Choice Words

Amy Fagan

The Fordham Institute has published a new paper today that readers might find quite interesting. In this new "Ed Short," Amanda Olberg of the Fordham Institute and Michael Podgursky of the University of Missouri at Columbia examine how public charter schools handle pensions for their teachers. Some states give these schools the freedom to opt out of the traditional teacher pension system; when given that option, how many charter schools take it? Olberg and Podgursky examine data from six charter-heavy states and find that charter participation rates in traditional pension systems vary greatly from state to state.? When charter schools choose not to participate in state pension plans, the authors find that they most often provide their teachers with defined-contribution plans (401(k) or 403(b)). But some opt-out charters offer no alternative retirement plans for their teachers. To learn more, check out the full paper, "Charting a New Course to Retirement: How Charter Schools Handle Teacher Pensions."

First came the recruitment of State Superintendent Deborah Gist; next came winning $75 million in Race to the Top (RTTT) funds. Rhode Island has been on a whirlwind track toward education reform over the past couple years. And?as one with boatloads of Ocean State pride (who doesn't love coffee milk, water fire, and Dels lemonade?)?it's been fun to watch.

Of course, no reform effort is without its drama. Parents erupted when Central Falls Superintendent Frances Gallo announced a turnaround effort at the city's high school. Currently, organized pushback is being targeted against the expansion of Achievement First (AF) into Rhodey.

AF is a proven high-quality charter-school network, currently operating nineteen charters in New York and Connecticut. In 2007, one of its campuses was highlighted by the US DOE as a model for closing the achievement gap; it was one of seven such schools in the country. In 2009, fourth graders at AF's two oldest campuses (both in New York) demonstrated 93 percent proficiency in English language arts and 99 percent proficiency in math.

Since Rhode Island submitted its RTTT application, there have been tentative plans to expand AF the Ocean State. These plans?and the vocal opposition of them?recently solidified, as Cranston Mayor Alan Fung invited Achievement First to his district.

Why the backlash? Former Fordham colleague (now with the New Jersey Department of Education), Andy Smarick called it in March 2010 when discussing the Central Falls out:

We all know about the plans to

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Liam Julian

I had a conversation today with a friend, a mother of two young boys, who recently won for them, through a lottery, places in a Washington, D.C., charter school. My friend mentioned that she has been approached by several people looking to buy the spots she won; these people are offering cold, hard cash. The highest?offer so far, she said, has been $1500 per slot. But she's not selling. Her experience obviously illustrates the craving if not desperation of parents in D.C. for educational options for their children. One wonders how high the bidding could go for the charter school spots she holds.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

An analysis released in today's Education Gadfly finds that new charter schools in disadvantaged communities are almost four times as likely to reach above-average rates of student achievement as the closest district school. This raises serious questions about the wisdom of the federal government pumping $3 billion into school turnaround efforts instead of using some of the money to replicate and scale up successful charter models.

However, the finding comes with several big caveats. First, because of the small sample size, the results cannot be deemed statistically significant. And second, it's impossible to know whether "selection effects" played a role--whether the new charter schools performed better because they attracted better students.

The analysis was by David Stuit, a Vanderbilt PhD. who authored a previous Fordham study on school turnarounds last December.

The idea for this analysis came from Public Impact's Bryan Hassel. After the release of our December study--which found that just one percent of district and charter school turnarounds were successful, as defined as reaching at least the 50th percentile in state proficiency in reading and math--Bryan wondered whether charter start-ups in similar neighborhoods would fare any better against such rigorous criteria.

So we asked Stuit to give it a look. As he explains in his essay:

Across ten states (Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin), I located all incidents (between 2002-03 and 2006-07) of a charter school opening in close proximity to a district school

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Charters in Ohio have a contentious and troubled history. Events over the last few weeks have added another controversial chapter to the story. With Republicans in charge of the House, lobbyists for the large for-profit charter management company White Hat (currently operating 30 schools in Ohio) pushed for charter legislation in that chamber that would effectively create corporate, private schools, funded directly by the state but free of all state accountability requirements. As long as the kids show up the state money will flow. Whether the kids learn anything or not doesn't matter. In fact these new corporate private schools wouldn't even have to take state achievement tests or face other pesky state accountability provisions.

Yesterday's Columbus Dispatch ran a front page piece on the political maneuverings behind all this, and Fordham was drawn into the story (see here and note below). Fordham has been a staunch supporter of charter schools in Ohio since before the first ones opened in 1998. But, we have also been equally unyielding in our belief that all schools that receive public dollars to educate children should be held accountable for their academic and fiscal performance. We support things like school report cards and academic death penalties for schools that perennially fail to deliver academically. We believe closing a failed charter school is the least bad option for children. Worse is letting a school that doesn't serve children well continue to operate year after year without serious pressure to improve.????

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Amy Fagan

We wanted to help get the word out ? this Sunday (January 23) kicks off National School Choice Week. It's a week of events and discussion across the country, aimed highlighting the need for effective education options for all children. You can read about it here ? no one group is organizing it, but rather, many.

There's a list of participating groups here. Events will be happening?in nearly every state and there's a nifty webpage where you can type in your zip code and see a list of events in your local area.

Fordham Institute's Terry Ryan will be speaking at a panel event in Columbus, Ohio, on January 25 (sponsored by School Choice Ohio). And here in DC, there's a kickoff?reception and panel discussion (about the future of school choice in America) on Thursday, January 20, hosted by Reason. NOTE: Space for this event is limited, so you must RSVP by mid-day tomorrow, January 19,?at the latest.

?Amy Fagan

Amy Fagan

Today's NY Times Room for Debate poses the question, Do Home Schoolers Deserve a Tax Break? The question explores one of the proposals of the new Republicans in Congress ? give parents in every state tax credits if their children are home-schooled. The discussion includes thoughts from various experts, including our own Chester Finn. What does Checker say about the matter? Well, in a nutshell his answer is ?Yes, but Tests Are Necessary.? He says it is reasonable for the government to offset some of the costs of home schooling, much like is done with childcare. But home-schooled students should have to take state tests, in return for the financial help, he says. Check out the discussion to read his explanation in full, along with those of other experts.

?Amy Fagan

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