Charters & Choice

Editor’s note: This article wades into the ongoing debate over private school choice and public accountability. For background see here, here, here, here, and here.

Policymaking usually involves trade-offs, finding the right balance between competing objectives and even principles. This is especially true in education, where so much is at stake, both for vulnerable children and for the health of society.

One of the principles that should guide education policy is that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” (article 26, 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in San Francisco in 1948). Officially, at least, this right is acknowledged by almost every nation and is enshrined in many of their constitutions; it has been settled law in the United States since the Supreme Court’s 1925 ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510).

Americans agree, as Terry Moe showed in Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public. This is especially true of parents for whom public-school provision is of inadequate quality. “Among public [school] parents,” Moe wrote, “vouchers are supported by 73 percent of those with family incomes below $20,000 a year, compared to 57 percent of those with incomes above $60,000. . . .75 percent of black parents and 71 percent of Hispanic parents, compared to 63 percent of white parents. . . .72 percent of parents in the bottom tier of districts favor vouchers, while...

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Today marks the end of National School Choice Week. What started four years ago as a relatively small coalition of reform-minded organizations drawing attention to an issue they passionately supported has turned into a movement. Highlighted by a nationwide whistle-stop train tour, the most amazing part of the week is the thousands of events held all around the country by schools and organizations of all types. For at least one week, the focus shifts from the usual argument of public vs. private and lands squarely where it belongs—on empowering parents and their children with high quality educational options.

In honor of National School Choice Week, we want to take a break from our role as a Gadfly where we too often have to point out situations where quality is lacking. We’d like to recognize some Ohio charter schools that during 2012-13 achieved at a very high level. These schools made a difference in the lives of the students they served.

Given our consistent stance for high standards in all areas, it probably won’t surprise you that the bar to earn our recognition is quite high. To make the list, a charter school must be in the top 10 percent of all schools in the state on either the performance index measuring overall academic achievement or the value added measure that tracks learning gains.

We are proud to recognize and honor these twenty-five schools that have achieved a top ten rating.

Some of you may be...

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Yesterday at AEI’s terrific conference on “encouraging new and better schools” via school-choice programs, I presented a paper on what the recently resurgent private-school-choice movement can learn from the 20 years of successes and struggles of charter schooling.

I argued that three lessons from chartering ought to be utilized by choice advocates. The first is school networks. In the charter sector, these are generally called “CMOs” (charter-management organizations); in the private-schools world, they’re not called anything because they don’t yet exist (with just a few exceptions).

By adopting the school-network model, instead of remaining highly independent, private schools could realize economies of scale and huge benefits related to human capital. I also hypothesize that networks would help spawn a private-schools-support ecosystem in the nonprofit sector, akin to the ecosystem that has been developed around charters.

The second lesson relates to school incubation. A number of organizations across the nation have as a central mission helping charters get off the ground. They primarily work in four areas—helping to identify and train school founders and leaders; providing start-up funds to approved schools; giving strategic advice and support during the application process and after the school’s doors open; and advocating for improved policies. Private-school incubators could serve the very same functions, helping to create new, high-quality private schools.

The third lesson is accountability via authorizers. Early choice programs had few if any quality controls, meaning many low-performing private schools participated. Newer...

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At less than an hour, this documentary, directed by Choice Media founder Bob Bowdon, provides a digestible overview of school choice and how it impacts families. The film’s slightly hokey structure is a transcontinental exploration of school choice by train. On its way from California to New York, the train stops in seven cities, using each to focus a different mechanism of school choice, of which a few were particularly compelling:

  • At our stop in Adelanto, California, we meet a group of parents who successfully employed that state’s “parent-trigger” law to close their failing neighborhood school and reopen it as a charter school.
  • In Kansas City, Missouri, we are introduced to that state’s transfer law, which allows students assigned to unaccredited school districts the right to transfer to schools in better ones. We meet a mother and daughter who wake up at 4:00 a.m. because of the long bus ride that her child takes to school each morning to attend a quality public school.
  • Our stop in Erie, Pennsylvania, introduces us to several students who have opted to attend cyber charter schools rather than traditional high schools, and we see that cyber school students have a surprising amount of contact with their teachers via telephone or video chat. 
  • In Topeka, Chicago, Cleveland, and Rochester, we learn about homeschooling, charter schools, vouchers, and private schools, respectively.

You can visit all the stops by attending one of the many screenings as part of the School Choice Week Whistle Stop Tour.

SOURCE:...

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A state’s laws and policies set the conditions for a thriving charter-school environment. Good policy can ensure that public charters have access to the resources they need and the freedom to innovate, while also ensuring accountability for academic outcomes. But not all state charter laws are created equal. Some uphold the autonomy-accountability promise, while incentivizing, encouraging, and speeding the opening of high-quality schools. Some fall short—sometimes by a little, sometimes by a mile. Now in its fifth year, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’s (NAPCS) annual rating of state charter laws contains twenty components, including how well each state fares with respect to charter caps, authorizer standards and practices, the degree of school autonomy, and funding provisions. Minnesota, Indiana, and Louisiana topped the rankings. (Fordham’s home state of Ohio clocked in at a dismal but well-deserved twenty-eighth out of forty-three jurisdictions.) The biggest movers from 2013 to 2014? Mississippi leapt from forty-third to fourteenth place; Idaho jumped from thirty-second to twentieth; and Indiana moved up from ninth to second. NAPCS commended Mississippi for its “significant overhaul” of the state’s young charter-school law (enacted in 2010). The Magnolia State’s changes included a bump in the cap on start-up and conversion charters and the establishment of a statewide authorizing entity. Both Idaho and Indiana were lauded for strengthening their charter-school-renewal processes. Among the renewal provisions, both states require schools to seek a renewal of their charter from their authorizer, while authorizers must support a renewal (or non-renewal) decision based on school...

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Public Impact has authored a report for NACSA and the Charter School Growth Fund with ten policy recommendations to foster accelerated growth of successful charter schools and school networks. Two themes emerge. The first: Taking a differentiated approach to key aspects of charter-school-authorizing work—school accountability frameworks, school replication, and school renewal—is important. Here, differentiation also means treating high-performing charters differently than others; options include green-lighting multiple schools over several years contingent on the performance of their predecessors and using shorter applications tailored to existing schools, capitalizing on the quantitative and qualitative data that an authorizing office has already collected as part of its oversight duties. The second: State policy must complement those efforts. Recommendations include crafting legislation that builds a statewide community of authorizers committed to scaling quality (e.g., establishing standards for authorizer quality and encouraging school districts to embrace a portfolio management approach); removing or tweaking state caps on charter schools so that only high performers may grow (and, conversely, adopting mandatory closure laws, as we have in Ohio, for perennial low performers); providing capital for incubation and acceleration efforts; being open to school-governance models that support inter and intra-state networks of schools; and integrating a “restart strategy” (i.e., transitioning the charter of a low-performing charter school to a new board and management team). To which we say, bring it on!

SOURCE: Public Impact, Replicating Quality: Policy Recommendations to Support the Replication and Growth of High-Performing Charter Schools and Networks (Chicago: National Association of Charter School Authorizers...

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The State of the Union was unusually light on education, though President Obama did touch on early-childhood education, ed tech, college access, and (of course) Race to the Top. However, the real action came the next morning, when the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance for its Public Charter Schools Program, giving charters the option of using “weighted lotteries” without surrendering their shot at federal start-up dollars. Mike Petrilli has been making the case for policies like this for years, and argued in this weekend’s Washington Post (along with Sam Chaltain and Rick Kahlenberg) that D.C. should embrace a variety of strategies to integrate its public schools. Checker Finn, however, flipped out at what he deemed “nanny-statism”—and a Flypaper brawl ensued.

Senator Lamar Alexander filed legislation that would consolidate some eighty federal education programs into one giant funding stream, in order to create an optional school-choice program for states. It would take about $24 billion, or 41 percent of current federal spending on elementary and secondary public schools, and let states decide whether to allow low-income families to carry their children’s share of these dollars to the public or private schools of their choice. Senator Tim Scott also has a school-choice bill floating around that would allow families of students with disabilities to gain access to $11 billion in federal dollars for private-school vouchers. Snaps! (Check out this Flypaper post by Michael Brickman for more analysis.)

Vergara v. California, the trial over California’s teacher-protection...

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It’s no fun to argue with friends—at least not about serious matters—and worse to find respected colleagues slipping into error or avoiding reality. But that’s my regretful take on where Jay...

I have been blessed with a few decades worth of work in education policy, and I have never seen a moment with more potential.

While it is possible and valid to reflect on the last twenty years and be disappointed that we didn’t make blistering-fast progress, it’s just as valid to be proud...

The State of the Union was unusually light on education, though President Obama did touch on early-childhood education, ed tech, college access, and (of course) Race...

We take a look at Public Impact's recent publication of ten policy recommendations to foster growth of successful charters.

A state’s laws and policies set the conditions for a thriving charter-school environment. Good policy can ensure that public charters have access to the resources they need and the freedom to innovate, while also ensuring accountability for academic outcomes. But not all state charter laws are...

At less than an hour, this documentary, directed by Choice Media founder Bob Bowdon, provides a digestible overview of school choice and how it impacts families. The film’s slightly hokey structure is a transcontinental exploration of school choice by train. On its way from California to New...

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Michelle and Brickman take over the podcast, discussing “controlled choice” (and declaring their allegiances to either #TeamMike or #TeamChecker), Sen. Lamar Alexander’s school-choice legislation, and teacher-protection laws in California. Amber reads into English-language-arts instruction.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” by Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 104 (Washington, D.C.: CALDER and AIR, January 2014).

School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?

Many proponents of private school choice take for granted that schools won't participate if government asks too much of them, especially if it demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve many kids. But is this assumption justified?

A new Fordham Institute study provides empirical answers. Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types schools shy away from regulation more than others?

These are just some of the questions that David Stuit, author of the Fordham study, will discuss with a panel featuring John Kirtley of Step Up for Students (Florida), Larry Keough of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, and Paul Miller of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Michelle and Brickman take over the podcast, discussing “controlled choice” (and declaring their allegiances to either #TeamMike or #TeamChecker), Sen. Lamar Alexander’s school-choice legislation, and teacher-protection laws in California. Amber reads into English-language-arts instruction.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning that Lasts: Unpacking Variation in Teachers’ Effects on Students’ Long-Term Knowledge,” by Benjamin Master, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff, Working Paper 104 (Washington, D.C.: CALDER and AIR, January 2014).

Today, Bellwether released a new report on the promise of charter schooling in rural America—and the very real challenges facing it.

The paper is part the ROCI initiative, a two-year project on rural education reform funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

Though I’ve been working on charter issues for more than a decade now, I went into this project knowing relatively little about rural charters. It turns out that this is partially because there are so few of them. There are a mere 785 rural charter schools, and only 111 of them are in the most remote rural areas.

High-performing charters have accomplished great things for many, many inner-city kids, so my colleagues and I wondered whether they could do the same in rural areas. The need is certainly great.

There are 11 million students in rural public schools, and kids in rural America are more likely than their peers in any other geography to live in poverty. Only 27 percent of rural high-school graduates go on to college, and just one in five rural adults has earned a bachelor’s degree.

But bringing chartering to these communities is knottier than I imagined. First, “rural” defies a simple definition. As one scholar put it, the term includes “hollows in the Appalachian Mountains, former sharecroppers’ shacks in the Mississippi Delta, desolate Indian reservations on the Great Plains, and emerging colonia along the Rio Grande.”

Second, since so many of these areas are sparsely populated,...

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