Charters & Choice

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told the Columbus Dispatch back in 2007, about his city’s rapidly declining population, that, “Our problem is families with children. People are making their choices based on education, and if I am able to make our school district a district of choice where people want to put their children because of excellence, then I can guarantee you that our population reduction will come to a halt.” In the last decade Cleveland’s school age population has shrunk by 10,000 children, and those left behind are largely poor, minority, and struggling academically.  

It is in the hope of stemming the loss of families and children that the mayor has proposed his bold school reform plan that seeks to turn the city’s educational fortunes around. There are many worthy parts to his plan (see here for details), and one of the boldest sections calls for changes to how charter schools operate and are treated in Cleveland. First, high-performing charters would be welcomed as equals and even be offered a share of local tax-levy revenue. This arrangement would be the first of its kind in America and is truly path breaking. Second, the plan calls for a Transformation...

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker may have been the bookends that roused the assembly at a school choice policy summit last week in Jersey City, but it was a largely unknown corporate representative who provided some sobering perspective.

Policymakers will initiate change quickly if they design their choice policies smartly.

That’s because it was Erika Aaron’s job to talk about what happens after legislatures win the fight to establish vouchers or tax credit scholarships, which Christie said had “the chance to get the most change, the most quickly.” No doubt, Aaron shared the same sense of urgency with others at the American Federation for Children’s annual summit, but she also reminded the participants that they’ll initiate change quickly if they design their choice policies smartly.

Aaron is the community relations director for Waste Management, Inc., which has contributed $16 million to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program alone as well as millions to similar programs in other states in exchange for a tax credit. But Aaron said the company is particular about where it redirects its tax liability, and a smart private school choice policy to Waste Management may not be the most disruptive....

The Gadfly’s spring line is out!

Janie and Daniela debate designer Kenneth Cole’s foray into education reform and the Department of Education’s CTE overhaul, while Amber examines turnover among charter school principals.

Amber's Research Minute

The State of the NYC Charter School Sector by New York City Charter School Center

There is a student whose needs often go unmet by the schoolhouse and the statehouse—high-achieving, but not quite gifted, one who receives less attention from principals and policymakers focused on bringing the bottom up to proficiency.

High Flyers
For more on this issue read Fordham's study, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students.

So a lawmaker in Florida pushed successfully for a law that makes schools focus more attention on students at or near the top.

This week, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill that establishes a minimum number of accelerated learning opportunities while making sure parents and students know how they can take advantage of those options (called Academically Challenging Curriculum to Enhance Learning options, or ACCEL). The measure was championed by state Representative John Legg, who feared that talented students were going through school unchallenged, especially in districts that paid little attention to accelerated learning.

Each of Florida’s sixty-seven school districts largely draft their plans for student progress by stressing expectations for meeting...

It’s primary season in statehouses nationwide, and that means that teacher unions will pit Democrat against Democrat by using the support of school vouchers as a wedge.

Teacher unions will pit Democrat against Democrat by using the support of school vouchers as a wedge.

An unexpected reminder of that came last week in the Wisconsin Democratic recall primary campaign for governor. The Wisconsin Education Association recently distributed a mailer claiming that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett wanted to expand the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. The union supports Barrett’s opponent in the primary, and is now using a story from seven years ago claiming that Mayor Barrett supported raising the enrollment cap on the voucher program.

Barrett said then that he was willing to back the cap increase in exchange for more money for all public schools, and he has since repeatedly expressed alarm over the voucher program’s cost to local taxpayers. But that’s beside the point for the union and enough to force Barrett to spend energy on the campaign trail defending his support for public education.

This strategy has worked before. A Democratic candidate for Florida Senate named Terry Fields spent weeks addressing his past support for the...

The pineapple and the gadfly

Standardized testing, school closures, and a pineapple: Rick and Janie cover it all this week, while Amber wonders whether weighted-student funding made a difference in Hartford after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Funding a Better Education: conclusions from the first three years of student-based budgeting in hartford

Before the real-estate bubble burst, there was a growing literature on the link between government regulation of housing and home prices. Tougher zoning restrictions, it seemed, drove up the cost of housing. This Brookings Institution report builds off this notion: Restrictive zoning regulations—such as those that limit the construction of high-rise apartments or other multi-family units in certain neighborhoods—not surprisingly create cities that are segregated by income and race. And that, in turn, produces unequal access to quality schools. By loosening or even eliminating restrictive zoning, cities may see housing-cost gaps narrow by as much as 63 percentage points and see school-achievement gaps narrow as a result, Rothwell writes. (In other words, less zoning results in less segregated neighborhoods, and less segregated schools.) In the meantime, district-choice plans, charter schools, and school vouchers can help offset the effects of zoning, the author argues. Unfortunately, in these tough economic times, districts are too often restricting school choice—by drawing tighter attendance zones around specialty schools or by denying bus service to them. That’s a poor way to save money. And if Rothwell teaches us anything, it’s that quality choices...

"This plan is aggressive," warned School District of Philadelphia Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon at a Tuesday press conference announcing a massive reform of the city’s K-12 education. Good. Changes are desperately needed: Philly's public schools face massive deficits, declining enrollment, and rank among the worst of large urban school districts. Unfortunately, aggressive plans often entail mindless slashing of schools and headcount so that "business as usual" can continue elsewhere. To their credit, Philadelphia’s policy leaders—embodied in a board jointly appointed by the governor and mayor—are mostly resisting that fatal temptation. While forty of the district’s 249 schools would be closed by next fall, the goal is to bolster parental choice, prizing the development of "high-performing seats" wherever they can be found over protecting the legacy school district. Encouragingly, the district also plans to restructure employee benefits, saving $156 million of the projected $218 million deficit for next fiscal year. A proposed 7 percent reduction in per-pupil payments to charters is worrying, though. Still and all, the School Reform Commission deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future.

Phila. School District plan includes restructing and school closings," by Kristen A. Graham,...

The Philadelphia school district’s plan to lift itself out of financial and academic distress may have overshadowed a profound development this week for Catholic education in the City of Brotherly Love. The Philadelphia Archdiocese agreed Monday to join a compact with public and charter schools in the city to make sure that kids have access to quality schools.

Two conditions of the agreement make this momentous and should give Catholic leaders throughout the nation something to consider:

  • This so-called Great Schools Compact will add Philadelphia’s Catholic schools to an online clearinghouse being developed that will provide families information on public, charter, and Catholic education in the city, and;
  • The Archdiocese will make its standardized test-score data available for that clearinghouse. Most Philadelphia Catholic schools currently administer the Terra Nova, but the Archdiocese has signed on to the Common Core State Standards.
The Archdiocese also has pledged to do something most Catholic schools have not: open up student performance to public scrutiny.

Finally, a group committed to enhancing urban public education has recognized that the urban Catholic school shares a common purpose, and the Great Schools Compact is doing more than paying lip service. But the...

Imagine a law that forces your family into a charter school lottery, a law that doesn’t care whether you would choose a charter or not. The burden is on you to refuse the seat and a family who does want the seat is waiting for you to act.

Such a law may only be a few legislative steps away in Connecticut. Democratic leaders in the state General Assembly have hitched this “opt-out” lottery to a sweeping omnibus bill that covers reforms that range from teacher quality to school improvement, and where better to bury it? Many provisions in Senate Bill 24 have generated heat over tenure reform and charter school funding, distracting the public from this perversion of parental choice in education.

SB 24 twists the concept of choice and could decimate the progress charters have made in the Nutmeg State.

The lottery would be imposed on all new charter schools and would draw from the names of every student from the district in which the charter operates, leaving it to the family to accept or decline the spot. The provision emerged from a closed-door meeting with union leaders and the Democratic chairs of the state’s joint education...