Charters & Choice

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

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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.

Tomorrow morning, some of you are going to feel bad about yourselves for tonight’s debauch. Not much I can do for headaches and queasy stomachs, but I can help you insulate your self-esteem: Read these five things before the festivities. You’ll head into the evening knowing you smartened yourself up. And tomorrow, when someone looks at your haggard visage and says, “Last year went out with a bang, huh?” you can say, “Yes, indeed. I did some high-quality edu-reading.”

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I’ve obviously made up my mind about SIG and other school turnaround efforts.

But I suspect many others are still wondering if turnaround attempts are a sensible strategy for creating more high-quality seats for kids in need. And I’m sure there are lots of folks curious why SIG has shown such paltry results so far.

If you’re in either camp, you really ought to take a look at a new report from A+ Schools and Democrats for Education Reform–Colorado, Colorado's Turnaround Schools 2010 - 2013: Make a Wish. It adds fuel to the fire of my anti-turnaround argument, but it also helps explain why $5 billion in SIG funds are producing so little.

According to the report, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) was virtually indiscriminate when handing out SIG grants. If a school applied, it won. At first, the state was evidently making awards without a rating system or even a scoring rubric. When it finally did develop a system, it didn’t have much of an effect—those seeking funds got awards no matter how flawed their applications or budgets. In year four (2013), CDE again approved 100 percent of requests.

In the report’s words, “Accountability at the state and federal level has taken a backseat to trying to spend the funds quickly and support schools.”

And so the results aren’t surprising. About a quarter of early winners are actually doing worse than they were pre-award. And based on student-growth measures, schools getting these...

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Earlier this week, the New York Times featured an editorial on gifted education, noting that even our best students were in the middle of the pack in the recent PISA results. (Mike Petrilli pointed this out two weeks earlier.) The Times went on to discuss how our younger students generally fare better on global tests than our older students, indicative of our failure to nurture high flyers as they progress in education, and made four recommendations for improving gifted education: increasing government funding, expanding accelerated learning (including the possibility of online and video learning in rural areas), early college admission, and psychological coaching (citing research that suggests gifted kids should receive mentorship in order to learn how to handle stress, setbacks, and criticism). Stay tuned for additional lessons on how our international peers educate their high-ability youngsters.

Large school districts in California worry that they will lose out on state funding because of a new rule about verifying students’ poverty status. Part of California’s revamped school-funding system significantly weighted by income, this particular rule requires parents to turn in documentation on their own income status that the district then compiles. The problem is, parents seem reluctant to divulge such personal information or are confused about the paperwork.

The Louisiana legislative auditor this week said the state’s voucher program has too few quality controls. Namely, auditor Daryl Purpera said the legislature should ensure...

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As ESEA waivers change the school-accountability landscape, charter authorizers need to take the opportunity to rethink how we too can measure school progress. Ohio, as part of its Title I waiver, moved to an “A” to “F” rating system for schools, is implementing new standards and assessments, and is providing some flexibility around various reporting requirements. Ohio has also developed a new report card for schools that reports on—among other measures—AP/IB participation rates, student growth in multiple categories, gap closing, honors diplomas, industry credentials, and graduation rates. This revamp at the federal and state levels has, in turn, compelled us at Fordham to reconsider how we structure our own accountability plans for the eleven charter schools we authorize. This tension is captured in our recent report, Remodeled Report Cards, Remaining Challenges.

As per Ohio’s new school report card, the Buckeye State now deploys and reports on a slew of academic measures, including value-added scores for gifted students, students with disabilities, low-income students, and low-performing students. All are part of state accountability. Should they also be part of charter-to-authorizer accountability? Should we hold our charter schools to account for improving their performance on every measure that the state throws into its report card? When it comes to important authorizer decisions about schools—renewing their charters, putting them on probation, or letting them add grades or additional campuses, for example—what matters more: proficiency rates or growth? What about IB and AP passing rates? Graduation rates?

Looking at our authorized...

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According to the newest assessment from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools regarding the charter sector’s share of the public school market, the number of school districts where at least 20 percent of students attend charters has increased about 350 percent since 2005. In thirty-two districts, at least one in five public school students is enrolled in a charter.

In New Orleans and Detroit (and, very soon, Washington, D.C.), the majority of public school pupils are charter students. The good news is that the top ten cities in terms of charter market share include some of the nation’s highest-performing charter sectors (New Orleans, D.C., and Indianapolis). The bad news is that some of the worst performers turn up on that list, too (namely, Philadelphia and three districts in Ohio, a state whose laggard charter performance has been well documented by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes and my colleagues at the Fordham Institute).

When announcing this growth, NAPCS chief executive Nina Rees protested that nearly one million students are on charter waiting lists. Her lament is justified. But quantity and quality still aren’t matching up the way they should in this growing movement.

Two years ago, my Fordham colleagues Mike Petrilli and Ty Eberhardt also examined the progress of the charter sector but questioned its quality controls and urged charter leaders and policymakers to consider three main areas of reform: a) strengthening charter school authorizing, b) creating “smart caps” and...

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Arbitrary caps on the number of charter schools or charter school students are still bad ideas. At Fordham, we've consistently said so and kept a watchful eye on the fights to remove them. The idea hardly even belongs in conversations about education policy and, instead, represents a kind of education politics that comes about as part of the sometimes-ugly deal making necessary to enact or preserve reform. 

Charter school caps and an unhealthy emphasis on market share go hand in hand. A study out this week from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that a majority of students in both New Orleans (79 percent) and Detroit (51 percent) are in charter schools. Additionally, the District of Columbia continues to inch closer, with 43 percent of its students in charters during the last school year. While this may be seen as good news, especially given that all three cities have charter sectors that outperform their district counterparts, even those cities have individual charter schools that shouldn't be operating. Part of the reason the debate over ideas like school choice can be so contentious is that when one side says charter schools in a given city are great and the other side says they are terrible, both are right—because each sector (traditional, charter, and private) in every city has both strong and weak exemplars.

A cap restricts charter school growth and is blind to quality. While it's pretty straightforward to recognize that a cap might prevent a quality charter school from expanding, the reality is likely even more destructive. If...

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I can’t tell you how much I like the annual charter school “market-share” report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. It’s my favorite annual publication. They document how chartering has grown over the last year in major cities and show fascinating facts like which cities have the largest charter market shares, which cities’ market shares are growing fastest, and more. So much here to explore, but the biggest eye-popper is that we now have two cities in which charters are the majority school sector—NOLA and Detroit. Andy Eduwonk hosted a conference on charters in Charlottesville, VA, in 2003, and several pre-read papers contemplated a day far into the future when a city might have 10 percent of their kids attending charters. Today, there are 135 such cities. And in 32 cities, 20 percent of public school kids are in charters. The Urban School System of the Future is coming.

Bain & Company has an interesting paper out on districts’ pitiful performance in preparing principals. Big headline: A majority of schools fail to systematically develop their high-quality teachers into high-potential leaders (some districts and a number of CMOs are much better, but they are the outliers). Common roadblocks include a lack of encouragement for teachers to pursue these roles and infrequent feedback and coaching. The report frequently notes how other fields and sectors thoughtfully build succession plans—so why haven’t we done it in K–12? Something to ponder.

As in the U.S.,...

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