Charters & Choice

In recent years, Ohio’s businesses have lamented the challenge of hiring highly skilled employees. Surprisingly, this has occurred even as 7 percent of able-bodied Ohioans have been unemployed. Some have argued that the crux of the problem boils down to a mismatch between the needs of employers and the skills of job-seeking workers. A new study from Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution sheds new light on the difficulty that employers face when hiring for jobs that require skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Using a database compiled by Burning Glass, a job-analytics company, the Rothwell examines 1.1 million job postings from 52,000 companies during the first quarter of 2013. The study approximates the relative demand for STEM vis-à-vis non-STEM jobs by comparing the duration of time that the job vacancies are posted. Hence, a job posted for an extended period of time is considered hard to fill (i.e., “in demand”).[1] As expected, Rothwell finds that STEM-related job postings were posted for longer periods than non-STEM jobs. STEM jobs were advertised, on average, for thirty-nine days, compared to thirty-three days for non-STEM jobs. The longer posting periods for STEM jobs were consistent across all education levels—from STEM jobs that required a minimum of a graduate-level degree to “blue-collar” STEM jobs that required less than a college degree. For Ohioans, the study also includes a useful interactive webpage that slices the data for the state’s six metropolitan areas (Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus,...

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The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released results from its latest public-opinion survey. The national survey of 1,007 adults examined their views concerning the state of American education, with a particular focus on school choice, the Common Core, and standardized testing. The survey shows that most Americans—58 percent of those surveyed—tend to think that K–12 education has “gotten off on the wrong track.” Interestingly, those who are white, higher income, residents of rural areas, and older tended to express the least satisfaction with K–12 education. High percentages of respondents support various school-choice reforms. Big takeaways include the following: Charter schools and vouchers are supported broadly across racial, income, and political-party segments. Overall, 61 percent say they favor charter schools, while only 26 percent say they oppose them. Similarly, 63 percent say they support school vouchers, with only 33 percent opposing them. When it comes to accountability for test results, 62 percent of those surveyed say that teachers should be held accountable. But fewer respondents thought principals should be held accountable (50 percent), and just 40 percent thought state officials should be accountable. Finally, half of the respondents expressed support for the Common Core. What the public thinks matters—and in this new survey, the results pose an interesting (if unintended) question: If choice programs have so much public support, why are they so politically controversial?

Source: Paul DiPerna, 2014 Schooling In America Survey (Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, June 2014)....

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Inter-district open enrollment often flies under the radar in discussions about school choice. It may be that way because it has been around so long (established in 1989 and operating in its current form since 1998); perhaps because it is not universally available or because many of the most-desirable districts do not allow open enrollment; or perhaps because it is choice “within the family” (that is, the traditional district family). Despite its usual low-profile, two recent newspaper stories shined light on the topic of open enrollment, showing a disconnect between those administering this unsung school choice program and those who actually use it.

From a district’s point of view, open enrollment can easily devolve into “just business” – dollars in and dollars out to be accounted for year after year. Just check out this story from Hancock County in Northwest Ohio. Net financial “winners”—those districts that have more open-enrollee students coming in than leaving—seem to be fine with the system, as might be expected. But net financial “losers” are objecting more strenuously as the losses go on. Their objections, however, often have very little to do with why students are attending a school outside of their “home” district. In fact, most of the district officials quoted in this in-depth piece don’t even seem curious as to why large numbers of their residents are opting to go somewhere else when given the opportunity – even when seizing that “opportunity” requires jumping through several hoops.

When long application lines and even...

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When it comes to educational options, there are sundry open doors available to the nation’s more affluent kids—and far fewer for their poorer peers to walk through. In her new book, journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley follows the trajectories of ten children from less-than-ideal circumstances who are given the opportunity to attend private schools via in the Children’s Scholarship Fund, a nationwide initiative founded in 1998 (and funded by Ted Forstmann and John Walton, both now deceased) that offers tuition assistance to low-income students in grades K–8. Each of the ten kids are given their own chapter, and the stories are peppered with asides on education-policy topics like college and career readiness, private school diversity, and the monetary value of a high school diploma. These uplifting, journalistic stories are a perfect summer read and make a compelling argument for expanding parental choice in education. (For a complementary look at how private schools adjust to an influx of scholarship students, see Fordham’s Pluck and Tenacity: How five private schools in Ohio have adapted to vouchers.)

SOURCE: Naomi Schaefer Riley, Opportunity and Hope: Transforming Children's Lives through Scholarships (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014).

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On the Rocketship: Expanding the high-quality charter school movement

VIDEO: On the Rocketship: Expanding the high-quality charter school movement

Richard Whitmire’s forthcoming book, On the Rocketship: How Top Charter Schools are Pushing the Envelope, is “the best account yet of what is happening with charters,” says the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews. But big questions still abound: Can Rocketship and other high-performing schools scale up quickly, a la the “Fibonacci sequence”? Can charters do so without falling into the pitfalls of the past? Will struggling urban areas embrace this form of school choice? And what about smug suburbs?

Join the Fordham Institute for a conversation with Whitmire and a panel of experts about his book, the Rocketship network, and the future of charter schooling. 

While some folks are busy marching and complaining and “going to war” over ed reform and school choice efforts. And while pundits are looking for the next big thing to boost student achievement and promote the best and brightest in teaching and accountability, there is one place where the arguments are already settled.

I found a little bit of peace last week in this place - an oasis where all school choice is fait accompli. All options coexist happily and productively, geography doesn’t matter much, and student success is the only thing on folks’ minds.

Where is this Shangri-la? The school uniform store.

In this serene place, charter schools commingle with district schools and with private schools of all stripes (Catholic, Christian, nonsectarian). Schools from a 25-mile radius are all represented there with no turf battles or rivalries, even though their various sports gear is side-by-side.

The staff of the store is friendly and helpful to all who come in, whatever school they have chosen, and they are knowledgeable about the requirements for all those schools and make sure that parents know that this skirt is required and that top is optional. To them, it’s all about the right fit. Literally.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could substitute the word “uniform” for “options” and everything else stay the same?...

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The Rocketship charter network, founded in San Jose in 2006, has had a growth trajectory worthy of its name: it already operates nine schools, and its goal is to educate 25,000 students by 2017. Benefiting from  unrestricted access to its board and schools for a year, journalist Richard Whitmore presents us with an engaging read that provides a history of the Rocketship education project, set in the context of America’s growing charter-school sector. The story features two protagonists: John Danner, the Silicon Valley victor who now aims to reduce America’s achievement gap, and Preston Smith, a more traditional educator and supporter of Danner’s lofty goal. The pair pinpointed three factors necessary for success. First, talented educators: recruiting heavily from Teach for America, they retained these teachers in unusually high numbers by fast tracking their careers. Second, a blended learning model: they used adaptive software to deliver individualized instruction to all students while also reshaping traditional school staffing and budget arrangements. And third, reach the parents—mainly from low-income and minority backgrounds—and prod them to become education activists. The gains in Rocketship’s first school were unparalleled. However, the model proved challenging to replicate, and early expansion efforts faltered, forcing the founders to reassess their goals. But as Whitmire pointed out in a recent interview with EdNext, Rocketship has a unique ability to fix problems on the fly (“when they hit a wall, they reinvent themselves”). And having tweaked their learning model, school test scores—and replication—are back on track again. Throughout the...

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USA! USA! USA!

Brickman and Victoria talk principal hiring, Common Core moratoriums, and charter accountability. Dara tells us about barriers to improving schools.

Amber's Research Minute

Policy Barriers to School Improvement: What's Real and What's Imagined? by Lawrence J. Miller and Jane S.Lee, (Seattle, WA: Center for Reinventing Public Education, June 2014).

Fordham has long been a supporter of results-based accountability for private-school choice programs. In January, we released a “policy toolkit” that recommended, among other measures, that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) be required to participate in state assessments and that those results be made publicly available at the school level (except when doing so would violate student privacy).

This rustled a few libertarian and conservative feathers: the folks at Cato called this “the Common Coring of private schools,” James Shuls yelled “Don’t Test Me, Bro!,” and Jay Greene reversed his lifelong commitment to standards-based reform.  (Many wonks opined in support of our accountability recommendations, too.)

While we didn’t agree with the all of the arguments forwarded by our friends, we did come to see the risk to private-school autonomy and innovation that a test-based accountability system could create. We also understood the particular sensitivity around using Common Core tests for this purpose. So in April, in the National Review, we offered an olive branch:

Without backing away from our commitment to the inseparability of the two tracks of education reform, we see room for compromise on specifics. Yes, some degree of transparency and accountability is essential for all choice schools. We don’t buy the argument that we should leave it to “parental choice alone”; experience in the real world demonstrates (here as in every other market that we know of) that some external quality control is needed if

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In which Michelle admonishes Governor Jindal

Michelle and Brickman discuss pausing accountability while states transition to the Common Core, the perils of playing politics with Eva Moskowitz, and Governor Bobby Jindal’s Common Core bluster. Amber schools us on teacher prep.

Amber's Research Minute

2014 Teacher Prep Review: A Review of the Nation’s Teacher Preparation Programs by Julie Greenberg, Kate Walsh, and Arthur McKee, (Washington, D.C.: National Council on Teacher Quality, June 2014).

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