The Accountability Bind


  • Katrina Bulkley Rutgers University



Accountability, Markets, Parents, Students, Government, Contracts, Schools, Charter Contracts


Charter schools involve a trading of autonomy for accountability. This accountability comes through two forces—markets through the choices of parents and students, and accountability to government through the writing of contracts that must be renewed for schools to continue to operate. Charter schools are supposed to be more accountable for educational performance than traditional public schools because authorizers have the ability to revoke charter contracts. Here, I focus on one central component of accountability to government: performance accountability or accountability for educational outcomes to charter school authorizers through the revocation or non-renewal of charter contracts. In this paper, I suggest that contract-based accountability for educational performance in charter schools may not be working as proponents argued it would. This article explores some explanations for why there are very few examples of charter schools that have been closed primarily because of failure to demonstrate educational performance or improvement. Future work will need to test if these challenges for authorizers hold in a variety of contexts. The conclusion examines the implications of these findings for the future of charter school accountability.


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Author Biography

Katrina Bulkley, Rutgers University

Katrina Bulkley is an Assistant Professor of Educational Policy at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. Much of her work has focused on issues involving school choice and charter schools. Recent articles include, "Charter School Authorizers: A New Governance Mechanism?" in Educational Policy (November 1999), and "'New Improved' Mayors Take Over City Schools" (with Michael Kirst) in Phi Delta Kappan (March 2000). She is currently working with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education on a literature review of research on charter schools and a study of for-profit management companies and charter schools, and with the Center for Education Policy Analysis, located at Rutgers University, on two studies of the impact of standards, testing and professional development on instructional practices in New Jersey. Bulkley has reviewed articles for Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Educational Policy, and Policy Studies Journal.




How to Cite

Bulkley, K. (2001). The Accountability Bind. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 9, 37.