Charters & Choice

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of Education released an analysis of the federal School Improvement Grants program, which invests in persistently underperforming schools with the expectation that they will turn around. The early results of its most recent $3-billion infusion, as described by Education Week: "mixed" (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2012/11/initial_school_impr...). Two-thirds of the schools made gains in math or reading scores, but the other third saw achievement decline. Program supporters contend that one year of data is not enough to draw conclusions about the program. Critics ask whether taxpayers should expend a single cent more on what they deem a failed experiment.

Who's right? The Fordham Institute is bringing together three leading voices on urban schooling for a debate on the future of turnarounds: Bellwether Education and Fordham edu-wonk Andy Smarick; the Department of Education's Carmel Martin; and former Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

America has nearly 12,000 school superintendents, of whom the overwhelming majority are career educators who have taught in the classroom and risen through the administrative ranks of public education. Most are middle-aged-to-older white males—and almost half say they will retire within five years.

Joshua Starr
Joshua Starr has emerged as a fully fledged anti-reformer.
Photo from WAMU 88.5.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be ardent change-agents. They’ve lived and worked within this system and will benefit from its pensions in retirement. Why make waves?

To be fair, some are earnest, tireless, and imaginative reformers, bent on altering public education so that it better serves the country’s girls and boys. Among the most nationally visible of these have been Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Kaya Henderson, Tom Boasberg, John Deasy, Jean-Claude Brizard, and Andres Alonso. (Several of these, of course, followed non-traditional paths to the corner office.) Others, just as committed to major overhauls, are well known only in their communities, such as Cleveland’s Eric Gordon, Cincinnati’s Mary Ronan, and Dayton’s Lori Ward...

This week, Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by Common Core architects David Coleman and Jason Zimba—announced a partnership with the NEA and AFT to develop and disseminate Core-aligned curriculum at no cost to teachers, thanks to a three-year, $11-million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. As Kathleen Porter-Magee noted in yesterday’s Common Core Watch, “Given the dearth of quality, CCSS-aligned materials available to teachers who are already working to align their practice to the new standards, this additional investment is welcome.” We eagerly await the materials.

A task force convened to determine whether D.C. charter schools ought to give admissions preference to nearby students came up with a verdict on Friday: While the District should allow charters that move into closed public school buildings to give neighborhood preference, other charter schools should not be compelled (or even allowed) to do so. This is a sensible compromise that will ease the burden on students transitioning from schools that are closing while maintaining a central tenet of the charter school idea: to be open to all students, regardless of home address.

As part of its “30 under 30” series,...

A D.C. City Council’s task force looking at neighborhood preferences for the district’s charter schools came out recently with some sensible recommendations that ought to inform similar conversations in other cities.

D.C. charter schools, the task force decided, should remain open to all comers in the city, but charters that move into closed district schools should voluntarily give admissions preference to children who live nearby.

For the District of Columbia, this is a reasonable conclusion that helps to ensure that disadvantaged kids in a given locale have access to a good education while upholding a central tenet of the charter-school idea: that these institutions should be open to all students, regardless of their home address.

But the critical word here is “voluntarily.” Other school districts, such as those in Denver and Chicago, have insisted on neighborhood preference as a condition for handing over public school buildings to charters. That’s a cudgel the D.C. task force has wisely avoided using.

Instead, the task force (which included representatives from D.C. Public Schools, city government, the teacher union, and charter schools) recommended giving D.C. charters that move into district schools the ability to offer a “time-limited” admission preference to families most affected...

How much is too much when it comes to compensation of district superintendents and charter school administrators?  

In the last couple of months several newspapers have run front page stories on the compensation being paid school administrators in Ohio. In late September, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a series of stories on what superintendents and treasurers in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky were making, while just this past weekend the Dayton Daily News ran a story on the overall compensation paid a charter school administrator and her family to run seven schools in Ohio. And, the Youngstown Vindicator ran an editorial on Tuesday pointing out the insanity of the Youngstown City School District’s Cadillac health care plan for that fiscally and academically bankrupt district’s administrators and teachers.  I also sit on my local school district’s business advisory council and one of the thorniest issues the group grapples with is compensation of top school administrators. Talking money and compensation for public sector employees is a highly sensitive issue politically, especially since the economic downturn of 2008.

My basic view on matters of compensation is pretty straightforward: Highly effective superintendents and charter school operators deserve to be paid well...

How much is too much when it comes to compensation of district superintendents and charter school administrators?

In the last couple of months I have been asked by reporters about the compensation being paid school administrators in Ohio. In late September, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a series of stories on what superintendents and treasurers in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky were making, while just this past weekend the Dayton Daily News ran a story on the overall compensation paid a charter school administrator and her family to run seven schools in Ohio and three in Florida. I’m also on the business advisory council to my local school district and one of the biggest issues they grapple with is compensation of top school administrators. This is a very sensitive issue politically, especially since the economic downturn of 2008.

My basic view on matters of compensation is pretty straightforward: Highly effective superintendents and charter school operators deserve to be paid well as they work long hours and deal with myriad and complicated human, fiscal, academic, and political issues. Their compensation should be transparent (no hidden benefits or perks); and there should be a marketplace for talent. Let school districts and...

Rick Scott
Rick Scott is right about Common Core standards.
Photo from Education News.

Just as Tony Bennett was talking to reporters last week about his new job as Florida education commissioner, Governor Rick Scott was getting some attention of his own for suggesting that all schools receiving public funding—including private schools accepting voucher-bearing students—should be held to the same standard.

Or, more specifically, the Common Core State Standards. And on this, reporters pounced, noting (with some jest) that Scott was parting ways with fellow Republicans who want to leave private schools alone and stirring backlash among private school leaders who feared they soon would have to “teach to the test.”

This kind of anxiety calls for a voice of reason, and Bennett is just the guy to provide it. After all, he’s leaving Indiana, where he pushed a voucher program that required students to take the same standardized test as do public schools (and where they also will be taking the Common Core assessments when those...

Responsible adults

Mike and Dara discuss bringing MOOCs to K–12 education, tiptoeing up to the fiscal cliff, and angry unions in Michigan. Amber considers all the angles of the newly released international achievement scores.

Amber's Research Minute

International Achievement Test Results (TIMSS & PIRLS)

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...

Pages