Charters & Choice

Matthew Levey

In early April, I wrote that school choice is the highest form of fairness because it rewards positive behavior and aligns the interests of parents, children, and schools. Some disagree, arguing that school choice disadvantages the non-choosers. It is admirable to want to protect the most vulnerable students—the children of parents who do not or cannot engage effectively. But we must not do this at the expense of families who are engaged and do make good decisions for their kids.

As we parents often remind our children, two wrongs don’t make a right.

By encouraging parents to make choices, we also send an important message to students about our values. For the kindergartners at my school, a choice might be as simple as how to share the wooden blocks with a new friend. This simple and safe experience helps them practice the larger and more consequential decisions they will face.

Across the income spectrum, the parents I’ve met are concerned with our failure in both schools and civil society to inculcate critical values in our children. Research affirms the importance of persistence, delaying gratification, and other “gritty” non-academic values. If we ignore parent behaviors in the name of fairness,...

Lisa Hansel

Like pretty much everyone who is passionate about closing the achievement gap, I’m interested in Success Academies. I’ve read Eva Moskowitz’s book, Mission Possible: How the Secrets of the Success Academies Can Work in Any School, and watched the videos that come with it. But I’m still not sure what to think. The extraordinary results might be due to creaming motivated families, or not backfilling after the early grades, or too much test prep. These questions will likely be answered over the next several years.

Still, students are obviously getting a good education in Success Academies. If there were no test prep (or any manipulations of the student body), then I think the test scores would still be impressive, if not extraordinary.

So what are they doing? Charles Sahm’s new article in Education Next provides some answers. Having visited four Success Academies and interviewed staff, supporters, and critics, he presents a richer picture of the schools than previous accounts.

Without detracting from the complex array of supports needed to attain strong results, I think two of Success Academies’...

The education components of Governor Kasich’s proposed budget—and the House's subsequent revisions—made a big splash in Ohio's news outlets. Much of the attention has been devoted to the House’s (unwise) moves to eliminate PARCC funding and their rewrite of Kasich’s funding formula changes. Amidst all this noise, however, are a few other education issues in the House’s revisions that have slipped by largely unnoticed. Let’s examine a few.

Nationally normed vs. criterion-referenced tests

As part of its attempt to get rid of PARCC, the House added text dictating that state assessments “shall be nationally normed, standardized assessments.” This is worrisome, as there is a big difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests.

A norm-referenced test determines scores by comparing a student’s performance to the entire pool of test takers. Each student’s test score is compared to other students in order to determine their percentile ranking in the distribution of test takers. Examples of norm-referenced tests are the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Stanford 10 exams. A criterion-referenced test, on the other hand, is scored on an absolute scale. Instead of being compared to other students, students are compared against a standard of achievement (i.e.,...

School closures should never be undertaken lightly, be they district or charter schools. Academic troubles, a fall in enrollment, economic problems, and a myriad of other issues can push the issue to the forefront. Under such times of duress, policymakers and education officials are forced to ask a difficult question: Does closing a school cause more harm than good, especially for students?

Report Co-Author, Stéphane Lavertu

Today, Fordham released a new study called School Closures and Student Achievement that seeks to answer this very question. At a breakfast event on April 28th that attracted around fifty Ohio education leaders, the report’s co-author, Dr. Stéphane Lavertu, presented a summary of the study’s findings. These findings showed that three years after closure, displaced students typically make significant academic gains.

After Dr. Lavertu’s presentation, Chad moderated a panel of policymakers and practitioners who discussed the findings and policy implications. The panel consisted of: the Honorable Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton; Tracie Craft, Deputy Director of Advocacy, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO); Stephanie Groce, former member Columbus City Schools Board of Education;...

In a previous review, my colleagues examined a National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) report that analyzed states’ charter policies regarding access to district-owned facilities. In a new report, NCSRC narrows its focus to charter school facilities in California. Golden State charters were asked to complete a survey about their facilities and to allow an on-site measurement; these results were then supplemented by data on school enrollment, student demographics, and funding. The results offer a sobering picture of charter facilities in the state. Charter school facilities are generally smaller than the size recommended by the California Department of Education; classrooms for elementary, middle, and high schools are, on average, between 82 and 89 percent of the state standard size (it is worth nothing that state size standards might not be appropriate for all schools in all situations). Charter facilities as a whole are 60 percent smaller than state site size recommendations, even after adjustments are made for enrollment differences. California charters also spend varying amounts of their per-pupil funding on facilities; charters that own their buildings pay an average of $895 per pupil; charters located in a school district facility pay an average of $285 per pupil; and...

Intra-district choice has long been a type of school choice supported by many people who don’t really like school choice. Since neither students nor funding leave their boundaries, district officials have fewer problems allowing families to choose their schools. But intra-district choice is also complicated. A lack of quality information about available schools, the absence of a simple system-wide method of applying to those schools, and the added burden of transportation challenges can bring the potential of intra-district choice to a screeching halt. However, there are school districts that have taken these issues head-on and offered valuable, innovative solutions. Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is a shining example.

During the 2013–14 school year, CPS made the transition to high schools that serve students between the seventh and twelfth grades. CPS offers some compelling academic reasons for the switch, but they also utilized the transition to create high schools of choice. Instead of assigning sixth graders to a high school based on their home addresses, CPS permits students to choose their high school. Each high school offers a variety of programs, classes, extracurriculars, and services that represent unique learning environments and opportunities. All schools offer college preparatory curriculum aligned to Ohio’s...

The Game Believes in You: A conversation with Greg Toppo

The Game Believes in You: A conversation with Greg Toppo

In the age of iPads and Fitbits, how should educators harness new technology to improve student learning? In his new book, The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, Greg Toppo recounts how innovative educators are changing traditional classroom instruction by incorporating digital play.

Citing cognitive research and visiting schools that have incorporated gaming, Toppo dives into the many questions and concerns of parents, teachers, and policymakers: Does incorporating games improve student achievement? Should students be reading Thoreau’s Walden or does an online game where students follow in Thoreau’s footsteps suffice? How can the use of games complement classroom instruction rather than distract from it? How can we ensure that students have access to these tools regardless of income?  And is all of this truly effective or merely trendy?

Susan Pendergrass

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has consistently believed that all schools should be held accountable for the performance of their students and that any school that isn’t performing should be closed.

But closing a school can be difficult, and the impact of any closure ripples through the community and the lives of the students. Some question whether the disruption is worth it. In the traditional public school system, the urge to avoid this disruption almost always carries the day, and in the rare event that a school is closed, it’s usually due to persistent dwindling enrollment. Fortunately, we have emerging research that sheds light on the effect of school closures on students who attended those schools.

The Fordham Institute has conducted a study that measures the achievement trends of nearly twenty-three thousand students who attended one of 198 urban schools in Ohio—both traditional and public charter schools—that closed between 2006 and 2012. With the use of student-level longitudinal data provided by the Ohio Department of Education, the Fordham researchers were able to determine how the students from the closed schools fared after they were moved to a new school. The study...

A decade ago, I became fixated on what I saw as the biggest problem in K–12 education—that we continued to assign low-income inner-city kids to persistently failing schools.

My study eventually led me to conclude that we actually had a system-level problem: The existence of long-failing schools was a symptom of the urban school district. Its fundamental characteristics—functioning as a city’s monopoly public school operator; assigning kids based on home address; coping with constraining civil service, tenure, and labor contract rules; enduring toxic school board politics—inhibited the progress our kids so desperately needed.

So I started thinking about a new way of delivering, organizing, and managing a system of urban schools. I first wrote about it in “Wave of the Future,” extended the idea in “The Turnaround Fallacy,” and filled out the argument in The Urban School System of the Future.

The basic idea is that families are empowered to choose the schools that best meet the needs of their kids. A wide array of operators—across the district, charter, and private school sectors—are allowed to offer a diverse selection...

How should city-level leaders manage a portfolio of schools? The first thing they should do is take stock of the city’s supply of public schools. A new report from IFF, a nonprofit community development financial institution, provides a helpful look at Cleveland’s public schools, both district and charter. In an effort to uncover those with the highest need for quality seats, the analysis slices the city into thirty neighborhoods based on several variables: schools’ academic performance, facility utilization and physical condition, and commuting patterns. The facility analyses are the major contribution of this work, principally the schools’ utilization rates—the ratio of student enrollment to the physical capacity of the building. The utilization rates are needed to determine the actual number of available high-quality seats. The analysts obtained building-capacity statistics through the district; they estimated charter capacity by using the schools’ highest enrollment point (perhaps underreporting charters’ capacity—especially for new schools). Happily, the study reports that Cleveland’s highly rated K–8 schools are at 90 percent capacity. Yet it is less satisfying to learn that its highest-rated high schools are at only 68 percent capacity (the report does not suggest any reasons why). Meanwhile, most of the city’s poorly rated schools...

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