Charters & Choice

Ohio’s charter school community has been split into two
camps since the inception of the state’s first charter law in 1997. The first
camp – I’ll call free-market purists – believes that charter schools should be afforded
the same rights as private schools and as such be given maximum freedom of
operations. The free-market purists argue that when it comes to charter schools
the role of the state is little more than to distribute public dollars for a
child’s education. As long as parents decide to send children to a school, no
more “accountability” is necessary for performance.

In short, if there is market demand for a school – and the
school is in compliance with basic regulations like fire and health and safety
codes – then no more evidence is needed to keep the state dollars flowing.
Free-market purists believe that school choice is an end in itself. If public
policy creates a marketplace of school options then issues of school quality
will work themselves out as parents will naturally seek quality and abandon
failure. Free-market purists believe school operators know best what families
and children need and that the state should have no say in matters of school “quality”
and academic performance.

The second camp of school-choice supporters – I’ll call
accountability hawks – believes that market demand for schools is important (no
child should be trapped in a...

The Georgia House this
week took another step
toward exiling last spring’s state Supreme Court
decision prohibiting the state approval of charter schools to the history
books, where it belongs. If the Georgia Senate follows suit, voters will have
an opportunity in November to test whether Chief Justice Carol Hunstein was
correct in her assertion that Georgia
citizens are happy to secure “the now 134-year-old status quo.”

In May, Georgia’s highest court
disbanded the state’s charter school authorizing commission
, ruling that no
publicly funded educational enterprise is permissible unless first engineered
or christened by a local school board. A resolution that passed a supermajority
vote in the House on Wednesday would ask voters to reinstate the commission by
amending the constitution. This is significant, as Hunstein proclaimed that the
constitution limits authority over public education “to that level of
government closest and most responsive to the taxpayers and parents of the
children being educated.”

This resolution puts authority squarely in the hands of the

This resolution puts authority squarely in the hands of the
taxpayer and recognizes that nothing is more responsive or consequential to a
child’s education than the choice the parent makes on his behalf. The
commission created 16 charter schools before the court ruled it did so in
violation of the constitution, but the commission merely provided families the
lever to make the educational...

White Hat
has been the Goliath of Ohio’s charter school operators
since its first schools opened in 1999. The company currently operates 33
schools in the Buckeye State. White Hat’s CEO David Brennan was a pioneer in Ohio’s
school-choice movement and his efforts in this realm have long faced criticism
– some deserved and some not. In recent years White Hat’s schools have faced a
series of legal and academic problems. Among them, the fact that none of White
Hat’s schools are rated above a C on the state report card, increased
competition resulting in lower enrollment, legal action brought against the
company by the governing boards of some of the schools it operates, and a
related fight over the disclosure of certain financial records.

These issues have made White Hat a fixture in the press, most
recently with a report that the Ohio Department of
Education (ODE) rejected four of six White Hat applications to the department
to authorize new schools that were slated to open in the fall of 2012. (ODE is
allowed to sponsor up to five new charter schools a year as part of a
compromise in the biennial budget that made the department a charter authorizer
almost a decade after being forced from that role by an earlier General

The rejection of the White Hat applications will come as a



Mike Petrilli and Ty Eberhardt discuss the soft spots in President Obama's education record.

For a more in depth view at the president's education record, please read the article on Education Next.

Supporters of converting an Adelanto, California district
school into a charter had boasted that 70 percent of parents backed the change,
but the Los Angeles Times reported that nearly 100 later
backed out of the petition,
which the school board threw out on Tuesday.
The failure to enact a ‘parent trigger’ and make Desert Trails Elementary a
charter shows how difficult it is to campaign for the sweeping reform the law
allows—just as it should be. As states like Florida and Michigan consider their own trigger laws, they should set
the bar high to make sure that transformational change is possible only with a
supermajority of parents, not the simple
majority necessary in California. A parent trigger is good policy. It brings
families to a bargaining table that has been the exclusive province of teacher
unions and school boards, and it begins to rethink the way we govern public
education—and does so in ways that meet the unique needs of low-performing and
low-income students. The trigger also helps to counteract monopolies, whether
those include strong-arming school boards or obstructionist unions. But a parent-directed reform with a
tenuous hold on support and authority can lead to its own imbalance of power, a
problem that can be checked if two-thirds of the families agree to sign up.
That’s a threshold required to pass constitutional referenda in...

The failure to enact a parent trigger in Adelanto,
California, shows how difficult it is to campaign for the sweeping reform the
law allows, as it should be. If the parents at Desert Trails Elementary want to
either replace the instructional and administrative staff or convert the school
into a charter, it had better have the support of an overwhelming majority of
parents. The campaign had boasted that 70 percent of Desert Trails parents
supported pulling the trigger, but
the Los Angeles Times reported that
nearly 100 later backed out of the petition,
which the school board on
Tuesday threw out.

It should be difficult to campaign for the sweeping reform parent trigger
laws allow.

The effort may not have divided the school, as
a Times headline asserted earlier
this week
, but it certainly led a community of parents to splinter into
factions, including those who wanted to see change at a troubled school but not
a wholesale charter conversion. As more states like Florida
and Michigan
consider their own trigger laws, they should set the bar high to make sure that
transformational change is capable with only a supermajority of parents.

California’s law demands that a simple majority of parents at a low-performing traditional school
can petition for a charter conversion, and most states with trigger proposals
follow that formula. Ben Austin, the executive director of...

Rick Santorum
The GOP presidential hopeful is both a blessing and a curse for home-schooling advocates.
 Photo by Marc Nozell

The spotlight shining on Rick Santorum’s educational
philosophy is both a blessing and a curse for home-schooling parents and their
advocates. As the Los Angeles Times noted over the
weekend, the Republican presidential hopeful has emerged as the most prominent
home schooler in America, a fact that gives momentum to a movement that is
growing in popularity to include, by some estimates, nearly two million people
nationwide. But the same story also identified Santorum as the GOP leader who
“bashes public schools” and disparages the government’s hand in keeping
education mired in the Industrial Age.  

A greater range of home-school practitioners is making it
harder to draw broad conclusions about the movement, but most commentators and
journalists still see it far enough outside the mainstream to develop anything
more than a caricature. Hence, readers end up with nonsense like
that from Dana Goldstein
, who writes in Slate that liberals who home school
their children are violating their own progressive values by sowing distrust in
public institutions. But however unreasonable it might be for Goldstein to draw
upon extremes, Santorum’s weekend jeremiad only invites...

A high-performing charter network in Chicago cherished by
Mayor Rahm Emanuel got some lowbrow attention this week. The city’s esteemed
Noble Network of Charter Schools has been charging fees of children who rack up
a sizable share of demerits, and a group that would never be confused as a
friend of charters and choice thought
it would bring some attention to the practice
. The Chicago media have
lapped it up, mocking Emanuel’s previous reference to the school’s “secret
sauce” for student success while pointing now to evidence that Noble is
nickel-and-diming poor kids. But a cursory search through any number of
Catholic school codes of conduct shows that Noble’s policies aren’t so

A cursory search through Catholic school codes of conduct shows that Noble’s policies aren’t so

Let’s set aside the fees for a moment and consider the
“sauce” that makes up this particular charter network. State achievement test
data show that Noble beats the public school test score average. Families have
lined up for entry and the school has a long waiting list, despite – or maybe
because of – its strict disciplinary policies. It boasts a 90 percent
graduation rate, compared to 54 percent for Chicago Public Schools, and 91
percent of its graduating seniors go on to college.

It also puts a price tag on misbehavior. The student who
collects four demerits in two weeks...

As Adam wrote on Monday, the budget proposal that President Obama released this week zeroes out federal support for the D.C Opportunity Scholarship Program, backtracking on a budget deal the White House made with House Speaker John Boehner last year. Yesterday, the Choice Words editor explained Obama's decision and what it means for school choice in a interview, which you can stream below:

Maybe now’s not the time for charter schools in Florida to
ask for parity in funding, but it’s unlikely that a move to seek local revenues
from school districts would be welcome in even the best of times.

The passions stirred by a
legislative effort in the Sunshine State
to direct local tax revenues to
charter schools show just how hard it is for charters to find equity in school
systems that rely on property taxes to fund most of their needs. A Florida
senate bill would make it mandatory for districts to share as much as $140
million in local tax revenues with charters on a per-pupil basis for
construction and renovation. State law currently allows districts to
voluntarily share that money. Not surprisingly, few volunteer.

A senate education committee passed the bill recently along
party lines, and the reaction from school districts and newspaper editorial
boards was apoplectic. “Wait. Rewind,” read the Orlando Sentinel editorial page.
“Didn’t charter school prophets pledge to do more with less? Wasn’t less
regulation supposed to deliver greater efficiency?”

The charter school must pledge to do more
while others determine how much less it’ll get.

Yet it’s the charter school that must pledge to do more
while others determine how much less it’ll get. A
report released last week from Florida TaxWatch
, an independent think tank
and government watchdog, found that...