Charters & Choice

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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Mickey Muldoon

????On his presidential campaign website, Ron Paul describes his policy positions on twelve different issues, including abortion, health care, and the economy. Education is not among the headings. But ?homeschooling? is.

Michelle Bachmann homeschooled her children. So did Rick Santorum. Herman Cain appeared at a Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators conference with Paul and Bachmann this March. Mitt Romney is on the record as a supporter.

Does this mean that homeschooling is finally going to get the education-policy attention it deserves? I hope it does.

Consider the fact that in the United States, there are almost exactly the same number of students being homeschooled as there are in charter schools (about 1.5 million, as of 2009). Why do the charter kids get all the attention? The obvious reason is that like private-school students, homeschoolers don't really interact with the government. They don't receive money, and they occasionally have to take basic tests to prove they are learning something. That's about it.

But there are plenty of reasons to believe that state governments should seriously consider making it easier for parents to homeschool their children. The first is a simple fact of labor efficiency: Thirty-three percent of adult men and 44 percent of adult women in America are not working. Certainly, many of those people are disabled, incarcerated, and otherwise disqualified from teaching kids. But if we could reasonably put just a fraction of that labor pool?especially parents, friends, and relatives?to good work in...

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This week we took a look at what impact, if any, charter authorizer type (e.g., non-profit, educational service center, school district, or university) has on a school's academic performance, how high poverty urban schools perform, and why one Buckeye State charter school authorizer deserve to lose its right to sponsor schools. Today, with the continued help of our friends at Public Impact, we take a look at Ohio's E-School or Virtual School academic performance. These schools provide full-time instruction to students online. Twenty-seven charter e-schools operated in Ohio in 2010-11 and served nearly 30,000 students who hail from all but three (of 610) districts across the state. E-school students account for nearly one-third of Ohio's charter school students.

Chart 1 compares the distribution of Performance Index Scores of e-school charters in Ohio to the distribution for traditional schools in districts enrolling e-students. (Performance Index is a measure of student achievement across all tested subjects and grades; the score ranges from 0-120, with 100 being the state goal for all schools.) As can be seen from the graph below, Ohio's e-schools trailed behind traditional schools in districts where e-school students are enrolled. Eighty-five percent of e-schools received a PI score between 65 and 85, while 77 percent of traditional schools received a PI score between 90 and 105. The highest PI score for an e-school- 92- was also significantly lower than the highest score for a traditional school- 116.

Chart 1: Distribution of Performance Index...

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Yesterday, Jamie wrote about both the academic achievement and progress of students in Ohio's urban public schools.?? Today's analysis marries these two performance metrics together.

Ohio, like most states, issues data on both schools' annual achievement (a snapshot of performance) and academic growth over time. Ideally, schools will have high proportions of their students achieving at (or above) grade level and making measurable growth or progress in test scores over the course of the school year.

Chart 1 plots Ohio's Big 8 charter and district schools by both achievement and growth. Each square represents an elementary or middle school (high schools do not receive a value-added ??? growth -- score in Ohio). The upper-right section of the matrix is the ideal: high achievement and high growth. The vertical placement of each square represents a school's achievement; the higher a square, the higher the achievement. The horizontal location of each square represents a school's value-added category only (that is, a square on the left side of a box does not necessarily have lower value-added than one on the right; they are both in the same value added category).

Chart 1: Urban charter schools vs. Ohio 8 district schools, Performance Index growth in reading and math (2010-11)

Source: Ohio interactive local report card

Overall, it doesn't appear either type of school has the performance advantage.?? While charters have an...

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If you step back from day to day vitriol that characterizes the current education-policy ?debate,? and glimpse the larger picture, two worldviews on education reform emerge. One, articulated by the likes of Linda Darling-Hammond, Marc Tucker, David Cohen, and others, obsesses about curricular ?coherence,? and the lack thereof in our nation's schools. The other, envisioned by Rick Hess, Tom Vander Ark, Paul Hill, and many more, seeks to unleash America's trademark dynamism inside our K-12 education system. Though these ideas appear to pull in opposite directions, they might best work in concert. [quote]

Let's start with the Coherence Camp. Its argument, most recently made in David Cohen's Teaching and Its Predicaments, is that America's teachers are being set up to fail by a system that is fragmented, divided, and confused about its mission. Teachers are given little clear guidance about what's expected of them. Even when goals are clear, these teachers lack the tools to succeed: Pre-service training is completely disconnected from classroom expectations, and never ending ?reform? pulls up the roots of promising efforts before they are given time to flower.

The Coherence Camp looks longingly at Europe and Asia, where many (national) systems offer teachers the opportunity to work as professionals in environments of trust, clarity, and common purpose. (Japan envy yesterday, Finland envy today?) The members of this camp praise national standards, a national (or at least statewide) curriculum that gathers the best thinking about how to reach these standards and shares this thinking with...

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File this under pieces of news that confuse my emotions. Rev. Stanley Miller, executive director of the Cleveland NAACP, is leaving that post to take on an area charter school ? a very terrible one to be specific (Marcus Garvey Academy). I am equal parts inspired by this move (Rev. Miller is a 63-year old whose heart is undoubtedly in the right place) and cynical.

The school is rated F by the state. Its achievement results are lower than literally any Ohio school I recall looking up data for: across all tested and grades and subjects, 96.6 percent of students tested ?limited? in their knowledge ? the very lowest category one could achieve. Just over three percent of students scored ?basic?; none scored proficient or advanced. Is this for real?

Beyond shameful academic results, the school has been in the news constantly for poor bookkeeping ? to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Ohio's auditor temporarily halted funding to the school last April.

And this is the school Rev. Miller wants to take on. (By the way, it seems even more tragic than normal when these kinds of schools are named after prominent African American leaders. The irony is just painful.)

According to the Plain Dealer, he's not na?ve:

Miller said he knew what he was stepping into. ?They are a school that's had some difficulties. I've been asked to come over and help fix it,? he said. ?Just because there's problems,"

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Mickey Muldoon

I wrote a blog post here on Flypaper this week in response to what I'd seen as some unnecessary and unproductive personal jabs at actor Matt Damon, after he gave a brief speech at the Save Our Schools rally in D.C. a few weekends ago. One of the offenders I referenced was Whitney Tilson, who called Damon's speech ?hugely dopey and hypocritical.?

Now, I have no interest in defending Matt Damon's comments unilaterally. In fact, I don't think he said anything particularly interesting, newsworthy, or novel?as Tilson wrote, his comments were ?just a bunch of clich?s that could have been (and, in fact, likely were) written by union hacks." I won't disagree.

Moreover, I like Whitney Tilson. I read his email blasts all the time and find most of the content to be extremely informative and effective.

But what I don't like?and I'm pretty passionate about this?is when policy debates turn personal. It happens all the time in Congress?where camaraderie between senators, for example, is a relic of the past, and where even a topic so wonky as paying the bills at the FAA turns into a soap opera of name-calling and finger-pointing. Personal attacks transform healthy debate into bitter partisanship.

And at least in this instance, I wanted to call out Tilson for what I viewed as unnecessary personal attacks against Damon. In his remarks, Damon may have adopted some populist and clich?d rhetoric, but never did he go so far as to...

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It was hardly a surprise that Indiana took home the Education Reform Idol trophy today. Pundits from across the ideological spectrum have lauded the Hoosier State for its comprehensive reforms enacted this spring?including a best-in-the-nation teacher bill, an expansive private school choice program, and a serious effort at collective bargaining and benefits reform.

But why 2011? Mitch Daniels has been in office since 2005; Tony Bennett since 2009. While they haven't been twiddling their thumbs (last year, Bennett enacted new regulations revamping teacher professional development, for instance), legislators didn't get religion on reform until now. How come?

The answer is obvious: The 2010 elections, which gave Indiana Republicans control of the House and a super-majority in the Senate. The same thing happened in Ohio, where the House and governor's office both switched from blue to red. Big GOP victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and other states led to similar dynamics. Though it's not an ironclad law, it's still generally true that when Republicans take power, reforms take flight.

This point might be obvious, but it bears repeating, because so much of the energy within the reform movement today is about moving Democratic legislators toward more reform-friendly positions. That's certainly worthwhile, and the work of groups like Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children deserve support and encouragement. But let's not be na?ve: Getting rank and file Dems to...

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