Charters & Choice

walking feet photo

These feet were made for votin', and that's just what they'll do.
Photo by Josiah Lau Photography

Close on two years after Gary Orfield’s Civil Rights Project
released its influential—and controversial—Choice Without Equality report, another of the Orfield clan is
chastising charters for their level of racial segregation. According to Brother
Myron, charter schools in his home state of Minnesota resemble “the Deep South
in the days of Jim Crow segregation,” as these schools cater to niche student
markets—often of the same race. At Dugsi Academy, for example, the school’s
all-black student population studies Arabic and Somali: The school has a
mission of educating East African children in the Twin Cities. A few miles down
the road, students at the Twin Cities German Immersion School, who are 90
percent white, are immersed in German language and cultural studies. Myron is
right that these “boutique” charters are racially homogeneous. But Orfield is
missing a few structural beams in his tower of rhetoric. The most crucial: This
type of “segregation” is both self-selected and voluntary. “Some people call it
segregation. This is the parent’s choice. They can go anywhere they want. We
are offering families something unique,” explains Dugsi’s director. Instead of

STEM education in Ohio is a growing component of
the state’s K-12 system. Metro Early College High School opened as a STEM
school in Columbus in 2007, and since then STEM schools have opened their doors
in metro regions like Dayton, Cincinnati, Akron, and Cleveland. The schools have
drawn millions of dollars in support from state government, local school
districts, the private sector and philanthropy (see here for details).

So far, however, the state’s STEM network has
not yet opened a school that is aimed at the state’s dynamic agricultural
sector and all that supports it. Senator Chris Widener (a Republican from
Springfield who chairs the Senate Finance Committee) hopes to tackle this void
in the state’s STEM sector. There is a whole lot of merit to this effort.

As I learned (somewhat surprisingly) in talking
with Sen. Widener, one in seven jobs in Ohio is connected to the “AgBioscience”
sector. This sector comprises food, agriculture, environmental, and bio-based
products industries. As a whole the sector employs about a million workers statewide
with an annual economic impact of over $100 billion a year. It is one of Ohio’s
fastest growing sectors with thousands of jobs going unfilled because there
aren't enough skilled Ohioans to do the work. Consider the following statistics
provided last week by Sen. Widener:

  • Ohio
    has added on average 59 new bioscience companies a year since 2004,
  • ...
The Education Gadfly

Few topics in education polarize policymakers, educators,
parents, and the American people in general as consistently as school choice.
Charter school advocates often shy from vouchers; homeschooling proponents don’t
necessarily support digital learning. Fordham’s new Choice Words blog will
explore America’s diversity of schooling options and the controversies that
often surround them, featuring guest blog posts from experts and commentary
from several Fordham authors. Be sure to check out past articles and keep an
eye on this blog for the introduction of Fordham’s newest voice, our
director of the Program on Parental Choice....

Okay, it's not exactly what Rupert might condone, but since he and his crew are preoccupied and because our News Nuggets shop has plenty to do, I offer some education highlights from my weekend reading:

Charter Fights Move to the Suburbs Winnie Hu had a front-page story in the Sunday New York Times documenting a small trend in the charter movement to open more of the independent public schools in suburbs: about one in five of the nation's 5,000 charters are now in the ?burbs.? Not surprisingly, the story raises some existential questions about public education. ?Mike calls attention to the article in his Myth of the ?good? school post this morning, pointing out that ?One person's `good school' is another person's `bad fit.'? ?But there is also a ?financial question here, which is whether we can afford a good school, or even a good fit, for everyone. Is the computer the answer? Just as we citizens and taxpayers pool our resources to build common roads and ?provide for the common defense,? our ?public school system? has traditionally supposed that we get better education by having common schools. Traditionally, that has meant a central location. But if we don't need bricks and mortar to educate, do we still need a there there?

Rocketship Takes Off One of the newest charter success stories, Palo-Alto-based Rocketship Education may provide some answers.? According to Vauhini Vara of the Wall Street Journal, the the four-year old organization, which operates...

small child, big shoes photo

One size does not fit all.
Photo by Neeta Lind

Tension has long been visible between
charter-school proponents and some within the special-education community. The short
version goes like this: Charter schools, which are typically mission-oriented,
small, and underfunded, find it hard to service every sort of
disability within their classrooms appropriately. So they counsel some youngsters to seek other
service providers better attuned to their particular needs. This practice riles
many SPED advocates. It angers districts, too, as they are most often obligated
to educate these high-need—and often high-cost—students. We understand the
complaints, but consider the practicalities: No individual school (regular or
charter) can serve every type of disability. Large districts can
create specialized programs at particular schools (say, for students with severe autism,
or those with Down Syndrome); small districts team up with other LEAs or
“Intermediate Units” to do the same. If a school cannot provide the necessary
resources to ensure a student’s success, then that school might not be the best
place for the child and other options need to be considered. That goes for all
public schools—including charters.

South Florida charter schools admit few special needs children,”
by Kathleen McGrory and...

State Rep. Matt Huffman is trying to build support for a promising effort
to expand private school vouchers to more working-class families in
Ohio. In order to appease recalcitrant school districts, whose
executives vocally oppose the measure, he may remove any benefit
youngsters in wealthier districts could hope to get out of the program,

Originally, the bill would have granted vouchers of up to $4,626
based on a family’s economic circumstances. But managers in more than
300 school districts have complained about the possible loss of state
and local funding, apparently afraid of competition for students’
dollars from the parochial school down the block. Huffman now wants to
limit the amount of each voucher to the total per-pupil aid the child’s
school district receives from the state. This means that children in
property-rich suburbs, where a growing number of poor families are concentrated,
could get just a few hundred bucks a year when they leave for a private
school, while many thousands of dollars stay with the school district.

It’s hard to imagine a worse trade-off: Districts get to keep the
cash without providing services, while poor and working-class parents in
the ‘burbs are forced to scrimp and save even more than their urban
counterparts to have some measure of control over their children’s
education. Choice-friendly legislators and advocacy groups in Ohio
should ask themselves, who are the state’s...

Recent news that White Hat, the big,
Ohio-based, profit-seeking charter school operator, faces financial problems
was surely received as an early Christmas present by many long-time charter
opponents, particularly within the Buckeye State. The company’s founder and
leader, Akron industrialist David Brennan, has been a larger-than-life-target
for school choice foes since Governor George Voinovich appointed him in 1992 to
head a commission intended to advance choice in Ohio k-12 education.

That commission’s work led to the Cleveland Scholarship Program – the nation’s
first publicly- funded voucher program. Its constitutionality would be debated
and litigated until being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, a decision
that has reverberated across the country.

David Brennan’s vision, doggedness and
political connectedness in the education-policy sector have not been limited to
vouchers. Without him, Ohio’s charter-school program might have been
still-born, or strangled in its crib, by the outraged forces of the
public-school establishment. From day one, the teacher unions teamed up with
the League of Women Voters, the PTA, the Ohio School Boards Association, the
Ohio AFL-CIO and others to savage charters at the statehouse, to challenge them
in the courthouse—all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court—and to denounce them in
every sort of public forum.

The vitriol of these attacks was illustrated in 2003 by then Cleveland Teachers
Union president Richard DeColibus, who announced his union’s $70,000 “truth”
campaign by...

2005, Fordham has been working in Ohio to recruit high quality charter schools
to neighborhoods badly in need of better schools. During our six-plus years of
effort as a charter authorizer we have managed to recruit just two
high-performing models to Columbus (KIPP and a BES school). Tougher still, we
have been unable to recruit any to our home town of Dayton. We know first-hand the
challenge of helping to recruit and launch great schools. It is for this reason
that we are excited about the work of organization across the country to
accelerate the growth of great new schools through a strategic process called “charter

incubators are entities that intentionally build the supply of high-quality
schools and charter-management organizations (CMOs) in cities or 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
in Indianapolis, and 4.0
in several southeastern states.

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...

has been involved in the arena of school choice in Ohio at virtually every
level for the past decade. We authorize
charter schools
, we have created charter school support organizations and
helped birth other choice-support entities, we’ve fought for choice policies in
the legislature, and Terry and Checker literally wrote
the book
on what we think are the lessons from all this work in Ohio.
Issues of school choice and the quality (or not) of urban schools have been a
big part of my professional life the last five years. Now, they are front and
center in my personal life as a parent of a 4-year old son, too. My husband and
I have to decide in the next year where our child will go to school and it is a
daunting decision.

live in the Columbus City School district (CCS). My husband and I bought our
home years before we had decided whether we wanted to have children, let alone
where we’d want to raise them and send them to school. Fast forward about a
decade: our son will be a kindergartner next year and we find ourselves
navigating urban school choice firsthand.

look forward to continuing to live in the city of Columbus and sending our son
to a district school next year. We love the diversity and energy of our
neighborhood, and...

The Education Gadfly

More than two million students nationwide now attend charter schools, with over 500 new charters opening this school year alone. Ensuring a strong supply of talented school leaders to serve this growing sector requires creative solutions, which is why experts from charter incubation organizations across the country came together on Wednesday for a Fordham and CEE-Trust-sponsored discussion of the incubation model and a new policy brief on the topic. Watch the video to catch up on all the conversation from “Driving Quality: Can charter incubators solve the problem of too many mediocre charter schools?

Download the policy brief, “Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector,” to learn more.