Charters & Choice

Yesterday Fordham's Kathryn Mullen Upton, director of charter school sponsorship for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, testified before the Ohio Senate Education Committee in support of SB 86.

The bill would enable the creation of a charter school that would ?serve adults of school age who are incarcerated or who have been released from the custody of the Department of Youth Services? (Gongwer News Service ? subscription required). The proposed school would be called WinWin Academy and would serve youths ages 18-22, and initially would be located at the Pickaway Correctional Institution. A second campus would open at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Unlike current educational arrangements for incarcerated youth, the charter school/s would continue serving students after their release from prison and thus would provide continuity and assist them in their transition back to society.

In her testimony, Kathryn noted that:

While there are other programs that provide incarcerated persons the opportunity to complete basic courses and earn a GED or diploma, WinWin Academy stands alone in that it provides educational and mentoring continuity to students during the critical time when they leave prison and attempt to re-enter society.

The proposed model for WinWin Academy is exactly the kind of innovative educational program that Ohio's charter school mechanism was designed to incubate, and, if successful, help replicate. Ohio's charter school program is almost 15 years old and during that time it seems that there has been a shift away from conceptualizing and implementing something

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Columbus Collegiate Academy, a Fordham-authorized charter school in one of Columbus's poorest neighborhoods (Weinland Park), has just been awarded the Gold-Gain EPIC award by New Leaders for New Schools for dramatic gains in student achievement.?

This award is an incredible accomplishment on the part of CCA school leader Andy Boy and his dedicated staff. Only four charter schools in the entire country earned the Gold award. CCA won EPIC's silver award last year ? and was the only charter school in the whole state of Ohio to win. The school's ability to continue making tremendous gains with students ? 94 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged ? propelled it into the very top tier for student growth, among the ranks of some of the most impressive charter schools in the country.

CCA Executive Director and Founder Andy Boy explained the school's keys to success in a press release:

We are so proud of our students and staff.? Our teachers and staff share the belief that all students can and will learn when provided the right environment for academic success.? Through high expectations, a structured school day, and an uncompromising focus on academics our students are outpacing students from around the country.

Kathryn Mullen Upton, director of charter school sponsorship at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, noted:

We are thrilled that Columbus Collegiate Academy is a 2011 EPIC Gold Gain School. This award recognizes the exceptional quality of the academic program at Columbus Collegiate, the

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The New York Times is on a roll with its education coverage, today reporting on everything from Obama in Boston to Rick Scott in Florida and rich schools in Bronxville.? And though I got slapped on the wrist yesterday by John Thompson for tweaking the purveyor of ?the best journalism in the world,? it is precisely because they are the best (according to Thompson, of course) that we watch them ? and, occasionally, critique them.

Florida Moves Teacher Bill Forward. It looks like new Sunshine state governor Rick Scott will right the wrong of his predecessor Charlie Crist, who vetoed a pioneering teacher evaluation reform bill last year ? what Andy Smarick called ?the most disappointing education policy decision by a major Republican officeholder in recent memory.?? The revived and revised bill, introduced by Florida legislator Erik Fresen, would link teacher evaluations to student performance, put new teachers on one-year contracts, and institute an evaluation system that would determine raises and firings. ??We are under siege,? the head of one teacher union told the Times. Yup. And it may be time for besieged teacher unions to start thinking of the besieged students who can't read or write.

A Merger in Memphis.? Voters in Memphis decided by a large margin on Tuesday to hand over the reins of their ?103,000-student public school system to their smaller -- ?47,000 students ? suburban neighbor in Shelby County, ?effectively,? as the Times reports, ?putting an end to...

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That's the title of my new story in Education Next, about an experiment to take a successful religious school education model to the public sector. The subtitle of the story sums it up nicely:? ?How the Christian Brothers came to start two charter schools in Chicago.?

Let the walls come tumbling down!

Not so fast.? I have been writing about Catholic schools for a while ? see my 2007 Ed Next story Can Catholic Schools Be Saved?, Fordham's 2008 report, Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools??,?and in Flypaper?-- and had not encountered anything quite like what these education reformers were attempting in the Windy City. These are not Catholic schools -- well, not in the traditional sense.

It started almost ten years ago when Arne Duncan, then the head of Chicago Public Schools, asked the famed, 320-year-old Catholic order, which operates thousands of schools in 80 different countries, including dozens in the U.S., to start a charter school.? Duncan had visited the Brothers' two San Miguel middle schools, which the?order?operated on the city's poor Westside, and said, ?We can do this.??

How they did it is a fascinating tale of grit and determination,?about a committed group of Catholics who gave up their icons, statues, prayers, and catechism, ran a gauntlet of church/state hurdles, partnered with a Baptist congregation in one location and weathered an angry black community in another location ? and are now educating hundreds of Chicago's poorest public school...

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More bad news for charters in DC ? according to the Post's Bill Turque, Mayor Vincent Gray will hold the city's Uniform Per Student Funding Formula constant and cut the facilities allowance to public charter schools by $200 a head in order to help close a budget gap of over half a billion dollars.

Of course, school funding in Washington is far from "uniform." Retirement funding for DCPS teachers falls outside the formula, the city spends hundreds more per student on capital projects for traditional public schools than the $2,800 per student available to charters, and DCPS receives revenue from other city agencies outside the formula. Last year's Ball State study of charter school funding assessed the gap between DCPS and the charter sector in DC at over $12,000 per student in the 2006-07 school year.

Despite this sizable funding gap, the District's charter schools have performed at least as well as traditional district schools, with several star charter operators doing much better. They're doing more with a lot less and should be encouraged both for the choices they provide to parents here and for their admirable efficiency. Instead, Mayor Gray has decided it's "fair" to cut support for highly efficient schools of choice as much or more than support for less efficient district schools. That seems like a missed opportunity to save money in the long run and drive better outcomes for kids.

?Chris Tessone...

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Liam Julian

For the second year in a row, all the seniors at the all-male Urban Prep charter school in Chicago have been accepted?by a four-year college or university.?And to its credit, the school isn't just focused on getting its students accepted; it wants to ensure that every one of them earns a bachelor's degree. The Chicago Tribune reports that, to that end, the school's founder, Tim King, ?and his staff have helped secure money for plane tickets, driven students to college campuses, held workshops for alumni in the summer and winter, and checked up on them.? Clearly the Urban Prep's employees and the young men who are about to?finish up?there?put in a lot of work to achieve this impressive 100-percent-acceptance result. But as usual, I'm skeptical: I wonder, for instance, if all the seniors are actually prepared to succeed in college (King told the Tribune that this year's graduating class had an average ACT score of 17.5, which ain't great); to what sort of four-year colleges these young men were accepted; and whether the school's college-for-all push is necessarily in the best interests of its students. But no matter: for now, at least, congratulations are in order.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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In today's Ohio Education Gadfly, Jamie, Bianca, and I explore what's missing from the debate around Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Akron mom who was jailed for nine days and convicted of tampering with documents in order to send her two children to a school outside their home district.

Many are calling it a ???Rosa Parks moment for education.??? Civil rights and political activists are pleading with the governor to pardon Williams-Bolar (and he has asked the Ohio Parole Board to review the case). Kevin Huffman noted in the Washington Post, ???She looked at her options, she looked at the law, she looked at her kids. And she made a choice.???

But did she really look at all of her options? Lost among the clarion calls for expanding school choice to help parents like Ms. Williams-Bolar are key questions. Besides falsifying documents to send her kids outside of Akron Public Schools, did Williams-Bolar have other options? If so, why didn't she use them?

In fact, Williams-Bolar did have legal school-choice options, more than most Ohio families, including:

Intra-district transfer. The Akron Public Schools allows students to attend a school other than their local neighborhood school provided a seat is available. There are several high-performing schools in Akron, one of which we featured in our Needles in a Haystack report last spring (King Elementary, which drew a hefty percentage of its students from outside its attendance zone), that her kids might have attended....

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Amy Fagan

In case you missed it?..On February 2 -- Groundhog Day -- we held a terrific (& quite lively) event to discuss the seemingly eternal problem of low-performing schools and what to do about them. We tied it loosely to the cult classic movie Groundhog Day, in which the main character lives the same day over and over. As you'll see, we were fortunate to secure a wonderful panel of experts. After a welcome from moderator Mike Petrilli of Fordham, we heard from David Stuit, partner at Basis Policy Research. David presented the findings from our report, Are Bad Schools Immortal? He was joined on the panel by Jeanne Allen, president of The Center for Education Reform; Justin Cohen, president of the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight Education; and Elaine Weiss, national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education. Debate grew very animated at times. Here are just a few of the highlights and photos (?lots? of gestures!)

And hey, if these photos just aren't enough, you can watch the event video here.

David Stuit: The study looked at 10 states, identified low-performing elementary and mid-schools, and tracked them. Found that 72% of charters and 80% of district schools stayed...

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