Governance

The charter school movement has inspired a lot of enthusiasm for multi-school networks and their ability to expand, but now it’s time to talk more about how these networks are governed.

Ben Gamla Charter School Clearwater
Why is the successful Ben Gamla Charter closing its doors after one year?
Photo from the Jewish Press of Pinella County

To be sure, it’s less exciting to talk about the configuration and operation of governing boards than it is to talk about scaling up successful charter school models. But this much is true: It’s no fun dissecting the breakdown in governance that has led to a charter school’s closure.

That’s the current reality in Clearwater, Florida. There, the Ben Gamla Charter School is closing its doors after one year of operation not because it performed poorly (most of its fifty students scored well on the state assessment) or because of financial problems (it was thousands of dollars in the black) but because it wrested too much control from its parent foundation.

The National Ben Gamla Charter School Foundation said as much. The South Florida–based foundation has opened eight Hebrew-immersion charter schools throughout the Sunshine State in the last six years, and members of its own board often have overseen the operations and spending at these schools. The foundation installed a board...

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GadflyBusted! The Big Apple’s “transfer” high schools—the city’s schools-of-last-resort for struggling teens—saw more students drop out than graduate in 2011–12—seventy-eight more at the forty-four such schools surveyed, to be exact. By contrast, last year at the same forty-four schools, 619 more students graduated than dropped out. The schools’ principals attributed the flop to midyear changes in graduation requirements (tightened to match state requirements), while city officials—claiming that their own policy changes were “minor”—cited increased Regents standards, instead. For our take, see this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

School districts considering arming their teachers and administrators may need to think twice: Insurance carriers have threatened to raise their premiums or revoke their coverage altogether. This is not universal (Texas, for instance, has made it fairly easy for districts to arm employees and insurance providers have hardly batted an eye—now, whether these employees can actually use their weapons is another matter altogether); nevertheless, it is certainly an important development in the guns-in-schools debate.

As contentious as the New York City mayoral race is, the turbulence in K–12 education facing the new leader is more. New York City public schools must deal with implementation of the Common Core standards and the hard-fought (and still-controversial) teacher-evaluation system—and let’s not forget the conundrums of whether or not to continue the Bloomberg-Kline-era reforms, whether to close the city’s failing schools, whether to allow charters and traditional...

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Traditional school districts and public charter schools are often positioned as competitors, rivals, even enemies. But must they? In February 2010, the Gates Foundation established the District-Charter Collaboration Compact initiative to promote peace and join these two forces in the real battle: improving educational outcomes. This interim report—naught more than a status update, but instructional nonetheless—documents these efforts to date. Sixteen cities participated in the first round, sharing things like physical resources, facilities, and instructional best practices and developing a common enrollment system, expedited by $100,000 Gates grants to each community. Progress on Compact commitments (including a special education collaborative in New York and shared professional development in Boston) has been “episodic,” however, rocked by things like leadership transitions (in Chicago, for instance, initial progress made under Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard has slowed since his exit) and local anti-charter sentiment. Still, the update lauds the fact that district leaders in all sixteen cities report improved dialogue. In December 2012, seven of the sixteen communities—Hartford, Denver, New York City, Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch, Texas—were granted additional funds, totaling close to $25 million, to continue the work.

SOURCE: Sarah Yatsko, Elizabeth Cooley Nelson, and Robin Lake, District-Charter Collaboration Compact: Interim Report (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, June 2013).

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A British schoolteacher, Daisy Christodoulou, has just published a short, pungent e-book called Seven Myths about Education. It’s a must-read for anyone in a position to influence our low-performing public school system. The book’s focus is on British education, but it deserves to be nominated as a “best book of 2013″ on American education, because there’s not a farthing’s worth of difference in how the British and American educational systems are being hindered by a slogan-monopoly of high-sounding ideas—brilliantly deconstructed in this book.

Photo by Christos Tsoumplekas
There's not a farthing's worth of difference in how the British and American educational systems are being hindered by a slogan-monopoly of high-sounding ideas. 

Ms. Christodoulou has unusual credentials. She’s an experienced classroom teacher, she currently directs a nonprofit educational foundation in London, and she is a scholar of impressive powers who has mastered the relevant research literature in educational history and cognitive psychology. Her writing is clear and effective. Speaking as a teacher to teachers, she may be able to change their minds. As an expert scholar and writer, she also has a good chance of enlightening administrators, legislators, and concerned citizens.

Ms. Christodoulou believes that such enlightenment is the great practical need these days, because the chief barriers to effective school reform are not the usual accused: bad teacher unions,...

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Ohio’s State Board of Education made student privacy a priority in yesterday’s education data hearing.

“What data will be collected on my child?” Board President Debe Terhar read from an email she had received from one of a number of parents concerned with their child’s private information being accessed and shared by schools and outside parties. The board expressed parents’ apprehension toward the use of their son or daughter’s education records as it investigated the balance necessary between collecting data for accountability purposes and respecting the privacy of Ohio’s families.

The board invited testimony from experts in the data technologies currently used by Ohio schools as well as education privacy laws. Their aim was to provide the board – and their constituent districts and parents – with the latest information on challenges to effective data collection and threats to privacy.

The board questioned a panel of ODE data experts on the design and uses of the state’s Educational Management Information System (EMIS) and Instructional Improvement System (IIS). EMIS data proves necessary in state and federal funding formulas, performance accountability, and decision tools for policymakers. IIS provides current and secure data to teachers for individual student performance and curriculum alignment with standards.

The panel expressed confidence in the Ohio Revised Code’s data collection regulations, when asked by the board. Further, the panel referred to the systems’ data collection for measuring outcomes from Pre-kindergarten through postsecondary education as the “holy grail of program evaluation.”

Fordham and the board invited Kent Talbert,...

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Last week, I was preparing for an upcoming adventurous Alaskan vacation that included thoughts of my wife and me, peacefully floating by dangerous summer artic icebergs, when those mental images were suddenly dashed as I opened up my local newspaper.  The Cincinnati Enquirer reported dubious spending activities by the superintendent of the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy (CCPA) and the contracted treasurer who was approving them. 

Both the school director and the treasurer face twenty six counts of theft in office, unauthorized use of property, tampering with evidence and tampering with records.  The amount in question exceeds $350,000, and focuses on credit card transactions over the course of a few years that covered lavish trips to Europe, Las Vegas, day spas, an Oprah show in Boston, and so on, under the guise of legitimate business expenses.

The Enquirer also made reference to three other charter school treasurers who were found by State Auditor Dave Yost, to be responsible for more than $1 million in questionable, and possibly illegal, spending of public dollars.  All three were involved in the finances of some of Ohio’s most troubled charter schools.  

As Fordham’s charter school finance expert on the ground in Ohio for our authorizing operation, the chilling effect of these activities will be remembered, as the thoughts of “why” and “how” immediately followed.  What should have been in place that, at a minimum, could have averted such avarice from happening?

As with all organizations, including charter schools, the first place to always look...

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Big Ideas Edition

With Mike beaching it in an undisclosed location, Dara and Daniela take on some big topics: If affirmative action were to end, how could colleges maintain diversity? Do teachers need convincing to use technology? All things considered, is college worth it? Amber charts a course to charter quality.

Amber's Research Minute

National Charter School Study 2013,” by Center for Research on Education Outcomes (Stanford, CA: Center for Research on Education Outcomes, June 2013).

A week catching up on education challenges and reforms in England made clear that the U.S. and its “mother country” continue to track—and copy and study and refine—each other’s programs and policies, much as they have done at least since Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s education teams realized how much they had in common. But the differences remain profound, too.

Similarities and differences between UK and US education reform
The U.S. and the U.K. continue to track, copy, study, and refine each other's programs and policies. But the differences remain profound, too.

Let’s start with nine notable similarities.

1. Both nations are engaged in major pushes to overhaul their standards, assessment, and accountability systems. Mediocre PISA and TIMSS results plus persistent domestic achievement gaps have caught the eyes of policymakers and education leaders on both sides of the pond, as it’s become clear that yesterday’s so-so expectations just aren’t good enough and that today’s testing-and-accountability regimes do not produce nearly enough world-class, college-ready graduates. Nor have they significantly reduced the most troubling performance gaps. Changes are afoot.

2. With standards-raising comes keen anxiety about implementation on the ground (will teachers, for example, be adequately prepared?) and about public outcry when more youngsters (and schools) are found wanting.

3. Whereas yesterday’s...

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The Ohio Senate passed legislation (House Bill 167) last week that enables Columbus’ mayor to authorize charter schools. The reform legislation was introduced in response to a cheating scandal that has brought Columbus City Schools to its knees. When Governor Kasich signs the bill into law—we expect he will—Columbus will be one of two cities in America (Indianapolis being the other) that directly empowers the mayor to authorize charter schools.  

The reform legislation has one other major component, in addition to the mayoral authorization of charters. The Columbus City Schools school board will be required to place a levy on the ballot, which will require that the district share the revenue with partnering charter schools. If passed, this could be a considerable boost for Columbus’ charters, who until now have had no access to local revenue. (Cleveland Metropolitan School District is the only other school district in Ohio that is required by law to share local revenue with charter schools.)

As Columbus’ mayor acquires a portfolio of charter schools to authorize, and as he and the district prepare a levy for the November elections, let us suggest that these leaders be choosy about which charter schools they partner with. For it has become nearly axiomatic that cities around the nation and in Ohio have a fair share of both dreadful and fantastic charter schools.

Columbus is no exception. To show the variation in charter school quality, consider the chart below that shows the academic performance of Columbus’...

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GadflyNew York City’s graduation rate dipped very slightly in 2012—information that was hailed as a win by Mayor Bloomberg, given that the class of 2012 was the first cohort not given the option to graduate with an easier-to-obtain “local diploma.”

The United Federation of Teachers has announced its support for former city comptroller Bill Thompson’s bid for mayor of New York City—the union’s first endorsement in a mayoral election in more than a decade. But have no fear, ye other candidates—Mayor Bloomberg has derisively dubbed the union endorsement a “kiss of death” (to which the union responded by likening Bloomberg’s approval as “worse than a zombie attack”). And Gotham politics continue.

Earlier this week, New Hampshire Superior Court judge John Lewis bucked U.S. Supreme Court precedent and ruled that the state’s tax-credit-scholarship program directed public money to religious schools, in violation of the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment—a provision banning government aid to “sectarian” schools that has its roots in the anti-Catholic bigotry pervasive in the late 1800s. (Blaine Amendments still exist in thirty-six other states.) Judge Lewis’s ruling marks the first time a tax-credit-scholarship program has been struck down on these grounds. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had determined that tax-credit-scholarship money never reaches the state treasury and thus cannot be considered public. An appeal in the...

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