Charters & Choice

The Education Gadfly

More than two million students nationwide now attend charter schools, with over 500 new charters opening this school year alone. Ensuring a strong supply of talented school leaders to serve this growing sector requires creative solutions, which is why experts from charter incubation organizations across the country came together on Wednesday for a Fordham and CEE-Trust-sponsored discussion of the incubation model and a new policy brief on the topic. Watch the video to catch up on all the conversation from “Driving Quality: Can charter incubators solve the problem of too many mediocre charter schools?

Download the policy brief, “Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector,” to learn more.

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The twenty years since Minnesota passed the nation’s first charter school law have seen a great expansion in school choice, with charters operating in all but ten states and enrolling nearly two million students nationwide. Yet while parents now enjoy more schooling options for their children, a disappointing number of charter schools fail to provide excellent educations. As an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio, we struggle daily with birthing and growing high-quality charter schools—which is why we find promising and underutilized approaches like charter incubation so appealing.

In this policy brief, Public Impact’s Joe Ableidinger and Julie Kowal examine the merits of the incubation model, outline specific strategies for supporting it, and profile organizations around the U.S. putting it into practice. The authors explain that through the strategic recruitment, selection, and training of talented leaders—and support of them as they launch or expand new charter schools—incubators offer charter school advocates an important tool in guaranteeing quality school choice.

Fordham is the 99 percent

Special guest appearance! Terry Ryan flies in
from the Buckeye State to talk with Mike about charter incubators (using our
new report as backdrop), the striking similarity between the EU and the Common
Core, and D.C.’s school-choice initiatives. Amber dances the TUDA and Chris
believes in Santa Claus.

Better Choices coverSince 2005, Fordham has been working in Ohio to recruit high-quality
charter schools to neighborhoods badly in need of better schools. During
our six-plus years of effort we have managed to recruit just two
high-performing models to Columbus (KIPP and a Building Excellent
Schools
venture). Tougher still, we have been unable to recruit any to our home
town of
Dayton. We know first-hand just how hard it is to help recruit and
launch great
schools, especially to a Rust Belt state like Ohio. It is for this
reason that
we are excited about the work of organizations across the country to
accelerate
the growth of great new schools through a strategic process called
charter
incubation. 

Charter incubators are entities that intentionally build the
supply of high-quality schools and charter-management organizations (CMOs) in
cities or regions by recruiting, selecting, and training promising leaders, and
supporting those leaders as they launch new schools. Groups leading this
innovative effort include New
Schools for New Orleans
, the
Tennessee Charter School Incubator
, Get
Smart Schools
in Colorado, Charter
School Partners
in Minnesota, The Mind Trust’s Charter School
Incubator
in Indianapolis, and 4.0
Schools
in several southeastern states.

These organizations are united in their belief
that the development of great charter schools...

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Are Charter School Unions Worth the Bargain? coverDespite its reputation, the charter field isn’t
a wholly anti-union stronghold. In fact, 12 percent of charter schools now
have bargaining agreements. (Conversion charters are much more likely to be
unionized [44 percent] than startups [9 percent].) In this new CRPE report,
Mitch Price analyzes the union contracts of nine of the nation’s 604 unionized
charters and compares them to their local district contracts. He finds that, on
average, charters’ union contracts are more flexible when it comes to length of
day and year, grievance processes, and layoff criteria—but still far too rigid.
(Using our own Leadership
Limbo
criteria, Price gives charter contracts a C-plus score, compared
to the C-minus score given to district schools.) While union contracts in the
charter sector are relatively flexible—more tailored to individual school needs
(and thus less likely to stifle the missions of these schools)—Price argues
that we are only seeing their beta versions. It remains to be seen whether
these contracts, when renegotiated, will serve as examples of reasonable labor
relations practices or will instead grow more restrictive.

Mitch Price, Are Charter School Unions Worth the Bargain? (Center
for Reinventing Public Education, Seattle, WA, November 2011)....

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This edition of Fwd summarizes Ohio state report card data for Dayton public schools district and charter. Two major conclusions leap from these data. First, despite some recent gains, the phrase academic emergency continues to characterize the majority of Dayton's public schools. Second, youngsters in Dayton's charter schools outperformed their district peers in all parts of the 4th and 6th grade proficiency tests. This important finding flies in the face of recent assertions that charter school students are learning less.

Guest blogger Robin Lake is associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. In this post, she responds to “Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector,” a Public Impact-authored policy brief co-released yesterday by Fordham’s Ohio team and CEE-Trust.

Public Impact’s new paper on incubators is a well-needed addition to the conversation about scaling high-quality charter schools. I’ve been saying for some time that CMOs, no matter how good, cannot be the charter sector’s sole answer to new school supply.

For the past five years, most of the private philanthropy to support
new charter schools has gone to CMOs and the feds have increasingly
targeted start-up funding to replication. But CMOs are an expensive path
to scale and one that is yielding uneven quality.
Importantly, CMOs tend to locate in major urban areas with a strong TFA
presence and high per-pupil funding. For cities like Indianapolis,
Minneapolis, and Milwaukee, all the recruiting in the world is unlikely
to attract respected CMOs like Aspire or Achievement First. Also
problematic is the fact that many talented would-be charter founders
want nothing to do with large, highly centralized, and sometimes
bureaucratic CMOs. We need alternatives to CMOs that recognize these
realities and create scale and replication options for small cities and
entrepreneurial leaders.

To be clear, the overall quality of standalone charter schools has
...

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This post originally appeared on the National Review Online.

Parents’ perspectives on education reform are often missing from the
education policy debate, with technocrats typically arguing with one
another about what parents want or what’s best for them. So I was
heartened to see the New York Times publish an op-ed by a bona fide parent from Washington, D.C. — and on the topic of school choice, no less.

Leave it to the Times to get it wrong.

The parent, Natalie Hopkinson, is
understandably frustrated about the poor public-school options
available in her mostly African-American neighborhood. She’s also angry
that D.C.’s hard-charging former schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee,
closed down some of the
public schools in her vicinity. But her depiction of “school choice” as the culprit is misguided.

The real story is more complicated, and
more interesting. In the last five years, Washington parents have seen
some school-choice options disappear (Hopkinson’s beef) while new
options have come onto the scene. But the reduction of choice isn’t
because of Michelle Rhee’s policies — it’s because of gentrification.
It used to be that black families living east of Rock
Creek Park
could send their kids to schools “west of the park” via the district’s
out-of-boundary choice system. After all, the schools in tony
neighborhoods weren’t filled to capacity.

That’s...

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