Charters & Choice

The New York Times is on a roll with its education coverage, today reporting on everything from Obama in Boston to Rick Scott in Florida and rich schools in Bronxville.? And though I got slapped on the wrist yesterday by John Thompson for tweaking the purveyor of ?the best journalism in the world,? it is precisely because they are the best (according to Thompson, of course) that we watch them ? and, occasionally, critique them.

Florida Moves Teacher Bill Forward. It looks like new Sunshine state governor Rick Scott will right the wrong of his predecessor Charlie Crist, who vetoed a pioneering teacher evaluation reform bill last year ? what Andy Smarick called ?the most disappointing education policy decision by a major Republican officeholder in recent memory.?? The revived and revised bill, introduced by Florida legislator Erik Fresen, would link teacher evaluations to student performance, put new teachers on one-year contracts, and institute an evaluation system that would determine raises and firings. ??We are under siege,? the head of one teacher union told the Times. Yup. And it may be time for besieged teacher unions to start thinking of the besieged students who can't read or write.

A Merger in Memphis.? Voters in Memphis decided by a large margin on Tuesday to hand over the reins of their ?103,000-student public school system to their smaller -- ?47,000 students ? suburban neighbor in Shelby County, ?effectively,? as the Times reports, ?putting an end to...

That's the title of my new story in Education Next, about an experiment to take a successful religious school education model to the public sector. The subtitle of the story sums it up nicely:? ?How the Christian Brothers came to start two charter schools in Chicago.?

Let the walls come tumbling down!

Not so fast.? I have been writing about Catholic schools for a while ? see my 2007 Ed Next story Can Catholic Schools Be Saved?, Fordham's 2008 report, Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools??,?and in Flypaper?-- and had not encountered anything quite like what these education reformers were attempting in the Windy City. These are not Catholic schools -- well, not in the traditional sense.

It started almost ten years ago when Arne Duncan, then the head of Chicago Public Schools, asked the famed, 320-year-old Catholic order, which operates thousands of schools in 80 different countries, including dozens in the U.S., to start a charter school.? Duncan had visited the Brothers' two San Miguel middle schools, which the?order?operated on the city's poor Westside, and said, ?We can do this.??

How they did it is a fascinating tale of grit and determination,?about a committed group of Catholics who gave up their icons, statues, prayers, and catechism, ran a gauntlet of church/state hurdles, partnered with a Baptist congregation in one location and weathered an angry black community in another location ? and are now educating hundreds of Chicago's poorest public school...

More bad news for charters in DC ? according to the Post's Bill Turque, Mayor Vincent Gray will hold the city's Uniform Per Student Funding Formula constant and cut the facilities allowance to public charter schools by $200 a head in order to help close a budget gap of over half a billion dollars.

Of course, school funding in Washington is far from "uniform." Retirement funding for DCPS teachers falls outside the formula, the city spends hundreds more per student on capital projects for traditional public schools than the $2,800 per student available to charters, and DCPS receives revenue from other city agencies outside the formula. Last year's Ball State study of charter school funding assessed the gap between DCPS and the charter sector in DC at over $12,000 per student in the 2006-07 school year.

Despite this sizable funding gap, the District's charter schools have performed at least as well as traditional district schools, with several star charter operators doing much better. They're doing more with a lot less and should be encouraged both for the choices they provide to parents here and for their admirable efficiency. Instead, Mayor Gray has decided it's "fair" to cut support for highly efficient schools of choice as much or more than support for less efficient district schools. That seems like a missed opportunity to save money in the long run and drive better outcomes for kids.

?Chris Tessone...

Liam Julian

For the second year in a row, all the seniors at the all-male Urban Prep charter school in Chicago have been accepted?by a four-year college or university.?And to its credit, the school isn't just focused on getting its students accepted; it wants to ensure that every one of them earns a bachelor's degree. The Chicago Tribune reports that, to that end, the school's founder, Tim King, ?and his staff have helped secure money for plane tickets, driven students to college campuses, held workshops for alumni in the summer and winter, and checked up on them.? Clearly the Urban Prep's employees and the young men who are about to?finish up?there?put in a lot of work to achieve this impressive 100-percent-acceptance result. But as usual, I'm skeptical: I wonder, for instance, if all the seniors are actually prepared to succeed in college (King told the Tribune that this year's graduating class had an average ACT score of 17.5, which ain't great); to what sort of four-year colleges these young men were accepted; and whether the school's college-for-all push is necessarily in the best interests of its students. But no matter: for now, at least, congratulations are in order.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

In today's Ohio Education Gadfly, Jamie, Bianca, and I explore what's missing from the debate around Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Akron mom who was jailed for nine days and convicted of tampering with documents in order to send her two children to a school outside their home district.

Many are calling it a ???Rosa Parks moment for education.??? Civil rights and political activists are pleading with the governor to pardon Williams-Bolar (and he has asked the Ohio Parole Board to review the case). Kevin Huffman noted in the Washington Post, ???She looked at her options, she looked at the law, she looked at her kids. And she made a choice.???

But did she really look at all of her options? Lost among the clarion calls for expanding school choice to help parents like Ms. Williams-Bolar are key questions. Besides falsifying documents to send her kids outside of Akron Public Schools, did Williams-Bolar have other options? If so, why didn't she use them?

In fact, Williams-Bolar did have legal school-choice options, more than most Ohio families, including:

Intra-district transfer. The Akron Public Schools allows students to attend a school other than their local neighborhood school provided a seat is available. There are several high-performing schools in Akron, one of which we featured in our Needles in a Haystack report last spring (King Elementary, which drew a hefty percentage of its students from outside its attendance zone), that her kids might have attended....

Amy Fagan

In case you missed it?..On February 2 -- Groundhog Day -- we held a terrific (& quite lively) event to discuss the seemingly eternal problem of low-performing schools and what to do about them. We tied it loosely to the cult classic movie Groundhog Day, in which the main character lives the same day over and over. As you'll see, we were fortunate to secure a wonderful panel of experts. After a welcome from moderator Mike Petrilli of Fordham, we heard from David Stuit, partner at Basis Policy Research. David presented the findings from our report, Are Bad Schools Immortal? He was joined on the panel by Jeanne Allen, president of The Center for Education Reform; Justin Cohen, president of the School Turnaround Group at Mass Insight Education; and Elaine Weiss, national coordinator for the Broader Bolder Approach to Education. Debate grew very animated at times. Here are just a few of the highlights and photos (?lots? of gestures!)

And hey, if these photos just aren't enough, you can watch the event video here.

David Stuit: The study looked at 10 states, identified low-performing elementary and mid-schools, and tracked them. Found that 72% of charters and 80% of district schools stayed...

Ohio's EdChoice Scholarship Program, a voucher program for students attending chronically underperforming schools, will begin to accept applications for the 2011-2012 school year tomorrow, February 1. EdChoice is a state-funded program that gives students who attend underperforming public schools a voucher worth up to $5,000 to go to a private school of their choice.

According to School Choice Ohio, which works to protect and expand children's educational options in the Buckeye State, 85,453 Ohio students are eligible to apply for the public voucher for the coming school year. However, because of a state-mandated cap on enrollment only 14,000 students are permitted to participate in the program.

To be eligible for one of the coveted vouchers students must attend one of the 197 schools rated academic watch (D) or academic emergency (F) by the state for two of the past three years.? During the 2010-2011 school year the voucher program almost reached the statutory cap of 14,000 students with just a little over 13,000 participating in the program.? Participation in the voucher program has steadily increased since its inception in 2006, and this year's participation will most likely be on the same path. Chad Aldis, Executive Director of School Choice Ohio urges families to ?to act quickly and enroll their children in this transformational program?.

To find out more about which schools are voucher eligible and the private schools participating in the program?check out School Choice Ohio's website.

-Bianca Speranza ...

It's not a new sci-fi movie ? but it's a longstanding issue for charter schools: finding space ? that's not outer!

Last Tuesday, according to a Los Angeles Daily News story, via Ed Week, the Los Angeles Unified School District made what the DN said was ?an unprecedented? offer:? allowing 81 charter schools to have 25,000 classroom seats on district campuses.

So why do charter advocates call the LAUSD offer illegal?

As it turns out, California was ahead of the?game on the space issue and in 2000 voters passed Proposition 39, which requires districts to share available facilities with charter schools. And districts, not surprisingly, have danced around the law ever since. According to the DN, California charter advocates have sued LAUSD twice

for failing to comply with Proposition 39, which states that district facilities must be shared `fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools.'?

But even though the current proposal ?would be the largest offer ever made by LAUSD, which houses the largest concentration of charter campuses in the nation,? Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association, tells the DN that at least 24 of the 81?charters were offered space at multipl?sites, not exactly a convenient deal and, says Wallace, a violation of Prop 39'.

On the East Coast, New York City has different co-location headaches.? A new law passed last May, to increase the state's Race to the Top chances, actually penalizes...

Guest Blogger

It's National School Choice Week ? the first of its kind. And now, thanks to Gov. Kasich making it official, it's also Ohio School Choice Week.

Close to 1,000 Ohioans have attended events across the state this week to celebrate.

This week's Cap City event brought together legislators from both parties, education reform leaders from across the state, school principals, public school board members, and skeptics. Featured panelists included Ohio Representative Matt Huffman; Ohio Senator Kris Jordan; School Choice Ohio Executive Director Chad Aldis; Terry Ryan of the Fordham Institute, and others.

Terry highlighted Dayton, Fordham's hometown, as a place where a large percentage of district students have exerted choice and attend area charters, which are performing better academically than their district counterpart schools. Referencing Fordham's on-the-ground work, ?Our experience in Dayton is not a panacea; it's a tool? (Hannah News Service; subscription required).

The discussion, which centered on new ways to expand school options for families while keeping high standards of quality and accountability, was encouraging as Ohio heads into a tough year financially and will have to think innovatively about how best to serve students across the state.

Speaker of the Ohio House, Bill Batchelder, kicked off the event by recounting fondly his role as primary sponsor of the legislation that created the Cleveland voucher in 1995, a program that now serves more than 5,000 students. Now, as we celebrate 15 years of the Cleveland voucher, he vowed ?I'm still at...

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