Charters & Choice

In light of Hillary Clinton’s charge that charter schools “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids,” as well the lambasting of one of the nation’s highest-performing charter networks for its discipline practices, this report from the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools is especially timely. It reveals that the worst of the recent allegations fall flat (at least when it comes to students with disabilities). Charter schools do have slightly lower percentages of students with disabilities compared to traditional public schools (we should note that the discrepancy is nothing like the gap that some charter opponents allege), but they also tend to provide more inclusive educational settings for those students. Suspension rates in the two sectors are roughly the same.

The study’s authors investigate whether anecdotes about charter schools failing to serve students with disabilities align with the actual data. They examine enrollment, service provision, and discipline statistics, made possible through a secondary analysis of data from the Department of Education’s biennial Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2011–12 school year (the most recent one for which data is available). Nationwide, students who receive special education support and services made up 10.4 percent of total enrollment...

  • To everyone except the students and educators who labor to start them, high-performing charter schools must seem like fully formed miracle factories. They sprout from Mark Zuckerberg’s largesse, produce outstanding academic results, and win facilities conflicts with crusading big-city mayors. This week, the Hechinger Report spins the incredible (and incredibly detailed) story of how these places actually come together. In three interlocking narratives focused on a first-time principal, a veteran teacher, and an incoming freshman, the account details the emergence of Brooklyn Ascend High in the daunting Brownsville neighborhood of New York City. The school, organized around an ideal of civic service and employing a nontraditional discipline structure, offers an ideal backdrop against which to examine the challenges of establishing an academic culture and galvanizing a faculty. For readers who wonder why more charter profiles can’t offer the fractured perspectives and compelling mystery of Rashomon, here’s your (regrettably samurai-less) answer.
  • The Texas Board of Education rules over the state’s textbooks like a juice-drunk toddler rules over his sandbox: utterly, and hilariously. If they’re not pondering the knotty question of whether to include creationism in science curriculum (guess I thought Spencer Tracy settled that one), they’re helpfully reinserting
  • ...

Victory is inevitable. That’s my biggest takeaway from Fordham’s new report on America’s best and worst cities for school choice.

This conclusion may strike some readers as premature, but while profiling the thirty cities included in the study, I was struck by how consistent the dominant narrative was across sites: School choice has grown rapidly in the past decade, and in most cities, that growth seems poised to continue indefinitely.

I don’t mean to advocate complacency or downplay the differences between cities (a central theme of the report). But from a national perspective, it’s increasingly clear that—despite the occasional legislative or judicial setback—school choice is winning and will continue to win. It’s easier to kill a bill than an idea, especially one that has grown into a movement because it works for kids.

Take caps on charter schools, for example: Of the thirty cities in our study, nineteen are located in states with some sort of cap; in some (such as Boston), this constitutes a needless and galling constraint on the growth of the sector. But ask yourself: How many charter caps have been lowered in the last ten years? (Answer: almost none) And how many have been raised?...

The choice edition

Interstate test comparability, teacher absenteeism in high-poverty schools, special education in charter schools, and school choice in thirty American cities.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: "America's Best (and Worst) Cities for School Choice," Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Teachers College (December 2015).

The California Charter Schools Association and The Thomas B. Fordham Institute

There has been much recent debate as to the utility in Ohio of a school accountability model similar to the one employed in California. During public policy debates like this one, the big picture can sometimes be obscured by the details. In an effort to raise the level of discussion, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (Fordham) have joined forces to co-write this commentary sharing our perspectives on the key principles that should govern school accountability policy.

Before digging in, it’s critical that we address some of the misperceptions that have emerged around the issue. First, Fordham does not necessarily endorse the views expressed by the guest commentators who submit articles to its blogs. CCSA has deep concerns about the accuracy of the analysis by Dr. Vladimir Kogan that was published by Fordham on November 16. This commentary is not intended to address these statistical matters; rather, CCSA addresses those issues on its own website.

Second, Fordham believes that the Similar Students Measure developed by CCSA is a robust measure that makes extremely good use of school-level...

Ohio is one of fifteen states with an automatic closure law for low-performing charter schools, meant to serve as a minimum floor for performance and clean up the sector during an era when bad schools proliferated and authorizers failed to close them.[1]

Ohio’s academic death penalty for charter schools has been described as the “toughest in the nation.” In reality, it’s had minimal impact on either the number of schools closed or the number of students affected. A current three-year safe harbor on closure (among other sanctions) makes it all the more anemic. In its early days, it may have motivated some charter school authorizers to intervene and prevent their schools from facing a similar fate, but it hasn’t curbed poor oversight decisions among some authorizers in the nine years since the law was enacted.

Even so, accountability advocates needn’t be concerned or press for a stronger closure law. All in all, Ohio is a case study for how a minimum performance threshold for charter schools by itself doesn’t lead to wide-scale sector improvement. Our experience shows that direct state intervention cannot accomplish much and that strong accountability controls on charter...

There’s something about the sight of an abandoned school that tears at your heart. Far more than the caved-in factories, theaters, and hospitals that populate countless online photo galleries, those stacked-up chairs and warped chalkboards represent the decay of a childhood space that all of us recognize. Earlier this week, the Atlantic’s Jacoba Urist wrote about the efforts of artists to commemorate these ruins in faltering metropolises like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit, where recent waves of school closures have displaced thousands of students and stuck in the craws of local voters. The resultant creations, from photo collections to unique off-site installations, are being used to shame and galvanize local policy makers into action. “My work is political,” said one artist, who is working with Philadelphia kids to partially recreate a shuttered elementary school. “But at the same time, I’m interested in the real grief and pain these students feel.”

Work like this has genuine value. It gives a voice to those most affected by the often-harrowing process of closure, and it can also direct attention to the unforgiveable malfunction of major school districts. (Simply as a political act, it’s also a hell of a lot more appealing...

In light of a Hillary Clinton’s charge that charter schools “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids,” as well as the lambasting of one of the nation’s highest-performing charter networks for its discipline practices, this report from the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools is especially timely. As it reveals, the worst of the recent allegations fall flat (at least when it comes to students with disabilities). Charter schools do have slightly lower percentages of students with disabilities compared to traditional public schools (we should note that the discrepancy is nothing like the gap that some charter opponents allege), but they also tend to provide more inclusive educational settings for those students. Suspension rates in the two sectors are roughly the same.

The study’s authors investigate whether anecdotes about charter schools failing to serve students with disabilities align with the actual data. They examine enrollment, service provision, and discipline statistics, made possible through a secondary analysis of data from the Department of Education’s biennial Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2011–12 school year (the most recent one for which data is available). Nationwide, students who receive special education support and services made up 10.4 percent of...

A new AEI report argues that private schools have a problem: They need more space. As more states use vouchers, tuition tax credits, and education savings accounts to help families access private education, schools will need to scale up and create new seats for incoming students. And the best way to do this, writes author Michael McShane, is to explore new funding mechanisms that will give the schools the necessary resources to handle growing enrollments.

One solution is for private schools to seek bond financing to help offset expansion costs. Public school districts already tap these financial instruments for capital projects because they expose investors to very little risk and the district itself pays less in interest than if it were to get a loan for the same amount from the bank (such financing for educational organizations is often tax-exempt). In 2012, the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority (CECFA) gave $9 million to the Catholic Educational Capital Corporation, which then offered it to Iona Prep, an all-boys high school in New York, to help purchase real estate that would allow it to open an elementary school. CECFA is not a state agency, but it is able to provide bond...

Robin J. Lake

In refusing to reconsider its September ruling that public charter schools are unconstitutional and not entitled to receive public funds, the Washington State Supreme Court is bringing the state one step closer to shutting the door on promising educational opportunities for disadvantaged Washington students. Families in most other states have these options, and the charter sector continues to expand and thrive nationwide. Now that Washington students and families have seen what charters in our state can offer, however, it would be shameful to let that door close.  

State leaders are still scratching their heads over the logic of the initial ruling, which hinged on a nineteenth-century definition of “common schools.” State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the ruling was illogical and overly broad. Many agreed, including four previous Washington State attorneys general and a bipartisan group of legislators. Even former Democratic Governor and Attorney General Christine Gregoire joined the amicus brief and said the ruling was “not fair, not right.” Some believe that the ruling was influenced by the legislature’s standoff with the court over Washington’s failure to fully fund K–12 education, which was mandated in the well-publicized McCleary decision. The court has been displeased...

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