This Fordham Institute study finds that the typical charter school in America today lacks the autonomy it needs to succeed, once state, authorizer, and other impositions are considered. Though the average state earns an encouraging B+ for the freedom its charter law confers upon schools, individual state grades in this sphere range from A to F. Authorizer contracts add another layer of restrictions that, on average, drop schools' autonomy grade to B-. (Federal policy and other state and local statutes likely push it down further.) School districts are particularly restrictive authorizers. The study was conducted by Public Impact.

*Updated May 2010. This updated edition of Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise reflects changes that were made after a few minor sampling errors were found and corrected. The changes did not impact our findings or conclusions, and a complete explanation is included at the end of the report.


Jacob L. Rosch is an analyst with Public Impact. His work centers on examining school outcome data, developing quantitative models, and developing compelling methods to present education data. Mr. Rosch’s work includes “The Ohio Value-Added Primer” a guide for Ohio’s value-added test score system; “Youth at High Risk of Disconnection” a quantitative national portrait of disconnected…

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Dana Brinson is a consultant with Public Impact. She has conducted research and analysis on a wide variety of education issues, including educational philanthropy, school improvement and turnarounds, disconnected youth, talent assessment and selection, and charter schools. Ms. Brinson conducts critical fact-finding through interviews, literature reviews, site visits, and other qualitative methods. She also serves as…

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