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The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which provides seed money for charter start-ups primarily through competitive state grants, got an upgrade in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December. Around the same time, CSP got a 32 percent funding boost from Congress. At its highest funding level ever, the program is primed to help states grow their charter sectors—a worthy goal considering that over a million students nationally wait for open seats in charter schools. The new program prioritizes strong authorizing practices and equitable funding for charters, and it attempts to influence state policies toward those ends.

Background

Formed just three years into the nation’s charter movement, CSP embodies Washington’s bipartisan commitment to charters and is responsible for helping launch or expand over 40 percent of today’s operational charter schools. CSP was first created in 1994 as an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 via the Improving America’s Schools Act. At its outset, it was a bare-bones initiative that made competitive grants available to states to host their own sub-grant competitions (for which new start-ups or conversion schools could apply). Requirements were minimal: State applicants merely had to have a charter law, and school applicants had to adhere to the...

Editor's note: This post is the second in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Michael Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? The first entry can be found here.

The prompt for this forum promised that we would explore “areas of agreement and disagreement.” I’m pleased, Jay (and not altogether surprised), to see that we share a lot of common ground. Let me start with that, then save what I see as our major dispute (what we can learn from reading and math scores) for another post.

I’m thrilled that you dismissed the extreme position of some libertarians, who argue that society should never override the choices of parents. You write:

I…do not mean to suggest that policy makers should never close a school or shutter a program in the face of parental demand. I’m just arguing that it should take a lot more than “bad” test scores to do that.

I agree entirely, and on both...

The school choice tent is much bigger than it used to be. Politicians and policy wonks across the ideological spectrum have embraced the principle that parents should get to choose their children’s schools and local districts should not have a monopoly on school supply.

But within this big tent there are big arguments about the best way to promote school quality. Some want all schools to take the same tough tests and all low-performing schools (those that fail to show individual student growth over time) to be shut down (or, in a voucher system, to be kicked out of the program). Others want to let the market work to promote quality and resist policies that amount to second-guessing parents.

In the following debate, Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas's Department of Education Reform and Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute explore areas of agreement and disagreement around this issue of school choice and school quality. In particular, they address the question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with...

Auditor of State Dave Yost

I am a conflicted man.

Professionally, I lead Ohio’s auditing staff, a team of financial experts whose job it is to verify that tax dollars are being properly spent and to root out any misuse or theft of public money. That includes charter schools.

Yet personally, I’m a strong proponent of the charter school movement. I believe in the lifetime benefits of school choice and affording every parent the ability to choose the school that will best serve their children.

My friends sometimes question how I can be so tough on charters when I personally support them.

The answer, I tell them, is simple: We don’t play favorites. We can’t. We shouldn’t. Doing so would erode the public’s trust in our office, which we must faithfully and ardently protect. To ignore the misdeeds of the few problem charters would stain the great work of many. Turning a blind eye to the problems in a charter school, or any school, would mean that we failed our children, which is never an option.

It’s a conflict public officials often face when their official duties require them to make decisions that run counter to their personal beliefs.

The mission of the Auditor of...

The passage of comprehensive charter school reform in the form of House Bill 2 was supposed to move charters past the controversies that had overshadowed the excellent work of good schools. The new era promised to be focused less on audits and academic failings and more on how charters can create more high quality education options for families in the Buckeye State. Unfortunately, a series of troubling recent developments involving online charter schools threatens to undermine the progress that Ohio has made. Rather than waiting until the clarion call for change is deafeningly loud, Ohio charter advocates should once again step up and lead the effort to improve their sector.

Online charters in the spotlight

While the academic performance of online charter schools has been criticized before, a national study released in October by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University provided the most compelling—and shocking—data to date showing the lackluster academic achievement of online charter school students. In Ohio, for example, the CREDO study indicated that online students lost seventy-nine days of learning per year in reading and 144 days in math compared to their peers in traditional public schools....

Last week, the Department of Education released the 2015 Nation’s Report Card for twelfth graders. As with the fourth- and eighth-grade scores provided last fall, there was little to celebrate. In the core subjects of math and reading, average scores held firm at the same unimpressive level they’ve been at since 2009. The scores of low-performers—whether defined as the proportion of students “below Basic” or those in the bottom decile—actually declined for the first time in at least a decade.

There was one glimmer of good news: High-end reading scores (whether defined as the top decile or the percentage of students at NAEP’s “Advanced” level) rose by a statistically significant margin—the first time that’s happened since 1998. Indeed, this qualified as only the second such upward bump ever for high-end twelfth graders. (Since 1990, there has never been a statistically significant jump at the high end in math or science for high school seniors.)

Moreover, this year’s high-end reading gains occurred despite all other scores (average and low-end reading and math, as well as high-end math) being down or flat across all core subjects in the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. That fact that is itself rather unusual. High-end fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores,...

Next week, in a series daily blog posts, Jay Greene and I will explore areas of agreement and disagreement around the issue of school choice and school quality. In particular, we will address the question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results?

The school choice tent is much bigger than it used to be. Politicians and policy wonks across the ideological spectrum have embraced the principle that parents should get to choose their children’s schools and local districts should not have a monopoly on school supply.

But within this big tent there are big arguments about the best way to promote school quality. Some want all schools to take the same tough tests, and for low-performing schools (those that fail to show individual student growth over time) to be shut down (or, in a voucher system, to be kicked out of the program). Others want to let the market work to promote quality and resist policies that amount to second-guessing parents.

Look for the first post, from Jay, on Monday....

In 2014, we hosted our first-ever Wonkathon, which was dedicated to the subject of charter school policy. Joe Siedlecki of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation was voted the wisest, wonkiest wonk of all.

Last year, we returned with a sequel focused on the implementation of education savings accounts in Nevada. Seth Rau, then at Nevada Succeeds, took home the big prize despite (or perhaps because of) his colorful analogy.

For 2016, we’re taking a look at the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and its potential for expanding parental choice. We’ve asked a select group of education policy wonks to respond to the following prompt: 

Many observers credit No Child Left Behind with contributing to the significant expansion of parental choice in American education over the past fifteen years. It wasn't necessarily the school choice provisions contained in the law (which were limited and poorly designed), but what its passage did to shine a spotlight on school failure and create a sense that better schools were desperately needed.

Likewise, some in the school choice movement are disappointed that the new Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't do much legislatively to promote choice. But are they overlooking the law's potential?...

A new, somewhat unsettling NBER working paper by Thomas Dee and colleagues examines the prevalence and implications of teachers tampering with student test scores on New York State Regents exams.

The analysts focus on exams taken between the 2003–04 and 2009–10 school years in New York City, which can be reliably linked to students. To qualify for a “local” diploma, the lowest degree available in New York, students entering high school before fall 2005 had to score at least a 55 on all five core Regents exams (English, Math, Science, U.S. History/Government, and Global History/Geography). In fall 2008, local diplomas were eliminated, and students were required to receive at least a 65 score on all five tests.

Up until 2012–13, Regents exams were graded by teachers from students’ own schools, and a policy was in place that required exams with scores just below the cutoff to be re-scored by the schools. The analysts document clear spikes around the cutoffs in an otherwise smooth test score distribution. In other words the scores immediately below the cutoffs appear less frequently than expected from a “well-behaved empirical distribution,” and the scores at or just above the cutoffs appear more frequently than expected, suggesting that scores just below...

Choice as a means to drive school improvement is a simple enough idea: If parents are permitted choose where to send their kids to school, they will (in theory) maximize what they value—good schools, presumably—while minimizing their effort and risk to get it. And (also in theory) no one should be more motivated to get what they value than those who currently can’t gain access to it.

As the authors of this paper note, however, studies have tended to find that this simple idea doesn’t always play out that way in real life. The students most likely to move to a higher-quality school are typically already higher-achieving and less likely to live in poverty.

Post-Katrina New Orleans turns out not to be an exception to the rule. On average, the authors find, high-achieving NOLA students switch to high-quality schools, and low-achieving students transfer to low-quality schools. This is “suggestive evidence of a stratified school system and may lead to increased student segmentation based on student achievement and school quality,” they note.

The study, one of the first on student mobility in post-Katrina New Orleans, examines student-level data from 2007 to 2011. “It is clear some students are taking advantage of...

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