Charters & Choice

Foreword by Michael J. Petrilli and Amber M. Northern
Report by Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel

Download the full reportforeword and executive summary, and the base report.

In Pre-K and Charter Schools: Where State Policies Create Barriers to Collaboration, authors Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel examine thirty-six jurisdictions that have both charter schools and state-funded pre-K programs to determine where charters can provide state-funded pre-K. Among the findings:
  • Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have both state-funded pre-K and charter laws. Of those, thirty-two have at least one charter school serving preschoolers.
  • Charter schools in all but four states face at least one significant barrier to offering state pre-K. Nine have statutory or policy barriers that preclude charter schools from offering state-funded pre-K; twenty-three other states technically permit charters to offer state-funded pre-K but have created practical barriers that significantly limit their ability to do so in practice.

The most common practical barriers include low funding levels, small pre-K programs, barriers to kindergarten enrollment, and local district monopolies on pre-K funds.

Recommendations for state policymakers:

  • Ensure that the state's definition of a "charter school" includes pre-K in the activities or grade levels that charters
  • ...

I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of parental choice. I joined this fight over twenty-five years ago because I believe it can help address the systemic inequities so many poor students face. In my mind, the primary purpose of parental choice is to provide those who do not currently have high-quality educational options with access to those options. So while I believe that every student deserves an excellent education in the school that best meets his needs, I also believe that parental choice should be used principally as a tool to empower communities that face systemic barriers to greater educational and economic opportunities. I did not join this movement to subsidize families like mine—which may not be rich, but which have resources and options. I joined the late Polly Williams in 1989 in her courageous fight to make sure that poor families were afforded some opportunity to choose schools in the private sector for their children.

Since then, I have fought alongside many others for parental choice for low-income and working class families throughout the nation. From the beginning, some critics of the parental choice movement have claimed that Republican lawmakers and other conservatives who have...

Scott Walker announced today that he’s running for president. The governor of Wisconsin is the fifteenth Republican candidate and the twentieth overall. He’s also the latest subject of our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Walker has been involved in state politics for over twenty-two years. He was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1993 to 2002, when he was elected executive of Milwaukee County. After serving in that office for eight years, he took the helm as governor in 2011. During his tenure, Walker has focused heavily on education reform—and hasn’t shied away from controversial decisions. Here’s a sampling of his stances:

1. Teacher tenure and pay: “In 2011, we changed that broken system in Wisconsin. Today, the requirements for seniority and tenure are gone. Schools can hire based on merit and pay based on performance. That means they can keep the best and the brightest in the classroom.” June 2015.

2. School choice: “[W]e increased the number of quality education choices all over Wisconsin. Over the past four years, we expanded the number of charter schools, lifted the limits on virtual schools, and provided more help for families choosing to...

Over the last twenty years, Ohio has transformed its vocational schools of yesteryear—saddled with limited programs, narrowly focused tracks, and low expectations—into a constellation of nearly three hundred career and technical education (CTE) locations that embed rigorous academics within a curriculum defined by real-world experience. (For more on Ohio’s CTE programs, see here.) According to a new report from Achieve, these transformations have put the Buckeye State on the cutting edge in CTE.

What sets Ohio apart from other states offering CTE is its commitment to high expectations. This principle was perfectly encapsulated in 2006, when the legislature was debating whether career-technical planning districts (which handle the administrative duties of CTE programs) should be held to the same standards as traditional schools. Many CTE leaders were determined that their students should be held to the same rigorous expectations as other students. Fast forward to the 2014 mid-biennial review legislation, and their determination finally became reality: Ohio now has three pathways to graduation, one of which is designed for CTE students. This pathway requires that any CTE graduate must earn “a state-approved, industry-recognized credential or a state license for practice in a vocation and achieve a score that...

Not much going on in education new at the end of the week, and what there is is all about charter schools:

  1. In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced legislation intended to reform charter school laws across the nation, but especially in Ohio. Coverage begins with the Beacon Journal, which quotes our own Chad Aldis in response to Sen. Brown’s plan to curb “fraud, abuse, waste, mismanagement and misconduct”. Federal legislation of this type “misses the mark,” says Chad, and should be left to individual states. (Akron Beacon Journal, 7/8/15)
  2. This was followed by the Repository, which simply summarized Chad’s statement into the word “overkill” while discussing the new bill, which seems like “underkill” to me. (Canton Repository, 7/9/15)
  3. As usual, the PD goes in depth, noting among other things that Sen. Brown’s bill announcement included reference to the Stanford/CREDO study of charter school performance in Ohio released in December and that Ohio’s currently-stalled charter reform bill addresses many of the issues about which Sen. Brown is concerned. Heck, they even solicited reaction from the senator to Chad’s comments. Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/10/15)
  4. The Blade dispenses with the journalism
  5. ...

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has introduced the Charter School Accountability Act. In making his case for charter school reform, Senator Brown cites a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) showing Ohio charter students lagging their peers in traditional public schools on state assessments.

“While presumably well intentioned, Senator Brown’s effort to scale up federal involvement in public charter schools nationwide based upon a situation in Ohio misses the mark,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Making matters worse, it seemingly ignores the tremendous state work undertaken over the last six months by Governor Kasich and the Ohio legislature to craft the most comprehensive charter school reform legislation in the state’s history—a version of which has already passed both the Ohio House and Senate.”

Senator Brown has also offered the bill language as an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act currently under consideration. Announcement of the legislation was met with strong support from both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

“Unfortunately, Senator Brown’s proposal goes well beyond simply strengthening accountability and transparency,” Aldis added. “The inclusion...

The title of this slim, engaging book of essays tees up a question about which there is very little disagreement. Of course character matters. “Character skills matter at least as much as cognitive skills,” writes Nobel laureate James Heckman in the lead essay, summarizing the literature. “If anything, character matters more.” Since cognitive and non-cognitive skills can be shaped and changed, particularly in early childhood, he writes, “this suggests new and productive avenues for public policy.” It may indeed. But the journey from good idea to good policy is a minefield for both parties, as Third Way policy analyst Lanae Erickson Hatalsky notes in her essay. If Democrats talk about character, “it runs the risk of sounding like apostasy, blaming poor children for their own situation in life and chiding them to simply have more grit and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” (Likewise, the Left dares not invoke the miasma of family structure.) Character talk may feel more at home in Republican talking points, but it carries the risk of foot-in-mouth disease, “setting the stage for politicians to inadvertently say something that sounds patronizing to the poor, demeaning to single women, or offensive to African Americans (or all three).”...

Bobby Jindal recently announced that he’s running for president. The two-term governor of Louisiana is one of fourteen hopefuls in the increasingly crowded race for the GOP primary. He’s also the subject of the eighteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

A lifelong Louisianian, Jindal has been involved in politics since the mid-nineties, when he worked for Governor Murphy Foster. He went on to represent the Bayou State’s First Congressional District for two terms in the House of Representatives, after which he returned to state politics to take Louisiana’s helm. In his long career, he’s had a lot to say about education. Here’s a sampling:

1. Common Core: “We want out of Common Core....We won't let the federal government take over Louisiana's education standards. We're very alarmed about choice and local control of curriculum being taken away from our parents and educators....Common Core's become a one-size-fits-all model that simply doesn't make sense for our state.” June 2014.

2. High Standards: “High standards for our students? Count me in. My dad was not happy with straight As. If my brother or I got a 95 percent, he wanted to know what happened on...

John Dickinson, probably our nation’s most underappreciated founder, argued at the Constitutional Convention, “Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us.”

This can be particularly helpful when thinking about education policy. It gets us away from reasoning primarily through abstractions. Theories can sparkle on the page, but—like exquisite battle plans that perish at first enemy contact—the real world lacks the good manners to blithely approve celebrated ideas.

Education is also prone to fads cooked up by the best and brightest of the moment. The current generation always seems to fancy itself the wisest, the most courageous, the long-awaited possessor of The Answer. But schools have been around forever. There are mountains of accumulated wisdom to study if we’re willing to look up from our Twitter feeds.

A terrific new article by two of our field’s éminences grises shows what experience has to offer above and beyond ideas, ideology, and innovation. In “A Progress Report on Charter Schools,” Checker Finn and Bruno Manno reflect on lessons learned since the publication of their 2000 book Charter Schools in Action.

Finn and...

June marked the end of my first year as superintendent of Partnership Schools, a nonprofit school management organization that (thanks to an historic agreement with the Archdiocese of New York) was granted broad authority to manage and operate six K–8 urban Catholic schools. Our work is one part of a nationwide effort to help save urban Catholic education. It’s a mission that has brought together an amazing group of Catholic educators and philanthropists with a common commitment: to not let this essential element of American education disappear from the communities our schools serve.

The urgency of this work is grounded in the seriousness of the problems our schools face. The Partnership Schools—three in the South Bronx and three in Harlem—have been struggling. Like so many urban Catholic schools subsisting on tuition payments or private philanthropy, our teachers and leaders have been forced to operate on austerity budgets. Salaries have been low. Textbooks have been sorely outdated. Professional development has been thin, and our principals have faced the almost impossible job of juggling tasks ranging from operations to fundraising to parent outreach to managing union grievances—all virtually on their own. They had scant time to serve teachers as instructional leaders and...