Charters & Choice

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 –...

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

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....

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

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

  • 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
  • ...

Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit cover

Earlier this week, the Koret Task
Force of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, which I have the privilege of chairing,
issued a bold proposal (primarily crafted by Russ Whitehurst) for totally
rebooting the federal role in primary-secondary education.

Washington insiders will, of course, dismiss it as “politically
unrealistic” precisely because it is so sweeping and radical. Maybe it will
turn out to be. But with ESEA reauthorization in stalemate, the parties at
loggerheads, and a total breakdown of the former “consensus” painfully visible,
perhaps a sweeping, radical reboot is precisely what is most needed. States
that find this reboot appealing can follow the Task Force’s proposal. States
that prefer some version of the status quo may stick with it.

The Task Force begins by explaining why neither top-down
accountability (à la NCLB) nor total devolution of authority to states and
districts can rekindle American education and boost student achievement. Both
have been tried—and both have been found sorely wanting.

What to do instead? The Task Force
offers a very different approach...

In the emotionally charged story of the Chester Upland
School District in Pennsylvania, several observers have seen
the bogeyman with great clarity. Critics from Dennis
Van Roekel
to Valerie
have set aside the history of financial troubles that took root in
the district a generation ago and have asserted that “privatization” and the
emergence of the Keystone State’s largest charter school have quickened the
district’s pending death.

No storybook ending is imminent. The school district says
it’s broke and can’t pay its teachers past the end of the month. Gov. Tom
Corbett has assured students they will be able to finish the year at Chester
Upland, but no one knows where the money is coming from. And the New York Times has identified
another problem
: the Chester
Community Charter
School, which claims it’s
owed nearly $7 million in past-due payments from the district and the state.

One shouldn’t expect a state judiciary to demand budget cuts from the charter
before it can expect to get paid the money it’s owed.

Community Charter
School has grown to

Greater collaboration between school districts and charter
schools is worthwhile so long as the one-size-fits-all approach of a school
board doesn’t dampen the unique characteristics of a charter. Washington D.C.
would seem to have fertile ground for collaboration, done right, given that
D.C. has built a “portfolio” approach to public education in which charters
claim 40 percent of the public school enrollment. But the excitement over a new
report urging the district and charter boards to work together to increase the
supply of high-performing schools can obscure the elements that made D.C. a
proving ground for school choice.

Will the one-size-fits-all approach of a school
board dampen the unique characteristics of a charter?

The report from Midwestern-based
consultant IFF
to D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray identifies a need to invest in
more high-performing schools in a cluster of underserved neighborhoods, and it
suggests that D.C.
Public Schools and the
Public Charter School Board can play an equal and complementary role in
fulfilling the task. Despite the release of creative energy in the District in
the last several years, just 1 of...