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.


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...

Editor's note: This post is the second in a series reflecting on the author's first year as superintendent at the Partnership Schools, a nonprofit school management organization that (thanks to an historic agreement with the Archdiocese of New York) was granted broad authority to manage and operate six pre-K–8 urban Catholic schools.

Last week, Eliza Shapiro published an article at Capitol New York that explored the “charter-like” approach the Partnership for Inner-City Education is bringing to its Catholic schools. In many ways, that characterization is true. We are, after all, partnering with some pioneers from the charter world. And we’re implementing many of the best practices that so many of us have learned from the most successful CMOs.

At the same time, though, there is a lot that it misses. We are much more than “charter-like schools”; we’re Catholic schools. And our rich history is the foundation of what we do. Some of the differences are obvious: We can wear our faith on our sleeve and teach values unequivocally. We teach religion. We prepare students for the sacraments. We operate on shoestring budgets.

But there are other differences that have a more subtle—but perhaps more profound—impact on the work...

Charter schools joined the usual suspects—tax reform, school funding, and Medicaid—as one of the most debated and well-publicized issues of this spring’s legislative session. If you’ve followed the issue, that probably doesn’t surprise you. After all, Governor Kasich, President Faber, and Speaker Rosenberger all announced their intentions early in the year to tackle charter school reform. The result was three strong pieces of legislation (House Bill 64, House Bill 2, and Senate Bill 148) that sought to improve the charter sector. When the legislature recessed for the summer, only HB 64, the state’s biennial budget bill, had passed. (HB 2 and SB 148 won’t be analyzed here, as they’re still pending in the legislature.)

When Governor Kasich’s team rolled out HB 64, it contained a host of charter school reforms. The focus was on strengthening the Ohio Department of Education’s ability to oversee charter school sponsors. It built on the department’s recently implemented sponsor evaluation system and instituted a series of sanctions and incentives for sponsors in an effort to drive improved student achievement at the school level. The proposal also included a series...

Tim Scott

Editor’s note: Last week, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) sponsored an amendment that would have allowed Title I dollars to follow low-income children to the schools of their choice. It failed, 45–51. Still, we found his speech to be a particularly eloquent case for school choice generally. The transcript from the Congressional Record follows; we recommend watching it as well.

Mr. President, I rise today regarding my amendment No. 2132, specifically targeting an opportunity to improve education for those kids attending Title I schools. This is a portability amendment. As we debate this Education bill, we must ensure our focus is in the right place. Education policy is not about protecting a bureaucracy, it should not be about empowering Washington, and it cannot be about an endless, fruitless push for some sort of one-size-fits-all type of system. This conversation must be about kids—5-year-olds and 15-year-olds—and their unlimited potential.

I believe without question that each and every child has within them a reservoir of potential. We should make sure that the access to experiencing the fullness of their potential is available to all Americans throughout this country. Too many of our Nation’s children...

Chris Barbic

Editor’s note: Chris Barbic announced today his decision to step down as the head of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, a position he has held since 2011. Under his leadership, the Achievement School District has shown great promise, as described in two Fordham Institute reports by Nelson Smith. He released a public letter to explain his decision and offer a number of lessons he learned during his tenure. Those lessons are what follow, in Chris’s own words.

We do far better when we trust our teachers and school leaders. In the ASD, we trust educators by giving them the power to make the decisions that matter most in schools—staffing, program, budget, and time. They are the ones—not I or any “central” administrator—making things happen in schools, and with the right structure in place, this cycle of fast learning and educator-led decision-making will continue. By removing the bureaucracy—and putting the power in the hands of nonprofit school operators—we can eliminate the vicious cycle of the hard-charging superintendent needing to “reform” a central office once every three years.

Autonomy cannot outpace talent. All of our schools in the ASD are given autonomy. The difference between the high performers...