Charters & Choice

Fordham has served as an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio since mid-2005. Our schools have been mainly in Ohio’s urban core—including Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus—and the vast majority of their students are poor and minority.

This year, we added two more schools to our sponsorship portfolio, both located in Scioto County near Ohio’s southern tip on the shores of the Ohio River, i.e. what most would term the Appalachian region of the Buckeye State. Families and children there face challenges as daunting as those in Ohio’s toughest urban neighborhoods. Scioto is one of the state’s poorest counties with an unemployment rate of 12.7 percent (the state average is 8.5 percent). It has also been ground zero for the state’s opiate epidemic: It has the third-highest overdose death rate of all 88 counties in Ohio.

Together the Sciotoville Elementary School (grades K-4) and Sciotoville Community School (grades 5-12) serve about 440 students. This represents about 1 in 5 children who attend a K-12 school in the local Portsmouth City School District (the home district for most Sciotoville students). The percentage of kids attending charters in that district matches the rate in Cincinnati.  


An urban wasteland in the industrial Midwest shows how a portfolio approach to public education can inspire even the most disadvantaged families to “shop” for the right school.

Nearly three-quarters of parents in Detroit have shopped for a school for their child, whether the options included a traditional public school, a magnet school, a charter school, or a private school, according to a think tank in the Wolverine State called Michigan Future Inc. Moreover, fifteen percent of the families the think tank surveyed opted for a public school outside the district.

“Seventy percent are actively shopping rather than letting the government tell them where to go—that’s huge,” Michigan Future President Lou Glazer told The Detroit News.

Glazer says the study represented one of the most aggressive attempts nationally to further explain how families, especially those who are low-income, think about their school options in an urban area. Researchers spent last summer knocking on the doors of 1,073 households to collect data on 1,699 schoolchildren, eighty-five percent of whom were black and sixty-eight percent of whom came from households where incomes that fell below $30,000.

The Detroit school district has lost more than 100,000 students in the past decade,...

Louisiana became the latest state to embrace the introduction of school vouchers, but the legislative moxie it showed should stimulate a new conversation about private school choice and accountability.

The legislative moxie Louisiana showed should stimulate a new conversation about private school choice and accountability.

When lawmakers last week approved Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to award vouchers to low-income children, they also ordered state schools Superintendent John White to develop a system that holds participating schools accountable for the performance of their voucher students. Critics say this lacks specificity, but it’s almost revolutionary compared with most voucher regulations nationwide.

Louisiana’s law may be similar to a voucher program Indiana lawmakers approved last year in that it requires participating students to take the same assessments administered at public schools. But even voucher supporters in the Pelican State had a hard time defending against tougher accountability standards in a state known for its low-tolerance of poor-performing schools.

So now that low-income students in schools graded C through F have a greater array of public and private options available, this is a chance for White and the Department of Education to design what my Fordham colleagues have called “accountability, done right.”


Passing a set of historic reform bills last week, the Louisiana legislature handed Gov. Bobby Jindal and his new education chief, John White, the keys to reform city. By a healthy majority in both houses, it passed legislation, writes Bill Barrow of the Times-Picayune, which will

Louisiana State Capitol
The Lousiana legislature passed a set of historic reform bills last week.
 Photo by Jim Bowen.
…curtail teacher tenure protection, tie instructors' compensation and superintendents' job security to student performance; shift hiring and firing power from school boards to superintendents; create new paths to open charter schools; and establish a statewide program that uses the public-school financing formula to pay private-school tuition for certain low-income students.

It was anything but a cakewalk for the Jindal reform package, as teachers descended on the Capitol to fight the bills and Democrats charged the second-term Republican governor with strong-arm tactics reminiscent of former political tough guys Huey Long and Edwin Edwards. “I make no apologies for having a sense of urgency,” said Jindal. “I...

The Tartans: The Story of the Sciotoville Community Schools

The Tartans: The Story of the Sciotoville Community Schools





Most charter schools nationwide serve urban communities, this documentary provides a look at the challenges and successes of a rural Appalachian charter school.

The Tartans is the unique story of Portsmouth East High School in South Eastern Ohio. Portsmouth City school district was going to close the facility in 2000 until the community rallied to form a charter school and keep the school from shutting its doors.

The Fordham Foundation has sponsored Sciotoville Community School and Sciotoville Elementary Academy's since July 2011.

Six years and still buzzin'

On the podcast’s iron anniversary, Rick and Mike reflect on the highs and lows of education policy since 2006. Rick also provides a glimpse into the future (of the Common Core) while Amber explains what exactly can be learned from charter school management organizations.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning from Charter School Management Organizations: Strategies for Student Behavior and Teacher Coaching

One might fairly wonder why the Council on Foreign Relations, of all outfits, would wade into school reform, but in fact the task force that CFR convened on this topic has made a valuable contribution.

We’re accustomed to reformers arguing that America’s international economic competitiveness hinges on a better-educated workforce; we’re used to parallel (and equally justified) assertions that our civic future and cultural vitality depend on kids learning a great deal more in school. What the CFR team has done is remind us that revitalizing our education system is also essential for the defense of the nation itself. In their words, “America’s failure to educate is affecting its national security….In the defense and aerospace industries, many executives fear this problem [dearth of adequately skilled people] will accelerate in the coming decade….Most young people do not qualify for military service….The U.S. State Department and intelligence agencies are facing critical language shortfalls in areas of strategic interest….”

They’re not exactly saying that nuclear warheads will rain onto our population centers the day after tomorrow unless our schools become more effective but they are reminding us that the intersection of...

In November, we learned from the National Study of CMO Effectiveness (a joint initiative by Mathematica and the Center on Reinventing Public Education) that the quality of charter-management organizations varies dramatically. (These findings were confirmed in second report released by the pair in January.) This latest from Mathematica and CRPE probes some of the common practices of high-quality CMOs. Based on data from the middle schools of twenty-two CMOs, we now learn that consistently applied school-wide behavior programs (which outline clear rewards and demerits for specific actions, hold “zero tolerance” for violence, and promote a strong culture of learning) and regular teacher coaching are the strategies most strongly linked to higher student achievement. Interestingly, other popular (and reformy) approaches didn’t correlate with better performance, including boosting instructional time, adopting performance-based teacher evaluation and compensation schemes, and using formative-assessment data frequently. To illustrate further how the two successful strategies work on the ground, the report then profiles five CMOs that utilize them—Aspire Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation, KIPP DC, Uncommon Schools, and Yes Prep Public Schools. Uncommon Schools, for example, pushes a school culture based on...

Ten years after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Cleveland voucher program, state judges are still sending conflicting signals about the viability of private school choice. The latest setback for choice proponents took place last week in Oklahoma, where a Tulsa County judge ruled that a voucher for students with special needs violated the state’s constitutional prohibition of public money for sectarian institutions.

Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court's Zelner decision didn't end the fight for private school choice.
 Photo by

How can this be? The nation’s highest court declared in 2002’s Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that Cleveland’s voucher allowed parents to exercise “genuine choice,” leaving the decision to attend a faith-based school to the family, not to the state. The answer is in the wildly varying Blaine Amendments and compelled support clauses to constitutions in 47 states. And in many ways, these obstacles raise a larger hurdle than the Establishment Clause at issue in Zelman.

The capable attorneys at the Institute for Justice foretold the challenges...

Thanks to the now-famous “Tebow law,” homeschoolers across the land are donning decades-old football gear, tattered pinnies, and spittle-laden mouthguards with the rest of their agemates as they try out for public-school-sports teams (in those locales where they haven’t been eliminated due to budget cuts). But, USA Twoaday reports, home-school advocates are pushing for access to more than just the playing field. Some parents, thrilled at finally having some time away from their children, are asking to park their brats in detention, study hall, and in-school suspension. Others are demanding access to school lunches, nurses, and showers. One D.C.-area parent who homeschools her eight children said, “To be honest, I was sick of hearing Jimmy (or was it Janie?) crying when I put him (or her) in timeout and whining about my cooking.” The kids also seem to favor these changes. Little Jimmy (or was it Janie?) told the Gladfly, “I’m stoked to be able to start getting Valentine's Day cards from people with different last names.” The youngster added, with a tear in his (or was it her?) eye, “and maybe one day a locker of my very own.”

Suspension rates for homeschoolers on the...