Charters & Choice

In the age of college- and career-ready standards, the education reform community is finally jumping on the career and technical education (CTE) bandwagon—and with good reason. As Mike Petrilli recently noted, “The best CTE programs, like Career Academies, tend to do a better job with both career skills and academic skills, and create a glide path for students into postsecondary education of the technical variety. Long-term outcomes are very promising, especially for low-income students and African American boys.” But what makes a good CTE program, and how can we ensure that students are benefiting from them?

Reading Visher and Stern’s policy brief is a good place to start. The authors meticulously describe existing CTE programs across the country, focusing on two approaches to CTE: systemic approaches and discrete programs. The former are usually state-driven, less rigid, partner-focused (typically with colleges and communities), and reach a large number of students. Examples are Linked Learning and California Partnership Academies. The latter are usually school-based, such as Career Academies and small schools of choice in New York City

CTE has the benefit of being the “both/and” of education reform: It can be for both college and career, and for all students....

Rick Santorum announced his second presidential bid on Wednesday. He joined six other candidates in the crowded GOP field—which sits in stark contrast to the Hillary Clinton-dominated Democratic race. He’s also the subject of the tenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Santorum is a seasoned politician. He began his career in 1991 as a two-term congressman and went on to serve two terms in the Senate. In 2012, he ran for president for the first time and finished as the runner-up in the Republican primaries. He has homeschooled six of his children and voiced strong opinions about education. Here are some of them:

1. Common Core: “We need Common Sense not Common Core....From its beginning, the Common Core State Standards initiative has flown under the radar. Its funding, its implementation, and the substance of the standards it proposes have received little public attention, but all of them are wrong for families, wrong for...

Darned USPS.

It appears that back in 2001 or so, now-Governor of Delaware Jack Markell wrote an opinion piece about private school choice. Because of some snafu at the post office, his letter just recently made it to Education Week.

Though some education issues are evergreen (say, the importance of highly effective teachers and strong content standards), much has changed over the last decade-plus in the world of private school choice. Unfortunately, for Markell (well, and for all of us), his out-of-date column was published.

If the governor could call a do-over, I’m sure he’d make adjustments in at least four areas.

First, he argued for limiting choice to the public system—“among traditional, charter, and magnet schools.” Obviously, 2001 Markell couldn’t have known that the public schools sector would be unable to create the number of seats needed. Indeed, as of last year, more than a million students were on charter waitlists nationwide.

Moreover, there’s no way he could have foreseen that future governors who claimed to support public school choice would actually take action to inhibit charter growth. For example, the Markell of 2001 never would have predicted that the Markell of 2015 would ...

In 2012, Denver and New Orleans became the first two cities in the country to utilize a common enrollment system that included both district-run and charter schools. A new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) takes a look at the benefits, limitations, and implications of these common enrollment systems. Both cities are widely regarded as leaders in developing well-functioning school marketplaces; for example, a recent Brookings institution report awarded New Orleans top marks in its “education choice and competition index” (Denver was rated sixth-best out of more than one hundred metropolitan areas).

In both cities, the enrollment systems were designed to make choosing a school a clearer and fairer process for all families. They employ a single application with a single deadline that parents use to apply for any and all schools within the city.  But the systems themselves are different: In New Orleans, students have no assigned school; instead, every family must use the OneApp to apply for schools. In Denver, however, choice is voluntary—students receive a default assignment, but the SchoolChoice application allows families (if they want) to apply to any public school in the city.

Despite these differences, both...

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s at it again, stumping in Brooklyn churches on behalf of a tax break aimed at kids attending private schools. The initiative would extend middle class families credits of up to $500 for each child enrolled in private schools, including parochial schools; donors to nonprofits funding scholarships to such institutions would also receive some relief. Unfortunately, it’s a great policy in search of a credible advocate: Cuomo’s recent tumble in the polls has been directly tied to his education policies, especially his insistence on chaining teacher evaluations and tenure even more closely to standardized tests. That’s really not a great idea (though it’s probably not as bad as interfering with your own ethics commission). The proposal now has Cardinal Timothy Dolan praying for it, which should help its prospects. But the governor’s approval ratings could need something even stronger than divine intervention.
  • So do the students of the Normandy Schools Collaborative, a Missouri district that demonstrates perfectly why some parents feel they have to desperately scrimp to help their children escape from public schools. A heartbreaking article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch details one diligent student’s lost year at
  • ...

According to a paper released this week by the American Enterprise Institute, charter authorizers are putting too many meaningless application requirements on organizations that propose to open schools, thereby limiting school autonomy and creating far too much red tape.

The report shares lessons, provides authorizer Dos and Don’ts, and divides charter application criteria into categories of appropriate and inappropriate based on AEI’s analysis of application requirements from forty authorizers around the land. The authors conclude that:

  • Charter applications could be streamlined to eliminate one-quarter of existing content
  • Authorizers may mistake length for rigor
  • The authorizer’s role is sometimes unclear
  • While there is much authorizer lip service for innovation, the application process doesn’t lend itself to fleshing out truly innovative school models

AEI correctly notes the importance of the authorizer’s role as gatekeeper for new schools and points out that authorizers should establish clear goals, hold schools accountable, review key aspects of school applications for developer capacity, and monitor compliance and finances. Authorizers shouldn’t see themselves as venture capitalists, assume the role of school management consultants, deem themselves curriculum experts, or feel entitled to include pet issues in applications.

All true, and all wise. Where it gets sticky—and where this report...

Last week, Fordham hosted Robert Putnam for a discussion of his new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, which argues that a growing opportunity gap is leaving many American children behind. Watch the replay of the event, or read the transcript of the event below.

Michael Petrilli:              

Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon. My name is Mike Petrilli. I am the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. For those of you that don’t know us, we are an educational policy think tank. We are based here in Washington, D.C. but we also do on-the-ground work in the great state of Ohio which also features prominently in Dr. Putnam’s book. You can shout out for Ohio, that’s okay. Yes, and just as long as it’s not Ohio State, that’s another story. But Thomas B. Fordham was an industrialist way back in the day in Dayton, Ohio, so we have a mission to do on-the-ground school reform work in Ohio. We push for educational reform out of Columbus and we are...

Since its birth in 1997, Ohio’s charter school program has been on a bumpy ride. Overall sector quality has been mixed, and Ohio charters have been bogged down by controversy, some of it based on partisan politics. But a new day is dawning for the Buckeye State’s charter schools. State policymakers have begun to embrace charter governance reforms. Governor Kasich and the legislature—with support from both parties—have worked together to craft legislative proposals that, if enacted, would remedy Ohio’s broken charter school law and create new incentives aimed at expanding high-quality charters throughout the state. Presently, the Ohio Senate is considering the charter reform bills.

We at Fordham have voiced our loud and clear support for charter reform in Ohio. But we’re not the only voices seeking big changes. In addition to support from key policymakers, editorial boards, and business organizations, the leaders at some of the Buckeye State’s very finest charter schools have also taken a stand and are demanding change as well. At committee hearings in the Senate on May 6 and the House on March 11, legislators heard from three leaders of Ohio’s high-quality urban charters. Here are some highlights of...

Whenever I review compelling research, I end up mentally pairing it with a corresponding work of literature. Maybe it’s the liberal arts student in me (or maybe it’s because I flunked stats and require an alternative frame of reference). Take for example this study of comparative school funding and performance in Nashville, which brought Dickens to mind almost immediately. Compiled by the education advisory firm Afton Partners on behalf of the Tennessee Charter School Center, it makes perfectly clear that for this city’s charters, it’s both the best of times and the worst of times. “Mean academic performance for all grades is significantly higher for charter-managed schools,” it reads, “though MNPS [Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools] spent approximately $100 more per pupil on district-managed schools.”

A measly c-note may not sound like much—in this instance, it’s the difference between roughly $9,800 and $9,700 annually—but that discrepancy only represents one chapter of this twisted tale of two funding standards. The per-pupil analysis doesn’t include a $73 million gap in capital support between district schools and charters. Meanwhile, those same neglected charters are reporting mean scores on the APF (Academic Performance Framework, a statewide metric that includes test scores, graduation rates, college readiness,...

Greg Richmond

When bad schools close, families usually get something better.

That’s what the Thomas B. Fordham Institute asserts in its April 2015 study School Closures and Student Achievement, using new research conducted in both traditional and charter public schools located in Ohio’s large urban school districts.

For more than fifty years, passionate educators, scholars, and community leaders who rue school failure have agreed on very little when it comes to the best way to reform our education system. But most could agree on this: Kids shouldn’t have to go to schools that consistently fail them year after year.

 So why is closing schools the last thing anyone wants to consider? If we don’t want kids in consistently failing schools, and we know they can go somewhere better, what’s the hold-up?

Recent polling suggests most people have a “fix the school we have” mentality, supporting retooling schools over closure or complete overhaul. They see closure as extreme and counterproductive, a sign of giving up on community-based public schools.

While I sympathize with the desire to fix what we have rather than start over, I always get stuck on one simple problem: time.

In “fix the school we have” scenarios, we...