Charters & Choice

In its fourth
annual report
, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers
offers a snapshot of the nation’s charter sponsors, capturing their size, their
shape, and how many schools they open and shutter. For example, the majority of
the nation’s authorizers are local education agencies (52 percent), and an even
greater percentage are small (86 percent authorized fewer than six schools). More
interestingly, charter-closure rates are on the decline. Just 6.2 percent of
the nation’s charter schools up for renewal were shuttered (or non-renewed) in
2010-11, down from 8.8 percent the year before and 12.6 percent in 2008-09.
Unfortunately, NACSA doesn’t link these stats to performance data, meaning that
we can’t know if this trend indicates increased quality of charters, leniency
of authorizers, or political pressures to keep them open. Digging further,
NACSA reports that nonprofit authorizers (like Fordham) represent the smallest
percentage of those that oversee charter schools but employ the most of NACSA’s
own dozen “essential
.” They’ve also closed more schools, on average, than other types
of authorizers (including districts, institutions of higher ed, and independent
chartering boards). Likewise, authorizers with a larger portfolio of schools
were more likely to implement NACSA’s guidelines. Back in the fall, Andy
Rotherham argued
that we need to embrace risk-taking and consider that
establishing a vibrant charter sector means occasionally allowing the creation
of schools that turn...

Lisa Duty

One could argue that 2011 was the
year of “digital learning” in Ohio and across the nation. In September, the
White House announced its “Digital Promise” campaign, while a number of states
have been embracing initiatives and campaigns in this realm, aided and
encouraged by national groups like the Digital Learning Council and the
Foundation for Excellence in Education. Ohio’s biennial budget launched the
Ohio Digital Learning Task Force and charged it with ensuring that the state’s
“legislative environment is conducive to and supportive of the educators and
digital innovators at the heart of this transformation.”

Our two organizations –
KnowledgeWorks and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute – are committed to seeing
Ohio become a leader in the implementation of digital learning opportunities
for the state’s 1.8 million students. Ohio now stands at an important
crossroads and 2012 could be a pivotal year on whether we move forward in the
digital learning environment.

Our state has been a path-breaker
when it comes to availability of full-time e-school options that leverage
technology in learning. In fact, if all 33,000 children currently enrolled in
Ohio e-schools were in one school district they would comprise the state’s third-largest
district, just behind Columbus and Cleveland. Despite such numbers, Ohio has
yet to harness fully the potential of digital learning for all students. And,
given that digital learning can yield improvements in student achievement...

Adam Emerson

Whenever a legislative measure is aimed at the imbalance of
power between parents and public school interests, it’s often the poorest
families who suffer the greatest indignity in the debate.

After Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed a sweeping
voucher program for low-income students, the head of the state’s teachers
union, Michael Walker Jones, told
the New Orleans Times-Picayune

that parents living just out of poverty’s reach would have neither the time nor
the knowledge to make the right educational decisions. In another case, an
Orlando Sentinel editorial
a proposed “parent trigger” bill working its way through the Florida
legislature by asserting that parents in the worst performing schools would be
unable “to face a steep and brief learning curve in making such a game-changing

So what can a sample of relatively poor families in Mexico
do to inform the conversation? That’s
what a team of researchers set out to explore in several rural Mexican states

participating in a decentralized government education program we might consider
almost revolutionary in the United States.

Paul Gertler, Harry Patrinos, and Marta Rubio-Codina
examined an initiative that directly involved parents in the management of
schools located in disadvantaged communities. The program, Apoyo a la Gestiόn Escolar (School Management Support), gives
seed money to parent associations so that they can make improvements to a
school’s resources and materials. In return, the parents...

Adam Emerson

Are we doing enough to ensure that the charter schools we
open today won’t be the ones we’ll be closing later? Some may argue, as Andy
Rotherham did in the fall
, that we need to embrace risk-taking and consider
that establishing great charter schools means occasionally creating bad ones. Taking
the safe route too often welcomes mediocrity. But that might make greater sense
if charter school authorizers were adopting best practices in the first place.

the safe route too often welcomes mediocrity.

Many are not, as a report
released today by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers
makes evident.
And widely varying practices means that too many authorizers aren’t making the
right decisions to keep good schools open and bad schools closed, NACSA
president and CEO Greg Richmond said.

Just 6.2 percent of the nation’s charter schools up for
renewal in 2010-11 were closed, down from 8.8 percent the year before and 12.6
percent in 2008-09, according to the report. While the association attributes
the decline to any number of factors – stronger policies regulating charter
oversight, better quality among charters, or even political pressure to keep
bad schools open – it believes that trend is heading in the wrong direction.
“Our experience suggests that authorizing agencies should be closing more,
rather than fewer, poor-performing schools,” Richmond said in a written

Authorizers with a larger portfolio of...

In a recent New York Times column
about Steve Brill’s Class Warfare: Inside
the Fight to Fix America’s Schools
, Joe
, says

“[Y]ou simply cannot fix America’s schools by `scaling’ charter
schools. It won’t work. Charters schools offer proof of the concept that great
teaching is a huge difference-maker, but charters can only absorb a tiny
fraction of the nation’s 50 million public schoolchildren. Real reform has to
go beyond charters – and it has to include the unions. That’s what Brill
figured out.”
Nocera makes the
mistake of confusing pedagogy and governance.

Wrong. Like many education establishmentarians, Nocera makes the
mistake of confusing pedagogy and governance. The former—e.g. great teaching—is
a hard nut to crack and Nocera is right to suggest, as does Brill, that there perhaps
aren’t enough great teachers in the pipeline (or in charter schools) to educate
all 50 million public school students.

But there is certainly no such impediment to `scaling’ charters. Every
public school in America could be a charter school tomorrow if policymakers
would allow it. Would that “fix” America’s schools? Not necessarily. But it would

The other problem with the scaling argument is that it assumes that big is beautiful—that no matter how
successful you are, if you can’t replicate your methods of success, then your
model won’t be useful to the American public school system. That is true only

Adam Emerson

ALECs_17th_Report_Card-1.jpgWhen the Wall Street Journal blessed 2011 as
the Year of School Choice, few advocates for public and private school options
passed up the chance to celebrate the benediction. But the American Legislative
Exchange Council knows that rhapsody will take the education reformer only so
far. ALEC’s latest annual report card on American K-12 education,
released this week, doubles as guidebook for the reformer who prefers “broad,
rather than incremental, reform,” as authors Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips write.
It’s a brazen assignment, but the Journal was right. It’s been a brazen

Moves to enhance tenure reform, merit pay, and transparency
in public school performance all receive praise from ALEC, but it’s the
“roaring comeback of parental choice” that signals the promise for academic
gains. When Ladner and Lips note that low-income students in Washington, D.C.,
have made outsized leaps on the fourth- and eighth-grade NAEP reading and math
exams, they point to an expanded public and private school market, combined
with an audacious array of policy changes that recognized district teachers by
their merit and eliminated administrative blockades to innovation. “Hall of
Shame members ought to rethink their improvement strategies,” the authors
conclude, referring to the bottom-dwelling states that have stumbled in their
NAEP gains and, which incidentally, have done little to enhance choice,...

As you are likely well aware, we are in the midst of School
Choice Week, not only here in Ohio but nationwide. Numerous events have been
going on all throughout the Buckeye State to help commemorate.  One such event that I had the privilege to
attend was a luncheon, hosted on Tuesday by School
Choice Ohio
and Forum for Educational
Options at the Statehouse to celebrate the myriad of choice options
that youngsters have here . The event was a way to not only a way to talk about
school choice options, but also highlight a number of choice schools that are
doing great things in the type of education they are providing, whether that be
digital learning, special needs, or college prep.

The immense diversity in Ohio’s school landscape speaks to
the fact that one size fit all doesn’t always work for children and their
families. Ohio’s school choice options include the following:

  • Special Needs Schools
  • Distance Learning & E-schools
  • Dropout Recovery Schools
  • Career Preparatory Schools
  • Vouchers/Scholarships
  • English Language Learners Schools
  • College Preparatory Schools
  • STEM Schools
  • Home Education
  • Charter Schools
  • District Schools

School Choice Ohio also recognized schools and school
leaders that are thinking creatively about what it means to educate children
and as a result are achieving outstanding academic results in the face of many
adversities. One such school is located in Fordham’s hometown of Dayton,...

Are Bad Schools Immortal? Groundhog Day Event

Are Bad Schools Immortal?

When it comes to low-performing schools, we seem to be witnessing the same thing over and over—not unlike the classic movie, Groundhog Day.Ground Hog Day

A recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute tracked about 2,000 low-performing schools and found that the vast majority of them remained open and remained low-performing after five years. Very few were significantly improved. So, are failing schools fixable?

Join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for a lively and provocative debate about that question. Fordham VP Mike Petrilli will moderate, and the discussion will be informed, in part, by Fordham's study, Are Bad Schools Immortal? The Scarcity of Turnarounds and Shutdowns in Both Charter and District Sectors.

  • It’s no secret that American science education is lagging—and
    Fordham will shed more light on why next week when we release our new
    evaluation of state science standards. Meanwhile, the more than 200 separate and often overlapping federal STEM programs
    that the GAO pointed out this week
    demonstrate the dangers of
    turning to Washington to fix things.
  • A Virginia state legislator is proposing that any parent have
    the right to observe
    his or her child’s classroom
    , given reasonable notice. Gadfly objects…to
    having to give reasonable notice. Let’s welcome parental involvement in
    education, not lock the school doors.
  • Chicago’s longer school day has
    only been implemented in a few schools, but is already stressing the district budget. Meanwhile, the teacher union has submitted demands for its new contract, including rejecting Emanuel’s proposed 2 percent
    raise for the longer
    hours. Budgets may get tight in the Windy City, but this is a cause worth finding
    the cash for..
  • President Obama threw a curveball Tuesday night in his State
    of the Union speech when he called on states to raise
    the compulsory education age to eighteen
    . Reducing dropout rates sounds great but
    the White House has no tools (other than jawbones) by which to make it happen.
    With ESEA reauthorization stalled and Race to the Top struggling, another
    sweeping mandate is the last thing the President needs.
  • Former teacher
  • ...

Those engaged in National School Choice Week (which
started Monday, in case you somehow failed to notice) have much to celebrate.
In 2011, eleven states added or expanded their choice programs (vouchers,
tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts), bringing the total
number of such programs up to thirty-four. This Friedman Foundation primer
documents the what, where, and how of each such initiative, including student
and school participation data, eligibility criteria, and voucher-value
information. As state legislatures and school-choice advocates return to work
after the holidays, those in the choice camp must remain diligent. (The
lawsuits—like that against the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program in July
2011—documented in this primer prove that need.) 2011 saw exciting gains on
this front. Let’s make Milton proud and keep that wheel spinning in 2012 and

Paul DiPerna, editor, 2012 ABCs of School Choice (The Friedman Foundation for Educational
Choice, January 2012.)