Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department or School

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

Theresa Saunders, Ed.D, Chair

Committee Member

Ella Burton, Ed.D

Committee Member

Jaclynn Tracy, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Malverne Winborne, Ph.D


This study adds to the literature specific practices and systems that contribute to successful charter schools. Nine open ended interviews were conducted, which were then read and coded to identify themes. Using a process consistent with the constant comparison method, codes were transferred into a separate document. To ensure novel code development, constant comparison involved a recursive check of the code list. The code list was considered complete after reaching a point of theoretical saturation whereby novel codes were no longer necessary to interpret uncoded interview content. Codes were then assembled into higher order themes based on shared meaning and content. Themes served as umbrella summaries of lower order coded meaning. Thus, themes provided an interpretive framework or “grounded theory” for the study sample.

Participants included two authorizers who were public universities in Michigan. Both were labeled as “large authorizers” having portfolios of more than six schools. Two educational service providers were also included who were providing full management of charter schools in the Metro-Detroit area. One managed seven schools, the other provided various levels of service to more than 35 schools and fully managed two. Four K-8 schools participated, all of which were located in the Metro-Detroit area. The schools ranged in size from just over 90 to more than 400 students.

Since adopting charter school law in Michigan, 117 public school academies have either not fully opened (12) or have been closed (105). While the original intent of charter schools was to be an educational environment where experimentation and innovative practices were tested, significant negative impacts occur when we close schools, for the students, staff and community. Maintaining the flexibility to close those schools that are not working is essential, but we also need to understand why we are closing the schools, and how to design them successfully so that the real work of developing innovative practice can occur and be sustainable.

The study revealed far more significant pre-planning is required when designing and opening charter schools than is often taking place. The work done for the charter school application was not intended to be nor is it sufficient as the end of the planning process. In order to fully design a school that can be successful long term, a seven-to-ten-year plan must be developed. Staffing plans should have clearly defined roles for separate leaders of academics and back office as the foundation. These plans should then be developed to anticipate increased needs in quantity and type of programming. Fully developed financial planning must include all aspects of facilities and maintenance, representing not only growth of enrollment but also upkeep of facilities. Sound and complete fundraising plans are key as it was reiterated that the start-up grant funds are not nearly enough to create a solid foundation from which to grow. Lastly, well-researched and documented systems and practices allow the organization to function fluidly but stably beginning with the opening of school. All of these areas will continue to grow, adapt, and change which, is one of the benefits of the charter experiment.

By developing a strong and detailed long-term plan inclusive of academics, human capital, enrollment, budgeting, fundraising, facilities, systems and procedures focus can be dedicated to the implementation of instructional models with integrity. Each area will concentrate on their responsibilities while having the ability to step back and look at the whole and how it works together. The organic modifications should not be stifled, but well documented so as to benefit from experience. This was the original intent of charter schools.

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Education Commons