Charters & Choice

Last week I, and others, took the Dayton Education Association to task for its decision to scuttle the district's participation in the state's Race to the Top application. To understand this criticism, consider that the union rejected RttT funds in the face of a $5 million budget shortfall caused by rising home foreclosures and delinquent property taxes.

Further, Dayton's school district has seen 10,000 students flee for charters and other places in the last decade (shrinking from 24,000 students to about 14,000 students) and enrollment in the DEA has dropped from 2,000 in 1998 to about 1,100 in 2008. During this time the union has steadfastly resisted any serious reform, despite real efforts by different superintendents and school boards over the last decade. Dayton is perennially ranked as one of the lowest performing districts in Ohio, battling the likes of Cleveland and Youngstown for the dubious distinction of worst in the Buckeye State.????

If any urban school district in America needs reform, it's Dayton, and the reforms embedded in RttT are steps in the right direction. When asked why the DEA rejected RttT funding, here is what the union president had to say:

How would you like your job to be based on criteria over which you had no control? Let's say you are an editorial writer for a city newspaper. How would it be for your evaluation to be based on how many ads your paper sold? Understand, you are not...

Having spent four years working in New Jersey, I was happy to hear the announcement this week that New Jersey Governor-elect Christie selected a school choice advocate (Bret Schundler) to serve as state education commissioner.

I am no expert on New Jersey education or politics. My limited perception of Garden State education is shaped largely by my experience as a TFA teacher in Camden City elementary classrooms and in various tutoring sessions with high schoolers in Trenton. But one doesn't need expertise to realize that children in cities like Camden, Trenton, and Newark are grossly underserved by the public school system, or that spending more money (without more accountability, and major systemic changes to the way schools and districts run) won't necessarily improve outcomes.

New Jersey spends more than any other state on education per pupil yet has little to show for it in the way of student achievement. (To get a sense of the crisis, check out the trailer for The Cartel, a documentary by journalist Bob Bowden exposing the corruption and wasteful spending that makes New Jersey a poster child for what is wrong with public education [mismanagement, strong unions preventing reform, inexcusable achievement gaps despite constant spending increases]).

Bret Schundler is a supporter of charter schools, differentiated teacher pay, and tax credits to fund scholarships for K-12 private schools, reforms that the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) is sure to continue fighting tooth and nail....

After the release last month of The New Teacher Project's Cincinnati-focused human capital reform report (see Jamie's take here), both district and union leadership seemed genuinely intent on using their upcoming contract negotiations to work together toward improving the district's schools.???? Education-reform-wise, things seemed to be looking up in the Queen City, a place where I've long been optimistic about the potential for improving education, given the city's dynamic school choice market and the fact that the district is one of the few in the Buckeye State to actually shut down persistently failing schools. But now with district-union contract negotiations just around the corner, my optimism is waning.????

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Ben Fischer reports that in the first few months of the school year, the union filed 51 grievances against the district for low-level contract violations and asked the State Employee Relations Board to investigate an unfair labor practice charge related to the superintendent's plan for addressing persistently failing schools. The number of grievances isn't unusually high, but the unfair labor practice charge puts at risk the district's attempt to close and redesign its worst schools. If the district can't do that, and if the new collective bargaining agreement is more of the same-old, same-old and not informed much by TNTP's findings, Cincinnati's education reform efforts might be doomed to suffer the same fate as its beloved Bengals.????????

- Emmy Partin...


Check out this special edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly, a look back at the decade's most significant education events in Ohio. 2010 bring new opportunities for K-12 education in Ohio, but let's not forget the impact of things like DeRolph, the Zelman voucher case, Strickland's "evidence-based" funding model, charter legislation, value-added measures, and more, and their potential to shape (for better or for worse) education reform in the Buckeye State in years to come.

The now famous (or infamous) CREDO charter study from last June generated a ton of hype. (See our analysis here.) The results were largely mixed, seemly putting numbers behind the assertion that putting "charter" in front of (or after) a school name does not guarantee success. Then Caroline Hoxby released another charter report, which showed very encouraging results from charters in NYC.

We learn now that CREDO has issued ANOTHER charter study (pdf), this time looking at NYC specifically, and largely agreeing with Hoxby's conclusions. The first CREDO study and Hoxby's study have been compared, contrasted, and debated up the wazoo, despite the fact that CREDO did not look at NYC schools at all and Hoxby focused on them. Now we have a better comparison. But CREDO study director Macke Raymond doesn't see CREDO study 1 in conflict with CREDO study 2. As she??explained to Ed Week, "What New York City provides us with is an opportunity to step back and say, how is it possible that one market can have as robust a quality sector, where in other markets they're not able to get that kind of performance?"

What a great question. Here's a theory you may have heard before (probably here on Flypaper, in fact): New York state's tight charter cap forced that state's authorizing bodies to be more selective when granting charters. Far be it from me to advocate making the charter movement's life harder, but you have...

The annual U.S. News and World Report high school rankings have been released. Thomas Jefferson HS in Alexandria, VA takes number 1 (again). But more interesting is a break down of top charter schools and top schools serving significant portions of socioeconomically-disadvantaged children (based on free and reduced-price lunch stats). Two charter schools made it into the top 10 of all public schools: Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, CA (ranked 7) and BASIS Tucson in Tucson, AZ (ranked 9). Connecticut had the most high-performing high schools out of all fifty states. Check out the entire list here.

--Stafford Palmieri

Like other states, half of Ohio's $200 to $400 million in potential Race to the Top (RttT) winnings will be distributed to participating LEAs via the Title I formula. That $100 to $200 million pot may seem like a lot of money at first blush, but in reality it represents no more than about one percent of what the state will spend on education this biennium and roughly $55 to $110 per public school student. If not targeted toward spurring real reform, the risk is great that the money will do little more than provide a small, temporary boost to district bank accounts. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that's exactly what will happen here.

Ohio LEAs have until January 8 to sign on to the state's RttT application. At this point (and I must note that nothing is final and that the state still has a full month to work on its application), because of the political capital spent on his school reform plan in the last state budget, Ohio's RttT approach revolves around Governor Strickland's education vision and the changes he signed into law in July. While that bill contained reform-minded provisions in areas like teacher tenure and preparation, its hallmark was mandating a statewide, prescriptive, one-size-fits-all, inputs-based method for funding education--one that is far removed from student or school-based performance.???? Far from the type of reforms we hear Secretary Duncan pushing.

If Ohio's plan is built largely on already-mandated reforms and doesn't require heavy lifting...

Anybody who thinks charter schools are plateauing or reaching some sort of natural limit had better think again.??The Texas Public Policy Foundation has just released the number of young Texans who were on waiting lists for charter schools in that state during the last school year (2008-9)--and it's north of 40,000, more than twice as many as the year before. This in a state with about 130,000 youngsters currently enrolled in charters. In other words, current demand in Texas would fill eighty more schools of 500 students each.??The state should make that happen--provided, of course, that they're all great schools!??If the??Texas pattern holds nationally, it would also mean that about half a million boys and girls wanted to attend charters last year but could not do so due to enrollment constraints.

-Chester E. Finn, Jr.

One of the great canards in public education is that no one should profit from the public schools. For example, cries of "corporate takeover of public schools" and "profits come before the needs of children" have been part of the anti-charter school rhetoric in Ohio and elsewhere since the first for-profit charters opened in the early 1990s.

In 2007, for example, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Federation of Teachers called Ohio's charter schools a "franchise system of corporate-run schools." Ohio Governor Ted Strickland sought to outlaw all forms of "for-profit" charter operators in the Buckeye State in his budget proposals in both 2007 and 2009. In 2006, then gubernatorial candidate Strickland got great applause from the teacher unions and allies when he called charters "a rip-off." He even threw out the applause line that "There are people operating these schools getting rich and they're doing so on the backs of our children."

Yet, despite such political rhetoric every penny spent on education profits someone - teachers, administrators, text book publishers, computer companies, food service providers, bus drivers, school consultants, et al. Some, however, profit far more than others.

According to????a recent article in Education Week one of the organizations currently profiting nicely from public education is e-Luminate, a marketing and communications-consulting firm that was set up by Ken Kay. Ken Kay is the prophet of 21st Century Skills and according to Education Week his private consulting firm e-Luminate made...


Fordham's annual charter school accountability report, "Seeking Quality in the Face of Adversity," is now out! As many of you know, Fordham authorizes (called "sponsoring" in Ohio) six charter schools in Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Springfield. Each year we release a report outlining how Fordham-sponsored schools are doing, and contrasting them with charter schools statewide and schools within their home districts. The report also weighs in on timely political and legislative developments impacting charter schools in the Buckeye State. Highlights include:

  • - A recap on why Ohio charters faced such a tough year in 2008-09 (politically, legislatively, financially, you name it)
  • - A look at charter school growth since caps were placed on sponsors (unsurprisingly, fewer charter schools opened during 2007-09 than during 2005-07 period, and the sector as a whole is growing at a slower rate)
  • - A summary of the financial predicaments faced by charters in Ohio, including dwindling state and federal start-up dollars, and funding inequities between districts and charter schools that amount to charters receiving roughly $2000 less per pupil (see graph below)
  • - A brief narrative on Fordham's youngest charter schools, KIPP: Journey Academy and Columbus Collegiate Academy (a Building Excellent Schools affiliate)
  • - An academic snapshot of Fordham-sponsored schools, including the good (almost 70 percent of students in Fordham-sponsored schools achieved "above expected growth" on Ohio's value-added measure) and the bad (students in Fordham-sponsored schools still don't make the state proficiency goal of 75 percent in reading and math, similar to their district
  • ...