Charters & Choice

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is pleased to share our 2009-10 Sponsorship Accountability Report. The report, Renewal and Optimism: Five Years as an Ohio Charter Authorizer, contains a year in review for Ohio’s charter school program, detailed information on the Fordham Foundation’s work as a charter school sponsor, and data on the performance of our sponsored schools during that year. 

 

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Charter schools are one of the hottest policy debates in American education—and we've been a lively participant in this debate since day one, both nationally and in Ohio. Our home state has struggled with these issues and conflicts for more than a decade, struggles in which Fordham has played influential—and controversial—roles, including that of an actual authorizer of charter schools.

Ohio’s Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the Frontlines, published by Palgrave Macmillan, is our commitment to describe and analyze our efforts, successes and failures, and to distill what we think it all means for others committed to school reform and innovation.

Fordham’s trajectory in Dayton and our experience as a charter school authorizer are chronicled in 11 chapters that illustrate, as former Massachusetts Commissioner of Education David Driscoll notes, the “collision of theory and practice” and the “woes of public education in America."

Andy Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether Education and former domestic policy advisor to President Clinton, calls it an “engaging, interesting first-hand account of education reform in Dayton.” The president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Nelson Smith says, “This book is a real battlefield memoir. The Fordham team names names—and fesses up to their own foibles as well—providing the kind of insight you can’t find in most plain-vanilla volumes on education reform.”

We are happy to finally share our story, a memoir of our unique role as dual participant in the charter school debate since its inception, and authorizer of actual schools serving some of Ohio’s neediest students.

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Guest Blogger

Guest blogger Alex Medler is the VP for Research and Evaluation at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). Medler chaired the board of directors of Colorado's Charter School Institute, a statewide charter authorizer.

When people hear about a charter school that is struggling, it's pretty easy to second guess the school's authorizer.? If a charter applicant is not ready to open a great school, they shouldn't get a charter.? And if a charter school is failing, the authorizer should close it down.? Otherwise, the authorizer should stay the heck out of the way!? Sounds like simple work. Why then are there so many charter schools out there that we wouldn't send our own children to? And why do we hear so many stories about authorizers crushing the autonomy of ?their schools??

Good authorizing shouldn't be a mystery.? It is a set of practices that can be performed well or badly.? The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA ) captures these best practices in its Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing. The challenge is getting all authorizers to embrace and implement practices that will maintain high standards for all schools, while still protecting each school's autonomy as well as the rights of students and the public.? Otherwise, weak applicants will continue to get approved; failing schools will stay open; and everyone else will be needled by their overzealous authorizer overlords.[pullquote]Some authorizers refuse to provide quality control. Others want to do a good...

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The Columbus Dispatch ran competing op-eds by School Choice Ohio's (SCO) Chad Aldis and Fordham's Terry Ryan on the expansion of vouchers in the Buckeye State. Both Aldis and Ryan support the expansion of school choice programs in Ohio, but how the state should hold these new programs accountable for their academic performance and even whether it should do so is contentious.

Ohio's House Bill 136(Huffman) would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Saving Scholarship Program (PACT), a private school scholarship program open to all students statewide whose families meet a maximum income threshold, regardless of whether their home district is failing or not. PACT would award up to $4,563 per child to families with annual household incomes up to $65,000 for a family of four, and could affect every school district in the state. The breadth of this proposed voucher program as well as the fact that Ohio currently has three other voucher programs and a myriad of other school choice options such as charter and on-line schools, is turning the debate over HB 136 into somewhat of a school choice war.

SCO's Chad Aldis made the philosophical case for the expansion of vouchers when he penned that

?As parents, we want the best for our children, and we make choices every day to achieve that. We choose the food they eat, the doctors they see, the amount of television they watch. Our choices help shape the people they become. Yet, among the hundreds of

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The New York Times continues to provide a generous medley of education reporting, including, of course, from their controversial "On Education" columnist Michael Winerip.? Alas, Winerip is not among the three recent stories I want to highlight here:

Troubled Schools Mimicking Charters This is an intriguing piece by Sam Dillon, about school reform in Houston, but I stopped short when I got to this line:

In the first experiment of its kind in the country, the Houston public schools are testing whether techniques proven successful in high-performing urban charters can also help raise achievement in regular public schools.

First of its kind?? I ran this by my friend Hal Kwalwasser, who has just finished a book (for which I provided some editing advice), describing improvement strategies in many traditional school districts.?? Writes Hal in an email:

There are lots of districts around the country that are doing the things that Houston is now about to do. Nothing new here?.? The big question is not that Houston is trying them out now, but why hundreds if not thousands of districts have not done the same thing - and not done it many years ago.

Time to Revive Home Ec This is a gem of an essay, written by Michigan State historian Helen Zoe Veit.

Reviving [Home Economics] and its original premises ? that producing good, nutritious food is profoundly important, that it takes study and practice, and that it can and should be taught through the

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