Charters & Choice

Rumor has it that we will soon see an actual education plan from Mitt Romney, his team having been loath to wade into this debate during the primaries. I predict that it’ll include a strong push for vouchers, if only because this remains the clearest divide between the GOP view of education and the reform agenda of Arne Duncan and the Obama administration.

Most other distinctions are grayer today, involving degrees of difference about things like teacher evaluations, “common core” standards, and just how much discretion Washington should return to states.

Short of plain goofiness, vouchers are where bright lines get drawn.

Short of plain goofiness (as in “abolish the Department of Education”), vouchers are where bright lines get drawn. The conventional explanation is that Democrats don’t dare cross this threshold lest the teacher unions (already antsy about charters, merit pay, test-based accountability, etc.) forsake their traditional party—or simply sit on their hands come campaign season and election day, while Republicans tend to take the side of parents and don’t much care what the unions—or other parts of the education establishment—think or do.

It feels and acts like a political line—witness the political football known as the D.C....

When Louisiana lawmakers last week approved Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to award vouchers to low-income children, they also ordered state schools Superintendent John White to develop a system that holds participating schools accountable for the performance of their voucher students. Now it’s up to White and his Department of Education to figure out how this is going to work. May we make a suggestion? They might consider a sliding scale of accountability, with heightened accountability requirements for private schools that rely more on public revenue. Schools that see only a few voucher students out of a private-paying enrollment of hundreds should be treated more like private schools (those voucher students would still have to take the state test under the law Louisiana adopted), but schools that see upward of 90 percent of their revenues coming from public sources should be treated more like public schools, even if that means removing them from the program for poor performance. Such an approach balances the choice of the parent, the unique characteristics of a school, and the rights of the taxpayer.

Jindal bill tweaked to add accountability,” by Kevin McGill, Associated Press, April 7, 2012...

Over the past few years, Detroit has undergone a host of large-scale reforms in attempts to revitalize the city’s K-12 education system: Among the more promising, Motown has dramatically expanded choice options for students. Now, under the auspices of the Michigan Future Schools and others, Detroit is set to launch three dozen new choice schools over the next several years. This unique study by Patrick Wolf and Thomas Stewart examines the school-choice shopping behaviors of parents in the Motor City and offers recommendations that bear on the next generation of choice schools. Researchers conducted doorstep interviews of over 1,000 households representing roughly 1,700 school-age children to ascertain how many Detroit parents, particularly those of low income, exercise school choice. They found that 71 percent of Detroit families have shopped for alternative schools before—though with varying levels of engagement. At present, roughly 45 percent of Motown children are attending a non-neighborhood school (with 22 percent in charters, 15 percent in public schools outside Detroit Public Schools (DPS), and the rest in magnet and private schools). Parents rely mostly on other parents and friends when...

A teacher friend of mine showed me the new issue of the American Educator, the American Federation of Teachers publication that bills itself as “a quarterly journal of education research and ideas.” He wanted me to read the cover story, called “Lead the Way: the Case for Fully Guided Instruction.” The research, by Richard Clark, Paul Kirschner, and John Sweller, has been around for a while, but that’s the astounding thing: not only has their research been around, but they argue, quite persuasively, that “[d]ecades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance.”

As a school board member I confess to deep and continuous agita over the the system’s inability to do the right thing.

I will not pretend to be an expert on teaching, but as a school board member I confess to deep and continuous agita over the system’s inability to do the right thing; rather, its amazing ability to deny reality, which is the prime directive for institutional entropy. (It is not just the reality of good research that is ignored, it’s the reality of crumbling schools and generations of untaught children.)...

Fordham has served as an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio since mid-2005. Our schools have been mainly in Ohio’s urban core—including Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus—and the vast majority of their students are poor and minority.

This year, we added two more schools to our sponsorship portfolio, both located in Scioto County near Ohio’s southern tip on the shores of the Ohio River, i.e. what most would term the Appalachian region of the Buckeye State. Families and children there face challenges as daunting as those in Ohio’s toughest urban neighborhoods. Scioto is one of the state’s poorest counties with an unemployment rate of 12.7 percent (the state average is 8.5 percent). It has also been ground zero for the state’s opiate epidemic: It has the third-highest overdose death rate of all 88 counties in Ohio.

Together the Sciotoville Elementary School (grades K-4) and Sciotoville Community School (grades 5-12) serve about 440 students. This represents about 1 in 5 children who attend a K-12 school in the local Portsmouth City School District (the home district for most Sciotoville students). The percentage of kids attending charters in that district matches the rate in Cincinnati.  


An urban wasteland in the industrial Midwest shows how a portfolio approach to public education can inspire even the most disadvantaged families to “shop” for the right school.

Nearly three-quarters of parents in Detroit have shopped for a school for their child, whether the options included a traditional public school, a magnet school, a charter school, or a private school, according to a think tank in the Wolverine State called Michigan Future Inc. Moreover, fifteen percent of the families the think tank surveyed opted for a public school outside the district.

“Seventy percent are actively shopping rather than letting the government tell them where to go—that’s huge,” Michigan Future President Lou Glazer told The Detroit News.

Glazer says the study represented one of the most aggressive attempts nationally to further explain how families, especially those who are low-income, think about their school options in an urban area. Researchers spent last summer knocking on the doors of 1,073 households to collect data on 1,699 schoolchildren, eighty-five percent of whom were black and sixty-eight percent of whom came from households where incomes that fell below $30,000.

The Detroit school district has lost more than 100,000 students in the past decade,...

Louisiana became the latest state to embrace the introduction of school vouchers, but the legislative moxie it showed should stimulate a new conversation about private school choice and accountability.

The legislative moxie Louisiana showed should stimulate a new conversation about private school choice and accountability.

When lawmakers last week approved Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to award vouchers to low-income children, they also ordered state schools Superintendent John White to develop a system that holds participating schools accountable for the performance of their voucher students. Critics say this lacks specificity, but it’s almost revolutionary compared with most voucher regulations nationwide.

Louisiana’s law may be similar to a voucher program Indiana lawmakers approved last year in that it requires participating students to take the same assessments administered at public schools. But even voucher supporters in the Pelican State had a hard time defending against tougher accountability standards in a state known for its low-tolerance of poor-performing schools.

So now that low-income students in schools graded C through F have a greater array of public and private options available, this is a chance for White and the Department of Education to design what my Fordham colleagues have called “accountability, done right.”


Passing a set of historic reform bills last week, the Louisiana legislature handed Gov. Bobby Jindal and his new education chief, John White, the keys to reform city. By a healthy majority in both houses, it passed legislation, writes Bill Barrow of the Times-Picayune, which will

Louisiana State Capitol
The Lousiana legislature passed a set of historic reform bills last week.
 Photo by Jim Bowen.
…curtail teacher tenure protection, tie instructors' compensation and superintendents' job security to student performance; shift hiring and firing power from school boards to superintendents; create new paths to open charter schools; and establish a statewide program that uses the public-school financing formula to pay private-school tuition for certain low-income students.

It was anything but a cakewalk for the Jindal reform package, as teachers descended on the Capitol to fight the bills and Democrats charged the second-term Republican governor with strong-arm tactics reminiscent of former political tough guys Huey Long and Edwin Edwards. “I make no apologies for having a sense of urgency,” said Jindal. “I...

The Tartans: The Story of the Sciotoville Community Schools

The Tartans: The Story of the Sciotoville Community Schools





Most charter schools nationwide serve urban communities, this documentary provides a look at the challenges and successes of a rural Appalachian charter school.

The Tartans is the unique story of Portsmouth East High School in South Eastern Ohio. Portsmouth City school district was going to close the facility in 2000 until the community rallied to form a charter school and keep the school from shutting its doors.

The Fordham Foundation has sponsored Sciotoville Community School and Sciotoville Elementary Academy's since July 2011.