Charters & Choice

During his time in the United States, Pope Francis will make a quiet stop at East Harlem’s Our Lady Queen of Angels. His visit to this 120-year-old elementary school, which educates an overwhelmingly low-income and minority student body, underscores the Church’s centuries-long commitment to the disadvantaged. But it will also shine a light on an unreported story in urban education: the budding renaissance of Catholic schools.

For fifty years, inner-city Catholic schools have been shuttering, victims of shifting city demographics, changes in the workforce, the advent of charter schooling, and much more. Impoverished families have too few accessible school options to begin with, so this erosion of parochial schools has been especially painful. A substantial body of evidence shows that Catholic schools have an unusual ability to help underserved kids succeed. Newer research suggests that longstanding urban Catholic schools foster social capital outside their walls, helping to decrease crime and other societal ills.

In the early 1970s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (a White House adviser at the time) saw a looming crisis and warned President Nixon about the tragic consequences if these schools disappeared. Little was done; as a White House aide thirty-five years later, I was...

In the fall of 1996, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) implemented a new accountability system that placed 20 percent of its schools on “probation.” Poor reading test scores made up the sole criterion for censure and those scarlet-lettered schools were plastered on the front page of both Chicago newspapers. A new study by Peter Rich and Jennifer Jennings of NYU takes a look at enrollment changes in these “probation schools,” both before and after the imposition of the new accountability system. The authors attempt to determine if the addition of new information (“this school is not performing up to par”) motivated more or different school change decisions among families.

1996 may seem like ancient history to education reformers, but the study illustrates the perennial power of information to motivate school choice decisions. In 1996, CPS had (and still does) an open enrollment policy that allows any family to choose any school in the district other than their assigned one, provided there is space available. Since the district provided no transportation to students either before or after the policy was imposed, that issue was moot. The number of schools and seats within the district also stayed the same. In other words,...

During the summer of 2012, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 525 into law. The bill, dubbed the Cleveland Plan, implemented aggressive reforms aimed at substantially improving academic performance in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). The plan focused on four strategies: growing the number of high-performing schools while closing and replacing failing schools; investing and phasing in educational reforms from pre-K to college and career; shifting authority and resources to individual schools; and creating the Cleveland Transformation Alliance (CTA), a nonprofit responsible for supporting implementation and holding schools accountable. Soon after the bill was passed, Cleveland voters approved a four-year, $15 million levy to support the plan.

Soon, the district will need to go back to the voters to renew the levy that passed in 2012. District leaders have been working hard to demonstrate enough progress on their goals to maintain community support, and they’re right that several promising signs of progress exist. But Cleveland has long been one of the worst-performing districts in the country, and incremental glimmers of progress may not cut it for families and taxpayers. One only needs to glance at the comments section of a Plain Dealer article...

The Constitution Day edition

D.C.’s gender gap at top schools, mission statements, neighborhood school attendance boundaries, and test-based retention.    

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Guido Schwerdt, Martin R. West, and Marcus A. Winters, "The Effects of Test-Based Retention on Student Outcomes Over Time: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Florida," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 21509 (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 and now please join me, welcoming my co-host the Marcus Mariota of education reform, Robert Pondiscio. Who? He's this guy, a quarterback who had an amazing day on Sunday.

Robert:                   Really?

Mike:                       I guess the best debut of an NFL quarterback in history.

Robert:                   He's new, okay.

Mike:                       He's new.

Robert:                   I'm frankly not paying a bit of attention to football right now, because, there's this baseball team from New York that has as we speak a 9-1/2 game lead over some other baseball team from Washington called the Mosquitoes, the Gnats.

Mike:                       Well, the good news here Robert is that it is true. The Gnats have fallen. That is a little a bit sad. The good news is that the Mets will eventually have to play the St. Louis Cardinals. How many world championships do the Mets have? I don't think it's in the . . .

Robert:                   I think I hear my mother calling me.

Mike:                       I don't think it's in the two figures.

Robert:                   I've got to go.

Mike:                       Like the Cardinals. The Cardinals are know as being obnoxious fans. I will not be an obnoxious St. Louis Cardinal's fan. I will only say, that it's going to be a great post-season for baseball. Looking forward to it.

Robert:                   I am too. It's just nice to be invited to the dance for the first time in oh I don't know, 20 some odd years.

Mike:                       Isn't it true that you still have a worse record than the Chicago Cubs?

Robert:                   Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Mike:                       How amazing is that?

Robert:                   It's true.

Mike:                       They're going to be in third place in their division. This is not the Major League Baseball Podcast, though I think Robert and I would both love to do that.

Robert:                   I would love that.

Mike:                       My son Nico would love to be on too. He could tell you about all kinds of things. We check the standings every day. This is your chance, our loyal listeners to hear about the latest in education reform. Without further ado, Clara let' play Pardon the Gadfly.

Clara:                      Mike, a blog post of yours brought attention to the gender gap in some of Washington D.C.'s top high schools. Is this another form of creaming? Is it time for affirmative action for boys?

Mike:                       Ah-hah. It was interesting Robert, I got this idea, because, there's been all this press about how boys are doing so much worse than girls in our education system, especially when you look at the college enrollment and completion numbers. Famously, you've got some of these colleges now where something like 55%, 60%, 65% of the graduates are women.

Robert:                   Are women, yeah.

Mike:                       This is having an impact on all kinds of things in our society including even the dating scene. There's a new book out, that the guy bills as the least romantic book on dating and marriage, ever. It's something like Date-onomics. I think it's called.

Robert:                   College educated women want to marry college educated men.

Mike:                       They do and there aren't enough to go around. In a place like Washington D.C., it's something like three college educated women for every two college educated men, yes.

Robert:                   My daughter is about to go off to college, when she brings home a boyfriend, he better have a good GPA and be on his way to graduating or, otherwise, we're going to be having some problems.

Mike:                       Yeah, but the problem is she'll be lucky to find a guy like that is the point, because, there's not many of them around. Long story short. I was wondering, how does this play out in high schools. I looked here in D.C. There's some great data. They've got these equity reports that make this pretty easy to answer. Lo and behold, there are something like five or six high school, actually five or six schools in D.C. that have more than 60% of their populations female. One is a new all girls charter school.

Robert:                   Throw that one aside.

Mike:                       Set that one aside. The others are all high school and they're all selective admissions or charter schools. D.C. has an Exam School, Benjamin Benneker that for a long time has been a historically black high school, African-American school and very well regarded in the city, 75% female.

Robert:                   Wow.

Mike:                       Then there's a performing arts school, also another school called the School Without Walls, which the kids have a funny name that they call that, that's not family appropriate. The School Without rhymes with walls.

Robert:                   Okay, I think I get . . .

Mike:                       That' what the kids joke about, so anyway long story short. Then the Kipp School. Thurgood Marshall Charter School.

Robert:                   It's a real good point.

Mike:                       When it comes in particular to the selective admission schools, a Benneker school. This is like the Stuyvesant of Washington D.C. It's an exam school. The kids have to test at a certain level, plus recommendations and other things to get in, 75% girls.

Robert:                   Yeah.

Mike:                       Now if they're more qualified than the boys, you could say then, that that's just the way the cookie crumbles, right?

Robert:                   Sure, but on the other hand at some point you have to ask some very hard questions about what is it about our K-12 system, whether it's traditional or schools of choice and charters, that seems to be, italicize seems to be failing young men.

Mike:                       Well now, hold on Robert. You went right to the school system, right? Can't you say that there's, there could be other issues.

Robert:                   Sure.

Mike:                       A lot of, most kids in D.C. or at least an overwhelming number are growing up in poverty or near poverty. They may be growing up in single parent families and we do know from some good research now, that boys have a harder time in those female headed households than do girls.

Robert:                   No, no. I don't want to paint with too broad of a brush, but your piece and a similar piece in the Washington Post, made me wonder and I have not looked up the answer. Maybe you have. Much has been made of our increase in high school graduation rates over the last decade. Something that I looked into a few weeks ago that interested me was credit recovery. How much of that we don't know, of that enhanced graduation rate is credit recovery. I'm now wondering how much of it is boys? Do we have a Finland issue on our hand here. You know how in Finland when you take the boys out of the picture Finland looks great. When you look at boys they're mediocre, right? Is that what's happening here?

Mike:                       Right. Then you're saying what we've gotten better at graduating girls than than boys, not as well graduating boys?

Robert:                   I don't know the answer, but that's my question.

Mike:                       Yeah, and that's what's partly behind these numbers. There's not doubt that part of the reason some of these schools are imbalanced is more boys do drop out in D.C. than girls. They also end up more at the schools for the trouble kids.

Robert:                   Yeah.

Mike:                       Also some of the vocational schools. That one you can kind of make sense out of. Also some of the big comprehensive high schools are heavily male. Is that because of the sports? Is that just because those schools become in effect, the school of last resort for kids that can't find their way anywhere else? All I'm saying is we should look at these numbers and I bet that this kind of thing is going on at cities all across the country. If you look at high performing charters, at the middle or high school level. If you look at selective admission schools. I think you're going to find a gender gap there as well.

Robert:                   Hey, wait a minute. Answer the question. Do you think there should be affirmative action for boys?

Mike:                       There already is affirmative action at the college level. We know that there are colleges out there that have lower requirements for SAT scores and GPA's for boys than for girls, because, of this problem. Look, I think a little nudging in that direction maybe you could justify, but I'll admit I'm torn on that one. Okay, go ahead Clara, topic number two.

Clara:                      Writing for The 74, Connor Williams criticized his fellow liberals for defending neighborhood attendance boundaries which keep poor and minority kids out of many good public schools. Does he have a point?

Mike:                       Robert, you've been gushing all over Twitter on this one.

Robert:                   Yeah.

Mike:                       It looks like you're sending a big smackaroo there to Connor.

Robert:                   I have a man crush on Connor Williams.

Mike:                       Hey, he's a good looking guy.

Robert:                   He is.

Mike:                       He speaks Spanish.

Robert:                   Does he?

Mike:                       He covers ELL stuff which frankly nobody else that we know knows. I don't know anything about this stuff.

Robert:                   I've never seen him in, who's the actor who plays in How I Met Your Mother?

Mike:                       Uh, I don't know.

Robert:                   I'm never seen the two of them in the same place at the same time. I think it's . . .

Mike:                       Oh interesting. I've even seen him Tweet in Spanish.

Robert:                   Have you?

Mike:                       How impressive is that?

Robert:                   He's a smart guy. He's an impressive guy. Does he have a point? If by point, you mean a point of a flaming arrow, then boy what a point. Did you read the piece?

Mike:                       Yes.

Robert:                   It's extraordinary. Look, first of all I've got a bias. I kind of love when those of us in this world and ed reform call out members of our own tribe. Some of the best writing and thinking I think comes from this. His piece on The 74, a shout out Campbell Brown 74, this is a terrific piece, points out his fellow liberals for basically getting in the way of choice in neighborhoods like D.C. and he uses D.C. as an example. Where every good liberal says, oh yeah, we're all about inequality, but not when it pertains to my neighborhood school, because, that affects my property value. You have lots of excuses.

Mike:                       It affects my own kids, right.

Robert:                   In other words I bought a house in the attendance zone and only kids that are in this attendance zone should be allowed in, or if we allow those "out boundary kids" in it should be a very small, small manageable percentage. There's this piece, or a section of the piece. I just want to quote this, because, it's just so wonderful. He says, "When I confront my fellow liberals about defending the deeply hierarchical inequitable link between real estate prices and school enrollment, they almost always say something like well why can't we just make all schools great?" Which is, he rightly says absurd and it's a homily. It's just not effective.

Mike:                       All right, but now Robert.

Robert:                   Let's get personal here.

Mike:                       Right.

Mike:                       You send your daughter to a fancy private school in New York.

Robert:                   I do.

Mike:                       I moved to Bethesda, Maryland. People who have read my book know about this. This is in the section called selling out of my book from the more diverse Tacoma Park to Bethesda where my son now goes to what I've called a private public school. It's a public school in the same way as a neighborhood swimming is public, it's public for the people that live in that neighborhood. You've just got to make a lot of money to buy into that neighborhood. Look, right, we've got to be careful here to not cast the first stone. I would argue that it is totally understandable that parents want to provide a great school for their kids and are understandably nervous about what may happen if their kids are going to school with lots of other poor kids and that is not managed well. It is a tricky, it is actually not a, it's not exactly a no-brainer to figure out how to create a great school environment, when you have a school that has both poor kids and rich kids learning right by side.

                                    My book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma goes into this that it absolutely can be done, absolutely should be done, but it's hard. Not every educational bureaucracy can pull it off.

Robert:                   You know, I've said on this podcast, I've used this line a lot. I've got a complicated relationship with blank, with testing, with standards, with curriculum. I do not have a complicated relationship with choice. I'm in favor of it. Does this make me a hypocrite that I send my daughter to private school, no. Here's my take on this. I chose my kid's school. I want you to choose your kid's school, period, full stop.

Mike:                       Okay, but here's what I'm getting at. Do you believe there should be neighborhood schools?

Robert:                   That's a really good question. In other words should there be any school that is exclusively open to only people in that neighborhood?

Mike:                       Uh-huh and be called a public school.

Robert:                   Probably not. To answer your question, probably not.

Mike:                       You do surveys, parents love neighborhood schools. White parents, black parents, Latino parents, rich, poor. Everybody likes this idea of neighborhood parents and in fact in places like San Francisco that have tried to get rid of neighborhood schools, they make it all choice. Parents hate it and the middle class parents end up not using the public schools which is probably not good for anybody.

Robert:                   In his piece Connor Williams quotes Robbie Gupta, who has another terrific turn of phrase. She says neighborhood schools is almost an Orwellian term. It sounds great and can be great in a perfect world, but history is a history of using neighborhood boundaries to segregate. When we say neighborhood schools, aren't we also saying, hello, segregated schools.

Mike:                       Right, yeah no, we are. I mean it's the same way that neighborhood swimming pool, the same thing.

Robert:                   Let me go back to your question. Should there be any neighborhood schools? I don't know Mike. Should there be segregated schools?

Mike:                       Ah-huh, huh. That was, oh turn the knife there, Robert, turn the knife.

Robert:                   Okay.

Mike:                       Yes.

Robert:                   I'm not too far behind.

Mike:                       I have advised cities, that if you're going to try to create, work toward school integration, absolutely you should do that, but not at the expense of neighborhood schools. That I think the best of all worlds is a place like D.C., where you have neighborhood public schools for people who want them. You also have charter schools for people who want them and then a growing number of charter schools that are working on being socio-economically and racially diverse. That's the piece that we've got to keep working on.

Robert:                   Okay topic number three.

Mike:                       You're tough Robert, you're tough, man.

Clara:                      Robert, in light of our upcoming Constitution Day, you have been taking a look at mission statements of schools across the country. How much attention have you seen being given to civics education in these statements?

Robert:                   Not very much and not very surprisingly. Listeners to this podcast know that I can get on my high horse about civics and citizenship. We thought, let's do a fun little exercise. Let's look at the mission statements of our largest school systems. Myself, Kate Stringer and Ellen Alpaugh and others just literally spent some time online downloading and looking at mission statements. Let me ask you this, what percentage of America, the top 100 school systems mentioned civics or citizenship at all in their mission statements?

Mike:                       I hope all of them.

Robert:                   You would hope, right? Because, that's a founding purpose of public education. Less than half. I think 42 mentioned it. What's really interesting is you see terms like global citizens. There was only one school system, I want to say it was Anne Arundel in Maryland.

Mike:                       Anne Arundel.

Robert:                   Thank you. That mentioned . . .

Mike:                       If you were a paying citizen Robert, you would be better at that. I think it's probably a French skirmish.

Robert:                   The long story short is that alas not surprisingly very few mission statements among our top school systems mentioned civics and citizenship at all. As I fear they tend to emphasize the private dimension of education. College and career, not civics and citizenship. I'm not saying we should favor one over the other, they should both be there. What's interesting, because let's be realistic, as a teacher I couldn't have told you what the New York City Public School System's mission statement was.

Mike:                       To employ a hell of a lot of people.

Robert:                   80,000 AFT members. Sure, you can't draw a cause and affect line, but it does say something, when the people who we elect as school board members sit down to say, okay what are we all about? That means something. What they're not talking about is this public dimension of education.

Mike:                       Fascinating. By the way it is going to be Constitution Day on Friday.

Robert:                   Thursday, right the 17th?

Mike:                       Right, Thursday, I'm getting my days mixed up.

Robert:                   Thursday, why civics question Mike, why September 17th?

Mike:                       That was when the Constitution was ratified.

Robert:                   Bravo.

Mike:                       I forget which state was it that put it over. That put it over the top there, I can't remember. Do you remember which one it is?

Robert:                   I do not.

Mike:                       Delaware was the first one to . . .

Robert:                   I'm not that old Mike.

Mike:                       The first one to sign the Constitution, to ratify, because, of course Delaware was like oh my God, this is an amazing deal. We have a 1000 people in the whole state. We're about the size of a postage stamp and we get two senators, hell yeah. Sign us up for that one.

Robert:                   They said and we can put it on our license plate.

Mike:                       Yes, exactly. You know what surprises me as I've thought about this Constitution Day, is I'm surprised it hasn't generated more controversy in the way that Columbus Day has. I suspect that somebody is going to make, here's the issue. You're going to say huh? Our Constitution. How do you celebrate the Constitution Robert? This is a document that had slavery written through and through it. How could we possibly celebrate this?

Robert:                   There's that thing about building a more perfect Union, Mike. It's not about the destination, it's about the journey.

Mike:                       I just expect when this piece of yours comes out Robert, you're going to hear from some readers. That how dare you? How dare you talk about this being something that we should celebrate?

Robert:                   Oh, we'll see. I'll take that challenge.

Mike:                       I guess what you could point out is that the Constitution now involves all of the amendments including that all so important XIIIth one, not to mention the XIV and the XV, that's your response.

Robert:                   That is my response.

Mike:                       That is all the time we've got for Pardon the Gadfly. Now it's time for everyone's favorite, Amber's Research Minute. (Music playing). Amber, welcome back to the show.

Amber:                   Thank you Mike.

Mike:                       What happened to your Redskins?

Amber:                   Isn't it terrible. I know. I was getting excited. Honestly, I'm liking Cousins, but he struggled a little bit, but hey, I mean we did okay. It was a good team we played.

Mike:                       Amber, change the name.

Amber:                   (Laughing). You think that's giving us bad karma or something?

Mike:                       Yes, I do.

Amber:                   Oh please.

Mike:                       You don't mess around with the Native American spirits, come on.

Amber:                   We're not even going to go there. Do you know how many Native Americans like the name? That doesn't get out in the press though, does it? No, it doesn't.

Mike:                       All right, what you got for us?

Amber:                   We got a new study out by Marty West and colleagues, that examines the impact of Florida's test based retention policy. I think a lot of people know Florida as of 2003, required that schools retain third graders who failed to demonstrate proficiency on the state reading test and other states you know have followed suit with this third grade reading guarantee.

Mike:                       Big part of the Florida model that Jeb Bush has promoted for a decade.

Amber:                   Yes and Ohio does it now too, right?

Mike:                       Yes, indeed.

Amber:                   I'm going to forget the other states, but anyway, there are a handful. Analysts are able to conduct a rigorous study that it compares the results from students who are just above and below the cutoff for retention, what's that called, Mike?

Mike:                       Discontinuity.

Amber:                   Regression discontinuity.

Mike:                       Yes.

Amber:                   Baby, yeah. Looking at within ten test score points. The first cohort to be impacted by the new policy in her third grade in 2002, their track through high school graduation time. They also tracked five additional cohorts, the last of which entered third grade in 2008. Okay, this is descriptive finding.

Mike:                       By the way, are we sure that all these kids that missed the cut actually got held back? I thought that there was some wiggle room.

Amber:                   There's some wiggle room, but it's just a special population. It's some loopholes for Sp Ed kids. I do believe there are out of, I do believe they're not in the sample.

Mike:                       They knew that if a kid, not only missed the cut score, but they were held back.

Amber:                   Yes.

Mike:                       They were able to see that.

Amber:                   They were able to see that.

Mike:                       Okay.

Amber:                   All right, they found that the policy increased the number of third graders retained, obviously. It started as, this is interesting it started as 4800 kids prior to the policy introduction. The very next year, just take a guess, how many do you think it jumped?

Mike:                       50,000.

Amber:                   No, 22, 22,000, but still that's pretty big. 4800 to 22,000 in one year. The numbers retained have fallen steadily since then over time as more and more students have cleared the hurdle. Their key finding though is that third grade retention, substantially improves students reading and math achievement in the short run. Okay, that's the important little clause there. Specifically, reading achievement improves for retained students by 23% of a standard deviation after one year. By as much as 47% of a standard deviation after two years, when they are compared to students of the same age, the comparable numbers for math are about 30% of the standard deviation after one year and 36% after three. Yet, the results are short lived like I said, the effects of third grade retention on reading achievement are reduced in years three and four. They become statistically insignificant in years five and six.

Mike:                       They fade out.

Amber:                   They fade out. They fade out also in math after six years.

Mike:                       Okay.

Amber:                   Okay, all right a little bit more. They also examined results for students in the same grade versus the same age. Those impacts are also positive and persistent through middle school, but you've got to remember that those estimates also capture the effects of being a year older and receiving another year of schooling. Okay, so it's kind of convoluted there. They also find that retention reduces the probability that students at the cutoff will repeat a grade in the future. It doesn't really happen again. Finally, there's a lot of stuff here. Sorry, I know I'm at two minutes now, but finally, they are able to examine graduation impacts for the first cohort. They find that retention has no impact on the probability of graduating from high school, so there's a lot there.

Mike:                       That actually could be seen as a positive. Some people would worry that if you retain kids, it would increase their chances of not graduating.

Amber:                   That's right.

Mike:                       The fact that it's a wash.

Amber:                   It's a wash.

Mike:                       You could argue that either way.

Amber:                   You could, you could. That's what I say, my very next line on my piece of paper. It's a mixed bag.

Mike:                       Yeah.

Amber:                   It's a mixed bag. I hate, hate, hate when studies say that and when I say that, but honestly there's some good here.

Mike:                       Amber, that's what life is about.

Amber:                   I know.

Mike:                       It's a mixed bag.

Amber:                   It's a mixed bag.

Mike:                       There are trade-offs.

Amber:                   There's no harm here. We're not really seeing any harm.

Mike:                       Yeah.

Amber:                   Okay, but anyway I thought this was interesting. At the end they raised the question, because, just, because, it's a wash, just, because, it's short term impact, it doesn't necessarily mean there couldn't be a long term impact. There have been some studies around early childhood, specially that found no short term impacts, but when they started looking at long term impacts, like college enrollment and earnings, they did find some stuff there.

Mike:                       The academic achievement might fade out, but maybe this other stuff does not.

Amber:                   Right, so they say at the end, it's kind of like ooh, ooh, ooh, they say at the end, might find some stuff in Florida, which leads me to believe Marty and his buddies are going to go back to Florida when they've got so more years behind them and check out these other long term outcomes.

Mike:                       Absolutely, because, it Florida you can follow these kids all the way into college and even into the labor market.

Amber:                   You can.

Mike:                       I love it, so we will have to look forward to that.

Amber:                   We will, but hey it was a great study. It was just really rich you know.

Mike:                       One last question, there's always been this debate in Florida where of course we have this particular former governor of Florida, who happens to be running for president.

Amber:                   Happens to be.

Mike:                       Claiming that on his watch test scores went way up, especially at the fourth grade level, especially for Latinos, low income kids. Some people have asked, is that real? You look at the NAEP and the NAEP scores are very impressive during his tenure. Huge improvement, but somehow was that because of this retention. Was it sort of unfair? That you basically had kids in the sample who had had an extra year of school?

Amber:                   Yes and they actually did. I didn't fit it in my research minute, which was two minutes. They did look at impact on some populations and they found very few systematic differences. It was basically a wash there as well.

Mike:                       That would not explain the NAEP difference?

Amber:                   That's exactly right. They did look at sub pops though.

Mike:                       There you have it. See people covering the presidential campaigns. There you have it.

Amber:                   Need to read NBER studies.

Mike:                       Yes, absolutely. All right, thank you Amber. Brilliant stuff. That is all the time we've got for this week. Don't forget to celebrate Constitution Day on Thursday. Until next week . . .

Robert:                   I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Mike:                       I'm Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off. (Music playing).

This report examines the impact of the Gates Foundation “collaboration grants” in seven cities: Boston, Denver, Hartford, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch (Texas). In each of these cities, districts and charters have signed a “compact” committing them to closer cooperation (and making them eligible for grants). These compacts have many goals, including the increased sharing of facilities, the creation of common enrollment systems, and other changes in policy; however, this report focuses on activities that “target specific staff participants,” such as school partnerships, cross-sector training, and professional development.

Based on conversations with teachers, principals, and central office administrators, the authors conclude that “overall progress in increasing collaboration has been limited.” In particular, while collaboration between principals has increased as a result of the grants, it is still concentrated among those already “predisposed to cross-sector work.” Moreover, in schools not led by such principals, collaboration between teachers is still “minimal to nonexistent.” More progress is evident at the central office level; but even there, some administrators are skeptical that these efforts can lead to “systematic change.” According to respondents, barriers to collaboration include “limited resources, teachers’ unions, and cross-sector tensions.” However, the report also identifies a few promising...

A new report by the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University seeks to quantify how much families were willing to pay for a greater likelihood of receiving access to a charter school between the years 2004 and 2013.

Author Carlianne Patrick examines thirteen metro Atlanta start-up and conversion charter schools that have priority admission zones within their designated attendance zones. Each school has three “priority zones.” The rules governing when a priority zone comes into play and how it interacts with the lottery are quite complex, but the idea is basically this: You get a higher chance of getting into a particular charter school if you reside in priority zone one.

Patrick limits the analysis to home sales within close proximity of the border between priority-one and priority-two attendance zones because they represent a change in admission probability. She claims that residences close to the border—in this case, less than half a mile—should be similar in both observable and unobservable ways, including access to jobs and amenities, styles of houses, foreclosures in the area, etc.

Patrick measures the effect of being on the priority-one side of the border between zones one and two. She also controls for transaction date,...

NOTE: Chad Aldis addressed the Ohio Board of Education in Columbus this morning. These are his written remarks in full.

Thank you, President Gunlock and state board members, for giving me the opportunity to offer public comment today.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-oriented nonprofit focused on research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C.

One of the major strands of our work involves support for school choice, and that’s why I’d like to talk with you this morning about charter schools. Before I begin, and in the interest of full disclosure, I would like to note that Fordham’s Dayton office currently sponsors eleven charter schools around the state.

We believe that charter schools can make a huge positive impact in the lives of kids, and in many places around the country, they already are. It has become increasingly clear that while Ohio has many outstanding charter schools, the state’s laws must be strengthened if our charter sector is going to match the success being realized elsewhere. This past year, to achieve that goal, we’ve sponsored two major...

In a previous post, I explained course access and its potential to revolutionize school choice in Ohio. The best example of this is the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which Brookings evaluated in 2014. But Ohio wouldn’t have to copy Florida’s entire model. Instead, it could create a unique one complementing its successful CTE and College Credit Plus programs. While there are plenty of ways to get to the mountaintop, here are a few ideas for how Ohio could establish a pilot program that—if it successfully meets the needs of students—could be grown into a statewide program.


FLVS was created as the nation’s first statewide, Internet-based public high school. Students can enroll full-time, but approximately 97 percent of students are part-time. Students who are enrolled at a traditional school (district, charter, or private) can sign up part-time for a course for a multitude of reasons: to make up course credit, to take a class not offered at their schools, or to accelerate their learning. Just imagine the possibilities for schools that want to incorporate mastery grading or competency-based education!

To provide Ohio students with similar options, policymakers in the Buckeye...

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.