Charters & Choice

As a young child, Adrian was quick to anger and often acted out in class, sometimes physically. In fourth grade, his school classified him as having emotional problems and assigned him a personal aide. After a few years, the aide was phased out; his behavior improved, but the disciplinary consequences got worse. "If he lost his temper, he was generally suspended," recalls his mother, who asked not to be identified. "I had meetings upon meetings with the vice principals, but they would say, 'This is what we do; we have no money for things like detention or supervision for in-school suspension.'"

The barrage of disciplinary actions against Adrian (not his actual name) began to feel like harassment. "Countless suspensions for countless issues," his mother recalls. Before a six-month suspension, a lawyer told her that the school was "essentially a dictatorship" and that she had no real recourse. Frustrated and increasingly embittered, the family withdrew Adrian, moved away, and enrolled him in a public school where minor misbehaviors were punished with detention, not suspensions. "The school got rid of him by excessive penalties and suspensions," she concludes.

You might assume this is yet another tale out of Eva Moskowitz's network of...

When Hillary Clinton recently told an audience that the purpose of charter schooling is to “learn what works and then apply (it) in the public schools,” she made the obvious mistake of implying that charters are not public schools.

But in her comments, Clinton contributed to another purposeful, longstanding, and inaccurate narrative. She suggested that chartering is, always has been, and should remain an R&D effort for the district sector. This argument serves the purposes of charter opponents and those who want to limit charter growth. That is, if you convince people that charters are only meant to think up and test a few new ideas, then you’ve established that the district is the real system and that chartering should never grow too large.

I’ve been trying to dispel this myth for some time. Chapter Five of my book The Urban School System of the Future chronicles the intellectual history of chartering, which includes motivations well beyond district R&D. In the 1980s, Ray Budde was looking for ways to permanently empower teachers in new environments. At the same time, Joe Loftus wanted new ways to oversee persistently failing schools. In 1988, Minnesota’s nonpartisan Citizen’s League argued that educators should have an ongoing way to...

Across the nation, charter schools continue to expand. Over the past five years, their enrollment has grown by 70 percent, so that approximately 2.7 million youngsters now attend these schools of choice—over 5 percent of the total number enrolled in public schools. Dozens of cities educate more than one in five of their public school students in charter schools.

This is a hugely positive development—provided, of course, that those schools are delivering a high-quality education.

Whether you think the current “mixed economy” of district and charter schools should be an all-charter system (as in New Orleans) or a dual model (as in Washington D.C.), for the foreseeable future, most cities are likely to continue with a blend of these two sectors.

Can they peacefully coexist? Can they do better than that? Can they actually collaborate in the service of students, families and the public interest?

To answer these questions, we at the Fordham Institute teamed up with Public Impact to publish a new report, Is Détente Possible? We examined five cities that had among the best conditions for district-charter collaboration: Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

Boston, for instance, boasts some of the highest-performing charters in the land. All sixteen...

The Center for Research on Educational Options (CREDO) at Stanford University released findings last week 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 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. That’s essentially an entire school year gone to waste in math and almost half a year gone in reading.

It is also striking that—unlike CREDO’s national charter studies, which discovered that many states’ charter school sectors handily outperform traditional public schools—in no state did online charter students outperform their traditional peers in both subjects. Two states’ online charters outpaced traditional public schools in reading; none did in math.

Why are...

  • Getting teenagers to think ahead is basically impossible—just try to persuade your favorite adolescent to file his college applications before the night they’re due, or to quit doing donuts in the school parking lot before he gets a free trip to the ER. So we should be immensely encouraged by the fact that 1.4 million high school students took college courses for credit in 2014–2015. To promote this development, the Department of Education has helpfully pledged to offer some $20 million in Pell grants for low-income students to enroll in college courses while still attending high school. Dual enrollment programs like these are probably the best possible use of Pell grants; right now, as Fordham’s own Checker Finn has observed, such funds are too often used to subsidize remedial education in college for kids who didn’t learn everything they needed to in the thirteen years of K–12. Isn’t it smarter to pay for academically gifted sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to take college courses early, rather than picking up the bill for undereducated college freshmen to finally learn the stuff they were supposed to be taught in high school?
  • Nevada’s move this year to establish $5,000 education savings accounts has
  • ...

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...

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