Charters & Choice

A juvenile display of rhetoric over a proposed parent
trigger in the Florida Senate last Friday underscored a need to introduce some
clear-headed thinking into a polarizing debate. While senators in the Sunshine State killed
the trigger in their 20-20 split vote
, similar bills remain under
consideration in more than a dozen states. With that in mind, Choice Words has developed some
legislative guidance for more informative inquiry.

I would have done anything to stop the childish dialogue among Florida senators to ask these questions about the trigger.

Really, these are just the questions I’ve had about the
trigger, and I would have done anything to stop the childish dialogue among Florida senators to ask
them. Eight moderate Republicans joined 12 Democrats to vote the trigger down,
and nearly all of them were seized by the threat of “privatization” and
for-profit charter schools. Not a word on whether parents can take on the
burden of running a low-performing school or turning it over to a charter
manager. Not a word on whether it should require more than a simple majority of
parents to make such a drastic change. Legislators missed an opportunity to
bring clarity to a discussion now ruled by passion. For the Senate Democratic
minority leader, Nan Rich, the
trigger did nothing
but lay “the groundwork for the hostile corporate
takeover of public schools across Florida.”

For the legislator who...

What follows is an
edited transcript of my remarks at a Century Foundation panel held on
Wednesday,
The Future
of School Integration
, about a new book by the same name. The speakers included the book’s editor, Richard
Kahlenberg, as well as contributors Stephanie Aberger, Marco Basile, and Sheneka
Williams, and fellow commenter Derek Black of Howard University’s Law School.

There are three points I want to make today.

  • It’s important that those of us who support
    socio-economic integration don’t oversell the evidence, and I’m worried that in
    the book and in today’s comments we’re doing some of that.
  • We shouldn’t pit controlled choice against other
    forms of school choice, especially charter schools.
  • We need to think of controlled choice not just
    as a means of integrating schools; we need to think of diverse schools as a
    choice in and of themselves.

Let me take each of these points in turn.

On not overselling
the evidence

I think it’s a mistake to say, as Marco did, that we’ve
known since the Coleman Report that integrated schools do better. We know that
there’s a relationship. Rick goes into this in his book, looking at NAEP scores
and other evidence, and you can see that in schools with more integration,
students perform better—especially poor and minority students. But that does
not necessary prove that school integration “works.”

Those of...

Congratulations to KIPP: Central Ohio Executive Director
Hannah Powell (who was the school leader for the past several years) and the entire
staff at KIPP:
Journey Academy
for the school’s EPIC Silver Gain Award from New Leaders
for New Schools.

The EPIC
(Effective Practice Incentive Community
) award recognizes schools that make
substantial gains in student academic growth. In partnership with Mathematica Policy Research, student
test data are analyzed, and schools with the highest gains are selected as
winners. To be eligible for an EPIC award, schools must have student populations
of at least 30 percent eligible free and reduced-price lunch (over 90 percent
of KIPP Journey students are considered economically disadvantaged) , submit three
years of state test score data for all students, and be willing to share their
effective practices with NLNS EPIC partners. As part of the award, KIPP:
Journey Academy will receive approximately $50,000 to be distributed among its
staff.

Of the 179 charter schools from 24 states and the District
of Columbia that participated, only 14 winners
were selected, and KIPP: Journey Academy was the only school in Ohio - and the
only KIPP school nationally- to receive an award.

On behalf of the school, Ms. Powell said, “We are thrilled
and honored that KIPP: Journey received this award. This award recognizes the
dedication of our teachers and staff as they...

Lawmakers in at least 10 states are considering a policy
shift that would bring more educational choices to an especially vulnerable
population of students: the special education voucher.  They are taking inspiration from a pioneering
effort in Florida,
the McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities, which already is
emulated in six other states. This program has saved taxpayers money while
satisfying participating families. What’s more, teacher unions seem disinclined
to mount a legal challenge to a program that benefits students with special
needs, though they remain eager to fight other voucher programs.

But are happy families and budget savings enough? What about
academic achievement? Do the private schools these kids attend teach them
anything? How does their performance compare with those of special-needs kids
who remain in public schools? Right now, we simply don’t know.

Currently, 28,800 special-education students receive
publicly funded private-school scholarships in seven states. Florida’s McKay program serves nearly 80
percent of those youngsters; according
to Manhattan Institute scholar Marcus A. Winters,
it’s “a nearly ideal
template” for policy makers to consider. The Sunshine State’s
Legislature established it 13 years ago with the encouragement of then-governor
Jeb Bush, and today the program enjoys modest bipartisan support of a sort
seldom found with vouchers of any kind. Last year, the McKay program served
about 22,200 students, about 6 percent of the 340,000 young Floridians with
special needs...

Ask
almost any leader of a growing urban charter school about their biggest
worries, and real estate is likely to be at the top of the list. City-dwelling
young parents want schools that are convenient to their homes and—increasingly—public
transit. Government has (appropriately) high expectations of school buildings
but provides little to no money for charter school facilities in most
jurisdictions. Educators and school leaders want all of the above to provide a
fantastic experience for their students—without breaking the bank. This is not
something the real estate market can provide in most cities. 

Newark skyline II
Cities like Newark, New Jersey are experimenting with creative uses of space to improve education options.
Photo by William F. Yurasko.

To
make the problem even more difficult, city centers are redeveloping, with
entire neighborhoods gentrifying, building mixed-use housing and innovative
commercial spaces. Young professionals who a generation ago might have fled for
the ‘burbs as they settled into careers and started having children are now
staying. This has resulted in vibrant, revitalized neighborhoods—but the
pressure continues to build on large urban school districts to provide
high-quality seats to meet the needs created by this cultural shift. 

Increased
density and the creative reuse of...

Save the podcast!

Mike and Janie make the case for keeping the Education Gadfly Show going with witty analysis of Common Core critics, student discipline follies, and the GOP’s education conundrum. Amber delves into teacher dissatisfaction and Chris asks “What’s up with that?” one last time.

Amber's Research Minute

 The MetLife survey of The American Teacher - Download the PDF

What's Up With That?

Teacher's health insurance policy includes free plastic surgery.

The conventional wisdom among reformers today is that “we know what to do, but we don’t have
the political will to do it.” I’d frame it differently: We increasingly have good policies in
place, but we don’t know how to turn them into reality. And because most policies
aren’t self-implementing, we have to solve the problem of “delivery” if reform is going to add up to more than a hill of beans.

Those of us at the Fordham Institute (and our partners at the
Center for American Progress) have been making the case that the governance structures of U.S. public education impede our
ability to do implementation right. Local school districts—with their elected school boards, susceptibility to interest group
capture, and lack of scale—aren’t always inclined or well suited to turn legislative reforms into
real change on the ground. I’ve wondered out
lou
d whether we should
abolish school districts and run the whole kit and caboodle out of state
departments of education.

Think of it as a
private-sector department of education.

That’s still a tantalizing idea, but probably too radical for anyone to
take seriously in the immediate future. So here’s an
alternative: How about creating a “virtual" education ministry that school districts would choose to associate with voluntarily?
(Creating more than one of these entities would even better.) Think of it as a
private-sector department...

After a decade of tragedy and rebirth, New Orleans (America’s best city for school reform) stands as a
unique model for districts looking to reboot their frozen K-12 systems. This
report explains how other cities can replicate NOLA’s impressive
transformation. Written by Public Impact for New Schools for New Orleans (and paid for from a federal i3
grant), it focuses on three key areas of reform needed to develop a successful,
predominantly charter system: governance and accountability, human capital, and
school development. Under each heading, the reader receives specific policy
recommendations, as well as key lessons and insights from New Orleans’s own experience. (Example:
Ensure strong political footing early—something the authors say didn’t happen
for NOLA’s reform effort.) Without hubris, the authors acknowledge that this
guide is but a starting point. Even in New
Orleans, much work remains by way of recruiting and
developing quality teachers and finding the path to long-term sustainability.
Still and all, the quick uptick of student achievement under the Big Easy’s
reinvented public education system is impressive: 2005 to 2011 saw the
percentage of students attending “academically unacceptable” schools decrease
by 38 percentage points—even as standards went up. The guide deserves attention
from those interested in reforming education in other American cities: Make its
“preparedness checklist” your first stop.

Dana Brinson, Lyria Boast,
Bryan C. Hassel, and Neerav Kingsland, New...

Fordham has worked in Dayton – as a funder, charter-school
authorizer, and charter-school advocate – to push for the creation and growth
of high quality charter schools since 1998. Over the last decade one of the
highest performing charter school clusters in the city has been the Richard
Allen (RA) Schools (RA has three schools in Dayton that serve about 800
children). Over the years I’ve spent time with the leaders of Richard Allen,
visited their schools, and even helped judge their annual debate competition.
In short, I have always been impressed by both the educators and the students
I’ve met and worked with from the RA schools and believe the schools delivered
quality education to students.

It is because of these personal connections to the schools
over the years that I found the recent “Special
Audit of the Richard Allen Academy Schools
” such painful and disturbing reading.
The Special Audit provided a litany of “missing money, missing records and
self-dealing” that has led to $929,850 in findings for recovery. The audit
describes a situation where public dollars were used without any basic accountability
or transparency. It reads as if the schools’ leadership considered the schools
a private operation free of any responsibility for how the state dollars were
spent. There also seemed little understanding as to whom the public resources
were meant to support.

For...

Florida
is the next state poised to establish a “parent trigger,” should its
Republican-controlled Senate pass the measure when it reaches the floor during
the final days of a contentious legislative session. Designed largely after California’s model, the
bill adopts all the strengths of the trigger while addressing none of its
shortcomings. While the Golden State is the inspiration for ambitious lawmakers with
itchy trigger fingers, there is no indication they have learned anything from
the awkward and confusing rollout in California.

Instead, Florida legislators are
using taut political muscle
to join California, Mississippi and Texas in
the attempt to empower parents to go so far as to convert a failing school into
a charter—and they’re trying to maneuver the legislation through committee
stops while leaving little time for debate. But if lawmakers try to take this
out of the sunshine, they’re only going to sow the same confusion that has
frustrated Californians.

If lawmakers try to take this
out of the sunshine, they’re only going to sow the same confusion that has
frustrated Californians.

Only the second attempted trigger in California ended in failure two weeks ago.
Organizers at Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto had, at one point, convinced
a supermajority of parents to sign a petition to trigger reforms before nearly
100 of them backed out. The Parent Revolution, which organized the Desert
Trails campaign, says
...

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