Charters & Choice

If the mid-2000s—characterized by a shift in charter-school advocacy from quantity to quality—marked the adolescence of the charter movement, today we must shepherd its move into adulthood. The third stage of the charter movement must focus on charter-authorizer quality—the single biggest driver of charter-school quality. This new report from esteemed governance thinker David Osborne explains why this shift in focus is necessary and how we can go about it. Cogent and concise, the report is a valuable resource for those dedicated to improving the performance of the nation’s 5,500-plus charter schools. The hard fact is that most people—and this includes lawmakers, policymakers, and others involved in setting education policy—have no idea what authorizers are, what they do, or why they matter. But if the charter movement is to improve (and competition heightened and taxpayer dollars saved), then authorizers must be supported—and held to account. They are the entities with the authority—as imperfect as it may be—to actually shut down and replace broken charter schools. Osborne’s paper illumines the need for better authorizers, the challenges of getting them, and how states can make progress in this important work. Among...

Terry Ryan, Fordham's vice president for Ohio programs and policy, posted a review of David Osborne's new paper on charter school accountability that anyone interested in school choice, whether he or she lives in the Buckeye State or not, shouldn't miss. As Terry writes on the Ohio Gadfly Daily blog, Osborne focuses on authorizer quality,

the single biggest driver of charter school quality. Osborne writes, “Today, it is time to open a third frontier: authorizer quality. The key to quality in the charter sector is quality authorizing.” When I read this sentence I wanted to jump out of my chair and do a quick dance around my desk. Fordham has been arguing—with our friends at organizations like the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Charter Alliance—this case since at least the mid-2000s, both in Ohio and nationally. The hard fact is that most people—and this includes lawmakers, policy makers, and others involved in setting education policy—have no idea what authorizers are, what they do, or why they matter.

Read the rest of the review for Terry's perspective on why that's such a crucial problem....

There has been a lot of hand-wringing in the last week about whether charter schools are doing enough to enroll students with disabilities. But are we looking closely at who is among the learning disabled?

Are we looking closely at who is among the learning disabled?

The GAO’s report on charter schools and special education found that students with learning disabilities were the largest group benefitting from special services at the charter or district schools the government studied. That’s not surprising, given that learning-disabled students represented 38 percent of all students who received special education services in 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The rest were categorized with having varying disabilities, but autism and developmental disabilities made up just 12 percent of all students who received special services.

Education Sector interim chief John Chubb made a good case yesterday for why the best schools—district or charter—overcome learning disabilities with strong schooling and that it’s a mistake to presume there is a fixed percentage of special-needs students that ought to be enrolled at charter schools. But he doesn’t have a lot of company. Instead, charter critics and commentators have made this an issue of social justice,...

The Fordham Foundation has authorized (aka sponsored) charter schools in Ohio since 2005 and currently oversees eight schools (three more will join our portfolio this fall).  As the 2011-12 school year ends, we want to highlight the unique events and successes that happened in our schools this year.

Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA)
Last summer, CCA moved from space that it shared with a Weinland Park area church since the school opened in 2008 to a new location on Main Street, in the near eastside of Columbus.  In terms of student achievement, 40 students were “NWEA all-stars” – meeting ambitious academic growth targets set for them in both reading and math. Sixth graders also participated in “Run the City,” a day-long project where they dealt with the ins and outs of running a city, including banking, marketing, and advertising. Students also got a glimpse of college life with full-day visits to the Ohio State University, Ohio Dominican University, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Denison University. CCA leadership recently launched a new charter management organization, the United Schools Network, which will open a second middle school, Columbus Collegiate Academy-West, this August.

KIPP: Journey Academy
KIPP received excellent news this spring...

Bah humbug

Checker and Mike explain why individual charter schools shouldn’t be expected to educate everyone and divide over Obama’s non-enforcement policies. Amber analyzes where students’ science skills are lacking.

Amber's Research Minute

The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment - National Center for Education Statistics

For almost five years now, the Center for Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica have teamed up to assess the effectiveness of charter-management organizations (CMOs). And a productive partnership it has been. Their latest report on this topic (the fifth, by Gadfly’s count) deserves attention. It focuses on how CMOs hire, train, and manage staff to maximize their schools’ instructional and cultural coherence; there are strong implications here for districts and other charters. Analysts found that successful CMOs managed talent in three key ways. First, they recruited and hired carefully, targeting pipelines like Teach For America and communicating clearly the school’s mission and work ethic. (Messaging, these CMOs believe, helps teachers self-select during the application process.) Second, they used intensive and ongoing socialization of team members, including routine observations and real-time feedback. Third, they aligned pay and promotion to organizational goals, meaning, for example, that stellar teachers were offered the chance to coach others, develop new programs at the schools, and more. CMOs also provided cash rewards to rock-star teachers which, interestingly, were based more on leaders’ professional opinions than assessments or performance metrics. The...

Demand for a school was highly correlated with its quality.

Baking a successful school-choice soufflé is challenging. The ingredients are hard to come by: Schools must be high performing while simultaneously offering options to a diverse parent base. And the recipe is fussy: Navigating the system should be easy and fair. There can be no inherent incentives to game the system. Denver’s new school-choice program (creatively titled SchoolChoice) may not be “Iron Chef” quality, but it has some stimulating flavors cooked in. This encouraging report from A+ Denver explains: Last year, the Denver Public Schools (DPS) streamlined its choice program, merging all sixty of the district’s varying school applications and deadlines into one system. This alleviated much headache and caused an uptick in intradistrict choice. For the 2010-11 school year, over 22,700 students (comprising a little over 25 percent of all pupils) participated, with over two-thirds of them gaining access to their top-choice schools (and 83 percent to one of their top three choices). Even more promising, demand for a school was highly correlated with its quality. Improvements to the program can still be made, however. The report finds, for example, that poor and minority families choose schools that are...

Yesterday’s “exquisitely timedGAO report set off an avalanche of accusations at charter schools for “discriminating” against students with disabilities with its finding that special-needs students represent a lower proportion of charter-school enrollment than they do in district schools. Representative George Miller, who requested the study, found the news “sobering.” Yet everyone already knows, as Eva Moskowitz told the Wall Street Journal, that the best charter schools try to help students with mild disabilities shed their labels (and Individual Education Plans) by improving their math and reading abilities. That could explain a significant part of the discrepancy. But there’s another point that’s overlooked entirely: No single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability. In fact, traditional public schools regularly “counsel out” students with severe disabilities because they don’t have the resources and expertise to serve them. Many school districts operate separate schools (or programs) precisely for those kids. Should the GAO put out a report blasting them for skirting their responsibilities? Of course not. What these districts are doing—what every school district of any size does—is to create special programs at particular schools that can better meet the...

The infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud is an apt analogy for the history of district-charter school relations in Ohio. Neither side has much liked the other for years. Today, however, we see signs that the animosity and acrimony are fading.

Hatfield-McCoy Feud Historic Sign
The history of Ohio district-charter relations calls to mind legendary feuds.
Photo by Jimmy Emerson

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson shepherded legislation through the General Assembly that would, among a host of innovative reforms, provide high-performing charter schools in Cleveland with local levy dollars to support their day-to-day operations. Building on the momentum coming out of Cleveland, Columbus Superintendent Gene Harris put forth a plan that would share local property-tax money with some of that city’s high-flying charters in the form of grants to enable those schools to help boost the performance of low-performing district schools.

There are other Buckeye State examples. Reynoldsburg City School District, serving one of Columbus’s most diverse close-in suburbs, has quietly built a portfolio of school options for its residents over the past decade. Now it is opening those options to...

Famed business-school thinker Clayton Christensen was splendidly profiled in The New Yorker a few weeks back, which set me to reflecting on his influential meditation on K-12 education, Disrupting Class, the 2008 book (co-authored with Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson) that startled the edu-cracy with its bold prediction that half of all high school courses will be delivered online by 2019 and its explanation that technology will produce the “disruptive innovation” in education that previous reform efforts have failed to bring about. As I read the profile, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the more disruptive force in education is lower-tech and already more widespread than Christensen himself realized.

Old steel mill
Disruptive innovation drove out of business organizations in the steel industry that didn't adapt.
Photo by hanjeanwat.

“Disruptive innovation” is his seminal insight, perhaps better summarized in Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile than in the education book itself. “How was it,” he started wondering, “that big, rich companies, admired and emulated by everyone, could one year be at the...