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.

Scott Pearson

When we talk about high standards, accountability, and school choice, one essential element is often overlooked: giving parents and education leaders information they can actually use. It’s one thing to produce data, but quite another to make it useful—easily understood, comparable, and actionable.

The District of Columbia has reaffirmed its commitment to making good data available in its second annual publication of Equity Reports. These reports provide unprecedented levels of information on how well each public and public charter school in the District of Columbia serves all students. By providing apples-to-apples comparisons of schools and presenting the results in a format that is easy to understand, the reports signal potential problems, help school leaders focus on areas where schools need to improve, and guide parents as they make decisions about their child’s education.

This is an important step in addressing some of the most critical issues about equity in public education: How successfully are we closing the achievement gap between black and white students, and between low-income and more affluent students? Are we suspending children of color at higher rates than white students? How well are we serving students with disabilities? These data will lead to tough and important conversations at schools and around the District as we dig into the underlying causes of the results we now are able to see.

Moreover, our Equity Reports tackle perennial charter school pain points head-on: Do charter schools push students out mid-year? Do they accept students all year, in all grades?...

Followers of Fordham’s work know that we are obsessed with charter school quality, both nationally and in our home state of Ohio. We are also a charter school authorizer, responsible for overseeing a portfolio of eleven schools in the Buckeye State—a job we take very seriously.

So when we learned that our colleagues at Ed Trust Midwest were giving charter quality—and especially authorizer quality—a hard look in our neighboring state of Michigan, we took notice.

Its new report, Accountability for All: The Need for Real Charter School Authorizer Accountability in Michigan, is an important contribution. It rightfully focuses on authorizers as the lynchpin of charter quality; they are, after all, the entities that screen and approve new charter schools and then hold them accountable for results (or—as is sometimes the case—do not).

And the group’s ranking of Michigan’s charter school authorizers—based on the test scores of the schools they oversee—is a good conversation starter. (Among big authorizers [thirty-plus schools], four get Bs, one gets a C, and one gets a D.)

Still, I have some quibbles. First, I can’t quite tell if Ed Trust Midwest calculated schools’ growth scores appropriately. The methodology says that schools’ growth was compared to “the average student growth of the state and the local school district where most of its students live.” That doesn’t sound as precise as CREDO’s methodology, which compares each student’s growth to a “virtual twin”—a more robust way of controlling for demographic differences.

That matters because, according to CREDO’s ...

Thank you Chairman Hayes, Vice Chair Brenner, Ranking Member Fedor, and members of the House Education Committee, for allowing me to testify in support of House Bill 2.

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 and Dayton. Worth noting given the subject matter of HB 2, Fordham’s Dayton office is also a charter school sponsor.

I’d like to start by commending the House for taking a leadership role 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. Early reaction to the bill suggests that bipartisan support is possible. This would be a significant step forward as we work to ensure students are being well served regardless of the type of school that they attend.

Fordham has long focused on the need to improve accountability and performance in all Ohio schools. Last year, 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 school choice—including charter schools. We believe that it’s critical for parents to have a variety of high quality educational choices.

Our research...

New York City’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) has released an updated Schools Brief which makes a few important tweaks to an earlier analysis of attrition rates for charters and traditional public schools. The original study followed students from kindergarten through third grade, ending in 2012–13; the additional data is for 2013–14, when most of the students were in fourth grade. Two of the major findings in the original report have not changed significantly: 1) On average, charter school students remain at their schools at a higher rate than their traditional school counterparts (64 percent vs. 56 percent after four years); and 2) students at charters and traditional schools leave the New York City public school system at the same rate. The first finding is good news to charter school advocates in New York, since recent research suggests that student retention is one factor in overall charter improvement. But the second finding should worry public-education supporters and city officials alike. Between transient populations whose needs (both educational and otherwise) are not being met and families leaving the city’s public schools entirely for parts unknown, it is clear that many students are simply not staying in New York City public schools. It could even be argued that the “retention rate” numbers IBO reports are simply those students who haven’t left yet. As we discovered here in Ohio not too long ago, the causes of student mobility often have little to do with education, but its consequences affect the...

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Princess Lyles and Dan Clark, the executive director and lead organizer of the school-choice group Democracy Builders, argue that states and/or authorizers should require charter schools to “back-fill” their “empty seats” when they lose students to attrition. This is a terrible idea.

Their argument in favor of requiring charters to backfill is twofold. First, they say it’s unfair to compare schools that backfill to those that don’t, because those that don’t (like Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academies*) almost certainly end up with a more motivated, higher-performing population over time as weaker, less engaged students depart for less challenging environments. It’s especially unfair, they say, if the comparisons are made on proficiency rates—the percentage of students passing state tests—instead of individual student growth. (I agree that such comparisons are unfair. More on that below.)

Second, they argue that, by not backfilling seats, schools like Success Academy are limiting opportunity. As a result of this policy, parents only have a shot at getting their kids into schools at designated entry points (like kindergarten or sixth grade). If families lose the charter school lottery for those specific grades, they are out of luck forever.

It’s a reasonable point, and I respect schools like Democracy Prep that welcome in students at any grade when space opens up. But whether to do this should remain the prerogative of the school, not the state or its regulators.

Why? Because there are strong instructional arguments...

Governor Kasich released his FY 16-17 biennial budget today. True to his word, Kasich featured charter school reforms prominently, with a focus on  improving sponsor quality, eliminating conflicts of interest, and addressing some of the funding inequities that plague charter schools.

“Governor Kasich has proposed some bold reforms that could significantly improve Ohio’s charter school sector,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “While facility funding and opening the door to sharing local dollars will dominate the headlines, it would be a mistake to overlook the innovative sponsor reforms being put forward.”

Sponsors are the entities in Ohio responsible for overseeing charter school performance. The budget would ensure that all sponsors are:

  • Subject to the state’s newly implemented sponsor evaluation system
  • Accountable to the department of education
  • Closed immediately for poor operation
  • Prohibited from selling services to schools that they sponsor, and
  • Incentivized for being a high quality authorizer.

“By ensuring proper oversight of Ohio charter school sponsors and aligning incentives with performance, Governor Kasich is placing Ohio’s charter sector on a new and better path.”

Kasich’s proposed reforms join those offered last week in House Bill 2 by Representatives Mike Dovilla and Kristina Roegner. The provisions in House Bill 2--focused on accountability, responsibility, and transparency—align well with Kasich’s proposal.

“We look forward to working with the Governor and the General Assembly in improving Ohio’s charter schools in a way that benefits children, parents, and communities,” Aldis

...
Derrell Bradford

This post was originally published in a slightly different form by the CUNY Institute for Education Policy.

There is a great deal of controversy and division around education policy in New York City and state. Few issues highlight the complex nature of these debates more than the enrollment composition of, and entrance requirements to, New York City’s selective high schools.

With one exception (Fiorello H. LaGuardia High, which is also determined by audition and academic record), entrance into eight of the city’s nine specialized schools is determined solely by a student’s results on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). Any current eighth-grade student in NYC public schools, and any first-time ninth-grade student in public, private, and parochial schools, may take the SHSAT. Students are ranked by the resulting scores on the SHSAT and then matched against their choice of high school on a space-available basis.

Stuyvestant High School, the Bronx High School of Science, the Brooklyn Technical High School, and Hunter College High School are among the city’s most famous selective schools. The first three use the SHSAT exam. Bronx Science counts eight Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. Stuyvesant counts among its graduates such notables as actress Lucy Liu, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and Eva Moskovitz, CEO of the Success Charter School Network. Incidentally, Mayor de Blasio’s son Dante attends Brooklyn Tech. These three schools are not the most selective of the selective high schools— Queens High School for the Sciences at York College and...

Last week, in his State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put the weight of his office behind an education tax credit—a bill that would provide dollar-for-dollar tax relief to both individuals and businesses who donated money to either public schools or to scholarship funds that aid needy students in private and parochial schools.

This is an idea I have a personal stake in. As the superintendent of six Catholic schools in New York City, I know how financially challenging it is to keep these schools open and what a difference the donations from this tax credit would make in supporting the important work of our teachers and students.

Of course, for some people the idea of a public policy that provides any tax relief for supporters of religious schools is a third rail. They conjure up a vision of religion being forced on children or of the American ideal of “education for democracy” withering away.

But that not only represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the roots of American public education, it also ignores the reality of the debate. Rather than a choice between keeping religion in or out of our schools, it is really a debate about whether we should have a single state-sanctioned perspective on the values taught in schools or a plurality of approaches from which parents can choose. 

Common Schools, Majority Values

An uncomfortable reality for...

Congressional Republicans have promised to overhaul the No Child Left Behind act this year; the big debate so far has been whether to maintain the law’s annual testing requirements. At a hearing on the issue last week, Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), was clearly sympathetic to arguments by several witnesses that Congress should keep the testing mandate but dump the rules that prescribe how states must hold schools accountable for test results. As he summarized it for Time in an interview after the hearing, “You have to have the annual test. You have to disaggregate it. You have to report it, so we know how schools and children and school districts are doing. But after that, it’s up to the states, who spend the money and have the children and take care of them and it’s their responsibility to devise what’s success, what’s failure and [what the] consequences [should be].”

That Uncle Sam might back off of its demands that states intervene in failing schools has some reformers on the left on full alert. Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners—an alumnus of the Obama administration—considers it an abdication of responsibility, especially considering the $15 billion a year the feds spend on our schools via the Title I program. His colleague Anne Hyslop goes even further, saying it “eviscerates the federal role.”

I strongly suspect that these folks are going to lose the argument, mostly because Alexander is committed...

Today marks the start of National School Choice Week. Across the country, over 11,000 events will take place from the intimate (school open houses and homeschool how-to sessions) to the enormous (Capitol Rallies across the country); from our own gathering to online events. It is one week of the year during which the focus is on the benefits parents and children gain from having the opportunity to choose the school that best fits their needs.

School choice in Ohio comes in many forms, including public charter schools, private schools (and voucher programs that help needy students pay private tuition), open enrollment, STEM schools, vocational centers, post-secondary enrollment options, and home schooling. Among these choice options, charter schools have clearly become the most prominent feature of Ohio’s school-choice environment; they educate over 120,000 students, many of whom come from low-income families.

Given the high profile of charter schools, it is worth pausing on School Choice Week to honor the very best of Ohio’s charter schools. The table below is an honor roll of Ohio charter schools. It displays twenty-two charter schools that were ranked in the top ten percent in either the state’s performance-index score (student achievement) or value-added-index score (student growth over time). One school, Columbus Preparatory Academy, was rated in the top ten percent in both categories. An asterisk next to a school name indicates that the charter school made our top-quality charters list in 2012–13 (fourteen of the twenty-two schools are second-time recipients).

Table:...

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