Charters & Choice

Adam Emerson
Editor of redefinED

Guest blogger Adam Emerson is editor of the redefinED blog, where this post was first published.

School voucher critics generally approach their job reviewing the research
on school choice with unfair assumptions, and otherwise insightful commentators
risk recycling old canards. This is true with Thomas Toch’s critique
of vouchers in the newest edition of Kappan
, which concludes that voucher
programs haven’t shown enough impact to justify their position in a large-scale
reform effort. Questions of scale can lead to legitimate debate, but we’ll get
nowhere until we acknowledge what’s in the literature.

Questions of scale can lead to legitimate debate, but we’ll get
nowhere until we acknowledge what’s in the literature.

Toch grounds what he calls “the underwhelming record of voucher schools”
first with an anecdotal report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,
which determined that America’s first voucher program “is very much like a
teenager: heart-warmingly good at times, disturbingly bad at others.” The
problem is that this newspaper report is nearly seven years old. We’ve learned
so much since then, and at no time has the peer-reviewed science on the subject
shown the back-and-forth swing from good to bad that the Journal Sentinel
implied in 2005.

John Witte and Patrick Wolf, for instance, gave us
a glimpse this year into their evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice
Program
. Among other findings, they conclude that the competitive pressure
...

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Columbus Preparatory Academy, a K-8 Mosaica-run
charter school on Columbus’s west side that is a poster child for the
successful turnaround of a troubled school.

In 2008, the school was rated F by the state and student
performance on state assessments was abysmal. Today the school is rated
A+
(aka, Excellent with Distinction) and boasts achievement levels that best
that of nearly all of the area’s top-performing schools (and are leaps and
bounds above the state’s definition of “proficiency”). This transformation was
achieved while the school continued serving a challenged student population – about
72 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and eligible for free or
reduced-price lunch – and retained nearly all of the same teachers and staff
members who were working in the school when it was failing (in a school that
now employs 30 teachers, the principal said just seven or eight teachers have
left during his four-year tenure).

So what are the keys to CPA’s success? Two things
immediately stand out:

Leadership. Principal
Chad Carr (who has led the turnaround since taking over the school four years
ago) is committed to the success of his students, staff, and school like few
others in his field. I don’t say that lightly as I know a lot of absolutely
terrific school leaders, but spend five minutes with Carr and...

This annual report from the union-funded National
Education Policy Center (NEPC) profiles the nation’s Education Management Organizations—defined
here as both nonprofit and for-profit entities that manage public schools, both
district and charter. The NEPC offers trends in EMO growth and achievement, as
well as profiles of almost 300 such entities. 
A few interesting tidbits: Enrollment in schools managed by nonprofit
EMOs significantly trumps that of the for-profit kind, yet for-profits have
squeezed into more states (thirty-three vs. nonprofits’ twenty-nine).
For-profit entities disproportionately manage elementary schools (56 percent of
their schools are K-5 compared to 37 percent of nonprofits’). And district
schools managed by nonprofit EMOs fare significantly worse than their charter counterparts on measures of AYP (14
percent of district schools met AYP compared to 56 percent of charters).
Interesting stuff, but beware of simplistic conclusions. These descriptive data
are helpful, but can’t begin to tell us about the effectiveness of these
respective organizations. For that, at least on the nonprofit side, see the
Center on Reinventing Education’s pioneering work on
CMOs instead.

Gary Miron, Jessica Urschel,
Mayra A. Yat Aguilar, and Breanna Dailey, “Profiles of
For-Profit and Nonprofit Education Management Organizations: Thirteenth Annual
Report
” (Boulder, CO:
National Education Policy
Center, January 2012).

What
does online learning really cost? Can it, in fact, be both better in terms of
improving student achievement and overall less expensive than traditional
bricks and mortar schools? These fundamental questions are what the Fordham
Institute’s new paper, “The Cost of Online Learning”, gamely tries to tackle. In
short, paper shows that online learning has the potential to save education
money while also improving the quality of instruction available to students.

The
Parthenon Group
(the national research firm that helped craft Ohio’s
winning Race to the Top application) provided the research. They conducted more
than 50 interviews with entrepreneurs, policy experts and school leaders across
the country to come up with “an informed set of estimates regarding the cost of
virtual and blended schools” across five categories – labor (teacher and
administrators), content acquisition, technology and infrastructure, school
operations, and student support.

Using
these five categories as the basis of comparison the researchers compared a
“typical” traditional model (brick and mortar school where instruction is
delivered by teachers), a “typical” blended model (students attend brick and
mortar schools where they alternate between online and in-person instruction)
and a “typical” full virtual model (all instruction takes place online). In
blended schools like Carpe Diem, Rocketship, and KIPP Empower, technology is
used as a tool to personalize instruction for students who spend part of their
...

STEM education in Ohio is a growing
component of the state’s K-12 system. Metro Early College High School opened as
a STEM school in Columbus in 2007, and since then STEM schools have opened
their doors in metro regions like Dayton, Cincinnati, Akron, and Cleveland. The
schools have drawn millions of dollars in support from state government, local
school districts, the private sector and philanthropy (see here
for details).

So far, however, the state’s STEM
network has not yet opened a school that is aimed at the state’s dynamic
agricultural sector and all that supports it. Senator Chris Widener (a
Republican from Springfield who chairs the Senate Finance Committee) hopes to
tackle this void in the state’s STEM sector. There is a whole lot of merit to
this effort.

As I learned (somewhat surprisingly) in
talking with Sen. Widener, one in seven jobs in Ohio is connected to the “AgBioscience”
sector. This sector comprises food, agriculture, environmental, and bio-based
products industries. As a whole the sector employs about a million workers
statewide with an annual economic impact of over $100 billion a year. It is one
of Ohio’s fastest growing sectors with thousands of jobs going unfilled because
there aren't enough skilled Ohioans to do the work. Consider the following
statistics provided to me by Sen. Widener:

  • Ohio has added on average 59 new bioscience companies a
    year
  • ...

Last
month, the District of Columbia’s
CFO discovered
a nice chunk of unexpected revenue
, some $42 million, had come the city’s
way. The mayor promptly called for half of the money to go to the District’s
public schools. In apparent disregard of the law, however, the mayor wants to
give the whole $21M windfall to DCPS, bailing them out for a loss of federal funding
and mismanagement of the district’s food service and merit pay programs. See
Bill Turque’s characterization of the budget holes this bailout will fill:

DCPS said the extra $21.4 million budgeted by Gray is needed to address
several issues: Congressional cuts in federal payments ($4.5 million); overruns
in food service caused by higher labor and food costs and lower federal
reimbursements ($10.7 million); mandated merit-based salary increases for
teachers ($2.8 million); and the rising cost of excessed non-instructional
employees who were removed from school budgets but are being carried on the
central office books.
Privately, senior Gray administration officials said DCPS finances have
historically been plagued by cost overruns, attributable to persistent
overspending by school system leadership and weak oversight by Gandhi’s office.

Charter
sector leaders in D.C. are incensed that DCPS is getting a huge payout to fill
budget holes while they get nothing. They’re right to be angry. In the hands of
charter school leaders, these funds could go to...

Everyone’s a winner!

The podcast kicks off the new year in style, with special guest commentary from Diane Ravitch on what 2012 will bring. Amber sees charter-school closures as a glass half empty and Chris loves up some celebrations.

Amber's Research Minute Poll

Help us name Amber's weekly poll, pop quiz, whatever you want to call it. Leave a comment with your idea. Extra points given for using Amber's name!

Chris Irvine's What's Up With That?

The controversial Cathedral High School touchdown Chris talks about in this week's episode.



walking feet photo

These feet were made for votin', and that's just what they'll do.
Photo by Josiah Lau Photography

Close on two years after Gary Orfield’s Civil Rights Project
released its influential—and controversial—Choice Without Equality report, another of the Orfield clan is
chastising charters for their level of racial segregation. According to Brother
Myron, charter schools in his home state of Minnesota resemble “the Deep South
in the days of Jim Crow segregation,” as these schools cater to niche student
markets—often of the same race. At Dugsi Academy, for example, the school’s
all-black student population studies Arabic and Somali: The school has a
mission of educating East African children in the Twin Cities. A few miles down
the road, students at the Twin Cities German Immersion School, who are 90
percent white, are immersed in German language and cultural studies. Myron is
right that these “boutique” charters are racially homogeneous. But Orfield is
missing a few structural beams in his tower of rhetoric. The most crucial: This
type of “segregation” is both self-selected and voluntary. “Some people call it
segregation. This is the parent’s choice. They can go anywhere they want. We
are offering families something unique,” explains Dugsi’s director. Instead of
...

STEM education in Ohio is a growing component of
the state’s K-12 system. Metro Early College High School opened as a STEM
school in Columbus in 2007, and since then STEM schools have opened their doors
in metro regions like Dayton, Cincinnati, Akron, and Cleveland. The schools have
drawn millions of dollars in support from state government, local school
districts, the private sector and philanthropy (see here for details).

So far, however, the state’s STEM network has
not yet opened a school that is aimed at the state’s dynamic agricultural
sector and all that supports it. Senator Chris Widener (a Republican from
Springfield who chairs the Senate Finance Committee) hopes to tackle this void
in the state’s STEM sector. There is a whole lot of merit to this effort.

As I learned (somewhat surprisingly) in talking
with Sen. Widener, one in seven jobs in Ohio is connected to the “AgBioscience”
sector. This sector comprises food, agriculture, environmental, and bio-based
products industries. As a whole the sector employs about a million workers statewide
with an annual economic impact of over $100 billion a year. It is one of Ohio’s
fastest growing sectors with thousands of jobs going unfilled because there
aren't enough skilled Ohioans to do the work. Consider the following statistics
provided last week by Sen. Widener:

  • Ohio
    has added on average 59 new bioscience companies a year since 2004,
  • ...
The Education Gadfly

Few topics in education polarize policymakers, educators,
parents, and the American people in general as consistently as school choice.
Charter school advocates often shy from vouchers; homeschooling proponents don’t
necessarily support digital learning. Fordham’s new Choice Words blog will
explore America’s diversity of schooling options and the controversies that
often surround them, featuring guest blog posts from experts and commentary
from several Fordham authors. Be sure to check out past articles and keep an
eye on this blog for the introduction of Fordham’s newest voice, our
director of the Program on Parental Choice....

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