Charters & Choice

There were many important releases and developments this week—invaluable new SIG information from IES, Race to the Top audits, new Brookings “choice index”—and I couldn’t keep up! Those subjects and others will get fuller treatments from me next week. But until then, here are some worthwhile things to read over the weekend.

There has been much talk about the 50-year anniversary of The War on Poverty. Here’s the best stuff I’ve seen: This Gerson column smartly points out the federal government’s successes and failures (and though this superb Brooks column on evolving conservative policy thinking isn’t about The War on Poverty per se, it should be read in conjunction with Gerson’s). This short blurb by Checker Finn is terrific; the first-person narrative is compelling, and for history buffs and those fascinated by the intersection of politics and policy, it offers something special. This very good piece by my old high school friend (now at AEI) Josh Good echoes family-related arguments made by Finn’s mentor a half century ago.

If you care at all about Common Core, this Stephanie Simon article about conservative backlash is an absolute must read. There are several different strands in the piece worth thinking about (including the CCSS-as-a-stepping-stone strategy), but these two sentences speak volumes: “Still, (Common Core) supporters have struggled to counter the critics. They have had trouble even understanding the contours of the smoldering opposition.” As I told TNTP (see fifth paragraph),...

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A new survey from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice delivers a thorough look at how the public views an array of school-choice issues. The results could surprise even some seasoned policymakers and wonks. After a useful literature review summarizing decades of opinion research on school choice, the author digs into the results of his nationally representative survey: First, respondents were asked whether they support or oppose various forms of school choice, and he found greater public enthusiasm for tax credits and savings accounts than for vouchers. Second, respondents were asked a series of questions to determine whether arguments favoring school choice were more persuasive if they invoked ideals of freedom, competition, or equality. Freedom prevailed.  Third, as is often the case, respondents felt that reducing class sizes would be quite effective in improving our education system relative to the other ideas offered. Among the reform ideas tested, support for “vouchers is in the middle of the pack, with smaller class sizes, technology, and accountability perceived as more efficacious and reducing teachers’ unions’ influence, merit pay, and longer school days as less efficacious.” This all would seem to indicate the need for school-choice supporters to go big with their proposals to reach as many kids as possible. Logically, support may dwindle to the extent the public feels a given policy does not affect them. In addition, policies should be designed to ensure options are broad-based, diverse, high quality,...

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Earlier this week, AFT president Randi Weingarten came out against the use of value-added measures in teacher evaluations, citing recent VAM shortcomings in D.C. and Pittsburgh and launching the catchy slogan, “VAM is a sham.” VAM certainly is not perfect. But as Dara Zeehandelaar reminds us in this week’s Education Gadfly Show, teachers decades ago were concerned about being capriciously fired by principals who didn’t like them, which in turn led to the movement for a more structured and quantifiable teacher-evaluation system. Does Randi want to go back to favoritism? Or simply no accountability at all?

In a fascinating exposé of the Common Core opposition movement, Politico’s Stephanie Simon describes how a sophisticated group of strategists took a grassroots campaign, mainly populated by “a handful of angry moms,” and is milking it for political gain. With everyone’s questionable motivations out in the open, Gadfly would like to see the debate return to whether the standards are right for kids.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution, Eric Cantor named school choice as the best hope for the poor to escape cyclical poverty. He took special aim at New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, for planning a moratorium on charter school co-locations in the Big Apple, arguing that this could “devastate the growth of education opportunity in such a competitive real estate market.” Cantor went on to chastise President Obama for (again) refusing to fund the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a successful initiative that...

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Wednesday marked the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of...

Cities and states faced with rising pension costs have begun to search for the most effective...

Earlier this week, AFT president Randi Weingarten came out against the use of value-added...

This year, Education Week’s Quality Counts report tells a story of districts...

Nearly three decades ago, 320 students below the age of thirteen took the SAT math or verbal...

The Arctic Vortex edition

Invigorated by the weather, Mike and Dara give cold shoulders to anti-Common Core strategists, California’s constitution, and Randi Weingarten’s “VAM sham.” Amber gets gifted.

Amber's Research Minute

Who Rises to the Top? Early Indicators,” by Harrison J. Kell, David Lubinski, and Camilla P. Benbow, Psychological Science 24 (2013), 2013: 648–59.

A Crash Course in Teacher Pensions

Dara Zeehandelaar, author of The Big Squeeze: Retirement Costs and School District Budgets, explains teachers pensions and the difference between defined benefits and defined contribution plans that states offer teachers.

We’ve passed the time for standing by and patiently hoping that Ohio’s lowest-performing charter schools will improve on their own. Or that the authorizers of such charters will solve this problem on their own. As a strong supporter of charter schools, my New Year’s resolution is to seize the promise of change and resolutely champion the effort to strengthen the quality of the charter sector across the Buckeye State.

I also know that undertaking such an effort sans allies won’t likely yield much change. But timing is everything—and now is the right time for all of Ohio’s charter advocates to take up the fight for quality schools.

The problem

Charters have been operating in Ohio for well over a decade, and their performance can be most accurately described as mixed. We’ve been blessed with some resounding successes, such as the Breakthrough Network in Cleveland, Columbus Preparatory Academy, and Columbus Collegiate Academy. These schools, and hundreds other like them around the country, highlight the great potential of charter schools to change the educational trajectory of at-risk students. Yet too many other charter schools in Ohio (and elsewhere) have struggled mightily, as documented by a series of newspaper stories and editorials. In Fordham’s own recent review of Ohio charter performance, we found the urban schools in this sector overall performing at the same low levels as district schools. That just doesn’t cut it. That doesn’t do the state’s neediest kids nearly enough good.

The challenges in...

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Readers of this blog have come to expect news from around the country, analysis, cogent commentary, and best-practice policy recommendations. All of that has been in large part due to the efforts of Adam Emerson. Sadly for us, Adam has moved on to become the Florida Department of Education’s Director of Charter Schools. We want to congratulate Adam on his new position. We also want to thank him for his insight and leadership on parental-choice issues for Fordham and for getting Choice Words off the ground.

But as they say, the show must go on. We are extremely excited to be taking over the reins of what we’ll call “Choice Words 2.0.” We will continue to provide readers with insight and news, and we will bring our own penchant for data, analysis, deep dives, and a variety of lenses through which to look at all aspects of parental choice.

Please let us know what you want to see us cover and share with us your own insights on topics as we cover them. For those wanting to know a little more about us, we’ve described below the background and experiences that we’ll bring to this work.

Chad and Michael: Who We Are

Michael Brickman is national policy director at Fordham, where he is already a regular contributor to the Flypaper blog and other publications. He served in...

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Join us on Thursday, January 30, 2014, at the Athletic Club of Columbus for the release of our revealing, in-depth look at five private schools across Ohio that accept voucher students and what that has meant for parents, students, administrators, and school culture.

Find more information by clicking here.

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The Fordham Institute supports school choice, done right. That means designing voucher and tax-credit policies that provide an array of high-quality education options for kids that are also accountable to parents and taxpayers. In that vein, Fordham has created the Public accountability & private-school choice toolkit to help with the design of strong outcomes-based accountability in private-school-choice programs.

We recommend that states

  • Require that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) participate in state assessments. (While we prefer state assessments as policy, we think any widely respected test that allows for ready comparison against other schools or districts is a reasonable compromise);
  • Mandate public disclosure of those assessment results, school by school, save for schools that enroll fewer than ten voucher (or scholarship) students in grades that are tested; and
  • Use a sliding scale when it comes to acting on the test results—i.e., private schools that derive little of their revenue from programs of this kind should be largely left alone, while those that receive more of their dollars from state initiatives should be held more accountable.

This toolkit was updated in June 2014 to reflect that mandating nationally norm-referenced tests is a reasonable compromise for accountability measures in these programs.

Public accountability & private-school choice: Infographic

View a larger version

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Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that Louisiana’s voucher program contradicts federal desegregation orders resulted in a months-long courtroom fracas and a national debate on school segregation and equality of opportunity. With this and other disputes regarding school choice becoming increasingly heated, this recent paper by Gabriel Sahlgren, an author and academic at the UK-based Centre for Market Reform of Education, is timely indeed. In this international comparison, Sahlgren conducts a meta-analysis to draw lessons from predominantly European countries, including Sweden, Germany, and Denmark, for application in England, which introduced some school choice with the Education Reform Act of 1988. Sahlgren looked at both segregation (differences in enrollment between minority groups) and equity (differences in performance). He found that while choice had a mixed effect on school segregation, no evidence suggests that choice led to decreased equity. Several of the studies he overviewed, however, contained drawbacks in design, such as using proxies for variables or failing to control for funding discrepancies. Additionally, given the vastly variant histories and demographic makeups between nations, one must view any international comparisons with some skepticism. Nevertheless, the analysis contains several recommendations that deserve attention on our side of the pond. For example, Sahlgren proposes using lotteries as a tiebreak for oversubscribed schools and eliminating catchment zones altogether as means of lessening possible segregation. (Attorney General Holder: That sounds a lot like New Orleans to us.)

SOURCE: Gabriel H. Sahlgren, Dis-location: School choice, residential segregation and educational inequality (London: Centre for Market...

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Amber loses her marbles

In the first podcast of the year, Mike and Brickman discuss NCLB’s goal of universal proficiency, an error in D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation scores, and the correct pronunciation of Fariña. Amber is no good with marbles—but great at educating us about student mobility.

Amber's Research Minute

Reducing School Mobility: A Randomized Trial of a Relationship-Building Intervention,” by Jeremy E. Fiel, Anna R. Haskins and Ruth N. López Turley, American Educational Research Journal 50 (2013): 1188–1218.

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