Charters & Choice

Although the charter sector has grown rapidly in both size and quality in recent years, there are still myriad issues holding it back from substantially improving public education. Most worrisome is the way charters have begun to resemble the district schools they were designed to differ from. In this new paper, the Mind Trust teams up with Public Impact to shine a light on how the sector can embrace its innovative roots in order to improve. The report outlines three key ideas: The sector must get better (slightly edging out traditional public schools isn’t good enough); the sector must get broader (underserved groups like at-risk students, special education students, English language learners, and students in rural communities still aren’t served effectively by charters); and bigger (approximately one million students are currently on charter waiting lists nationwide). The authors emphasize that creative thinking and innovation are the only ways forward in accomplishing these goals. Trying the same old things on new student groups, working harder instead of smarter, and failing to find more effective and sustainable ways to operate won’t expand the impact of charters. Instead, they will only deepen their similarity to traditional schools.

To achieve break-the-mold results,...

The Center for Research on Educational Options (CREDO) at Stanford University just released findings from a first-of-its-kind study assessing the impact of online charter schools in seventeen states (including Ohio) and Washington, D.C. The news is dismal—for “virtual” charters nationally, for Ohio, for advocates like Fordham, who argue for e-schools’ rightful place in the school choice landscape but are weary of their quality problems; and most of all, for the students losing dozens (in some cases hundreds) of days of learning by opting into a virtual environment.

CREDO found that virtual charter school students nationally (those enrolled in a public, full-time online school) learned the equivalent of seventy-two fewer days in reading and 180 days in math compared with the traditional public school students to whom they were matched[i]. That’s essentially an entire school year gone to waste in math and almost half a year gone in reading. In Ohio, students in virtual charter schools lost about seventy-nine days in reading and 144 days in math.

It is also striking that—unlike CREDO’s national charter studies, which discovered many states’ charter school sectors handily outperforming traditional public schools—in no state did online charter students outperform...

Thank you, President Gunlock and state board members, for giving me the opportunity to offer public comment today.
My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-oriented nonprofit focused on research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C. In full disclosure, the Institute’s sister organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is a sponsor of 11 charter schools, some of whom have been past winners of the federal Charter School Program (CSP) funds I am about to discuss.
CSP is a federal program dating back to 1994 that enables states to run their own state-level grant competitions for new charter schools. Since its inception, the US Department of Education has invested over $3 billion in charter schools nationally. The recently announced round of grants went to several states and directly to some high-performing charter school management companies. Ohio earned the biggest award--$32.5 million in FY15 towards a recommended total of $71 million.
I was surprised—more on that later—by some of the backlash Ohio’s win generated. Critics openly questioned whether Ohio’s charter sector deserved the award and whether the Ohio...

It’s been a busy year for the Ohio charter sector. The long-awaited passage of House Bill 2 is finally a reality, and Ohio charters are back on the road to national respectability. Despite this good news, the state is still dealing with the hangover caused by its reputation as the wild, wild west of charter schools. People are still talking about the recent omission of e-school grades on sponsor evaluations, and there have been calls for a review of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and its staff. So when the U.S. Department of Education announced the recipients of new grants through the Charter Schools Program (CSP), some folks (in Ohio and elsewhere) were shocked to find that Ohio was not only a winner but also the recipient of the largest grant—over $71 million.

While debates rage over whether or not Ohio deserved the grant, the real question should be how the Buckeye State can best use the windfall. CSP funding is intended to enable states to “run state-level grant competitions” to support new and expanded public charter schools.[1] The department has...

Ohio’s recent win of federal Charter School Program (CSP) funds has garnered much backlash. Former Governor Ted Strickland went so far as to send a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan requesting that he reconsider giving Ohio the grant. All five Democrats in Ohio’s congressional delegation sent their own letter to Duncan asking questions about the conditions of the grant and whether it will be used to help charter oversight.  

Two facts are overlooked by critics in the midst of the naysaying: 1) the overall track record of CSP grant recipients in our state is solid (as we’ll see below), and 2) by infusing much-needed resources into Ohio’s charter sector, the program enables the best schools to replicate, could draw in top-notch charter school models from other states, and might even crowd out the state’s worst schools—both of the district and charter variety.

The calls to delay or rescind the money are absurd. Most of those speaking out publicly have clear political agendas. Ohio certainly needs to restore public confidence in its charter sector, and the legislature’s bipartisan passage of comprehensive charter school reform is a good start. A...

Since last December, charter schools have been a hot topic in Ohio. Because of scandals in the Ohio Department of Education and the missteps of some Ohio charter schools, many folks in Ohio have a negative view of the entire sector. Fortunately, there are several networks across the nation that challenge the assertion that charters are mismanaged, failed experiments. Even better, recent developments in the Ohio charter sector—including better laws, better funding, and new grant money—increase the possibility that Ohio could woo some of these high-performing charter networks to the Buckeye State. Let’s examine a few of the networks that Ohio should consider recruiting.

Noble Network of Charter Schools

Who they are: The Noble Network operates seventeen schools in Chicago (sixteen high schools and one middle school) and serves approximately eleven thousand students from more than seventy Chicago communities. The first Noble school was opened in 1999 by two Chicago Public Schools teachers. The network’s mission is to prepare low-income students for college and life; the student population is 98 percent minority and 89 percent low-income. Noble uses extended school days (and years) and offers athletics and arts programs. Its...

  • If there’s one thing we know about standardized testing, it’s that parents absolutely loathe it. With outrage building across the country over Common Core and its affiliated assessments, it’s no surprise that scads of irate parents have been pulling their kids out of tests. Why, just look at the public opinion polli—oh, that’s weird. According to a new survey conducted by the Education Post, parents aren’t actually incandescent with anti-assessment fervor. Forty-four percent of polled parents say that the tests are fair, versus 38 percent who claim that they’re unfair (18 percent say that they’re unsure). The results pretty closely track those of the 2015 Education Next poll, which found that two-thirds of both parents and the public at large support federally mandated testing. All polls come with caveats (a slight manipulation of wording can skew results dramatically), but reformers should greet these results as welcome evidence of parental patience and wisdom.
  • Chicago was probably a lot more fun in the 1920s, when bootleg liquor flowed freely, gangsters and molls packed the speakeasies, and tough guys spontaneously broke into Bugsy Malone-style song. The good news is that the outlaw tradition carries on in the school district:
  • ...

In December 2014, Ohio Governor John Kasich promised wholesale charter school reform in the new year. “We are going to fix the lack of regulation on charter schools,” Kasich remarked. Now, thanks to the fearless leadership of the governor and members of the legislature, Ohio has revamped its charter law. Most impressively, the charter legislation that overwhelmingly passed last week drew bipartisan support and praise from editorial boards across the state.

It’s been a long road to comprehensive charter reform in Ohio. When the Buckeye State enacted its charter law in 1997, it became a national pioneer in charter quantity. Disappointingly, it has not been a leader on quality. To be sure, there are examples of phenomenal charter schools. Yet too many have struggled, and a surprising number of Ohio charters have failed altogether. The predictable result is that on average, Ohio charter school students have fallen behind academically. A 2014 study by CREDO found Buckeye charter students losing forty-three days of learning in math and fourteen days of learning in reading relative to their district peers.

As regular Gadfly readers know, we at Fordham have consistently voiced concerns about our home state’s ailing charter sector. In our view, many of these...

Matt Barnum

In a series of blog posts (IIIIIIIV), Jay Greene argues against the “high-regulation approach” to school choice. I’m going to focus on the final two posts, in which Greene argues that student achievement tests are poor proxies for school quality and that they’re not correlated with other measures of quality.

I think Greene is right to a large extent. But he undersells the value of tests.

It’s pretty clear that the ability of a school or teacher to increase students’ standardized test scores is associated with long-run outcomes. Let’s dig in to some evidence:

  • The well-known Chetty study used a rigorous quasi-experiment to show that teachers with high value-added scores (which are based on standardized tests) produced higher income, greater college attendance, and lower teen pregnancy among students. (In the comments of his post, Greene acknowledges this study but describes the effects as small. I disagree, considering we are describing the effects of a single teacher at a single grade level.)
  • A different Chetty study reports that “students who were randomly assigned to higher-quality classrooms in grades K–3—as measured by classmates' end-of-class test scores—have higher earnings, college attendance rates, and other outcomes.”
  • Hanushek finds that international academic achievement
  • ...

In case you’ve been hibernating away from news lately, the Ohio General Assembly passed landmark charter school law reform legislation yesterday. HB 2 had a long gestation and filled up a lot of news coverage over that time. The clearing of the final hurdle did not disappoint in terms of additional coverage. Here’s a selection:

  1. To many observers, the biggest hurdle was not the floor votes in the House and Senate, but the conference committee that took up the Senate changes to the original House bill. The concern was that the bill would come out of committee “watered down” or compromised in its efforts to strengthen accountability and transparency for charter schools and their sponsors and operators. In the end, it came out of conference on Tuesday unscathed and with bicameral and bipartisan support. As Fordham’s Chad Aldis said, “It contains provisions that charter advocates and opponents alike have urged for a decade.” Whew. (Columbus Dispatch, 10/6/15)
  2. The AP also covered the favorable report of HB2 out of the conference committee. As Chad told them, “This won't
  3. ...