Charters & Choice

Folks today speak of Ray Budde, Ted Kolderie, and Al Shanker as fathers of the charter-school movement. But what of its mother? Ember Reichgott Junge, former Minnesota state senator, authored the nation’s first charter legislation. This personal account takes readers through the complete history of chartering in Minnesota, chronicling passage of the original bill in 1991, the resistance it got from unions, and subsequent amendments to the law. (Originally, there was an eight-school cap on charters in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and only licensed teachers could create and operate schools. Now, there is no charter cap and schools are granted waivers from stifling state laws.) The factual accounts make the book worthwhile but the personal anecdotes laced through the text are what make it compelling. Drawing on this history, Reichgott Junge explains some lessons that can be learned from it—and that apply to modern education-reform efforts that go well beyond charters (e.g., today’s push for digital learning). Among them: Don’t leave accountability to chance; define explicitly the reform and its goals (think of the confused perception many still hold of charter schools—and how this may have been...

First, Louisiana’s top-rated school district opted to participate in the state’s new school voucher program. Then, less than two weeks later, it opted out.

school fence 2
We are left with a community that has chosen to erect a fence around its public schools.
 Photo by Martin Magdalene.

Why the quick reversal? Once Zachary schools Superintendent Warren Drake announced the district’s intent to “make a difference” for children coming from C-, D-, or F-rated schools, his community told him to back off.

In a written statement, Drake scrapped his original plan with a declaration that illustrates the challenges school choice advocates face even after their hard-won legislative victories:

We recognize the sacrifices many of our own families make to provide their students with a first-rate education and appreciate the community’s continued financial support of our district.

As with many private school choice plans, Louisiana’s voucher allows students from poor-performing public schools to switch to high-performing public schools. And the best-performing public schools in the Pelican State are found in Zachary....

The Ohio Education Association (OEA) voted on Friday to launch an effort to recruit employees of Ohio’s 350-plus charter schools as union members. According to Ohio Department of Education data the state’s charters employ about 10,500 educators and 5,400 of these are classroom teachers. Currently there are no unionized start-up charter schools in Ohio, but there are some conversion district charter schools that have unionized teachers. Nationally, the Center on Reinventing Public Education reports that “about 12 percent of all charter schools have bargaining agreements.”

It is clear why the OEA and the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) would want to recruit charter teachers to their ranks. Unions define success in large part by the number of members they have and how much they collect in membership dues. Members and money equal influence at the statehouse, and in recent years the OEA has been losing both to charter schools.  As far back at 2006, the OEA shared with its members a paper entitled “The Current State of Ohio’s Charter School Program.” In it they declared that “the charter school program in Ohio is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to ‘dismantle’ public education.” It noted that “charter schools have...

Drop-out recovery charter schools annually serve about 20 percent of Ohio’s 100,000 charter students but have never been held accountable for the performance of their students. Ohio’s Senate Bill 316 (SB 316) would change this by requiring the creation and enforcement of standards for these schools. The legislation empowers Ohio’s Board of Education to set accountability standards but also leaves open what these standards will actually be.

As the House considers SB 316, lawmakers need to balance the demand for high standards for recovery charters with the unique student composition and testing challenges associated with these schools. Further, lawmakers should understand the benefit of drop-out recovery schools to the graduation rates of traditional public high schools.

First, by definition, drop-out recovery charters primarily serve dropouts or students at risk of dropping out. This fact alone requires a different perspective of what “student achievement” means—and the approaches required for student success. Because dropout recovery charters enroll mostly high-poverty and highly underperforming students, an apple-to-apples comparison of dropout recovery charter performance to traditional high school standards of success seems unreasonable.

Second, legislators should consider how dropout recovery charters actually benefit public school districts. They do this is in a couple ways: first,...

The Connecticut General Assembly wisely tabled an aberrant lottery scheme for charter schools when it passed a sweeping education reform bill this week. An earlier version of the legislation that emerged from a caucus between Democratic leaders and union officials would have upended school choice by building enrollment at new charter schools with the names of students drawn from the district. Students would have been forced to opt out of the charter if they preferred their district school.

Charter schools are different by design and they develop their strength when parents, students, and teachers buy into their mission.

Lawmakers now want to study the “feasibility” of such an opt-out plan before rushing into it and ordered the state Department of Education to report back with recommendations in two years. This might be an agile way to retreat from a bad idea, but legislators should have killed the plan before committing state resources to its study.

Charter schools are different by design and they develop their strength when parents, students, and teachers buy into their mission. An opt-out lottery would tailor charters into one-size that tries to meet the needs of every student and turn them into the first...

Where are the wild things?

Checker joins Mike on the podcast to recount his recent investigation of Asian gifted education and predict the outcome of California’s waiver gambit, while Amber has some issues with a recent report on the Common Core’s potential.

Amber's Research Minute

William Schmidt Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement - Download the Powerpoint

This pithy report from James Merriman’s New York City Charter School Center offers a look at the state of play among Big Apple charters. It brims with useful statistics framed around four central questions: Who are the students? What choices do charters provide? What are their results? And what is the outlook for their future? To (partially) answer these questions: 136 charters in NYC enroll 47,000 students, representing a 4 percent market share—though these schools are concentrated in Harlem, Central Brooklyn, and South Bronx. For perspective, 25 percent of students in Harlem attend charters. Seventy-five percent of students in charters are low income—comparable to district schools. Sixty percent are black, compared to 30 percent of district students, while 30 percent are Hispanic (versus 40 percent in district schools). Compared to district schools, the charter sector serves smaller percentages of SPED and ELL students and has higher average teacher- and principal-turnover rates. (But—kudos to the charters—they’ve got stronger pupil attendance!) On the achievement front, charters fare better at teaching students math; they’re on par with district schools for ELA and their ELL students appear more likely to pass the...

Has Connecticut witnessed “meaningful education reform,” as its governor claimed this week? Both reformers and teacher-union leaders have answered yes, which leaves Gadfly scratching his head. So what happened? Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy agreed to legislation that somewhat toughens teacher evaluations, enhances transparency in school spending, provides Connecticut’s (few) charter schools the most money they’ve ever seen, and empowers the state with more latitude to turn around poor performing schools. With progress, however, comes concession. Performance evaluations that determine whether teachers receive tenure will be piloted in just a handful of districts, and they lack the bite of the reforms proposed by Malloy three months ago. The legislation also confines the education commissioner to intervene in only twenty-five of the lowest-achieving schools over three years and limits his ability to turn them around. (The bill limits private management to just six of the twenty-five schools and prohibits for-profit providers from taking over any school.) And unions retain their ability to bargain over the impact of these changes. Still, the steps are substantial for a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature. The Nutmeg State has made room for more accountability and greater school choice. That counts for something....

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told the Columbus Dispatch back in 2007, about his city’s rapidly declining population, that, “Our problem is families with children. People are making their choices based on education, and if I am able to make our school district a district of choice where people want to put their children because of excellence, then I can guarantee you that our population reduction will come to a halt.” In the last decade, Cleveland’s school age population has shrunk by 10,000 children, and those left behind are largely poor, minority, and struggling academically.

On the Corner...
Ensuring a bright future for Cleveland and its education system requires taking chances.
 Photo by Laszlo Ilyes.

It is in the hope of stemming the loss of families and children that the mayor has proposed his bold school-reform plan that seeks to turn the city’s educational fortunes around. There are many worthy parts to his plan (see here for details), and one of the boldest sections calls for changes to how charter schools operate...

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's ambitious school reform plan includes many bold changes to how education works in that city, including the creation of a "Transformation Alliance" empowered to veto proposed start-up charter schools that don’t meet its standards for quality. Today, on the Ohio Gadfly Daily blog, Fordham VP for Ohio Policy and Programs Terry Ryan announced that the organization would be willing to pilot a vetting process led by the Transformation Alliance.

Terry explains,

we have doubts about the proposed Transformation Alliance and the scope of its authority, we fully understand, appreciate, and share Mayor Jackson’s frustration with the current system of charter school quality control in his city, and indeed across the state. We believe the charter community has a responsibility to offer the mayor and the city of Cleveland a workable solution to a real problem.

As a result,

Fordham—which expects to authorize one school in Cleveland in 2012-13—would willingly be the first to go through a vetting process led by the Transformation Alliance. We would see this as an opportunity to partner with the mayor and the Cleveland school district in working to create more and better school options for children and families who badly...