Charters & Choice

This report examines the impact of the Gates Foundation “collaboration grants” in seven cities: Boston, Denver, Hartford, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch (Texas). In each of these cities, districts and charters have signed a “compact” committing them to closer cooperation (and making them eligible for grants). These compacts have many goals, including the increased sharing of facilities, the creation of common enrollment systems, and other changes in policy; however, this report focuses on activities that “target specific staff participants,” such as school partnerships, cross-sector training, and professional development.

Based on conversations with teachers, principals, and central office administrators, the authors conclude that “overall progress in increasing collaboration has been limited.” In particular, while collaboration between principals has increased as a result of the grants, it is still concentrated among those already “predisposed to cross-sector work.” Moreover, in schools not led by such principals, collaboration between teachers is still “minimal to nonexistent.” More progress is evident at the central office level; but even there, some administrators are skeptical that these efforts can lead to “systematic change.” According to respondents, barriers to collaboration include “limited resources, teachers’ unions, and cross-sector tensions.” However, the report also identifies a few promising...

A new report by the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University seeks to quantify how much families were willing to pay for a greater likelihood of receiving access to a charter school between the years 2004 and 2013.

Author Carlianne Patrick examines thirteen metro Atlanta start-up and conversion charter schools that have priority admission zones within their designated attendance zones. Each school has three “priority zones.” The rules governing when a priority zone comes into play and how it interacts with the lottery are quite complex, but the idea is basically this: You get a higher chance of getting into a particular charter school if you reside in priority zone one.

Patrick limits the analysis to home sales within close proximity of the border between priority-one and priority-two attendance zones because they represent a change in admission probability. She claims that residences close to the border—in this case, less than half a mile—should be similar in both observable and unobservable ways, including access to jobs and amenities, styles of houses, foreclosures in the area, etc.

Patrick measures the effect of being on the priority-one side of the border between zones one and two. She also controls for transaction date,...

NOTE: Chad Aldis addressed the Ohio Board of Education in Columbus this morning. These are his written remarks in full.

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.

One of the major strands of our work involves support for school choice, and that’s why I’d like to talk with you this morning about charter schools. Before I begin, and in the interest of full disclosure, I would like to note that Fordham’s Dayton office currently sponsors eleven charter schools around the state.

We believe that charter schools can make a huge positive impact in the lives of kids, and in many places around the country, they already are. It has become increasingly clear that while Ohio has many outstanding charter schools, the state’s laws must be strengthened if our charter sector is going to match the success being realized elsewhere. This past year, to achieve that goal, we’ve sponsored two major...

In a previous post, I explained course access and its potential to revolutionize school choice in Ohio. The best example of this is the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which Brookings evaluated in 2014. But Ohio wouldn’t have to copy Florida’s entire model. Instead, it could create a unique one complementing its successful CTE and College Credit Plus programs. While there are plenty of ways to get to the mountaintop, here are a few ideas for how Ohio could establish a pilot program that—if it successfully meets the needs of students—could be grown into a statewide program.


FLVS was created as the nation’s first statewide, Internet-based public high school. Students can enroll full-time, but approximately 97 percent of students are part-time. Students who are enrolled at a traditional school (district, charter, or private) can sign up part-time for a course for a multitude of reasons: to make up course credit, to take a class not offered at their schools, or to accelerate their learning. Just imagine the possibilities for schools that want to incorporate mastery grading or competency-based education!

To provide Ohio students with similar options, policymakers in the Buckeye...

One of the biggest debates raging in education policy today is whether schools of choice are serving their fair share of the hardest-to-educate students or abandoning them to traditional public schools.

I have been more willing than most education reformers to acknowledge that some degree of selection bias is inevitable in a system of choice. The parents who seek out options for their children are, by their very nature, different than parents who do not, and this will likely have an impact on the academic performance of their children.

Furthermore, I have been happy to defend some degree of selectivity, both explicit and implicit. I support exam schools, for example. High-achieving students, especially those growing up in poverty, have not been well served by our traditional public school system, and I believe they deserve a place to go to school where they can learn to their full potential.

Still, wherever you stand on these debates, it’s certainly worth knowing whether the demographics of schools of choice match those of the larger community. This has driven many rigorous analyses of charter school populations, such as the proportion of their students ...

The Deflategate edition

The Washington State Supreme Court's attack on charters, New York State’s Common Core review, mindfulness in education, and charter schools' impact on Georgia property values.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Carlianne Patrick, "Willing to Pay: Charter Schools’ Impact on Georgia Property Values," Fiscal Research Center, Georgia State University (August 2015).


Mike:                       Hello, this is your host, Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at the Education Gadfly show, and online at Now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Tom Brady of education reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:                   The rejoinder that I could ... Are we a family podcast?

Mike:                       Look, you have been vindicated, is what I mean. You know? You're the golden boy.

Robert:                   Okay.

Mike:                       Only you can bring down the establishment. That's what I mean, Robert. You, for example, have been saying for years all this mumbo jumbo about core knowledge and content and literacy. Look how you're vindicated. SAT scores plummet.

Robert:                   Oh, there you go.

Mike:                       See? Vindicated? That's what I mean. I'm not calling you a cheater like Tom Brady, or an accused cheater. I'm saying you've been vindicated, that's all.

Robert:                   And Giselle is not waiting for me at the end of the podcast either, is she?

Mike:                       I don't think that she is. The thing I love about the Tom Brady thing is it gave Rick, our good friend Rick Hess, an excuse to write a blog post about deflate gate over the weekend, because he is, of course, a huge Patriots fan. I found the rest of his blog to be a little bit of a stretch, but at least we got to hear him spout off on the NFL and it's unfair treatment towards the hero Tom Brady.

Robert:                   I'm looking forward to football season, as a Bills fan, and I can almost admit that now. They're achieving respectability. We hate the Patriots. Just because they've had their wicked way with us for many a year now, but this year is going to be different.

Mike:                       No pun intended. Wicked, because they're wicked good up there in New England. Okay, enough of the sports talk. We're here to talk education reform, so let's get started. Kate, let's play Pardon the Gadfly.

Katie:                      The Washington State Supreme Court ruled on Friday that charter schools are unconstitutional in the state. Is there something about Washington's constitution that makes this decision inevitable?

Mike:                       Oh, Robert, let us count the ways. This was a very creative decision from the Washington Supreme Court. Shall I mention this court is an elected court? Shall I mention that one of the largest campaign contributors to the folks who voted in this way was the Washington Education Association?

Robert:                   Shocking, right?

Mike:                       Shocking.

Robert:                   It came out of nowhere.

Mike:                       Follow whose money.

Robert:                   Friday afternoon, who was expecting it, and then boom.

Mike:                       Oh yeah. Friday afternoon before Labor Day, good way to try to bury the news.

Robert:                   Labor Day, of course!

Mike:                       But, hey guys, it's going to be news because there's 2,000 kids in charter schools, including some that just opened days ago, who are now thrown into total chaos. Here's why they found it unconstitutional, because there's some phrase in the constitution that the state is supposed to provide for "common schools." There are similar phrases in state constitutions across the country. Sometimes they talk about a uniform system of public education, so on and so forth. No other state's supreme court has found that language to bar the state from creating charter schools, but going back to a 1909 decision in Washington State this court did so. They said that these common schools have to be under direct control of locally elected school boards, and because charter schools are not, they cannot be common schools and therefore they cannot be funded by the state.

Robert:                   Here, there's some wonderful language if you go back to that 1909 decision. I've got it in front of me. I'll read it to you. The reason that local control of common schools was so important back in 1909 is because "it protected the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers with" - this is the important part, ready - "with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent."

Mike:                       Yeah.

Robert:                   Yeah that happens a lot.

Mike:                       How does that work right now in Washington state?

Robert:                   Come on.

Mike:                       By the way, did we mention that there's a teacher's strike coming in Seattle?

Robert:                   Gee, you don't say.

Mike:                       Boy, it all comes together. Look, this is obviously terrible news for the children of Washington and difficult. The legal bit, look it's the state supreme court. It's a state constitutional issue. This is pretty much the end of the road. There's no appeal process per se. Now what you can try to do is have the legislature work towards a constitutional amendment, but that's a tough lift. This was, of course, one of the last states to adopt a charter school law. In the end, it was by voter referendum and not clear where this goes from here. A lot of effort on behalf of charter school supporters out there and nationally to keep these schools open, but more than anything else, let's call it what it is: rank hypocrisy when the unions still try to say, "Hey, we support charter schools."

Robert:                   With our campaign donations to the judges and the supreme court.

Mike:                       Tell that to these 2,000 kids.

Robert:                   Yeah. It's a shame.

Mike:                       Topic number 2, Kate.

Katie:                      New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that he would be launching a review of the common core standards and related tests and curriculum. Is this an appropriate response to the state wide opt out?

Mike:                       Here's Cuomo, riding the populist wave.

Robert:                   Come on.

Mike:                       We're seeing this right now.

Robert:                   I'm embarrassed to be a New Yorker.

Mike:                       We've got Donald Trump. You've got Ben Carson out there. You've got Bernie Sanders. We are at populist moment right now, and Andrew Cuomo, he is trying to be with the people. You've got all these parents out there angry. They're opting their kids out. They're saying, "Something's not working." He puts his finger in the wind and says, "I agree with you," but is what's happening in New York, and let's face it there is something big happening in New York-

Robert:                   Sure.

Mike:                       Is it about common core?

Robert:                   Great question. Let's unwind this a little bit. What infuriates me, frankly, about my governor because I live in New York, his pronouncement that he's reviewing common core. We were talking football before, so this is like watching one series of downs in the second quarter and deciding which team is good or not, which is insane.

Mike:                       You're saying it's early in the game?

Robert:                   Not just early in the game. It's a small sample size. Where did he get the idea that common core was going to change everything over night?

Mike:                       Right.

Robert:                   I just think that's disingenuous. He knows better than that. To your point, I think he's just got his finger to the wind and he's checking which way the wind blows and he can do this to mollify angry parents and teachers. The thing that infuriates me about this even more is if he wants to review something, it's not common core, it's not the assessments that need to be reviewed, it's his own teacher evaluation program because he's trying to have it both ways. He's trying to say, "Well let's review the standards, but I'm going to keep this incredibly aggressive teacher evaluation system." That's what's driving, I believe, the discontent. Teachers are upset. The common cores become the receptacle for this, but what they're really - and I think what parents are upset about - is their kids schooling becoming test driven? That's not common core; that's Cuomo's evaluation plan.

Mike:                       He is one of the only governors in the country who has moved ahead with these test based teacher evaluations at the time that we're moving to higher standards and more difficult tests. These teachers understandably, I think, feel like hey, they've got the Sword of Damocles over their head and it is hard to make the instructional shifts and try new things and work collaboratively on these new standards when you feel threatened.

Robert:                   It's not hard - it's impossible.

Mike:                       All right, so is this asking too much? Cuomo, because he's really dug in before on the teacher evaluation thing. Frankly, part of the reason is, he hates the teachers unions which is interesting. He's a democrat but he's been at war with the teacher unions and so rather than do something where he could side with the teachers and the parents and figure out some other approach than teacher evaluation, he's trying to figure out some way to be with the parents, against the unions, a little too cute by half.

Robert:                   You can never know.

Mike:                       Governor Cuomo, here's the deal - ditch the teacher evaluations, stick with the common core.

Robert:                   What you said. It just feels very, very cynical.

Mike:                       Robert, I think you and I are kind of in a bad mood today.

Robert:                   Are we? I'm not cranky.

Mike:                       We just seem cranky. It's hard, you know. It's after Labor Day weekend, we're tired, I don't know. The summer's over. Is that what this is about?

Robert:                   No. Well, I know what you're cranky about is the Nationals are not going to make the post season.

Mike:                       Oo! It's actually more that my sons have lice, but that's a whole other story. Topic number 3.

Katie:                      A recent article in the Atlantic reports that the mindfulness and education movement is gaining traction in California, New York and Washington DC. Is this a hoax or could an ancient Buddhist tradition actually have lasting positive effects for students?

Mike:                       This is what we need, Robert. If we would only meditate more I think we'd both feel a lot better.

Robert:                   Om.

Mike:                       Thank you. You're good at that. I actually now feel better after hearing you say that.

Robert:                   Yeah. Chilling.

Mike:                       This, I feel like we see these articles every couple of years. There's a new one in the Atlantic and it basically says that some schools are experimenting with teaching kids mindfulness, or teaching kids meditation basically. This is part of the movement towards building non-cognitive skills. The idea here-

Robert:                   Social emotional learning.

Mike:                       Social emotional learning, to try to help kids if they're feeling anxious, if they're feeling stressed, to help them calm down, but also help them make good decisions by noticing what they're feeling and before they act on these feelings is to be able to take a pause. All of us could benefit from this, right?

Robert:                   Sure. Let me not dump on it too much. I'm enough of a traditionalist, as you know, to look at something like this and my knee-jerk response would be, "You've got to be kidding me." But, look, there is some tantalizing evidence out there that this could be significant. This could be a real thing. Now, we've both been around long enough to know this is how fads start, right? You get one little bit of evidence that says, "Hey maybe this is promising. Let's looking into this," and suddenly this is the thing to do. Let's examine that evidence. Is it small scale evidence or is it A-B longitudinal studies? It's a lot more the former. I don't think there's anything-

Mike:                       Let me ask you this. Does this violate the separation of church and state? Is this religious practice when you have a bunch of kids cross their legs and put their hands palm up on their knees and say, "Om"?

Robert:                   Maybe, but wasn't this challenged by at least one parent group in a school district saying it was religious based?

Mike:                       Well, that's what some people thing.

Robert:                   Maybe so. To be serious about this for a second, promising research, follow it up, but let's not follow this potentially good idea off the end of a cliff like we do with so many other potentially good ideas.

Mike:                       Okay, there you have it. Come on, Robert, that was supposed to be a real debate. I thought you were going to take the hook on that one. I'm a little disappointed. After all that "om-ing" you were so calm, I took the fight out of you.

Robert:                   Exactly. You did. It's mindfulness.

Mike:                       Man, I should have done that in the beginning. All right. That's all the time we've got for Pardon the Gadfly. Now it is time for everybody's favorite, Amber's Research Minute. Amber, welcome back to the show.

Amber:                   Thank you, Mike.

Mike:                       Are you as deflated by deflate gate as Robert and I are?

Amber:                   I am so over it.

Mike:                       You're over?

Amber:                   I'm over it, like let's move on.

Mike:                       Do you believe that Tom Brady got-

Amber:                   I think he probably knew because he's been around a long time and he probably knows what an inflated and deflated football feels like I think, but I guess I just don't care that much anymore. Sorry should I care more? Do you care?

Mike:                       I don't know. Rick wrote this whole blog post about this, about how this demonstrates why we need unions is because managers are capricious.

Amber:                   Right. I forgot about that particular link. You know Rick. He can just kind of make it relevant.

Mike:                       Well, he clearly wrote that blog post while he was watching a pre-season Pats game.

Amber:                   Had a few drinks.

Mike:                       All right, what have you got?

Amber:                   We've got a new report out by the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University called "Willing to Pay - Charter Schools Impact on Georgia Property Values." It seeks to quantify how much families are willing to pay for a higher likelihood of access to a charter school between the years of 2004 and 2013 was the analysis. The analysis, however, has a few flaws. We'll go through those first. First, we aren't looking at all of Georgia as the title would suggest, but we're looking at 13 metro Atlanta charter schools. Kind of a big title for a very small study. They're looking at startups and conversions only that have priority admission zones within their designated attendance zones. The rules for where the priority - there's like three pages talking about when the priority zone comes into play and how it interacts with the lottery. Very complex, it differs for each of the different types of charter schools. The idea is that you get a higher chance of getting into a particular charter school if you reside in the priority zone.

                                    Analysts limit the analysis to sales within close proximity to the border between priority one and two attendance zones since they presumably represent a change in admission probability. They claim that residents as close the border, less than a half a mile, should be similar and observable and un-observable ways, including access to jobs, amenities, the style of house, the foreclosures, et cetera. The outcome measure, because it gets a little tricky, is the effect of being on the priority one side of the border which is situated between zones one and two. They control for transaction date which helps with the housing fluctuations over time, and they limit the sample to arms-length. Do you know what that means? My husband's in the real estate business.

Mike:                       No.

Amber:                   Arms length means you didn't sell it to your cousin Louise or whatever. You don't know these people. Single family residential transactions. Their key finding is that households are willing to pay a premium to live in zone one - 7 to 13% more for homes there than in zone two. Yet again, the sample is small and then I started just kind of thinking what else would I want to know to believe this finding? We're told nothing about the quality of the schools. We're not told how long they've operated, how often and which schools have had to make use of the zone preference, nor do we know how familiar parents are with the rules surrounding the zones at all, nor do we know about the relative difference in probability between zones one and two, so how sharp is that probability difference. There's no methods appendix. That's the first place, I'm like, all right I'm a little wonky, let me dig through page 28 on the methods appendix. It's not there.

                                    I don't think we know whether these differences are random or not, and I'm not convinced that the zone comparison they've come up with actually takes care of all the un-observables that might be occurring. Then you've got to think, okay, so let's say it's true that households do indeed sort along this priority zone boundary and then we'd have to think, okay, well then that's an un-observable right there. What's making them, what is it about them that's causing them to sort of do this sorting on this boundary? Anyway, I think on the outside I thought this is a pretty cool way to think about how the public values charters, but I just don't think - at least for me - there wasn't enough care taken in the analysis for me to really buy into it.

Mike:                       Let me understand. Then it must be the case that these 13 charter schools are serving at least middle class families if not affluent families, families that are wealthy enough to be buying homes, right? I assume that much of the population of charter school kids out there that are lower income are probably not in homes where they're buying their homes. They're probably renting instead to begin with.

Amber:                   Yep.

Mike:                       Which is fine. Certainly, I believe there's a place in the charter movement for middle class type schools as well, but that's interesting. Also, it's a little strange. I know the folks in Georgia were excited about this charter folks, but one of the arguments for charter schools forever has been that we want to actually sever the link between real estate and quality and access, right?

Amber:                   Yeah, there's an irony there, isn't it?

Mike:                       Right. I guess they probably, these kinds of studies have been done before for traditional public schools, and you certainly do find that there is a premium for quality schools measured by test scores, although I think there has been some question. I feel like somebody, was it Marty West or somebody else, that looked at whether that held if you looked at growth scores or if it was just things like proficiency rates, which of course are much more related to demographics and it may be that the people are basically paying more to be able to send their kids to schools that have very few poor kids.

Amber:                   Could be.

Mike:                       Could be, and maybe that's an issue here as well. Bottom line, what, Amber? You're not convinced?

Amber:                   I'm not convinced, but I thought it was creative. I really like creative studies, and I think this was creative but just give me more info about those methods. I just want to-

Mike:                       I love it and you know what, it is creative and it's maps. We love maps. There's now this new tool out where you can map school attendance boundaries all over the place and you can measure all kinds of cool things we can do. We've been brainstorming here.

Amber:                   We've been brainstorming so if our listeners know of any cool, nifty map ideas what's our email? Something like that?

Mike:                       Sure, or they could just email us, Amber.

Amber:                   Oh, yeah yeah.

Mike:                       What are suddenly celebrity now that you can't even, I know you're not on Twitter but people can Tweet me.

Amber:                   I'm not on Twitter.

Mike:                       Thank you. That is all the time we've got for this week. Until next week.

Robert:                   Om. I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Mike:                       I'm Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.

  • With the Washington State Supreme Court’s ruling against the constitutionality of charter schools and a sudden teachers’ strike breaking out in Seattle, education observers across the country would be justified in wondering whether anyone will actually be starting school this month in the Evergreen State. The court’s decision, which hurls the future of nine freshly opened schools into immediate uncertainty, has been greeted with more drama thus far (no surprise, since its legal rationale has been deemed quixotic, and its consequences will certainly be disruptive to the 1,200 students who may now have to seek schooling elsewhere). But dumping labor unrest atop this catastrophe will make matters inconceivably worse. Leaders in all three branches of the state’s government simply must come together to resolve this double crisis.
  • We’ve all got portmanteaus that we despise. For the Gadfly’s money, “telephone” worked perfectly well without being combined with “marketing.” But the New York Times has introduced a new mashup that may be as promising to students as it is painful to the ear: “teacherpreneur.” Using online tools like Youtube and, skilled instructors have been able to develop markets for their unique lesson plans and materials—and make
  • ...

In a few months, education reformers will begin celebrating the twenty-fifth birthday of Minnesota’s groundbreaking charter school legislation, which passed in 1991 and inspired a wave of similar laws across the country. The charter movement can now vote, drink, and carry a concealed weapon. (But hey, maybe not all at once.)

The millennial era has been a time of rapid growth in the sector: Over six thousand charter schools now serve almost three million kids across the country. And all those ribbon-cutting ceremonies have given rise to a simultaneous flowering of research into the effects of charters. This meta-analysis from Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education set out to comb through the existing data to identify the specific impact of “no-excuses” charters on math and reading. Offering a brisk tour through the mission and methods of no-excuses schools, it should make handy reading for a public audience that still trips over some of the details even at the quarter-century mark.

After wading into an ocean of some five thousand initial titles, the authors finally ended up weighing the results of sixty-eight relevant studies published on schools that generally fit the no-excuses model...

A new study in the Journal of School Choice explores whether charter schools open in “high-demand” areas of New York City. In particular, the authors ask whether they situate themselves in high-density areas with lots of children, near schools with low academic performance, or in neighborhoods where parental satisfaction is low.

The study examines fifty-six new elementary charter schools that opened between 2009 and 2013, along with 571 traditional elementary schools. Data sources include parental satisfaction survey data from the New York City Department of Education (with 2008 as the base year for the traditional public schools), school proficiency rates on math (because math scores are more school-dependent than reading scores), and Census data on poverty and population.

The analysts compare parents’ dissatisfaction with their children’s current schools (relative to the number of charter openings in the area) and that area’s poverty rate. They find pockets of parental dissatisfaction scattered throughout southwest Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. Yet charter schools didn’t open in these areas. They tended to locate instead in clusters around central Brooklyn and along a stretch in western Manhattan, where parent satisfaction varied but was generally moderate or high.

Next, they detect a modest but imperfect relationship...

Last Friday, in a 6-3 decision, the Washington State Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the state’s voter-approved charter school law, threatening the future of nine new schools with more than 1,200 students.

The ruling was not based on the merits of the law (one of the strongest in the country on accountability). Nor was it based on the words of the state constitution. Instead, the majority cut off all funding from charter schools (the specifics on when and how to be determined by a lower court) by relying on an obscure 1909 judicial interpretation of the words “common schools.” These words are found in the state constitution, but aren’t defined. The majority held that under this century-old definition, the charter school law did not subject those schools to enough “local control,” and therefore is unconstitutional.

The holding hinged on this idea of control—despite the fact that these charters are subject to more accountability than the state’s traditional public schools. Parents choose whether their children will attend. Charters performing in the bottom quartile of all public schools must be closed if they continue to fail. And local school boards are free to sponsor charters. (In...