Charters & Choice

The Seventy Four had a simple goal: to make the 2016 presidential election season one in which candidates could pause in their frenzy of backstabbing and baby kissing to talk about education. In a first-of-its-kind education forum, the site (with the help of sponsor and cohost the American Federation for Children) invited presidential candidates to discuss their vision for public schools. Republicans spoke in August, and Democrats were supposed to take their turn later this month.

But as Politico recently reported, the Democrats declined their invitations. It’s a missed opportunity. Worse, nobody seems to know why the candidates backed out.

Campbell Brown, the Seventy Four’s co-founder and would-be forum moderator, says it’s due to pressure from teachers’ unions (both the AFT and NEA have publically endorsed Hillary Clinton). “What happened here is very clear: The teachers’ unions have gotten to these candidates,” Brown told Politico. “All we asked is that these candidates explain their vision for public education in this country, and how we address the inequality that leaves so many poor children behind.” Representatives from the unions, unsurprisingly, won’t verify her claim. More troubling, the candidates won’t comment on their refusal to join in the debate. They’re remaining...

Since the civil rights era, the United States has struggled with how best to integrate schools—and today is no different, as concerns mount over signs of school re-segregation. This report by the Century Foundation’s Halley Potter argues that charter schools might have a role to play, by using their “flexibility, funding, and political viability” to solve various integration problems.

Charter schools can prove helpful in at least five ways: available funding, the ability to enroll children across district lines, program and curricular autonomy, independent leadership and management, and battle-hardened political effectiveness. As integration programs continue to struggle against political barriers (frequently about funding), school choice leaders could prove to be valuable allies.

Two examples of successful and charter-backed inter-district integration are the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies and Connecticut’s Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC). The Mayoral Academy schools draw their students from four districts, two urban and two suburban, which encompass a broad socioeconomic range. The schools use a weighted lottery system to ensure that they admit an equal number of students from the urban and suburban areas and that at least half of their enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Not only has the school...

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) sees itself as an “independent watchdog of foundations.” But is clearly an organization with a strong “social justice” bent. It should surprise no one that this report from its Philamplify unit looks largely askance at the Walton Family Foundation’s grant making in education. WFF and NCRP may both get out of bed each morning resolved to advance the cause of social justice, but they operate on very different theories of action. Everything that follows is a function of these differences.

For example, the report criticizes WFF’s “overreliance” on market-based reform vehicles. This is a bit like criticizing a fish for its overreliance on water. Walton’s support of charter schools and choice does not “hinder the transformative potential of the foundation’s education program”; it is the transformative potential of its program. Similarly, the report holds that the expansion of high-quality charter schools and related advocacy have created “meaningful benefits for individual students and families, but have not achieved far-reaching, sustainable and equitable system-wide improvement”—a finding that is a mere two or three generations premature (and elides the utter failure of much longer-standing democratic institutions to bring about those same ends).

Affluent Americans, by dint...

  • No offence to the great Michelle Pfeiffer or Morgan Freeman, but it seems like the last thing the world needs is another account of a crusading educator helping gang members turn their lives around. (The scenario isn’t improbable, exactly, just overexposed; things might seem fresher if studios ever made movies about social workers ministering to white collar crooks or county clerks counseling unwed mothers.) But there’s a great story this week about John King, tied to the announcement of his appointment as acting secretary of education, that may restore your faith in the subgenre. While serving the department in a lesser role this August, he met with a group of former convicts at Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles organization that provides resources to ex-offenders. King was probably the ideal man for the setting. Orphaned by the age of twelve and later expelled from high school, he could have very easily fallen into delinquency himself; plus, he had to face down throngs of screaming Common Core opponents in his former job as the New York State education commissioner, so he’s definitely not daunted by tough rooms. But if King can share space with hardened felons and irate
  • ...

On October 7, 2015, the Ohio legislature overwhelmingly passed House Bill 2 (HB 2). The bill significantly strengthens the accountability structures that govern Ohio’s charter sector without compromising the school level autonomy that is critical to the charter school model. If implemented with fidelity, the bill’s provisions hold the promise of dramatically improving the educational outcomes for the 120,000 students who attend more than 350 Ohio charter schools. This landmark reform legislation has had months of public hearings and debate, and it won bi-partisan support in both the Senate and the House. The key areas of reform are as follows:

1. Strengthening State Oversight of Sponsors[1]

As the entities responsible for opening schools and holding them accountable for performance, sponsors are the gatekeepers of overall charter-sector quality. HB 2 ensures that only high-quality sponsors are allowed to authorize schools by requiring sponsors to obtain state approval before sponsoring schools and by strengthening the sponsor-evaluation system.

A. State approval of sponsors

  • Requires all new and existing sponsors (except two[2]) to enter into a contract with ODE in order to sponsor schools.
  • Requires such contracts to include stipulations on when ODE can intervene or
  • ...

Fordham, which sponsors (a.k.a. authorizes) eleven charter schools across the state, is proud to see two of its Columbus-area schools and their leaders featured in the news recently.

United Preparatory Academy

Columbus Alive, a weekly alternative paper focused on arts, culture, and entertainment, gave credit to United Schools Network for its work in revitalizing Franklinton, one of the city’s most up-and-coming neighborhoods. Even cooler than the artist lofts, tattoo shops, and hipster-filled farmers’ markets (and arguably more critical to the community’s long-term health), United Schools is providing a high-quality educational option for families living there. United Preparatory Academy (UPrep) opened in 2014 and serves students from kindergarten to second grade, one-quarter of whom come directly from the neighborhood. Columbus Collegiate West—a replication of United’s award-winning Columbus Collegiate Academy, located on the city’s east side—opened in the same building in 2012 and serves students from grades six through eight. UPrep will continue adding a grade each year until meeting up with Columbus Collegiate West to create a K–8 building.

United Schools Founder and Chief Executive Officer Andy Boy recognizes United’s role in long-term community transformation, as the Franklinton Development Association recruits homeowners who are...

The Akron Beacon Journal recently reported on the struggles of Next Frontier Academy, a charter school whose failures have included incomplete student records, missing funds, inflated enrollment figures, an inability to make payroll and rent, and student-on-student (and student-on-staff) violence that went unreported to the police. This type of educational malpractice ought to make everyone angry—especially charter school supporters and allies. Mercifully—for its forty students and Ohio’s taxpayers alike—the school closed this summer.

The closure isn’t an anomaly in the Buckeye State. Since the charter school movement’s inception in 1997, over two hundred schools have shut their doors. According to the Beacon Journal, “more charter schools closed last year than at any point in the industry’s seventeen-year history in Ohio.”

Closure isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. It certainly isn’t proof that the movement has failed, as some critics suggest. Charter schools that are under-enrolled, financially unstable, or academically deficient should be closed. This feature sets them apart from traditional public schools that stay open forever regardless of performance, and it should be embraced. Moreover, evidence suggests that students are the winners when low-performing schools are closed, despite the initial disruption and inconvenience that may occur. A Fordham...

In the age of charter schools, Common Core, test-based teacher evaluations, and other hot-button education reform issues, Catholic schools have largely taken a backseat in our public conversations. When we do read about them in the media, it is often bad news: financial struggles, declining enrollment, closures. As recently as last week, headlines have spoken of the “demise” of urban Catholic schools.

As the superintendent of Partnership Schools, a network of six Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx, I know the challenges our schools face. But the mood of gloom and doom misses the bigger story—an unprecedented partnership among parents, teachers, church leaders, and philanthropists that is setting the stage for an urban Catholic school revival.

This week, between his Pope Francis’s visit with world leaders at the United Nations and his audience with tens of thousands at Madison Square Garden, he has chosen to make a quiet stop to visit with students and families at one of the schools in our network, Our Lady Queen of Angels.

This is the first time a pope has ever visited an American parochial school, and his timing couldn’t be better. Francis brings with him a renewed focus on the service and social...

In the fall of 1996, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) implemented a new accountability system that placed 20 percent of its schools on “probation.” Poor reading test scores made up the sole criterion for censure, and those scarlet-lettered schools were plastered on the front page of both Chicago newspapers. A new study by Peter Rich and Jennifer Jennings of NYU takes a look at enrollment changes in these “probation schools,” both before and after the imposition of the new accountability system. The authors attempt to determine if the addition of new information (“This school is not performing up to par”) motivated more or different school change decisions among families.

1996 may seem like ancient history to education reformers, but the study illustrates the perennial power of information to motivate school choice decisions. In 1996, CPS had (as it still does) an open enrollment policy that allows any family to choose any school in the district other than their assigned one, provided there is space available. Since the district provided no transportation to students either before or after the policy was imposed, that issue was moot. The number of schools and seats within the district also stayed the same. In other...

If KIPP were a geographic school district, it would roughly be the nation’s sixty-fifth largest, somewhere between Boston and El Paso. With 162 schools and nearly sixty-thousand students, it’s also growing like kudzu, courtesy of a five-year, $50 million scale-up grant awarded in 2010 through the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) program. At that time, KIPP’s stated goal was to double in size while maintaining its positive impact on kids.

Taxpayers seem to be getting a solid return on that investment. A new report from Mathematica, which contracted with the KIPP Foundation under the terms of the i3 grant, finds that “network-wide, KIPP schools have positive, statistically significant, and educationally meaningful impacts on student achievement, particularly at the elementary and middle school grades.” The picture is murkier at the high school level, where KIPP had “educationally meaningful impacts” on students who were new to the network. No statistically significant effects were found among students continuing from KIPP middle schools, however. Still, the high schools have positive effects on “several aspects of college preparation, including discussions about college, applying to college, and course taking.”

The study is based on both lottery-based and quasi-experimental designs in eight KIPP elementary...