Charters & Choice

Yesterday, the Century Foundation and the Poverty & Race Research Action Council released a report touting the benefits of racial and socioeconomic diversity in charter schools. For a variety of reasons, charter schools are more likely to serve a high-poverty population than traditional public schools. The authors stress the need for this fact to change because, they claim, poor students fare better in low-poverty versus high-poverty schools. The report profiles seven high-performing charters that have tackled racial and socioeconomic integration in different ways. Diversifying charter schools is an attractive—and noble—idea, but one that creates a policy conundrum as feasible integration of schools often proves to be a prickly challenge. (Think about parents’ reactions to busing in Wake County, for example.)

A recent policy brief from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (which profiles many of the same schools as the Century Foundation report) offers a smart alternative. NAPCS recognizes the value in fostering high-performing charters that serve either homogenous or socioeconomically diverse communities—and the value of letting parents choose to send their child to one or the other. Both reports make recommendations for policy changes that will be more hospitable to diverse charters. NAPCS urges...

Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has emerged as an education-reform laboratory, a grand experiment in parental choice and teacher accountability where 70 percent of schools are charters and 1,700 students take advantage of vouchers (a program now being supercharged—throughout the whole state—under Governor Jindal’s new education-reform plan). This new documentary follows five children (from supportive families) in the middle of this experiment for one year—among them, a KIPPster, a student in a Recovery School District school, and a child attending Catholic school thanks to a voucher. The story is compelling—if not altogether unfamiliar. And it offers a boon for those new to the education-reform arena and craving a fast, painless tutorial on the ins and outs of education in the Big Easy today. But the film also reminds the viewer that the future of that city’s bold education reforms is far from certain. For example, Ben Lemoine, the film’s director, profiles local detractors who would curb the city’s charter sector and turn school governance back to the traditional district. Not such a “big easy” initiative, after all, but the film is well worth viewing.

SOURCE: Ben Lemoine,...

As Jay Mathews perceptively observed over the weekend, and as others of us have been pointing out for a while, the Obama-Duncan team didn't leave a heckuva lot of education-reform terrain for Mitt Romney to occupy except for variations on the theme of vouchers. And occupy it he has done. But "voucherizing Title I" is not a new idea. I recall working with Bill Bennett on it—and Reagan then proposed it—a quarter century ago. Getting such a major change enacted would, I think, hinge not only on Governor Romney reaching the Oval Office but also on a GOP sweep in both houses of Congress. But getting it fully considered is well worth doing.

Why not try strapping the money to the backs of needy kids and letting them take it to the schools of their choice?

As America nears the half-century mark with Title I, we can fairly conclude that pumping all this money into districts to boost the budgets of schools serving disadvantaged kids hasn't done those kids much good, though it has surely been welcomed by revenue-hungry districts (and states). Evaluation after evaluation of Title I has shown it to have little or no positive impact, and...

Mitt Romney unveiled his education plan on Wednesday, grabbing headlines and getting the education-policy community buzzing. While noting that Governor Romney’s proposal is a “good start,” Mike Petrilli wrote on Flypaper that the plan risks “replacing federal overreach on accountability with federal overreach.” For more analysis on this issue, watch Mike’s WSJ.com interview:

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The race is on!

Mike and Education Sector’s John Chubb analyze Mitt Romney’s brand-new education plan and what RTTT will look like for districts. Amber considers whether competition among schools really spurs improvement.

Amber's Research Minute

Heterogeneous Competitive Effects of Charter Schools in Milwaukee

and Adam Emerson

It’s hard to get past the New York Times’s animus toward anything “private” or profit-seeking in the realm of K-12 education, particularly when investigative reporter Stephanie Saul applies her own biased and acidic pen to the topic. And Tuesday’s interminable “expose” of state-level tax-credit scholarship programs certainly deepens one’s impression that the writer (and, presumably, her editors) is in love with anything that smacks of “public dollars” or “public schools” and at war with anything that might be seen as diverting even a penny from state coffers into the hands of parents to educate their kids at schools of their choice. Never mind whether the public schools they are exiting are good or bad, nor whether the dollars being spent by those schools are well targeted on high-quality instruction or frittered away on over-generous benefits for underemployed custodians and their retired pals.

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Dollars Roll
Tax-credit scholarship programs must be well designed and monitored or more "exposes" over how dollars are distributed will follow.
Photo by Images Money.

A few studies in the early-to-mid aughts examined the impact of charters on district schools. Most found that the introduction of charter competition led to few changes in district behavior. Others disagreed. This new one by Hiren Nisar (of Abt Associates) re-examines that line of inquiry—but with a twist: Using Milwaukee data, Nisar asks whether district-run charters have more or less impact on the academic performance of traditional public-school students than charters run by other authorizers. (In Milwaukee, this means the city or the local state university.) His study—which attempts to control for student self-selection and ability, school-level factors, and other choice programs (i.e., Milwaukee’s long-running voucher program)—includes roughly forty charters (twenty-three sponsored by MPS and seventeen by others) and utilizes longitudinal, student-level achievement data (for grades three through eight) from 2000-01 to 2008-09. Now to the findings: First, non-district-sponsored charter schools have significant positive impacts on district students’ math and reading achievement, but only in math is that effect statistically different from the impact of district-sponsored charters. This is common-sensical enough. Since district-sponsored schools are still part of the district, with funding that remains within district boundaries, these entities likely feel...

Reformers frequently point out that charters are underfunded. They also laud charters that post strong student-achievement scores despite their lean budgets. But is this the norm? Do charter schools ipso facto achieve great results with less funding than traditional schools? As spending data—for charters and districts alike—are generally opaque, there is no clear-cut answer. This study from the NEPC (Kevin Wellner’s pro-union shop) dug into financial data of large charter-management organizations (CMOs) in three states and found a mixed bag: A few successful charter networks spend more than district schools, thanks to aggressive fundraising. Notably, KIPP schools in New York City spend about $4,300 more per pupil than nearby district schools. But many other charters spend far less. Those in Ohio, for example, spend less across the board than district schools in the same city. These data will spur conversation, but be wary of the NEPC’s conclusions, including that the “no excuses” charter model may not be worth its cost or that these charters (and their funding streams) bring up “equity concerns” as they create schools that are overfunded compared to their district counterparts. (Never mind that a swath of charters in this study is funded far below district levels.)...

The Ohio Education Association (OEA) voted this month to launch an effort to recruit employees of Ohio’s 350-plus charter schools as union members. According to Ohio Department of Education data the state’s charters employ about 10,500 educators and 5,400 of these are classroom teachers. Currently there are no unionized start-up charter schools in Ohio, but there are some conversion district charter schools that have unionized teachers. Nationally, the Center on Reinventing Public Education reports that “about 12 percent of all charter schools have bargaining agreements.”

It is clear why the OEA and the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) would want to recruit charter teachers to their ranks. Unions define success in large part by the number of members they have and how much they collect in membership dues. Members and money equal influence at the statehouse, and in recent years the OEA has been losing both to charter schools. As far back at 2006, the OEA shared with its members a paper entitled “The Current State of Ohio’s Charter School Program.” In it they declared that “the charter school program in Ohio is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to ‘dismantle’ public education.” It noted that “charter schools have...

Drop-out recovery charter schools annually serve about 20 percent of Ohio’s charter students but have never been held accountable for the performance of their students. Ohio’s Senate Bill 316 (SB 316) would change this by requiring the creation and enforcement of standards for these schools. The legislation empowers Ohio’s Board of Education to set accountability standards but also leaves open what these standards will actually be. Yesterday, however, the House education committee amended the bill so that drop-out recovery schools will not be subject to the state’s automatic closure law for charter schools.

As the House considers the bill this week, lawmakers need to balance the demand for high standards for recovery charters with the unique student composition and testing challenges associated with these schools. Further, lawmakers should understand the benefit of drop-out recovery schools to the graduation rates of traditional public high schools.

First, by definition, drop-out recovery charters primarily serve dropouts or students at risk of dropping out. This fact alone requires a different perspective of what “student achievement” means—and the approaches required for student success. Because dropout recovery charters enroll mostly high-poverty and highly underperforming students, an apple-to-apples comparison of dropout recovery charter performance to traditional high...

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