Charters & Choice

Charter schools are different from traditional district schools in that they are free of many regulations and operating constraints, but in return for their freedoms they are held accountable for their results. Those charter schools that fail to deliver results over time are closed, the theory holds. Yet, strict charter accountability in the form of closure collides with the efforts of states like Ohio to use federal school improvement dollars to turn around troubled charter schools.

President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Duncan are pushing the school turnaround concept hard through the Race to the Top competition and School Improvement Grants. Andy has written extensively about the many challenges that face turnaround efforts, and has mustered much evidence against the cause. [quote]

Despite Andy's strong case against all turnarounds, I have argued that there are times when the turnaround strategy may have merit for school districts. Of course, we should take on turnarounds with a healthy dose of skepticism and with the understanding that most will fail. But, in cities like Fordham's hometown of Dayton, half of the community's schools perennially receive an F or D on the state's academic report card.

Why would we want to place an ironclad ???????no??????? on a reform-minded superintendent who might seek a portfolio of reforms, including the strategic use of turnarounds? Dayton has been in a perpetual state of reform for 15 years, including launching one of the largest charter sectors in the country, and still most...

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The schools that serve Ohio’s poor, urban and minority youngsters overwhelmingly fall short when it comes to academic performance. But there are a small handful of schools that buck these bleak trends and show serious achievement for disadvantaged youngsters from depressed inner-city communities.

This study profiles eight of these high-performing outlier schools and distills their successes, in hopes that state policymakers and educators can learn from them and create the conditions necessary for more schools like them.

To study the schools, Fordham commissioned two reseachers, Theodore J. Wallace and Quentin Suffren, who spent 16 days and hundreds of hours in eight schools in five cities to observe what makes them successful.

See the news release here. View the PowerPoint, an overview of findings and policy recommendations that we shared with state lawmakers at a Statehouse news conference on May 25, here.

Profiles of the eight Needles schools

Citizens' Academy (video)

College Hill Fundamental Academy (video)

Duxberry Park Arts IMPACT Alternative Elementary School

Horizon Science Academy - Cleveland Middle School (video)

King Elementary School (video)

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OhioFlypaper

Columbus Collegiate Academy, one of the charter schools the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation authorizes in Ohio, was just named one of only nine charter elementary schools nationwide to receive the silver EPIC award by New Leaders for New Schools for dramatic gains in student achievement.

New Leaders started EPIC -- the Effective Practice Incentive Community ??? in 2006 to link principal and teacher incentive pay to the wide-scale sharing of effective educational practices. EPIC recognizes are rewards school leaders and staff in these schools and creates comprehensive case studies of their successes so that others may??learn from them.?? The program has granted $7.3 million dollars in incentive awards to over 2,700 educators in 120 schools nationwide. Eligible staff at Columbus Collegiate Academy will earn much-deserved cash awards for their success.

We're incredibly proud of school leader Andrew Boy and his staff, who after only one year of operation led their inaugural class of sixth graders from just 35 percent proficient in reading and 41 percent proficient in math (as fifth graders) to 74 percent proficient in reading and 82 percent proficient in math, on the Ohio Achievement Tests. These academic gains earned the school recognition as the highest performing public middle school in Columbus, despite serving a student population that is 95 percent economically disadvantaged.

Ohio's charter school sector often has struggled to produce stellar results, and our governor and teachers unions haven't made it easy...

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Most of the Fordham office was over at the AEI-Fordham event yesterday for Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. (If you missed our live tweeting, you can watch the event video here.) The event's moderator, Rick Hess, has (as promised) now posted his response to Ravitch's book. The headline? Ravitch and Duncan are making the same mistake about choice and accountability.

Choice and accountability, explains Hess, are not supposed to improve teaching and learning, curriculum, or achievement. They are supposed to create an environment where we can improve teaching and learning, curriculum, and achievement. And posing it--or condemning it--as the former will only create more disappointment when we all see, yet again, our favorite choice and accountability techniques not fulfilling their promises. Read the rest of this very thoughtful piece here.

--Stafford Palmieri

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OhioFlypaper

This week's edition kicks off with a great piece by Terry discussing the unprecedented move by the Ohio Department of Education to close a charter school sponsor (aka authorizer) for fiscal mismanagement. Terry dives into the academic track record of the sponsor's schools (which is abysmal) and argues that Ohio is right to take action to close them. Nelson Smith from NAPCS says ???bravo to Ohio??? for this.

Next, read Checker's review of Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The Dayton Daily News covers the Finn-Ravitch buzz and asks ???So we have, from right to left, Finn, Obama, and Ravitch? Or is it left to right????

Be sure to check out Mike Lafferty's report on Ohio's STEM meeting for excellent on-the-ground perspectives from parents, teachers, and business folks as to why STEM is important (and fears about how to fit it into the curriculum). Also read Mike and Tim's analysis of how much money Ohio could save through district ???consolidations??? (as in, sharing services, not consolidation ala Brookings' recent recommendations), and Emmy's piece that points out if Ohio is not a round 1 RttT finalist, we've lost a month of valuable time to make real changes to our round 2 application in order to be more competitive.

Finally, if you're curious to know what will.i.am and Pell (as in, Pell grant) have in common, or what Drew Carey is up to these days,...

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The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is seeking to close a troubled charter school sponsor (aka authorizer), the Cleveland-based Ashe Culture Center, Inc.

This blazes new territory for the nation's charter school program. While there have been many charter school closures over the years, there are no instances where a state has actually stepped in to close a sponsor. In fact, Ohio, Minnesota, and Missouri are the only states that give the state department of education the authority to revoke a charter school sponsor's right to authorize schools. (In most other states, authorizers are brought into being via statute, and they can only be decommissioned by the legislature. Ohio's General Assembly, for example, fired the State Board of Education as a charter school sponsor in 2003.)

According to press accounts the department wants to close Ashe for ???????not properly overseeing the spending of taxpayer money.??????? Specifically, Ashe has sponsored two schools that the state auditor has deemed ???????unauditable.??????? According to an investigation by the state auditor, the sponsor's chief executive officer took payments from a school where his wife ???????? a member of the school's governing board ???????? approved said payments to the sponsor. Considering the sponsor is supposed to represent the interests of the state ???????? including ensuring tax dollars are actually spent on the educational needs of children ???????? this seems an obvious conflict of interest.

Ashe's sponsored schools also have a woeful academic track record. Over two-thirds (67 percent) of Ashe-sponsored...

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I've now gone from optimistic to doubtful to disappointed on the LAUSD outsourcing plan. If you recall, the district decided to outsource the management of 12 low-performing schools and 18 new ones. Teachers, parents, charter organizations, and other non-profits were invited to apply. Sounded like a good idea, since LAUSD seemed to be unable to do anything with these schools to improve their dismal achievement and graduation rates. The competition even lit a fire under LA teachers, who, in the face of possible charter takeover and with district and union support, put together management plans in a matter of weeks.

Then LAUSD held a vote for parents, teachers, and community members to have their say. And they made a mess of it. I suppose that should have been the first warning signal that this good idea had succumbed to the entrenched interests of LA's education status quo. Though it's not clear how much these votes even counted, it was clear that the grass-roots campaign launched by UTLA leading up the election made a difference. It probably helped that under the "community" voter category, the same person could vote multiple times simply by going to the different school-based polling stations!

As of Tuesday, the school board has made their decisions (based for the most part on Cortines' suggestions): twenty-two schools will go to teacher groups (read: UTLA), ??three go to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, and charter operators or community groups...

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OhioFlypaper

It's no surprise that Ohio's economy is in crisis, but you might be amazed at the price tag for some of Gov. Strickland's new education mandates. Terry points out the implications of decreasing class size in grades K-3 alone (to 15:1), which will cost $784 million per year by 2014. If you're wondering how, where, and when Ohio plans to come up with that money while facing an upcoming $8 billion deficit, join the club.

Meanwhile, Kathryn (the Fordham Foundation's director of charter school sponsorship) discusses Fordham's new contract with its charter schools. We're proud of Fordham's strict sponsorship (authorizing) contract, which allows schools maximum operational freedoms but requires that schools be held to high standards of operational and academic excellence. Be sure to check this piece out to learn what types of provisions are necessary for a high-quality contract between schools and their authorizers.

Also on the lineup is Emmy's response to the Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU), which recently asked why the district would want to utilize charter schools as part of its transformation plan. Emmy says, ???For starters, how about better-educated students???? and points out that six of the top ten schools in Cleveland are charters. As CTU moves to unionize charters, find out what's at stake.

And don't miss several great reviews and Editor's Extras, including Teach for America alum Jamie's review of TFA'S new book, Teaching as Leadership, which outlines six principles embodied by TFA's most highly effective teachers,...

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???????The overriding question is how will having a teachers union improve on our ability to educate all of our children and make sure they're ready to graduate from college? We respect that they represent the interests of teachers; we represent the interests of students.???????????

- Perry White, executive director of Citizens Academy, a Cleveland charter school that is one of the top-performing charters in Ohio, speaking to the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the Cleveland Teachers Union's efforts to unionize the city's charter schools.

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Laura Pohl

New York City's United Federation of Teachers (UFT) recently published a report in which it said the area's charter schools don't serve at least the district-wide average of neediest students, despite serving an overwhelmingly poor population. So James Merriman of the NYC Charter Schools Blog wonders why the UFT isn't fussing over significant demographic differences within the public school system, as laid out in our "America's Private Public Schools" report. Merriman writes:

Given the UFT's present obsession with precise demographic balancing between charter schools and district schools, one might suppose that the union would have spoken out about this phenomenon. After all, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and his loyal coterie of advocacy organizations enthusiastically trumpeted a report that (1) acknowledged that charter school students were overwhelming poor but (2) based on their data, slightly less poor on average than students in nearby district managed schools. ??????

Even these minor differences merited a press conference, numerous TV appearances, and a report whose title is meant to invoke the educational apartheid sanctioned by Plessy v. Ferguson.

Merriman then points out demographic and socioeconomic statistics for specific schools and goes on to ask:

So when is the press conference in TriBeCa? When is the protest rally in Douglaston? When will we see a UFT report on the ???????separate and unequal??????? conditions between the Upper East Side and East New York? Equally, when will the UFT call for a moratorium on building new schools in

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