Charters & Choice

One sign that the Brookings Institution’s second annual Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) is better than the first is that New Orleans came out on top—boasting the ECCI’s only A grade. For this go-around, Russ Whitehurst and his team ranked 107 school districts (the 100 largest metro areas and seven others of interest), up from twenty-five in 2011, on thirteen choice-related categories of policy and practice (including accessibility of information on school quality and availability of virtual schooling options). Joining the Big Easy in the top five are New York (last year’s valedictorian), D.C., Minneapolis, and Houston. Rounding out the bottom of the rankings are Brownsville (TX), San Antonio, and Loudoun County (VA). (Ohio’s sole district on this list, Columbus, ranked eighty-ninth.) But what makes this year’s index particularly worthwhile is the way it explains the differences among even the best of the best. It’s easy to see what separates the Recovery School District in New Orleans from Brownsville. The contrast between the NOLA’s RSD and the District of Columbia is subtler, but still significant. As one example, D.C. scored well on its abundance of (and generous funding for) school alternatives, including charters and vouchers. But it fell short...

That the Recovery School District in New Orleans made the top of the Brookings Institution’s second Education Choice and Competition Index shows how the list has improved from its first showing last year. Russ Whitehurst and his team gathered data on 107 school districts this go-around, up from twenty-five in 2011, and at last included New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee—cities that, not surprisingly, all made this year’s top ten for the way they maximize choice for families of all income levels.

Bobby Jindal
Gov. Bobby Jindal giving a speech yesterday at Brookings, which coincided with the report's release.
Photo from TPMDC.

But what makes this year’s index worthwhile is the way that Brookings highlighted the differences between even the best. It’s easy to see what separates the Recovery School District from, for instance, Brownsville, Texas, the worst-scoring district on the list and one that provides few alternatives to a zip-code education. The contrast between the Crescent City and Washington, D.C., is more subtle, but Whitehurst argues that...

Mike has written a terrific book, and his ideas are always worth pondering. But this one ain’t so great. If I were moving my family into Park Slope or Northwest D.C., it would be in no small part because I could carefully select a house or apartment within the “zone” of a public school that I want my kids to attend. (This is, of course, hypothetical. My own kids have kids—and live in other places!) In the school-choice world, that’s known as “real estate choice”—and millions and millions of American families engage in it. Here’s how the National Center for Education Statistics puts it:

Another form of parental choice is to move to a neighborhood so one's child can attend a particular school. In 2007, the parents of 27 percent of public school students reported that they had moved to their current neighborhood so that their child could attend his or her current school. A greater percentage of Whites (29 percent) than Blacks (18 percent) and Hispanics (25 percent), and suburban students (33 percent) than students living in other locales (20-23 percent) moved to their current neighborhood so their child could attend the school....
Diverse Schools Dilemma

Both Brooklyn, NY, and Northwest D.C. are home to emotionally charged, racially tinged fights over neighborhood school boundaries. Urbanists beware: As the “great inversion” continues and our cities gentrify, this is a sign of things to come.

In Brooklyn, the fight is focused on two elementary schools in Park Slope. One of these, P.S. 321, is overcrowded, the result of a baby boom in its increasingly affluent community, as well as of a school-system policy that allows students to stay at the school even after their families move elsewhere in the city. To deal with the crowding, officials plan to shrink its attendance zone, which means redistricting some children into a new school to be opened a few blocks away.

That second school stirs anxieties among many middle-class parents because it will be more socioeconomically diverse. As Naomi Schaefer Riley opined in the New York Post,

Aren’t Park Slopers looking for diversity? Writing at Park Slope Patch last year, neighborhood resident Louise Crawford asked parents and leaders “What Matters to Park Slope.”...
  • Very important Ed Week article about the decision by the Louisiana DOE to reject every math and reading textbook submitted for district use. The reason? They were deemed insufficiently aligned with the expectations of Common Core. This is the biggest state-level statement I’ve seen so far, indicating Louisiana’s substantial commitment to implementing CCSS. I’m in the camp that believes that while CCSS could be meaningful, much stands in the way.: The two testing consortia could set low or no cut scores, states could lose interest in the standards and/or tests, states could implement the new standards halfheartedly, etc. Rick Hess recently explained other reasons CCSS could be in jeopardy—these being more related to deficiencies in the reform community’s priorities and approaches to reform.
  • Excellent piece in today’s New York Times on higher-education accountability from the always-excellent Kevin Carey. This is a terribly important and difficult issue: Higher-ed institutions often have gigantic endowments and receive enormous support from the feds, state governments, and families, yet we have virtually no reliable information on which institutions are improving student learning or how. Carey suggests a modest path forward while continuing to surface an underappreciated issue.
  • Worthwhile white paper from
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Diverse Schools Dilemma

Modern urban parents face a quandary: Will the public schools in their walkable, socioeconomically diverse communities provide a strong education for their kids? Mike Petrilli shed light on this question in his book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma. Here’s a roundup of recent and forthcoming media attention that Petrilli’s book has garnered.

Reviews and articles

In his second review of the Diverse Schools Dilemma (you can read the first here),  the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews expounds on Petrilli’s insights into parenting-style variance: “If middle class and low-income parents have different methods with their kids and different expectations for their schools, how do principals and teachers serve both populations?” (11/29/12)

Rick Hess, writing for his Education Week blog Straight Up, calls Petrilli a “model of perpetual angst himself when it comes to [choosing schools for his kids]” and the book a terrific blend of “personal anecdotes, surprising evidence, and conversations with researchers and parents.” (12/7/12)

Mike Petrilli was quoted in a New York Post article on the school...

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio received a lot of attention for his speech this week at the Jack Kemp Foundation, mostly for his remarks on how government can play a role in revitalizing the middle class. In addition to more conventional Republican ideas for economic growth and job creation—lighter regulations, tax reform—Rubio outlined several strategies for education investment, some of which would complicate, rather than simplify, the federal tax code.

And that may not be a bad thing, especially if those ideas lead to more educational opportunities for households that cannot afford them otherwise. Consider one of the senator’s more controversial suggestions: a corporate federal tax credit scholarship, one that would help low-income students cover the cost of a K–12 private education. There were few details in Rubio’s brief remarks on this subject, but we have examples in more than a dozen states to show how this might work.

The largest of these is in the senator’s home state of Florida: Corporations with a tax liability in the Sunshine State can receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit by donating to a nonprofit scholarship organization. And that organization, in turn, awards scholarships worth up to $4,335 to children who qualify for...

Bayou blues

Checker and Education Sector’s John Chubb discuss expanding the school day, dismal graduation rates, and Louisiana confusion. Amber depresses us with a report on record-high unemployment among young people.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity by The Annie E. Casey Foundation - Download PDF

The Louisiana Constitution allows lawmakers greater freedom to design public education than the state’s school boards and teacher unions would have us believe. So it’s no surprise that what is “public” in the Bayou State today includes a largely charter school system in New Orleans, four publicly funded private-school-choice programs, a recovery school district, and online charter schools.

    Students boarding school bus in Louisiana
    Jindal sought more than just budgetary leftovers when working to fund the voucher program.
    Photo from Wikimedia Commons

That’s why it was frustrating to see a state judge declare late Friday that Louisiana’s newest and largest voucher program is illegal because it diverts “vital public dollars” to private schools. According to Judge Timothy Kelley, the state was wrong to fund its new voucher program from the same revenue stream that provides a “minimum foundation” to its public elementary and secondary schools.

That was the same argument put forward by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association when they sued to abolish the voucher program, which already serves nearly 5,000 children in 113...

The last thing Detroit families need is for an incompetent school board to regain control of the Motor City’s worst schools, but that may happen now that Michigan voters have repealed the state’s “emergency manager” law. The repeal has emboldened the Detroit Board of Education to undo many of the biggest reforms that emergency managers have put in place in the district during the last four years. Perhaps the worst of these decisions (so far!) was voiding the contract that emergency manager Roy Roberts forged last year with the state’s fledgling Education Achievement Authority, a recovery district modeled on Louisiana’s and run out of Eastern Michigan University. The EAA had taken possession of the lowest-achieving schools in Detroit (and has been praised by Arne Duncan), but it remained an inter-local agreement between the university and the school district. The Detroit school board, which one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence,” now wants to take those schools back under its fold. Eastern Michigan has vowed to fight, but it’s hard to see how kids will benefit from this custody battle if the state doesn’t codify the recovery district into law. Two bills were introduced recently...

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