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.

The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina provided a much-needed occasion to reflect on the progress of the city’s schools since the floodwaters receded. One of the most important questions is whether New Orleans can stand as a national model for those seeking to transform the education—and therefore the life outcomes—of low-income children of color. I’m not completely sold yet.

In the wake of the storm, New Orleans’s education system was rebuilt virtually from scratch. More than one hundred low-performing schools were placed under the jurisdiction of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD), which was created in 2003 to take over and reverse the fortunes of chronically disappointing public schools throughout the state. At a stroke, the city’s public school system was functionally transformed; today it’s a virtually all-charter “replacement district.” More than 90 percent of New Orleans public school students attend a charter school, with the RSD overseeing 70 percent of the city’s overall K–12 student population.

When reform-friendly commenters and cheerleading journalists write about the NOLA transformation, it’s become de rigueur to offer a standard qualifier--words to the effect of, “We still have a long way to go, but…” In this formulation, poor...

In the CRPE debate between Paul Hill and Robin Lake on the issue of charter back-fill, Paul's right. Robin, as always, makes excellent points and raises legitimate concerns. But in the grand trade-off they're debating—whether "high-output" charters should be able to be choosy about which kids they retain and what they do with vacancies that arise during the year—Paul makes the more persuasive argument, at least when judged by what's good for the kids who stand to benefit most from these schools. If we keep their interests squarely in front of us, we must wind up agreeing with Paul: "When drawing from a highly at-risk population, it is not easy to identify kids who will do the work a priori. It’s one thing for a student and family to promise daily attendance and completion of all assignments, but quite another to deliver. A high-output school has to let those kids who won’t fulfill their obligations go elsewhere, unless it is willing to abandon requirements that it considers essential to full college preparation. It should be free to fill seats that become vacant with kids who have a good chance of succeeding in the school, but shouldn’t be forced to fill vacancies."...

On Wednesday, the American Federation for Children sponsored and cohosted with the Seventy Four a first-of-its-kind summit at which six Republican presidential candidates talked about American education. They discussed hot-button K–12 education issues—Common Core, teachers’ unions, school choice—but struggled to name the exact role a president should play in that arena.

“A president can do many things; it doesn’t mean it should,” former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said.

Most candidates questioned the purpose of the Department of Education and favored state control of schools. Fiorina said the amount of money flowing through Washington does not correlate with student improvements.

“The federal government is the last place in the world I want holding states and local school districts accountable,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But when pressed by Seventy Four editor-in-chief and summit host Campbell Brown, candidates agreed that presidential influence is the most useful tool for a president to move the needle on education.

“The bully pulpit needs to be used,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said. “This is crisis. Hundreds of thousands of kids can’t get jobs because of the skills gap….This has got to be the highest priority for the next president of...

Eight years ago, I offered my first public commentary about New Orleans’s post-Katrina reform strategy. In the spirit of personal accountability, I’m putting those words to the test, and I’ve asked six very smart, tough graders to check my work.

By way of background, in 2006 and 2007, I had reached maximum frustration with urban districts for failing millions of kids over decades. I was trying to figure out how to preserve the principles of public education while replacing—not merely changing—the district. My initial argument was published in late 2007 as an article in Education Next called “Wave of the Future.”

When I started drafting that piece, only a fraction of NOLA kids were in independent charters; the RSD-fueled reform approach was just getting started. But it looked like that great city had the potential to develop a new system of schools along the lines I was advocating—namely replacing the single government provider model with an array of autonomous and accountable chartered schools.

Though the article was about the charters-as-the-system approach, it included a very short call-out box on NOLA. I argued the city needed to focus on two things if it wanted to create this truly different system of...

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As we approach the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’s groundbreaking and highly successful effort to replace its traditional-district-based system with a system of charters and choice deserves some attention.

But let’s begin by focusing on recent developments mostly outside of NOLA. It’s critical to appreciate that this shift (from a single government operator to an array of nonprofit operators) is happening in many other locations—and it’s being done well.

This very good July Politico article describes D.C.’s thriving charter sector. It’s educating nearly half of the city’s kids, serving a more disadvantaged population than the district, producing better academic results, and offering a diverse range of schools. On this last point, a fantastic new study by Michael McShane and Jenn Hatfield shows that chartering is producing a wide variety of schools in city after city (contra claims that charters are cookie-cutter).

A number of cities are showing that the charter sector is best able to reliably create and grow high-performing schools. NewSchools Venture Fund just released a short report on its Boston Charter School Replication Fund. It invested $12 million and helped double the size...

There are two basic arguments for charter schools’ existence, note Michael McShane and Jenn Hatfield: First, by taking advantage of flexibility not afforded traditional public schools, they can raise student achievement. Second, they can use that freedom and deregulation to create a more diverse set of schools than might otherwise come into being. There is an increasingly robust body of evidence on charter schools’ academic performance. Far less is known about the second aspect. So how diverse is the nation’s charter sector?

The short answer is: more diverse than you might expect, but less than we might hope. McShane and Hatfield ran the numbers on 1,151 schools, which combine to educate nearly half a million students in seventeen different cities. Based on each school’s description of its own mission or model, they were divided into “general” or “specialized” schools. Within the latter category, schools were further divided in thirteen sub-types, including “no-excuses,” STEM schools, progressive, single-sex, etc. There’s an even split between generalized and specialized schools, with the most common types being no-excuses and progressive.

The pair also found significant variation between cities. They contend that these distinctions are driven by demographics, the age and market share of each...

In early May, a coalition of stakeholders from business, philanthropy, and education organizations in Cincinnati announced a bold new public-private partnership called Accelerate Great Schools (AGS). The nonprofit organization is modeled after a similar program in Indianapolis known as the Mind Trust. In Indy, the Mind Trust is accomplishing some pretty remarkable things, including attracting established reform organizations and charter operators with proven records, and funding fellowships for talented people with ideas that have the potential to transform education. But what makes Cincinnati the right place to implement such a daring venture, and what exactly is AGS trying to accomplish?

Part of the reason why Accelerate Great Schools is coming together in Cincinnati—and has a chance to be successful—is because education in the Queen City has a lot going for it already. The school district, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), has implemented community learning centers (CLCs). CLCs are schools that offer more than academics. They also provide health services such as eye centers, dental clinics, and mental health counseling; after-school programs and tutoring; parent and family engagement programs; early career and college access services; mentoring; and arts and recreational programming for students, families, and the...

Reporter Richard Whitmire recently discovered the Building Excellent Schools (BES) fellowship program while interviewing a number of its graduates, leaders of high-performing charter schools across the country. The program allows promising charter school leaders to learn from the best practitioners in the field, to forge vital connections, and to see firsthand the importance of a strong leadership team. Over the years, BES has imparted these skills to many educators who have gone forth to lead new charter schools with the zeal of pioneers.

We here at Fordham have seen firsthand what Whitmire describes, because Columbus, Ohio is home to BES Fellow Andrew Boy—founder and chief executive officer at the United Schools Network (USN). Since Andy completed his BES fellowship and started his first school in a tiny church in 2008, he and his team have created a network of four schools successfully serving approximately 560 students in low-income neighborhoods in Columbus.

According to USN’s 2014 Annual Report, 89 percent of seventh graders at USN’s Dana Avenue campus scored proficient or higher on the reading portion of the Ohio Achievement Assessment. That’s five percentage points higher than all Ohio public school students. Students in USN’s Main...

Even though measures to improve charter school quality are currently stalled in the Ohio General Assembly, Fordham remains dedicated to our work as an advocate for high-quality school choice in Ohio. Toward that end, and in partnership with our colleagues at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), we recently filed a brief in support of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE)’s efforts to close two low-performing schools in the Cleveland area.

The case, Governing Authority et al v. Ohio Department of Education, is ultimately about whether a sponsor (also known as an authorizer) has the authority to close a charter school that has failed to meet contractual performance standards.

The schools at issue, Cleveland Community School and Villaview School, were sponsored by the Portage County Educational Service Center. Last April, ODE revoked Portage’s sponsorship authority for attempting to circumvent the law and mislead parents and students. ODE, in accordance with state law, then assumed sponsorship of the schools and...

Finding a facility for charter schools to call home is a challenge on a number of fronts, not the least of which is finance. Some charters have been fortunate to find an unused district school building. Here in Columbus, the high-performing United Schools Network utilizes two former Columbus City Schools’ facilities. Other charters, like KIPP Columbus have built its own school from scratch (though its first home was a former district building as well). Unfortunately, these examples are the exception rather than the rule.

For many charters, operating in a traditional school building is financially infeasible. While charter schools bear the responsibility to find their own facilities, they receive only a small amount of state money for the task. Anecdotally, we know that this has forced many charters to make ends meet by residing in facilities that weren’t originally built for the specific purpose of educating children.

We wondered exactly how many charter schools use non-traditional facilities. To answer this question, we looked at the seventy-nine charter schools located in Franklin County (most are in Columbus) and then searched their addresses on the county auditor’s real estate website, which provides information including structure type and ownership (present and...

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