Charters & Choice

Darrell Allison

Guest blogger Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which supports greater educational choice for all parents and students across the state. For more information, please go to www.pefnc.org.

As president of a statewide organization devoted to ensuring that ALL children—regardless of income or zip code—have access to a quality education, I hear plenty of opposing talking points…that we need to spend more on public education, that education reform measures will lead to the death of public schools, that public tax dollars are being used for private gain.

In spite of tremendous spending, our poorest kids are still missing the mark. And this is totally unacceptable.

When I hear this type of rhetoric I think of how North Carolina has spent over $35 billion on education over the last five years, yet only 50 percent of poor elementary and middle school students passed state tests—compared to nearly 80 percent of their wealthier peers.

In spite of tremendous spending, our poorest kids are still missing the mark. And this is totally unacceptable.

I’m all for “public education,” but I believe “public education” should consist...

We’ve known anecdotally that our current slate of private school choice programs have done little to encourage new and innovative models of private education to flourish. Now a new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice backs up those assertions with evidence. In short: voucher and tax credit scholarship programs have yet to create new models of private schooling as successful charter school networks have for public education.

Our current slate of private school choice programs have done little to encourage new and innovative models of private education to flourish.

For researchers Greg Forster and James L. Woodworth, this justifies a move toward universal school choice. By encouraging larger numbers of students of all income levels, rather than just those who are poor or disabled, to take their public dollars to private schools states will create the conditions that entrepreneurs need to “innovate beyond the confines of the ‘default’ public school model,” Forster and Woodworth write in their study, The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice.

The term “greenfield” here is borrowed from Rick Hess’ portrayal of environments “where there are unobstructed, wide-open opportunities to invent or build.” Greenfield schooling, Hess argues, requires “scrubbing away our assumptions”...

In addition to the policy and advocacy work that we do at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, our sister organization the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation sponsors eight charter schools in Ohio. In August Fordham will sponsor three new start-ups (one each in Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland). Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) opened in 2008, and it has now launched the newly-formed United Schools Network, a nonprofit charter management organization (CMO). United Schools Network will consolidate the operations of CCA and launch the new 6-8 Columbus Collegiate Academy- West Campus.

To learn more about all this we sat down with CCA founder Andrew Boy to hear first-hand what he hopes to achieve through the United Schools Network. 

Q. Why did you decide to form the United Schools Network (USN)?

A. While launching a high-performing, high-need, school in Columbus is challenging and satisfying, we want to do more. We recognize that we have a unique opportunity to do so. If CCA can create excellence in our flagship school, then there is no reason we cannot similarly create excellent schools in other areas of Columbus and in other parts of the Midwest. It is in pursuit of this goal that we have created...

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW) examines school boards in 13 cities to see how the business community has played a role in school governance. The cities profiled were Atlanta, Austin, Bismarck, ND, Denver, Detroit, Duval County, FL, Laramie, WY, Long Beach, CA, Los Angeles, Newark, NJ, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Fordham’s hometown of Dayton, Ohio.

School boards impact education big time. They are involved in everything from setting policies on teacher evaluation systems, to hiring district leadership, to negotiating collective bargaining agreements.

The Chamber report analyzed the challenges and successes of school boards in cities with challenging social, political and fiscal issues. The authors studied cities that are in various stages of growth, or in some cases, decline.

Dayton, the only Ohio city profiled, is as a city with a declining population. The report described the Dayton Public School board as in various stages of disarray. Fordham’s own Terry Ryan was quoted as questioning whether Dayton Public Schools’ board can effectively govern a school district in a city that faces profound challenges, including poverty, diminishing financial resources, a weakened business community, and a collapsed housing infrastructure. “I think it’s fair to ask, Can any...

Now that charter school enrollment has grown to include more than a half-million public school students in the South, the Southern Regional Education Board wants to make sure that state laws are addressing “meaningful measures of academic performance.” But among the calls for higher standards and rigorous oversight in the board’s newest report comes a welcome plea for a fair system of funding for charters.

The Southern Regional Education Board's newest report includes a welcome plea for a fair system of funding for charters.

“Because states have not yet adequately addressed funding disparities between charter schools and traditional public schools, policy-makers need to address this issue if they want viable charter schools in their states,” the board writes in its report, Charter Schools in SREB States: Critical Questions and Next Steps for States.

This isn’t the first foundation in the South to highlight these funding inequities (a government watchdog in Florida recently found that charters in the state run on seventy cents of the public school dollar) but it adds another layer to a conversation that has gone better in some states than it has in others.

The Florida Legislature, for instance, ended its recent session this spring...

Amercia the Beautiful

Mike and Rick break down the flaws in the latest Race to the Top and explain why Obama and Duncan really aren’t twins when it comes to ed policy. In her Research Minute, Amber analyzes Podgursky’s latest insights on pensions.

Amber's Research Minute

Who Benefits from Pension Enhancements? by Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, Michael Podgursky

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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