Charters & Choice

A few years ago, a couple of my Fordham colleagues coined the phrase “public private” schools to describe schools that educate virtually no low-income students. In the report, they suggested the following notion: Though “public” in name, high-wealth schools are, in practice, pretty much equivalent to private ones. Families wanting to enroll their children in such schools effectively pay “tuition” through higher real-estate taxes and/or paying a fortune on housing. Low-income families are functionally excluded from sending their children to these schools.

But when an affluent district enacts an open enrollment policy, students outside its jurisdiction can attend. This suggests that they’re acting more in their public than private nature. Since 1989, Ohio has permitted such inter-district open enrollment, and today, most (though not all) districts participate. For the 2015–16 year, 81 percent of districts allowed some degree of open enrollment.[1]

So what about Ohio’s public private school districts? Do any of them open their doors for all comers? Or are they adhering more closely to their “private” identity by denying non-resident students the opportunity to enroll? Let’s take a look at the data.

When my colleagues examined public private schools in 2010, they identified...

Ohio has been included in lots of national rankings and scorecards lately. The latest comes from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which ranks the Buckeye State at number twenty-three (out of forty-three states) for its charter school law. At first blush, twenty-third doesn’t seem like much to laud (after all, we just lamented Ohio’s fall to twenty-third in Education Week’sQuality Counts” ranking). But there’s more to Ohio’s modest slot than meets the eye.

For starters, Ohio improved five slots from last year. In fact, it was the third-most-improved state in terms of rankings, next to Oklahoma and Massachusetts. More important than its rise in the rankings (which could occur for a host of reasons, including other states’ charter climates getting worse) is the reason why. The report notes that Ohio’s improvement occurred because “it enacted legislation that improved its authorizer funding provisions and strengthened its charter monitoring processes.” They went further, praising other aspects of House Bill 2: “It is important to note that the legislation enacted in Ohio made a lot of other positive changes to the state’s law; it dealt with some specific challenges that have emerged...

Urban school governance is a moving target, in part because it’s pretty clear that there’s no best way to handle it and in part because no change in a city’s arrangements ever works as well as its promoters hoped. This inevitably leads to a down-the-road push to change it again or change it back or…well, do something different because we’re not getting the results we need and a lot of people are unhappy.

This short issue brief from analysts at the Pew Charitable Trusts is meant to help the powers that be in their home town of Philadelphia consider the governance options ahead by examining those presently in use in fifteen urban districts.

It seems to have been prompted by the fact that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter are pushing for an end to the fifteen-year-old state takeover of the School District of Philadelphia and a return to some form of local control. It’s not clear that new Mayor Jim Kenney has staked out a position on this issue yet, but citizens indicated in a (non-binding) referendum vote last year that they generally agree with Messrs. Wolf and Nutter.

The most interesting factoid in the...

  • On the same day that Jeb Bush unveiled his education agenda, thousands of families in his home state marched in Tallahassee to support some of the very school choice programs he championed in office. The first-of-its-kind Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which helps generate funding for poor children to attend the private schools of their choice, has recently been contested in court by Florida Education Association (the state’s largest teachers’ union). In protest against the lawsuit, swarms of students, parents, and educators from charter schools made their voices heard. The most persuasive speaker of all, however, was none other than Martin Luther King III. “What choice does,” said the son of the civil rights icon, “is essentially create options, particularly for poor and working families that they would not necessarily normally have.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
  • Useful policy ideas don’t spring only from the campaign trail, or from earnest direct action. (To be honest, they almost never come from the campaign trail.) This week, the Council of Chief State School Officers opened an important new front in the war to close America’s skills gap. In partnership with the National Association of State Directors of Career
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  • The ink is dry on the bill, the interest groups are mollified, and the lobbyists have made the first payments on their tastefully appointed condominiums. Now that the Every Student Achieves Act has become the law of the land, it’s time to examine its implications for our federal education bureaucracy. Ace Fordham policy fellow Andy Smarick has identified the shrinking classroom influence of Uncle Sam as the top media takeaway from ESSA’s passage, and there’s no denying that Congress acted decisively to roll back the Department of Education’s Obama-era authority. But just how much has the agency—and John King, who will act as its leader regardless of whether he ever gets a confirmation hearing—seen its prerogatives narrowed? This recap from Education Week offers a good primer, consulting aides from both parties along with education superlawyer Reg Leichty. Shockingly, the sources don’t agree on whether future secretaries of education will be “handcuffed” in their dealings with state accountability schemes. But as Leichty happily observes, those differences in opinion will likely be resolved in the courts.
  • Now that it’s the second week of January, you’ve probably received your W-2 tax form. And as the old saying goes, there are
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In a recent blog post, Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute attributes the apparently troubling results of a recent study on Louisiana’s private school voucher program to the theory that “[r]egulations intended to guarantee quality might well have had the opposite effect. The high level of private school regulation appears to have driven away better schools.”

As the head of the regulatory agency for traditional public, charter public, and non-public schools in Louisiana, I think it’s important to discuss the facts behind the study, as they raise questions about the conclusions reached by both the researchers and Mr. Bedrick.

More important, however, is the larger implication I take from Mr. Bedrick’s thesis: that private school choice advocates in America, Mr. Bedrick among them, have failed to establish a coherent, prevailing belief system about the role of private schools in providing an education of measured quality, at scale, for the nation’s most disadvantaged youth. I’ll spend most of this post on that subject.

First, the facts.

Mr. Bedrick is right that a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed very low performance among students in Louisiana’s voucher program compared to the performance of students not offered a voucher (who...

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research examines how Louisiana’s statewide voucher program affects student achievement. The Pelican State expanded its program statewide in 2012; by 2014, twelve thousand students had applied for more than six thousand slots to attend 126 private schools. Because the program was oversubscribed, the vouchers were randomly assigned such that some kids were offered vouchers and some weren’t. This study focuses on roughly 1,400 grade students in grades 3–8 who applied in fall 2012—the first application cohort after the program expanded.

The primary (and surprising) finding is that attending a voucher-eligible private school reduces voucher students’ test scores in math, ELA, science, and social studies (though ELA is not significantly lower). Math scores go down by 0.4 standard deviation one year after the lottery, and for other subjects, the drop is between one-quarter and one-third of a standard deviation. Voucher use also reduces the probability of being promoted to the next grade and shifts students into lower state performance categories. The outcomes are even bleaker for younger children.

In short, this is all very bad news. But remember that these are first-year outcomes, and first-year evaluations of anything ought to be...

This study compares “diverse” and “non-diverse” charter schools in Washington, D.C., focusing on three areas: academic proficiency, academic growth, and suspensions. It focuses particularly on the eighty-seven D.C. charter schools (out of 112 total) where more than twenty-five students took the DC CAS test between 2011 and 2014, of which twenty-seven are “diverse”—defined as having a student population that is less than 80 percent African American. (No other race accounts for more than 80 percent of the student body at any school in the study, though a few schools that were excluded for technical reasons are more than 80 percent Hispanic.)

Overall, the study finds no statistically significant differences between diverse and non-diverse schools when it comes to proficiency and growth. When the results are broken down by subgroup, however, some interesting differences emerge. For example, African American and at-risk students have higher proficiency rates and lower suspension rates at diverse schools, but they exhibit no differences in growth; on the other hand, there are no significant differences for Hispanic students in any of these areas. (Unfortunately, there are too few white students at non-diverse schools to make any comparisons.)

A secondary analysis that restricts the sample to diverse schools...

  • The feds must have been in a festive mood in the days leading up to Christmas, when they finally closed a four-year-old investigation into Wisconsin’s school voucher program. The probe was triggered by a 2011 complaint, jointly filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and local group Disability Rights Wisconsin, alleging that private schools were discriminating against students with disabilities. This was always a spurious charge on a few grounds. For one thing, private institutions aren’t bound by the same mandates as public ones under the Americans with Disabilities Act, making the case a tough sell from the start. For another, the few accommodations they are required to make for the disabled are difficult to achieve, since private schools receive much less federal funding than public ones. In an effort to negate the problem, state legislators have already inserted additional outlays for disability vouchers into future budgets. With any luck, the investigation’s death will help restore the reputation of a useful tool for expanded school choice.
  • Not all anti-reform agitation starts with Uncle Sam, though. In Tennessee, the Achievement School District is again weathering attacks from local lawmakers and activists—and while the criticism is still emanating
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In early December, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its 2015 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, which examines the laws and regulations governing state teacher policy. NCTQ evaluated states in five policy areas, each of which contained sub-goals such as delivering well-prepared teachers, expanding the teaching pool, and identifying effective teachers. States were evaluated on each dimension and given a grade for each policy area. The five policy area grades were then rolled into one state grade.

In terms of overall grades, Ohio did fairly well, earning a B-minus. (The top-performing state was Florida with a B+, while the lowest performer was Montana with an F.) Ohio received the same grade in 2013, but earlier overall grades (a C-plus in 2011 and a D-plus in 2009) were far less impressive, and the results point to general improvement. The Buckeye State earned its highest area grade, a solid B, in expanding the teacher pool through efforts to increase teaching opportunities with flexible and rigorous pathways. But the state earned its lowest grade (a C-minus) for delivering well-prepared teachers—mostly due to its failure to require prospective elementary, secondary science, secondary social studies, and special education teachers to pass rigorous content...

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