Charters & Choice

The conventional wisdom among reformers today is that “we know what to do, but we don’t have
the political will to do it.” I’d frame it differently: We increasingly have good policies in
place, but we don’t know how to turn them into reality. And because most policies
aren’t self-implementing, we have to solve the problem of “delivery” if reform is going to add up to more than a hill of beans.

Those of us at the Fordham Institute (and our partners at the
Center for American Progress) have been making the case that the governance structures of U.S. public education impede our
ability to do implementation right. Local school districts—with their elected school boards, susceptibility to interest group
capture, and lack of scale—aren’t always inclined or well suited to turn legislative reforms into
real change on the ground. I’ve wondered out
lou
d whether we should
abolish school districts and run the whole kit and caboodle out of state
departments of education.

Think of it as a
private-sector department of education.

That’s still a tantalizing idea, but probably too radical...

After a decade of tragedy and rebirth, New Orleans (America’s best city for school reform) stands as a
unique model for districts looking to reboot their frozen K-12 systems. This
report explains how other cities can replicate NOLA’s impressive
transformation. Written by Public Impact for New Schools for New Orleans (and paid for from a federal i3
grant), it focuses on three key areas of reform needed to develop a successful,
predominantly charter system: governance and accountability, human capital, and
school development. Under each heading, the reader receives specific policy
recommendations, as well as key lessons and insights from New Orleans’s own experience. (Example:
Ensure strong political footing early—something the authors say didn’t happen
for NOLA’s reform effort.) Without hubris, the authors acknowledge that this
guide is but a starting point. Even in New
Orleans, much work remains by way of recruiting and
developing quality teachers and finding the path to long-term sustainability.
Still and all, the quick uptick of student achievement under the Big Easy’s
reinvented public education system is impressive: 2005 to 2011 saw the
percentage of students attending “academically...

Fordham has worked in Dayton – as a funder, charter-school
authorizer, and charter-school advocate – to push for the creation and growth
of high quality charter schools since 1998. Over the last decade one of the
highest performing charter school clusters in the city has been the Richard
Allen (RA) Schools (RA has three schools in Dayton that serve about 800
children). Over the years I’ve spent time with the leaders of Richard Allen,
visited their schools, and even helped judge their annual debate competition.
In short, I have always been impressed by both the educators and the students
I’ve met and worked with from the RA schools and believe the schools delivered
quality education to students.

It is because of these personal connections to the schools
over the years that I found the recent “Special
Audit of the Richard Allen Academy Schools
” such painful and disturbing reading.
The Special Audit provided a litany of “missing money, missing records and
self-dealing” that has led to $929,850 in findings for recovery. The audit
describes a situation where public dollars were used without any...

Florida
is the next state poised to establish a “parent trigger,” should its
Republican-controlled Senate pass the measure when it reaches the floor during
the final days of a contentious legislative session. Designed largely after California’s model, the
bill adopts all the strengths of the trigger while addressing none of its
shortcomings. While the Golden State is the inspiration for ambitious lawmakers with
itchy trigger fingers, there is no indication they have learned anything from
the awkward and confusing rollout in California.

Instead, Florida legislators are
using taut political muscle
to join California, Mississippi and Texas in
the attempt to empower parents to go so far as to convert a failing school into
a charter—and they’re trying to maneuver the legislation through committee
stops while leaving little time for debate. But if lawmakers try to take this
out of the sunshine, they’re only going to sow the same confusion that has
frustrated Californians.

If lawmakers try to take this
out of the sunshine, they’re only going to sow the same confusion that has
frustrated Californians.

Only the second attempted trigger in California ended in...

It’s almost become flippant for Democratic lawmakers to
disparage a school voucher as “a war on public education,” as Virginia
Senator Henry Marsh declared recently
in opposition to a tax credit scholarship
that
passed the state House of Delegates Wednesday
. But if it’s war Marsh sees, a
look at the numbers shows the conflict is pretty one-sided.

It’s almost become flippant for Democratic lawmakers to
disparage a school voucher as “a war on public education.”

Unlike many existing scholarship programs that award an
attractive dollar tax credit for every dollar in contributions, Virginia would allow
individuals and businesses to write off only 65 cents for every dollar they
donate to a nonprofit scholarship organization. And lawmakers capped state
funding for the program at a paltry $25 million a year. Even with these baby
steps, it took Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling to cast a tie-breaking vote
last week in an evenly divided 40-member Senate to pass the bill.

The vote was mostly along party lines, showing that Virginia
Democrats learned nothing from members of their party in Florida, particularly
those in the Black Caucus, ...

Sounding off on "snobs" and Santorum

Mike and Rick break down the week’s news, from the prospects of John Kline’s ESEA reauthorization proposals to the college-for-all controversy. Amber analyzes the latest report on Milwaukee’s voucher program Chris wonders whether robbing a bank is enough to get a school bus driver fired.

Amber's Research Minute

The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

School bus dispatcher was bank robbery getaway driver - WFTV.com

Five years and thirty-six reports later, the
researchers at the University of Arkansas’s School Choice Demonstration Project
have written their last word on Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program (MPCP)
(some background here
and here).
Largely, the news is good for the nation’s oldest school-voucher enterprise.
Eight new studies—written by Patrick Wolf, John Witte, Anna Jacob, and others—make
plain that voucher students were more likely to graduate high school and enroll
in a four-year college than their counterparts in the Milwaukee Public Schools
(MPS). Voucher pupils also made significantly larger reading gains. Perhaps
most tantalizing, the state’s new school-accountability requirements seem
partly responsible for the progress. In 2010-11, the final year of data
collection, MPCP students made significantly larger reading gains than their
MPS peers—unlike previous years, when voucher students were merely on par with
their public-school counterparts. (Achievement growth in math was about the
same for MPCP and MPS students throughout the studied years.) Interestingly,
the same year saw a host of additional testing and reporting regulations added
to participating...

White Hat Management
has been the Goliath of Ohio’s charter school operators since its first schools
opened in 1999. The company currently operates 33 schools in the Buckeye State.
White Hat’s CEO David Brennan was a pioneer in Ohio’s school-choice movement
and his efforts in this realm have long faced criticism– some deserved and some
not. In recent years White Hat’s schools have faced a series of legal and
academic problems. Among them, the fact that none of White Hat’s schools are
rated above a C on the state report card, increased competition resulting in
lower enrollment, legal action brought against the company by the governing
boards of some of the schools it operates, and a related fight over the
disclosure of certain financial records.

These
issues have made White Hat a fixture in the press, most recently with a report
that the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) rejected four of six White Hat
applications to the department to authorize new schools that were slated to
open in the fall of 2012. (ODE is allowed to sponsor up to five new charter
...

Need
a handy nutshell summary of state charter school laws and how they stack up
against the Model Charter School Law developed by the National Alliance for
Public Charter Schools (NAPCS)? Then check out the third edition of NAPCS’s Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws.

The
report highlights the gains and losses of each state’s ranking against the
Model Law, and contains capsule summaries of existing state provisions and how
they measure up (or not). While Ohio made some positive changes to certain
charter school provisions in the most recent budget bill (e.g., improvements to
authorizer accountability, lifting outdated moratoriums, expanding the areas in
which new start-up schools may open), other states made more substantial
changes and, as a result, Ohio ranks 28th out of the 42 states with
charter laws.

According
to the Ohio Department of Education, approximately 106,534 Ohio students attend
charter schools as of February 2012. Regardless of rankings, Ohio policymakers
should continue to seek improvements to Ohio’s charter school program. Removing
the two school limit on board membership for trustees of high performing
...

Amanda Young
learning specialist, Noble Charter Schools

Noble Charter Schools in Chicago have gotten a heap
of negative attention
over the past several weeks for a discipline policy
that some call a “dehumanizing system that looks a lot more like reform school
than a college prep.” In
short, the school issues demerits to students who commit infractions, and students
who earn four demerits in two weeks are given detention and charged $5. Critics
claim that such policies amount to “nickel and diming” poor families who are
already struggling to make ends meet. (Last week, Fordham’s own Adam Emerson pointed
out
that Noble is hardly alone—there are many Catholic schools, for
instance, that levy similar fines for student misbehavior.)

Of course, there are different ways to structure
discipline policies, and what works for one school won’t necessarily work for
another. But what’s missing from this discussion is the context necessary to
understand how the policy is used and its impact on the culture, students, and
families.

Below is the response from Amanda Young, a learning
specialist who works at a Noble Charter School
in Chicago, and
who is shocked...

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