Charters & Choice

Since last December, charter schools have been a hot topic in Ohio. Because of scandals in the Ohio Department of Education and the missteps of some Ohio charter schools, many folks in Ohio have a negative view of the entire sector. Fortunately, there are several networks across the nation that challenge the assertion that charters are mismanaged, failed experiments. Even better, recent developments in the Ohio charter sector—including better laws, better funding, and new grant money—increase the possibility that Ohio could woo some of these high-performing charter networks to the Buckeye State. Let’s examine a few of the networks that Ohio should consider recruiting.

Noble Network of Charter Schools

Who they are: The Noble Network operates seventeen schools in Chicago (sixteen high schools and one middle school) and serves approximately eleven thousand students from more than seventy Chicago communities. The first Noble school was opened in 1999 by two Chicago Public Schools teachers. The network’s mission is to prepare low-income students for college and life; the student population is 98 percent minority and 89 percent low-income. Noble uses extended school days (and years) and offers athletics and arts programs. Its...

  • If there’s one thing we know about standardized testing, it’s that parents absolutely loathe it. With outrage building across the country over Common Core and its affiliated assessments, it’s no surprise that scads of irate parents have been pulling their kids out of tests. Why, just look at the public opinion polli—oh, that’s weird. According to a new survey conducted by the Education Post, parents aren’t actually incandescent with anti-assessment fervor. Forty-four percent of polled parents say that the tests are fair, versus 38 percent who claim that they’re unfair (18 percent say that they’re unsure). The results pretty closely track those of the 2015 Education Next poll, which found that two-thirds of both parents and the public at large support federally mandated testing. All polls come with caveats (a slight manipulation of wording can skew results dramatically), but reformers should greet these results as welcome evidence of parental patience and wisdom.
  • Chicago was probably a lot more fun in the 1920s, when bootleg liquor flowed freely, gangsters and molls packed the speakeasies, and tough guys spontaneously broke into Bugsy Malone-style song. The good news is that the outlaw tradition carries on in the school district:
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In December 2014, Ohio Governor John Kasich promised wholesale charter school reform in the new year. “We are going to fix the lack of regulation on charter schools,” Kasich remarked. Now, thanks to the fearless leadership of the governor and members of the legislature, Ohio has revamped its charter law. Most impressively, the charter legislation that overwhelmingly passed last week drew bipartisan support and praise from editorial boards across the state.

It’s been a long road to comprehensive charter reform in Ohio. When the Buckeye State enacted its charter law in 1997, it became a national pioneer in charter quantity. Disappointingly, it has not been a leader on quality. To be sure, there are examples of phenomenal charter schools. Yet too many have struggled, and a surprising number of Ohio charters have failed altogether. The predictable result is that on average, Ohio charter school students have fallen behind academically. A 2014 study by CREDO found Buckeye charter students losing forty-three days of learning in math and fourteen days of learning in reading relative to their district peers.

As regular Gadfly readers know, we at Fordham have consistently voiced concerns about our home state’s ailing charter sector. In our view, many of these...

Matt Barnum

In a series of blog posts (IIIIIIIV), Jay Greene argues against the “high-regulation approach” to school choice. I’m going to focus on the final two posts, in which Greene argues that student achievement tests are poor proxies for school quality and that they’re not correlated with other measures of quality.

I think Greene is right to a large extent. But he undersells the value of tests.

It’s pretty clear that the ability of a school or teacher to increase students’ standardized test scores is associated with long-run outcomes. Let’s dig in to some evidence:

  • The well-known Chetty study used a rigorous quasi-experiment to show that teachers with high value-added scores (which are based on standardized tests) produced higher income, greater college attendance, and lower teen pregnancy among students. (In the comments of his post, Greene acknowledges this study but describes the effects as small. I disagree, considering we are describing the effects of a single teacher at a single grade level.)
  • A different Chetty study reports that “students who were randomly assigned to higher-quality classrooms in grades K–3—as measured by classmates' end-of-class test scores—have higher earnings, college attendance rates, and other outcomes.”
  • Hanushek finds that international academic achievement
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In case you’ve been hibernating away from news lately, the Ohio General Assembly passed landmark charter school law reform legislation yesterday. HB 2 had a long gestation and filled up a lot of news coverage over that time. The clearing of the final hurdle did not disappoint in terms of additional coverage. Here’s a selection:

  1. To many observers, the biggest hurdle was not the floor votes in the House and Senate, but the conference committee that took up the Senate changes to the original House bill. The concern was that the bill would come out of committee “watered down” or compromised in its efforts to strengthen accountability and transparency for charter schools and their sponsors and operators. In the end, it came out of conference on Tuesday unscathed and with bicameral and bipartisan support. As Fordham’s Chad Aldis said, “It contains provisions that charter advocates and opponents alike have urged for a decade.” Whew. (Columbus Dispatch, 10/6/15)
     
  2. The AP also covered the favorable report of HB2 out of the conference committee. As Chad told them, “This won't
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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
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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
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