Charters & Choice

Robin J. Lake

In refusing to reconsider its September ruling that public charter schools are unconstitutional and not entitled to receive public funds, the Washington State Supreme Court is bringing the state one step closer to shutting the door on promising educational opportunities for disadvantaged Washington students. Families in most other states have these options, and the charter sector continues to expand and thrive nationwide. Now that Washington students and families have seen what charters in our state can offer, however, it would be shameful to let that door close.  

State leaders are still scratching their heads over the logic of the initial ruling, which hinged on a nineteenth-century definition of “common schools.” State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the ruling was illogical and overly broad. Many agreed, including four previous Washington State attorneys general and a bipartisan group of legislators. Even former Democratic Governor and Attorney General Christine Gregoire joined the amicus brief and said the ruling was “not fair, not right.” Some believe that the ruling was influenced by the legislature’s standoff with the court over Washington’s failure to fully fund K–12 education, which was mandated in the well-publicized McCleary decision. The court has been displeased...

Vladimir Kogan

The school accountability movement is founded on the principles of transparency, high expectations, and the dissemination of accurate information about educational quality. While there is much to like about Ohio’s recently signed charter school reform legislation, one provision in the bill is at odds with all three of these ideas. As a result, it threatens to significantly undermine Ohio’s efforts to hold charter school operators and public school districts accountable for the achievement of the students they educate.

The provision I’m referring to requires the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to create and evaluate a new “Similar Students” measure of academic achievement, based on a metric used in California. The final language of the legislation only called for a study of such a measure but there appears to be significant interest from legislators and stakeholder groups in formally incorporating it into Ohio’s existing school accountability system, particularly for charter schools. Once ODE completes its evaluation, this conversation is likely to intensify.

In a new analysis, I show why this would be a terrible idea. Using data from ODE and technical documentation from the California Charter Schools Association,...

CREDO’s national study of online charter schools has prompted even ardent supporters to call for “tough changes” in how they are regulated. Released in tandem with Mathematica’s survey of operational practices of e-schools and an analysis of state online charter policy by the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), the findings showed that Ohio online charter students learned seventy-nine fewer days in reading and 144 fewer days in math. (Read our analysis of the study here.)

Where does Ohio stand in its current regulation of online schools (which serve nearly one-third of the state’s entire charter school population)? And what can policy makers—and the e-schools themselves—do to ensure that students are better served? Let’s examine each question in turn.

Ohio’s recent steps to regulate e-schools

After an eight-year moratorium, Ohio lifted its ban on e-schools and allowed three new ones to open in 2013. The state regulates their expansion more tightly than charter schools broadly. In deciding who may open, the Ohio Department of Education examines both the track record of the operator and sponsor of each proposed e-school. Statute allows five e-schools to open each year, but the department may elect to approve...

This brief by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools offers “the most comprehensive analysis to date” on what is a very convoluted topic—special education funding in charter schools. Drawing from a review of state funding laws, websites, documents, and interviews with key stakeholders, the authors present their findings in several parts.

First, “Getting Lost While Trying to Follow the Money” (apt title, by the way) offers a primer on special education funding. Understanding the flow of special education dollars requires a grasp of overlapping federal, state, and local funding streams, which the brief outlines effectively. Readers learn the history of IDEA Part B, the ins and outs of the “maintenance of effort” requirements, and instances in which schools can qualify for Medicaid reimbursements. The report also describes the types of state funding formulas used. Ohio is one of nineteen states with a weighted funding formula (i.e., special education funding is based on the severity of a student’s disability, type of placement, and overall need). The vast majority of charters can’t access local funds (in Ohio, a handful in Cleveland can). Thus, if their special education costs exceed...

As a young child, Adrian was quick to anger and often acted out in class, sometimes physically. In fourth grade, his school classified him as having emotional problems and assigned him a personal aide. After a few years, the aide was phased out; his behavior improved, but the disciplinary consequences got worse. "If he lost his temper, he was generally suspended," recalls his mother, who asked not to be identified. "I had meetings upon meetings with the vice principals, but they would say, 'This is what we do; we have no money for things like detention or supervision for in-school suspension.'"

The barrage of disciplinary actions against Adrian (not his actual name) began to feel like harassment. "Countless suspensions for countless issues," his mother recalls. Before a six-month suspension, a lawyer told her that the school was "essentially a dictatorship" and that she had no real recourse. Frustrated and increasingly embittered, the family withdrew Adrian, moved away, and enrolled him in a public school where minor misbehaviors were punished with detention, not suspensions. "The school got rid of him by excessive penalties and suspensions," she concludes.

You might assume this is yet another tale out of Eva Moskowitz's network of...

When Hillary Clinton recently told an audience that the purpose of charter schooling is to “learn what works and then apply (it) in the public schools,” she made the obvious mistake of implying that charters are not public schools.

But in her comments, Clinton contributed to another purposeful, longstanding, and inaccurate narrative. She suggested that chartering is, always has been, and should remain an R&D effort for the district sector. This argument serves the purposes of charter opponents and those who want to limit charter growth. That is, if you convince people that charters are only meant to think up and test a few new ideas, then you’ve established that the district is the real system and that chartering should never grow too large.

I’ve been trying to dispel this myth for some time. Chapter Five of my book The Urban School System of the Future chronicles the intellectual history of chartering, which includes motivations well beyond district R&D. In the 1980s, Ray Budde was looking for ways to permanently empower teachers in new environments. At the same time, Joe Loftus wanted new ways to oversee persistently failing schools. In 1988, Minnesota’s nonpartisan Citizen’s League argued that educators should have an ongoing way to...

Across the nation, charter schools continue to expand. Over the past five years, their enrollment has grown by 70 percent, so that approximately 2.7 million youngsters now attend these schools of choice—over 5 percent of the total number enrolled in public schools. Dozens of cities educate more than one in five of their public school students in charter schools.

This is a hugely positive development—provided, of course, that those schools are delivering a high-quality education.

Whether you think the current “mixed economy” of district and charter schools should be an all-charter system (as in New Orleans) or a dual model (as in Washington D.C.), for the foreseeable future, most cities are likely to continue with a blend of these two sectors.

Can they peacefully coexist? Can they do better than that? Can they actually collaborate in the service of students, families and the public interest?

To answer these questions, we at the Fordham Institute teamed up with Public Impact to publish a new report, Is Détente Possible? We examined five cities that had among the best conditions for district-charter collaboration: Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

Boston, for instance, boasts some of the highest-performing charters in the land. All sixteen...

The Center for Research on Educational Options (CREDO) at Stanford University released findings last week from a first-of-its-kind study assessing the impact of online charter schools in seventeen states (including Ohio) and Washington, D.C. The news is dismal—for “virtual” charters nationally; for advocates like Fordham, who argue for e-schools’ rightful place in the school choice landscape but are weary of their quality problems; and most of all, for the students losing dozens (in some cases hundreds) of days of learning by opting into a virtual environment.

CREDO found that virtual charter school students nationally (those enrolled in a public, full-time online school) learned the equivalent of seventy-two fewer days in reading and 180 days in math compared with the traditional public school students to whom they were matched. That’s essentially an entire school year gone to waste in math and almost half a year gone in reading.

It is also striking that—unlike CREDO’s national charter studies, which discovered that many states’ charter school sectors handily outperform traditional public schools—in no state did online charter students outperform their traditional peers in both subjects. Two states’ online charters outpaced traditional public schools in reading; none did in math.

Why are...

  • Getting teenagers to think ahead is basically impossible—just try to persuade your favorite adolescent to file his college applications before the night they’re due, or to quit doing donuts in the school parking lot before he gets a free trip to the ER. So we should be immensely encouraged by the fact that 1.4 million high school students took college courses for credit in 2014–2015. To promote this development, the Department of Education has helpfully pledged to offer some $20 million in Pell grants for low-income students to enroll in college courses while still attending high school. Dual enrollment programs like these are probably the best possible use of Pell grants; right now, as Fordham’s own Checker Finn has observed, such funds are too often used to subsidize remedial education in college for kids who didn’t learn everything they needed to in the thirteen years of K–12. Isn’t it smarter to pay for academically gifted sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds to take college courses early, rather than picking up the bill for undereducated college freshmen to finally learn the stuff they were supposed to be taught in high school?
  • Nevada’s move this year to establish $5,000 education savings accounts has
  • ...