Charters & Choice

Demand for a school was highly correlated with its quality.

Baking a successful school-choice soufflé is challenging. The ingredients are hard to come by: Schools must be high performing while simultaneously offering options to a diverse parent base. And the recipe is fussy: Navigating the system should be easy and fair. There can be no inherent incentives to game the system. Denver’s new school-choice program (creatively titled SchoolChoice) may not be “Iron Chef” quality, but it has some stimulating flavors cooked in. This encouraging report from A+ Denver explains: Last year, the Denver Public Schools (DPS) streamlined its choice program, merging all sixty of the district’s varying school applications and deadlines into one system. This alleviated much headache and caused an uptick in intradistrict choice. For the 2010-11 school year, over 22,700 students (comprising a little over 25 percent of all pupils) participated, with over two-thirds of them gaining access to their top-choice schools (and 83 percent to one of their top three choices). Even more promising, demand for a school was highly correlated with its quality. Improvements to the program can still be made, however. The report finds, for example, that poor and minority families choose schools that are...

Yesterday’s “exquisitely timedGAO report set off an avalanche of accusations at charter schools for “discriminating” against students with disabilities with its finding that special-needs students represent a lower proportion of charter-school enrollment than they do in district schools. Representative George Miller, who requested the study, found the news “sobering.” Yet everyone already knows, as Eva Moskowitz told the Wall Street Journal, that the best charter schools try to help students with mild disabilities shed their labels (and Individual Education Plans) by improving their math and reading abilities. That could explain a significant part of the discrepancy. But there’s another point that’s overlooked entirely: No single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability. In fact, traditional public schools regularly “counsel out” students with severe disabilities because they don’t have the resources and expertise to serve them. Many school districts operate separate schools (or programs) precisely for those kids. Should the GAO put out a report blasting them for skirting their responsibilities? Of course not. What these districts are doing—what every school district of any size does—is to create special programs at particular schools that can better meet the...

The infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud is an apt analogy for the history of district-charter school relations in Ohio. Neither side has much liked the other for years. Today, however, we see signs that the animosity and acrimony are fading.

Hatfield-McCoy Feud Historic Sign
The history of Ohio district-charter relations calls to mind legendary feuds.
Photo by Jimmy Emerson

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson shepherded legislation through the General Assembly that would, among a host of innovative reforms, provide high-performing charter schools in Cleveland with local levy dollars to support their day-to-day operations. Building on the momentum coming out of Cleveland, Columbus Superintendent Gene Harris put forth a plan that would share local property-tax money with some of that city’s high-flying charters in the form of grants to enable those schools to help boost the performance of low-performing district schools.

There are other Buckeye State examples. Reynoldsburg City School District, serving one of Columbus’s most diverse close-in suburbs, has quietly built a portfolio of school options for its residents over the past decade. Now it is opening those options to...

Famed business-school thinker Clayton Christensen was splendidly profiled in The New Yorker a few weeks back, which set me to reflecting on his influential meditation on K-12 education, Disrupting Class, the 2008 book (co-authored with Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson) that startled the edu-cracy with its bold prediction that half of all high school courses will be delivered online by 2019 and its explanation that technology will produce the “disruptive innovation” in education that previous reform efforts have failed to bring about. As I read the profile, though, I couldn’t help but wonder if the more disruptive force in education is lower-tech and already more widespread than Christensen himself realized.

Old steel mill
Disruptive innovation drove out of business organizations in the steel industry that didn't adapt.
Photo by hanjeanwat.

“Disruptive innovation” is his seminal insight, perhaps better summarized in Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile than in the education book itself. “How was it,” he started wondering, “that big, rich companies, admired and emulated by everyone, could one year be at the...

The infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud is an apt analogy for the history of district-charter school relations in Ohio. Neither side has much liked the other over the years, but it appears that the animosity and acrimony of the recent past is fading. Evidence for a new period of cooperative charter-district relations comes from several remarkable developments.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson shepherded through the Ohio General Assembly legislation that would, among a whole host of innovative reforms, provide high-performing charter schools in Cleveland with local levy dollars to support their day-to-day operations. Building on the momentum coming out of Cleveland, Columbus Superintendent Gene Harris put forth a plan that would share local property-tax money with some of that city’s high-flying charters in the form of grants to enable those schools to help boost the performance of low-performing district schools.

There are other Buckeye State examples. Reynoldsburg City School District has quietly built a portfolio of school options for its residents over the past decade. Now it is opening those options to students from other districts who might want to attend a Reynoldsburg school through its new open enrollment policy. Further, a group of school districts (including Columbus, Reynoldsburg, and the...

The Fordham Foundation has authorized (aka sponsored) charter schools in Ohio since 2005 and currently oversees eight schools (three more will join our portfolio this fall).  As the 2011-12 school year ends, we want to highlight the unique events and successes that happened in our schools this year.

Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA)
Last summer, CCA moved from space that it shared with a Weinland Park area church since the school opened in 2008 to a new location on Main Street, in the near eastside of Columbus.  In terms of student achievement, 40 students were “NWEA all-stars” – meeting ambitious academic growth targets set for them in both reading and math. Sixth graders also participated in “Run the City,” a day-long project where they dealt with the ins and outs of running a city, including banking, marketing, and advertising. Students also got a glimpse of college life with full-day visits to the Ohio State University, Ohio Dominican University, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Denison University. CCA leadership recently launched a new charter management organization, the United Schools Network, which will open a second middle school, Columbus Collegiate Academy-West, this August.

KIPP: Journey Academy
KIPP received excellent news this spring...

In this report, the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice looks at new models for schools. Using the term “greenfield,” from Rick Hess’ vision of areas where there are unobstructed, wide-open opportunities to invent and build, greenfield schooling strips down ideas of the traditional schoolhouse and gives schools the freedom to grow by tailoring education to a wider variety of students.

The report challenges the choice system as it currently stands, saying that existing school choice programs, while delivering slightly better outcomes, are not challenging the public school sector as they need to be. Greg Foster, who co-authored the report, begins by stating, “We know from previous research that vouchers (and equivalent programs like tax credits and ESAs) consistently deliver better academic performance, but the size of the impact is not revolutionary.”

Greenfield schools, the report states, would aid in a move to universal choice, a prerequisite for schools to innovate and grow and to prevent the shuffling of children from public to private schools. Universal choice would open opportunities to children of all ethnicities and income levels, many of whom have been excluded from private schools because of cost. Universal choice aims to lower tuition, and allow private schools...

Louisiana schools Superintendent John White has plenty of freedom to write the rules that will govern what may become the most sweeping voucher program in the nation, but he has little time to do the job. The legislature has given White until August 1 to figure out how to hold private schools accountable for their voucher students, but the more dogged critics of the superintendent and the voucher program want assurances now that no student will leave a lousy public school for a lousy private school.

In many ways, White is entering uncharted territory.

In many ways, White is entering uncharted territory. At least fifteen states have passed laws establishing vouchers or tax credit scholarships, but just a handful  now assess the academic or financial health of the private schools that participate. So it’s helpful to reflect first on what already sets Louisiana apart before suggesting more ways to make the voucher program accountable.

First, any private school accepting voucher students will have to submit an independent financial audit to the Louisiana Department of Education. Until now, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program had some of the most stringent fiscal regulations, requiring independent audits of private schools that received...

Success Academy Charter Schools chief Eva Moskowitz has a good reason to vilify quotas designed to get New York charter schools to enroll more high-needs students. The Success Academy already teaches English language learners and other students with special needs. They just work harder to get them into general education. What good is a law that ultimately interferes with what Moskowitz and her team do well?

What good is a law that ultimately interferes with what Moskowitz and her team do well?

New York City charter schools serve fewer English language learners and students with special needs  than district schools, but the Success Academy and other charters are less likely to label—and more likely to de-label—students as “high needs.” In her letter to the charter authorizers that drafted the enrollment plan, Moskowitz said the quotas would institutionalize the same “perverse incentives” that drive district schools to “over-identify” students who need special education (and the extra funding that goes with it).

Authorizers developed the quotas to execute a 2010 law in New York that required charter schools to enroll a higher share of English language learners and students with disabilities. Here we have a legislature swayed by the...

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

Pages