Charters & Choice

Six years and still buzzin'

On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching

One might fairly wonder why the Council on Foreign Relations, of all outfits, would wade into school reform, but in fact the task force that CFR convened on this topic has made a valuable contribution.

We’re accustomed to reformers arguing that America’s international economic competitiveness hinges on a better-educated workforce; we’re used to parallel (and equally justified) assertions that our civic future and cultural vitality depend on kids learning a great deal more in school. What the CFR team has done is remind us that revitalizing our education system is also essential for the defense of the nation itself. In their words, “America’s failure to educate is affecting its national security….In the defense and aerospace industries, many executives fear this problem [dearth of adequately skilled people] will accelerate in the coming decade….Most young people do not qualify for military service….The U.S. State Department and intelligence agencies are facing critical language shortfalls in areas of strategic interest….”

They’re not exactly saying that nuclear warheads will rain onto our population centers the day after tomorrow unless our schools become more effective but they are reminding us that the intersection of...

In November, we learned from the National Study of CMO Effectiveness (a joint initiative by Mathematica and the Center on Reinventing Public Education) that the quality of charter-management organizations varies dramatically. (These findings were confirmed in second report released by the pair in January.) This latest from Mathematica and CRPE probes some of the common practices of high-quality CMOs. Based on data from the middle schools of twenty-two CMOs, we now learn that consistently applied school-wide behavior programs (which outline clear rewards and demerits for specific actions, hold “zero tolerance” for violence, and promote a strong culture of learning) and regular teacher coaching are the strategies most strongly linked to higher student achievement. Interestingly, other popular (and reformy) approaches didn’t correlate with better performance, including boosting instructional time, adopting performance-based teacher evaluation and compensation schemes, and using formative-assessment data frequently. To illustrate further how the two successful strategies work on the ground, the report then profiles five CMOs that utilize them—Aspire Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and Yes Prep Public Schools. Uncommon Schools, for example, pushes a school culture based on...

Ten years after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Cleveland voucher program, state judges are still sending conflicting signals about the viability of private school choice. The latest setback for choice proponents took place last week in Oklahoma, where a Tulsa County judge ruled that a voucher for students with special needs violated the state’s constitutional prohibition of public money for sectarian institutions.

Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court's Zelner decision didn't end the fight for private school choice.
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How can this be? The nation’s highest court declared in 2002’s Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that Cleveland’s voucher allowed parents to exercise “genuine choice,” leaving the decision to attend a faith-based school to the family, not to the state. The answer is in the wildly varying Blaine Amendments and compelled support clauses to constitutions in 47 states. And in many ways, these obstacles raise a larger hurdle than the Establishment Clause at issue in Zelman.

The capable attorneys at the Institute for Justice foretold the challenges...

Thanks to the now-famous “Tebow law,” homeschoolers across the land are donning decades-old football gear, tattered pinnies, and spittle-laden mouthguards with the rest of their agemates as they try out for public-school-sports teams (in those locales where they haven’t been eliminated due to budget cuts). But, USA Twoaday reports, home-school advocates are pushing for access to more than just the playing field. Some parents, thrilled at finally having some time away from their children, are asking to park their brats in detention, study hall, and in-school suspension. Others are demanding access to school lunches, nurses, and showers. One D.C.-area parent who homeschools her eight children said, “To be honest, I was sick of hearing Jimmy (or was it Janie?) crying when I put him (or her) in timeout and whining about my cooking.” The kids also seem to favor these changes. Little Jimmy (or was it Janie?) told the Gladfly, “I’m stoked to be able to start getting Valentine's Day cards from people with different last names.” The youngster added, with a tear in his (or was it her?) eye, “and maybe one day a locker of my very own.”

Suspension rates for homeschoolers on the...

After an abrupt and somewhat mysterious trip to Cyprus, Newt Gingrich has officially exited the 2012 presidential election. How come? Certainly not to spend more time with his famil(ies). Rather, it’s to focus energies on his latest venture, the “Reinvigoration of American Culture” public-charter school, set to open in New Orleans nine months after election day. The RAC school will engage in daily classroom prayer (nondenominational, of course—until those hippie liberals get out of the White House) to teach children a moral code. It will also utilize a unique school-work program that requires students to serve as the building’s janitors, cafeteria workers, hall monitors, and PE teachers (because, really, what skill that an eighth grader lacks does it take to lead a game of badminton?). The promised benefits of Newt’s new venture are threefold: Teach these lazy kids some freakin’ work ethic, stockpile some conservative bona-fides, and test-drive his education agenda on real-live lab rats—er, scholars. But a word of caution, Newt. Just opening a charter school won’t make you a shoe-in for the White House in 2016. Michele Bachmann can tell you a little something about that.

Gingrich puts his money where his mouth is,” by...

For the second consecutive year, state Superintendent Tony Evers has used his bully pulpit at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to imply that the Badger State is throwing more money at a voucher program that is inferior to a traditional school system which is receiving less. But a closer inspection of Mr. Evers’s gamesmanship reveals the tricks he employs to attack a program he once called “morally wrong.”

Closer inspection of Mr. Evers’s gamesmanship reveals the tricks he employs to attack a program he once called "morally wrong."

Just like last year, Evers distributed a press release this week asserting that students in the Milwaukee and Racine voucher programs scored no better, and in some cases worse, than district students on Wisconsin’s standardized test. We all know that such comparisons are problematic because of “selection bias” since nobody can be sure whether kids using vouchers and those using the public schools differ in important ways. (The former might, for example, have fled bad districts precisely because they were doing poorly there.)

Especially galling was Evers’s use of the Racine data.

His press release claims that far more district students in that city scored at grade level or...

The mainstream resistance to school choice has embraced the language of fear and unrest. National School Boards Association executive director Anne L. Bryant asked recently in the Huffington Post whether virtual schools are a sham and warned of “corruption and greed” among for-profit providers looking to cash in on students. It would be foolish to dismiss this as a more aggressive rhetorical attempt to retain dominance in the public school marketplace. Arguments such as Bryant’s are showing success in state legislatures and they’re degenerating legitimate debate over education reform.

The mainstream resistance to school choice has embraced the language of fear and unrest.

For instance, a proposed parent trigger law in Florida failed in the state Senate after opponents similarly warned that gullible parents would be swooned by corporate education raiders looking to profit by converting traditional schools to charters. Never mind that charters have been flourishing in the Sunshine State for more than fifteen years. Democrat Nan Rich, the Senate’s minority leader, said the trigger would lay “the groundwork for the hostile corporate takeover of public schools across Florida.” Eight Republicans joined Rich and eleven other Democrats to defeat the measure, and nearly all expressed the same...

On Fordham’s Boards Eye View blog today, Hoover scholar John Chubb made the case that states should relieve local school boards of the authority to govern student access to the burgeoning online learning market and expose school systems to more disruptive innovations. A new analysis of virtual education trends from the Evergreen Education Group gives us more evidence that districts may be unwilling to give up their authority easily.

This year’s “Keeping Pace” report from Evergreen gives us a snapshot of online and blending learning practices and tells us that the fastest-growing segment is coming from single-district programsthose run by one district for that district’s students. While it’s satisfying to see more districts embrace digital learning programssome with the purpose to compete with state-run virtual schoolsthese are school systems that are drawing boundaries around a practice that should be boundless.

These aren’t examples of disruptive innovations. These are not all fully online programs, but rather mostly blended models that combine face-to-face learning with virtual instruction that is mostly supplemental. This is not surprising, given that districts are serving only their own students, many of whom are at-risk and take advantage of online instruction mostly for credit...

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is seeking to remake and refashion the city’s long-suffering schools through a series of bold reforms that include making significant changes to the district’s collective bargaining agreement, passing a school levy for the first time in more than 15 years, and sharing public dollars with high-performing charter schools. As bold as the Jackson Plan is, however, even more audacious is the political coalition that seems to be coalescing around it.

Controversial components of the mayor’s plan include basing pay, layoffs, and rehiring decisions on performance and specialization instead of traditional factors like seniority and credentials; replacing the current 304-page collective bargaining agreement, when it expires in 2013, and using a “fresh start” to renegotiate a new and far more streamlined contract; and providing high-performing charter schools with local levy dollars to support their day-to-day operations.

The Jackson Plan’s labor flexibility and levy support for high-performing charter schools are ideas that have long been anathema to statehouse Democrats and their union supporters. Not surprisingly, more than a few legislative Democrats and union officials have pointed out in recent weeks that some of the proposed changes in the mayor’s plan to the Cleveland teacher union collective bargaining agreement...