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Exploring the Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application screening process: A qualitative study

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Wendy Gail Wilson
Abstract:
  This qualitative method with an evaluative case study research design involved exploring the Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application screening process. Thirteen open-enrollment charter holders and 12 charter application scorers provided data related to their participation in the 2005-2007 Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application process. Naturalistic inquiry promoted an understanding of the (a) behaviors of open-enrollment charter school applicants during the exploration and application phases and (b) characteristics of charter applicant success during the external review panel evaluation process. The results of the study might be of interest to future charter applicants desiring to create open-enrollment charter schools in Texas, external review panel scorers evaluating open-enrollment charter school applications, and Texas charter school program administrators desiring to leverage the positive traits of the charter application process to promote success.

vi TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF TABLES............................................................................................................xii

LIST OF FIGURES.........................................................................................................xiii

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION.......................................................................................1

Background.........................................................................................................................2

Problem Statement..............................................................................................................6

Purpose................................................................................................................................7

Significance of the Study..................................................................................................10

Nature of the Study...........................................................................................................11

Research Questions...........................................................................................................15

Theoretical Framework.....................................................................................................16

Systems Theory...........................................................................................................17

Leadership Theory......................................................................................................18

Change Management Theory......................................................................................18

Incubator Theory.........................................................................................................19

Rent-Seeking Theory..................................................................................................19

Definition of Terms...........................................................................................................20

Assumptions......................................................................................................................24

Scope.................................................................................................................................24

Limitations........................................................................................................................26

Delimitations.....................................................................................................................27

Summary...........................................................................................................................27

CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW..........................................................................30

vii Literature Review..............................................................................................................32

Research Questions...........................................................................................................33

Historical Overview..........................................................................................................33

Birth of the Charter School Concept...........................................................................37

Understanding Charter Schools..................................................................................38

The Texas Charter School Movement........................................................................39

More Choice-Driven Options in Texas.......................................................................40

Gaps in the Literature..................................................................................................45

The Charter School Application Process..........................................................................46

General Process Information.......................................................................................47

General Tips for Application Success.........................................................................48

Gaps in the Literature..................................................................................................49

The Texas Application Process.........................................................................................50

Application Overview.................................................................................................52

Gaps in the Literature..................................................................................................54

Application Screening Process...................................................................................55

Gaps in the Literature..................................................................................................58

Resources for Charter Leaders....................................................................................59

Gaps in the Literature..................................................................................................60

Challenges of Chartering..................................................................................................62

Conflicts Over Philosophy..........................................................................................62

Equal Protection..........................................................................................................63

Themes for Success...........................................................................................................66

viii Current Findings...............................................................................................................67

Conclusion........................................................................................................................70

Summary...........................................................................................................................71

CHAPTER 3: METHOD..................................................................................................73

Research Method..............................................................................................................73

Appropriateness of Design................................................................................................75

Population.........................................................................................................................82

Sampling Frame................................................................................................................84

Informed Consent..............................................................................................................85

Confidentiality..................................................................................................................86

Geographic Location.........................................................................................................86

Data Collection.................................................................................................................87

Appropriateness of Design................................................................................................88

Validity.............................................................................................................................89

Trustworthiness and Authenticity...............................................................................89

Instrumentation...........................................................................................................90

Data Analysis....................................................................................................................92

Chapter Summary.............................................................................................................95

CHAPTER 4: RESULTS..................................................................................................96

Sample...............................................................................................................................97

Data Collection and Analysis..........................................................................................100

Pilot Study.................................................................................................................100

Pilot Study Findings..................................................................................................100

ix Data Collection Process............................................................................................101

Interview Process......................................................................................................102

Observations.............................................................................................................105

Document Review.....................................................................................................105

Data Analysis............................................................................................................106

Findings...........................................................................................................................108

Theme 1: Quality......................................................................................................108

Theme 2: Knowledge................................................................................................117

Theme 3: Leadership.................................................................................................126

Other Interesting Themes................................................................................................131

Summary.........................................................................................................................131

CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS..................................135

Findings and Interpretations...........................................................................................136

Interpretation of Emerging Themes................................................................................137

Theme 1: Quality......................................................................................................138

Theme 2: Knowledge................................................................................................152

Theme 3: Leadership.................................................................................................163

Pilot Study Findings........................................................................................................168

Theme 1: Quality......................................................................................................168

Theme 2: Knowledge................................................................................................170

Theme 3: Leadership.................................................................................................172

Theoretical Interpretations of Research Questions and Related Themes.......................174

Implications for Leadership............................................................................................181

x Theme 1: Quality......................................................................................................183

Theme 2: Knowledge................................................................................................186

Suggestions for Further Research...................................................................................187

Sample and Methodology.........................................................................................188

The Screening Process..............................................................................................188

The Open-Enrollment Charter Application..............................................................190

The Charter School Movement.................................................................................191

Theoretical Foundations of Applicant Success.........................................................191

Summary and Conclusion...............................................................................................195

REFERENCES...............................................................................................................200

APPENDIX A: NONTRADITIONAL EDUCATIONAL ALTERNATIVES..............214

APPENDIX B: TIMETABLE FOR FOURTEENTH GENERATION OPEN- ENROLLMENT CHARTER APPLICATIONS......................................................216

APPENDIX C: SUMMARY OF LITERATURE REVIEW BY SEARCH TOPIC......218

APPENDIX D: U.S. CHARTER SCHOOLS BY STATE FOR THE 2006-2007 ACADEMIC YEAR.................................................................................................221

APPENDIX E: APPLICATION FOR A FOURTEENTH GENERATION OPEN- ENROLLMENT CHARTER....................................................................................225

APPENDIX F: APPLICATION CHECKLIST..............................................................227

APPENDIX G: OPEN-ENROLLMENT CHARTER SCHOOL APPLICATION EVALUATION FORM............................................................................................229

APPENDIX H: UPDATES TO PURPOSE, STRUCTURE, AND PHILOSOPHY......234

xi APPENDIX I: FOURTEENTH GENERATION OPEN-ENROLLMENT CHARTER APPLICATION SECTIONS AND OBJECTIVES..................................................237

APPENDIX J: CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL SCHOOLS........................251

APPENDIX K: METHODOLOGY MAP......................................................................253

APPENDIX L: INTERVIEW MATRIX........................................................................255

APPENDIX M: INFORMED CONSENT......................................................................258

APPENDIX N: PERMISSION TO USE PREMISES FORM........................................261

APPENDIX O: PERMISSION TO USE PREMISES BY SCHOOL SITE...................264

APPENDIX P: PERMISSION TO USE PREMISES BY EXTERNAL REVIEW PANEL MEMBERS...............................................................................................................280

APPENDIX Q: DATA COLLECTION PROCESS.......................................................295

APPENDIX R: RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RESEARCH AND INTERVIEW.......297

QUESTIONS..................................................................................................................297

APPENDIX S: PUBLIC INFORMATION REQUESTS...............................................299

APPENDIX T: RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RESEARCH QUESTION, ANSWERS TO THE RESEARCH QUESTIONS, THEMES, AND BEHAVIORS...................308

xii LIST OF TABLES Table 1 2005-2007 Open-Enrollment Applications Received and Approved and Percentage Failing Screening Process.........................................................................7

Table 2 Number of Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Schools and Students Served.........40

Table 3 Open-Enrollment Charter Awards by Generation and Year...............................51

Table 4 Types and Sources of Assistance Assessed by Charter Schools (in Percentages)61

Table 5 Charter Applicant Characteristics and Demographics.......................................98

Table 6 Scorer Demographics..........................................................................................99

Table 7 Research Questions and Emerging Themes.......................................................133

Table 8 Research Questions and Theoretical Foundations for Applicant Success........182

xiii

LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1. Structural differences between public and charter schools: spheres of influence. .....................................................................................................................................43

Figure 2. Types and levels of service provided by education service centers in 2005. PEIMS is the Public Education Information Management System............................60

Figure 3. Relationship between the sample and the study goals......................................83

Figure 4. Axial coding results: emerging themes and characteristics............................107

1 CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION Continued efforts toward educational reform have given rise to charter schools. As an educational alternative, charter school leaders promise to increase educational opportunity and student achievement via decentralized operations, innovative teaching and learning methodologies, and freedom from the bureaucracy that plagues traditional public schools (Stiles, 2005). Successful matriculation through the charter application screening process is the first step toward creating charter schools. Creating and sustaining charter schools can present significant challenges for charter applicants (Winger, 2000). The current qualitative method with an evaluative case study research design involved exploring the experiences of 13 successful charter school applicants and 12 charter application scorers in Texas. The purpose of the research was to understand how applicants readied themselves for the charter application screening process and to discover themes or characteristics inherent to charter applicant success. The interviewees discussed their experiences during the open-enrollment charter application period 2005- 2007. Findings from the study might increase the knowledge of and the success rate of future charter school applicants seeking to provide educational alternatives to students and parents in the state of Texas. Scarce research exists related to understanding how charter applicants ready themselves for the screening process. A paucity of research also exists that identifies the factors that compel charter application scorers to promote applications to the next level of review for charter award consideration. The following sections include a historical overview of the problem and a discussion of the purpose of the study, the research method, the research design, the significance of the study, the nature of the study, the

2 research questions, the theoretical framework, working definitions, the assumptions, the scope, the limitations, and the delimitations of the study. The chapter concludes with a summary. Background Educational leaders continue to struggle with improving the quality of U.S. education. Reform efforts fueled by 30 years of empirical research (Berends, 2004; B. S. Cooper, Fusarelli, & Randall, 2004) and legislative intervention (McGuinn, 2007; Nelson, 2007) have yet to minimize the differences in the quality of education received by learners in the United States. Variances in achievement scores, drop-out rates, educational attainment levels, and school conditions continue to prompt social scrutiny into the inadequacies of public schooling (Berends, p. 132). Statistical and evaluative comparisons between the academic performance of U.S. students and students in other countries continually yield significant achievement gaps, further compounding U.S. educational woes (Eberts, 2007; Osborne, 2005). Despite attempts to identify, understand, and address educational challenges in the United States, it was not until the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk, a report compiled by members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, that whole-school reform efforts gained popularity (Berends, 2004; Texas Center for Educational Research, 2003). Hertling (1999) identified whole-school reform as an attempt to improve school performance by aligning all school activities with a shared vision. Reform efforts prior to 1983 attempted to isolate and address a particular area within the educational process (Berends). Both A Nation at Risk (1983) and the No Child Left Behind Act (2001), the

3 most recent whole-school reform effort, support revitalizing the U.S. public educational system through increased accountability and heightened academic and teacher standards. An assortment of nontraditional educational alternatives surfaced during the 20th century to address the recommendations made by the members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education (Reyes, 2000). Appendix A lists the nontraditional educational alternatives aimed at increasing academic performance and student achievement. Of the nontraditional alternatives, charter schools, a form of open- enrollment school, are probably the most extreme manifestation of whole-school reform due to their departure from the traditional U.S. educational model (Song, 2006). The term charter school means different things to different people. In its simplest form, a charter school is a publicly funded school (elementary or secondary) granted increased autonomy in exchange for increased accountability (National Education Association, 2007, ¶ 1). As public schools, charter schools operate with tax dollars and maintain an open-enrollment status. Similar to private schools, charter schools are exempt from many state and local regulations applicable to traditional public schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2006b, Charter Schools section, ¶ 4). The unique organizational and operational structure of charter schools created a paradigm shift in academic reform efforts and resulted in a new model of educational delivery services. As a hybrid of traditional public and private schools, charter schools combine the operational efficiencies of both to produce a new model of education (Finn, Manno, & Vanourek, 2001). Charter founders open charter schools for different reasons. Research indicates the common impetuses motivating charter founders to create charter schools include

4 realizing an education vision, gaining autonomy, and serving a special population (Fusarelli, 2002; Stiles, 2005; Texas Center for Educational Research, 2003). Despite their intentions, researchers noted charter founders tended to underestimate the level of difficulty associated with creating a school from scratch (Benner, 2000; Dianda & Corwin, 1994; Fusarelli, 2002; Winger, 2000). Although the specifics vary among states, charter school founders typically engage in four phases during the development process: (a) exploration, (b) application, (c) preoperations, and (d) operations (U.S. Charter Schools, n.d.-c, ¶ 1). Exploration includes identifying the reasons for creating a charter school, investigating the charter school process, and compiling a charter school start up team (U.S. Charter Schools, n.d.- c, ¶ 4). The charter school application solicits the purpose or goals of the proposed charter school and the educational, fiscal, and operational structure supporting the school’s mission and vision (U.S. Charter Schools, n.d.-c, Overview section, ¶ 1). The preoperations phase includes activities aimed at developing the school. Last, the operations phase involves opening the school and transforming the operational plans outlined in the charter application into operational realities. While the last two phases, preoperations and operations, involve creating and sustaining open-enrollment charter schools post authorization from charter-awarding entities (i.e., local boards of education), the first two phases, exploration and application, characterize the activities of charter leaders leading up to the submission of charter applications for review by charter screening agencies and the activities of the screening agents themselves. Understanding how charter applicants ready themselves for the screening process and the factors that

5 compel charter application scorers to promote applications to the next level of review for charter award consideration was the focus of the current study. Studies tracking the increase in charter schools across the United States (Bothe, 2004; Budde, 1996; Bulkley, 2004; Finn et al., 2001; Fusarelli, 2002; Lazaridou & Fris, 2005; Renzulli, 2005; Stiles, 2005; Wren, 2000; Zavislak, 2002) are plentiful. Likewise, studies tracking the growth of Texas charter schools (Ausbrooks, 2002; Benner, 2000; Clark, 2000; Kleitz, Weiher, Tedin, & Matland, 2000; Redeker, 2005; Reyes, 2000; Streeter, Brannen, & Franklin, 1994; Wilson, 2006) are plentiful. Not much is known, however, about activities of charter leaders during the application phase. Despite research indicating charter schools might improve student performance (Bothe, 2004; The Center for Education Reform, 2005; Howard, 2006; Jacoby, 2000; Stiles, 2005; Winger, 2000), opening and sustaining charter schools is not without challenges for charter applicants. Fusarelli (2002) noted, “Founders of charter schools tend to under estimate how difficult it is to create a school from scratch” (Barriers section, ¶ 2). Familiarity with state-specific charter application guidelines, operations management, education and education-related delivery services, and business and organizational management practices is critical during the planning and preoperative stages for charter applicants (Lane, 1998). Potential charter applicants must also demonstrate knowledge of federal and state legislative mandates (Stiles). Charter applications that do not reflect the applicants’ comprehensive understanding of the required knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to open and sustain charter schools might fail, or not receive approval to move forward, in the application process. Charter schools that do not meet the terms of their charter, once

6 granted permission to open by a state board of education, can be closed permanently or labeled as failing (Stiles, 2005). Nationally, 33% of all 2001-2002 charter applications failed the application process due to problems or concerns (Texas Center for Educational Research, 2006b, p. 3). In Texas, 75% of all charter applications failed during the 2005 open-enrollment application period (H. Novak, personal communication, November 10, 2005). Problem Statement Charter schools are leading the way in the whole-school reform movement. Federal support for charter schools increased from $6 million to $214.8 million from 1995 to 2006 (U.S. Department of Education, 2006a). As experimental new schools, charter schools combine the operational and educational efficiencies of public and private schools to create new educational models designed to meet the needs of diverse learners and improve academic performance (Finn et al., 2001; Jacoby, 2000). Despite the financial and educational benefits supporting charter school development, creating charter schools is not an easy task. The general problem was charter founders failed the application screening process because they were not sufficiently knowledgeable in the variety of disciplines required for opening and sustaining charter schools (Democratic Leadership Council, 2007, ¶ 1; Winger, 2000). The specific problem was to analyze the factors that affected the success of charter school applications and why only 22 to 25% of Texas applications passed the screening process between 2005 and 2007 (see Table 1). The current qualitative method with an evaluative case study research design involved exploring the experiences of 13 successful charter school applicants and 12

7 charter application scorers in Texas. The goal of the study was to understand the characteristics of open-enrollment charter applicant success in Texas. Findings from the study might enhance the success rate of future charter school applicants seeking to provide educational alternatives to students and parents in the state of Texas. Table 1 2005-2007 Open-Enrollment Applications Received and Approved and Percentage Failing Screening Process Year Applications received Applications approved Percentage failing screening process 2005 55 13 76 2006 49 11 78 2007 52 13 75 Note. Data obtained from A. Hemenway (personal communication, June 13, 2008). Purpose Over 3,500 new schools have opened since state legislatures began passing charter school legislation in the mid-1990s (U.S. Charter Schools, n.d.-b). The overall increase in charter school applications is indicative of a shift occurring in school-delivery structures in the United States as parents and educators find the best way to deliver high- quality education to K-12 student populations (Finn et al., 2001; Fusarelli, 2002; House, 2006; Kolderie, 1994). While the increase in applications is notable, a high denial rate also exists. The purpose of the qualitative method with an evaluative case study research design was to interview a purposive sample of 13 successful charter applicants. The

8 applicants received approval to establish 13 open-enrollment charter schools in Texas between 2005 and 2007. The study involved gathering information regarding the perspectives of the successful charter applicants on factors they believed might have affected their success in achieving a passing score during the open-enrollment charter application screening process. The study also involved gathering perspectives from 12 open-enrollment charter application scorers relating to factors that guided their decision processes when evaluating open-enrollment charter applications submitted between 2005 and 2007. In 2005, 75% of Texas open-enrollment applications did not pass the screening process (H. Novak, personal communication, November 10, 2005). The current qualitative study involved an investigation into how charter applicants readied themselves for the charter application screening process and led to the discovery of themes and behavioral patterns inherent to charter applicant success. Four research questions guided the research protocol. The research questions for the study were as follows: RQ1. What factors do charter applicants believe contributed to the approval of their open-enrollment charter schools between 2005 and 2007? RQ2. How did charter applicants prepare for the application screening process? RQ3. What are the characteristics of Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application success? RQ4. What about the charter school application creates a compelling reason for applicant scorers to promote open-enrollment charter school applications to the next level of review?

9 The focus of the study was solely on Texas charter school applicants and application scorers to learn more about the open-enrollment charter application screening process in Texas. Logistics determined the geographical limitations of the study. The study involved interviewing charter holders approved to establish open-enrollment charter schools in Texas between 2005 and 2007 to establish a robust sample of successful applicant perspectives. Perspectives from the application scorers evaluating Texas open-enrollment charter applications from 2005 to 2007 provided insight regarding factors that guided their approval decisions. The qualitative method was appropriate because the study involved a search to uncover themes or patterns associated with achieving a passing score during the open- enrollment application screening process. D. R. Cooper and Schindler (2003) noted that qualitative approaches involve an attempt to define or explain something while quantitative approaches involve an attempt to measure something (p. 152). The study also involved a search to discover ways charter applicants prepared themselves for the open- enrollment screening process in Texas; the high rate of denial already indicated that applicants might not have sufficient preparation for the screening process. Qualitative studies involve a search to explain a phenomenon for which a lack of literature exists, whereas quantitative studies tend to support well-documented phenomena (Creswell, 2003; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Understanding the nature of charter applicant success and the influences guiding an application reviewer’s scoring decisions might increase the success rate of future applicants desiring to establish open-enrollment charter schools. Case studies in qualitative research support the exploration of complex systems or processes. The case study design “allows for thick description that puts [the] reader

10 vicariously into the context and allows him or her to interact with the data presented” (Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, & Allen, 1993, p. 40). The case study was an appropriate research design because the study involved an examination into a portion of a complex system process: the external review panel screening process. The study did not include an examination of the open-enrollment charter school application process in its entirety. Discovering the behaviors and activities of charter applicants working toward application approval and the characteristics of charter applicant success might support the creation of models to aid future open-enrollment charter applicants in Texas. Significance of the Study Charter schools are still a relatively new form of educational alternative (Stiles, 2005). Research opportunities exploring the intricacies of charter schools are plentiful, especially concerning activities undertaken by charter applicants during the application process and how the activities affect the screening process. The focus of most studies on charter schools was the activities and behaviors of charter founders or charter schools during the preoperation and operation (U.S. Charter Schools, n.d.-c, ¶ 1) phases. Researchers have examined the different stages of charter school development (Stiles), charter school accountability (Berends, 2004; Bothe, 2004; Heaggans, 2006), effective charter school leaders (Cobb & Suarez, 2000; Nerz, 2005), a comparative analysis of student performance in charter versus traditional public schools (Howard, 2006; Powers, 2004), the effect of charter school autonomy on accountability (Song, 2006), challenges facing charter schools and their leaders (Fusarelli, 2002; Peebles, 2004; Stiles; Tillotson, 2006; Zipperlen, 2002), charter school critics (Heaggans, 2006; Renzulli & Evans, 2005;

11 Swinehart, 2005), and other areas of charter school existence (Alexander, 1997; Estes, 2000). Few studies include an examination of the ways in which charter founders prepare themselves for the screening process, specifically prior to submitting charter applications to reviewing and awarding entities. Future charter school applicants might find the information gathered in the current study useful during the planning stages leading up to the completion of charter school applications. Findings from the current research might serve as an activity guide for future charter school applicants hoping to establish open- enrollment charter schools. Data obtained from the open-enrollment charter application scorers might provide insight into the factors leading to applicant success. The findings from the research study might also provide future researchers the information needed to develop theoretical models depicting the activities or conditions conducive to submitting successful charter school applications in the state of Texas. Theories are an attempt to describe reality (Marion, 2002). Understanding the realities influencing charter applicant success in Texas will increase school choice and competition within the educational marketplace. Nature of the Study The purpose of the current qualitative method with an evaluative case study research design was to interview a purposive sample of 13 successful charter applicants approved to establish 13 open-enrollment charter schools in Texas from 2005 to 2007. Applicant perspectives were solicited regarding factors they believed might have affected their success in achieving a passing score during the open-enrollment charter application screening process. The study also involved gathering the perspectives of 12 open-

12 enrollment charter application scorers relating to factors that guided their decision processes when evaluating open-enrollment charter applications submitted between 2005 and 2007. The nature of the qualitative method included a discussion on why quantitative methods were unsuitable. An overview of the Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application screening process provided a context for understanding the participants selected for study. The section concluded with an overview of the methodology and design and an explanation of why each was appropriate for accomplishing the study’s objectives. The quantitative research method was not appropriate for investigating the research questions presented in the current study. Quantitative research methods rely primarily on assumptions from the positivist approach to science (Neuman, 1994). The positivist approach “implies researchers begin with a general casual relationship that has been logically derived from a casual law in general theory” (Neuman, 1994, p. 61). The first research question involved a search to determine why certain open- enrollment charter school applications received approval between 2005 and 2007. Neuman (1994) noted the purpose of quantitative studies is to examine relationships between two or more variables. Positivism implies the variables supporting the charter award decisions between 2005 and 2007 are known. The variables, or reasons for approval, were not established in the first research question. Rather, identifying the reasons supporting approval was one objective of the study. The same logic applied to the third research question. The third research question involved identifying the characteristics of open-enrollment charter school application

13 success. Again, the characteristics or variables were not established, contradicting positivist assumptions. Creswell (2005) furthered Neuman’s (1994) position and posited quantitative research uses correlations to show relationships between two variables or sets of scores. The deductive approach inherent to quantitative research also made a quantitative method ineffective for addressing the research questions posed in the current study. The second and fourth research questions involved a search to determine (a) how charter applicants prepared for the screening process and (b) how open-enrollment charter application scorers made decisions related to passing or failing applications. A deductive approach to the second and fourth research questions following a quantitative research method would identify a hypothesis or idea and test data to validate the idea. Research Questions 2 and 4 required an inductive approach whereby a researcher “builds theory from the ground up” (Neuman, 1994, p. 41) by refining concepts and developing empirical generalizations and relationships through continued review of the data. The Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application process and guidelines linked directly to the research problem. The Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application includes two content groups for screening purposes. The first content group contains Sections 1-5 of the Open-Enrollment Charter Application. The second content group contains Sections 6-11 of the Open-Enrollment Charter Application. Open-enrollment applications undergo five separate screening sessions (see Appendix B). During the first and fourth sessions, members of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) screen applications for completeness and log concerns or potential issues regarding application Sections 6-11 (A. Alaniz, personal communication, June 27, 2008).

14 The second screening involves an external panel reviewing and scoring complete applications. In the third screening, members from the Committee on School Initiatives review applications determined by TEA staff to be incomplete. Last, the members of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) interview eligible applicants and award charters. Given the goals of the current research project, a qualitative methodology was appropriate. Creswell (2005) noted qualitative studies further understandings of how and why a phenomenon occurs. The qualitative research method was appropriate because the study involved a search to explore how open-enrollment charter applicants in Texas readied themselves for the application screening process and the characteristics of applicant success. Qualitative studies explore an unknown phenomenon, whereas quantitative methods explain known phenomena (Creswell, 2003; Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Given the proportion of open-enrollment charter school applications that fail the screening process, the current study involved a search to understand the factors guiding the scoring decisions of application reviewers. Limited research exists to explain, from a charter applicant’s perspective, the factors believed to have affected the success of the charter school application process in Texas. The case study was an appropriate research design because the study involved a search to discover factors for which limited research exists. Studies tracking the increase in charter schools in the United States (Bothe, 2004; Budde, 1996; Bulkley, 2004; Finn et al., 2001; Fusarelli, 2002; Lazaridou & Fris, 2005; Renzulli, 2005; Stiles, 2005; Wren, 2000; Zavislak, 2002) are plentiful. Studies tracking the growth of Texas charter schools (Ausbrooks, 2002; Benner, 2005; Clark, 2000; Kleitz et al., 2000; Redeker, 2005; Reyes,

15 2000; Streeter et al., 1994; Wilson, 2006) are plentiful. Not much research is available about the activities of charter leaders during the application phase. The focus of case studies in qualitative research is on discovering rather than confirming information (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). A case study enabled the researcher to experience the open-enrollment charter school application process from the vantage point of the charter applicants as well as the charter scorers due to the necessity for a “thick description that puts the reader vicariously into the context and allows him or her to interact with the data presented” (Erlandson et al., 1993, p. 40). Discovering the factors that influence the decisions of charter application scorers might support the creation of models to aid future open-enrollment charter applicants in Texas. Yin (2003) supported the position that case studies are appropriate for investigating how or why questions presented for a specific event (p. 9). Exploring the experiences of Texas open-enrollment charter applicants and scorers from 2005 to 2007 addressed the research questions and provided an understanding regarding (a) how future charter applicants can prepare for the screening process and (b) the decision points influencing application scorers. Research Questions The Texas charter application process is competitive (SBOE, 2007, p. 3). Applicants are encouraged to read the information contained within the open-enrollment charter school application carefully, paying particular attention to the criteria used to evaluate the application as well as details related to application timelines and resource information (Generation 11 Request for Application, 2004). Failure to adhere to the parameters detailed in the open-enrollment application can result in application exclusion

16 during any of the screening phases of the Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application process. Despite the criteria provided in the open-enrollment charter school application, a significant number of applications do not receive approval. The goal of the study was to gain the perspectives of 13 successful charter applicants to identify factors they believed might have affected their success in obtaining approval to establish 13 open-enrollment charter schools in Texas. The study also involved gathering perspectives from 12 open- enrollment application scorers relating to factors that caused the selection of open- enrollment charter school applications for referral to the SBOE for charter consideration. The research questions for the study were as follows: RQ1. What factors do charter applicants believe contributed to the approval of their open-enrollment charter schools between 2005 and 2007? RQ2. How did charter applicants prepare for the application screening process? RQ3. What are the characteristics of Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application success? RQ4. What about the charter school application creates a compelling reason for applicant scorers to promote open-enrollment charter school applications to the next level of review? Theoretical Framework Similar to other customer-focused groups or organizations, charter founders organize to achieve a common goal or purpose. While the impetus for creating charter schools might vary, charter applicants desire to create new educational paradigms (House, 2006; Lazaridou & Fris, 2005; Renzulli, 2005). Examining the activities of

Full document contains 325 pages
Abstract:   This qualitative method with an evaluative case study research design involved exploring the Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application screening process. Thirteen open-enrollment charter holders and 12 charter application scorers provided data related to their participation in the 2005-2007 Texas Open-Enrollment Charter Application process. Naturalistic inquiry promoted an understanding of the (a) behaviors of open-enrollment charter school applicants during the exploration and application phases and (b) characteristics of charter applicant success during the external review panel evaluation process. The results of the study might be of interest to future charter applicants desiring to create open-enrollment charter schools in Texas, external review panel scorers evaluating open-enrollment charter school applications, and Texas charter school program administrators desiring to leverage the positive traits of the charter application process to promote success.