Charters & Choice

Thank you Chairman Cupp, Ranking Member Phillips and members of the House Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education for giving me the opportunity to present testimony on House Bill 64. My name is Chad Aldis, and I am the Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

In general, we are supportive of most of Governor Kasich’s proposed education changes. Some of the provisions that we believe are critically important include:

  • Taking tangible steps to reduce the amount of standardized/state testing without weakening our state accountability system
  • Providing regulatory relief to schools
  • Moving toward reducing the impact of caps and guarantees in the state funding formula, as they distort the needs of districts and build funding inefficiencies into the system
  • Opening the door (and providing funding) for schools to experiment with competency-based/mastery learning
  • Strengthening the EdChoice voucher program
  • Improving Ohio’s charter school sector

To expound a little bit on the charter reforms: Fordham has spent a significant amount of time over the past year looking at Ohio’s charter school sector and has sponsored national experts to study the state’s charter schools. With that research in mind, we believe that some of the provisions proposed...

A torrent of complaints has been levelled against testing in recent months. Some of the criticism is associated with the PARCC exams, Ohio’s new English and math assessments for grades 3–8 and high school. The grumbling over testing isn’t a brand new phenomenon. In fact, it’s worth noting that in 2004, Ohioans were grousing about the OGTs! In the face of the latest iteration of the testing backlash, we should remember why standardized tests are essential. The key reasons, as I see them, are objectivity, comparability, and accountability.

Reason 1: Objectivity

At their core, standardized exams are designed to be objective measures. They assess students based on a similar set of questions, are given under nearly identical testing conditions, and are graded by a machine or blind reviewer. They are intended to provide an accurate, unfiltered measure of what a student knows.

Now, some have argued that teachers’ grades are sufficient. But the reality is that teacher grading practices can be wildly uneven across schools—and even within them. For instance, one math teacher might be an extraordinarily lenient grader, while another might be brutally hard: Getting an A means something very different. Teacher grading can be subjective...

  1. While we rarely say “no thanks” to a media hit here at Fordham, sometimes we do worry about getting swept into stories by association with the topic. To wit: Fordham is namechecked and our two commissioned reports on charter school performance from December are referenced in this Dispatch piece first published Tuesday morning. It is about the Center for Education Reform’s new study of laws and policies in the 42 states (and the District of Columbia) that allow charter schools. Now Ohio’s grade of “C” stinks, no question, but the original version of this piece erroneously gave Ohio’s rank as 28 out of 43. The entire story – including Fordham’s namecheck – proceeded from this rank. Only, it’s wrong. Ohio’s rank was actually 14 out of 43. Still a “C”, still stinky, but an entirely different conversation should have arisen out of a top-15 finish, especially in regard to what is currently happening in every part of state government in Ohio to fix some long-standing problems. The same likely cannot be said of many other states. (Columbus Dispatch, 3/17/15)
     
  2. Speaking of that work to reform Ohio’s charter school law – it continues apace. HB 2 – the standalone
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Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series of personal reflections on the current state of education reform and contemporary conservatism by Andy Smarick, a Bernard Lee Schwartz senior policy fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The previous posts in this series can be seen hereherehereherehere, here, and here.

Many reformers work to ensure that every child has access to great schools. Similar universal aspirations have inspired countless others—the recognition of unalienable rights, the elimination of poverty, the fair distribution of resources.

Indeed, the question of how to define and realize “justice” has consumed philosophers for centuries. A key lesson from this Everest of scholarship is that all approaches require tradeoffs.

Unfortunately, our field doesn’t talk much about tradeoffs, and we certainly don’t talk about philosophy. You’ll not find in your conference program, “Plato, Aquinas, and Nietzsche: The Metaphysics of Annual Testing.”

But this is not to say that reform is philosophy-free. Conservatives led this movement twenty-five years ago; their skepticism of government monopolies and public sector unions and commitment to empowering parents and diversifying options owed much to Smith, Mill, and Friedman. 

Today, progressives dominate education reform, and progressivism is stirred...

  1. We told you last week of Akron City Schools’ new plan to start an online charter school – with the help of a county ESC and Reynoldsburg City Schools – as indicated in their new itemized budget. On Friday, the Beacon-Journal spilled more of the beans and gave us not only program details, but rationale from district officials. They are aiming to recruit “300 elementary students they’ve identified as living in Akron but either home-schooled or attending a charter school” and “40 Akron high school students who have fallen behind on graduation credits.” What could be a godsend for Akron parents and their kids – a real way to do school differently for children already looking for/needing something other than the status quo – is reduced to the usual charter/e-school bashing. Good luck everyone. (Akron Beacon-Journal, 3/13/15)
     
  2. Speaking of charter schools, editors in Toledo opined on charter reform efforts this weekend. I was kind of hoping the title of the editorial was a subtle Monty Python reference, but after reading it I don’t think so. While the editorial takes aim at charter, I can’t help but think many of the same arguments apply to district schools. Feel
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Across the nation, the monopoly of traditional school districts over public education is slowly eroding. Trust-busting policies like public charter schools and vouchers have given parents and students more options than ever before. But how vibrant are school marketplaces in America’s largest districts?

Now in its fourth year, the Education Choice and Competition Index is one of the best examinations of educational markets, rating the hundred most populous districts along four key dimensions: (1) access to school options; (2) processes that align student preferences with schools (e.g., common applications, clear information on schools); (3) policies that favor the growth of popular schools, such as funds following students; and (4) subsidies for poor families.

The top-rated district, you ask? The Recovery School District in New Orleans won top marks in 2014, as it has in the two prior years. New York City and Newark, New Jersey, are close behind the Big Easy. The study commends these cities for their ample supply of school options—and just as importantly, for policies that support quality choice. For instance, this trio of cities (along with Denver) has adopted an algorithm that optimally matches student preferences with school assignments. Impressive stuff from which...

It’s been a great year for the Buckeye State. LeBron is back—and the Cavs are rolling into the playoffs. The Ohio State University knocked off the Ducks in the national championship, the economy is heating up, and heck, state government actually has more than eighty-nine cents in its rainy day fund.

But if you’ve been following the education headlines, you might feel a little down. The fight over Common Core and assessments continues to be bruising. Legislators are seriously scrutinizing the state’s problematic charter school law. Various scandals continue to plague local schools, and we’re not that far removed from the meltdown in Columbus City Schools. To shake off the wintertime education blues, I offer my list of the top five most exciting things happening in Ohio education today.

1. Four for Four Schools

In 2013–14, forty Ohio schools made a clean sweep on the four value-added components of the state’s school report cards, receiving an A on each one. This is an impressive feat. These schools had to demonstrate significant contributions not only to overall student growth, but also for their special needs, gifted, and low-achieving students. (Starting two years ago, Ohio began to rate schools on an...

Across the nation, the monopoly of traditional school districts over public education is slowly eroding. Trust-busting policies like public charter schools and vouchers have given parents and students more options than ever before. But how vibrant are school marketplaces in America’s largest districts? Now in its fourth year, the Education Choice and Competition Index is one of the best examinations of educational markets, rating the hundred most populous districts along four key dimensions: (1) access to school options; (2) processes that align student preferences with schools (e.g., common applications, clear information on schools); (3) policies that favor the growth of popular schools, such as funds following students; and (4) subsidies for poor families. The top-rated district, you ask? The Recovery School District in New Orleans won top marks in 2014, as it has in the two prior years. New York City and Newark, New Jersey, are close behind the Big Easy. The study commends these cities for their ample supply of school options—and just as importantly, for policies that support quality choice. For instance, this trio of cities (along with Denver) has adopted an algorithm that optimally matches student preferences with school assignments. All impressive stuff from...

Inter-district open enrollment (OEI) is a little-discussed school choice option (and the oldest choice program in Ohio) whereby districts open their schools to students from outside their jurisdiction. Today, 81.5 percent of all school districts in the state offer some form of open enrollment, yet there has been little formal evaluation of such programs, especially in terms of student achievement. Ronald Iarussi, head of the Mahoning County Education Service Center, and Karen Larwin, a professor at Youngstown State University, looked at ten years of student-level data in Mahoning County districts that offer open enrollment and examined the achievement of students utilizing the option. This is particularly important because Mahoning County has the second-highest OEI utilization numbers in the state. Achievement was defined as standardized assessment scores on state exams (reading, math, science, social science, and writing) for grades 3–8 as well as high school. Three findings stand out: 1) Students who left their home district for open enrollment performed at similar levels as those remaining in the home district; 2) students who left their home district for open enrollment performed, on average, slightly above their peers in that new district, even if they arrived in their new district...

Cheers to State Auditor Dave Yost, for going there. Charter law reform is a cause célèbre in Ohio. An influential report, a determined governor, and two bills being heard in House committees all feature excellent reform provisions, mostly in the “sponsor-centric” realm. But last week, Yost laid out some reform provisions that only an auditor would think of—things like accounting practice changes, attendance reporting changes, and defining the public/private divide inherent in many charter schools’ operations. These are all welcome additions to the ongoing debate from an arm of state government directly concerned with auditing charter schools.

Jeers to Mansfield City Schools, for nitpicking Yost and his team as they attempt to help the district avert fiscal disaster. Mansfield has been in fiscal emergency for over a year, and their finances are under the aegis of a state oversight committee. Yost’s team identified $4.7 million in annual savings opportunities. Instead of getting to work on implementing as many of those changes as possible, district administrators last week decided to pick holes in the methodology and timing of the report. Kind of like the teenager who swears “I’m going” just as Dad finally loses his cool. And the fiscal...

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