Charters & Choice

Adam Emerson

It’s hard to miss Dick Morris. The former presidential aide
and Fox News contributor has raised the volume on his rhetoric during the last
couple of days to promote National School Choice Week, and Education
Sector’s Kevin Carey
was right to note that Morris does more harm to his cause
when he harangues the interests and performance of public schools so viciously.
But in an otherwise enjoyable essay for The Atlantic, Carey misses an opportunity to further explore
how the choice movement evolved to become, as he says, so ideologically
“ghettoized.” Along the way, he succeeds in guiding us only to familiar
territory.

As many do, Carey traces the movement’s roots to Milton
Friedman’s 1955 essay, “The Role of Government in Education,” but he dispatches
the left turn that school choice made in the 1970s as if it was a political
afterthought. In reality, the means-tested policies that facilitate public and
private school choice today more closely resemble the proposals from the
political left and center that surfaced between the Johnson and Reagan
administrations than anything that Milton Friedman sought to test. Greater
awareness of that history might not transform the debate, but it could help to
lift it from isolation.

The means-tested policies that facilitate public and
private school choice today more closely resemble the proposals from the
political left and center that surfaced between...

The
U.S. economy has shed more than eight million jobs since 2008, and has created
only two million new jobs in that same period of time, resulting in not only a
high number of unemployed people, but also a high number of job vacancies. A
recent report by The Hamilton Project
attributes this contradictory statistic to the nation’s schools doing a poor
job of graduating students who are career-ready. With a lack of qualified
applicants, employers are settling for the cheapest employees rather than the
most qualified employees, or worse, leaving jobs vacant all together. Or, as in
the case of Apple and other great companies, moving the jobs to China where the
labor force is ready, willing, and able to do the work.

In
order to provide students with skills necessary to obtain decent jobs that pay
a middle class wage, the author argues that students need career counseling in
high school that does not simply herd students toward bachelor’s degrees, but
directs them to career certificates or associate’s degrees, as well. College
dropout rates could be lessened if students were directed toward “key economic
sectors” – career fields with a high number of job vacancies that can provide
high compensation for highly qualified applicants.

As
a solution, the report proposes the federal government set up a grant program
in which states would apply for money...

Ohio is unique in its ability to turn the best of
charter school theory and practice on its head. The most recent example comes
from an Ohio school district that set up a charter school to offload test
scores of low-performing students while making money for the district.
According to the Columbus Dispatch the London City School District “will
collect 80 percent of the $1.9 million in state dollars the charter will draw
this year as payment for its services. It expects $700,000 of that to be
profit.” The treasurer for both the charter school and the district told the
paper that “district officials plan to continue the ‘revenue sharing’ method”
despite the fact the school received an academic rating of F on its 2010-11
report card.

Last week the Center on Reinventing
Public Education (CRPE) released its annual look at the state of charter
schooling in the United States – Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter
Schools in 2011
. The theme of this year’s report is
charter-district collaboration. For most of the 20-year history of charters in
America, relations between school districts and charter upstarts were frosty at
best and downright hostile at times. Or, as CRPE’s Robin Lake writes,
“Districts were known to call the local fire marshal to make sure new charter
schools could not get their fire permits approved in...

Since the first charter school opened its doors in Minnesota
in 1991, over 6,700 charter schools have set up shop in 40 states and DC.
Unfortunately, not all of these schools have been successful and a number of
them have since closed, in fact charter schools have experienced a 15 percent
closure rate since their inception.

A recent report
by the Center for Education Reform takes a look at why charter schools close
and shows that the number one reason (over 40 percent) for charter closure is
fiscal mismanagement and financial problems driven by low enrollment numbers. Other
issues such as ethical violations make up 24 percent of charter closures.
Furthermore, academic failure makes up 19 percent of all closures. While
academic performance is extremely important, schools tend to close for money problems
rather than academic ones. Ohio is no stranger to the challenges of ensuring
charter schools deliver results while ensuring they function well as
businesses. This report is a useful read for Ohioans interested in better
charters.

Adam Emerson

Americans
have generally embraced the premise that choice is good in education, but we
are engaged in a long-lasting war over how to deliver it. This war has many
fronts: We fight over the expansion of charter schools and talk past each other
on questions of their freedom and funding; we enhance the growth of online
education while doing little to change a model of public school governance that
remains rooted in the 19th century; we linger over the political
divide that insists on drawing lines separating “public” and “private,” even as
those words have become less relevant in evolving education systems that defy
traditional labels.

How do we
categorize, or properly finance, the smorgasbord of options available to
today’s student?

How do we
categorize, or properly finance, the smorgasbord of options available to
today’s student? And how do we enhance the debate to rethink how we administer
a public education? The resistance to customized forms of schooling is not new.
Many a well-meaning principal and superintendent fought back-to-basics schools
and International Baccalaureate programs and gifted education for fear they
would dilute other public schools. But too many of today’s well-meaning school
leaders and policymakers remain stuck in those old conversations.

Furthermore,
our dialogue remains muddy with assumptions that keep us entangled in old fears
about vouchers, charter schools, virtual education or, more particularly,
homeschooling. And that...

Michael Podgusrky, Stuart Buck, and Renita Thukral

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public
schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many
charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter
schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A
glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to
remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did
not participate in the state plan. In
2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain
employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state
teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to
remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the
Treasury Department approved.

Are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that
they can participate in state and local pension plans?

The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it
worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a
plan to be a "governmental plan." In November, the Treasury
Department issued proposed regulations on the subject, and the news is not good
for charter school teachers in Louisiana,
or anywhere, since these new rules would affect charter
schools in all states.

The legal issues are complex, and in a forthcoming study,
two of us (Buck and...

The Education Gadfly

Writers on the Gadfly Daily blogs analyzed issues from
around the country this week, discussing everything from the lessons that the Louisiana
Recovery School District
has to offer to the tough talk coming from New
York State
.

School choice was a big theme, with Fordham announcing the new editor of the Choice Words blog, Adam Emerson, who explained the
importance of “subsidiarity”
in education. On Flypaper, Mike argued that charter schools should approach
district collaboration
with caution and from a position of strength, while
Terry noted that Ohio has prime
examples
of getting charter-district relationships wrong on the Ohio Gadfly
Daily blog.

Stretching the School Dollar explained the flaws in a recent
school
funding court decision
and why paycheck
protection
needs to be a policy priority, while on the Common Core Watch
blog Kathleen argued that having a plan for CCSS implementation is a start—but
just a start
.

To stay on top of all Fordham’s wit and wisdom, be sure to
subscribe to the combined RSS
feed
....

The Education Gadfly

Cooperation between charter and district schools has
potential, but Fordham’s bloggers highlighted a few reasons for concern. On the
Flypaper blog Mike argues that, while collaboration is great in theory,
charters must be careful to negotiate
with districts from a position of strength
, while over at the Ohio Gadfly
Daily Terry worries that the Buckeye
State has managed to “take
a worthy concept and turn it completely on its head.

Yesterday, to go along with the release of its annual report on the state of American charter schools, the Center for Reinventing Public Education asked several experts to answer a tricky question: What is the future of district/charter collaboration? Here's my take:

The topic of collaboration between districts and charter
schools inevitably leads to Cold War imagery. Are we talking about appeasement?
Détente? Trust but verify?

Like the ideal of world peace, it’s easy to agree about
cooperation—moving from a “battleground” to “common ground,” as one Gates
Foundation official put it. But how can we ensure that cooperation doesn’t turn
into an excuse to co-opt the charter school movement?

The key, it seems to me, is for charters to come to the
negotiating table as equal powers.

To be sure, some enlightened superintendents and school
boards will welcome charter school engagement for all the right reasons. But
local politics being what they are, let’s not take goodwill as a given. Through
a prism of Realpolitik (!), the key
to making partnerships work is even strength on either side.

What that implies is that long-lasting charter-district
collaborations are only likely to work in locales where charter schools boast
serious market share and significant political power. So before charter schools
sit down to hammer out a deal, they should:

  • Get to
    scale
    . If districts are losing twenty or thirty percent of their students
  • ...

WASHINGTON,
D.C.—The Thomas B. Fordham
Institute announced today that Adam Emerson will join the organization as the director
of its new policy program on parental choice, effective February 1, 2012. In
this newly-created position, Emerson will coordinate the Institute’s school
choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues including
vouchers, charter schools, homeschooling, and digital learning. Currently
editor of the redefinED blog, Emerson will now edit and write for Fordham’s new
Choice
Words
blog.

“We’re thrilled to welcome someone with Adam’s abilities and
track record to the Fordham team,” said Fordham Institute President Chester E.
Finn, Jr. “Few commentators combine his experience, expertise and enthusiasm in
this vital realm of education with his talents as a writer.”

Emerson comes to Fordham from Step Up For Students, where he
served as the assistant director for public and policy affairs. In that role,
Emerson developed and executed communications strategies for an organization
that provides private school tuition assistance to more than 37,000 low-income
children throughout Florida.
Previously, he worked as a journalist for more than nine years, including eight
years as an education reporter for the Tampa
Tribune
and Lansing (Mich.) State Journal.

Media inquiries should be directed to Fordham’s external
relations manager, Ty Eberhardt at (202) 223-5452 or teberhardt@edexcellence.net. More
information about the Thomas B.Fordham Institute is available online at its
redesigned website: www.edexcellence.net

...

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