Charters & Choice

Mike and Michelle discuss the “opt-out outrage,” good news from Kansas, and hope for the quagmire that is the United States Congress. Amber has the goods on exactly how generous public pension plans are. Amber's Research Minute Not So Modest: Pension Benefits for Full-Career State Government...

Today, New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) announced that longtime CEO Neerav Kingsland will transition out of the organization this summer.

NSNO is one of my favorite organizations in this business, and Neerav is one of my very favorite people. I’m excited for him and his successors—Maggie Runyan-Shefa and Michael Stone will jointly head NSNO—but, selfishly, I’m even more excited for our field.

After eight years of helping make New Orleans the most exciting American city for K–12 education, Neerav is going to focus on bringing NOLA-style reform to other cities. The potential of seeing the urban school system of the future take off in additional locations is thrilling, and Neerav has the brains and experience to get it done.

In case you don’t know much about NSNO, here’s the story in brief. It was founded by Sarah Usdin in April 2006 (the storms hit in 2005), and it initially focused on educator recruitment and charter incubation. Its first cohort of incubated schools started in 2008; more recently, it shifted to investing in CMOs.

NSNO won a federal i3 grant in 2010 and in 2012 began co-managing a $25 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. It has played a central role in a number of human-capital efforts, such as TeachNOLA, MATCH teacher coaching, the Center for Transformative Teacher Training, and Relay GSE.

In short, NSNO is in the business of growing high-quality seats (its schools...

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Mike and Dara explain the de Blasio–Cuomo deal, the difficulties of studying high flyers, and what it takes to be cool in school. Amber thinks the new PISA data on creative problem solving are just a touch too creative. Amber's Research Minute PISA 2012 Results: Creative Problem Solving by OECD, (...

For two decades, path-breaking philanthropies have propelled the growth of charter schools. Today, more than 2.5 million American children attend a charter school, and research has shown that, done well, charters can produce impressive academic results. This guidebook from the Philanthropy Roundtable provides five key principles to help donors wanting to join the charter movement. First, philanthropists should focus on quality. At first blush, this might seem obvious, but the charter-school universe contains both fine and feeble schools—and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between them. To ensure a return on investment, donors can work with “harbormaster” groups, which steer them toward promising entrepreneurs and proven charter models. Second, funders should back strong accountability and transparency measures, particularly via effective charter school authorizing. Third, philanthropists can support the flow of great teachers and leaders into the charter-school sector from national programs such as Teach For America and TNTP, as well as homegrown teacher- and principal-training programs. Fourth, philanthropy can encourage charter-friendly policies. In some states, the regulatory environment obstructs the growth of a healthy charter sector. Yet changing policy can be brutal, and philanthropic support can aid those who fight the good fight. Fifth, donors can strengthen the day-to-day operations of charter schools. This includes support for school facilities, oftentimes a barrier to growth. The charter movement has provided thousands of high-quality school options for children who would have otherwise had few good choices. With philanthropists’ steadfast support, a brighter future for America’s public schools is at hand.

SOURCE: Karl...

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For two decades now, education reformers have promoted a two-track strategy for improving our schools. The first track is standards-based: Set clear, high expectations in core academic subjects; test students regularly to see which schools and students are clearing the bar; and hold schools (and perhaps also educators and pupils) to account for the results.

The second reform track is school choice: Allow parents to select among a wide array of education providers, encouraging innovation along the way.

We have argued for years that these two tracks are interdependent — even codependent. Let us explain:

Standards-based reform got underway in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in part as a reaction to A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report by President Reagan’s Commission on Excellence in Education. This reform track offered what Lamar Alexander called a “horse trade”: more autonomy for schools in return for stronger academic results. Previous waves of reform had focused on inputs, intentions, and regulation: boost the credentials and pay of teachers; increase course requirements for high-school graduation; mandate lower class sizes; etc. When that yielded paltry success, policymakers flipped the equation: less regulation but more focus on outcomes.

That only works, however, when the desired outcomes are clear. That’s the role of academic standards, which, if well crafted, provide guidance to teachers, parents, textbook writers, and test designers about what students are expected to know and be...

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I am not a fan of sports, despite the best efforts of my father, my friends, and my work colleagues; nor am I a watcher of House of Cards, despite a love of deep and twisty TV generally; nor have I gotten into the reality TV show genre, despite watching hours of commercials for them all over the years.

But, thanks to my work here at the Fordham Institute, I have come upon a real life story that has elements of all these genres and just in time for March Madness it has come down to the wire.

Note: I am indebted to journalists Mark Reiter and Ignazio Messina of the Toledo Blade for diligently following this story and allowing me to vicariously “ride along”.

Horizon Science Academy in Toledo is a K-8 charter school in the downtown area that has been in business since 2011. It has 270 students enrolled this school year and received a D for performance index and an A for overall value-add last year (check out their full report card here). In late 2013, the operators were looking to expand and found a ready-built new home – the building currently occupied by the Toledo area YMCA (gym, services, offices). A deal was struck between the two parties, contracts signed, and then attention turned toward obtaining the required special use permit to allow a school to operate in the building.

The first part of that process required approval from the Toledo Plan Commission,...

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When we talk about educational choice on these pages, we are mostly speaking of charters, vouchers, digital learning, and the like. But in Fordham’s home state of Ohio, educational choice encompasses several other options, of which many families regularly avail themselves. Two of those “outer-limits” options have been in the news recently.

Opting out

In law, they are called “non-chartered, non-tax-supported” schools—NCNTs. In parlance, they are called “508 schools,” after the part of the Ohio Administrative Code that describes them. In reality, they represent the furthest distance of “schools” from government oversight. Among the “entanglements” with state government: the setting of a minimum length of the school year and school day should be; the reporting of pupil population, withdrawals, and adds; minimum teacher qualifications; health and safety rules; and the requirement that a “regular promotion process” must be in place and followed (although it is clearly up to each school to determine its own process).

NCNT schools are something like homeschooling co-ops but with a structure more closely approximating that of private schools—tuition fees, group classes, social activities, field trips, and even sports. But NCNT schools are truly free to create whatever structures they like—strong religious grounding, classical education models, Montessori methods—as long as no one is concerned about obtaining a diploma backed by the state of Ohio. Luckily, colleges have discretion as to the credentials they’ll accept. To quote the Ohio Department of Education, “Other schools, colleges, universities and employers have discretion over decisions regarding...

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Ohio’s charter-school enrollments have been climbing steadily during the past decade. Currently, approximately 120,000 students in Ohio attend a charter school, compared to 34,000 kids in charters just ten years ago (in the 2002–03 school year).

In recent years, however, e-schools have been the primary driver of charter growth. (E-schools are considered “charter schools” under state law.) Consider Chart 1, which shows the eight-year enrollment trend for students who attend a “start-up” charter school.[1] From 2005–06 to 2012–13, the percentage increase in e-school enrollment (up 99 percent) easily surpasses that of brick-and-mortar charters (up 44 percent). As a result, e-school enrollment has increased as a percentage of overall start-up charter-school enrollments: in 2006, e-schools accounted for 28 percent; in 2013, they accounted for 35 percent. The rise in e-school enrollment has occurred despite a statewide moratorium on new e-schools from 2005 to 2013.

Chart 1: Both e-school and brick-and-mortar charters have grown, with e-schools growing more quickly – Student enrollment in e-school and brick-and-mortar start-up charter schools, 2005–06 to 2012–13

Source: Ohio Department of Education

The explosive expansion of e-schools leaves me with a number of questions. Are e-schools high-quality education options? (The value-added scores of e-schools are abysmal, leaving doubts in my mind about their effectiveness.) Who is regulating, monitoring, managing, and governing these schools? (Try and find either the management team or the board of directors of ECOT on their website.) Why

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