Charters & Choice

The first union to ever organize a Massachusetts charter school has disbanded. What was once hailed as a “historic organizing victory” by the American Federation of Teachers has dissolved after what yesterday’s Boston Globe described as “a long stretch of diminished activity.”

Unions are a poor fit for charters anywhere.

But conditions at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, Massachusetts, have never been good for the union, and they highlight why unions are a poor fit for charters anywhere.

When teachers first organized at the Brighton school four years ago, Marc Kenen, the executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said that he doubted unionization would work. “Generally, charter school teachers join charter schools because they don’t want to work in a unionized atmosphere,” he told the Globe.

Indeed, nearly all of the teachers who established the union left after just a few years, and the Globe reported last year that newer faculty members debated whether to dissolve it. Some said they saw the merit in having a contract but thought the American Federation of Teachers, with whom they were affiliated, cared more about its own agenda than the needs of the charter school.


The redefinED blog has put together its annual calculation of Florida students that take advantage of the state’s many public education alternatives. These include district choice programs such as magnet schools, open enrollment, and International Baccalaureate, as well as charter schools and the Florida Virtual School. Jon East, a former editorial writer at the Tampa Bay Times, relied largely on state Department of Education surveys required of Florida’s sixty-seven school districts to help determine that, in 2011-12, 43 percent of students in Florida public education opted for something other than their zoned school.

With a minor exception, only local school boards are allowed to authorize charter schools in Florida.

Not surprisingly, the state scored high on the Center for Education Reform’s newly released Parent Power Index, which aims to show parents in one state how much power they have over their children’s education compared with those in other states. School choice is a big part of that measurement (teacher quality and transparency are others). Florida landed in second place—1 percentage point on the index behind Indiana. The center remarked, “[Florida] ranks consistently in the top ten for its charter laws. [It] also has been a leader in providing...

In a few weeks, the Los Angeles school board will discuss enacting a moratorium on new charter schools, a measure that one board member claims is necessary to better assess the quality of a sector that now enrolls 15 percent of L.A. pupils. Not only would such a moratorium flout the law—school boards can’t simply set aside their legal obligation to consider charter applications—it would be an irresponsible way to manage charter-school quality. The board should be weeding out bad charters, both extant and prospective, but that’s only half of the job of a charter-school authorizer (and a difficult job at that). The board would be more effective—and more convincing when they say they care about charter students—if they made the effort to find new and promising providers to replace the failures. But, as with many moves like this, school-board members here seem intent on slowing the growth of charters by artificially capping enrollment (the wait list for L.A. charters is presently about 10,000). The board tried unsuccessfully to impose a moratorium on charters six years ago, just as the city became the first in the United States to contain 100 such schools, and it has become more antagonistic ever...

A college political science professor of mine once used this analogy to understand politicians: “There are two types of politicians: the ‘show ponies’ and the ‘workhorses.’” The show ponies, he would say, are politicians who love—and seek—the limelight. They’re the Fox News politicians. The workhorses, in contrast, are the politicians who memorize an assembly’s rules and grind away at legislative writing.

The Windy City is the moment’s education show pony. The drama of Chicago’s teachers’ strike, chalk-full of a furious teacher’s union, the tough-talking mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and the veil of presidential politics have shone the spotlight on Chicago. For four days during the week of September 11 to 17 the strike made the front page of The New York Times. As theatrical show—yes, with some substance to boot—one cannot get much better than Chicago, September 2012.

The Windy City is the moment's education show pony, but the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead.

While the show’s been going on in Chicago, the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead. In Dayton, education leaders are working toward higher quality charter schools, are implementing blended learning models into their classrooms, and are worrying about a fair and efficient school...

Los Angeles was the first American city to claim 100 charter schools, a milestone it reached in 2006. The California Charter Schools Association embraced the moment by telling reporters that “Los Angeles Unified has quickly become the nationwide leader in promoting innovative public school options, like charter schools, to tackle the challenges of low student achievement and overcrowding.”

The Los Angeles school board can’t simply set aside its legal obligation to consider a charter application.

In the years since, the district has grown more antagonistic towards a burgeoning charter sector that presently serves about 15 percent of the city’s public school students. And the state charter association has become increasingly frustrated. Now that a board member has proposed a moratorium on new charters, the association has responded by calling the move “blatantly illegal.”

It’s right. The Los Angeles school board can’t simply set aside its legal obligation to consider a charter application. But school board member Steve Zimmer has proposed doing exactly that, supposedly to better examine how charters are complying with state law and district policies. Specifically, Zimmer wants the district to create an oversight panel to more aggressively monitor charters; board members collectively have sought additional...

Thanks in part to the requirements of the Federal Race to the Top program, since 2010 states and districts across the country have adopted teacher evaluation systems that use student achievement as part of the assessment of individual teachers’ performance. Given the amount of energy and political capital the education-reform community has put into developing, negotiating, and implementing these plans, you would think it’s a sure fire way to boost student achievement. Unfortunately, the top-down nature of these changes may very well be undercutting any chance they have to make a real difference for kids.

Top-down systems that bypass or undermine school leaders rarely produce excellence in the classroom.

The problem is not about the details of these evaluation systems—although clearly some are better than others—but rather who should be in the driver’s seat in making the decisions about how to hire, fire, and evaluate teachers. And the reality is that teacher-evaluation reforms are unlikely to succeed for reasons education reformers should know well: Top-down systems that bypass or undermine school leaders rarely produce excellence in the classroom.

It wasn’t that long ago that education reform was driven forward by a commitment to freeing determined principals who had a vision...

An op-ed that appeared in today’s Chicago Sun-Times from Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis contained a hint of panic. Not on the resolution of the teachers strike, now in its fifth day, but on Rahm Emanuel’s rumored plan to close 80 to 120 low-performing and poorly attended schools.

Lewis took aim at the city’s charter schools, and it’s not surprising. The waiting list for high-demand charters in the city has reached 19,000 names, and the mayor and his schools chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, want more charters to serve more students as they contemplate the closure of dozens of schools. The strike has accomplished two things: 1.) It has given Emanuel more political cover to enhance the charter sector, and 2.) it has given the charter movement more soldiers.

This week alone, the number of phone calls to Chicago charters from interested parents has tripled from the normal rate, said Andrew Broy, the president if the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. While most the city’s 119 charter schools can’t accommodate new families, Broy said his network is adding many of the callers to its list of active supporters and he’s touting that 5,000 parents may show up to the group’s...

Matthew Chingos and Paul Peterson knew there would be attempts to undermine their finding that a New York City voucher program had a positive impact on the college attendance of black students. When the Brookings Institution released the Chingos/Peterson study last month, many news reports unfortunately focused on the fact that only black students seemed to benefit significantly from the small, privately funded program (the voucher was worth just $1,400 annually when it was offered to low-income kids in 1997). Still, while frustrating, the media coverage never cast aspersions on the most significant claims in the study.

While frustrating, the media coverage never cast aspersions on the most significant claims in the study.

That task has now fallen to an academic review from the National Education Policy Center, a group that could never be confused for a friend to school choice. Sara Goldrick-Rab of the University of Wisconsin-Madison makes the preposterous claim that an “unmentioned” measurement error in the dependent variables (college attendance rates) suggests that there really are no statistically significant differences between the voucher’s impact on black students than on other students. Further, Goldrick-Rab argues that Chingos and Peterson fail to account for any negative effects...

Channeling Rahm

Kathleen and Mike cross the picket line and ask whether reformers have gone too far too fast on teacher evaluations. Amber makes the case for front-loading teacher pay.

Amber's Research Minute

How Should School Districts Shape Teacher Salary Schedules? Linking School Performance to Pay Structure in Traditional Compensation Schemes by Jason A. Grissom and Katharine O. Strunk - Download PDF

Los Angeles charter-school advocates are questioning the legality of a proposed moratorium on new charters. LAUSD's budget and achievement woes have many sources and underperforming charters are one of them, yes. Shutting out all new charters rather than shutting down the worst of the existing ones, however, is a bit like solving a technical disagreement over teacher evaluations by shutting down an entire school district. Ok, bad example.

Los Angeles Times editorial accused the Adelanto Elementary School District of deliberately obstructing an effort by parents to take control of an elementary school using California’s “parent trigger” law. Well, yes, but did parent-trigger proponents really expect the district and other opponents to acquiesce without resorting to easy bureaucratic and legal stalling tactics? If the parent trigger has become the “lawyer trigger,” is it time to admit the limits of this idea?

Louisiana plans to launch a marketplace for publicly funded courses next year that would allow students to select from online and in-person courses outside of their schools. Kudos to the Bayou State for developing a creative way to guarantee access to the increasingly diverse ways that education can be...