Charters & Choice

The Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act has many of us talking about checks and balances, so let’s use this teachable moment to examine how separate branches of North Carolina’s government have left its first virtual charter school in limbo.

The North Carolina Board of Education simply ignored a law it didn’t like.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the North Carolina Virtual Academy can’t open this fall because the state’s Board of Education never said it could. The academy had won preliminary approval from the county school board where it would have been based, but Judge Abraham Penn said that ultimate approval lies with the state board.

The problem—one that even Judge Penn acknowledges—is that the state board refused to even consider the academy’s legitimate application. And this is where governance in the Tar Heel State breaks down.

When North Carolina’s 2011 legislative session ended in the summer of that year, lawmakers lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state and allowed for the creation of virtual charters. Months later, in October 2011, state Board of Education Chairman William Harrison told his colleagues, without asking for a vote,...

What is the nature of the relationship between a charter school authorizer and a charter school board? Fordham’s Terry Ryan often makes the case, just as he did at the recent conference of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, that it’s similar to a marriage. Spouses bring their own interests and agendas to the union, and it takes a system of checks and balances to keep the marriage from failing, as so many do.

Katie & Porter's Wedding
The marriage between charter schools and their authorizers can be challenging.
Photo by Kimberly Vardeman.

To date, most of our policy discussions have focused on holding one partner in the authorizer-charter relationship accountable: the school itself. Two recent papers suggest we should pay more attention to the inputs and outcomes of the significant other.

One paper comes from David Osborne for the Progressive Policy Institute, who argues that “the key to quality in the charter sector is quality authorizing” and calls for authorizers to do...

Curriculum nerds

Kathleen Porter-Magee makes her podcast debut, debating reading requirements with Mike and explaining why the new science standards need improvement. Amber wonders whether upper-elementary teachers outshine their K-2 peers.

Amber's Research Minute

School Based Accountability and the Distribution of Teacher Quality Among Grades in Elementary School by Sarah C. Fuller & Helen F. Ladd - Download PDF

Healthcare stole the show, but don’t forget that the Supreme Court handed down a decision this session with education implications. Knox v. SEIU, which restricted public-employee unions’ ability to extract political contributions from non-members, was a narrow ruling. Here’s hoping it signals that the high court is open to further protections for non-union teachers against onerous union dues and other fees.

Speaking of SCOTUS, yesterday marked the ten-year anniversary of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of school vouchers. Gadfly is glad to see Republicans in Pennsylvania honoring the occasion by pushing a budget that would double funding for the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program, while GOP legislators in Mississippi and New Hampshire commemorated it by passing new private-school-choice programs.

Governor John Kasich signed Ohio’s third-grade reading requirement into law on Monday. Requiring reading proficiency in order to get promoted into fourth grade has paid dividends in Florida; let’s hope youngsters in the Buckeye State reap similar rewards.

New York-based Relay Graduate School of Education is pioneering an innovative approach to educator education, trading...

If the mid-2000s—characterized by a shift in charter-school advocacy from quantity to quality—marked the adolescence of the charter movement, today we must shepherd its move into adulthood. The third stage of the charter movement must focus on charter-authorizer quality—the single biggest driver of charter-school quality. This new report from esteemed governance thinker David Osborne explains why this shift in focus is necessary and how we can go about it. Cogent and concise, the report is a valuable resource for those dedicated to improving the performance of the nation’s 5,500-plus charter schools. The hard fact is that most people—and this includes lawmakers, policymakers, and others involved in setting education policy—have no idea what authorizers are, what they do, or why they matter. But if the charter movement is to improve (and competition heightened and taxpayer dollars saved), then authorizers must be supported—and held to account. They are the entities with the authority—as imperfect as it may be—to actually shut down and replace broken charter schools. Osborne’s paper illumines the need for better authorizers, the challenges of getting them, and how states can make progress in this important work. Among...

Terry Ryan, Fordham's vice president for Ohio programs and policy, posted a review of David Osborne's new paper on charter school accountability that anyone interested in school choice, whether he or she lives in the Buckeye State or not, shouldn't miss. As Terry writes on the Ohio Gadfly Daily blog, Osborne focuses on authorizer quality,

the single biggest driver of charter school quality. Osborne writes, “Today, it is time to open a third frontier: authorizer quality. The key to quality in the charter sector is quality authorizing.” When I read this sentence I wanted to jump out of my chair and do a quick dance around my desk. Fordham has been arguing—with our friends at organizations like the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Charter Alliance—this case since at least the mid-2000s, both in Ohio and nationally. The hard fact is that most people—and this includes lawmakers, policy makers, and others involved in setting education policy—have no idea what authorizers are, what they do, or why they matter.

Read the rest of the review for Terry's perspective on why that's such a crucial problem....

There has been a lot of hand-wringing in the last week about whether charter schools are doing enough to enroll students with disabilities. But are we looking closely at who is among the learning disabled?

Are we looking closely at who is among the learning disabled?

The GAO’s report on charter schools and special education found that students with learning disabilities were the largest group benefitting from special services at the charter or district schools the government studied. That’s not surprising, given that learning-disabled students represented 38 percent of all students who received special education services in 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The rest were categorized with having varying disabilities, but autism and developmental disabilities made up just 12 percent of all students who received special services.

Education Sector interim chief John Chubb made a good case yesterday for why the best schools—district or charter—overcome learning disabilities with strong schooling and that it’s a mistake to presume there is a fixed percentage of special-needs students that ought to be enrolled at charter schools. But he doesn’t have a lot of company. Instead, charter critics and commentators have made this an issue of social justice,...

The Fordham Foundation has authorized (aka sponsored) charter schools in Ohio since 2005 and currently oversees eight schools (three more will join our portfolio this fall).  As the 2011-12 school year ends, we want to highlight the unique events and successes that happened in our schools this year.

Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA)
Last summer, CCA moved from space that it shared with a Weinland Park area church since the school opened in 2008 to a new location on Main Street, in the near eastside of Columbus.  In terms of student achievement, 40 students were “NWEA all-stars” – meeting ambitious academic growth targets set for them in both reading and math. Sixth graders also participated in “Run the City,” a day-long project where they dealt with the ins and outs of running a city, including banking, marketing, and advertising. Students also got a glimpse of college life with full-day visits to the Ohio State University, Ohio Dominican University, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Denison University. CCA leadership recently launched a new charter management organization, the United Schools Network, which will open a second middle school, Columbus Collegiate Academy-West, this August.

KIPP: Journey Academy
KIPP received excellent news this spring...

Bah humbug

Checker and Mike explain why individual charter schools shouldn’t be expected to educate everyone and divide over Obama’s non-enforcement policies. Amber analyzes where students’ science skills are lacking.

Amber's Research Minute

The Nation’s Report Card: Science in Action: Hands-On and Interactive Computer Tasks from the 2009 Science Assessment - National Center for Education Statistics

Famed business-school thinker Clayton Christensen was splendidly profiled in The New Yorker a few weeks back, which set me to reflecting on his influential meditation on K-12 education, Disrupting Class, the 2008 book (co-authored with Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson) that startled the edu-cracy with its bold prediction that half of all high school courses will be delivered online by 2019 and its explanation that technology will produce the “disruptive innovation” in education that previous reform efforts have failed to bring about. As I read the profile, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the more disruptive force in education is lower-tech and already more widespread than Christensen himself realized.

Old steel mill
Disruptive innovation drove out of business organizations in the steel industry that didn't adapt.
Photo by hanjeanwat.

“Disruptive innovation” is his seminal insight, perhaps better summarized in Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile than in the education book itself. “How was it,” he started wondering, “that big, rich companies, admired and emulated by everyone, could one year be at the...