Charters & Choice

Rick fades in the fourth quarter

Mike and Rick ponder the future of teacher unions and the College Board while Amber provides the key points from a recent CDC study and wonders if the kids are alright after all.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2011 by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

We know anecdotally that our current collection of private-school-choice programs has done little to encourage new and innovative models of private education to flourish. This report from the Friedman Foundation, which tracks private-school enrollment in eight choice-heavy locales over the lifespan of their tax-credit or voucher programs, offers evidence to back up those impressions: In Milwaukee, for example, the number of private schools has grown since choice legislation was enacted, but these schools have become larger and “presumably more stable and even insular” (and thus, less likely to be innovative). For authors Greg Forster and James L. Woodworth, this justifies a move toward universal school choice—making all children, regardless of income level, eligible for vouchers or tax credits—which, they argue, will allow for a shift in institutional culture, where entrepreneurs can “innovate beyond the confines of the ‘default’ public school model.” Or, to draw on Rick Hess’s terminology, universal choice will allow for the “greenfield schools model,” or a “rethink [of] how schools are designed from the ground up,” to take root. But why default to universal choice as the best way to reach greenfield schooling (apart...

Imagine, for a moment, a policy that allows learning-disabled students to take their share of federal IDEA funds to the public or private schools of their choice, just as Mitt Romney has proposed. It’s outlandish to suppose that we would discontinue the use of state assessments given to most of these students. But that’s the reality in Florida, home to the nation’s largest special education voucher program, and the group that oversees the program wants to keep the status quo.

To embrace a publicly funded private school choice program and argue against any move toward results-based accountability is an unsustainable position today.

Robyn Rennick, who sits on the board that manages the McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities, wrote on the redefinED blog Tuesday that it’s wrong to require standardized testing of “a unique group of students” whose individual disabilities vary widely. Test scores are, of course, a muddy measure for students with severe cognitive or developmental disabilities, and that’s how Rennick builds her case. But as much as 82 percent of the 22,200 students who took a McKay Scholarship to a private school last year required only moderate interventions and testing accommodations in the public schools they...

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal shared the (mostly) happy story that the market for debt issued by charter schools to finance facilities and other purchases is growing. Institutional investors and banks understand charters—and the risks they have to manage—much better than in past years, and that's translating to lower borrowing costs for schools. (Note in the excerpt below that when bond prices go up, the interest rates paid by borrowers go down—there's an inverse relationship there.)

Prices for charter-school bonds have risen this year, according to trading data. Cosmos Foundation Inc., which operates 36 charter-school campuses in Texas, issued $50 million in bonds in 2010, and prices have increased about 12 percent.
IDEA Public Schools, a network of schools that received its charter from the state of Texas in 2000, is gearing up for its biggest bond deal yet. Chief Financial Officer Wyatt Truscheit said IDEA Public is planning a $70 million offering in August.

This is the first chapter in what should turn out to be a long story. Relatively few investment firms and banks are active in lending to charter schools, and not all lenders understand this market. Because of this, charter schools in areas that are not...

Total recall

Mike and Janie discuss the fallout from the Wisconsin recall election and teacher unions’ image problem, while Amber explains what we can learn from the best CMOs.

Amber's Research Minute

Managing Talent for School Coherence: Learning from Charter Management Organizations by CRPE & Mathematica DOWNLOAD PDF

Unwavering vision, relentless hard work, and a little bit of luck—that’s what successful charter-school networks are made of. This heartwarming (and at times heart-wrenching) book chronicles the development of the Harlem Village Academies (HVA), and the conjoined life of their founder and CEO, Deborah Kenny. Convinced that “education is not about developing products; it’s about developing people” and deeply concerned by teachers’ feelings of disempowerment, Kenny created two schools—and growing—grounded in the efficacy of her teachers. Before opening, she spent days vetting would-be instructors, interviewing them, observing them in action—and only hiring amazing teachers dedicated to the mission of HVA. (A recent CRPE study finds that this sort of “hiring for fit” is common among the best charter networks.) With quality ensured (and a commitment to accountability established), teachers at HVA are granted more autonomy over classroom practice and curricular designs—so long as their teaching jives with HVA philosophies. Kenny and HVA offer a powerful and immensely successful model for schooling—though not one that is altogether novel. High-performing nations—yes, with Finland at the fore—have competitive and rigorous teacher-training programs, ensuring quality at the front...

In addition to the policy and advocacy work that we do at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, our sister organization the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation sponsors eight charter schools in Ohio. In August Fordham will sponsor three new start-ups (one each in Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland). Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) opened in 2008, and it has now launched the newly-formed United Schools Network, a nonprofit charter management organization (CMO). United Schools Network will consolidate the operations of CCA and launch the new 6-8 Columbus Collegiate Academy- West Campus.

To learn more about all this we sat down with CCA founder Andrew Boy to hear first-hand what he hopes to achieve through the United Schools Network. 

Q. Why did you decide to form the United Schools Network (USN)?

A. While launching a high-performing, high-need, school in Columbus is challenging and satisfying, we want to do more. We recognize that we have a unique opportunity to do so. If CCA can create excellence in our flagship school, then there is no reason we cannot similarly create excellent schools in other areas of Columbus and in other parts of the Midwest. It is in pursuit of this goal that we have created...

Darrell Allison

Guest blogger Darrell Allison is president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which supports greater educational choice for all parents and students across the state. For more information, please go to www.pefnc.org.

As president of a statewide organization devoted to ensuring that ALL children—regardless of income or zip code—have access to a quality education, I hear plenty of opposing talking points…that we need to spend more on public education, that education reform measures will lead to the death of public schools, that public tax dollars are being used for private gain.

In spite of tremendous spending, our poorest kids are still missing the mark. And this is totally unacceptable.

When I hear this type of rhetoric I think of how North Carolina has spent over $35 billion on education over the last five years, yet only 50 percent of poor elementary and middle school students passed state tests—compared to nearly 80 percent of their wealthier peers.

In spite of tremendous spending, our poorest kids are still missing the mark. And this is totally unacceptable.

I’m all for “public education,” but I believe “public education” should consist...

We’ve known anecdotally that our current slate of private school choice programs have done little to encourage new and innovative models of private education to flourish. Now a new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice backs up those assertions with evidence. In short: voucher and tax credit scholarship programs have yet to create new models of private schooling as successful charter school networks have for public education.

Our current slate of private school choice programs have done little to encourage new and innovative models of private education to flourish.

For researchers Greg Forster and James L. Woodworth, this justifies a move toward universal school choice. By encouraging larger numbers of students of all income levels, rather than just those who are poor or disabled, to take their public dollars to private schools states will create the conditions that entrepreneurs need to “innovate beyond the confines of the ‘default’ public school model,” Forster and Woodworth write in their study, The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice.

The term “greenfield” here is borrowed from Rick Hess’ portrayal of environments “where there are unobstructed, wide-open opportunities to invent or build.” Greenfield schooling, Hess argues, requires “scrubbing away our assumptions”...

In addition to the policy and advocacy work that we do at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, our sister organization the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation sponsors eight charter schools in Ohio. In August Fordham will sponsor three new start-ups (one each in Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland). Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) opened in 2008, and it has now launched the newly-formed United Schools Network, a nonprofit charter management organization (CMO). United Schools Network will consolidate the operations of CCA and launch the new 6-8 Columbus Collegiate Academy- West Campus.

To learn more about all this we sat down with CCA founder Andrew Boy to hear first-hand what he hopes to achieve through the United Schools Network. 

Q. Why did you decide to form the United Schools Network (USN)?

A. While launching a high-performing, high-need, school in Columbus is challenging and satisfying, we want to do more. We recognize that we have a unique opportunity to do so. If CCA can create excellence in our flagship school, then there is no reason we cannot similarly create excellent schools in other areas of Columbus and in other parts of the Midwest. It is in pursuit of this goal that we have created...

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