Charters & Choice

In language that tried to capture the sweep of 1983’s A Nation at Risk, a Council on Foreign Relations task force warned this week that the nation’s poor educational outcomes represent a threat to national security, in addition to dampening America’s competitiveness in the global economy. The panel, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein, blamed the “innovation deficit” and the very structure of an ailing system of public education that de-emphasizes the values of choice and competition so prized in nearly every other sector of American life. While calls for common standards, school choice, and foreign language skills aren’t unusual today, what matters here is who is doing the calling. As the Wall Street Journal noted, it’s a testament to how far the choice movement has come that such recommendations are endorsed by so-established a group as the CFR. Dissents from task force members, especially those from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, cheered the report’s embrace of national standards but complained that choice and competition have undermined public education and haven’t worked “in a scalable and sustainable way.” But we can provide high-quality public and private options if Weingarten were to step aside and allow statehouses to experiment with some of the report’s bolder suggestions.

"Panel Says Schools’ Failings Could Threaten Economy and National Security," Associated Press, March 20, 2012...

The call for socioeconomically integrated schools is growing louder, and this volume, edited by the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg, explains why. He contends that socioeconomic integration is more than a politically palatable and legally permissible way to achieve racial integration: It is also an effective strategy for raising the academic achievement of both low-income and minority students—and one that could save districts dollars as it raises academic achievement without the need to pump copious extra funds into schools with concentrated poverty. That doesn’t mean it’s easy: In one chapter, Harvard doctoral candidate Marco Basile estimates that, in order to halve economic segregation, a quarter of all low-income students would need to transfer to affluent schools while a quarter of more-affluent students would need to enroll in schools located in more-disadvantaged neighborhoods. This swap, he estimates (using some questionable assumptions), would produce a per-student lifetime benefit of $33,010. But how to get affluent families to volunteer for such an experiment in “trading places”? Several authors argue for encouraging voluntary integration through the expansion of “controlled-choice” programs, and make astute suggestions for enhancing such efforts’ political feasibility. Unfortunately, though Kahlenberg’s thoughts on controlled choice have merit, he misses the mark when it comes to broader issues of choice. In the concluding chapter, he takes a swipe at the value of charter schools as an effective intervention for low-income students, questioning the scalability and cost-effectiveness of schools like KIPP...

John Kirtley
Chairman of Step Up for Students

Guest blogger John Kirtley is the founder of two private equity firms in Tampa, FL. He is the chairman of Step Up For Students, a non-profit that administers the tax credit scholarship program and which now empowers the parents of nearly 40,000 low income Florida children who attend a private school of their choice, and of the Florida Federation for Children, a "527" political organization active in Florida legislative races. He is vice chair of the American Federation For Children, a national parental choice advocacy organization, and also a board member of the Florida Charter School Alliance and the Hillsborough County (Tampa) Education Foundation.

The most important governance question is: “Will low income and working class parents truly direct the taxpayer dollars used to educate their children?”

The definition of “public education” is changing rapidly, even if some don’t want it to. It used to mean giving taxpayer dollars solely to districts to operate all schools, where kids are assigned by zip code. The emerging definition, which I prefer, is using taxpayer dollars to educate children in the best way possible for each of them, using a variety of providers and delivery methods.

Parents with enough means already direct dollars—their own—to the best education providers for their kids. Parents with means move to neighborhoods with good public schools, or pay tuition for a private school. Increasingly, these parents combine delivery methods and providers. The president...

The authors of the Council on Foreign Relations’ report on US education reform and national security compared the sweep of their work with 1983’s A Nation at Risk, updating the “rising tide of mediocrity” with 21st century warnings of America’s weakened competitiveness. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll be talking about the Council’s recommendations 30 years from now, but there is much to this report that makes it one of the boldest statements on our progress toward higher educational standards and enhanced school choice.

The recommendations are not groundbreaking. The task force, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York schools chancellor Joel Klein, is urging the expansion of Common Core standards and the spread of more choice and competition

measures that are already driving our public debates. But the recommendations are no less impressive for the luminaries behind them. Klein, for one, called school choice a “uniquely American approach”...

Within five years, charter school enrollment in Washington, D.C., could grow to include 46 percent of the public school population, according to a panel charged with reviewing finance inequities between the District’s public and public charter schools. The current charter enrollment of 32,000, already 41 percent of the population, could increase by as much as 10 percent next year alone. But while the panel didn’t find the funding solutions it sought, its enrollment projections remind us that the extended reach of charter schools in D.C. brings with it obligations that some charters are falling short in fulfilling.

D.C. charter school enrollment, already 41 percent of the public school population, could increase by as much as 10 percent next year alone.

Disciplinary data compiled by the D.C. Public Charter School Board show, for instance, that the District’s charter schools collectively resort to expulsions and 10-day suspensions more quickly than D.C. Public Schools. One school in particular, Friendship Collegiate Academy-Woodson, reportedly expelled 8 percent of its students—102 of 1,231 students—last year alone. While many schools questioned the accuracy of the data, even conservative estimates show some charters remove students from school at higher rates than their traditional school counterparts.

It is more conceivable now than ever that charter schools could ultimately educate a majority of D.C.’s public school students. But as they get closer to that milestone, charter operators will have to do more to counsel the pupils they’re too quick to remove from their campuses. Otherwise, they risk...

March (ESEA) Madness?

Mike and the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke step outside to debate the place of climate science in standards and whether John Kline’s ESEA proposals stand a chance, while Amber looks at the relative merits of a four-day school week.

Amber's Research Minute

Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week - Download the PDF

Congratulations to KIPP: Central Ohio Executive Director Hannah Powell (who was the school leader for the past several years) and the entire staff at KIPP: Journey Academy for the school’s EPIC Silver Gain Award from New Leaders for New Schools.

The EPIC (Effective Practice Incentive Community) award recognizes schools that make substantial gains in student academic growth. In partnership with Mathematica Policy Research, NLNS gathers student test data and analyzes them.  Schools with the highest gains are selected as winners. To be eligible for an EPIC award, schools must have student populations of at least 30 percent eligible free and reduced-price lunch (over 90 percent of KIPP Journey students are considered economically disadvantaged) , submit three years of state test score data for all students, and be willing to share their effective practices with NLNS EPIC partners. As part of the award, KIPP: Journey Academy will receive approximately $50,000 to be distributed among its staff.

Of the 179 charter schools from 24 states and the District of Columbia that participated, only 14 winners were selected, and KIPP: Journey Academy was the only school in Ohio - and the only KIPP school nationally- to receive an award.

On behalf of the school, Ms. Powell said, “We are thrilled and honored that KIPP: Journey received this award. This award recognizes the dedication of our teachers and staff as they help our students climb the mountain to and through college.”

As the sponsor (aka “authorizer”) of...

Fordham has worked in Dayton – as a funder, charter-school authorizer, and charter-school advocate – to push for the creation and growth of high quality charter schools since 1998. Over the last decade one of the highest performing charter school clusters in the city has been the Richard Allen (RA) Schools (RA has three schools in Dayton that serve about 800 children). Over the years I’ve spent time with the leaders of Richard Allen, visited their schools, and even helped judge their annual debate competition. In short, I have always been impressed by both the educators and the students I’ve met and worked with from the RA schools and believe the schools delivered quality education to students.

It is because of these personal connections to the schools over the years that I found the recent “Special Audit of the Richard Allen Academy Schools” such painful and disturbing reading. The Special Audit provided a litany of “missing money, missing records and self-dealing” that has led to $929,850 in findings for recovery. The audit describes a situation where public dollars were used without any basic accountability or transparency. It reads as if the schools’ leadership considered the schools a private operation free of any responsibility for how the state dollars were spent. There also seemed little understanding as to whom the public resources were meant to support.

For example, the audit details how the schools contracted with the Montgomery County Department of Jobs and Family Services to provide summer and after-school...

Because Florida senators
generated so much heat over a proposed
parent trigger bill
in the Sunshine
State, it was easy to
look past their vote that eliminated the requirement for students to first
enroll in a public school before entering an online learning program. But while
they didn’t pull the trigger, lawmakers did blur the lines separating home
schooling and public schooling.

This is a step other states should
consider if they want to rethink the way they govern public education in the 21st

If Governor Rick Scott signs the state’s digital
learning bill,
as expected, students in grades K-5 then could bypass a
brick-and-mortar school and directly enroll full-time in a virtual instruction
program, whether that program is managed by the Florida Virtual
School, a virtual charter
academy, or a school district. Previously, students were required to attend a
full year in a traditional school prior to their full-time enrollment in an
online program. Removing that requirement is a significant step for policy
makers, as they’re making little distinction between those who are learning at
home and those who are “home schooled.” That’s a step other states should
consider if they want to rethink the way they govern public education in the 21st

The bill had the support of Jeb
Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future
and passed by a collective 136-19

A juvenile display of rhetoric over a proposed parent
trigger in the Florida Senate last Friday underscored a need to introduce some
clear-headed thinking into a polarizing debate. While senators in the Sunshine State killed
the trigger in their 20-20 split vote
, similar bills remain under
consideration in more than a dozen states. With that in mind, Choice Words has developed some
legislative guidance for more informative inquiry.

I would have done anything to stop the childish dialogue among Florida senators to ask these questions about the trigger.

Really, these are just the questions I’ve had about the
trigger, and I would have done anything to stop the childish dialogue among Florida senators to ask
them. Eight moderate Republicans joined 12 Democrats to vote the trigger down,
and nearly all of them were seized by the threat of “privatization” and
for-profit charter schools. Not a word on whether parents can take on the
burden of running a low-performing school or turning it over to a charter
manager. Not a word on whether it should require more than a simple majority of
parents to make such a drastic change. Legislators missed an opportunity to
bring clarity to a discussion now ruled by passion. For the Senate Democratic
minority leader, Nan Rich, the
trigger did nothing
but lay “the groundwork for the hostile corporate
takeover of public schools across Florida.”

For the legislator who...