Charters & Choice

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is seeking to close a troubled charter school sponsor (aka authorizer), the Cleveland-based Ashe Culture Center, Inc.

This blazes new territory for the nation's charter school program. While there have been many charter school closures over the years, there are no instances where a state has actually stepped in to close a sponsor. In fact, Ohio, Minnesota, and Missouri are the only states that give the state department of education the authority to revoke a charter school sponsor's right to authorize schools. (In most other states, authorizers are brought into being via statute, and they can only be decommissioned by the legislature. Ohio's General Assembly, for example, fired the State Board of Education as a charter school sponsor in 2003.)

According to press accounts the department wants to close Ashe for ???????not properly overseeing the spending of taxpayer money.??????? Specifically, Ashe has sponsored two schools that the state auditor has deemed ???????unauditable.??????? According to an investigation by the state auditor, the sponsor's chief executive officer took payments from a school where his wife ???????? a member of the school's governing board ???????? approved said payments to the sponsor. Considering the sponsor is supposed to represent the interests of the state ???????? including ensuring tax dollars are actually spent on the educational needs of children ???????? this seems an obvious conflict of interest.

Ashe's sponsored schools also have a woeful academic track record. Over two-thirds (67 percent) of Ashe-sponsored schools are rated in the state's worst category, Academic Emergency (???????F???????), compared to 36 percent of charters in Ohio's ???????Big Eight??????? cities. Students in Ashe-sponsored schools make fewer academic gains according to the state's value-added metric, and worse, as the chart below illustrates, Ashe-sponsored schools have not improved over time....

I've now gone from optimistic to doubtful to disappointed on the LAUSD outsourcing plan. If you recall, the district decided to outsource the management of 12 low-performing schools and 18 new ones. Teachers, parents, charter organizations, and other non-profits were invited to apply. Sounded like a good idea, since LAUSD seemed to be unable to do anything with these schools to improve their dismal achievement and graduation rates. The competition even lit a fire under LA teachers, who, in the face of possible charter takeover and with district and union support, put together management plans in a matter of weeks.

Then LAUSD held a vote for parents, teachers, and community members to have their say. And they made a mess of it. I suppose that should have been the first warning signal that this good idea had succumbed to the entrenched interests of LA's education status quo. Though it's not clear how much these votes even counted, it was clear that the grass-roots campaign launched by UTLA leading up the election made a difference. It probably helped that under the "community" voter category, the same person could vote multiple times simply by going to the different school-based polling stations!

As of Tuesday, the school board has made their decisions (based for the most part on Cortines' suggestions): twenty-two schools will go to teacher groups (read: UTLA), ??three go to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, and charter operators or community groups got the rest.

A few points of interest:

1. The three big charter contenders, Green Dot, Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, and ICEF Public Schools got no schools at all. I find it hard to believe that the school board thought Green Dot, for one, incapable of taking...


It's no surprise that Ohio's economy is in crisis, but you might be amazed at the price tag for some of Gov. Strickland's new education mandates. Terry points out the implications of decreasing class size in grades K-3 alone (to 15:1), which will cost $784 million per year by 2014. If you're wondering how, where, and when Ohio plans to come up with that money while facing an upcoming $8 billion deficit, join the club.

Meanwhile, Kathryn (the Fordham Foundation's director of charter school sponsorship) discusses Fordham's new contract with its charter schools. We're proud of Fordham's strict sponsorship (authorizing) contract, which allows schools maximum operational freedoms but requires that schools be held to high standards of operational and academic excellence. Be sure to check this piece out to learn what types of provisions are necessary for a high-quality contract between schools and their authorizers.

Also on the lineup is Emmy's response to the Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU), which recently asked why the district would want to utilize charter schools as part of its transformation plan. Emmy says, ???For starters, how about better-educated students???? and points out that six of the top ten schools in Cleveland are charters. As CTU moves to unionize charters, find out what's at stake.

And don't miss several great reviews and Editor's Extras, including Teach for America alum Jamie's review of TFA'S new book, Teaching as Leadership, which outlines six principles embodied by TFA's most highly effective teachers, as well as Tim's coverage of Brookings' school choice report (featuring Ohio voucher programs) and Eric's take on the National Council on Teacher Quality's grades for Ohio....

Laura Pohl

New York City's United Federation of Teachers (UFT) recently published a report in which it said the area's charter schools don't serve at least the district-wide average of neediest students, despite serving an overwhelmingly poor population. So James Merriman of the NYC Charter Schools Blog wonders why the UFT isn't fussing over significant demographic differences within the public school system, as laid out in our "America's Private Public Schools" report. Merriman writes:

Given the UFT's present obsession with precise demographic balancing between charter schools and district schools, one might suppose that the union would have spoken out about this phenomenon. After all, UFT President Michael Mulgrew and his loyal coterie of advocacy organizations enthusiastically trumpeted a report that (1) acknowledged that charter school students were overwhelming poor but (2) based on their data, slightly less poor on average than students in nearby district managed schools. ??????

Even these minor differences merited a press conference, numerous TV appearances, and a report whose title is meant to invoke the educational apartheid sanctioned by Plessy v. Ferguson.

Merriman then points out demographic and socioeconomic statistics for specific schools and goes on to ask:

So when is the press conference in TriBeCa? When is the protest rally in Douglaston? When will we see a UFT report on the ???????separate and unequal??????? conditions between the Upper East Side and East New York? Equally, when will the UFT call for a moratorium on building new schools in wealthy areas until every child in the South Bronx is in a new school building? When will it call for demographic balancing as it did for charter schools? When will it demand that these reforms be part of a Race to the Top application?

Read more on the ...

???????The overriding question is how will having a teachers union improve on our ability to educate all of our children and make sure they're ready to graduate from college? We respect that they represent the interests of teachers; we represent the interests of students.???????????

- Perry White, executive director of Citizens Academy, a Cleveland charter school that is one of the top-performing charters in Ohio, speaking to the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the Cleveland Teachers Union's efforts to unionize the city's charter schools.

If you've been reading Flypaper lately you know that we released a new study yesterday, America's Private Public Schools, which identifies 2,800 public schools nationwide that serve virtually no low-income students. In some metro areas, upwards of 30 percent of white youngsters attend such schools.

Originally we posted lists of these schools for the 25 largest metro areas, but now you can check this list for "private public schools" nationwide. (The list is organized by state, and then school district.)

Did you attend a "private public school" as a child? Do you send your kids to such a school now? Check it out!

-Mike Petrilli

A new report from Fordham today, authored by yours truly and our research assistant Janie Scull, identifies some 2,800 ???private public schools??? nationwide???public schools that serve virtually no poor students. More students attend these schools than attend charter schools.* And in some metro areas, like New York's, almost 30 percent of white students attend these exclusive schools. Because you have to be well-off enough to live in their attendance boundaries, these schools are more private than private schools???which at least give scholarships to some needy children.

These schools are open secrets in the education policy community. They are where lots of the children of the nation's elite get educated (if they aren't attending ritzy private schools). And taxpayers are spending upwards of $20 billion a year supporting them. Yet there's none of the outcry that surfaces when someone proposes vouchers so poor children can attend private schools at public expense. How come? And if the civil rights community is upset that charter schools serve ???too many??? poor and minority kids, why aren't they upset that these ???public??? schools serve too many white and middle class children?

Check out the report, and also lists of these schools in the 25 biggest metro areas.

* Interestingly, among the 2,800 ???private public schools,??? we identified 79 charter schools that themselves qualify because they serve virtually no poor students. Shame on them!

P.S. You might have noticed that this analysis is a tad shorter than typical Fordham Institute reports. That's because it's what we're calling an ???EdShort.????? EdShorts will be brief analyses we'll produce from time to time. They'll provide interesting insights into education issues, but in a more concise, compact form, and with less original data...

Our new report, America's Private Public Schools (described below), is meant to pierce the tired rhetoric used by so many defenders of the status quo in education. Unions and others love to hide behind their fealty to "public education" when arguing that charters or vouchers will lead to "exclusive" schools, whereby their beloved public schools "serve all comers." Except, it turns out, when they don't.

But one thing that's fun about our little project is that we can actually look at the NAMES of these 2,800 "private public schools"--schools that serve virtually no poor children. And I suspect they will be quite familiar to you; as several readers have told me this morning, the school they went to as a kid--and their rival schools, and the schools that all of their friends went to--are on the list.

And in full disclosure, that's the case for me too. I didn't think to look until yesterday, but lo and behold, there it is: Claymont Elementary in Ballwin, Missouri, a "private public school" whose student body is 97 percent non-poor. Maybe I should no longer boast that I went to "public schools" from Kindergarten through college.

See for yourself; if you went to school (or send your child to school) in one of the 25 largest metro areas in the country, you can scan our lists and find out right now.










Inland Empire

Los Angeles



New York






Since the troubled birth of charter schools here in 1997, school districts have had a love/hate relationship with them. Some district officials have sought to embrace them as part of their larger reform efforts, while others have done everything in their power to kill them off. A few leaders have actually done both simultaneously.

In 1997, then-Dayton Public School District Superintendent James Williams brought together a broad coalition of community leaders in an effort to convert five failing schools into district-authorized charter schools. At the time, charter schools were a brand new concept in the Buckeye State. Williams envisioned educational "high-flyers" with innovative teaching programs, longer school days, and a longer school year designed to boost student achievement. He dreamed of someday converting the entire district to charters. His plan was ultimately scuttled by the local teachers union, the same union that recently vetoed Dayton's application for Race to the Top funding.

Fast forward to 2010 ???????? Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eugene Sanders is pushing an Academic Transformation Plan that seeks real collaboration between the district and the city's current and future charter schools. The district is asking the city's top charters to join its "portfolio.??????? Yet, as Cleveland works to embrace charters as part of the solution, other districts continue to make life hard on charters. My colleague Kathryn wrote yesterday about the Cincinnati Public School District's lawsuit to prevent a prospective charter school operator from using a former district building he had purchased as a charter school. This is despite state law that encourages just this sort of collaboration between districts and charters.

The relationship between charters and districts in Ohio is like an adolescent love story -- plenty of emotions, lots of intrigue, and a very unsettled future....

Can a school district sell a school building and prohibit the buyer from opening a school in that building?

It seems laughable, but the Cincinnati Public Schools are suing an individual who purchased the district's vacant Roosevelt School because the purchaser plans to open a charter school in that space. Apparently, the sale agreement contained a provision requiring the purchaser to only use the property for commercial purposes. The purchaser bought the facility for $30,000 at auction, agreed to the terms, and then commenced with plans to open a charter school in the space (a plan that a city zoning inspector signed off on in October).

Setting aside the legal question of whether such a restrictive provision is void as against public policy, the lawsuit shows what a joke the state's charter school right of first refusal law really is. State law requires school districts to sell ???????suitable??????? classroom space by first offering the property for sale to start-up local charter schools. In five years of working in charter school authorizing, I don't think I've ever come across a district actually using this provision.

The reality is that are precious few high-performing schools serving Ohio's urban children. If a district is selling a facility, and there is a good charter school that could use it, this should be a no brainer. (For example, an outstanding charter school currently in need of facilities is Columbus Collegiate Academy -- one of the highest performing middle schools in Columbus.) If the concern is about charter school quality, the state should simply tie eligibility for the facility to a school's academic performance.

-Kathryn Mullen Upton

Kathryn is the????Fordham Foundation's director of Ohio charter school sponsorship....