Charters & Choice

After an abrupt and somewhat mysterious trip to Cyprus, Newt Gingrich has officially exited the 2012 presidential election. How come? Certainly not to spend more time with his famil(ies). Rather, it’s to focus energies on his latest venture, the “Reinvigoration of American Culture” public-charter school, set to open in New Orleans nine months after election day. The RAC school will engage in daily classroom prayer (nondenominational, of course—until those hippie liberals get out of the White House) to teach children a moral code. It will also utilize a unique school-work program that requires students to serve as the building’s janitors, cafeteria workers, hall monitors, and PE teachers (because, really, what skill that an eighth grader lacks does it take to lead a game of badminton?). The promised benefits of Newt’s new venture are threefold: Teach these lazy kids some freakin’ work ethic, stockpile some conservative bona-fides, and test-drive his education agenda on real-live lab rats—er, scholars. But a word of caution, Newt. Just opening a charter school won’t make you a shoe-in for the White House in 2016. Michele Bachmann can tell you a little something about that.

Gingrich puts his money where his mouth is,” by...

For the second consecutive year, state Superintendent Tony Evers has used his bully pulpit at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to imply that the Badger State is throwing more money at a voucher program that is inferior to a traditional school system which is receiving less. But a closer inspection of Mr. Evers’s gamesmanship reveals the tricks he employs to attack a program he once called “morally wrong.”

Closer inspection of Mr. Evers’s gamesmanship reveals the tricks he employs to attack a program he once called "morally wrong."

Just like last year, Evers distributed a press release this week asserting that students in the Milwaukee and Racine voucher programs scored no better, and in some cases worse, than district students on Wisconsin’s standardized test. We all know that such comparisons are problematic because of “selection bias” since nobody can be sure whether kids using vouchers and those using the public schools differ in important ways. (The former might, for example, have fled bad districts precisely because they were doing poorly there.)

Especially galling was Evers’s use of the Racine data.

His press release claims that far more district students in that city scored at grade level or...

The mainstream resistance to school choice has embraced the language of fear and unrest. National School Boards Association executive director Anne L. Bryant asked recently in the Huffington Post whether virtual schools are a sham and warned of “corruption and greed” among for-profit providers looking to cash in on students. It would be foolish to dismiss this as a more aggressive rhetorical attempt to retain dominance in the public school marketplace. Arguments such as Bryant’s are showing success in state legislatures and they’re degenerating legitimate debate over education reform.

The mainstream resistance to school choice has embraced the language of fear and unrest.

For instance, a proposed parent trigger law in Florida failed in the state Senate after opponents similarly warned that gullible parents would be swooned by corporate education raiders looking to profit by converting traditional schools to charters. Never mind that charters have been flourishing in the Sunshine State for more than fifteen years. Democrat Nan Rich, the Senate’s minority leader, said the trigger would lay “the groundwork for the hostile corporate takeover of public schools across Florida.” Eight Republicans joined Rich and eleven other Democrats to defeat the measure, and nearly all expressed the same...

On Fordham’s Boards Eye View blog today, Hoover scholar John Chubb made the case that states should relieve local school boards of the authority to govern student access to the burgeoning online learning market and expose school systems to more disruptive innovations. A new analysis of virtual education trends from the Evergreen Education Group gives us more evidence that districts may be unwilling to give up their authority easily.

This year’s “Keeping Pace” report from Evergreen gives us a snapshot of online and blending learning practices and tells us that the fastest-growing segment is coming from single-district programsthose run by one district for that district’s students. While it’s satisfying to see more districts embrace digital learning programssome with the purpose to compete with state-run virtual schoolsthese are school systems that are drawing boundaries around a practice that should be boundless.

These aren’t examples of disruptive innovations. These are not all fully online programs, but rather mostly blended models that combine face-to-face learning with virtual instruction that is mostly supplemental. This is not surprising, given that districts are serving only their own students, many of whom are at-risk and take advantage of online instruction mostly for credit...

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is seeking to remake and refashion the city’s long-suffering schools through a series of bold reforms that include making significant changes to the district’s collective bargaining agreement, passing a school levy for the first time in more than 15 years, and sharing public dollars with high-performing charter schools. As bold as the Jackson Plan is, however, even more audacious is the political coalition that seems to be coalescing around it.

Controversial components of the mayor’s plan include basing pay, layoffs, and rehiring decisions on performance and specialization instead of traditional factors like seniority and credentials; replacing the current 304-page collective bargaining agreement, when it expires in 2013, and using a “fresh start” to renegotiate a new and far more streamlined contract; and providing high-performing charter schools with local levy dollars to support their day-to-day operations.

The Jackson Plan’s labor flexibility and levy support for high-performing charter schools are ideas that have long been anathema to statehouse Democrats and their union supporters. Not surprisingly, more than a few legislative Democrats and union officials have pointed out in recent weeks that some of the proposed changes in the mayor’s plan to the Cleveland teacher union collective bargaining agreement...

Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher proposal for Louisiana has been dragged into the familiar politics of parental choice. The state House took up the measure today, with Democrats calling for a smaller pool of eligible students and strict accountability of schools receiving voucher revenue. It doesn’t matter that Jindal would require participating schools to assess their voucher students with Louisiana’s standardized test and disclose the results. Democrats want the state to penalize private schools for poor performance.

Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher proposal for Louisiana has been dragged into the familiar politics of parental choice.

Let’s set aside the size of the eligibility pool—Jindal would offer vouchers to low-income students in schools graded C, D, or F, and opponents want to drop the “C” schools—and focus on accountability. The governor is going further than most school choice advocates in preferring to assess voucher students with the same tests given at public schools, but he wouldn’t have private schools face any legislatively determined sanctions if their students score poorly. There may be a political craving among some Louisiana lawmakers to hold dominion over private schools that receive public funding, but the best evidence we have supports the path Jindal has...

In language that tried to capture the sweep of 1983’s A Nation at Risk, a Council on Foreign Relations task force warned this week that the nation’s poor educational outcomes represent a threat to national security, in addition to dampening America’s competitiveness in the global economy. The panel, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York City schools Chancellor Joel Klein, blamed the “innovation deficit” and the very structure of an ailing system of public education that de-emphasizes the values of choice and competition so prized in nearly every other sector of American life. While calls for common standards, school choice, and foreign language skills aren’t unusual today, what matters here is who is doing the calling. As the Wall Street Journal noted, it’s a testament to how far the choice movement has come that such recommendations are endorsed by so-established a group as the CFR. Dissents from task force members, especially those from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, cheered the report’s embrace of national standards but complained that choice and competition have undermined public education and haven’t worked “in a scalable and sustainable way.” But we can provide high-quality public and...

The call for socioeconomically integrated schools is growing louder, and this volume, edited by the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg, explains why. He contends that socioeconomic integration is more than a politically palatable and legally permissible way to achieve racial integration: It is also an effective strategy for raising the academic achievement of both low-income and minority students—and one that could save districts dollars as it raises academic achievement without the need to pump copious extra funds into schools with concentrated poverty. That doesn’t mean it’s easy: In one chapter, Harvard doctoral candidate Marco Basile estimates that, in order to halve economic segregation, a quarter of all low-income students would need to transfer to affluent schools while a quarter of more-affluent students would need to enroll in schools located in more-disadvantaged neighborhoods. This swap, he estimates (using some questionable assumptions), would produce a per-student lifetime benefit of $33,010. But how to get affluent families to volunteer for such an experiment in “trading places”? Several authors argue for encouraging voluntary integration through the expansion of “controlled-choice” programs, and make astute suggestions for enhancing such efforts’ political feasibility. Unfortunately,...

John Kirtley
Chairman of Step Up for Students


Guest blogger John Kirtley is the founder of two private equity firms in Tampa, FL. He is the chairman of Step Up For Students, a non-profit that administers the tax credit scholarship program and which now empowers the parents of nearly 40,000 low income Florida children who attend a private school of their choice, and of the Florida Federation for Children, a "527" political organization active in Florida legislative races. He is vice chair of the American Federation For Children, a national parental choice advocacy organization, and also a board member of the Florida Charter School Alliance and the Hillsborough County (Tampa) Education Foundation.

The most important governance question is: “Will low income and working class parents truly direct the taxpayer dollars used to educate their children?”

The definition of “public education” is changing rapidly, even if some don’t want it to. It used to mean giving taxpayer dollars solely to districts to operate all schools, where kids are assigned by zip code. The emerging definition, which I prefer, is using taxpayer dollars to educate children in the best way possible for each of them,...

The authors of the Council on Foreign Relations’ report on US education reform and national security compared the sweep of their work with 1983’s A Nation at Risk, updating the “rising tide of mediocrity” with 21st century warnings of America’s weakened competitiveness. It’s hard to imagine that we’ll be talking about the Council’s recommendations 30 years from now, but there is much to this report that makes it one of the boldest statements on our progress toward higher educational standards and enhanced school choice.

The recommendations are not groundbreaking. The task force, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former New York schools chancellor Joel Klein, is urging the expansion of Common Core standards and the spread of more choice and competition

...

Pages