Charters & Choice

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is pleased to share our 2009-10 Sponsorship Accountability Report. The report, Renewal and Optimism: Five Years as an Ohio Charter Authorizer, contains a year in review for Ohio’s charter school program, detailed information on the Fordham Foundation’s work as a charter school sponsor, and data on the performance of our sponsored schools during that year. 

 

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Guest Blogger

Guest blogger Alex Medler is the VP for Research and Evaluation at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). Medler chaired the board of directors of Colorado's Charter School Institute, a statewide charter authorizer.

When people hear about a charter school that is struggling, it's pretty easy to second guess the school's authorizer.? If a charter applicant is not ready to open a great school, they shouldn't get a charter.? And if a charter school is failing, the authorizer should close it down.? Otherwise, the authorizer should stay the heck out of the way!? Sounds like simple work. Why then are there so many charter schools out there that we wouldn't send our own children to? And why do we hear so many stories about authorizers crushing the autonomy of ?their schools??

Good authorizing shouldn't be a mystery.? It is a set of practices that can be performed well or badly.? The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA ) captures these best practices in its Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing. The challenge is getting all authorizers to embrace and implement practices that will maintain high standards for all schools, while still protecting each school's autonomy as well as the rights of students and the public.? Otherwise, weak applicants will continue to get approved; failing schools will stay open; and everyone else will be needled by their overzealous authorizer overlords.[pullquote]Some authorizers refuse to provide quality control. Others want to do a good...

The Columbus Dispatch ran competing op-eds by School Choice Ohio's (SCO) Chad Aldis and Fordham's Terry Ryan on the expansion of vouchers in the Buckeye State. Both Aldis and Ryan support the expansion of school choice programs in Ohio, but how the state should hold these new programs accountable for their academic performance and even whether it should do so is contentious.

Ohio's House Bill 136(Huffman) would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Saving Scholarship Program (PACT), a private school scholarship program open to all students statewide whose families meet a maximum income threshold, regardless of whether their home district is failing or not. PACT would award up to $4,563 per child to families with annual household incomes up to $65,000 for a family of four, and could affect every school district in the state. The breadth of this proposed voucher program as well as the fact that Ohio currently has three other voucher programs and a myriad of other school choice options such as charter and on-line schools, is turning the debate over HB 136 into somewhat of a school choice war.

SCO's Chad Aldis made the philosophical case for the expansion of vouchers when he penned that

?As parents, we want the best for our children, and we make choices every day to achieve that. We choose the food they eat, the doctors they see, the amount of television they watch. Our choices help shape the people they become. Yet, among the hundreds of

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The New York Times continues to provide a generous medley of education reporting, including, of course, from their controversial "On Education" columnist Michael Winerip.? Alas, Winerip is not among the three recent stories I want to highlight here:

Troubled Schools Mimicking Charters This is an intriguing piece by Sam Dillon, about school reform in Houston, but I stopped short when I got to this line:

In the first experiment of its kind in the country, the Houston public schools are testing whether techniques proven successful in high-performing urban charters can also help raise achievement in regular public schools.

First of its kind?? I ran this by my friend Hal Kwalwasser, who has just finished a book (for which I provided some editing advice), describing improvement strategies in many traditional school districts.?? Writes Hal in an email:

There are lots of districts around the country that are doing the things that Houston is now about to do. Nothing new here?.? The big question is not that Houston is trying them out now, but why hundreds if not thousands of districts have not done the same thing - and not done it many years ago.

Time to Revive Home Ec This is a gem of an essay, written by Michigan State historian Helen Zoe Veit.

Reviving [Home Economics] and its original premises ? that producing good, nutritious food is profoundly important, that it takes study and practice, and that it can and should be taught through the

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Mickey Muldoon

????On his presidential campaign website, Ron Paul describes his policy positions on twelve different issues, including abortion, health care, and the economy. Education is not among the headings. But ?homeschooling? is.

Michelle Bachmann homeschooled her children. So did Rick Santorum. Herman Cain appeared at a Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators conference with Paul and Bachmann this March. Mitt Romney is on the record as a supporter.

Does this mean that homeschooling is finally going to get the education-policy attention it deserves? I hope it does.

Consider the fact that in the United States, there are almost exactly the same number of students being homeschooled as there are in charter schools (about 1.5 million, as of 2009). Why do the charter kids get all the attention? The obvious reason is that like private-school students, homeschoolers don't really interact with the government. They don't receive money, and they occasionally have to take basic tests to prove they are learning something. That's about it.

But there are plenty of reasons to believe that state governments should seriously consider making it easier for parents to homeschool their children. The first is a simple fact of labor efficiency: Thirty-three percent of adult men and 44 percent of adult women in America are not working. Certainly, many of those people are disabled, incarcerated, and otherwise disqualified from teaching kids. But if we could reasonably put just a fraction of that labor pool?especially parents, friends, and relatives?to good work in...

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