Charters & Choice

A couple of reports last week reanimated the debate about what to do with Catholic schools, which have been hemorrhaging students for the last couple of decades. The new challenge—“one of their most complex… yet,” writes Sean Cavanagh in Education Week—is charter schools. One, by former RAND economist Richard Buddin, was published by the Cato Institute; the other, by Abraham Lackman, a scholar-in-residence at the Albany Law School, in Albany, New York, is not out yet, but was summarized by Cavanagh in the Ed Week story. Writes Cavanagh,

Many charter schools tout attributes similar to those offered by the church's schools, such as disciplined environments, an emphasis on personal responsibility and character development, and distinctive instructional and curricular approaches.

And Buddin, whose report is more broadly aimed at measuring the impact of charters on all private schools, says,

[C]harter schools are pulling large numbers of students from the private education market and present a potentially dev­astating impact on the private education market, as well as a serious increase in the financial burden on taxpayers.

As both Adam Emerson and Kathleen Porter-Magee have already pointed out, Catholic schools were in decline long before charters came...

Roving the education world

Mike and Adam discuss the future of Catholic education and what role vouchers may play. Amber analyzes how the public sees all sorts of education issues.

Amber's Research Minute

PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools

Eek. Vouchers + creationism = liberal horror, teacher-union field-day, and at least a small risk to the school-choice movement. Politically and strategically, it would be so much simpler if those “voucher schools” would just behave themselves!

God-Creates-Adam-Sistine-Chapel
If only Michaelangelo had taken on voucher accountability too. 
Photo by ideacreamanuelaPps

But how upset should one really be about the AP report from Louisiana that some of the private schools participating in the Pelican State’s new voucher program “teach creationism and reject evolution”?

State Superintendent of Education John White offered the correct policy response: All voucher students must participate in the state assessments, which include science. “If students are failing the test, we’re going to intervene, and the test measures [their understanding of] evolution.” In other words, the schools can do what they like but if their voucher-bearing students don’t learn enough to pass the state tests, the state will do something about it—ultimately (under Louisiana regulations) eliminating those schools from eligibility to participate in the...

For seventeen years, the five-million strong National PTA urged state governments to give only local school boards the authority to grant or deny charter-school applications. That changed this month, when the group’s board struck that restriction from its platform and extended its support to “all authorizing bodies.” The National PTA says it wants to be more relevant in charter-school policy, and its old position conflicted with the plain fact that local PTAs are increasingly working with charters authorized by universities, states, or independent bodies. This is a big leap for a group that education analyst Thomas Toch once accused of being “out of step with many parents’ demands for change in public education today” and that has lobbied alongside teacher unions for decades. Of course this change in the national stance isn’t binding on state chapters that have taken contrary positions. Georgia and Washington PTAs, for instance, have opposed recent efforts to create state-level commissions that would have the power to authorize charters: They still want to keep oversight (i.e., power) over all charters “local.” (In the case of Washington State, there are no charters of any sort, thanks in part to past PTA opposition.) But...

School-choice advocates have touted results of this recent study—a joint publication of the Brown Center on Education Policy (Brookings) and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (Harvard). And they have every right to: The random-assignment study (a gold standard of research often elusive in school-choice research) boasts some strong findings for choice supporters. The study began in 1997 when Harvard’s Paul Peterson began tracking students who applied for a new privately funded voucher program in Gotham. Created after Cardinal John O’Connor invited then-school chancellor Rudy Crew to “send the city’s most troubled youth to Catholic schools,” the program offered three-year vouchers of $1,400 per year to 1,300 low-income youngsters. Peterson tracked participants as well as those who did not win the lottery. Fifteen years later, Peterson, along with Brookings’s Matt Chingos, show that black elementary school students who won the voucher lottery in New York City were 7 percentage points (or 20 percent) more likely to attend college than their peers who didn’t. Moreover, the percentage of black voucher students who attended a selective college was more than double that of black non-voucher students. (There...

This Cato Institute analysis—conducted by RAND economist Richard Buddin—conveys a stark message: “Charter schools took approximately 190,000 students from private schools between 2000 and 2008.” Cato’s Adam Schaeffer said of the findings: The shift is “wreaking havoc on private education” while only marginally improving public schools. Overall, Buddin found that 8 percent of elementary pupils in charter schools and 11 percent of middle and high school students came to their charters from private schools. The numbers were bigger in urban areas, where 32 percent of the elementary-charter enrollment was drawn from the private sector (and 23 and 15 percent of middle and high school enrollments, respectively). And they were worse still for urban Catholic schools (though enrollment in Catholics started declining before the first charters appeared). Interestingly, the effect of charter schools on private-school enrollment is much stronger in states with strong charter laws (as gauged by the Center for Education Reform). Urban charters in states with strong laws, for example, draw 34 percent of their elementary enrollment from private schools. In states with weak laws, that percentage drops to 7. Overall, Buddin concludes that this private-to-charter school shift left taxpayers with a $1.8 billion larger education bill annually...

Bob Vanourek

It’s been called “one of the most brazen cheating scandals in the nation.”

The Crescendo charter-school network in southern California combined strict academics with arts and music, and its schools’ past test scores were impressive—but, apparently, tainted. According to a recent Los Angeles Times report that cited two separate investigations, principals of the Los Angeles-area schools—following orders from the founder and CEO—gave copies of upcoming state tests to teachers to study, and perhaps also to students to practice and prep using actual questions from the test itself.

Taking a test
Cheating scandals won't stop until we learn something from them. 
Photo by Casey Serin

The investigations blamed John Allen, Crescendo’s founder and CEO. According to the L.A. Times, “Allen’s biggest fixation was test scores.” Sources noted that he was driven by a desire to be “better, better, better, best.” At one point, he reportedly told the staff at one school, “You better score a...

The National PTA has taken a step that should help it dispel the criticism that it’s always in lockstep with the teacher unions: In its new policy platform, the parent-teacher association has taken the bold step of supporting giving groups other than local school boards the right to authorize charter schools.

For seventeen years, the National PTA, which has five million members, has urged state governments to give only school boards the authority to grant or deny charter applications. That changed this month, when the PTA’s board struck that restriction from its platform and extended its support, as the group’s president put it, to “all authorizing bodies.”

Sean Cavanagh at Education Week this week reported that the group says it wants to be more relevant in charter school policy, and its old position was at odds with the fact that local PTAs are increasingly working with charters authorized by universities or independent commissions. This is a big leap for a group that education analyst Thomas Toch once accused of being “out of step with many parents’ demands for change in public education today” and that has lobbied alongside teacher unions for decades. It’s also a change that collides...

The Cato Institute released a report from economist Richard Buddin today showing that “charter schools took approximately 190,000 students from private schools between 2000 and 2008,” a development that Cato scholar Adam Schaeffer said is “wreaking havoc on private education” while only marginally improving public schools. Overall, Buddin found that 8 percent of charter-elementary students and 11 percent of middle and high school students came from private schools. The numbers were worse for private schools in the nation’s major urban areas, where 32 percent of the elementary-charter enrollment was drawn from the private sector.

Food Addiction
Transfers from private to charter schools don't mean we're falling into a "charter-only reform trap."
Photo by Rennett Stowe.

It is true that charter schools have drained students from urban Catholic schools in particular (though my colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee has shown how enrollments declined at Catholic schools long before the first charters appeared). And Schaeffer and Buddin are right to point out the economic impact to the taxpayer...

We now have more evidence that school vouchers may have a big impact on students who struggle the most. A study released jointly yesterday by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Education Policy and Governance showed that black students who won a school-voucher lottery in New York a generation ago were more likely to attend college than students who didn’t win.

We now have more evidence that school vouchers may have a big impact on students who struggle the most.

The results come from the first random-assignment experiment of voucher effects on college attendance, which should thaw the icy reception that greets many school choice studies (the randomized trial is the gold standard of research). Fifteen years ago, Harvard’s Paul Peterson began tracking the performance of two groups of elementary-school age children—one group that participated in a privately funded voucher program in New York, and one group that wanted to participate but didn’t win the lottery for admission.

Now that enough time has passed, Peterson and Brookings colleague Matthew Chingos have been able to see how college attendance differed between the groups. They found that a modestly funded program—the vouchers...

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