Charters & Choice

In early December, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released its 2015 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, which examines the laws and regulations governing state teacher policy. NCTQ evaluated states in five policy areas, each of which contained sub-goals such as delivering well-prepared teachers, expanding the teaching pool, and identifying effective teachers. States were evaluated on each dimension and given a grade for each policy area. The five policy area grades were then rolled into one state grade.

In terms of overall grades, Ohio did fairly well, earning a B-minus. (The top-performing state was Florida with a B+, while the lowest performer was Montana with an F.) Ohio received the same grade in 2013, but earlier overall grades (a C-plus in 2011 and a D-plus in 2009) were far less impressive, and the results point to general improvement. The Buckeye State earned its highest area grade, a solid B, in expanding the teacher pool through efforts to increase teaching opportunities with flexible and rigorous pathways. But the state earned its lowest grade (a C-minus) for delivering well-prepared teachers—mostly due to its failure to require prospective elementary, secondary science, secondary social studies, and special education teachers to pass rigorous content...

A recent Akron Beacon Journal headline grabbed my attention, and not in a good way: “Ohio tells federal investigators that charter schools are getting better, but evidence isn’t convincing.” It’s among the latest in a string of news stories about Ohio’s win of a federal $71 million Charter School Program (CSP) grant—and, more distressingly, its possible loss of said grant.

The article uses the current federal investigation of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) as the hook (“Oh look! An article about that $71 million grant—I wonder what the status is.”), then launches into a discussion about the audit results from high-profile blow-up Next Frontier Academy and Ohio’s alleged inability to track misspent dollars. Another editorial from ABJ with an equally cynical title (“Ohio and its legacy of careless charter schools”) better explains the apparent linkage between the two topics: “Because of the shabby record-keeping, auditors could not reach firm conclusions about school enrollment and finances. Thus, conveniently enough, the Next Frontier story could not be included in the information sent to federal investigators. Next Frontier wasn’t alone, the records of other charter schools in similar disarray. That left the state in position to offer a rosier...

As 2015 was coming to a close, I compiled a list of my fifty favorite reads of the year. You can find them all here.

Though most are article- or report-length, the subjects are all over the map. In total, they offer a glimpse of the big happenings of 2015 and—though this wasn’t my initial intention—show where my mind was during this eventful year. Here’s a smattering.

The end of the year was dominated by ESSA. The New York Times captured the historical importance of the new law. Rick Hess explained why it was a major conservative victory, and Politics K–12 detailed how it undermined Arne Duncan’s legacyChad Aldeman and Conor Williams wrote separately about why the Left should be unhappy. (I’ll have a follow-up piece shortly focused exclusively on ESSA reporting and analysis.)

But 2015 also had lots of great non-ESSA edu-writing. Marty West penned a smart piece on Uncle Sam’s role in innovation, and Joanne Weiss looked back on Race to the Top. Sara Mead explained early-childhood education in New Orleans, Kathleen Porter-Magee wrote about the Catholic-school reawakening, and The Economist reported on the heartening story of private-schools outside of the US serving low-income kids.

There were...

In its 2015 state policy analysis, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) found that fourteen states have seen positive charter policy changes since the organization’s inaugural report last year. These wide-ranging improvements demonstrate the value of sizing up a state’s legal framework, diagnosing its structural problems, comparing it to peers, and using that information to press policymakers for change. In other words, rankings like this—and other seemingly wonky law and policy reviews—may actually pave the way for real improvements.

NACSA analyzed and ranked every state with a charter law (forty-three, plus the District of Columbia) against eight policy recommendations meant to ensure a baseline of authorizer quality and charter school accountability: 1) Can schools select from at least two authorizers? 2) Does the state require authorizers to meet endorsed standards (like NACSA’s)? 3) Does the state evaluate its authorizers? 4) Do poor authorizers face sanctions? 5) Do authorizers publish annual performance reports on schools? 6) Is every charter bound by a contract that outlines performance expectations? 7) Are there strong non-renewal standards, and can authorizers effectively close poor performers? 8) Does the state have an automatic closure law on the books?

Additionally, the report offers...

Fifty years ago, Catholic schools educated 5.6 million children in thirteen thousand schools across America. Perhaps the most depressing passage of Catholic School Renaissance—a new book by Andy Smarick and Kelly Robson aimed at philanthropists—is found on pages twelve and thirteen, which present inglorious charts detailing the deterioration of Catholic schools and their enrollment. Though that decline is not presently as drastic as it was during the 60s and 70s, it’s easy to despair over the state of one of most successful learning mechanisms in U.S. history.

Luckily, the next hundred pages explain what ought to be done to save these national assets. Smarick and Robson believe that our growing national acceptance of school choice provides a climate ripe for a Catholic comeback—and donors have the biggest role to play in bringing about the renaissance. “The question is no longer whether Catholic schools should be run differently; it’s about how,” they argue. The book explains how promising models should be scaled and offers a few viable solutions to the biggest problems plaguing the sector (teacher recruitment and retention chief among them). In a useful appendix, it lists dozens of opportunities for donors to shape systems via marketing, data reporting, and...

The best compliment I can pay a fellow education blogger is to confess professional jealousy. So I’d like to close out 2015 by saluting the education blogs and columns that made me green with envy.

I’m a fan of Tim Shanahan and devour every word he writes. My favorite Shanahan post in 2015 was his evisceration of a silly piece in the Atlantic on the “joyful, illiterate kindergarteners of Finland” that—cliché alert—depicted the typical American kindergarten as a worksheet-happy hothouse. “The silly dichotomy between play and academic instruction was made up by U.S. psychologists in the 1890s,” he wrote. “It hangs on today among those who have never taught a child to read in their lives.” He singled out Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early childhood professor, who is happy to tell anyone with a microphone that there’s no solid evidence in favor of teaching reading in kindergarten. “You can make that claim,” Shanahan concluded, “as long as you don’t know the research.”

I get jealous when somebody makes a smart observation about something hidden in plain sight, like Andy Rotherham did with his March column in U.S. News & World Report (where I’m also a contributor) pointing out that education reform is “dominated by people who...

Ohio has exemplary charter schools – beacons of quality that are helping students reach their full potential. Who are these high flyers and what can we learn from them? How can Ohio replicate, expand, and support great charters in every part of the state?

Fordham partnered with Steve Farkas and Ann Duffet of the FDR Group to survey the leaders of these exemplary schools to capture their thoughts on charter policy, hear what makes their schools tick, and learn what we can do to make sure that good schools flourish and expand.

Quality in Adversity: Lessons from Ohio’s best charter schools will be released on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. You are invited to join us as we discuss the findings and recommendations arising from this survey. A fitting way to celebrate National School Choice Week!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Coffee and pastries will be available

Program begins at 8:30 am

Program concludes at 9:45 am

 

LOCATION:

Chase Tower

100 East Broad Street - Sixth Floor Conference Room B

Columbus, OH 43215

Space is limited. Register today by clicking here....

In its 2015 state policy analysis, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) found that fourteen states (including Ohio) saw positive charter policy changes since its inaugural report last year. These wide-ranging improvements demonstrate the value of sizing up a state’s legal framework, diagnosing its structural problems, comparing it to peers, and using that information to press policymakers for change. In other words, rankings like this—and other seemingly wonky law and policy reviews—may actually pave the way for real improvements.

NACSA analyzed and ranked every state with a charter law (forty-three, plus the District of Columbia) against eight policy recommendations meant to ensure a baseline of authorizer quality and charter school accountability: 1) Can schools select from at least two authorizers? 2) Does the state require authorizers to meet endorsed standards (like NACSA’s)? 3) Does the state evaluate its authorizers? 4) Do poor authorizers face sanctions? 5) Do authorizers publish annual performance reports on schools? 6) Is every charter bound by a contract that outlines performance expectations? 7) Are there strong non-renewal standards, and can authorizers effectively close poor performers? 8) Does the state have an automatic closure law on the books?

Additionally, the report offers...

NOTE: Chad Aldis addressed the Ohio Board of Education in Columbus this afternoon. These are his written remarks in full.

Thank you, President Gunlock and state board members, for allowing me to offer public comment today.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-oriented nonprofit focused on research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C. I testified to you in September urging the state to quickly and thoroughly implement the charter school provisions contained in HB 2. I also emphasized during my testimony the importance of moving quickly to get the sponsor performance review (SPR)—which was required by legislation passed in 2012, but took three years to develop and pilot—back on track. The success of Ohio’s recent reforms lie heavily on the SPR, so the department deserves tremendous credit for installing an independent panel to review the SPR and draft recommendations quickly. It is a strong sign that the department is serious about implementation and sponsor quality.

We are pleased to say that we agree with many of the recommendations and commend the panel for its thorough...

Morgan Polikoff

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of visiting Success Academy Harlem 1 and hearing from Eva Moskowitz and the SA staff about their model. I’m not going to venture into the thorny stuff about SA here. What I will say is that their results on state tests are clearly impressive, and I doubt that they’re fully (or even largely) explained by the practices that cause controversy. (Luckily, we’ll soon have excellent empirical evidence to answer that question.)

Instead, what I’m going to talk about are the fascinating details I saw and heard about curriculum and instruction in SA schools. Right now, of course, it is impossible to know what’s driving their performance, but these are some of the things that I think are likely to contribute. (I’d initially forgotten that Charles Sahm wrote many of these same things in a post this summer. His is more detailed and based on more visits than mine. Read it!)

Here's what I saw in my tour of about a half-dozen classrooms at SA 1:

  • The first thing that I observed in each classroom was the intense focus on student discourse and explanation. In each classroom, students are constantly pressed to explain their reasoning, and other students respond constructively
  • ...

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