Charters & Choice

One of the biggest debates raging in education policy today is whether schools of choice are serving their fair share of the hardest-to-educate students or abandoning them to traditional public schools.

I have been more willing than most education reformers to acknowledge that some degree of selection bias is inevitable in a system of choice. The parents who seek out options for their children are, by their very nature, different than parents who do not, and this will likely have an impact on the academic performance of their children.

Furthermore, I have been happy to defend some degree of selectivity, both explicit and implicit. I support exam schools, for example. High-achieving students, especially those growing up in poverty, have not been well served by our traditional public school system, and I believe they deserve a place to go to school where they can learn to their full potential.

Still, wherever you stand on these debates, it’s certainly worth knowing whether the demographics of schools of choice match those of the larger community. This has driven many rigorous analyses of charter school populations, such as the proportion of their...

The Deflategate edition

The Washington State Supreme Court's attack on charters, New York State’s Common Core review, mindfulness in education, and charter schools' impact on Georgia property values.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Carlianne Patrick, "Willing to Pay: Charter Schools’ Impact on Georgia Property Values," Fiscal Research Center, Georgia State University (August 2015).


Mike:                       Hello, this is your host, Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at the Education Gadfly show, and online at Now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Tom Brady of education reform, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:                   The rejoinder that I could ... Are we a family podcast?

Mike:                       Look, you have been vindicated, is what I mean. You know? You're the golden boy.

Robert:                   Okay.

Mike:                       Only you can bring down the establishment. That's what I mean, Robert. You, for example, have been saying for years all this mumbo jumbo about core knowledge and content and literacy. Look how you're vindicated. SAT scores plummet.

Robert:                   Oh, there you go.

Mike:                       See? Vindicated? That's what I mean. I'm not calling you a cheater like Tom Brady, or an accused cheater. I'm saying you've been vindicated, that's all.

Robert:                   And Giselle is not waiting for me at the end of the podcast either, is she?

Mike:                       I don't think that she is. The thing I love about the Tom Brady thing is it gave Rick, our good friend Rick Hess, an excuse to write a blog post about deflate gate over the weekend, because he is, of course, a huge Patriots fan. I found the rest of his blog to be a little bit of a stretch, but at least we got to hear him spout off on the NFL and it's unfair treatment towards the hero Tom Brady.

Robert:                   I'm looking forward to football season, as a Bills fan, and I can almost admit that now. They're achieving respectability. We hate the Patriots. Just because they've had their wicked way with us for many a year now, but this year is going to be different.

Mike:                       No pun intended. Wicked, because they're wicked good up there in New England. Okay, enough of the sports talk. We're here to talk education reform, so let's get started. Kate, let's play Pardon the Gadfly.

Katie:                      The Washington State Supreme Court ruled on Friday that charter schools are unconstitutional in the state. Is there something about Washington's constitution that makes this decision inevitable?

Mike:                       Oh, Robert, let us count the ways. This was a very creative decision from the Washington Supreme Court. Shall I mention this court is an elected court? Shall I mention that one of the largest campaign contributors to the folks who voted in this way was the Washington Education Association?

Robert:                   Shocking, right?

Mike:                       Shocking.

Robert:                   It came out of nowhere.

Mike:                       Follow whose money.

Robert:                   Friday afternoon, who was expecting it, and then boom.

Mike:                       Oh yeah. Friday afternoon before Labor Day, good way to try to bury the news.

Robert:                   Labor Day, of course!

Mike:                       But, hey guys, it's going to be news because there's 2,000 kids in charter schools, including some that just opened days ago, who are now thrown into total chaos. Here's why they found it unconstitutional, because there's some phrase in the constitution that the state is supposed to provide for "common schools." There are similar phrases in state constitutions across the country. Sometimes they talk about a uniform system of public education, so on and so forth. No other state's supreme court has found that language to bar the state from creating charter schools, but going back to a 1909 decision in Washington State this court did so. They said that these common schools have to be under direct control of locally elected school boards, and because charter schools are not, they cannot be common schools and therefore they cannot be funded by the state.

Robert:                   Here, there's some wonderful language if you go back to that 1909 decision. I've got it in front of me. I'll read it to you. The reason that local control of common schools was so important back in 1909 is because "it protected the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers with" - this is the important part, ready - "with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent."

Mike:                       Yeah.

Robert:                   Yeah that happens a lot.

Mike:                       How does that work right now in Washington state?

Robert:                   Come on.

Mike:                       By the way, did we mention that there's a teacher's strike coming in Seattle?

Robert:                   Gee, you don't say.

Mike:                       Boy, it all comes together. Look, this is obviously terrible news for the children of Washington and difficult. The legal bit, look it's the state supreme court. It's a state constitutional issue. This is pretty much the end of the road. There's no appeal process per se. Now what you can try to do is have the legislature work towards a constitutional amendment, but that's a tough lift. This was, of course, one of the last states to adopt a charter school law. In the end, it was by voter referendum and not clear where this goes from here. A lot of effort on behalf of charter school supporters out there and nationally to keep these schools open, but more than anything else, let's call it what it is: rank hypocrisy when the unions still try to say, "Hey, we support charter schools."

Robert:                   With our campaign donations to the judges and the supreme court.

Mike:                       Tell that to these 2,000 kids.

Robert:                   Yeah. It's a shame.

Mike:                       Topic number 2, Kate.

Katie:                      New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that he would be launching a review of the common core standards and related tests and curriculum. Is this an appropriate response to the state wide opt out?

Mike:                       Here's Cuomo, riding the populist wave.

Robert:                   Come on.

Mike:                       We're seeing this right now.

Robert:                   I'm embarrassed to be a New Yorker.

Mike:                       We've got Donald Trump. You've got Ben Carson out there. You've got Bernie Sanders. We are at populist moment right now, and Andrew Cuomo, he is trying to be with the people. You've got all these parents out there angry. They're opting their kids out. They're saying, "Something's not working." He puts his finger in the wind and says, "I agree with you," but is what's happening in New York, and let's face it there is something big happening in New York-

Robert:                   Sure.

Mike:                       Is it about common core?

Robert:                   Great question. Let's unwind this a little bit. What infuriates me, frankly, about my governor because I live in New York, his pronouncement that he's reviewing common core. We were talking football before, so this is like watching one series of downs in the second quarter and deciding which team is good or not, which is insane.

Mike:                       You're saying it's early in the game?

Robert:                   Not just early in the game. It's a small sample size. Where did he get the idea that common core was going to change everything over night?

Mike:                       Right.

Robert:                   I just think that's disingenuous. He knows better than that. To your point, I think he's just got his finger to the wind and he's checking which way the wind blows and he can do this to mollify angry parents and teachers. The thing that infuriates me about this even more is if he wants to review something, it's not common core, it's not the assessments that need to be reviewed, it's his own teacher evaluation program because he's trying to have it both ways. He's trying to say, "Well let's review the standards, but I'm going to keep this incredibly aggressive teacher evaluation system." That's what's driving, I believe, the discontent. Teachers are upset. The common cores become the receptacle for this, but what they're really - and I think what parents are upset about - is their kids schooling becoming test driven? That's not common core; that's Cuomo's evaluation plan.

Mike:                       He is one of the only governors in the country who has moved ahead with these test based teacher evaluations at the time that we're moving to higher standards and more difficult tests. These teachers understandably, I think, feel like hey, they've got the Sword of Damocles over their head and it is hard to make the instructional shifts and try new things and work collaboratively on these new standards when you feel threatened.

Robert:                   It's not hard - it's impossible.

Mike:                       All right, so is this asking too much? Cuomo, because he's really dug in before on the teacher evaluation thing. Frankly, part of the reason is, he hates the teachers unions which is interesting. He's a democrat but he's been at war with the teacher unions and so rather than do something where he could side with the teachers and the parents and figure out some other approach than teacher evaluation, he's trying to figure out some way to be with the parents, against the unions, a little too cute by half.

Robert:                   You can never know.

Mike:                       Governor Cuomo, here's the deal - ditch the teacher evaluations, stick with the common core.

Robert:                   What you said. It just feels very, very cynical.

Mike:                       Robert, I think you and I are kind of in a bad mood today.

Robert:                   Are we? I'm not cranky.

Mike:                       We just seem cranky. It's hard, you know. It's after Labor Day weekend, we're tired, I don't know. The summer's over. Is that what this is about?

Robert:                   No. Well, I know what you're cranky about is the Nationals are not going to make the post season.

Mike:                       Oo! It's actually more that my sons have lice, but that's a whole other story. Topic number 3.

Katie:                      A recent article in the Atlantic reports that the mindfulness and education movement is gaining traction in California, New York and Washington DC. Is this a hoax or could an ancient Buddhist tradition actually have lasting positive effects for students?

Mike:                       This is what we need, Robert. If we would only meditate more I think we'd both feel a lot better.

Robert:                   Om.

Mike:                       Thank you. You're good at that. I actually now feel better after hearing you say that.

Robert:                   Yeah. Chilling.

Mike:                       This, I feel like we see these articles every couple of years. There's a new one in the Atlantic and it basically says that some schools are experimenting with teaching kids mindfulness, or teaching kids meditation basically. This is part of the movement towards building non-cognitive skills. The idea here-

Robert:                   Social emotional learning.

Mike:                       Social emotional learning, to try to help kids if they're feeling anxious, if they're feeling stressed, to help them calm down, but also help them make good decisions by noticing what they're feeling and before they act on these feelings is to be able to take a pause. All of us could benefit from this, right?

Robert:                   Sure. Let me not dump on it too much. I'm enough of a traditionalist, as you know, to look at something like this and my knee-jerk response would be, "You've got to be kidding me." But, look, there is some tantalizing evidence out there that this could be significant. This could be a real thing. Now, we've both been around long enough to know this is how fads start, right? You get one little bit of evidence that says, "Hey maybe this is promising. Let's looking into this," and suddenly this is the thing to do. Let's examine that evidence. Is it small scale evidence or is it A-B longitudinal studies? It's a lot more the former. I don't think there's anything-

Mike:                       Let me ask you this. Does this violate the separation of church and state? Is this religious practice when you have a bunch of kids cross their legs and put their hands palm up on their knees and say, "Om"?

Robert:                   Maybe, but wasn't this challenged by at least one parent group in a school district saying it was religious based?

Mike:                       Well, that's what some people thing.

Robert:                   Maybe so. To be serious about this for a second, promising research, follow it up, but let's not follow this potentially good idea off the end of a cliff like we do with so many other potentially good ideas.

Mike:                       Okay, there you have it. Come on, Robert, that was supposed to be a real debate. I thought you were going to take the hook on that one. I'm a little disappointed. After all that "om-ing" you were so calm, I took the fight out of you.

Robert:                   Exactly. You did. It's mindfulness.

Mike:                       Man, I should have done that in the beginning. All right. That's all the time we've got for Pardon the Gadfly. Now it is time for everybody's favorite, Amber's Research Minute. Amber, welcome back to the show.

Amber:                   Thank you, Mike.

Mike:                       Are you as deflated by deflate gate as Robert and I are?

Amber:                   I am so over it.

Mike:                       You're over?

Amber:                   I'm over it, like let's move on.

Mike:                       Do you believe that Tom Brady got-

Amber:                   I think he probably knew because he's been around a long time and he probably knows what an inflated and deflated football feels like I think, but I guess I just don't care that much anymore. Sorry should I care more? Do you care?

Mike:                       I don't know. Rick wrote this whole blog post about this, about how this demonstrates why we need unions is because managers are capricious.

Amber:                   Right. I forgot about that particular link. You know Rick. He can just kind of make it relevant.

Mike:                       Well, he clearly wrote that blog post while he was watching a pre-season Pats game.

Amber:                   Had a few drinks.

Mike:                       All right, what have you got?

Amber:                   We've got a new report out by the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University called "Willing to Pay - Charter Schools Impact on Georgia Property Values." It seeks to quantify how much families are willing to pay for a higher likelihood of access to a charter school between the years of 2004 and 2013 was the analysis. The analysis, however, has a few flaws. We'll go through those first. First, we aren't looking at all of Georgia as the title would suggest, but we're looking at 13 metro Atlanta charter schools. Kind of a big title for a very small study. They're looking at startups and conversions only that have priority admission zones within their designated attendance zones. The rules for where the priority - there's like three pages talking about when the priority zone comes into play and how it interacts with the lottery. Very complex, it differs for each of the different types of charter schools. The idea is that you get a higher chance of getting into a particular charter school if you reside in the priority zone.

                                    Analysts limit the analysis to sales within close proximity to the border between priority one and two attendance zones since they presumably represent a change in admission probability. They claim that residents as close the border, less than a half a mile, should be similar and observable and un-observable ways, including access to jobs, amenities, the style of house, the foreclosures, et cetera. The outcome measure, because it gets a little tricky, is the effect of being on the priority one side of the border which is situated between zones one and two. They control for transaction date which helps with the housing fluctuations over time, and they limit the sample to arms-length. Do you know what that means? My husband's in the real estate business.

Mike:                       No.

Amber:                   Arms length means you didn't sell it to your cousin Louise or whatever. You don't know these people. Single family residential transactions. Their key finding is that households are willing to pay a premium to live in zone one - 7 to 13% more for homes there than in zone two. Yet again, the sample is small and then I started just kind of thinking what else would I want to know to believe this finding? We're told nothing about the quality of the schools. We're not told how long they've operated, how often and which schools have had to make use of the zone preference, nor do we know how familiar parents are with the rules surrounding the zones at all, nor do we know about the relative difference in probability between zones one and two, so how sharp is that probability difference. There's no methods appendix. That's the first place, I'm like, all right I'm a little wonky, let me dig through page 28 on the methods appendix. It's not there.

                                    I don't think we know whether these differences are random or not, and I'm not convinced that the zone comparison they've come up with actually takes care of all the un-observables that might be occurring. Then you've got to think, okay, so let's say it's true that households do indeed sort along this priority zone boundary and then we'd have to think, okay, well then that's an un-observable right there. What's making them, what is it about them that's causing them to sort of do this sorting on this boundary? Anyway, I think on the outside I thought this is a pretty cool way to think about how the public values charters, but I just don't think - at least for me - there wasn't enough care taken in the analysis for me to really buy into it.

Mike:                       Let me understand. Then it must be the case that these 13 charter schools are serving at least middle class families if not affluent families, families that are wealthy enough to be buying homes, right? I assume that much of the population of charter school kids out there that are lower income are probably not in homes where they're buying their homes. They're probably renting instead to begin with.

Amber:                   Yep.

Mike:                       Which is fine. Certainly, I believe there's a place in the charter movement for middle class type schools as well, but that's interesting. Also, it's a little strange. I know the folks in Georgia were excited about this charter folks, but one of the arguments for charter schools forever has been that we want to actually sever the link between real estate and quality and access, right?

Amber:                   Yeah, there's an irony there, isn't it?

Mike:                       Right. I guess they probably, these kinds of studies have been done before for traditional public schools, and you certainly do find that there is a premium for quality schools measured by test scores, although I think there has been some question. I feel like somebody, was it Marty West or somebody else, that looked at whether that held if you looked at growth scores or if it was just things like proficiency rates, which of course are much more related to demographics and it may be that the people are basically paying more to be able to send their kids to schools that have very few poor kids.

Amber:                   Could be.

Mike:                       Could be, and maybe that's an issue here as well. Bottom line, what, Amber? You're not convinced?

Amber:                   I'm not convinced, but I thought it was creative. I really like creative studies, and I think this was creative but just give me more info about those methods. I just want to-

Mike:                       I love it and you know what, it is creative and it's maps. We love maps. There's now this new tool out where you can map school attendance boundaries all over the place and you can measure all kinds of cool things we can do. We've been brainstorming here.

Amber:                   We've been brainstorming so if our listeners know of any cool, nifty map ideas what's our email? Something like that?

Mike:                       Sure, or they could just email us, Amber.

Amber:                   Oh, yeah yeah.

Mike:                       What are suddenly celebrity now that you can't even, I know you're not on Twitter but people can Tweet me.

Amber:                   I'm not on Twitter.

Mike:                       Thank you. That is all the time we've got for this week. Until next week.

Robert:                   Om. I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Mike:                       I'm Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.

  • With the Washington State Supreme Court’s ruling against the constitutionality of charter schools and a sudden teachers’ strike breaking out in Seattle, education observers across the country would be justified in wondering whether anyone will actually be starting school this month in the Evergreen State. The court’s decision, which hurls the future of nine freshly opened schools into immediate uncertainty, has been greeted with more drama thus far (no surprise, since its legal rationale has been deemed quixotic, and its consequences will certainly be disruptive to the 1,200 students who may now have to seek schooling elsewhere). But dumping labor unrest atop this catastrophe will make matters inconceivably worse. Leaders in all three branches of the state’s government simply must come together to resolve this double crisis.
  • We’ve all got portmanteaus that we despise. For the Gadfly’s money, “telephone” worked perfectly well without being combined with “marketing.” But the New York Times has introduced a new mashup that may be as promising to students as it is painful to the ear: “teacherpreneur.” Using online tools like Youtube and, skilled instructors have been able to develop markets for their unique lesson plans and materials—and make
  • ...

In a few months, education reformers will begin celebrating the twenty-fifth birthday of Minnesota’s groundbreaking charter school legislation, which passed in 1991 and inspired a wave of similar laws across the country. The charter movement can now vote, drink, and carry a concealed weapon. (But hey, maybe not all at once.)

The millennial era has been a time of rapid growth in the sector: Over six thousand charter schools now serve almost three million kids across the country. And all those ribbon-cutting ceremonies have given rise to a simultaneous flowering of research into the effects of charters. This meta-analysis from Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education set out to comb through the existing data to identify the specific impact of “no-excuses” charters on math and reading. Offering a brisk tour through the mission and methods of no-excuses schools, it should make handy reading for a public audience that still trips over some of the details even at the quarter-century mark.

After wading into an ocean of some five thousand initial titles, the authors finally ended up weighing the results of sixty-eight relevant studies published on schools that generally fit the no-excuses model...

A new study in the Journal of School Choice explores whether charter schools open in “high-demand” areas of New York City. In particular, the authors ask whether they situate themselves in high-density areas with lots of children, near schools with low academic performance, or in neighborhoods where parental satisfaction is low.

The study examines fifty-six new elementary charter schools that opened between 2009 and 2013, along with 571 traditional elementary schools. Data sources include parental satisfaction survey data from the New York City Department of Education (with 2008 as the base year for the traditional public schools), school proficiency rates on math (because math scores are more school-dependent than reading scores), and Census data on poverty and population.

The analysts compare parents’ dissatisfaction with their children’s current schools (relative to the number of charter openings in the area) and that area’s poverty rate. They find pockets of parental dissatisfaction scattered throughout southwest Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. Yet charter schools didn’t open in these areas. They tended to locate instead in clusters around central Brooklyn and along a stretch in western Manhattan, where parent satisfaction varied but was generally moderate or high.

Next, they detect a modest but imperfect relationship...

Last Friday, in a 6-3 decision, the Washington State Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the state’s voter-approved charter school law, threatening the future of nine new schools with more than 1,200 students.

The ruling was not based on the merits of the law (one of the strongest in the country on accountability). Nor was it based on the words of the state constitution. Instead, the majority cut off all funding from charter schools (the specifics on when and how to be determined by a lower court) by relying on an obscure 1909 judicial interpretation of the words “common schools.” These words are found in the state constitution, but aren’t defined. The majority held that under this century-old definition, the charter school law did not subject those schools to enough “local control,” and therefore is unconstitutional.

The holding hinged on this idea of control—despite the fact that these charters are subject to more accountability than the state’s traditional public schools. Parents choose whether their children will attend. Charters performing in the bottom quartile of all public schools must be closed if they continue to fail. And local school boards are free to sponsor...

When talking about educational choice, most people focus on choosing a school. But true educational choice shouldn’t stop after a family chooses a school. After all, few schools can meet the educational needs of all of their varied students—or can they?

Course choice, a growing trend in K–12 education, provides public school students with expanded course offerings across learning environments from diverse, accountable providers. It may sound impossible, but for many Ohio students, this is already a reality. CTE programs offer personalized paths toward earning high school credits, industry credentials, and college credit. The College Credit Plus program empowers students in grades 7–12 to attend classes at participating public or private colleges after they’re admitted based on their college-readiness. For students who aren’t interested in existing CTE programs and aren’t deemed college- and career-ready, ilearnOhio seems like the perfect solution. Dubbed a “powerful tool” for students and educators alike, the online platform provides classroom resources (e.g., instructional support materials, assessments, and professional development resources) and a marketplace with online courses from a variety of developers. The marketplace offers students extended course options—but only if their family has a few hundred dollars to drop, since many of...

The Kanye edition

Education in New Orleans, school governance, Common Core-aligned assignments, and charter school openings in NYC.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Andrew Saultz, Dan Fitzpatrick, and Rebecca Jacobsen, "Exploring the Supply Side: Factors Related to Charter School Openings in NYC," Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, vol. 9 no. 3 (August 2015). 


Mike:                       Hello, this is your host, Mike Petrilli, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at Now please join me welcoming my co-host, the Kanye West of education reform.

Robert:                   Let me finish, Mike.

Mike:                       Robert Pondiscio.

Robert:                   The Kanye, huh

Mike:                       It seems a little unfair. I guess he went on and on and on at the MTV Music Awards-

Robert:                   As we're wont to do in the podcast.

Mike:                       As were wont to do, I understand you give a good speech, but a long speech, Robert.

Robert:                   Do I? Is that true?

Mike:                       For 45 minutes?

Robert:                   Look, I'm going to let you finish, but I'm going to run for the White House in 2020, just like Kanye.

Mike:                       Just like Kanye. I remember-

Robert:                   You could be his running mate, it'll be the Kanye West Wing.

Mike:                       That's not bad, yeah. I always thought 2028. I remember as a kid, figuring out, just when would be the right time, depending on my age, and I think I thought 2028 seemed about right.

Robert:                   That's a good question. Is he over thirty-five?

Mike:                       Is he over thirty-five?

Robert:                   Chronologically, I mean. I think we can conclude that maturity wise, he's got a ways to go.

Mike:                       You know, I don't know enough about the man to say these things, Robert.

Robert:                   I know enough, but Kim Kardashian as first lady-

Mike:                       I'm not hanging out with high school kids like you are.

Robert:                   That is true.

Mike:                       Which is good. By the way, in your civics class, I hope you take up some of the maneuvering happening on Capitol Hill. There was a great NPR story about it this week, about how is it that the president can get his Iran deal passed with only thirty-four votes. Turns out this sort of thing happens all the time. It's basically, as they said in the conclusion, NPR, when it's majority rule even when the majority-

Robert:                   Except when it isn't.

Mike:                       When the majority decides it's about the majority wanting to vote against something and let it happen anyway, and you should talk to your civics students about that.

Robert:                   That's a really, really good point.

Mike:                       Very interesting. Okay. Lots to talk about. It is back to school time and man, the internets are a brimming with education news. Things are happening. Let's do it. Clara, let's play Pardon the Gadfly.

Clara:                      Last week marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many commentators, and even two American presidents, lauded the progress New Orleans schools have made since then, but has the NOLA miracle been overblown?

Robert:                   You're really going to, we're going to go there?

Mike:                       We're going to go there, Robert.

Robert:                   You want to get me in trouble.

Mike:                       I do, I do. Look, I sometimes feel like we're watching this debate a little bit because so much of it is going on more on the political left - the leftie reformers versus their colleagues on the left who hate reform and throwing mud at each other about whether New Orleans proves that charter schools work, et cetera. You have a piece in this weeks education Gadfly saying yes, it's been a big success story. That doesn't mean, though, that it is something that could be replicable anywhere else.

Robert:                   Yeah. I feel really badly about this. I don't want to cast dispersion. Look, I'm a charter guy. I'm a reform guy. I get it, honestly, I get it, but I've been reading some of the commentary over the last couple of week sand it does strike me that we're in danger of over promising and under delivering here. This was a unique moment in time, right? A devastation school system that was failing even before then, a unique historical opportunity to just change things all at once. When you do that it attracts talent, it attracts money, it attracts attention. I earnestly wonder whether this is a non-replicable situation. Then, there's the other thing that, come on, let's not overpraise the gains. There's good gains in New Orleans. Did I mention those good gains in New Orleans, Mike, because there's good gains in New Orleans. Are we clear on this? There's good gains in New Orleans, but come on. The question I ask in the piece is if you were a low income family of color in America and you want to get a good education for your family, is New Orleans really the place you want to be right now? In no way do I want that to be interpreted as throwing cold water on what they're doing, but I'd rather be in Boston, I'd rather be in New York, I'd rather be in Washington or any number of states.

Mike:                       Let me push back-

Robert:                   Unfair comparison-

Mike:                       No. I think all that makes a ton of sense. Let's admit. If you're in Boston, you're in good shape if you get into the charter school, which is a big if and a place with caps and limits and all the rest. The other question for me is if you are a city, if you are St. Louis, if you are Dayton, if you are Cleveland, if you are Kansas City, and you have a beleaguered school system, is the model New Orleans or is it someplace else? The question is, look, as you said, New Orleans had this huge influx of talent and money. We know working in Ohio it's hard to attract people to some of these other cities.

Robert:                   Absolutely.

Mike:                       That means you need a different strategy. You say how can we make the teachers that are in our own communities as effective as possible? How can we rely on the homegrown talent here? It just takes a different approach. It may be more along what Memphis is doing, for example, or Nashville or some of these places that look like they are starting to build high quality charter sectors, but it's slower. They're smaller, but maybe in this case, the tortoise will win the race.

Robert:                   You know, and the ed reform ideal is driven by a laudable impatience. That's a great, good thing but I just would be less than honest if I didn't say I worried that in this case by using New Orleans as a potential model, we could get into a situation where our grasp is greater than our reach.

Mike:                       Okay. All right, Clara, so you heard it. Robert Pondiscio isn't impressed by the gains in New Orleans. I'm kidding, I'm kidding!

Robert:                   No, but this is what's going to happen, Mike. I'm going to get angry letters.

Mike:                       All right. Topic number two. Maybe Robert can redeem himself with this next one.

Clara:                      Also last week, Fordham released a new report on school governance that catalogs eight different kinds of governance models, from Jeffersonian to Hamiltonian to everything in-between. Is one model of education governance best?

Mike:                       Well, turns out, the answer is no. If there were a best model, that would have made this report much, much more sexier and we would have gotten a lot more press and our listeners would have heard of it already. Look, this is an important report, one I urge you to check out. It's at least a lot of fun to see where your state falls. Basically, what we're trying to do here is catalog the different states.

Robert:                   Did you just use the word fun in the same sentence with governance?

Mike:                       It is, but here's why, especially if you like political philosophy: we named the different categories after political leaders and thinkers. Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, Lincoln-onian - is that even a word, I'm not sure. Locke-ian, Platonic or Plato-ic, I don't know.

Robert:                   Which state was the Kanye model?

Mike:                       None of them, thank goodness. Anyway, that's the fun part. The boring part is digging into governance, and yet it matters. We think it matters. Some of these states, the decisions are made in very centralized ways, in other ways it's pretty fragmented. Some places there's a lot of opportunity for public input, otherwise not. Some states really can claim to be local control states, other states not so much. Yet, when you try to pin down which of these models seems to lead to growing achievement over time, it's just too far disconnected from the classroom. It doesn't mean that governance doesn't matter. The reason that it matters is that at the end of the day when you look at a classroom, when you look at a school, when you look at the people in those buildings and whether they can make decisions and use their judgement, whether they face the right incentives, whether they're being held accountable for results - all of that comes down to governance. We have a system that is hugely fragmented where there are tons of cooks in the kitchen and where, in many cases, those people on the ground cannot use their judgement and make decisions because of all those other people who are trying to make decisions for them.

Robert:                   Okay, so let me put you on the spot. We can't say which model works best, but maybe Mike Petrilli can say which model he likes best.

Mike:                       Which I like best? I have to say, maybe it's my Italian roots, Robert, but I like the more autocratic approaches here in general. Look, I worry about fragmentation a lot. Now, I draw distinction between that in say charter schools and schools of choice where you create opportunities for autonomy and innovation and a smaller scale to get things done. When it comes to setting the rules of the game and regulation and what different people have to do in the system, I do worry about having too many cooks in the kitchen, so I do tend to be more supportive of things that have fewer cooks in the kitchen. I worry about the influence of some adult interest groups like the unions and so I would tend to like governance models that find smart ways to keep them from having more influence than they should to make sure that the needs of kids are a the top of the list. Again, I'm not giving a clear answer, am I?

Robert:                   This is the, "let a thousand flowers bloom".

Mike:                       I'll say this. Keep Hamilton on the currency. Hint, hint, there's my answer. Okay. Topic number three. By the way, I'm totally in favor of having a woman on the currency. I think this is a great idea, just not the ten. On the twenty, get rid of Jackson. Nobody likes Jackson.

Robert:                   You know, you've got a good point there.

Mike:                       There's not fight, but Hamilton? Don't go after Hamilton. Jackson doesn't have a Broadway show named after him.

Robert:                   No, he does not. By the way, go see Hamilton. It's fabulous.

Mike:                       Yeah, and Harriet Tubman would be my vote. However, it has to be pointed out that that was not her actual given name and so, you know, do you notice that?

Robert:                   I did not know that.

Mike:                       Oh no. That was not her born name. That was her name that she took on the Underground Railroad, which I learned by reading a book to my son about the Underground Railroad. Her name was Araminta I believe, and I forget her last name, but Araminta. Minty she went as.

Robert:                   Very good.

Mike:                       But we digress. Topic number three, Clara.

Robert:                   That's what we do here at the Gadfly show.

Clara:                      Education Trust is out with a report on Common Core, reporting that most assignments teachers are giving their students are not well aligned to the more rigorous expectations of the standards. Is it time to panic about implementation?

Mike:                       Panic, Robert, panic!

Robert:                   There was a great moment on The Simpsons. I can't remember the character. "Doctor, is it time to panic?" "Yes, it's time to panic." No it's not time to panic, but look, this is the lens which I view all of this. I'm always more focused on what goes on in the classroom than structures and heavens forfend governance, Mike. I've been saying all along that the political battles over Common Core one thing, but it's going to be won and lost in the classroom. Regardless of anything in this report, kudos to the Education Trust for actually trying to break through the black box and find out what are teachers teaching, what are kids learning. Any time a research report attempts to do that I'm all for it.

                                    That said, I think this is a good report, but I think you have to look at the limitations. It's from memory, something like six schools in two cities, and urban cities. It's the Ed Trust, no surprise there. I'm not sure that it's a good indication of what's going on in K12 at large, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was. The top line finding is that the vast majority of assignments that teachers are assigning are simply not aligned with Common Core. Now, this could get complicated because they looked at a lot of science assignments, a lot of history assignments for example, not necessarily a lot of ELA assignments.

                                    I do worry that there's a little bit of to a hammer everything is a nail-ness about this. In other words, they're looking at everything as if it's an ELA assignment and that may not be fair. One of the things I point out in this weeks education Gadfly is, look, Common Core calls for building background knowledge which is why I love Common Core across the curricula. If the assignments that they're criticizing are doing that then that's a good thing, so you need some context to understanding whether these assignments are good, bad, or indifferent. Again, kudos to the Education Trust for at least doing the hard work of actually looking at implementation because, yeah, I'm concerned about this. I've been concerned about this all along.

Mike:                       If you could get a representative sample of assignments I think that would be a really important data point. It seems more doable than trying to get in there and have a bazillion researchers standing in the back of classrooms and watch what's going on, which of course you'd like to do too but it's just incredibly expensive. We're going to have NAEP results coming out soon, then we'll have it again in 2017. People are going to start asking if you see states making gains or losses is it because of Common Core or not. Boy, wouldn't it be great to have a sample of assignments by state and just try to see is there a relationship there, is that partly what's going on?

Robert:                   You're right. It would be enormously expensive to do this work rigorously and diligently but, boy, somebody should do this. It never ceases to amaze me how little we know about what kids actually do in school all day. It's such a blind spot.

Mike:                       All right, that is all the time we've got this week for Pardon the Gadfly. Now it is time for everybody's favorite, Amber's Research Minute.

Mike:                       Welcome back to the show, Amber.

Amber:                   Thank you, Mike.

Mike:                       Amber, what have you got for us?

Amber:                   All right. We've got a new study out in the Journal of School Choice that explores whether charter schools open in high demand areas of New York City. The latter is viewed along a few dimensions, so it's kind of limited, but this is how they think about it. Whether charters open in high density areas with lots of children, whether they locate in areas with low academic performance, and whether they locate in areas where parental satisfaction is low. The sample includes fifty-six new elementary charter schools that open between 2009 and 2013 as well as 571 traditional elementary schools.

                                    Data sources include a parent satisfaction survey that they I guess give every year out of the New York City department of ed, as well as the school average for math proficiency - that's what they use - and census data on poverty and population, along with this really nifty GIS software. They map parental dissatisfaction with their current school relative to the charter openings in these areas, and then they overlay on top the percent of the population living in poverty. You see all these nifty maps of how they overlay all these different data points.

                                    Results. They find pockets of parental dissatisfaction in southwest Brooklyn, the Bronx, and scattered throughout Queens. Yet, charter-

Robert:                   Which only has one charter school, as I recall.

Amber:                   Really?

Robert:                   I think so.

Amber:                   Yet, charter schools are not opening in these areas when they plotted it out. They tended to open in clusters in the middle of Brooklyn and along a stretch in western Manhattan where parental satisfaction varied, but was in general, moderate to high. Next, they found a modest but imperfect relationship between community poverty and where charters opened. Specifically, a majority of new charters opened in communities with at least 20% of those residents in poverty, but then again, twenty-one new charters opened in areas with less than 20% poverty. Then, they have these really poor areas that had no charters, so they didn't have a real clear pattern there, but the strongest correlation just out of these three things, was between weak math proficiency and charter openings so only seven of the fifty-six new charters that opened during those years located in areas not close to low performing traditional schools. They were opening in areas that had the weak math proficiency.

                                    Finally, they found that many charters opened in somewhat sparsely populated areas, and in many dense areas there were no charters. Analysts concluded that charters appear to open in response to low academic proficiency foremost, and possibly to a combination of low proficiency and concentrated poverty, but not in response to low parental satisfaction. Of course, there's a small discussion at the end that could have been twenty pages long that this is actually pretty complex why charters locate where they do in New York City. It's not just about these things that they happen to be able to measure. Let's talk about there politics, which I'm sure we could talk about surrounding which schools get authorized. We could talk about the cost of real estate in the city and being able to find and afford a building. We could talk about the influence of the charter cap there, although it seems to be fairly generous. We could talk about the overall quality of the charter schools, just being a few. That said, I thought it was interesting because at least we know from this study that it's not apparently in response to parental dissatisfaction.

Mike:                       Hold on, though. I feel like the causal line is going the wrong way here. Isn't it possible that those neighborhoods where the charters are have high parental satisfaction because of the charter schools?

Amber:                   The way that they looked at it, right, was they went ahead, the baseline was before they'd opened.

Mike:                       Okay.

Amber:                   Yeah.

Mike:                       They had these surveys from way before that.

Robert:                   There's a clustering tendency, as well. I still teach one day a week at those charters and in Harlem where I teach, I think it's saturated now. If you want a seat in a charter in Harlem you can get one. Same thing with the South Bronx, same thing with Brooklyn, but then you have to the studies point, I don't think there's a single charter school in Staten Island. Does that mean that there's no need, no dissatisfaction? Highly unlikely. I think in the entire borough of Queens which if I'm not mistaken is the second, maybe third most populace borough in New York City, one charter school. They are definitely clustered, but that's a clever study.

Mike:                       It's interesting. Of course, the facilities piece is huge. Of course they're not in dense areas. Those places are frickin' expensive in New York City. Thankfully, in New York, I assume that still lots of the city, kids can get to schools even outside their neighborhoods because there's a robust public transportation system. It's not crazy to try to locate your school not necessarily right where the kids live, but maybe someplace centrally located where you can draw from lots of different neighborhoods. Good stuff. Anytime people can use a map we're in favor of that.

Amber:                   The GIS stuff is really cool, right? It's kind of limited because they were only able to look at a handful of things, but still. You'd think they'd look at the parental satisfaction. You'd think maybe that might be one data point that you'd look at.

Mike:                       It's interesting. Eventually, we need to do a map study here.

Amber:                   I do. I think we could I'm not the one to do it but, hey, we're hiring for a new graphic person with some info-graphic experience.

Mike:                       I thought a map of where DC's education policy wonks live could be kind of interesting.

Robert:                   For what reason? So we could do one of those Hollywood style bus tours?

Mike:                       Yes!

Robert:                   Here is Michael Petrilli's home.

Mike:                       Let's go visit Randi Winegarden's apartment! Yes! Why not?

Robert:                   Let me know how that works out for you.

Mike:                       Hey, you guys have nothing to lose. Neither one of you lives here.

Amber:                   Nope. Not taking Amtrak out to my house.

Mike:                       All right. That is all the time we've got for this week. Until next week-

Robert:                   I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Mike:                       I'm Mike Petrilli, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.

The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina provided a much-needed occasion to reflect on the progress of the city’s schools since the floodwaters receded. One of the most important questions is whether New Orleans can stand as a national model for those seeking to transform the education—and therefore the life outcomes—of low-income children of color. I’m not completely sold yet.

In the wake of the storm, New Orleans’s education system was rebuilt virtually from scratch. More than one hundred low-performing schools were placed under the jurisdiction of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD), which was created in 2003 to take over and reverse the fortunes of chronically disappointing public schools throughout the state. At a stroke, the city’s public school system was functionally transformed; today it’s a virtually all-charter “replacement district.” More than 90 percent of New Orleans public school students attend a charter school, with the RSD overseeing 70 percent of the city’s overall K–12 student population.

When reform-friendly commenters and cheerleading journalists write about the NOLA transformation, it’s become de rigueur to offer a standard qualifier--words to the effect of, “We still have a long way to go, but…” In this...

In the CRPE debate between Paul Hill and Robin Lake on the issue of charter back-fill, Paul's right. Robin, as always, makes excellent points and raises legitimate concerns. But in the grand trade-off they're debating—whether "high-output" charters should be able to be choosy about which kids they retain and what they do with vacancies that arise during the year—Paul makes the more persuasive argument, at least when judged by what's good for the kids who stand to benefit most from these schools. If we keep their interests squarely in front of us, we must wind up agreeing with Paul: "When drawing from a highly at-risk population, it is not easy to identify kids who will do the work a priori. It’s one thing for a student and family to promise daily attendance and completion of all assignments, but quite another to deliver. A high-output school has to let those kids who won’t fulfill their obligations go elsewhere, unless it is willing to abandon requirements that it considers essential to full college preparation. It should be free to fill seats that become vacant with kids who have a good chance of succeeding in the school, but shouldn’t be forced to fill vacancies."...