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 California Charter Schools Association and The Thomas B. Fordham Institute

There has been much recent debate as to the utility in Ohio of a school accountability model similar to the one employed in California. During public policy debates like this one, the big picture can sometimes be obscured by the details. In an effort to raise the level of discussion, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (Fordham) have joined forces to co-write this commentary sharing our perspectives on the key principles that should govern school accountability policy.

Before digging in, it’s critical that we address some of the misperceptions that have emerged around the issue. First, Fordham does not necessarily endorse the views expressed by the guest commentators who submit articles to its blogs. CCSA has deep concerns about the accuracy of the analysis by Dr. Vladimir Kogan that was published by Fordham on November 16. This commentary is not intended to address these statistical matters; rather, CCSA addresses those issues on its own website.

Second, Fordham believes that the Similar Students Measure developed by CCSA is a robust measure that makes extremely good use of school-level...

There’s something about the sight of an abandoned school that tears at your heart. Far more than the caved-in factories, theaters, and hospitals that populate countless online photo galleries, those stacked-up chairs and warped chalkboards represent the decay of a childhood space that all of us recognize. Earlier this week, the Atlantic’s Jacoba Urist wrote about the efforts of artists to commemorate these ruins in faltering metropolises like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit, where recent waves of school closures have displaced thousands of students and stuck in the craws of local voters. The resultant creations, from photo collections to unique off-site installations, are being used to shame and galvanize local policy makers into action. “My work is political,” said one artist, who is working with Philadelphia kids to partially recreate a shuttered elementary school. “But at the same time, I’m interested in the real grief and pain these students feel.”

Work like this has genuine value. It gives a voice to those most affected by the often-harrowing process of closure, and it can also direct attention to the unforgiveable malfunction of major school districts. (Simply as a political act, it’s also a hell of a lot more appealing...

In light of a Hillary Clinton’s charge that charter schools “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids,” as well as the lambasting of one of the nation’s highest-performing charter networks for its discipline practices, this report from the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools is especially timely. As it reveals, the worst of the recent allegations fall flat (at least when it comes to students with disabilities). Charter schools do have slightly lower percentages of students with disabilities compared to traditional public schools (we should note that the discrepancy is nothing like the gap that some charter opponents allege), but they also tend to provide more inclusive educational settings for those students. Suspension rates in the two sectors are roughly the same.

The study’s authors investigate whether anecdotes about charter schools failing to serve students with disabilities align with the actual data. They examine enrollment, service provision, and discipline statistics, made possible through a secondary analysis of data from the Department of Education’s biennial Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2011–12 school year (the most recent one for which data is available). Nationwide, students who receive special education support and services made up 10.4 percent of...

A new AEI report argues that private schools have a problem: They need more space. As more states use vouchers, tuition tax credits, and education savings accounts to help families access private education, schools will need to scale up and create new seats for incoming students. And the best way to do this, writes author Michael McShane, is to explore new funding mechanisms that will give the schools the necessary resources to handle growing enrollments.

One solution is for private schools to seek bond financing to help offset expansion costs. Public school districts already tap these financial instruments for capital projects because they expose investors to very little risk and the district itself pays less in interest than if it were to get a loan for the same amount from the bank (such financing for educational organizations is often tax-exempt). In 2012, the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority (CECFA) gave $9 million to the Catholic Educational Capital Corporation, which then offered it to Iona Prep, an all-boys high school in New York, to help purchase real estate that would allow it to open an elementary school. CECFA is not a state agency, but it is able to provide bond...

Robin J. Lake

In refusing to reconsider its September ruling that public charter schools are unconstitutional and not entitled to receive public funds, the Washington State Supreme Court is bringing the state one step closer to shutting the door on promising educational opportunities for disadvantaged Washington students. Families in most other states have these options, and the charter sector continues to expand and thrive nationwide. Now that Washington students and families have seen what charters in our state can offer, however, it would be shameful to let that door close.  

State leaders are still scratching their heads over the logic of the initial ruling, which hinged on a nineteenth-century definition of “common schools.” State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the ruling was illogical and overly broad. Many agreed, including four previous Washington State attorneys general and a bipartisan group of legislators. Even former Democratic Governor and Attorney General Christine Gregoire joined the amicus brief and said the ruling was “not fair, not right.” Some believe that the ruling was influenced by the legislature’s standoff with the court over Washington’s failure to fully fund K–12 education, which was mandated in the well-publicized McCleary decision. The court has been displeased...

Vladimir Kogan

The school accountability movement is founded on the principles of transparency, high expectations, and the dissemination of accurate information about educational quality. While there is much to like about Ohio’s recently signed charter school reform legislation, one provision in the bill is at odds with all three of these ideas. As a result, it threatens to significantly undermine Ohio’s efforts to hold charter school operators and public school districts accountable for the achievement of the students they educate.

The provision I’m referring to requires the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to create and evaluate a new “Similar Students” measure of academic achievement, based on a metric used in California. The final language of the legislation only called for a study of such a measure but there appears to be significant interest from legislators and stakeholder groups in formally incorporating it into Ohio’s existing school accountability system, particularly for charter schools. Once ODE completes its evaluation, this conversation is likely to intensify.

In a new analysis, I show why this would be a terrible idea. Using data from ODE and technical documentation from the California Charter Schools Association, I precisely replicate California’s methodology and create the Similar Students measure that...

CREDO’s national study of online charter schools has prompted even ardent supporters to call for “tough changes” in how they are regulated. Released in tandem with Mathematica’s survey of operational practices of e-schools and an analysis of state online charter policy by the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), the findings showed that Ohio online charter students learned seventy-nine fewer days in reading and 144 fewer days in math. (Read our analysis of the study here.)

Where does Ohio stand in its current regulation of online schools (which serve nearly one-third of the state’s entire charter school population)? And what can policy makers—and the e-schools themselves—do to ensure that students are better served? Let’s examine each question in turn.

Ohio’s recent steps to regulate e-schools

After an eight-year moratorium, Ohio lifted its ban on e-schools and allowed three new ones to open in 2013. The state regulates their expansion more tightly than charter schools broadly. In deciding who may open, the Ohio Department of Education examines both the track record of the operator and sponsor of each proposed e-school. Statute allows five e-schools to open each year, but the department may elect to approve...

This brief by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools offers “the most comprehensive analysis to date” on what is a very convoluted topic—special education funding in charter schools. Drawing from a review of state funding laws, websites, documents, and interviews with key stakeholders, the authors present their findings in several parts.

First, “Getting Lost While Trying to Follow the Money” (apt title, by the way) offers a primer on special education funding. Understanding the flow of special education dollars requires a grasp of overlapping federal, state, and local funding streams, which the brief outlines effectively. Readers learn the history of IDEA Part B, the ins and outs of the “maintenance of effort” requirements, and instances in which schools can qualify for Medicaid reimbursements. The report also describes the types of state funding formulas used. Ohio is one of nineteen states with a weighted funding formula (i.e., special education funding is based on the severity of a student’s disability, type of placement, and overall need). The vast majority of charters can’t access local funds (in Ohio, a handful in Cleveland can). Thus, if their special education costs exceed...

When Hillary Clinton recently told an audience that the purpose of charter schooling is to “learn what works and then apply (it) in the public schools,” she made the obvious mistake of implying that charters are not public schools.

But in her comments, Clinton contributed to another purposeful, longstanding, and inaccurate narrative. She suggested that chartering is, always has been, and should remain an R&D effort for the district sector. This argument serves the purposes of charter opponents and those who want to limit charter growth. That is, if you convince people that charters are only meant to think up and test a few new ideas, then you’ve established that the district is the real system and that chartering should never grow too large.

I’ve been trying to dispel this myth for some time. Chapter Five of my book The Urban School System of the Future chronicles the intellectual history of chartering, which includes motivations well beyond district R&D. In the 1980s, Ray Budde was looking for ways to permanently empower teachers in new environments. At the same time, Joe Loftus wanted new ways to oversee persistently failing schools. In 1988, Minnesota’s nonpartisan Citizen’s League argued that educators should have an ongoing way to...

Across the nation, charter schools continue to expand. Over the past five years, their enrollment has grown by 70 percent, so that approximately 2.7 million youngsters now attend these schools of choice—over 5 percent of the total number enrolled in public schools. Dozens of cities educate more than one in five of their public school students in charter schools.

This is a hugely positive development—provided, of course, that those schools are delivering a high-quality education.

Whether you think the current “mixed economy” of district and charter schools should be an all-charter system (as in New Orleans) or a dual model (as in Washington D.C.), for the foreseeable future, most cities are likely to continue with a blend of these two sectors.

Can they peacefully coexist? Can they do better than that? Can they actually collaborate in the service of students, families and the public interest?

To answer these questions, we at the Fordham Institute teamed up with Public Impact to publish a new report, Is Détente Possible? We examined five cities that had among the best conditions for district-charter collaboration: Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

Boston, for instance, boasts some of the highest-performing charters in the land. All sixteen...

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