Charters & Choice

Today, Fordham-Ohio and CEE-Trust are co-releasing a policy brief on charter incubation, “Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector.” In this post, Terry Ryan and Ethan Gray, vice-president of The Mind Trust and director of CEE-Trust, explain the potential of the model and the characteristics of successful charter incubators.

are a small but growing number of organizations across the country
dedicated to creating better schools and attracting more talent to
public education through a strategic process called “charter school
incubation.” Charter incubators are organizations that intentionally
build the supply of high-quality schools and charter management
organizations (CMOs) in cities or specific geographic regions by
recruiting, selecting, and training promising leaders, and supporting
those leaders as they launch new schools.

Groups leading this innovative effort include New Schools for New
Orleans, The Tennessee Charter School Incubator, Get Smart Schools in
Colorado, Charter School Partners in Minnesota, The Mind Trust’s Charter
School Incubator in Indianapolis, and 4.0 Schools in several
southeastern states.

These organizations are united in their belief that the development
of great charter schools can be accelerated through the recruitment,
selection, and development of talented school leaders and the support of
those leaders as they open and operate charter schools. Incubators are a
potential game-changer; by providing an up-front quality screen for new
leaders and intensive support on the ground, incubators are increasing

Guest blogger Robin Lake is associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. In this post, she responds to “Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector,” a Public Impact-authored policy brief co-released yesterday by Fordham’s Ohio team and CEE-Trust.

Public Impact’s new paper on incubators is a well-needed addition to the conversation about scaling high-quality charter schools. I’ve been saying for some time that CMOs, no matter how good, cannot be the charter sector’s sole answer to new school supply.

For the past five years, most of the private philanthropy to support
new charter schools has gone to CMOs and the feds have increasingly
targeted start-up funding to replication. But CMOs are an expensive path
to scale and one that is yielding uneven quality.
Importantly, CMOs tend to locate in major urban areas with a strong TFA
presence and high per-pupil funding. For cities like Indianapolis,
Minneapolis, and Milwaukee, all the recruiting in the world is unlikely
to attract respected CMOs like Aspire or Achievement First. Also
problematic is the fact that many talented would-be charter founders
want nothing to do with large, highly centralized, and sometimes
bureaucratic CMOs. We need alternatives to CMOs that recognize these
realities and create scale and replication options for small cities and
entrepreneurial leaders.

To be clear, the overall quality of standalone charter schools has

Stuart Buck
Distinguished Doctoral Fellow in the Education Reform department at the University of Arkansas

Guest blogger Stuart Buck is the author of Acting White: The Ironic Effect of Desegregation,
published by Yale University Press in May 2010.  He is currently a
Distinguished Doctoral Fellow in the Education Reform department at the
University of Arkansas.

The Arizona Empowerment Scholarship
program should serve as a model for other states. Like other states’
voucher programs, it gives parents of special education students in
public schools the chance to send their children to private school. But
it does so in a novel manner: it gives parents access to a special bank
account in which the state deposits 90% of the money that the state
would have spent on that student’s education. Parents can then spend
that account on private schools, tutoring, and services that best help
their child. Indeed, parents even have the option of saving the
left-over money for college education, if they’re able to find a more
efficient K-12 school.

This innovative program both saves the state money and gives families
the chance of finding a better fit for a special education child who
may not always be well-served by the public school in the parents’
neighborhood. Who could object?

Entrenched special interest groups. Unfortunately, like the voucher program
that preceded it, the new Empowerment Scholarship program is under
legal attack. The Arizona School Boards Association, the Arizona
Education Association and the Arizona...

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back cover imageSince
Ohio’s first charter schools opened in 1997, they have been at the center of
some of the state’s hottest and most politically contentious debates about
education. The past year brought still more examples of charter-linked

2010 elections were very good for Buckeye Republicans, with John Kasich winning
the governor’s race (replacing Ted Strickland who had been a charter
adversary throughout his four-year term). Republicans also took control of
the House while expanding their Senate majority.

immediately, GOP lawmakers set out to make the Buckeye State more inviting to
charter schools. Governor Kasich’s budget proposals offered a solid plan for
not only increasing the number of charters in Ohio but also
boosting their quality. Crucial elements included:

  • Encouraging
    successful operators to clone good schools and channeling fairer funding into
  • Leaning hard
    on authorizers to fix or close failing schools and banning their replication;
  • Placing
    schools’ ostensibly independent governing boards clearly in charge of any
    outside organizations that they engaged to run their education programs.

vision for quality along with quantity excited us and many others in Ohio and beyond. The Buckeye State was finally positioning
itself to become a true leader in the charter sector rather than a troubled
sector plagued by too many...

For months, leaders from LAUSD and the UTLA have
stalled within a deep tunnel of negotiations, unable to reach consensus on,
well, anything. This week, light broke at the end of that dark passageway: Los
Angeles Superintendent John Deasy and the newly elected union president, Warren
Fletcher, have reached a partial agreement. And it’s an exciting one: Under the
new pact, district schools could exercise charter-like autonomy over hiring,
curriculum, and work conditions. If a school wants to diverge from current norms
by, say, altering its salary structure or length of day, neither union nor
district officials can object. (Take note of this innovative approach for
combating union strong-arming: Pitch the reforms to teachers as a respite from
meddling district policies, not just cumbersome
union ones.) So, what catalyzed this union change of heart? Pressure from
charter schools—which hold a 10 percent market share of L.A.’s student
enrollment. According to Fletcher, “There’s been a lot of focus on
out-of-district resources and answers. This is the beginning of moving back to
some semblance of balance.” Before the agreement becomes official, though, it
must be ratified by union membership. Here’s hoping; what a worthy experiment
that would be.

Los Angeles Schools Gain New Autonomy
,” by Howard Blume, Los Angeles
November 29, 2011.

blueprint photo

Check the original charter-school blueprint.
Specs say "choice for all."
Photo by Will Scullin

As originally conceived twenty years ago, charter
schools were to offer alternatives to the traditional public-school model—maybe
Betsy wants a school that focuses more on drama than the football team or Davey
wants one that prioritizes STEM learning. Somewhere along the way, however,
many states restricted charters to “high need” communities awash in disadvantaged
kids and failing schools. As a result, 70
percent of charter students
are on free or reduced-price lunch, and most charters
are urban. But that’s starting to change. Greater numbers of suburban students
are venturing into the halls of charter schools—central Ohio alone had more
than 10,000 suburban and rural students attend charter schools last
year—sparking what Fordham’s Terry Ryan dubbed a “second generation” of
charters. And it couldn’t come fast enough. Like their urban counterparts,
kiddos in suburbia deserve the ability to choose schools that are right for
them. Just ask any of the original architects of the charter theory.

Charter schools lure suburban kids, too,” by Jennifer Smith
Richards, The Columbus Dispatch, November 27, 2011.


Since their inception in 1997, charter schools have been at the
center of some of the most politically contentious debates about
education in Ohio. The past year offered yet another example of charter
school controversy, but this time with a twist. The 2010 elections were
very good for Buckeye State Republicans, with John Kasich winning the
governor’s race (replacing Ted Strickland who had been a charter adversary throughout his four-year term). Republicans also took control of the House while expanding their majority in the Senate.

Almost immediately GOP lawmakers set out to make the Buckeye State
more inviting to charter schools. Governor Kasich’s budget proposals in House Bill (HB) 153
offered a solid plan for not only increasing the number of charters in
Ohio but improving their quality. Crucial elements included encouraging
successful operators to clone good schools; leaning hard on authorizers
to fix or close failing schools and banning the replication of failure;
placing schools’ ostensibly independent governing boards in clear charge
of any outside organizations that they engaged to run their education
programs; creating professional and ethical norms for all parties;
insisting on transparency around academics, governance, and finances;
channeling fair funding into successful schools; and introducing best
practices and expert advice into every step of the process. This was a
vision that excited us and many others in Ohio and beyond because it

The 2010 elections were good for Republicans in Ohio, who have traditionally supported the expansion of charter schools (and choice broadly). We were hopeful as lawmakers and the governor set about removing caps on charter schools, lifting the e-school moratorium, and suggesting other legislative changes that would improve charter quality and accountability. However, we were disheartened when during the budget cycle, the Ohio House proposed several changes that would have been insidious to the charter movement in the Buckeye State, such as: neutering governing boards and authorizers of their oversight responsibilities; exempting charter schools from compliance with most of the state’s education laws and rules; and allowing operators to essentially run schools without an authorizing entity to hold them accountable.

Luckily, the charter community in Ohio and nationally stood firmly against these proposals and was united in the need for better accountability and quality (and not just growth for growth’s sake). This resulted in a rejection of the House’s provisions as well as a new requirement holding charter authorizers accountable (which we explain in the report). Fordham schools showed more academic growth than any of the state’s large authorizers, but we still realize there’s more work to do. Improvement is a continual process and we won’t hide from that challenge.

The report describes these developments over the year, and also delineates how our schools fared in terms of achievement, growth, and their contractual obligations. It provides achievement comparisons to other charters in Ohio’s Urban 8 cities and their home district...

Andrew Boy
Founder and executive director of Columbus Collegiate Academy

Guest blogger Andrew Boy is the founder and executive director of Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA), a Fordham-authorized middle school serving students in grades six through eight.

As school levies fail across central Ohio, I am concerned and
disappointed to see so many school districts quickly threaten to reduce
the quality of our children’s education. Providing an excellent
education for our children may be the single most important thing we
can do as responsible citizens.

give hope to our children in tough economic times, we must learn to do
more with less. When I read the statement made by Westerville’s
school-board president, “We’ll be looking at state-minimum
requirements,” I lost confidence in the leadership of the district in
which I live. As the operator of the Columbus Collegiate Academy, a
charter school on the Near East Side, I run a school on a shoestring
budget. Unlike traditional district schools, we don’t have access to
local property-tax dollars.

When I see levies on the ballot, I can only dream about what we
could do for our students, 94 percent of whom are minorities and 88
percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, with additional
revenue. Although it is unlikely we ever will receive public revenue at
the same level as others, we would never settle for providing our
students with “state-minimum requirements.”

Instead of slighting our students with the bare minimum, we...

Fordham has been involved in the arena of school choice in Ohio at
virtually every level for the past decade, except that of a parent. We authorize charter schools,
we have created charter school support organizations and helped birth
other choice-support entities, we’ve fought for choice policies in the
legislature, and Terry and Checker literally wrote the book
on what we think are the lessons from all this work. Issues of school
choice and the quality (or not) of urban schools have been a big part of
my professional life the last five years. Now, they are front and
center in my personal life, too.

I live in the Columbus City School district (CCS). My husband and I bought our home years before we had decided whether
we wanted to have children, let alone where we’d want to raise them and
send them to school. Fast forward about a decade: our son will be a
kindergartner next year and we find ourselves navigating urban school
choice firsthand.

We look forward to continuing to live in the city of Columbus and
sending our son to a district school next year. We love the diversity
and energy of our neighborhood, and we greatly value the close proximity
of our home to downtown and the excellent community programming at
nearby Ohio State University, among the many other reasons we live where
we do. And,...