Charters & Choice

The Harmony Charter school opus in today's Times is a great read.? It's very long, over 4,000 words, starting on the front page and covering two full pages on the inside of the paper. But its author, Stephanie Saul, is a crack ?investigative reporter? and a 1995 recipient of a Pulitzer -- not an education writer.? The headline is a grabber: ?Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in Texas,? as is the subhead:? ?Some Founders Belong to Islamic Movement.?? Saul tells the story of the Cosmos Foundation, which runs Harmony and is now the largest charter school operator in the Lone Star State, and focuses much of her attention on a ?close-knit network of businesses and organizations run by Turkish immigrants? that benefit from the $100 million in taxpayer funds Harmony receives to run its 33 Texas schools. ?Throw in a ?charismatic Turkish preacher of a moderate brand of Islam? whose followers have helped start 120 schools in 25 states, lots of male teachers from foreign countries, and you have the makings of an education potboiler.? ?The growth of these `Turkish schools,' as they are often called,? writes Saul, "has come with a measure of backlash, not all of it untainted by xenophobia.?

Though there don't appear to be any smoking guns here, the story should be read in conjunction with Jay Greene's limits and dangers of philanthropy essay, as it raises important issues about charter accountability ? in this case, it's less about academics...

Though American education has taken few actual steps to pattern itself on other countries, in recent years we've displayed a near-obsessive interest in how we're doing in relation to them (e.g. on TIMSS and PISA results), and in what they're doing and how they do it. We at Fordham have found ourselves doing this a couple of times and we've periodically reviewed major analyses of ?education success stories around the world? by the likes of McKinsey. We've also read our share?OK, more than our share?of paeans to Finland, Singapore, you name it. (At the U.S. Education Department, I helped lead a study of Japanese education as long ago as 1988.) I've also?long admired Marc Tucker's tireless efforts to get American educators and reformers to understand and appreciate how other nations address challenges that often resemble our own.

Old GlobeWhich isn't to say I always agree with him. And that's true of his latest paper, too?drawn from a book coming out in September.?He seeks to determine "what education policy might look like in the United States if it was [sic] based on the experiences of our most successful competitors." In that role, he casts Canada (Ontario), Finland, and three East Asian lands (Japan, Singapore, and the Shanghai region of China.) And in fifty pages he offers a wealth of insights that are surely perceptive yet not entirely applicable on these...

The US Department of Education has hired a new director of its Federal Charter Schools Program, which oversees a variety of grant programs for starting and replicating public charter schools, as well as credit enhancements to help them afford high-quality facilities. Stefan Huh, the new director, is leaving DC's Office the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) after four years running the Office of Public Charter School Financing and Support there. (Full disclosure: I worked for Stefan at OSSE last summer and consider him a mentor and an important influence on my decision to work full-time in education after business school.)

Stefan's tenure in DC provides some hopeful signs that ED will continue to step up its game on charters. First, while he's a strong advocate for public charter schools, he focused strongly on school quality while running the program at OSSE. For instance, the office added a competitive grant component to its teacher compensation program last summer, developed by my colleague Jessica Sutter.

Second, Huh is not a natural-born bureaucrat ? he understands that building more quality schools means taking calculated risks. For example, most of ED's grantees in the Credit Enhancement Program for charter school facilities have used those funds in safe ways that have not dramatically increased access to capital for new charters. Texas uses its $10 million from the Department only for bond financing, which typically only very mature, safe charters can access. Under Stefan's direction, DC has instead largely backed younger schools that...

Guest Blogger

Living near D.C.?a city with a 40 percent charter market share?charter schools are a constant topic of discussion, with reform-minded Marylanders envious of D.C.'s friendliness toward charters. Despite the adoption of Maryland's Charter Law in 2003, the state has seen gross disparities in the creation of charter schools across the state. While some areas, particularly Baltimore City, have proven to be very friendly to charter schools, most others have not. Of the forty-four charters across the state, thirty-four are located in Baltimore City; 74 percent of the counties in Maryland do not have a single charter school within their borders.

This disparity stems from the vagueness and openness of MD's charter law?designated as one of the weakest charter laws in the nation, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The loose guidelines provided by it, coupled with the authority given to local education authorities (LEA), has resulted in wide variation in the law's implementation across the state.

Charter schools are an important aspect of our education system as they provide families, particularly low-income families, with options for their children's public education

In order to make more uniform opportunities for charter schools across the state, we offer four policy recommendations, that we believe will help level the playing field for charter schools in Maryland:

  1. Freedom of Hiring - Public charter schools in Maryland are forced into local district collective-bargaining agreements. They should be able to make their own hiring decisions, rather than
  2. ...

This is a guest post from Diana Senechal, written in response to my post, Private School Idolatry and the Case of the Missing Solution. Diana was a contributor to Fordham's review of state ELA standards in 2010, she is also author of the book Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture, which will be published by Rowman & Littlefield Education in November.


I am speaking for myself here?I just wanted to respond to your points.

The problem with the ?maximize every moment? approach is that in the name of maximizing every moment, the moments themselves are often limited?and needlessly.

Many children in urban schools are not on the brink of failure; they desperately need more challenge. They are placed in classes with students who lag them by several years. I'm not saying tracking is the solution?but these students should at least be acknowledged.

Because of the belief that urban students in general must be yanked into success, some reformers assert that every moment of the lesson should be directly tied to its objective and that the lesson should be swift, purposeful, and productive. This precludes the sort of discussion that allows for tangents and open questions and that does not lead to a physical product or concrete result.

Not every lesson can be like that, even in wealthy schools. You need to teach children concrete things and to ensure that they are learning them. But children are...