Charters & Choice

Supporters of converting an Adelanto, California district
school into a charter had boasted that 70 percent of parents backed the change,
but the Los Angeles Times reported that nearly 100 later
backed out of the petition,
which the school board threw out on Tuesday.
The failure to enact a ‘parent trigger’ and make Desert Trails Elementary a
charter shows how difficult it is to campaign for the sweeping reform the law
allows—just as it should be. As states like Florida and Michigan consider their own trigger laws, they should set
the bar high to make sure that transformational change is possible only with a
supermajority of parents, not the simple
majority necessary in California. A parent trigger is good policy. It brings
families to a bargaining table that has been the exclusive province of teacher
unions and school boards, and it begins to rethink the way we govern public
education—and does so in ways that meet the unique needs of low-performing and
low-income students. The trigger also helps to counteract monopolies, whether
those include strong-arming school boards or obstructionist unions. But a parent-directed reform with a
tenuous hold on support and authority can lead to its own imbalance of power, a
problem that can be checked if two-thirds of the families agree to sign up.
That’s a threshold required to pass constitutional referenda in...

The failure to enact a parent trigger in Adelanto,
California, shows how difficult it is to campaign for the sweeping reform the
law allows, as it should be. If the parents at Desert Trails Elementary want to
either replace the instructional and administrative staff or convert the school
into a charter, it had better have the support of an overwhelming majority of
parents. The campaign had boasted that 70 percent of Desert Trails parents
supported pulling the trigger, but
the Los Angeles Times reported that
nearly 100 later backed out of the petition,
which the school board on
Tuesday threw out.

It should be difficult to campaign for the sweeping reform parent trigger
laws allow.

The effort may not have divided the school, as
a Times headline asserted earlier
this week
, but it certainly led a community of parents to splinter into
factions, including those who wanted to see change at a troubled school but not
a wholesale charter conversion. As more states like Florida
and Michigan
consider their own trigger laws, they should set the bar high to make sure that
transformational change is capable with only a supermajority of parents.

California’s law demands that a simple majority of parents at a low-performing traditional school
can petition for a charter conversion, and most states with trigger proposals
follow that formula. Ben Austin, the executive director of...

Rick Santorum
The GOP presidential hopeful is both a blessing and a curse for home-schooling advocates.
 Photo by Marc Nozell

The spotlight shining on Rick Santorum’s educational
philosophy is both a blessing and a curse for home-schooling parents and their
advocates. As the Los Angeles Times noted over the
weekend, the Republican presidential hopeful has emerged as the most prominent
home schooler in America, a fact that gives momentum to a movement that is
growing in popularity to include, by some estimates, nearly two million people
nationwide. But the same story also identified Santorum as the GOP leader who
“bashes public schools” and disparages the government’s hand in keeping
education mired in the Industrial Age.  

A greater range of home-school practitioners is making it
harder to draw broad conclusions about the movement, but most commentators and
journalists still see it far enough outside the mainstream to develop anything
more than a caricature. Hence, readers end up with nonsense like
that from Dana Goldstein
, who writes in Slate that liberals who home school
their children are violating their own progressive values by sowing distrust in
public institutions. But however unreasonable it might be for Goldstein to draw
upon extremes, Santorum’s weekend jeremiad only invites...

A high-performing charter network in Chicago cherished by
Mayor Rahm Emanuel got some lowbrow attention this week. The city’s esteemed
Noble Network of Charter Schools has been charging fees of children who rack up
a sizable share of demerits, and a group that would never be confused as a
friend of charters and choice thought
it would bring some attention to the practice
. The Chicago media have
lapped it up, mocking Emanuel’s previous reference to the school’s “secret
sauce” for student success while pointing now to evidence that Noble is
nickel-and-diming poor kids. But a cursory search through any number of
Catholic school codes of conduct shows that Noble’s policies aren’t so

A cursory search through Catholic school codes of conduct shows that Noble’s policies aren’t so

Let’s set aside the fees for a moment and consider the
“sauce” that makes up this particular charter network. State achievement test
data show that Noble beats the public school test score average. Families have
lined up for entry and the school has a long waiting list, despite – or maybe
because of – its strict disciplinary policies. It boasts a 90 percent
graduation rate, compared to 54 percent for Chicago Public Schools, and 91
percent of its graduating seniors go on to college.

It also puts a price tag on misbehavior. The student who
collects four demerits in two weeks...

As Adam wrote on Monday, the budget proposal that President Obama released this week zeroes out federal support for the D.C Opportunity Scholarship Program, backtracking on a budget deal the White House made with House Speaker John Boehner last year. Yesterday, the Choice Words editor explained Obama's decision and what it means for school choice in a interview, which you can stream below:

Maybe now’s not the time for charter schools in Florida to
ask for parity in funding, but it’s unlikely that a move to seek local revenues
from school districts would be welcome in even the best of times.

The passions stirred by a
legislative effort in the Sunshine State
to direct local tax revenues to
charter schools show just how hard it is for charters to find equity in school
systems that rely on property taxes to fund most of their needs. A Florida
senate bill would make it mandatory for districts to share as much as $140
million in local tax revenues with charters on a per-pupil basis for
construction and renovation. State law currently allows districts to
voluntarily share that money. Not surprisingly, few volunteer.

A senate education committee passed the bill recently along
party lines, and the reaction from school districts and newspaper editorial
boards was apoplectic. “Wait. Rewind,” read the Orlando Sentinel editorial page.
“Didn’t charter school prophets pledge to do more with less? Wasn’t less
regulation supposed to deliver greater efficiency?”

The charter school must pledge to do more
while others determine how much less it’ll get.

Yet it’s the charter school that must pledge to do more
while others determine how much less it’ll get. A
report released last week from Florida TaxWatch
, an independent think tank
and government watchdog, found that...

year’s budget compromise between Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner—the
one that resurrected the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program—was quashed
Monday in a single paragraph deep
in the president’s proposed 2013 budget

president would provide no new funding for the OSP, proposing instead to use
the money available in the program to provide vouchers to currently enrolled
students through the 2013-14 school year—effectively capping the number of
scholarships available at a time when demand is spiking. He then would redirect
$60 million and divvy it among Washington’s
charter schools as well as “the District’s efforts to transform its public
education system.”

proposal shamefully sends the voucher movement back to familiar territory during an election

the president’s long-held opposition to a scholarship program that has provided
private school tuition assistance to more than 1,600 of D.C.’s most
disadvantaged students, Obama found common ground with Boehner in April in
order to avert a government shutdown and to preserve education initiatives
favored by Democrats. “Life has been breathed into the voucher movement,” the
Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst said at the time.

proposal shamefully sends it back to familiar territory during an election

long after he took office, Obama and Congressional Democrats shut down the
voucher program to new students and as recently as last year argued that the OSP

The struggles between the Catholic
Church and the Obama Administration go beyond the recent fight over mandated
contraceptive services, and each scrap reveals the fault lines that inevitably
surface when Washington
tries to tinker with the complex machinery that administers our health,
education, and social services.  

His attempt to find common ground
with adult interests in public education has led Obama to policy positions that
oppose school vouchers.

President Obama has historically understood that it’s the
diversity of our communities that strengthens the greater good, but
as New York Times columnist David
Brooks noted this week
, Obama has governed with a “technocratic
rationalism” in his presidency that strives for uniformity and common effort.
Thus, his attempt to engender comprehensive healthcare has roiled Catholic
hospitals and social agencies that must support health insurance coverage that
violates a fundamental doctrine of faith. And his attempt to find common ground
with adult interests in public education has led Obama to policy positions that
oppose school vouchers in general and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship in

Let’s leave aside the polarizing nature of voucher programs
for a moment and consider a
report released this week from our friends at the Hoover Institution
ably recognizes the fault lines and appreciates what Washington does well, and what it does not.
The Koret Task Force on K-12 Education has called for a...

In the ongoing saga of Pennsylvania’s Chester Upland School
District, revisionist historians are growing louder, asserting that
“privatization” and the emergence of the Keystone State’s largest charter
school have hastened the district’s much-publicized and impending death. First,
a quick review: The school district says it’s broke; Gov. Tom Corbett has
promised aid, but without a clear source; now the New York Times has
pointed a finger at the Chester Community Charter School, which claims it’s
owed nearly $7 million by the district and the state. Enrollment at the charter
has risen to 45 percent of the district’s students, and its presence has led
commentators to declare that school choice is partly to blame for Chester
Upland’s financial woes. Unfortunately for critics (including but by no means
limited to the NEA), the problems at Chester Upland preceded the launch of the
charter by several years, and many entities, public and private, have gotten
their hands dirty; the state had to take over the district’s finances between
1994 and 2010, Edison Schools tried and failed to turn the district around, and
the board lost about $18 million in revenue between 2010 and 2011 alone. It
might be politically expedient to accuse charter operators of treating
Chester’s public education as “a treasure chest ripe for plunder,” but that miscasts
a charter that has successfully scaled up to educate nearly...

  • A
    suburban Virginia
    district has irked some parents by taking them to court over their children’s
    tardiness. Parent involvement is well and good, but districts will find
    that charging parents with misdemeanors may not foster the kind of engagement
    they were shooting for.
  • As
    Terry noted, on Monday Cleveland's
    mayor announced an ambitious plan to overhaul the city's schools by
    partnering with high performing charters, granting district schools greater
    flexibility, and changing rules over teacher layoffs and pay. First Indianapolis, then Detroit,
    now Cleveland;
    the Rust Belt is finally recognizing that economic revitalization starts
    in city classrooms. As Ohio Governor John Kasich said in Tuesday’s State
    of the State address, “We can change urban education in Ohio and in
    America. That is worth fighting for.”
  • The
    Florida Senate education committee approved a bill requiring school
    districts to share their construction and maintenance funding with
    charter schools
    . Districts can grump all they want, but the fact
    remains that charters have long been denied a crucial part of the funding
    pie; Gadfly hopes they will finally get their just desserts.
  • Connecticut's
    governor waded into the midst
    of the charter school fight this week
    , calling for more charters with
    increased funding, and asking local districts to chip in with the expense.
    cranky over the cost
    need to realize that more options
  • ...