Charters & Choice

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 over the years, but it appears that the animosity and acrimony of the recent past is fading. Evidence for a new period of cooperative charter-district relations comes from several remarkable developments.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson shepherded through the Ohio General Assembly legislation that would, among a whole 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 has quietly built a portfolio of school options for its residents over the past decade. Now it is opening those options to students from other districts who might want to attend a Reynoldsburg school through its new open enrollment policy. Further, a group of school districts (including Columbus, Reynoldsburg, and the...

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...

In this report, the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice looks at new models for schools. Using the term “greenfield,” from Rick Hess’ vision of areas where there are unobstructed, wide-open opportunities to invent and build, greenfield schooling strips down ideas of the traditional schoolhouse and gives schools the freedom to grow by tailoring education to a wider variety of students.

The report challenges the choice system as it currently stands, saying that existing school choice programs, while delivering slightly better outcomes, are not challenging the public school sector as they need to be. Greg Foster, who co-authored the report, begins by stating, “We know from previous research that vouchers (and equivalent programs like tax credits and ESAs) consistently deliver better academic performance, but the size of the impact is not revolutionary.”

Greenfield schools, the report states, would aid in a move to universal choice, a prerequisite for schools to innovate and grow and to prevent the shuffling of children from public to private schools. Universal choice would open opportunities to children of all ethnicities and income levels, many of whom have been excluded from private schools because of cost. Universal choice aims to lower tuition, and allow private schools...

Louisiana schools Superintendent John White has plenty of freedom to write the rules that will govern what may become the most sweeping voucher program in the nation, but he has little time to do the job. The legislature has given White until August 1 to figure out how to hold private schools accountable for their voucher students, but the more dogged critics of the superintendent and the voucher program want assurances now that no student will leave a lousy public school for a lousy private school.

In many ways, White is entering uncharted territory.

In many ways, White is entering uncharted territory. At least fifteen states have passed laws establishing vouchers or tax credit scholarships, but just a handful  now assess the academic or financial health of the private schools that participate. So it’s helpful to reflect first on what already sets Louisiana apart before suggesting more ways to make the voucher program accountable.

First, any private school accepting voucher students will have to submit an independent financial audit to the Louisiana Department of Education. Until now, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program had some of the most stringent fiscal regulations, requiring independent audits of private schools that received...

Success Academy Charter Schools chief Eva Moskowitz has a good reason to vilify quotas designed to get New York charter schools to enroll more high-needs students. The Success Academy already teaches English language learners and other students with special needs. They just work harder to get them into general education. What good is a law that ultimately interferes with what Moskowitz and her team do well?

What good is a law that ultimately interferes with what Moskowitz and her team do well?

New York City charter schools serve fewer English language learners and students with special needs  than district schools, but the Success Academy and other charters are less likely to label—and more likely to de-label—students as “high needs.” In her letter to the charter authorizers that drafted the enrollment plan, Moskowitz said the quotas would institutionalize the same “perverse incentives” that drive district schools to “over-identify” students who need special education (and the extra funding that goes with it).

Authorizers developed the quotas to execute a 2010 law in New York that required charter schools to enroll a higher share of English language learners and students with disabilities. Here we have a legislature swayed by the...

Rick fades in the fourth quarter

Mike and Rick ponder the future of teacher unions and the College Board while Amber provides the key points from a recent CDC study and wonders if the kids are alright after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2011 by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

We know anecdotally that our current collection of private-school-choice programs has done little to encourage new and innovative models of private education to flourish. This report from the Friedman Foundation, which tracks private-school enrollment in eight choice-heavy locales over the lifespan of their tax-credit or voucher programs, offers evidence to back up those impressions: In Milwaukee, for example, the number of private schools has grown since choice legislation was enacted, but these schools have become larger and “presumably more stable and even insular” (and thus, less likely to be innovative). For authors Greg Forster and James L. Woodworth, this justifies a move toward universal school choice—making all children, regardless of income level, eligible for vouchers or tax credits—which, they argue, will allow for a shift in institutional culture, where entrepreneurs can “innovate beyond the confines of the ‘default’ public school model.” Or, to draw on Rick Hess’s terminology, universal choice will allow for the “greenfield schools model,” or a “rethink [of] how schools are designed from the ground up,” to take root. But why default to universal choice as the best way to reach greenfield schooling (apart...

Imagine, for a moment, a policy that allows learning-disabled students to take their share of federal IDEA funds to the public or private schools of their choice, just as Mitt Romney has proposed. It’s outlandish to suppose that we would discontinue the use of state assessments given to most of these students. But that’s the reality in Florida, home to the nation’s largest special education voucher program, and the group that oversees the program wants to keep the status quo.

To embrace a publicly funded private school choice program and argue against any move toward results-based accountability is an unsustainable position today.

Robyn Rennick, who sits on the board that manages the McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities, wrote on the redefinED blog Tuesday that it’s wrong to require standardized testing of “a unique group of students” whose individual disabilities vary widely. Test scores are, of course, a muddy measure for students with severe cognitive or developmental disabilities, and that’s how Rennick builds her case. But as much as 82 percent of the 22,200 students who took a McKay Scholarship to a private school last year required only moderate interventions and testing accommodations in the public schools they...

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal shared the (mostly) happy story that the market for debt issued by charter schools to finance facilities and other purchases is growing. Institutional investors and banks understand charters—and the risks they have to manage—much better than in past years, and that's translating to lower borrowing costs for schools. (Note in the excerpt below that when bond prices go up, the interest rates paid by borrowers go down—there's an inverse relationship there.)

Prices for charter-school bonds have risen this year, according to trading data. Cosmos Foundation Inc., which operates 36 charter-school campuses in Texas, issued $50 million in bonds in 2010, and prices have increased about 12 percent.
IDEA Public Schools, a network of schools that received its charter from the state of Texas in 2000, is gearing up for its biggest bond deal yet. Chief Financial Officer Wyatt Truscheit said IDEA Public is planning a $70 million offering in August.

This is the first chapter in what should turn out to be a long story. Relatively few investment firms and banks are active in lending to charter schools, and not all lenders understand this market. Because of this, charter schools in areas that are not...

Total recall

Mike and Janie discuss the fallout from the Wisconsin recall election and teacher unions’ image problem, while Amber explains what we can learn from the best CMOs.

Amber's Research Minute

Managing Talent for School Coherence: Learning from Charter Management Organizations by CRPE & Mathematica DOWNLOAD PDF