Charters & Choice

Big Red ButtonDetroit, with its embarrassingly low NAEP scores, seems to have tried it all: They've gone from an elected school board to one that is mayorally appointed and back again. They've fallen under state control and been assigned an emergency financial manager. They've closed schools, renegotiated teacher contracts, and, most recently, pledged to convert over 30 percent of its schools into charters.

These are all reasonable, actionable initiatives. But none are what DPS needs. The district needs to break the glass and hit the reset button. It needs more than minor tweaks to the collective-bargaining agreement and promises that a few charters will be the kryptonite to the chronic failure that has plagued Motown schools.

As famed Recovery School District leader Paul Vallas frankly put it:

I think what Detroit has to do?they have to right-size themselves. Or the budget spiral is going to continue.? Converting schools that you were thinking of closing to charters, that's not getting at the end-of-the-line financial problems that plague the district.

Golly, that's a smart man.

?Daniela Fairchild...


Following Diane Ravitch on Twitter is sort of like giving a six-year-old a kazoo on a long car trip. You know that by doing so, there's a very strong probability that it will result in near constant aggravation or annoyance. But you do it anyway, because somewhere deep in your troubled psyche you thrive on provocation.

Being provocative isn't always a bad thing ? and Ravitch does it well. Her latest charge to Twitter followers is pretty pointless, though. She suggests a naming contest for charter school names (#charterschoolnames) and then retweets suggestions from followers that range from mildly funny to offensive, especially to the poor, mostly minority families who flee their traditional school for an alternative and who certainly wouldn't categorize themselves as ?privileged.? Here are some of the worst:

  • Dollars First Academy
  • Privilege Academy
  • Test Purgatory Hi-Tech High
  • Letuslineourpockets High
  • Erasure Secondary
  • Dewey, Cheatum & Howe Academy
  • Results By Attrition Network, Inc
  • Wishful Thinking, Heavy Spending Academy
  • I'm Better Than You Academy
  • Village of Stepford Charter School
  • W.A.S.P. Academy (Why Ask Stupid People)
  • TFA Tours

Wow. This ridiculous Twitter anti-charter rant is more like giving the child a drum set. Ohio Gadfly suggests other charter school names that are probably more accurate, at least from the perspective of the families and kids who utilize such options, like ?Kids who would otherwise not have a shot in hell because their current school is failing ACADEMY.?

Flypaper readers, please weigh in with other suggestions...


As you probably know by now, the President and Congress came to a budget agreement late last night that will keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year. The deal apparently includes a five-year reauthorization of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a popular voucher program for kids in the District:

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program ? which provides low-income District students with federal money to attend private schools ? is a top priority of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The program was closed to new entrants by Democrats in 2009, but Boehner has sought to revive and expand the program. The House passed a Boehner-authored bill last month -- the SOAR Act -- to reauthorize the program for five more years, and that bill will be included in the final spending deal and signed into law by Obama.

The SOAR Act includes the so-called "three sector" payments, meaning that DCPS and public charter schools will also benefit from the program. I worked in the charter financing office in DC last summer and saw how much good those funds have done for the charter sector in the city. This seems like a big win for school choice and all kids in DC.

?Chris Tessone...


Ohio is in the midst of its biennial budget debate and there has been much angst and ink spilled about a proposal in the budget bill (HB 153) to create a ???parent trigger??? for the state's truly woeful schools. The proposal has triggered front page new stories, strongly worded editorials against the idea, and public testimony in House hearings on the budget dismissing the idea as another assault on public schools.

The bill would allow parents to petition a school district to force reforms in a school that, for at least three consecutive years, has been ranked in the lowest 5 percent of all district-operated schools statewide based on its performance index score (which is a measure of student achievement across all grades and subjects). Parents would be allowed to file a petition requesting the district to do one of the following:

  1. Reopen the failing school as a community school,
  2. Replace at least 70 percent of the school's personnel,
  3. Contract with another school district or a nonprofit or for-profit entity with a record of effectiveness to operate the school,
  4. Turn operation of the school over to the state Department of Education, or
  5. Any other restructuring that makes fundamental reforms in the school's staffing or governance.

This is strong medicine for sure, and for truly atrocious schools necessary. Now, the part of the story that has been missed by almost everyone is how few schools this law would actually impact. The bar for triggering...


Here's the "Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 471 - Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act."

While the Administration appreciates that H.R. 471 would provide Federal support for improving public schools in the District of Columbia (D.C.), including expanding and improving high-quality D.C. public charter schools, the Administration opposes the creation or expansion of private school voucher programs that are authorized by this bill. The Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students. Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement. The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.

Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C. While the President's FY 2012 Budget requests funding to improve D.C. public schools and expand high-quality public charter schools, the Administration opposes targeting resources to help a small number of individuals attend private schools rather than creating access to great public schools for every child.

A few quick thoughts:

1. The path to ESEA reauthorization just got a lot steeper, as many Republicans will refuse to play ball with an Administration not willing to compromise on a top GOP priority.

2. The Administration is being dishonest about the evaluation data, which show strong positive effects for the recipients of the DC vouchers. In fact, if anything, the current...


Well, it's official.? According to Sam Dillon in the NYT, Steve Barr and the charter organization he founded, Green Dot, are going their separate ways.? In fact, the separation has been long in coming.? Barr stepped down as chairman of Green Dot, which runs 16 charter schools in Los Angeles, in 2009. It's a little vague what happens next ? Barr is changing his New York Green Dot America operation to Future is Now Schools -- but Alexander Russo, whose Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School, which tells the story of Barr's greatest achievement and will be out in a couple of weeks, probably has it about right. As he tells Dillon:? ?Steve is a hard-charging visionary, as many founders are, and as Green Dot got bigger, people struggled to find an appropriate place for him in the organization.?

Going to scale may not be for everyone.? But let's hope we can always find places for visionaries.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow


Ever since their creation two decades ago, charter schools have been defined by three fundamental?if somewhat contradictory?ideas: accountability for results, school-level autonomy, and meaningful parental choice. That the charter notion has stood the test of time is a testament to the power of these three ideas. Charter schools remain at the center of the school reform conversation because they are the node that connects these disparate reform instincts with one another.

Consider parental choice. When charter schools were first proposed, back in the early 1990s, fervor for ?school choice? was running high. Milwaukee had just created the nation's first large-scale voucher program, and prominent scholars (like John Chubb and Terry Moe) and politicians (like Lamar Alexander) were calling for many more. But private school vouchers raised the specter of public support for religious schools; charters offered a secular alternative.

[pullquote]The debate is not whether parents should have choices but how broad those choices should be.[/pullquote]

Demand for ?autonomy? was reaching fever pitch, too. This was the era of ?reinventing government,? of Chicago's ?local school councils,? of enthusiasm for decentralization and ?site-based management.? Reformers saw stifling bureaucracies and hidebound teacher union contracts as anathema to the breakthrough innovations they craved. They viewed the magnet schools of the 1970s and 80s as a step in the right direction?at least in terms of offering parents distinct choices?but as far too timid in tackling the underlying malaise of ?the system.? At the least, charter schools would offer educators the chance to...