Charters & Choice

As you probably know by now, the President and Congress came to a budget agreement late last night that will keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year. The deal apparently includes a five-year reauthorization of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a popular voucher program for kids in the District:

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program ? which provides low-income District students with federal money to attend private schools ? is a top priority of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The program was closed to new entrants by Democrats in 2009, but Boehner has sought to revive and expand the program. The House passed a Boehner-authored bill last month -- the SOAR Act -- to reauthorize the program for five more years, and that bill will be included in the final spending deal and signed into law by Obama.

The SOAR Act includes the so-called "three sector" payments, meaning that DCPS and public charter schools will also benefit from the program. I worked in the charter financing office in DC last summer and saw how much good those funds have done for the charter sector in the city. This seems like a big win for school choice and all kids in DC.

?Chris Tessone

Ohio is in the midst of its biennial budget debate and there has been much angst and ink spilled about a proposal in the budget bill (HB 153) to create a ???parent trigger??? for the state's truly woeful schools. The proposal has triggered front page new stories, strongly worded editorials against the idea, and public testimony in House hearings on the budget dismissing the idea as another assault on public schools.

The bill would allow parents to petition a school district to force reforms in a school that, for at least three consecutive years, has been ranked in the lowest 5 percent of all district-operated schools statewide based on its performance index score (which is a measure of student achievement across all grades and subjects). Parents would be allowed to file a petition requesting the district to do one of the following:

  1. Reopen the failing school as a community school,
  2. Replace at least 70 percent of the school's personnel,
  3. Contract with another school district or a nonprofit or for-profit entity with a record of effectiveness to operate the school,
  4. Turn operation of the school over to the state Department of Education, or
  5. Any other restructuring that makes fundamental reforms in the school's staffing or governance.

This is strong medicine for sure, and for truly atrocious schools necessary. Now, the part of the story that has been missed by almost everyone is how few schools this law would actually impact. The bar for triggering the parent trigger is so low that based on 2009-10 data only 29 of the state's current 3,372 schools (that received academic rating data) would be eligible for the trigger (that's less than one percent of Ohio's district schools).

Almost half of these schools are in Cleveland and the...

Here's the "Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 471 - Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act."

While the Administration appreciates that H.R. 471 would provide Federal support for improving public schools in the District of Columbia (D.C.), including expanding and improving high-quality D.C. public charter schools, the Administration opposes the creation or expansion of private school voucher programs that are authorized by this bill. The Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students. Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement. The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.

Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C. While the President's FY 2012 Budget requests funding to improve D.C. public schools and expand high-quality public charter schools, the Administration opposes targeting resources to help a small number of individuals attend private schools rather than creating access to great public schools for every child.

A few quick thoughts:

1. The path to ESEA reauthorization just got a lot steeper, as many Republicans will refuse to play ball with an Administration not willing to compromise on a top GOP priority.

2. The Administration is being dishonest about the evaluation data, which show strong positive effects for the recipients of the DC vouchers. In fact, if anything, the current research shows stronger impacts for students receiving vouchers than for students attending charter schools.

3. The NEA: 1. Poor black kids in DC: Zero.

-Mike Petrilli

Well, it's official.? According to Sam Dillon in the NYT, Steve Barr and the charter organization he founded, Green Dot, are going their separate ways.? In fact, the separation has been long in coming.? Barr stepped down as chairman of Green Dot, which runs 16 charter schools in Los Angeles, in 2009. It's a little vague what happens next ? Barr is changing his New York Green Dot America operation to Future is Now Schools -- but Alexander Russo, whose Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America's Toughest High School, which tells the story of Barr's greatest achievement and will be out in a couple of weeks, probably has it about right. As he tells Dillon:? ?Steve is a hard-charging visionary, as many founders are, and as Green Dot got bigger, people struggled to find an appropriate place for him in the organization.?

Going to scale may not be for everyone.? But let's hope we can always find places for visionaries.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

Ever since their creation two decades ago, charter schools have been defined by three fundamental?if somewhat contradictory?ideas: accountability for results, school-level autonomy, and meaningful parental choice. That the charter notion has stood the test of time is a testament to the power of these three ideas. Charter schools remain at the center of the school reform conversation because they are the node that connects these disparate reform instincts with one another.

Consider parental choice. When charter schools were first proposed, back in the early 1990s, fervor for ?school choice? was running high. Milwaukee had just created the nation's first large-scale voucher program, and prominent scholars (like John Chubb and Terry Moe) and politicians (like Lamar Alexander) were calling for many more. But private school vouchers raised the specter of public support for religious schools; charters offered a secular alternative.

[pullquote]The debate is not whether parents should have choices but how broad those choices should be.[/pullquote]

Demand for ?autonomy? was reaching fever pitch, too. This was the era of ?reinventing government,? of Chicago's ?local school councils,? of enthusiasm for decentralization and ?site-based management.? Reformers saw stifling bureaucracies and hidebound teacher union contracts as anathema to the breakthrough innovations they craved. They viewed the magnet schools of the 1970s and 80s as a step in the right direction?at least in terms of offering parents distinct choices?but as far too timid in tackling the underlying malaise of ?the system.? At the least, charter schools would offer educators the chance to experiment with new approaches and to pilot promising methods. But maybe charter schooling would point to a whole new system entirely?a ?system of schools? instead of a ?school system.?

And notions of ?accountability? were hot as well?though that notion was still in its embryonic stage. Under the original charter...


The bickering between the Baltimore Teachers Union and the KIPP charter network involving overtime pay for teachers in two KIPP schools has come to a close.? Education Week reported earlier this week that KIPP officials and the Baltimore Teachers Union were in conflict over the pay that teachers receive for working hours beyond the normal school day.? The BTU has negotiated agreements with the Baltimore city school district outlining provisions on how to compensate teachers who work overtime.? The problem, however, was that KIPP could not afford to pay their teachers the amount outlined in the provision since every teacher works over time every week ? and this is part of what makes their model successful.? Last year KIPP and the BTU negotiated an agreement that allowed them to pay their teachers only 20.5 percent of the overtime amount in the union contract.?

The BTU criticized KIPP for making public threats that they would have to shut down their schools if an agreement could not be reached rather than negotiating their concerns with the union.? KIPP tried to bypass the union through lobbying the state legislature to amend existing laws involving teaching contracts. The BTU and KIPP recently have come to a ten-year agreement that will pay teachers 20 percent of the overtime amount outlined in the union contract. Jay Matthews has been closely following the situation on his Class Struggle blog, and he reported that an agreement had been reached on Thursday.

I applaud the BTU and KIPP for ending an argument that never should have started in the first place.? The BTU's resistance to KIPP was nonsensical.? One hundred percent of teachers at the KIPP schools supported the current one-year agreement that reduced the amount of overtime pay that they received. Why would the...


A big congratulations to KIPP Journey Academy students McKeala Hudson and Michael Robinson, who were recently accepted into the KIPP STEP Summer Program at Deerfield Academy! Yes, that Deerfield Academy ? the prestigious prep school in Massachusetts whose students consistently populate the campuses of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.

The students are examples of the remarkable results that KIPP, which primarily serves economically disadvantaged students, has produced since it opened its doors in 2008. (Fordham authorizes KIPP Journey, Ohio's first and only KIPP school.) Already its students are scoring higher than the district average on the state mathematics assessment and higher than the state-wide community school average on the state science assessment. The STEP program is taught by a team of KIPP and Deerfield teachers, and includes three weeks of fully paid Deerfield courses focused on science and language arts.

After being accepted to the STEP program, McKeala and Michael each wrote an essay about their life goals and reasons for applying to the program. McKeala writes:

My goal is to become a News Reporter, to go to college at Spellman or the University of North Carolina (UNC), and to go to Columbus Academy for high school. I also want and to meet new teachers so they can inform me about how to be a better person. I will take this Deerfield experience as an honor since I am learning new studies in subjects and I'm glad to see this extravagant school in person. I will inspire others by this journey and show them that they can complete hard work. As long as they believe in themselves their dreams and goals will come true.

Michael writes:

Now that...