Charters & Choice

Whenever I review compelling research, I end up mentally pairing it with a corresponding work of literature. Maybe it’s the liberal arts student in me (or maybe it’s because I flunked stats and require an alternative frame of reference). Take for example this study of comparative school funding and performance in Nashville, which brought Dickens to mind almost immediately. Compiled by the education advisory firm Afton Partners on behalf of the Tennessee Charter School Center, it makes perfectly clear that for this city’s charters, it’s both the best of times and the worst of times. “Mean academic performance for all grades is significantly higher for charter-managed schools,” it reads, “though MNPS [Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools] spent approximately $100 more per pupil on district-managed schools.”

A measly c-note may not sound like much—in this instance, it’s the difference between roughly $9,800 and $9,700 annually—but that discrepancy only represents one chapter of this twisted tale of two funding standards. The per-pupil analysis doesn’t include a $73 million gap in capital support between district schools and charters. Meanwhile, those same neglected charters are reporting mean scores on the APF (Academic Performance Framework, a statewide metric that includes test scores, graduation rates, college readiness,...

Greg Richmond

When bad schools close, families usually get something better.

That’s what the Thomas B. Fordham Institute asserts in its April 2015 study School Closures and Student Achievement, using new research conducted in both traditional and charter public schools located in Ohio’s large urban school districts.

For more than fifty years, passionate educators, scholars, and community leaders who rue school failure have agreed on very little when it comes to the best way to reform our education system. But most could agree on this: Kids shouldn’t have to go to schools that consistently fail them year after year.

 So why is closing schools the last thing anyone wants to consider? If we don’t want kids in consistently failing schools, and we know they can go somewhere better, what’s the hold-up?

Recent polling suggests most people have a “fix the school we have” mentality, supporting retooling schools over closure or complete overhaul. They see closure as extreme and counterproductive, a sign of giving up on community-based public schools.

While I sympathize with the desire to fix what we have rather than start over, I always get stuck on one simple problem: time.

In “fix the school we have” scenarios, we...

Editor's note: On May 6, Fordham contributor Andy Smarick delivered testimony before an Ohio education subcommittee on Senate Bill 148, a critical piece of legislation that would help clean up the state's troubled charter sector. With his permission, we're reproducing his remarks.

Thank you Chair Hite, Vice Chair Sawyer, and subcommittee members for allowing me to offer some thoughts on your ongoing efforts to improve charter schooling in Ohio. Congratulations and thank you for the important progress that’s reflected in the legislation being considered here today.

My name is Andy Smarick, and I’m a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization committed to improving K–12 schooling, especially for high-need students. I’ve worked on education policy for most of my career—at the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. House of Representatives, a state department of education, and a state legislature.

I’m also a strong advocate for high-quality charter schooling. I helped start a charter school for low-income students, I helped found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and I’ve written extensively about charter schooling, including a book on how—when done right—it can dramatically improve student results in cities.

I was a coauthor of the report published late...

Editor's note: On May 6, Fordham contributor Andy Smarick delivered testimony before an Ohio education subcommittee on Senate Bill 148, a critical piece of legislation that would help clean up the state's troubled charter sector. With his permission, we're reproducing his remarks.

Thank you Chair Hite, Vice Chair Sawyer, and subcommittee members for allowing me to offer some thoughts on your ongoing efforts to improve charter schooling in Ohio. Congratulations and thank you for the important progress that’s reflected in the legislation being considered here today.

My name is Andy Smarick, and I’m a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization committed to improving K–12 schooling, especially for high-need students. I’ve worked on education policy for most of my career—at the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. House of Representatives, a state department of education, and a state legislature.

I’m also a strong advocate for high-quality charter schooling. I helped start a charter school for low-income students, I helped found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and I’ve written extensively about charter schooling, including a book on how—when done right—it can dramatically improve student results in cities.

I was a coauthor of the...

Matthew Levey

In early April, I wrote that school choice is the highest form of fairness because it rewards positive behavior and aligns the interests of parents, children, and schools. Some disagree, arguing that school choice disadvantages the non-choosers. It is admirable to want to protect the most vulnerable students—the children of parents who do not or cannot engage effectively. But we must not do this at the expense of families who are engaged and do make good decisions for their kids.

As we parents often remind our children, two wrongs don’t make a right.

By encouraging parents to make choices, we also send an important message to students about our values. For the kindergartners at my school, a choice might be as simple as how to share the wooden blocks with a new friend. This simple and safe experience helps them practice the larger and more consequential decisions they will face.

Across the income spectrum, the parents I’ve met are concerned with our failure in both schools and civil society to inculcate critical values in our children. Research affirms the importance of persistence, delaying gratification, and other “gritty” non-academic values. If we ignore parent behaviors in the name of fairness,...

Lisa Hansel

Like pretty much everyone who is passionate about closing the achievement gap, I’m interested in Success Academies. I’ve read Eva Moskowitz’s book, Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School, and watched the videos that come with it. But I’m still not sure what to think. The extraordinary results might be due to creaming motivated families, or not backfilling after the early grades, or too much test prep. These questions will likely be answered over the next several years.

Still, students are obviously getting a good education in Success Academies. If there were no test prep (or any manipulations of the student body), then I think the test scores would still be impressive, if not extraordinary.

So what are they doing? Charles Sahm’s new article in Education Next provides some answers. Having visited four Success Academies and interviewed staff, supporters, and critics, he presents a richer picture of the schools than previous accounts.

Without detracting from the complex array of supports needed to attain strong results, I think two of Success Academies’...

The education components of Governor Kasich’s proposed budget—and the House's subsequent revisions—made a big splash in Ohio's news outlets. Much of the attention has been devoted to the House’s (unwise) moves to eliminate PARCC funding and their rewrite of Kasich’s funding formula changes. Amidst all this noise, however, are a few other education issues in the House’s revisions that have slipped by largely unnoticed. Let’s examine a few.

Nationally normed vs. criterion-referenced tests

As part of its attempt to get rid of PARCC, the House added text dictating that state assessments “shall be nationally normed, standardized assessments.” This is worrisome, as there is a big difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests.

A norm-referenced test determines scores by comparing a student’s performance to the entire pool of test takers. Each student’s test score is compared to other students in order to determine their percentile ranking in the distribution of test takers. Examples of norm-referenced tests are the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Stanford 10 exams. A criterion-referenced test, on the other hand, is scored on an absolute scale. Instead of being compared to other students, students are compared against a standard of achievement (i.e.,...

School closures should never be undertaken lightly, be they district or charter schools. Academic troubles, a fall in enrollment, economic problems, and a myriad of other issues can push the issue to the forefront. Under such times of duress, policymakers and education officials are forced to ask a difficult question: Does closing a school cause more harm than good, especially for students?

Report Co-Author, Stéphane Lavertu

Today, Fordham released a new study called School Closures and Student Achievement that seeks to answer this very question. At a breakfast event on April 28th that attracted around fifty Ohio education leaders, the report’s co-author, Dr. Stéphane Lavertu, presented a summary of the study’s findings. These findings showed that three years after closure, displaced students typically make significant academic gains.

After Dr. Lavertu’s presentation, Chad moderated a panel of policymakers and practitioners who discussed the findings and policy implications. The panel consisted of: the Honorable Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton; Tracie Craft, Deputy Director of Advocacy, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO); Stephanie Groce, former member Columbus City Schools Board of Education;...

In a previous review, my colleagues examined a National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) report that analyzed states’ charter policies regarding access to district-owned facilities. In a new report, NCSRC narrows its focus to charter school facilities in California. Golden State charters were asked to complete a survey about their facilities and to allow an on-site measurement; these results were then supplemented by data on school enrollment, student demographics, and funding. The results offer a sobering picture of charter facilities in the state. Charter school facilities are generally smaller than the size recommended by the California Department of Education; classrooms for elementary, middle, and high schools are, on average, between 82 and 89 percent of the state standard size (it is worth nothing that state size standards might not be appropriate for all schools in all situations). Charter facilities as a whole are 60 percent smaller than state site size recommendations, even after adjustments are made for enrollment differences. California charters also spend varying amounts of their per-pupil funding on facilities; charters that own their buildings pay an average of $895 per pupil; charters located in a school district facility pay an average of $285 per pupil; and...

Intra-district choice has long been a type of school choice supported by many people who don’t really like school choice. Since neither students nor funding leave their boundaries, district officials have fewer problems allowing families to choose their schools. But intra-district choice is also complicated. A lack of quality information about available schools, the absence of a simple system-wide method of applying to those schools, and the added burden of transportation challenges can bring the potential of intra-district choice to a screeching halt. However, there are school districts that have taken these issues head-on and offered valuable, innovative solutions. Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is a shining example.

During the 2013–14 school year, CPS made the transition to high schools that serve students between the seventh and twelfth grades. CPS offers some compelling academic reasons for the switch, but they also utilized the transition to create high schools of choice. Instead of assigning sixth graders to a high school based on their home addresses, CPS permits students to choose their high school. Each high school offers a variety of programs, classes, extracurriculars, and services that represent unique learning environments and opportunities. All schools offer college preparatory curriculum aligned to Ohio’s...

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