Charters & Choice

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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Less time with your kids, more time watching your kids from afar

Mike offers up stellar parenting advice after he and Brickman take on homelessness, making pre-K worth the bucks, and the idea of the student-data backpack. Amber shares the knowledge on charter market share.

Amber's Research Minute

A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities, Eighth Annual Edition by National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, (Washington, D.C.: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, December 2013).

Common Core & Curriculum Controversies

Does three times four equal eleven? Will "fuzzy math" leave our students two years behind other countries? Will literature vanish from the English class? Is gifted-and-talented education dying? A barrel of rumors and myths about curriculum has made its way into discussions of the Common Core...

Less time with your kids, more time watching your kids from afar

Mike offers up stellar parenting advice after he and Brickman take on homelessness, making pre-K worth the bucks, and the idea of the student-data backpack. Amber shares the knowledge on charter market share.

Amber's Research Minute

A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities, Eighth Annual Edition by National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, (Washington, D.C.: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, December 2013).

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.

SOURCE: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities, Eighth Annual Edition (Washington, D.C.: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, December 2013)....

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Checker Finn, chagrined at the lack of attention to gifted education in the U.S., has decided to study what other nations do. His initial assessment is that we’re not the only one giving high-ability kids minimal thought. Such a strange, unfortunate phenomenon.

With the failure of SIG, we need a Plan B ASAP for kids in failing schools. I’ve long argued for a massive new schools strategy. (More on this to come in an upcoming blog post.) If you’re likeminded or intrigued by the idea of the starting-fresh approach, check out the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ ESEA-reauthorization recommendations. This is a blueprint for Plan B.

I think single-purpose chartering bodies are the future. In fact, I think all public schools (and all private schools participating in voucher or tax-credit programs) should have performance contracts with them (more on this in an upcoming AEI paper). NACSA has a terrific short policy brief on such independent chartering boards. Check it out.

If you follow the increasing use of Value-Added Measures (VAMs) and Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) in state-, district-, school-, and teacher-accountability systems, read this very good new Mathematica working paper. There’s high correlation between the two, but there are important differences in how teacher ratings shake out based on differences in student populations. Important and fascinating implications.

Ten years ago, TNTP released its first report, Missed Opportunities, which I vividly remember reading in disbelief—urban districts were...

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America’s approach to the education of children with disabilities is antiquated, costly, and...

I’m halfway through an ambitious research project, in which I examine how other countries...

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When the Department of Education began offering No Child Left Behind waivers in 2011, states...

The Grand European Engagement

Michelle, freshly returned from a trip to Madrid and Prague (with an extra piece of jewelry on her hand), chats with Mike about special education, career and technical education, and pension reform. Amber reviews an obscure cross-sectional Dutch analysis on the multicollinearity inherent in the study of the learning habits of three- to five-year-old children of blacksmiths—just kidding! It’s PISA week, baby.

Amber's Research Minute

Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Mathematics, Science, and Reading Literacy in an International Context: First Look at PISA 2012 by Dana Kelly et al., (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, December 2013).

For a decade, the nonprofit Institute for Innovation in Public Choice (IIPSC) has helped the cities of New York, Boston, Denver, and New Orleans bring order to the Wild West of school choice, using the one-two punch of economic theory and custom software. To match students with seats in public schools—either district or charter—the IIPSC builds algorithms that employ three kinds of data: the schools that families want their kids to attend, the number of available seats in every grade at each school, and each schools’ admissions rules. Newly flush with a $1.2 million grant from the Dell Foundation, the IIPSC plans to expand into Philadelphia, Washington, and possibly Detroit. Hat tip!

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education released proposed priorities for a new competitive grant program for charter school support organizations, to come from the annual “national activities fund.” These priorities highlight what the Department deems to be the “key policy issues facing charter schools on a national scale,” and they include gaining efficiency through economies of scale, improving accountability, providing quality education to students with disabilities an English language learners, and supporting personalized technology-enabled learning. While these are important policies at the surface level, it is unclear what the long-term implications and unintended consequences may be of focusing grant making solely on the bigger charter entities and whether smaller, unaffiliated charter schools will realize any benefits.

On Wednesday, President Obama delivered a big speech on inequality, in which he brought up...

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The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released a study that seeks to better understand the decision-making processes of parents who send their children to private schools. The authors hypothesize that if state and local governments empower parents to choose the schools of their choice, a “spontaneous education order”—a state in which parents seek information about schools and in which schools make available the necessary information without public officials’ intentional intervention—will arise. Accountability, they speculate, will take care of itself.

To test this theory, they use survey data from 754 parents whose children received scholarships through the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program (GOAL). The survey sought to identify the factors involved in parents’ decisions and the types of data that informed those decisions.

GOAL was established in 2008 under Georgia’s Education Expense Credit Program. Under the law, taxpayers may receive a state income tax credit for contributions made to qualified “Student Scholarship Organizations” (SSOs). SSOs use these funds to award private school scholarships to families.

The law places no limits on recipients’ household incomes (i.e., it’s not “means-tested” for low-income families), and in fact the average adjusted gross income of recipient families was $51,923, slightly higher than the state’s 2012 median income. Scholarship recipients are approximately 60 percent white, 25 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 10 percent unknown/other.

Of the 2,685 families who had at least one child receiving a GOAL scholarship in 2013, only 754 provided complete data (a response rate of 28 percent). Survey respondents were...

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Jay Greene wants school-choice supporters to relax the testing mandates in the newest and largest voucher programs in the nation. Specifically, these programs require participating students to take their state’s public school assessment, which Greene likens to adhering to a “state vision of a good education.”

Let’s hope these supporters reject his appeal. It’s taken quite a push to get where we are now: a level of accountability in relatively few private school choice programs that may be partly responsible for their success and their political support. Hitting the reverse button would only halt the current momentum of the choice movement, while removing one of the few quality-control mechanisms in place for these programs.

To be sure, Professor Greene is not the first to raise concerns about the use of state assessments. His argument is by now familiar: Forcing government test mandates on private schools dilutes what makes these schools private and will force all schools to become cookie-cutter copies. What if families want something other than the state vision of a good education “encapsulated in state standards and testing?” Greene writes.

It’s not an unreasonable concern; Mike Petrilli, for instance, once pondered the conflict between public education’s “two p’s”—parents and the public. Allowing parents to access a multitude of choices—and not forcing them into the Procrustean Bed of public school—is one of the reasons those of us at Fordham support this reform.

But how much of a threat are the state tests in terms of...

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