Charter Schools

Last issue, we told you the twisty story of VLT Academy – a charter school in the Cincinnati area that ended up closing for good before the 2014-15 school year. The saga included unprecedented efforts by the Ohio Department of Education to rein in poor authorization practices, a court challenge, a last-minute stay, and parents left scrambling for schools for their children just days before the school year began.

That chapter of the story ended with a new charter school – Hope4Change Academy—setting up a tent outside the locked doors of VLT, looking to sign up families for their school, even though their own sponsor contract was in question and it was entirely possible they wouldn’t open either.

Fast-forward. Ten days later.

The Ohio Department of Education referred the top two leaders of the Portage County Education Service Center for investigation, saying the agency attempted, as sponsor, to open Hope4Change despite being warned not to due to unsatisfactory vetting procedures. Officials of both entities have since traded barbs in the media, indicating yet another chapter to come.

The heart of the matter is that bad charter school authorization practices must end, or parents and students somewhere else—just like those in Cincinnati—will end up scrambling to find quality schools under pressure when their own are shuttered....

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Hitting pause on testing, vouchers, and union solidarity

Michelle and Robert applaud Secretary Duncan’s reasonableness, question a North Carolina trial judge (but have a solution), and disparage union agency fees. Amber tells us how classroom peers affect the achievement of students with special needs.

Amber's Research Minute

Peer Effects in Early Childhood Education: Testing the Assumptions of Special-Education Inclusion,” by Laura M. Justice, et al., Psychological Science (2014): 1-8

Transcript

Michelle G:               Hello. This is your host Michelle Gininger of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at EdExcellence.net. Now please join me in welcoming my co-host the Seth Meyers of education reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert P:                    I'm not even sure what that means and hello Michelle.

Michelle G:               Hello. I guess you unlike everyone else in America with not watching the Emmy's.

Robert P:                    No, no, I have a 16 year old daughter so of course my daughter.

Michelle G:               You know more about this than anyone.

Robert P:                    I describe this as the cultural equivalent of secondhand smoke, you're close it. You absorb some of it unintentionally but does that mean I'm focusing on it, no. Were you happy with who won?

Michelle G:               I've heard some of these reviews. I thought it was funny. I thought Seth Meyers did a pretty good job. There are some jokes that I laughed. I felt ...

Robert P:                    Okay. He's a funny guy.

Michelle G:               I felt like a real American. Usually I don't want all the award shows are doing any of that but I thought I was participating in what America does. Maybe I'll watch a football game this season.

Robert P:                    All I know is what I heard in the background blah, blah, blah, Game of Thrones, blah, blah, blah, Game of Thrones, blah, blah, blah, Game of Thrones.

Michelle G:               Isn't that all you need to know about TV?

Robert P:                    Pretty much.

Michelle G:               All right, with that we're going to play part in the Gadfly with our Com. Dev. intern Ellen. Ellen, take it away.

Ellen Alpaugh:          Last week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared that states with NCLB waivers could wait until the 2015 - 2016 school year to tie test scores to teacher evaluations. Is this just one year delay and nothing more or does this say something bigger about the testing over the long run?

Michelle G:               Both. Robert, you want to elaborate.

Robert P:                    Lordy, this is such a complicated question and no I don't think it goes away. I think it ... This delays it but I think a hard rain is going to fall on this. There was some polling data out last week that we talked about. A PDK poll on education next poll and you should never I suppose paint with two broader brush based on any particular finding. Look, let's be honest, testing is not popular. I was a teacher for several years and you can't blind yourself to the deleterious impact that testing is having on our classrooms.

                                    Curriculum narrowing, anxiety, lots of push back against testing. What's interesting when you look at the polling numbers is that testing itself is not necessarily unpopular. Something that jumped out to me ... At me in the ed next poll is that things like SAT testing, AP testing are really popular or as popular as a test is going to be. It's when you start looking at these accountability test in grade three through eight under whether there's no child left behind or common core.

                                    The people have lost track of why we do this. You have this kind of conundrum which is the ed reform movement is still largely popular. People like things like charter schools and choice and even vouchers but testing is really unpopular right now. Testing you could or it has created the momentum for these things at the same time it's almost threatening to turn on itself. Arne Duncan thanks for giving us a year off, buy us some time for common core and all these other good things but at some point we're going to have to decide what is exactly the role of testing in K-12 education and in ed reform.

Michelle G:               I completely agree. Yes, testing is no fun, it's awful, it's an imperfect measure, all of those things but if you look at what we support in education or what the public supports in education. A lot of it is because we have evidence that it work and we have evidence that it works because of test. Voucher programs even some school choice supporters don't like the independent evaluations that we've had on the DCPS program and the program in Milwaukee. Yet, those same folks are using those testing results to show that school choice work. You can see this across the issues. Why do we like charter schools? Probably because we're seeing some data that they are educating students better.

Robert P:                    When you say data, you mean?

Michelle G:               Results from test.

Robert P:                    There you go.

Michelle G:               It's sort of like dieting. It's not fun, no one likes eating rice cakes and celery and exercising but if you want to stay slim and fit you got to these things.

Robert P:                    Sure.

Michelle G:               It's just the way it is. It's not fun thing but guess what, it's life.

Robert P:                    Yeah, and I wrote a piece about this early this week and I describe this using Jefferson's quote from 1820's about slavery. Our relationship with testing is like holding a tiger or a wolf by the ears, you don't much like it but you can't let go.

Michelle G:               A lot of people on Twitter were liking your analogy there, bravo on that.

Robert P:                    Bravo Mr. Jefferson.

Michelle G:               All right, Ellen.

Robert P:                    A steal from the best.

Michelle G:               Question number two.

Ellen Alpaugh:          On Thursday a North Carolina trial court judge held unconstitutional a state voucher law that allowed public money to pay tuition at private and religious school. How big of blow is this for voucher proponents and how should they respond?

Michelle G:               All right, I'll say that this is a moderate blow to voucher proponents but a big blow to families in North Carolina.

Robert P:                    Especially when they're starting school and they got to write a tuition check.

Michelle G:               Yes, just over ... Almost 2,000 scholarships have been issued for this program and private schools started this week for a lot of student in North Carolina. That just puts a lot of upheaval in many families lives. That's what the first issue but the second is this is a program that was means tested. Families qualified if they were at or below 133% of the poverty level and according to the Alliance for School Choice which I worked for, full disclosure there.

                                    They hit seven of the eight accountability measures for voucher programs. It's very, very, very high on the accountability spectrum. In all intent and purposes this was a great program. Why it was ruled unconstitutional? I'm not a lawyer. The North Carolina does not have a blind amendment but this is a blow to families. I think they'll go back at it and they'll try to pass the program in the slightly different way. Perhaps changing the funding mechanism or whatever is needed but it's just a longer wait time.

Robert P:                    Sure. I'm reading for the decision here and it says that, "General assembly fails that children of North Carolina when they're sent with public tax payer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything. I guess you could argue that but I'm not sure that's a credible argument. Look as Brandon Wright our colleague in Legal Expert says, "If that's the test, well then you just need to go back to the drawing board. Pass a law that says that private schools will give out the accountability measures, the test, etcetera and then problem solved.

Michelle G:               Yeah, and I think that proponent should have seen this coming. I looked back there's a great study that the Institute of Justice put out many years ago that I still go back to which looks at the ... State Constitutions in all 50 states and says whether school choice programs, whether vouchers or scholarship, text credit programs would be constitutional and it says yes, no depending on the program. For North Carolina it did say vouchers and scholarship text credit programs were constitutional but it did say that if a bill was to be ... Law was to be passed it should not draw from the public school funding stream which is basically what they did. No surprise in the long run.

Robert P:                    Of course there'll be an appeal.

Michelle G:               It's America, there you go. Ellen, question number three.

Ellen Alpaugh:          New York City's United Federation of Teachers supported a Saturday march against police brutality. Pitting one city union against another and angering many teacher union members. Teachers in NYC can choose not to be a member and avoid dues but all teachers still have to pay agency fees. What does such union activity say about these mandatory contributions?

Michelle G:               Mr. New Yorker?

Robert P:                    Man, the contributions is not withstanding. This is such a good old fashion New York City style food fights. Some of the stuff that's coming out with the police just the outrage from that the UFT would take this on and that Michael Mulgrew would participate in this protest is just amazing. I heard one teacher say, "Would we want cops protesting in our schools over low test scores?" The head of the PBA said something, I got it right here in front of me, "How would Mulgrew like it if police officers with the activist who oppose his efforts to shield bad teachers and undermine effective charter schools?" This is quite ... The fur is flying here.

Michelle G:               Only in New York it seems.

Robert P:                    Sure but you have to wonder what was Mulgrew thinking. This is ... Look, you can't make light with this, this is serious incident somebody died but if you're deciding where to spend your political capital and your members capital capital. I'm not sure this was the wisest decision.

Michelle G:               I think this is what happens when you work outside of your very narrow issue. On one hand you're building a strong coalition on the other hand when you go outside of your one issue for us education or for the unions education you're going to get people who's ... Your own members here are going to say, "I don't quite agree with that," and that just what happens. I think it's a decision that you have to make and in this case it looks like it was a messy one.

Robert P:                    Yeah, and Mulgrew ... Push back by saying, "Look, we have a history as a union of getting involved in these kinds of issues. You invoked union, activism around the freedom riders many, many years ago. Sure you can understand the process that got him from A to B but still the police are institution in New York City and as many police officers have been saying, "Look, you know, our sons and daughters and wives and husbands are teachers." It just feels this was a little bit of a third rail that did not need to be touched.

Michelle G:               Couldn't agree more. That's all the time we have for Pardon the Gadfly and now it's time for Amber's Research Minute. Welcome to the show Amber.

Amber Northern:      Thank you, Michelle.

Michelle G:               You were on Fox and Friends this weekend weighing in on this very issue [UFT police brutality protest]. What do you have to say about?

Amber Northern:      I was. I start out with it's outrageous. It's outrageous and teachers know ... Teachers always know, "Well, some of our donations, some of our fees go to politics," but wow this was right in their face. I loved it. I was like, "You know what, they finally get it." They finally get it because this was ... The zebra was showing it stripes, we just went off on Fox. They call me the next day and said, "You want to do it again tomorrow." My families called me like, "You are riled up," I'm like, "I know, like it just got me," and I dug into the contributions.

                                    Because Doug and I write a report about teacher union strength what seem hasn't been that long but it's ... I think it was two years ago. Anyway, and then when Doug back in the contributions and year after year after year they we giving donations to Al Sharpton's National Action Network along with plan parenthood and a host of other liberal leaning causes. Teachers need to dial like, "Hey, this is where some of our money goes to, like it or not."

Robert P:                    My money, $35 a paycheck for five years. Never joined the union but they got my money.

Amber Northern:      I think they knew this intuitively but then it was just out there blatant. I thought it was good that it happened. I didn't know how it works, you don't get a lot of time to go into the new ones. I didn't even get to talk about ...

Michelle G:               You don't get ... I can go in TV to go into new ones, I'm shocked.

Amber Northern:      I was, "I didn't get to take the agency fees," and all that stuff but anyway it was fun.

Michelle G:               You got riled up and you got your pay across.

Amber Northern:      I got riled up and I then I have a friend of mine taped it because I hadn't watched. My whole face was contorting. I was mad, I was, "Wow. It was really ugly doing that segment," but that what happens when you're riled up but anyway ...

Robert P:                    She's riled up again right now.

Amber Northern:      Riled up about our new study this week. It is a new study out in psychological science that's called peer effects in early childhood education, kind of a boring title but this is interesting study. It examines the performance of preschoolers both those without and with disabilities and how they are impacted by their peers when they're in a mainstream classroom. This is actually according to the authors and I think they're right. This is the first study of peer effects an inclusive classroom that serves preschoolers with disability.

                                    We've got a lot of peer effect research but never on the preschool level and never with kids in the mainstream classrooms. Anyway, they study the language skills of 670 preschoolers average age of four in multiple school districts in a single mid western over the course of a year about half of the kids had high EP's. Three key findings, number one there was indeed evidence of peer effects in the classroom have shown by the strong relationship between kids spring language scores and the language skills of their peers. Definitely a strong relationship between the two.

                                    Number two, the impact of peer effects varied based on whether the child had a disability. Specifically peer effects were stronger for kids with disabilities than those without. Preschoolers in classroom of kids with high language skills tended to have better language scores than preschoolers in classes of kids with lower skills. The lowest skilled kids, if you got that, made the greatest gains. This is what we've seen in other studies.

Robert P:                    Yeah, no surprise there.

Amber Northern:      Kids at the bottom make the greater gains. Kids with disabilities are more influenced by their classrooms language skills than children without. Last bottom line, children with the highest skills were not adversely impacted by the lower performing kids whether they had disabilities or not which is what everybody is always searching for, right? Like, "What about the kids on the other end of the spectrum.?" The study was correlational, it's not causal.

                                    It was one year, it's not a trend study and they also ... The instrument they use which I was kind of dug in. It was a teacher report instrument ... It's a dibble or something.

Robert P:                    It's squishy.

Amber Northern:      Which you typically have to do with young kids you have to deal one on one measure but it wasn't really standardized in a way. A little bit of clumsy there but I think it was encouraging because it showed us once again that peer effects matter and they matter greatly when we mainstream these kids. Which it's not an argument for against mainstreaming but it's interesting stuff.

Robert P:                    Persuasive because the kids at the high end so to speak no adverse effect.

Amber Northern:      They were harmed, right. Why do I want help? They weren't harmed either. They still scored at the end of the year higher than ... Their post test was still higher than a pretest. It wasn't a bad thing.

Michelle G:               Is your recommendation more research?

Amber Northern:      Wow. In my case I won't do it. Anyway, it was a needed area to do research. I think it's a neat idea because they're really striving for balance. On this half the kids with IP's. It's not like you've go 90% of the kids with Ip's you know what I mean. They're really striving to get what set up optimal affect and impact on kids. Half and half seems to be interesting, seems to be a positive outcome. I don't know if they change the percentages whether we would have see the same thing.

Michelle G:               Exciting stuff.

Robert P:                    Is it my imagination or we seeing a lot more pure effects research lately?

Michelle G:               I feel I've been reading more. It's also one of my sort of ... What do we call that, sew boxes if that's the word again. I tend to pay more intention to it just because he's interested in it. He wrote a lot about it in his book. Yeah, I don't know saying more as maybe just we just cover it more.

Robert P:                    You're paying attention. Fair enough.

Michelle G:               Either way both a good thing I think. All right. Thank you, Amber. That's all the time we have for the Education Gadfly Show till next week.

Robert P:                    I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Michelle G:               I'm Michelle Gininger for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute signing off.

Peet’s Coffee and Tea: We hardly knew you. According to the Columbus DispatchPeet’s coffee shop in downtown Columbus will close after less than a year of operation. (The shop is near where I work.) To quote the company’s spokesperson, the reason for closing the store is “to focus on our top-performing locations.”

If only Ohio’s policymakers, district leaders, and charter-school authorizers just as aggressively closed persistently underperforming schools, and instead directed resources to grow top-performing ones or those demonstrating promise, or to start new schools from scratch. (Of course, there has to be an orderly and responsible process to closing schools.) Rather, too many low-rated public schools, both district and charter, limp along year-after-year, depriving students of a great education on the taxpayers’ dime.

In the business realm, unprofitable entities are shuttered, sold off, or merged to allow the larger organization to thrive. Yet in public education it seems like bad schools are immortal—and that’s not good policy.

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With great fanfare, the Dispatch’s recent bombshell article outed seventeen charter schools in the Columbus region that closed within the past year. The closures occurred for a variety of reasons, ranging from fiscal woes to unsanitary conditions. Spicy material, yes, but beyond the headline, the Dispatch published a no-less-important companion piece that outlined the role of charter-school authorizers (or “sponsors”), of which Fordham is one.

Few people probably know that authorizers exist, much less what they do. But authorizers are crucial cogs in the charter-school system, as they perform four major tasks: they (1) review applications for a new charter school; (2) establish a contract with a school to allow it to open; (3) ensure compliance; and (4) renew (or non-renew) a contract with the school. We at Fordham take our responsibilities as an authorizer seriously, and we support the principles of rigorous authorizing standards set forth by the National Association of Charter School Authorizing (NACSA). Many authorizers in Ohio do the same—though seemingly not all, as evidenced in the Dispatch’s article. As charter-school quality comes into greater focus for the Buckeye State, authorizers and their practices must come under the microscope. But first, here are a few things to know about authorizers in Ohio.

1.)   Ohio has a smorgasbord of charter authorizers

Sixty-eight entities currently authorize at least one of Ohio’s 393 charter schools. Such entities include the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), thirteen educational-service centers (ESCs),...

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As the debate over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) rages on in blogs and statehouses nationwide, educators are getting on with the business of putting the standards into practice. In these three issue briefs, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers direction to charter authorizers navigating the challenges posed by CCSS implementation. The first brief provides a simple introduction to CCSS and CCSS-aligned assessments, including a list of questions that authorizers can ask themselves to self-diagnose exactly how the Common Core will affect them—e.g., “How do my state’s implementation requirements apply to charter schools?” and “Does my state have a federal accountability waiver?” In the second brief, NACSA stresses the importance of maintaining charter schools’ autonomy during the transition to CCSS and the new assessments: The authors remind the authorizers that the Common Core are a set of learning standards, not a curriculum (“Although the framers have developed suggested reading lists, and some states have adopted them as menus for school districts’ convenience, the new standards do not dictate what textbooks or instructional methods schools must use”), and that schools should avail themselves of their freedom to use whatever materials will help their students reach the standard. The third (and most extensive) brief digs into maintaining accountability, warning authorizers that school performance may drop significantly with the new tests. NACSA offers a host of options from which to choose—such as rating schools using proficiency only, proficiency plus growth, and multiple indicators—but urges authorizers above all...

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The first thing that strikes you while reading Breaking the Cycle is an embodiment of the phrase “meeting students where they live.” Many of the life stories of students at Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) are told through the students’ own writings—school assignments that don’t run from or sugarcoat lives of poverty, deprivation, abuse, and hopelessness in all their varied ugliness. Dr. Judy Hennessey, superintendent and CEO of DECA, and her team instead turn those experiences into lessons in tenacity and motivation, with notable success. The realities of absent or neglectful parents are dealt with in the contracts signed by adults and students with the school—no parent, no problem—we’ll do all we can to help this child succeed. Any responsible adult (pastor, uncle, grandmother) who will commit to be a partner in and to be held accountable for that child’s success will do. The obstacles to academic achievement for poor urban youth are myriad, pervasive, and no secret to anyone. What makes DECA so special—as Dr. Diggs shows us through her research, spare and insightful prose, and heaping helpings of DECA students and staffers’ own thoughts and words—is that these obstacles can be addressed head on and torn down. The obstacles are replaced with high academic goals, a relentless focus on the future, and the message that students at DECA don’t need to lose the essence of who they are to emerge from their circumstances and succeed. Who they will become is not constrained by where they...

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The time for standing by and hoping that Ohio’s lowest-performing charter schools will improve on their own is over. As a strong supporter of charter schools, my resolution this year is to seize the promise of change that accompanies a new year and resolutely champion the effort to improve the quality of the charter sector.

While I am committed to raising the performance of our state’s charter schools, I also know that undertaking such an effort sans allies likely leads to failure. But timing is everything—and luckily, I believe that now is the right time for all of Ohio’s charter advocates to take up the fight for quality charter schools.

The problem

Charter schools have been operating in Ohio for well over a decade, and their performance can be most accurately described as mixed. There have been some resounding successes, such as the Breakthrough Network in Cleveland, Columbus Preparatory Academy, and Columbus Collegiate Academy. These schools, and dozens other like them, highlight the great potential of charter schools to change the educational trajectory of our most at-risk students. Yet there are other charter schools that have struggled mightily, as documented by a series of newspaper stories and editorials. In our most recent review of Ohio charter schools’ performance, we found that urban charters performed at the same low levels as district schools—which simply isn’t good enough.

The challenges in Ohio’s charter sector have garnered national attention, as well. The Center for Education Reform aptly...

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