s charter contract provides that GVSU may terminate a charter at any time; consequently, renewal processes are a continuous, daily effort at GVSU.
The relational trust between GVSU schools and the Charter Schools Office is intentional and designed to support strong oversight and continuous school improvement within the portfolio. Teachers, board members, community organizers, foundations, and education service providers understand GVSU as an instigator of performance, not an umpire. The role of performance instigator can also be leveraged to mitigate tensions during closure proceedings. In fact, 73% of GVSU charter closures were not forced; rather, GVSU worked with the board, staff, and students to recognize that continued operations were no longer in the best interest of students and schools have been closed by the local charter board. Following closure, this relational trust facilitates a smooth closure process where the interests of students, staff and funders are all heard.
GVSU is relentless in its pursuit of strong student achievement for Michigan’s students in the greatest need. Looking to the future, GVSU is furthering its investment in research and portfolio development by designing a process through which more research on teaching and learning can occur within the portfolio and strengthening relationships with school funders that appreciate the stability and support that comes with a GVSU charter. The future is bright for GVSU and the students that chose to enroll in a GVSU chartered school.