Charters & Choice

Are Charter School Unions Worth the Bargain? coverDespite its reputation, the charter field isn’t
a wholly anti-union stronghold. In fact, 12 percent of charter schools now
have bargaining agreements. (Conversion charters are much more likely to be
unionized [44 percent] than startups [9 percent].) In this new CRPE report,
Mitch Price analyzes the union contracts of nine of the nation’s 604 unionized
charters and compares them to their local district contracts. He finds that, on
average, charters’ union contracts are more flexible when it comes to length of
day and year, grievance processes, and layoff criteria—but still far too rigid.
(Using our own Leadership
criteria, Price gives charter contracts a C-plus score, compared
to the C-minus score given to district schools.) While union contracts in the
charter sector are relatively flexible—more tailored to individual school needs
(and thus less likely to stifle the missions of these schools)—Price argues
that we are only seeing their beta versions. It remains to be seen whether
these contracts, when renegotiated, will serve as examples of reasonable labor
relations practices or will instead grow more restrictive.

Mitch Price, Are Charter School Unions Worth the Bargain? (Center
for Reinventing Public Education, Seattle, WA, November 2011)....

This edition of Fwd summarizes Ohio state report card data for Dayton public schools district and charter. Two major conclusions leap from these data. First, despite some recent gains, the phrase academic emergency continues to characterize the majority of Dayton's public schools. Second, youngsters in Dayton's charter schools outperformed their district peers in all parts of the 4th and 6th grade proficiency tests. This important finding flies in the face of recent assertions that charter school students are learning less.

Guest blogger Robin Lake is associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. In this post, she responds to “Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector,” a Public Impact-authored policy brief co-released yesterday by Fordham’s Ohio team and CEE-Trust.

Public Impact’s new paper on incubators is a well-needed addition to the conversation about scaling high-quality charter schools. I’ve been saying for some time that CMOs, no matter how good, cannot be the charter sector’s sole answer to new school supply.

For the past five years, most of the private philanthropy to support
new charter schools has gone to CMOs and the feds have increasingly
targeted start-up funding to replication. But CMOs are an expensive path
to scale and one that is yielding uneven quality.
Importantly, CMOs tend to locate in major urban areas with a strong TFA
presence and high per-pupil funding. For cities like Indianapolis,
Minneapolis, and Milwaukee, all the recruiting in the world is unlikely
to attract respected CMOs like Aspire or Achievement First. Also
problematic is the fact that many talented would-be charter founders
want nothing to do with large, highly centralized, and sometimes
bureaucratic CMOs. We need alternatives to CMOs that recognize these
realities and create scale and replication options for small cities and
entrepreneurial leaders.

To be clear, the overall quality of standalone charter schools has

This post originally appeared on the National Review Online.

Parents’ perspectives on education reform are often missing from the
education policy debate, with technocrats typically arguing with one
another about what parents want or what’s best for them. So I was
heartened to see the New York Times publish an op-ed by a bona fide parent from Washington, D.C. — and on the topic of school choice, no less.

Leave it to the Times to get it wrong.

The parent, Natalie Hopkinson, is
understandably frustrated about the poor public-school options
available in her mostly African-American neighborhood. She’s also angry
that D.C.’s hard-charging former schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee,
closed down some of the
public schools in her vicinity. But her depiction of “school choice” as the culprit is misguided.

The real story is more complicated, and
more interesting. In the last five years, Washington parents have seen
some school-choice options disappear (Hopkinson’s beef) while new
options have come onto the scene. But the reduction of choice isn’t
because of Michelle Rhee’s policies — it’s because of gentrification.
It used to be that black families living east of Rock
Creek Park
could send their kids to schools “west of the park” via the district’s
out-of-boundary choice system. After all, the schools in tony
neighborhoods weren’t filled to capacity.


Today, Fordham-Ohio and CEE-Trust are co-releasing a policy brief on charter incubation, “Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector.” In this post, Terry Ryan and Ethan Gray, vice-president of The Mind Trust and director of CEE-Trust, explain the potential of the model and the characteristics of successful charter incubators.

are a small but growing number of organizations across the country
dedicated to creating better schools and attracting more talent to
public education through a strategic process called “charter school
incubation.” Charter incubators are organizations that intentionally
build the supply of high-quality schools and charter management
organizations (CMOs) in cities or specific geographic regions by
recruiting, selecting, and training promising leaders, and supporting
those leaders as they launch new schools.

Groups leading this innovative effort include New Schools for New
Orleans, The Tennessee Charter School Incubator, Get Smart Schools in
Colorado, Charter School Partners in Minnesota, The Mind Trust’s Charter
School Incubator in Indianapolis, and 4.0 Schools in several
southeastern states.

These organizations are united in their belief that the development
of great charter schools can be accelerated through the recruitment,
selection, and development of talented school leaders and the support of
those leaders as they open and operate charter schools. Incubators are a
potential game-changer; by providing an up-front quality screen for new
leaders and intensive support on the ground, incubators are increasing

Stuart Buck
Distinguished Doctoral Fellow in the Education Reform department at the University of Arkansas

Guest blogger Stuart Buck is the author of Acting White: The Ironic Effect of Desegregation,
published by Yale University Press in May 2010.  He is currently a
Distinguished Doctoral Fellow in the Education Reform department at the
University of Arkansas.

The Arizona Empowerment Scholarship
program should serve as a model for other states. Like other states’
voucher programs, it gives parents of special education students in
public schools the chance to send their children to private school. But
it does so in a novel manner: it gives parents access to a special bank
account in which the state deposits 90% of the money that the state
would have spent on that student’s education. Parents can then spend
that account on private schools, tutoring, and services that best help
their child. Indeed, parents even have the option of saving the
left-over money for college education, if they’re able to find a more
efficient K-12 school.

This innovative program both saves the state money and gives families
the chance of finding a better fit for a special education child who
may not always be well-served by the public school in the parents’
neighborhood. Who could object?

Entrenched special interest groups. Unfortunately, like the voucher program
that preceded it, the new Empowerment Scholarship program is under
legal attack. The Arizona School Boards Association, the Arizona
Education Association and the Arizona...

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back cover imageSince
Ohio’s first charter schools opened in 1997, they have been at the center of
some of the state’s hottest and most politically contentious debates about
education. The past year brought still more examples of charter-linked

2010 elections were very good for Buckeye Republicans, with John Kasich winning
the governor’s race (replacing Ted Strickland who had been a charter
adversary throughout his four-year term). Republicans also took control of
the House while expanding their Senate majority.

immediately, GOP lawmakers set out to make the Buckeye State more inviting to
charter schools. Governor Kasich’s budget proposals offered a solid plan for
not only increasing the number of charters in Ohio but also
boosting their quality. Crucial elements included:

  • Encouraging
    successful operators to clone good schools and channeling fairer funding into
  • Leaning hard
    on authorizers to fix or close failing schools and banning their replication;
  • Placing
    schools’ ostensibly independent governing boards clearly in charge of any
    outside organizations that they engaged to run their education programs.

vision for quality along with quantity excited us and many others in Ohio and beyond. The Buckeye State was finally positioning
itself to become a true leader in the charter sector rather than a troubled
sector plagued by too many...

For months, leaders from LAUSD and the UTLA have
stalled within a deep tunnel of negotiations, unable to reach consensus on,
well, anything. This week, light broke at the end of that dark passageway: Los
Angeles Superintendent John Deasy and the newly elected union president, Warren
Fletcher, have reached a partial agreement. And it’s an exciting one: Under the
new pact, district schools could exercise charter-like autonomy over hiring,
curriculum, and work conditions. If a school wants to diverge from current norms
by, say, altering its salary structure or length of day, neither union nor
district officials can object. (Take note of this innovative approach for
combating union strong-arming: Pitch the reforms to teachers as a respite from
meddling district policies, not just cumbersome
union ones.) So, what catalyzed this union change of heart? Pressure from
charter schools—which hold a 10 percent market share of L.A.’s student
enrollment. According to Fletcher, “There’s been a lot of focus on
out-of-district resources and answers. This is the beginning of moving back to
some semblance of balance.” Before the agreement becomes official, though, it
must be ratified by union membership. Here’s hoping; what a worthy experiment
that would be.

Los Angeles Schools Gain New Autonomy
,” by Howard Blume, Los Angeles
November 29, 2011.