Charters & Choice

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is seeking to remake and refashion the city’s long-suffering schools through a series of bold reforms that include making significant changes to the district’s collective bargaining agreement, passing a school levy for the first time in more than 15 years, and sharing public dollars with high-performing charter schools. As bold as the Jackson Plan is, however, even more audacious is the political coalition that seems to be coalescing around it.

Controversial components of the mayor’s plan include basing pay, layoffs, and rehiring decisions on performance and specialization instead of traditional factors like seniority and credentials; replacing the current 304-page collective bargaining agreement, when it expires in 2013, and using a “fresh start” to renegotiate a new and far more streamlined contract; and providing high-performing charter schools with local levy dollars to support their day-to-day operations.

The Jackson Plan’s labor flexibility and levy support for high-performing charter schools are ideas that have long been anathema to statehouse Democrats and their union supporters. Not surprisingly, more than a few legislative Democrats and union officials have pointed out in recent weeks that some of the proposed changes in the mayor’s plan to the Cleveland teacher union collective bargaining agreement...

Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher proposal for Louisiana has been dragged into the familiar politics of parental choice. The state House took up the measure today, with Democrats calling for a smaller pool of eligible students and strict accountability of schools receiving voucher revenue. It doesn’t matter that Jindal would require participating schools to assess their voucher students with Louisiana’s standardized test and disclose the results. Democrats want the state to penalize private schools for poor performance.

Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher proposal for Louisiana has been dragged into the familiar politics of parental choice.

Let’s set aside the size of the eligibility pool—Jindal would offer vouchers to low-income students in schools graded C, D, or F, and opponents want to drop the “C” schools—and focus on accountability. The governor is going further than most school choice advocates in preferring to assess voucher students with the same tests given at public schools, but he wouldn’t have private schools face any legislatively determined sanctions if their students score poorly. There may be a political craving among some Louisiana lawmakers to hold dominion over private schools that receive public funding, but the best evidence we have supports the path Jindal has...

In language that tried to capture the sweep of 1983’s A Nation at Risk, a Council on Foreign Relations task force warned this week that the nation’s poor educational outcomes represent a threat to national security, in addition to dampening America’s competitiveness in the global economy. The panel, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein, blamed the “innovation deficit” and the very structure of an ailing system of public education that de-emphasizes the values of choice and competition so prized in nearly every other sector of American life. While calls for common standards, school choice, and foreign language skills aren’t unusual today, what matters here is who is doing the calling. As the Wall Street Journal noted, it’s a testament to how far the choice movement has come that such recommendations are endorsed by so-established a group as the CFR. Dissents from task force members, especially those from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, cheered the report’s embrace of national standards but complained that choice and competition have undermined public education and haven’t worked “in a scalable and sustainable way.” But we can provide high-quality public and...

The call for socioeconomically integrated schools is growing louder, and this volume, edited by the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg, explains why. He contends that socioeconomic integration is more than a politically palatable and legally permissible way to achieve racial integration: It is also an effective strategy for raising the academic achievement of both low-income and minority students—and one that could save districts dollars as it raises academic achievement without the need to pump copious extra funds into schools with concentrated poverty. That doesn’t mean it’s easy: In one chapter, Harvard doctoral candidate Marco Basile estimates that, in order to halve economic segregation, a quarter of all low-income students would need to transfer to affluent schools while a quarter of more-affluent students would need to enroll in schools located in more-disadvantaged neighborhoods. This swap, he estimates (using some questionable assumptions), would produce a per-student lifetime benefit of $33,010. But how to get affluent families to volunteer for such an experiment in “trading places”? Several authors argue for encouraging voluntary integration through the expansion of “controlled-choice” programs, and make astute suggestions for enhancing such efforts’ political feasibility. Unfortunately,...

John Kirtley
Chairman of Step Up for Students

Guest blogger John Kirtley is the founder of two private equity firms in Tampa, FL. He is the chairman of Step Up For Students, a non-profit that administers the tax credit scholarship program and which now empowers the parents of nearly 40,000 low income Florida children who attend a private school of their choice, and of the Florida Federation for Children, a "527" political organization active in Florida legislative races. He is vice chair of the American Federation For Children, a national parental choice advocacy organization, and also a board member of the Florida Charter School Alliance and the Hillsborough County (Tampa) Education Foundation.

The most important governance question is: “Will low income and working class parents truly direct the taxpayer dollars used to educate their children?”

The definition of “public education” is changing rapidly, even if some don’t want it to. It used to mean giving taxpayer dollars solely to districts to operate all schools, where kids are assigned by zip code. The emerging definition, which I prefer, is using taxpayer dollars to educate children in the best way possible for each of them,...

The authors of the Council on Foreign Relations’ report on US education reform and national security compared the sweep of their work with 1983’s A Nation at Risk, updating the “rising tide of mediocrity” with 21st century warnings of America’s weakened competitiveness. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll be talking about the Council’s recommendations 30 years from now, but there is much to this report that makes it one of the boldest statements on our progress toward higher educational standards and enhanced school choice.

The recommendations are not groundbreaking. The task force, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York schools chancellor Joel Klein, is urging the expansion of Common Core standards and the spread of more choice and competition


Within five years, charter school enrollment in Washington, D.C., could grow to include 46 percent of the public school population, according to a panel charged with reviewing finance inequities between the District’s public and public charter schools. The current charter enrollment of 32,000, already 41 percent of the population, could increase by as much as 10 percent next year alone. But while the panel didn’t find the funding solutions it sought, its enrollment projections remind us that the extended reach of charter schools in D.C. brings with it obligations that some charters are falling short in fulfilling.

D.C. charter school enrollment, already 41 percent of the public school population, could increase by as much as 10 percent next year alone.

Disciplinary data compiled by the D.C. Public Charter School Board show, for instance, that the District’s charter schools collectively resort to expulsions and 10-day suspensions more quickly than D.C. Public Schools. One school in particular, Friendship Collegiate Academy-Woodson, reportedly expelled 8 percent of its students—102 of 1,231 students—last year alone. While many schools questioned the accuracy of the data, even conservative estimates show some charters remove students from school at higher rates than their traditional school counterparts....

March (ESEA) Madness?

Mike and the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke step outside to debate the place of climate science in standards and whether John Kline’s ESEA proposals stand a chance, while Amber looks at the relative merits of a four-day school week.

Amber's Research Minute

Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week - Download the PDF

Congratulations to KIPP: Central Ohio Executive Director Hannah Powell (who was the school leader for the past several years) and the entire staff at KIPP: Journey Academy for the school’s EPIC Silver Gain Award from New Leaders for New Schools.

The EPIC (Effective Practice Incentive Community) award recognizes schools that make substantial gains in student academic growth. In partnership with Mathematica Policy Research, NLNS gathers student test data and analyzes them.  Schools with the highest gains are selected as winners. To be eligible for an EPIC award, schools must have student populations of at least 30 percent eligible free and reduced-price lunch (over 90 percent of KIPP Journey students are considered economically disadvantaged) , submit three years of state test score data for all students, and be willing to share their effective practices with NLNS EPIC partners. As part of the award, KIPP: Journey Academy will receive approximately $50,000 to be distributed among its staff.

Of the 179 charter schools from 24 states and the District of Columbia that participated, only 14 winners were selected, and KIPP: Journey Academy was the only school in Ohio - and the only KIPP school nationally- to receive an...

Fordham has worked in Dayton – as a funder, charter-school authorizer, and charter-school advocate – to push for the creation and growth of high quality charter schools since 1998. Over the last decade one of the highest performing charter school clusters in the city has been the Richard Allen (RA) Schools (RA has three schools in Dayton that serve about 800 children). Over the years I’ve spent time with the leaders of Richard Allen, visited their schools, and even helped judge their annual debate competition. In short, I have always been impressed by both the educators and the students I’ve met and worked with from the RA schools and believe the schools delivered quality education to students.

It is because of these personal connections to the schools over the years that I found the recent “Special Audit of the Richard Allen Academy Schools” such painful and disturbing reading. The Special Audit provided a litany of “missing money, missing records and self-dealing” that has led to $929,850 in findings for recovery. The audit describes a situation where public dollars were used without any basic accountability or transparency. It reads as if the schools’ leadership considered the schools a private operation...