Charters & Choice

Carrots, Sticks, and the Bully Pulpit cover

Earlier this week, the Koret Task
Force of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, which I have the privilege of chairing,
issued a bold proposal (primarily crafted by Russ Whitehurst) for totally
rebooting the federal role in primary-secondary education.

Washington insiders will, of course, dismiss it as “politically
unrealistic” precisely because it is so sweeping and radical. Maybe it will
turn out to be. But with ESEA reauthorization in stalemate, the parties at
loggerheads, and a total breakdown of the former “consensus” painfully visible,
perhaps a sweeping, radical reboot is precisely what is most needed. States
that find this reboot appealing can follow the Task Force’s proposal. States
that prefer some version of the status quo may stick with it.

The Task Force begins by explaining why neither top-down
accountability (à la NCLB) nor total devolution of authority to states and
districts can rekindle American education and boost student achievement. Both
have been tried—and both have been found sorely wanting.

What to do instead? The Task Force
offers a very different approach...

  • A
    suburban Virginia
    district has irked some parents by taking them to court over their children’s
    tardiness. Parent involvement is well and good, but districts will find
    that charging parents with misdemeanors may not foster the kind of engagement
    they were shooting for.
  • As
    Terry noted, on Monday Cleveland's
    mayor announced an ambitious plan to overhaul the city's schools by
    partnering with high performing charters, granting district schools greater
    flexibility, and changing rules over teacher layoffs and pay. First Indianapolis, then Detroit,
    now Cleveland;
    the Rust Belt is finally recognizing that economic revitalization starts
    in city classrooms. As Ohio Governor John Kasich said in Tuesday’s State
    of the State address, “We can change urban education in Ohio and in
    America. That is worth fighting for.”
  • The
    Florida Senate education committee approved a bill requiring school
    districts to share their construction and maintenance funding with
    charter schools
    . Districts can grump all they want, but the fact
    remains that charters have long been denied a crucial part of the funding
    pie; Gadfly hopes they will finally get
  • ...

In the emotionally charged story of the Chester Upland
School District in Pennsylvania, several observers have seen
the bogeyman with great clarity. Critics from Dennis
Van Roekel
to Valerie
have set aside the history of financial troubles that took root in
the district a generation ago and have asserted that “privatization” and the
emergence of the Keystone State’s largest charter school have quickened the
district’s pending death.

No storybook ending is imminent. The school district says
it’s broke and can’t pay its teachers past the end of the month. Gov. Tom
Corbett has assured students they will be able to finish the year at Chester
Upland, but no one knows where the money is coming from. And the New York Times has identified
another problem
: the Chester
Community Charter
School, which claims it’s
owed nearly $7 million in past-due payments from the district and the state.

One shouldn’t expect a state judiciary to demand budget cuts from the charter
before it can expect to get paid the money it’s owed.

Community Charter
School has grown to

Greater collaboration between school districts and charter
schools is worthwhile so long as the one-size-fits-all approach of a school
board doesn’t dampen the unique characteristics of a charter. Washington D.C.
would seem to have fertile ground for collaboration, done right, given that
D.C. has built a “portfolio” approach to public education in which charters
claim 40 percent of the public school enrollment. But the excitement over a new
report urging the district and charter boards to work together to increase the
supply of high-performing schools can obscure the elements that made D.C. a
proving ground for school choice.

Will the one-size-fits-all approach of a school
board dampen the unique characteristics of a charter?

The report from Midwestern-based
consultant IFF
to D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray identifies a need to invest in
more high-performing schools in a cluster of underserved neighborhoods, and it
suggests that D.C.
Public Schools and the
Public Charter School Board can play an equal and complementary role in
fulfilling the task. Despite the release of creative energy in the District in
the last several years, just 1 of...

One critique of school vouchers and tax credit scholarships
that persists is that they direct public money to private schools that
cherry-pick the best students, even if the vouchers target a low-income
population. Now the
redefinED blog has given us a sneak peek
into a soon-to-be-published study
that examines which students select a means-tested private school option, and

Cassandra Hart, an education professor at the University of California,
Davis, conducted
a study of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship
for low-income students to
take a deeper look at the characteristics of the participants and the public
schools they left. With help from Northwestern
University economist
David Figlio, Hart finds that scholarship recipients not only are among the
lowest performing students who are economically disadvantaged, they came from
public schools that are, she writes, “troubled along a number of dimensions.” (Full disclosure: From 2009 to 2011, I helped
to develop the policy and communications initiatives for the nonprofit that
administers the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship

Significantly, Hart says the students might have been less
likely to use the voucher if they had...

Pedro Noguera’s departure from the State University of New
York charter board isn’t entirely surprising, but it sends another mixed signal
from a self-professed supporter of charter schools who is straining to contain
their expansion.

Just four months ago, Noguera
embraced the complexity of his position
while enduring the jeers of a protest
movement with whom he sorely wanted to find common ground. “I think we need
ways to change and improve our schools, and if charters become one means to do
that, I support it,” he once said. On Wednesday, he
told The New York Times
that the
SUNY board has harbored a political agenda to increase the number of charter
schools and has ultimately hastened inequities between charter and traditional

Noguera has muddied a debate painfully in need of clarity.

Noguera didn’t contradict his earlier statements as much as
he deserted the complexity of his convictions all too quickly. In doing so, he
has muddied a debate painfully in need of clarity. His resignation highlights
how support for charter school initiatives can weaken when advocates fail to
agree on why...

MBAs are taking on an increasingly visible role in
traditional school districts around the country. Large districts are
multi-billion dollar enterprises, the argument goes, and business-minded people
bring critical skills for managing those organizations efficiently. Many
passionate ed-reformer MBAs believe the b-school set can help combat the
bureaucracy and mismanagement that hurt districts' effectiveness. As a fellow
business school graduate, I'm not so sure.

My first, perhaps obvious, objection is that big
organizations with distinctive professional cultures are incredibly hard to
turn around. This is especially true if you're trying to effect change from the
middle management and special-projects role where many new MBAs find
themselves. Traditional school districts need major changes to their business
models to be on financially sustainable ground and poised to deliver services
in a coming era of increased parental choice and (I hope!) decoupled services.
That's primarily a job for school boards and superintendents.

The problem with the "MBAs to the
rescue" strategy is the conceit that business-school types are
somehow inherently efficiency-minded.

The fundamental problem with the "MBAs to the
rescue" strategy, however, is the conceit that...

In its fourth
annual report
, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers
offers a snapshot of the nation’s charter sponsors, capturing their size, their
shape, and how many schools they open and shutter. For example, the majority of
the nation’s authorizers are local education agencies (52 percent), and an even
greater percentage are small (86 percent authorized fewer than six schools). More
interestingly, charter-closure rates are on the decline. Just 6.2 percent of
the nation’s charter schools up for renewal were shuttered (or non-renewed) in
2010-11, down from 8.8 percent the year before and 12.6 percent in 2008-09.
Unfortunately, NACSA doesn’t link these stats to performance data, meaning that
we can’t know if this trend indicates increased quality of charters, leniency
of authorizers, or political pressures to keep them open. Digging further,
NACSA reports that nonprofit authorizers (like Fordham) represent the smallest
percentage of those that oversee charter schools but employ the most of NACSA’s
own dozen “essential
.” They’ve also closed more schools, on average, than other types
of authorizers (including districts, institutions of higher ed, and independent
chartering boards)....

Lisa Duty

One could argue that 2011 was the
year of “digital learning” in Ohio and across the nation. In September, the
White House announced its “Digital Promise” campaign, while a number of states
have been embracing initiatives and campaigns in this realm, aided and
encouraged by national groups like the Digital Learning Council and the
Foundation for Excellence in Education. Ohio’s biennial budget launched the
Ohio Digital Learning Task Force and charged it with ensuring that the state’s
“legislative environment is conducive to and supportive of the educators and
digital innovators at the heart of this transformation.”

Our two organizations –
KnowledgeWorks and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute – are committed to seeing
Ohio become a leader in the implementation of digital learning opportunities
for the state’s 1.8 million students. Ohio now stands at an important
crossroads and 2012 could be a pivotal year on whether we move forward in the
digital learning environment.

Our state has been a path-breaker
when it comes to availability of full-time e-school options that leverage
technology in learning. In fact, if all 33,000 children currently enrolled in

Adam Emerson

Whenever a legislative measure is aimed at the imbalance of
power between parents and public school interests, it’s often the poorest
families who suffer the greatest indignity in the debate.

After Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed a sweeping
voucher program for low-income students, the head of the state’s teachers
union, Michael Walker Jones, told
the New Orleans Times-Picayune

that parents living just out of poverty’s reach would have neither the time nor
the knowledge to make the right educational decisions. In another case, an
Orlando Sentinel editorial
a proposed “parent trigger” bill working its way through the Florida
legislature by asserting that parents in the worst performing schools would be
unable “to face a steep and brief learning curve in making such a game-changing

So what can a sample of relatively poor families in Mexico
do to inform the conversation? That’s
what a team of researchers set out to explore in several rural Mexican states

participating in a decentralized government education program we might consider
almost revolutionary in the United States.

Paul Gertler, Harry Patrinos, and Marta Rubio-Codina