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.

Darned USPS.

It appears that back in 2001 or so, now-Governor of Delaware Jack Markell wrote an opinion piece about private school choice. Because of some snafu at the post office, his letter just recently made it to Education Week.

Though some education issues are evergreen (say, the importance of highly effective teachers and strong content standards), much has changed over the last decade-plus in the world of private school choice. Unfortunately, for Markell (well, and for all of us), his out-of-date column was published.

If the governor could call a do-over, I’m sure he’d make adjustments in at least four areas.

First, he argued for limiting choice to the public system—“among traditional, charter, and magnet schools.” Obviously, 2001 Markell couldn’t have known that the public schools sector would be unable to create the number of seats needed. Indeed, as of last year, more than a million students were on charter waitlists nationwide.

Moreover, there’s no way he could have foreseen that future governors who claimed to support public school choice would actually take action to inhibit charter growth. For example, the Markell of 2001 never would have predicted that the Markell of 2015 would ...

According to a paper released this week by the American Enterprise Institute, charter authorizers are putting too many meaningless application requirements on organizations that propose to open schools, thereby limiting school autonomy and creating far too much red tape.

The report shares lessons, provides authorizer Dos and Don’ts, and divides charter application criteria into categories of appropriate and inappropriate based on AEI’s analysis of application requirements from forty authorizers around the land. The authors conclude that:

  • Charter applications could be streamlined to eliminate one-quarter of existing content
  • Authorizers may mistake length for rigor
  • The authorizer’s role is sometimes unclear
  • While there is much authorizer lip service for innovation, the application process doesn’t lend itself to fleshing out truly innovative school models

AEI correctly notes the importance of the authorizer’s role as gatekeeper for new schools and points out that authorizers should establish clear goals, hold schools accountable, review key aspects of school applications for developer capacity, and monitor compliance and finances. Authorizers shouldn’t see themselves as venture capitalists, assume the role of school management consultants, deem themselves curriculum experts, or feel entitled to include pet issues in applications.

All true, and all wise. Where it gets sticky—and where this report...

Since its birth in 1997, Ohio’s charter school program has been on a bumpy ride. Overall sector quality has been mixed, and Ohio charters have been bogged down by controversy, some of it based on partisan politics. But a new day is dawning for the Buckeye State’s charter schools. State policymakers have begun to embrace charter governance reforms. Governor Kasich and the legislature—with support from both parties—have worked together to craft legislative proposals that, if enacted, would remedy Ohio’s broken charter school law and create new incentives aimed at expanding high-quality charters throughout the state. Presently, the Ohio Senate is considering the charter reform bills.

We at Fordham have voiced our loud and clear support for charter reform in Ohio. But we’re not the only voices seeking big changes. In addition to support from key policymakers, editorial boards, and business organizations, the leaders at some of the Buckeye State’s very finest charter schools have also taken a stand and are demanding change as well. At committee hearings in the Senate on May 6 and the House on March 11, legislators heard from three leaders of Ohio’s high-quality urban charters. Here are some highlights of...

Whenever I review compelling research, I end up mentally pairing it with a corresponding work of literature. Maybe it’s the liberal arts student in me (or maybe it’s because I flunked stats and require an alternative frame of reference). Take for example this study of comparative school funding and performance in Nashville, which brought Dickens to mind almost immediately. Compiled by the education advisory firm Afton Partners on behalf of the Tennessee Charter School Center, it makes perfectly clear that for this city’s charters, it’s both the best of times and the worst of times. “Mean academic performance for all grades is significantly higher for charter-managed schools,” it reads, “though MNPS [Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools] spent approximately $100 more per pupil on district-managed schools.”

A measly c-note may not sound like much—in this instance, it’s the difference between roughly $9,800 and $9,700 annually—but that discrepancy only represents one chapter of this twisted tale of two funding standards. The per-pupil analysis doesn’t include a $73 million gap in capital support between district schools and charters. Meanwhile, those same neglected charters are reporting mean scores on the APF (Academic Performance Framework, a statewide metric that includes test scores, graduation rates, college readiness,...

Greg Richmond

When bad schools close, families usually get something better.

That’s what the Thomas B. Fordham Institute asserts in its April 2015 study School Closures and Student Achievement, using new research conducted in both traditional and charter public schools located in Ohio’s large urban school districts.

For more than fifty years, passionate educators, scholars, and community leaders who rue school failure have agreed on very little when it comes to the best way to reform our education system. But most could agree on this: Kids shouldn’t have to go to schools that consistently fail them year after year.

 So why is closing schools the last thing anyone wants to consider? If we don’t want kids in consistently failing schools, and we know they can go somewhere better, what’s the hold-up?

Recent polling suggests most people have a “fix the school we have” mentality, supporting retooling schools over closure or complete overhaul. They see closure as extreme and counterproductive, a sign of giving up on community-based public schools.

While I sympathize with the desire to fix what we have rather than start over, I always get stuck on one simple problem: time.

In “fix the school we have” scenarios, we...

Editor's note: On May 6, Fordham contributor Andy Smarick delivered testimony before an Ohio education subcommittee on Senate Bill 148, a critical piece of legislation that would help clean up the state's troubled charter sector. With his permission, we're reproducing his remarks.

Thank you Chair Hite, Vice Chair Sawyer, and subcommittee members for allowing me to offer some thoughts on your ongoing efforts to improve charter schooling in Ohio. Congratulations and thank you for the important progress that’s reflected in the legislation being considered here today.

My name is Andy Smarick, and I’m a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization committed to improving K–12 schooling, especially for high-need students. I’ve worked on education policy for most of my career—at the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. House of Representatives, a state department of education, and a state legislature.

I’m also a strong advocate for high-quality charter schooling. I helped start a charter school for low-income students, I helped found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and I’ve written extensively about charter schooling, including a book on how—when done right—it can dramatically improve student results in cities.

I was a coauthor of the report published late...

Matthew Levey

In early April, I wrote that school choice is the highest form of fairness because it rewards positive behavior and aligns the interests of parents, children, and schools. Some disagree, arguing that school choice disadvantages the non-choosers. It is admirable to want to protect the most vulnerable students—the children of parents who do not or cannot engage effectively. But we must not do this at the expense of families who are engaged and do make good decisions for their kids.

As we parents often remind our children, two wrongs don’t make a right.

By encouraging parents to make choices, we also send an important message to students about our values. For the kindergartners at my school, a choice might be as simple as how to share the wooden blocks with a new friend. This simple and safe experience helps them practice the larger and more consequential decisions they will face.

Across the income spectrum, the parents I’ve met are concerned with our failure in both schools and civil society to inculcate critical values in our children. Research affirms the importance of persistence, delaying gratification, and other “gritty” non-academic values. If we ignore parent behaviors in the name of fairness,...

Susan Pendergrass

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has consistently believed that all schools should be held accountable for the performance of their students and that any school that isn’t performing should be closed.

But closing a school can be difficult, and the impact of any closure ripples through the community and the lives of the students. Some question whether the disruption is worth it. In the traditional public school system, the urge to avoid this disruption almost always carries the day, and in the rare event that a school is closed, it’s usually due to persistent dwindling enrollment. Fortunately, we have emerging research that sheds light on the effect of school closures on students who attended those schools.

The Fordham Institute has conducted a study that measures the achievement trends of nearly twenty-three thousand students who attended one of 198 urban schools in Ohio—both traditional and public charter schools—that closed between 2006 and 2012. With the use of student-level longitudinal data provided by the Ohio Department of Education, the Fordham researchers were able to determine how the students from the closed schools fared after they were moved to a new school. The study...

A decade ago, I became fixated on what I saw as the biggest problem in K–12 education—that we continued to assign low-income inner-city kids to persistently failing schools.

My study eventually led me to conclude that we actually had a system-level problem: The existence of long-failing schools was a symptom of the urban school district. Its fundamental characteristics—functioning as a city’s monopoly public school operator; assigning kids based on home address; coping with constraining civil service, tenure, and labor contract rules; enduring toxic school board politics—inhibited the progress our kids so desperately needed.

So I started thinking about a new way of delivering, organizing, and managing a system of urban schools. I first wrote about it in “Wave of the Future,” extended the idea in “The Turnaround Fallacy,” and filled out the argument in The Urban School System of the Future.

The basic idea is that families are empowered to choose the schools that best meet the needs of their kids. A wide array of operators—across the district, charter, and private school sectors—are allowed to offer a diverse selection...

How should city-level leaders manage a portfolio of schools? The first thing they should do is take stock of the city’s supply of public schools. A new report from IFF, a nonprofit community development financial institution, provides a helpful look at Cleveland’s public schools, both district and charter. In an effort to uncover those with the highest need for quality seats, the analysis slices the city into thirty neighborhoods based on several variables: schools’ academic performance, facility utilization and physical condition, and commuting patterns. The facility analyses are the major contribution of this work, principally the schools’ utilization rates—the ratio of student enrollment to the physical capacity of the building. The utilization rates are needed to determine the actual number of available high-quality seats. The analysts obtained building-capacity statistics through the district; they estimated charter capacity by using the schools’ highest enrollment point (perhaps underreporting charters’ capacity—especially for new schools). Happily, the study reports that Cleveland’s highly rated K–8 schools are at 90 percent capacity. Yet it is less satisfying to learn that its highest-rated high schools are at only 68 percent capacity (the report does not suggest any reasons why). Meanwhile, most of the city’s poorly rated schools...

Pages