Charters & Choice

  • Career and technical education is one of the best weapons in the reformer’s arsenal. It’s a proven gateway to post-secondary credentials and skilled jobs, which can’t be taken for granted when so many of our high school graduates find themselves unprepared for college and career. The Gadfly was apoplectic when Arizona Governor Doug Ducey green-lit $30 million in cuts to the state’s CTE programs last year, reducing their funding by nearly 50 percent. These classes obviously benefit the ninety thousand students they serve annually, but they’re also a boon to the local and regional economies, which profit immensely from a domestic source of coveted technicians and tradesmen. It’s great news for all, therefore, that veto-proof majorities in both houses of Arizona’s state legislature are ready to pass legislation repealing the cuts. If ever there was a case of government electing to be pennywise and pound-foolish, it was this.
  • Republicans and teachers’ unions have always been like peas in a pod. We’re not sure where the love affair started, but it was probably when they spent all those decades impugning and seeking to destroy one another. Okay, kidding aside, we’re all aware of the historic tensions existing between unionized teachers and the
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The Snowzilla edition

In this week's podcast, Mike Petrilli and Brandon Wright explain the schisms in the school choice movement, defend career and technical education programs, and discuss Eva Moskowitz’s big speech on school discipline. In the Research Minute, Amber Northern describes the effect of teacher turnover and quality on student achievement in District of Columbia Public Schools.

Amber's Research Minute

Melinda Adnot, Thomas Dee, Veronica Katz, and James Wyckoff, "Teacher Turnover, Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement in DCPS," NBER (January 2016).

I’ve dedicated a big part of my career to expanding school choice. I think it’s the right thing to do for kids, families, educators, neighborhoods, civil society, and much else. In fact, I’m convinced that years from now, students of history will be scandalized to learn that we used to have a K–12 system defined by one government provider in each geographic area.

“Do you mean,” they’ll ask, “that kids were actually assigned to schools based on home address, even if those schools were persistently underperforming?”

But probably the most important lesson I’ve learned over the last fifteen years—the reason why school choice progress moves so slowly—is this: An education system without school choice makes perfect sense from the point of view of central administrators.

In fact, the district-based system (a single public sector operator of schools) that we’ve had for the last century is extraordinarily rational when viewed from above. A city has lots of kids, and those kids need to be educated. A central schooling authority will take care of it.

The central authority looks at a map and partitions the city into similarly populated sections, each with its own “neighborhood school.” For simplicity’s sake, those schools can be named...

Penny Wohlstetter and her coauthors have delivered a terrific new Fordham study, “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Choice.” It finds a creative, concrete, and unusually useful way to get under the hood and delve into messy questions about the availability of choice, quality control, political support, and the effects of policy environment. The result is exceptionally useful for understanding what individual cities are doing and contemplating how they might do better.

Wohlstetter has powerfully extended an earlier study that I did with Fordham back in 2010, “The Nation’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform.” That study looked at education ecosystems, examining a broad set of variables that included philanthropic support, political leadership, bureaucratic burden, and the talent pool. Here, Wohlstetter looks specifically at the issue of choice, which allows her to go deeper and get more granular. She examines the entire picture of choice in thirty cities, including charter, magnet, and private schools. She finds that New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Denver lead the pack; that New York City is becoming less hospitable to choice under Mayor de Blasio; and that some southern cities are surprisingly strong on choice.

This kind of analysis is invaluable...

When Governor Kasich signed the state budget last June, myriad education changes became law. One of the most talked-about was the extension of a policy known as “safe harbor.” This was instituted to protect students, teachers, and schools from sanctions brought about by the state accountability system during Ohio’s transition to a new and more rigorous state assessment (its third in three years). The provisions are relatively simple: Test scores from 2014–15, 2015–16, and 2016–17 cannot be used in student promotion or course credit decisions, nor can they be used for teacher evaluations or employment decisions. Schools aren’t assigned an overall grade during the safe harbor, and report cards can’t be considered when determining “sanctions or penalties” for schools.

One of the accountability measures impacted by safe harbor is the EdChoice Scholarship program. EdChoice, Ohio’s largest voucher program, affords students otherwise stuck in the state’s lowest-performing schools the opportunity to attend private schools at public expense.[1] Safe harbor, however, mandates that schools on the EdChoice eligibility list as of 2014–15 remain on the list (even if they improve) and schools not on the list stay off (even if their performance declines). We immediately...

Fordham Ohio’s latest report will be released on Wednesday, January 27, and will detail the results of a survey of leaders of some of the state’s highest-performing charter schools.

What do those leaders think of Ohio’s overall support for charter schools, closing failing charters, and criticism of the sector? These questions and more will be answered in this important new report.

Quality in Adversity: Lessons from Ohio’s best charter schools will be available Wednesday, January 27, by clicking here.

 

A few years ago, a couple of my Fordham colleagues coined the phrase “public private” schools to describe schools that educate virtually no low-income students. In the report, they suggested the following notion: Though “public” in name, high-wealth schools are, in practice, pretty much equivalent to private ones. Families wanting to enroll their children in such schools effectively pay “tuition” through higher real-estate taxes and/or paying a fortune on housing. Low-income families are functionally excluded from sending their children to these schools.

But when an affluent district enacts an open enrollment policy, students outside its jurisdiction can attend. This suggests that they’re acting more in their public than private nature. Since 1989, Ohio has permitted such inter-district open enrollment, and today, most (though not all) districts participate. For the 2015–16 year, 81 percent of districts allowed some degree of open enrollment.[1]

So what about Ohio’s public private school districts? Do any of them open their doors for all comers? Or are they adhering more closely to their “private” identity by denying non-resident students the opportunity to enroll? Let’s take a look at the data.

When my colleagues examined public private schools in 2010, they identified...

Ohio has been included in lots of national rankings and scorecards lately. The latest comes from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which ranks the Buckeye State at number twenty-three (out of forty-three states) for its charter school law. At first blush, twenty-third doesn’t seem like much to laud (after all, we just lamented Ohio’s fall to twenty-third in Education Week’sQuality Counts” ranking). But there’s more to Ohio’s modest slot than meets the eye.

For starters, Ohio improved five slots from last year. In fact, it was the third-most-improved state in terms of rankings, next to Oklahoma and Massachusetts. More important than its rise in the rankings (which could occur for a host of reasons, including other states’ charter climates getting worse) is the reason why. The report notes that Ohio’s improvement occurred because “it enacted legislation that improved its authorizer funding provisions and strengthened its charter monitoring processes.” They went further, praising other aspects of House Bill 2: “It is important to note that the legislation enacted in Ohio made a lot of other positive changes to the state’s law; it dealt with some specific challenges that have emerged...

Urban school governance is a moving target, in part because it’s pretty clear that there’s no best way to handle it and in part because no change in a city’s arrangements ever works as well as its promoters hoped. This inevitably leads to a down-the-road push to change it again or change it back or…well, do something different because we’re not getting the results we need and a lot of people are unhappy.

This short issue brief from analysts at the Pew Charitable Trusts is meant to help the powers that be in their home town of Philadelphia consider the governance options ahead by examining those presently in use in fifteen urban districts.

It seems to have been prompted by the fact that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter are pushing for an end to the fifteen-year-old state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia and a return to some form of local control. It’s not clear that new Mayor Jim Kenney has staked out a position on this issue yet, but citizens indicated in a (non-binding) referendum vote last year that they generally agree with Messrs. Wolf and Nutter.

The most interesting factoid in the...

  • On the same day that Jeb Bush unveiled his education agenda, thousands of families in his home state marched in Tallahassee to support some of the very school choice programs he championed in office. The first-of-its-kind Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which helps generate funding for poor children to attend the private schools of their choice, has recently been contested in court by Florida Education Association (the state’s largest teachers’ union). In protest against the lawsuit, swarms of students, parents, and educators from charter schools made their voices heard. The most persuasive speaker of all, however, was none other than Martin Luther King III. “What choice does,” said the son of the civil rights icon, “is essentially create options, particularly for poor and working families that they would not necessarily normally have.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
  • Useful policy ideas don’t spring only from the campaign trail, or from earnest direct action. (To be honest, they almost never come from the campaign trail.) This week, the Council of Chief State School Officers opened an important new front in the war to close America’s skills gap. In partnership with the National Association of State Directors of Career
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