Charters & Choice

The pineapple and the gadfly

Standardized testing, school closures, and a pineapple: Rick and Janie cover it all this week, while Amber wonders whether weighted-student funding made a difference in Hartford after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Funding a Better Education: conclusions from the first three years of student-based budgeting in hartford

Before the real-estate bubble burst, there was a growing literature on the link between government regulation of housing and home prices. Tougher zoning restrictions, it seemed, drove up the cost of housing. This Brookings Institution report builds off this notion: Restrictive zoning regulations—such as those that limit the construction of high-rise apartments or other multi-family units in certain neighborhoods—not surprisingly create cities that are segregated by income and race. And that, in turn, produces unequal access to quality schools. By loosening or even eliminating restrictive zoning, cities may see housing-cost gaps narrow by as much as 63 percentage points and see school-achievement gaps narrow as a result, Rothwell writes. (In other words, less zoning results in less segregated neighborhoods, and less segregated schools.) In the meantime, district-choice plans, charter schools, and school vouchers can help offset the effects of zoning, the author argues. Unfortunately, in these tough economic times, districts are too often restricting school choice—by drawing tighter attendance zones around specialty schools or by denying bus service to them. That’s a poor way to save money. And if Rothwell teaches us anything, it’s that quality choices...

"This plan is aggressive," warned School District of Philadelphia Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon at a Tuesday press conference announcing a massive reform of the city’s K-12 education. Good. Changes are desperately needed: Philly's public schools face massive deficits, declining enrollment, and rank among the worst of large urban school districts. Unfortunately, aggressive plans often entail mindless slashing of schools and headcount so that "business as usual" can continue elsewhere. To their credit, Philadelphia’s policy leaders—embodied in a board jointly appointed by the governor and mayor—are mostly resisting that fatal temptation. While forty of the district’s 249 schools would be closed by next fall, the goal is to bolster parental choice, prizing the development of "high-performing seats" wherever they can be found over protecting the legacy school district. Encouragingly, the district also plans to restructure employee benefits, saving $156 million of the projected $218 million deficit for next fiscal year. A proposed 7 percent reduction in per-pupil payments to charters is worrying, though. Still and all, the School Reform Commission deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future.

Phila. School District plan includes restructing and school closings," by Kristen A. Graham,...

The Philadelphia school district’s plan to lift itself out of financial and academic distress may have overshadowed a profound development this week for Catholic education in the City of Brotherly Love. The Philadelphia Archdiocese agreed Monday to join a compact with public and charter schools in the city to make sure that kids have access to quality schools.

Two conditions of the agreement make this momentous and should give Catholic leaders throughout the nation something to consider:

  • This so-called Great Schools Compact will add Philadelphia’s Catholic schools to an online clearinghouse being developed that will provide families information on public, charter, and Catholic education in the city, and;
  • The Archdiocese will make its standardized test-score data available for that clearinghouse. Most Philadelphia Catholic schools currently administer the Terra Nova, but the Archdiocese has signed on to the Common Core State Standards.
The Archdiocese also has pledged to do something most Catholic schools have not: open up student performance to public scrutiny.

Finally, a group committed to enhancing urban public education has recognized that the urban Catholic school shares a common purpose, and the Great Schools Compact is doing more than paying lip service. But the...

Imagine a law that forces your family into a charter school lottery, a law that doesn’t care whether you would choose a charter or not. The burden is on you to refuse the seat and a family who does want the seat is waiting for you to act.

Such a law may only be a few legislative steps away in Connecticut. Democratic leaders in the state General Assembly have hitched this “opt-out” lottery to a sweeping omnibus bill that covers reforms that range from teacher quality to school improvement, and where better to bury it? Many provisions in Senate Bill 24 have generated heat over tenure reform and charter school funding, distracting the public from this perversion of parental choice in education.

SB 24 twists the concept of choice and could decimate the progress charters have made in the Nutmeg State.

The lottery would be imposed on all new charter schools and would draw from the names of every student from the district in which the charter operates, leaving it to the family to accept or decline the spot. The provision emerged from a closed-door meeting with union leaders and the Democratic chairs of the state’s joint education...

Before the real estate bubble burst, there was an emerging literature on the link between government regulation of housing and home prices. Heightened zoning restrictions, the conclusions went, drove up the cost of housing. Now the Brookings Institution has added something new to consider: Zoning regulations are segregating cities by income and race and leaving quality schools available to mostly higher income families.

Housing costs are 2.4 times greater near a better performing school.

After surveying 100 metropolitan areas, Brookings analyst Jonathan Rothwell found that housing costs are 2.4 times greater near a better performing school, as judged by state test scores, than near a lower performing school. Zoning, Rothwell told Education Week, “is an underlying problem.”  Exclusionary zoning has priced lower income families out of high-flying schools in higher-flying neighborhoods where population density is low by government design and where fewer people own larger houses and more acres of land.

By loosening or even eliminating restrictive zoning, cities may see housing cost gaps narrow by as much as 63 percentage points and see school achievement gaps narrow as a result, Rothwell writes.

Naturally, Rothwell has an affinity for school choice, including district choice plans, charter schools,...

Streeeeetching the school dollar

Mike and Adam talk space shuttles, vouchers, and how districts can make the most of tight budgets on this week’s podcast, while Amber explains what special ed looks like in the Bay State.

Amber's Research Minute

Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Download the PDF

Today we continue our analysis of the impact of Governor Kasich’s mid-biennium education policy proposals with a look at how it would change the state’s charter school academic death penalty.  (See our previous analyses of how schools would fare under the new A to F rating system and how that rating system could impact eligibility for the EdChoice Scholarship Program.)

Ohio has had an automatic charter school closure law on the books since late 2006. Currently the law states that a charter school (not including drop-out recovery schools or schools primarily serving students with disabilities) must shut its doors if it meets one of the following criteria:

  • The school doesn’t offer a grade lever higher than three and has been declared to be in state of academic emergency for three of the four most recent years;
  • The schools offers any of grade levels four to eight but does not offer a grade level higher than nine and has been in a state of academic emergency for two of the three most recent years and in at least two of the threeost recent years, the school showed less than one standard year of academic growth in either reading
  • ...

It’s hard to identify the political motivations that drove Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto an expansion of the state’s publicly funded savings accounts to help more disadvantaged students pay for private education. But we do have her explanation, one that pretends the expansion of private school choice would “artificially manipulate” the market to the disadvantage of public schools.

This fear of an “unlevel playing field” is a milder variant on the assertion that school vouchers would “virtually abolish public education,” as the head of the Lousiana teachers union told the Wall Street Journal for a story today. But it’s all the more surprising coming from a Republican governor who has supported school choice for the Grand Canyon State in the past. Does Brewer really agree with voucher opponents who insisted that last year’s adoption of education savings accounts for special education students was really just the camel’s nose in the tent, heralding doom for public education? Her veto suggests this much.

That few Arizona reporters would challenge Brewer’s explanation or express shock that she was the one making it shows how ingrained this narrative has become since the 1970s. At that time, United States senators including...

In our recent documentary on the schools in Sciotoville, OH, you hear a big-dollar word used over and over: facilities. The Tartans of Sciotoville go to class in a building that dates from around 1914. The community would love a new facility—but bricks and mortar don't come cheap. Ohio community schools (that is, charters) get no state and local funds for facilities, meaning they have to scrimp and save out of operating funds or find private dollars to build.

Down the road from Sciotoville Elementary Academy, which is housed in modulars and packed with students, is a brand-new traditional district school built with public funds and under-enrolled. (Many of the kids it was built to serve go to SEA!) Charters across the country suffer from the same disparities.

Sciotoville school
Maintaining or replacing aging school facilities presents a challenge to many rural communities
 Photo by Joe Portnoy.

It's not only charter school pupils who sit in old, dilapidated buildings, though. Some traditional schools have benefited from a boom in new construction, but...