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.

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in slightly different form at the Chartering Quality blog.

Back in 2006, NACSA, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute issued Turning the Corner to Quality, a tough report on Ohio’s charter sector whose message was summed up in its first major recommendation: “Clean House.”  There were too many failing charters, oversight had gone from bad to worse after the legislature removed chartering authority from the state education department, and the state’s charter cap was effectively shutting out strong operators.

In the intervening eight years, a lot of good things have happened, including successful charter ventures like Cleveland’s Breakthrough Schools;  a default-closure law that has eliminated twenty-four low-performing charters; and most recently, a concerted effort by the state agency’s Quality School Choice office, led by former NACSA staffer David Hansen, to bring accountability to the state’s multitudinous authorizers.

Yet the muck persists. Last week, CREDO at Stanford reported that on the whole, students in Ohio’s charters are getting fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and thirty-six fewer days in math than their counterparts in district-run schools.  There are some bright spots. Cleveland charters outperform the district; performance is better in charters for black students and those in poverty; middle schools do comparatively well; and there seems to be a trend toward improvement among urban charters. But overall performance hasn’t improved since CREDO’s 2009 Ohio study, and is particularly weighed down by woefully deficient results...

This fall, the editorial boards of two of Ohio’s most widely read newspapers issued stinging missives urging legislators to make sweeping changes to the state’s charter school law. In September, the Plain Dealer opined that lawmakers should “work together on a bill to improve charter schools.” One month later, in light of revelations about a questionable charter-facilities deal, the Columbus Dispatch argued that charter reform “should address questionable lease deals along with other loopholes, conflicts and oversights in Ohio’s charter-school system.”

They’re absolutely right: 120,000 Buckeye charter students deserve to attend a school governed by a great charter law—a law that puts the interests of children first. But at the present time, Ohio’s charter law too often fails to protect these students’ best interests; instead, in too many ways, it protects powerful vested interests, smothers schools with red tape, starves even the best schools, and tolerates academic mediocrity.

Predictably, overall charter school performance in Ohio has been lackluster. In the two most extensive evaluations of Ohio charter performance in 2009 and 2014, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that Ohio charter school students, on average, make less academic progress than their district counterparts. The 2014 results, released last week, estimated that charter students received an equivalent of fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days of learning in math.

But fixing...

NOTE: On December 16, 2014, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute published a report researched and written by Bellwether Education Partners with the aim of providing a strong roadmap to guide charter school advocates and policymakers in Ohio when moving forward with a broad rewrite of the state's charter school law. This is the Foreword to that report. The full report can be found here.

This fall, the editorial boards of two Ohio newspapers issued stinging missives urging legislators to make sweeping changes to the state’s charter-school law. In September, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer opined that lawmakers should “work together on a bill to improve charter schools.” One month later, in light of revelations about a questionable charter-facilities deal, the Columbus Dispatch argued that charter reform “should address lease deals along with other loopholes, conflicts and oversights in Ohio’s charter-school system.”

They’re absolutely right: 120,000 Buckeye charter students deserve to attend a school governed by a great charter law—a law that puts the interests of children first. But at the present time, Ohio’s charter law too often fails to protect these students’ best interests; instead, in too many ways, it protects powerful vested interests, smothers schools with red tape, starves even the best schools, and tolerates academic mediocrity.

Predictably, overall charter-school performance in Ohio has been lackluster. In the two most extensive evaluations of Ohio charter performance in 2009 and 2014, Stanford University’s Center for Research on...

Yesterday at The City Club of Cleveland, Dr. Margaret (Macke) Raymond of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) presented her new findings on Ohio charter schools. The lunch crowd, consisting of more than 150 attendees, was perched at the edge of their seats as the results were unveiled. What they learned is that Cleveland charter schools are outperforming the district in math and reading—and they are making an especially large contribution to the learning growth of low-income black students. That was the good news for the local Cleveland crowd. But the less-positive news was that far too many schools in Cleveland (district or charter) still provide an unsatisfactory education for their students. The bottom-line message was that Cleveland (and the state as a whole) has to focus on creating and growing high-quality schools. To view the full presentation, please click on the video below.

For more news coverage on the release of CREDO’s new Ohio charter-school report, please read the stories in the Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer here and here, and NPR: Ideastream.

To download the report, click here; and, to read Fordham’s commentary on the findings, please click here....

On today's Room for Debate series at the New York Times, participants from the education community address the thorny question of disruptive behavior and discipline in charter schools. Essayists included Tim King of the Urban Prep Academies, Richard D. Kahlenberg and Halley Potter of the Century Foundation, and New York school principal Carol Burris. Here's Fordham's own Mike Petrilli on the critical benefits of behavioral codes in charters.

It’s not a particularly new or radical idea that schools need to be orderly places. Great teaching and learning takes focus and concentration; constant disruption and anxiety due to chronic violence are the enemies of that.

What is new, or at least newly controversial, is the notion that that we need to prioritize the needs of the vast majority of childrenthe ones who come to school wanting to learn. Yet the needs of these students are often overlooked in today’s debates, as some advocates focus narrowly on the consequences for disruptive kids. To be sure, we should worry about the “school to prison pipeline,” and shouldn’t suspend or expel students any more frequently than necessary. But we also shouldn’t allow disruptive students to hold their classrooms hostage. That’s true for all public schools, charter or otherwise.

For eons, excellent schools have found smart ways to create order that need not require large doses of punitive sanctions. It’s part art, part science, and comes in many flavors, but generally amounts to creating a climate of...

Editor's note: This post first appeared in a slightly different form on Watchdog.org.

Republicans are still gleeful after their 2014 victories in the U.S. Senate and statehouses across the nation. They should be, but they should also take heed.

A CNN exit poll shows that, despite historic wins, Republicans still lost with women voters, voters under forty, non-white voters, low-income voters, and more.

On top of it, as many commentators have noted, the U.S. Senate map is much tougher for Republicans in 2016 than it was in 2014, and Democratic enthusiasm and turnout are sure to be substantially higher in a presidential election year than they were on Nov. 4.

To win in two years, Republicans simply must develop new coalitions of voters. As Woody Allen said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life,” and the Republican Party is beginning to do just that by starting conversations with traditionally Democratic voters. The efforts have yielded some results, too, with positive signs in Florida, Texas, Colorado, and elsewhere.

Conservatives surely need to continue the getting-to-know-you phase, but they must then move the conversation with persuadable voters to concrete policy proposals that can help reduce poverty and open paths to the American Dream.

As I’ve argued before, one obvious policy on which conservatives already have a degree of credibility is school choice. While conservatives are generally very supportive of these policies (rural Republican state legislators are sometimes an exception), they have not seemed to fully grasp their potential as a way to build new Republican...

Charter schools are quickly becoming a defining feature of Ohio’s public-education landscape, educating over 120,000 children statewide. Also known as “community schools” in Ohio, charter schools have several distinctive characteristics: They are schools of choice, they operate independently of traditional districts (and some state regulation), and they are held contractually accountable for their results by a charter school authorizer.

The “theory of action” behind charters is fairly simple. Empower parents with choice, give schools greater freedom, and hold schools accountable to a contract—and higher student achievement, more innovation, and stronger parental engagement will follow.

But how does theory stack up against reality? Are Ohio charters actually producing better results than their district counterparts? One way to answer this question is by analyzing student achievement data, and since 1999, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has been the nation’s foremost independent evaluator of charter school performance. 

Today, CREDO published a report on the academic performance of Ohio charter schools. It found that Buckeye charters, taken as a whole, continue to produce mediocre results. With state test scores in math and reading from the 2007–08 to 2012–13 school years used as the outcome measure, the study found that, on average, Ohio charter students are falling behind their counterparts in district schools. Students lost, on average, fourteen days of learning in reading and forty-three days in math over the course of the school year.

For those who have followed the Fordham Institute’s commentary and research over the...

The charter school sector in the United States encompasses forty-two states and the District of Columbia, with 6,400 charter schools serving 2.5 million students. More than 1,000 authorizing entities oversee these schools, working under state laws that (ideally) balance the twin goals of school autonomy and accountability for results. This report, produced by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), examines the quality of those laws. NACSA has identified eight policies that facilitate the development of effective charters, including performance management and replication, default closures, and authorizer sanctions. States are awarded points based on the strength of each of these policies in their charter school laws. Since each state has a unique charter-authorizing landscape, NACSA has divided the states into three groups based on their similarities and then ranked states within each group. The groups are: 1) district authorizing states, 2) states with many authorizers, and 3) states with few authorizers. Ohio—with its 70 authorizers—was placed in group two along with four other states (Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Michigan). NACSA awarded Ohio a score of 18/27, enough to tie for third in its group (along with Missouri). While Ohio earned top marks for its default closure policies and its (relatively new) authorizer sanctions, it received zero points for its charter-renewal standards. More specifically, current law allows “reasonable progress” to be sufficient evidence for an authorizer to renew a charter. This low standard is particularly worrisome given Ohio charter schools’ “documented history of poor performance.” The report also notes...

Jack Schneider

Editor's note: This post is the first entry of a multi-part series of interviews featuring Fordham's own Andy Smarick and Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. It originally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Week's K-12 Schools: Beyond the Rhetoric blog.

Schneider: I see a place for some charters in the K–12 system, created under particular conditions, and governed by a specific process. 

Some, however, claim that we'd be better off with a system entirely composed of charters

You're a charter booster. Where do you land on this question?

Smarick: In short, I envision a future where all or nearly all of a city's public schools are charter schools. (Note that I'm only discussing city school systems here.)

Though I'm generally disinclined to fundamentally alter longstanding institutions, urban districts have, for fifty years, proven themselves wholly incapable of producing the results our kids deserve. And we're talking about tens of millions of low-income kids who have been assigned to schools in these persistently failing institutions. While I admire the people who have tried their best to improve urban districts, the results fall miles short of what's needed. So we need a dramatic break from how things have been done.

Now, I remain open to the idea of the government running a few urban schools, for example a selective-admissions high school or some other specialty program. But, in general, the government should prepare to get out of the business of operating urban public schools and hand that responsibility off to civil society. 

Schneider: You're right that we see persistent...

Emily Hanford

Halfway through my senior year of college, I quit. Why? Because I didn’t want to graduate. I had no idea what I was going to do next.

I was one of those students who did everything she was supposed to do. Good grades, good college, all that. But school was all I had ever known, and not once during my sixteen years of education do I recall anyone ever making an explicit connection between what I was learning in school and what I might actually do for a living once I was done. The goal of high school was to get into college. The goal of college was to get a degree. Then what? I wasn’t at all prepared for that question.

I come from a background of abundant educational privilege. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s in an affluent New England town with great public schools. My parents had graduated from college. My grandparents had graduated from college. On my dad’s side even my great grandfather had a bachelor’s degree. I was on the “college track” before I was born.

But there was another track: vocational education. I had friends on that path. Their parents were roofers, hairdressers, secretaries, and janitors. Those kids took basic level academic classes, but their focus was preparing for work. No one expected them to go to college.

Those of us bound for higher education felt like we were on the...

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