Quality Choices

Nationally and in Ohio, we strive to develop policies and practices leading to a lively, accessible marketplace of high-quality education options for every young American (including charter schools, magnet schools, voucher programs, and online courses), as well as families empowered and informed so that they can successfully engage with that marketplace.

  1. Our own Kathryn Mullen Upton was interviewed on TV in Dayton yesterday, discussing the new Senate bill on charter law reform. Blah blah blah sponsor quality. Blah blah blah great effort to close loopholes. Blah blah blah weed out poor performing schools. Who cares about all that, true though it is? That 3D Fordham logo is the bomb.com! (WHIO-TV, Dayton, 4/23/15)
     
  2. Speaking of said Senate bill, the Blade today joins in on the major-daily opining on the latest effort at charter law reform in Ohio. It is an improvement, they say, but are still not big fans. (Toledo Blade, 4/24/15)
     
  3. Back to Dayton to finish our clips today. Here is a really interesting piece about a woman who undertook a dangerous effort to leave her native Ecuador and come to the United States. Once she got here, her troubles didn’t end. She and her children have ended up in Dayton and after many years, things are starting to look up for them all. One of the brightest spots for mom and daughters alike: Dayton Early College Academy. Worth a listen all the way through. Kudos to journalist Lewis Wallace for this and the other pieces in the Graduating Latino series. (WYSO-FM, Yellow Springs, 4/23/15)

Thank you Chair Hite, Vice Chair Sawyer, and subcommittee members for giving me the opportunity to testify today in support of House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 148.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C. It’s worth noting, given the subject matter of my testimony, that Fordham’s Dayton office is also a charter school sponsor.

I’d like to start by commending Governor Kasich and legislative leaders from both chambers and both parties for taking on the issue of charter school reform. Despite bipartisan support for charter schools in much of the nation, they remain a deeply divisive issue in Ohio. My hope is that this bill could start to change that. At the end of the day, we all want our students to have access to high-quality schools.

Organizationally, Fordham has long focused on the need to improve accountability and performance in all Ohio schools. Last year, after seeing an onslaught of troubling stories about charter schools, we commissioned research to learn more about the problems that the charter sector was facing.

Getting to the bottom of the issue was important to us because Fordham has long been a supporter of all forms of school choice—including charter schools. We believe that it’s critical for parents to have a variety of high-quality educational options.

Our research consisted...

The process of reforming charter school law in Ohio took another big step forward last week with the introduction of S.B. 148 in the Ohio Senate. Jointly sponsored by Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) and Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron), the bill is the result of workgroup sessions over the last nine months to craft the best legislation possible to improve charter school oversight and accountability.

The new Senate bill follows on the heels of House Bill 2, a strong charter school reform measure passed by the House last month. The Senate proposal maintains many of the critical provisions that the House bill included and adds some additional measures. Specifically, the Senate bill:

  • Strengthens House language around sponsor hopping
  • Increases transparency around expenditures by operators
  • Requires all sponsors to have a contract with the Ohio Department of Education
  • Incorporates much of Governor Kasich’s proposal related to charter school sponsor oversight
  • Prohibits sponsors from spending charter funds outside of their statutory responsibilities
  • Assists high-performing charter schools with facilities by encouraging co-location and providing some facility funding

We published a full roundup of press coverage of the rollout in a special edition of Gadfly Bites on April 16. Important highlights can be found in the Columbus Dispatch, the Plain Dealer, and the Akron Beacon Journal.

While the coverage has been almost uniformly positive, we urge you to read the op-ed published in the Beacon Journal on Friday, April 17. We have appropriated its title for the title of...

In case you were hanging out beneath some stone-like material yesterday, you missed the fact that Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) introduced Senate Bill 148 yesterday (companion House version HB156 was also introduced). These bills represent the latest work toward charter school reform in Ohio. So far, the Governor, the House, and the State Auditor have all weighed in with significant reform plans to improve accountability, oversight, and – most importantly – quality of charter schools and sponsors.

Not to toot our own horn, but these efforts hit high-gear following publication of two Fordham-sponsored reports back in December. In case you were hanging out beneath said rock-like material back then as well (seriously, what are you up to?), you can check out those reports and more here.

Sen. Lehner’s bill is the culmination of many weeks of workgroup sessions with high-level stakeholders in the state and debate over active legislation in the House.

As with previous important stops along the “road to redemption” as we like to call it, media attention on these bills was quick and widespread. So, here’s a special edition of Gadfly Bites, biting into the various iterations of media coverage:

1.       Fordham participated in Sen. Lehner’s workgroup. We also released a statement discussing the merits of the new bill immediately following its introduction. Here are the pieces published so far which quote Chad and/or note Fordham’s work on charter reform:

a.      Gongwer. Link (Gongwer Ohio, 4/15/15)

b.      ...

Back in January, the Education Research Alliance (ERA) for New Orleans released a study looking at patterns of parental choice in the highly competitive education marketplace. That report showed that non-academic considerations (bus transportation, sports, afterschool care) are often bigger factors than academic quality when parents choose schools. It also suggested strongly that it was possible for other players in the system (e.g., city officials, charter authorizers, the SEA) to assert the primacy of academic quality by a number of means (e.g., type and style of information available to parents, a central application system). A new report from ERA-New Orleans follows up by examining school-level responses to competition, using interview and survey data from thirty schools of all types across the city.

Nearly all of the surveyed school leaders reported having at least one competitor for students, and most schools reported more than one response to that competition. The most commonly reported response, cited by twenty-five out of thirty schools, was marketing existing school offerings more aggressively. Less common responses to competition included improving academic instruction and making operational changes like budget cuts so that the need to compete for more students (and money) would be less pressing.

These latter two adaptations are typically the ones that market-based education reformers expect to occur in the face of competition, yet just one-third of surveyed leaders said they responded in these ways. That low level of response in this hypercompetitive market should be worrying. While advertising is an obvious first response...

My U.S. News column this week is sure to raise hackles. But that’s only because anytime you put the words “Eva” and “Moskowitz” adjacent to each other, you’re sure to upset either fans or haters of the polarizing founder of New York’s Success Academies. 

Much has been written by me and others at Fordham about the stellar results achieved by Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter schools and the controversial tactics used to achieve them. This isn’t an attempt to re-litigate any of those arguments. How Moskowitz runs her schools is of enormous importance to education policy advocates and activists, but most parents simply don’t care. Indeed, I’m tempted to suggest the secret of Moskowitz’s success is that she may have a better grasp of what parents want than just about anyone in education today. From the piece:

For inner-city moms and dads who have been disappointed by unsafe schools, chronic failure, and limited educational opportunities, questions about schools come down to three: Is my child safe? Is my child behaving? Is my child learning? Moskowitz can answer affirmatively—and accurately--for all three.

Having taught in a troubled South Bronx elementary school for several years, it is not a mystery to me why there are ten families on the waiting list for every Success Academy seat. Even in the worst urban schools, most parents resent the hell out of the chaos and disruption inflicted upon them by the minority of kids...

Matthew Levey

Choice and fairness are sometimes cast as values in opposition. This arises from the view that it is unfair to allow some parents to choose their child’s school when others won’t (or can’t). Ultimately, however, choice is the highest form of fairness because it rewards positive behavior and aligns the interests of parents, children, and schools.

This week, I’ll examine the issue from a societal perspective. Next week, I will look at choice from the vantage of the individual family.

Some families can afford private school tuition—often more than $40,000 in New York, and close to that figure in several other major cities. Others move to a suburban district with high property taxes that signify (supposedly) good schools. Some apply to gifted and talented programs. In Brooklyn, we even have a few un-zoned district schools that admit students via lottery. When parents exercise these choices, they are not denounced for acting ‘unfairly.’  The admissions processes of these schools are seldom criticized.

But critics say charter schools that admit kids via lotteries, such as the one my school conducted last week, aren’t fair: We don’t attract enough needy kids, our needy kids aren't needy enough, we don't serve enough special education children, and so on.

As the school’s founder, I spent two years asking parents from across Brooklyn to consider the International Charter School for their kids; I am pleased that many did.

In the week before registration closed, two parents attended our meetings. One mom, who emigrated from Mexico,...

We recently looked at an analysis of New Orleans school leaders’ perceptions of competition and their responses to it. The top response was marketing—simply shouting louder to parents about a school’s existing programs, or adding bells and whistles. If schools are academically strong, this is probably fine. But if academically weak schools can pump up their enrollment (and their funding streams) by simply touting themselves to parents more effectively than competing schools, then the intended effect of competition—improved performance among all players in the market—will be blunted or absent all together.

In New Orleans, it appears that the more intense competition is perceived to be, the more likely schools are to improve academic quality as a means of differentiation. Is a similar thing happening in the Buckeye State? Here’s a look at some anecdotal evidence on quality-centered competition effects.

New school models

Large urban school districts in Ohio have long decried the students “stolen” from them by charter schools, and nothing rankles diehard traditionalists like online schools. So it was a little surprising to find that Akron City Schools’ proposed 2015–16 budget contains a huge technology component, including plans to start an in-house online charter school. This is being done in collaboration with Reynoldsburg City Schools, a district that knows a thing or two about innovation for improvement. Akron is aiming to recruit three hundred elementary students who are currently either home-schooled or attending a charter school, as well as forty in-district high school students...

Back in January, the Education Research Alliance (ERA) for New Orleans released a study looking at patterns of parental choice in the highly competitive education marketplace. That report showed non-academic considerations (bus transportation, sports, afterschool care) were often bigger factors than academic quality when parents choose a school. It also suggested strongly that it was possible for other players in the system (city officials, charter authorizers, the SEA) to assert the primacy of academic quality by a number of means (type and style of information available to parents, a central application system). A new report from ERA-New Orleans follows up on this by examining school-level responses to competition, using interview and survey data from thirty schools of all types across the city. Nearly all of the surveyed school leaders reported having at least one competitor for students, and most schools reported more than one response to that competition. The most commonly reported response, cited by twenty-five out of thirty schools, was marketing existing school offerings more broadly. Less common responses to competition included improving academic instruction and making operational changes like budget cuts so that the need to compete for more students (and money) is less pressing. These latter two adaptations are typically the ones that market-based education reformers expect to occur in the face of competition, yet just one-third of surveyed leaders said they responded in these ways. That low level of response in this hypercompetitive market should be worrying. While advertising is an obvious first response to...

John H. "Skip" McKoy
Scott Pearson

Andy Smarick is clearly disappointed with the op-ed we authored in the Washington Post. We argued that, for many reasons, the rough balance we have in Washington, D.C. between charter schools and traditional public schools is serving our children well.

We don’t want to debate Andy’s points one by one. Nor do we want to repeat many of the smart observations made by D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) member (and Smarick’s Bellwether colleague) Sara Mead in her recent post.

But we do want to clarify a few points that may have been ambiguous in the Post article, as we fear the lack of clarity may have contributed to Andy’s alarm and could possibly concern other education reformers.

First, this does not signal a slowdown in PCSB’s authorizing. PCSB has approved seventeen schools in the past three years. There is no intention on the part of PCSB’s staff—nor, to our knowledge, PCSB’s other board members—to stop approving strong charter applications. And there has been no slowdown in our efforts to support growth by high-performing charters already in D.C.  

There are still tens of thousands of children in D.C. attending low-performing schools.  Over eight thousand individual students are on charter school waitlists. On top of this, 2,500 new students come to D.C. each year. And PCSB’s constant oversight has led to the closure of many low-performing schools and campuses...

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