Charters & Choice

Ohio's charter school program dodged a bullet this recent budget cycle (here). Both the state's governor and the House (controlled by Democrats) sought to set-back Ohio's charter school program big-time with many new and costly regulations (including banning for-profit operators from the state) and serious funding cuts for all schools, but especially for e-schools. Long-time Republican choice supporters in the Senate stayed true to their promise to protect charters, and purged the legislation of the most damaging proposals (here).

However, some common sense legislation for increasing charter accountability was put into the new law. Two items in particular are worth pointing out. First, Ohio has had an "academic death penalty" in place for persistently low-performing charter schools since 2006. Under this law two schools closed last school year and 23 others are in danger of closing this year.???? The state's budget ratcheted this death penalty up further and it now looks as if 35 or so schools (about ten percent of all charters in Ohio) are at risk of automatic closure when the state's report cards come out in late August.???? The national media has given much attention recently to California's efforts (here) to close persistently failing charters, but no state has stronger legislation on this front than Ohio now does.

Second, Ohio's new law requires all charter school sponsors to be accountable to the state department of education for their performance. Up until this time, the law had grandfathered many charter...

The Education Gadfly

Join us Wednesday, August 19, for a panel discussion on how the changing education policy landscape is affecting both charter schools and voucher programs. The Obama administration is aggressively pushing to expand the number of charter schools available to American families. Meanwhile, the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program looks to be on its way out and other voucher programs are facing new challenges. Will the voucher movement survive and thrive in this climate? Does it need to? Are charter schools the future of school choice? Has their promise been overstated? The following top experts in the field will share their opinions on these and other key questions:

  • Kevin Carey, Policy Director, Education Sector
  • John F. Kirtley, Chairman, Florida School Choice Fund
  • Gerard Robinson, President, Black Alliance for Educational Options
  • Susan Zelman, Senior Vice President, Education and Children's Content, Corporation for Public Broadcasting

The moderator will be??Michael Petrilli, VP for National Programs and Policy, Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Here are some important details.

"With charter schools ascendant, is there still a future for vouchers?"

Wednesday, August 19

4 PM - 5:30 PM

Light refreshments served

Registration begins at 3:30 PM

Thomas B. Fordham Institute

1016 16th Street NW, 7th Floor

Washington, DC 20036

RSVP to or 202-223-5452.

Video of this event will be available at soon after....

Alex Klein


"Sometimes I think, 'What if I'm sitting at the same desk she sat in?'" --Branaijah Melvin, 11-year-old student at Blessed Sacrament, Judge Sonia Sotomayor's K-8 school

NYT: The Children at the Judge's Bronx School


$103,000,000 : The amount of money the Washington, D.C. public schools failed to pay its 60 charter schools yesterday. The schools are expected to receive between 50 and 75 percent of the money next week.

WaPo: D.C. Missed $103 Million Payment to 60 Charter Schools

Will Compernolle


"It's ironic as hell that a budget that gives less funding to schools than the last seven budgets is being cast as a constitutional funding bill. That's funny. That's just funny." --Bill Seitz, Ohio State Senator

Bucyrus Telegraph Forum: Schools face big changes - eventually


18 : The number of charter schools featured in U.S. News's list of the top 100 high schools in America.

Kansas City infoZine: Poor Economy, Poor Student Achievement Threaten Charter Schools


As Andy reported last Friday, the DC Council has sent a letter to Secretary Duncan urging him to reconsider the fate of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program. What's interesting is that the issue is picking up additional hints of the long running "taxation without representation" debate that has surrounded DC's disenfranchised state. Currently, the District has no voting representation in Congress, only a (non-voting) delegate to the House of Representatives. The Wall Street Journal explains:

The D.C. Council's letter shows that support for these vouchers is real at the local level and that the opposition exists mainly at the level of the national Democratic Party. Mr. Durbin has suggested that he included the D.C. Council provision in deference to local control. "The government of Washington, D.C., should decide whether they want it in their school district," he said in March. Well now we know where D.C. stands.

We'll have to wait and see if the voucher program becomes the headline issue for DC Votes activists. It seems perfectly suited to the job.

On a more historical note, DC rights issues could change District education in some surprising ways. (Read more about the movement here.) Various unsuccessful DC rights legislation came and went during the tenure of Bush 43; the most recent effort, which is also the most promising, appeared this spring. Even more interesting is that one of the options is returning the District to Maryland, the state that donated the land...


There's another blurb in the WaPo article Andy refers to below that's worth mentioning:

Although signs of academic success are unknown--this year's round of standardized test scores has not been released--Green Dot has won praise for making the campus safer and sparking significant increases in attendance and student retention rates. That was enough for Rhee to consider Green Dot as a possible partner.

Parents often will pick a charter school over the neighborhood school for reasons of safety or class size or a host of other tangibles. This makes sense. Though we in the policy community focus on achievement, new charters often perform no better (and sometimes worse) than the neighborhood school. This lag is usually made up for after a few years, but in the meantime, parents often play up the other benefits of a well-run charter school, like feeling relatively certain their child's classmate won't bring a gun to school. It also makes sense that school safety would be an important factor for Rhee as chancellor of a notoriously violent school district. She's made some steps to reign in the most troubled schools, but there's still a long way to go. But this also underscores something else that Rhee apparently believes in: you can't have a good school until it's well-run, or put another way, student achievement depends on good management. Steve Barr's Locke Senior High School takeover might not have produced stellar test scores yet, but it has whipped...


The Fordham Institute is unique in the school reform sector in that we have offices in both Washington, DC and Ohio. From the Buckeye State vantage point, we see a growing disconnect between reformers inside the Beltway and those toiling in the states. The federal government is flush with money (granted it is borrowed!) and there is big talk about reform; while the states are broke and in the middle of brutal budget cutting that is threatening to set back school reform efforts big time.

Exhibit A: Washington, DC - U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told a gathering at the National Charter School Conference last week in Washington that now is the time to turn around the country's 5,000 lowest performing schools, and he said the federal government has $5 billion to spend on this effort over the next two years. Sec. Duncan and the President are actively encouraging more charter schools, dramatic school turnaround efforts, common academic standards across the states, and other reforms backed up by federal "Race to the Top Dollars."

Exhibit B: Columbus, OH - the General Assembly and the Governor are struggling to cut $3.2 billion from the state's $54 billion budget. At serious risk are all manner of recent school reform - charter schools (especially cybercharters), STEM schools and associated STEM programs, Early College Academies, the state's innovative value-added assessment system, and any real talk of...


Feeling blue about school reform? This riveting no-nonsense address by Howard Fuller at last week's National Charter School Conference will relieve your doldrums.

Guest Blogger

This post, written by Bryan C. Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel of Public Impact, is a response to Andy Smarick's June 25 post about turnarounds.

Andy Smarick's June 25 post "IES and turnarounds" makes the case against trying to turn around existing failing public schools. Instead, he says, we should put all our eggs in the basket of starting new schools.?? His rationale? The lack of gold-standard studies that show what makes turnarounds successful.?? Hmmm . . . what if we had applied that thinking at the dawn of chartering?

He misses the main point: turnarounds (bad-to-great transformations, typically with a new leader) and start-ups sometimes work--in other sectors and, it turns out, in schools. We don't have perfect knowledge of the "why," but we know more in both cases than Andy lets on.

It's true: most of the research on successful turnarounds come from case studies of successful efforts to fix failing organizations, without a rigorous control group methodology.?? But the same goes for the new-school startups that Andy (and we) find so enchanting.?? We're not aware of gold-standard studies that definitively prove what makes KIPP, Achievement First, and the other high-flyers tick. What we have instead is, you guessed it, case studies of successful efforts without rigorous controls.

The good news is that in both the turnaround and new-school cases, the case study research reveals a remarkable consistency in the ingredients of successful efforts.?? Turnarounds happen all the time across sectors, and...


Two weeks ago, our friends at released a report highlighting the academic progress made by students in Ohio's "Big 8" (large urban) districts and charter schools in those same cities.?? It's fair to lump these two groups together, and to compare them with one another.?? The vast majority of students in urban charter schools hail from those eight districts.?? Yes, there are some stragglers from the suburbs, but not nearly enough to invalidate such research.

Today, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, also our friends, followed up's work with a ??report of its own (not yet available online that I can find) comparing academic achievement, preparation, and progress levels of students in the Big 8 districts with students in the Buckeye State's seven statewide e-schools.?? OAPCS found similar results between the two groups, perhaps providing cause for saving e-schools from the budget chopping block.

The problem is, e-schools don't get their students from the large urban districts like most brick-and-mortar charter schools do.?? In fact, last school year just 22 percent of students at statewide e-schools came from such districts.?? A fairer comparison can be made between e-schools and statewide average performance, like Fordham does in our annual analysis of Ohio school performance.?? Such a comparison shows that Ohio's e-schools routinely under-perform their district peers.?? This is largely due to a few perennially weak performers who drag down the good work being done by the decent cyberschools....