Charters & Choice

America’s states, cities and schools are hurting big time financially. This is not news but the fact that the bad news keeps coming especially hurts.  For example, just released unemployment numbers show an increase to 8.3 percent as American households lost 195,000 jobs. The underemployment rate – which includes those who are underemployed or who are working part time rose to 15 percent. This economic pain has struck education hard, leaving public school budgets strapped for cash and making business-as-usual more and more difficult. Districts around the country are now starting to take some drastic, and sometimes controversial, actions.

Highland Parks Public Schools, a small district in Michigan that is one the state’s lowest-performers, is on the verge of financial collapse. It made news last week when officials there announced plans to outsource its schools to a private for-profit charter school operator. The district handed over operations to The Leona Group which runs 54 schools in five states; 22 of its schools are in Michigan. The Leona Group will now oversee decisions around the hiring of staff, school curriculum and instruction, as well as school facility and maintenance issues.

What led up to such drastic action and...

Louisiana’s capital newspaper reported this week that two private schools that originally opted into the state’s new voucher program have changed their minds after the teachers union threatened them with legal action. One school is a non-denominational Christian school in suburban Baton Rouge that enrolls about 800 students. It initially set aside four kindergarten seats for the voucher program. The other, a Roman Catholic school in a rural parish ninety miles outside Baton Rouge, set aside six seats in its 200-student school.

So far, not many schools have taken the union’s “offer” to drop out of the voucher program and avoid litigation.

Most Louisiana private schools that chose to participate in the voucher program share these characteristics. They are faith-based and they have reserved a handful of seats for voucher-bearing students. They’ll derive the overwhelming majority of their revenues from tuition-paying students.

The state’s Department of Education had to take this into account when it drafted regulations to hold “voucher schools” more accountable. It decided, sensibly, that private schools enrolling large numbers of publicly funded students will be held to greater public transparency and results-linked accountability than schools enrolling just a handful. If the state imposed the...

Winning the gold for gab

Mike and Rick ponder public perceptions of education spending and whether it’s Rick—not teachers—who needs a dress code. Amber explains why penalty pay works.

Amber's Research Minute

Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A Field Experiment by Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Steven D. Levitt, John List, and Sally Sadoff - Download the PDF

The Louisiana teacher union can’t get the courts to stop private schools from enrolling voucher-bearing students this fall, so they’ve taken to threatening the schools with litigation.

The law firm representing the Louisiana Association of Educators and others in their legal challenge against the state’s new voucher program has sent letters to schools that opted to participate in the program that “it will have no alternative other than to institute litigation” against them unless they opt out.

Two weeks ago, a district judge in Louisiana denied the union’s request for an injunction to block funding to the program, and an appellate court this week threw out the union’s request to overturn that decision. So now the plaintiffs have turned to bullying the schools.

A letter sent by attorney Brian Blackwell to one school asked for a promise not to accept any voucher funds. The alternative, Blackwell said, might be litigation. “We hope that you agree with us that proceeding with a program that is blatantly unconstitutional does not benefit students, parents, public schools or non-public schools,” he wrote.

The tactic worked. The school later wrote to state Superintendent John White that it was pulling out of the program. So...

Sophomoric videos are our thing

Mike and Adam dissect StudentsFirst’s take on the Olympics and debate whether the parent trigger is overhyped. Amber wonders what Maryland and Delaware are doing right when it comes to education.

Amber's Research Minute

Achievement Growth: International and U.S. State Trends in Student Performance - Download the PDF

Louisiana broke new ground this week with a sensible plan for holding “voucher schools” accountable. State Superintendent John White will put into practice a “sliding scale” of accountability (an idea we first floated three years ago): Private schools enrolling large numbers of publicly funded students will be held to greater public transparency and results-linked accountability than schools enrolling just a handful. Specifically, private schools that enroll an average of ten voucher students per grade or more than forty in grades that are tested will be assessed points under a scoring system similar to one administered to public schools. A lower score could keep a school from enrolling students in the program, and it could, over time, trigger a quality review by the state Department of Education. Transparency around student-achievement results can be found in the voucher programs of other states (including Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio), but only Louisiana will have the authority to banish from the program schools that show consistently poor performance. This is a common-sense policy that can make vouchers more politically sustainable—and work better for kids, to boot.

A version of this analysis appeared on the Choice Words blog.

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  • Special-education spending recommendations (August 2012)
    Nathan Levenson and his team at the District Management Council have done extensive work on special education spending in Ohio and elsewhere.  Together with the ESC of Central Ohio, Fordham commissioned Levenson to examine state and local special education spending practices and offer recommendations to simultaneously improve the quality of services provided to students with special needs while achieving greater cost-effectiveness in an era of diminishing resources.
  • Annual analysis of Ohio school performance (August 2012)
    As in past years, we will analyze the academic performance results of Ohio’s schools, with a special focus on the state’s urban centers and charter schools.  This year’s analysis will have an improved focus on charter school performance in four major cities—Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton. We’ll look at how charters compare with their district peers—for not only the past school year but also the past decade. And in addition to looking back at the past ten years, we’ll also peer into the future, with some projections of what statewide proficiency rates may be when the Common Core State Standards come to the Buckeye State in 2014-15.
  • Statewide Study of Student Mobility (September/October 2012)
    This analysis,
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The Task Force on Charter School Quality and Accountability issued their Renewing the Compact report in 2005. This seminal charter school report set forth goals around five key areas:

  • Achievement: Focus resolutely on student achievement
  • Talent: Draw talented individuals to the classroom and leadership positions
  • Funding: Gain equitable funding for charter schools
  • Support: Increase support for the charter school community
  • Scale: Build up successful schools and close those that fail

A new report from the North-Carolina based Public Impact evaluates the progress that the nation’s charter school sector has made over the last seven years in regards to meeting the goals above. It also provides recommendations for improvements moving forward. Public Impact interviewed a variety of key stakeholders including education leaders, charter school representatives, and think tanks.

The first question asked of the interviewees looked at positive developments or trends over the past several years. Major successes over the last seven years include:

  • Proof points of quality: Charter schools around the country demonstrate that underserved students can achieve at high levels.
  • Increased recognition of quality and accountability:  Policymakers and authorizers have increased their focus on quality

Along with recent successes, numerous challenges still remain, including the following:

  • Inadequate supply
  • ...

Ohio charters are gaining an international reputation—but not for the best of reasons. In recent articles, The Economist chides Ohio charters for having “done badly” and operating without oversight in a “Wild West” environment. And these remarks are written in articles that praise charters schools more generally.

With every financial scandal and every school closure due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny.

With a prominent global publication taking our charter schools to task, readers around the world—from New York City to London to Tokyo—now know what many of us locally know too well. Ohio’s charter sector has underperformed in comparison to other states. Despite some exceptional schools (e.g., DECA in Dayton, Constellation Schools and Breakthrough in Cleveland, KIPP and Columbus Collegiate Academy in Columbus), charters in Ohio—as a group—have far too often disappointed students and parents who placed their hopes in these schools. With every financial scandal and every school closure due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny.

When it comes to student performance in charters other states do it better. We’ve argued in a 2006 report to lawmakers, in a 2010 book, in numerous op-eds, and in public testimony to lawmakers that Ohio’s charter sector needs...

As reported above, Ohio charter schools received a bad rap in recent articles by The Economist. After singing the praises of charters in some of America’s largest cities, The Economist went on to disparage Ohio’s charters, stating that they “have done badly.” And, as a group they have if academic performance is what matters.

Below I take a slice of data from Cleveland to look at the performance of its charter schools relative to two comparison groups. First, I compare how Cleveland’s charters stack up against Cleveland Municipal School District (the city’s traditional public school). Second, I compare Cleveland's charters against a broader set of public districts--all districts in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland Municipal, poorer inner-ring suburban districts, and some affluent suburban districts.

I use the fourth grade math proficiency rate—essentially, the proportion of students who “pass” Ohio’s annual standardized test in a given grade and subject—for the 2010-11 school year. And by using what’s called a “z-score” in statistics, I calculate how far each school's proficiency rate is above or below the average proficiency (pass) rate.[1] A school with a positive score has an above-average proficiency rate; vice-versa, a school with a negative score has a below-average rate.

Figure 1 shows...

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