Charters & Choice

Special Edition looking at coverage of Ohio Senate's charter reform bill

An internecine argument exposes a fault line in charter school rhetoric.
Robert Pondiscio

My U.S. News column this week is sure to raise hackles. But that’s only because anytime you put the words “Eva” and “Moskowitz” adjacent to each other, you’re sure to upset either fans or haters of the polarizing founder of New York’s Success Academies. 

Much has been written by me and others at Fordham about the stellar results achieved by Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter schools and the controversial tactics used to achieve them. This isn’t an attempt to re-litigate any of those arguments. How Moskowitz runs her schools is of enormous importance to education policy advocates and activists, but most parents simply don’t care. Indeed, I’m tempted to suggest the secret of Moskowitz’s success is that she may have a better grasp of what parents want than just about anyone in education today. From the piece:

For inner-city moms and dads who have been disappointed by unsafe schools, chronic failure, and limited educational opportunities, questions about schools come down to three: Is my child safe? Is my child behaving? Is my child learning? Moskowitz can answer affirmatively—and accurately--for all three.

Having taught in a troubled South Bronx elementary school for several years, it is not a mystery to me why there are ten families on the waiting list for every Success Academy seat. Even in the worst urban schools, most parents resent the hell out of the chaos and disruption inflicted upon them by the minority of kids who act out. Eva Moskowitz gets this.

In the end, Success Academy is yet another argument for school choice. “By no means should her brand of education be imposed on every child, no matter how good the results. But by no means should the thousands of families she serves—and the...

Matthew Levey

The impulse to protect kids from bad choices serves no one well.
Matthew Levey

School choice abounds; how are Ohio schools responding?

Short review of new study on the effects of competition on schools

John H. "Skip" McKoy
Scott Pearson

Andy Smarick is clearly disappointed with the op-ed we authored in the Washington Post. We argued that, for many reasons, the rough balance we have in Washington, D.C. between charter schools and traditional public schools is serving our children well.

We don’t want to debate Andy’s points one by one. Nor do we want to repeat many of the smart observations made by D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) member (and Smarick’s Bellwether colleague) Sara Mead in her recent post.

But we do want to clarify a few points that may have been ambiguous in the Post article, as we fear the lack of clarity may have contributed to Andy’s alarm and could possibly concern other education reformers.

First, this does not signal a slowdown in PCSB’s authorizing. PCSB has approved seventeen schools in the past three years. There is no intention on the part of PCSB’s staff—nor, to our knowledge, PCSB’s other board members—to stop approving strong charter applications. And there has been no slowdown in our efforts to support growth by high-performing charters already in D.C.  

There are still tens of thousands of children in D.C. attending low-performing schools.  Over eight thousand individual students are on charter school waitlists. On top of this, 2,500 new students come to D.C. each year. And PCSB’s constant oversight has led to the closure of many low-performing schools and campuses (eighteen since 2012). Only by adding and growing strong charters can we ensure that families have access to enough quality educational options.

Second, PCSB does not “ring fence” D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) or other charter schools when making authorizing decisions. We don’t deliberately keep charters away from other schools and...

If you’re at all interested in school choice, you really should read a trio of recent reports.

They’re unusually informative. The CREDO study on urban chartering found that most city-based charter school sectors are producing substantially more academic growth than comparable district-run schools (others’ take on the report here, here, and here).

The Brookings “Education Choice and Competition Index” rates the school choice environment in 107 cities. An interactive tool helps you see how the cities compare with one another on everything from the accessibility of non-assigned educational options and the availability of school information to policies on enrollment, funding, and transportation.

The NACSA report on state policies associated with charter school accountability attempts to describe how laws, regulations, and authorizer practices interact to influence charter quality. The report translates NACSA’s excellent “principles and standards” for quality authorizing into a tool for describing, assessing, and comparing states (TBFI Ohio on the report here).

I could write at length about the finer points of each. They all have valuable arguments and findings.

But I want to call your attention to something in particular. The Brookings and NACSA reports assess environmental conditions (inputs) that might influence charter school performance (outputs). The CREDO study gauges charters’ academic growth relative to district-run schools (an output measure).

So I created two scatter plots to see how each of the inputs correlates with the output. For CREDO, I use an average of each city’s reading and math effects. For Brookings, I use each city’s score. I apply NACSA’s state score to each city in its borders.

Brookings and CREDO are positively correlated; the more choice and competition a city has, the higher-performing its charter sector.