Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


Educational Studies



First Advisor

Doyle Stevick


Charter schools are deregulated institutions that are provided considerable autonomy in order to spur innovation, yet little is known about their governance practices. The studies of charter school governance that do exist, however, typically concern cases of charter school failure. The causes of charter school failure are often clear and unambiguous. Such failures in turn reflect a failure by the charter school board to fulfill its most basic duties by preventing, detecting or correcting the problems. Such boards are often negligent or lack the capacity or competence to perform their tasks.

In addition to avoiding failure, what constitutes excellent governance for charter schools? Much less is known about the governance of successful charter schools. This study addresses this gap by exploring the governance practices of four charter schools in the Charleston School District of South Carolina that survived the critical 3-5 year start up period and earned a ten-year reauthorization from the authorizer, the Charleston County School District. This study focuses upon the charter school boards' governance of charter schools and, in particular, the relationship between charter school board governance and school management.

In order to identify promising cases to study, I worked from the assumption that schools that survived their start up period and earned reauthorization were the most likely to exhibit exemplary governance practices. Because reauthorization does indicate the avoidance of failure but is not sufficient by itself to indicate success, I also dedicate a section to comparing these charters to similarly situated traditional public schools in the vicinity. The authorizer for the charter schools in the study is the Board of Education for the Charleston County School District. During the reauthorization process, CCSD used the results from the charter schools' annual state report card as an indicator of success.

Each South Carolina charter school is required to have a publicly elected Board of Directors. This Board, comprised of parents and community members, serves as a Board of Education for that one school. South Carolina charter schools and their boards are designed to function more like independent school districts than like schools. Each charter school board is responsible for monitoring academic progress and student achievement, financial stability of the organization, and compliance with applicable policies and statutes. A charter board also approves contracts, including that of the school leader, the principal.

Three questions are posed in this study: How does the board of directors function in successful charter schools? What is the nature of the relationship between the Board of Directors and the school leadership team, including the principal? Do available data from the annual school report card support the viability of the examined charter schools?

The findings indicate that each of the Boards of Directors in this study devoted the majority of its time to the areas of student performance, school policies, and school finances.

The findings also indicate that each of the boards maintained a governance relationship with the administration and teachers of the school. Finally, the results from the annual state school report card for each charter school in the study demonstrate results as good as or better than traditional public schools of similar characteristics within the Charleston County School District.


© 2012, Robert Edward Bohnstengel