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.

Not much going on in education new at the end of the week, and what there is is all about charter schools:

  1. In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced legislation intended to reform charter school laws across the nation, but especially in Ohio. Coverage begins with the Beacon Journal, which quotes our own Chad Aldis in response to Sen. Brown’s plan to curb “fraud, abuse, waste, mismanagement and misconduct”. Federal legislation of this type “misses the mark,” says Chad, and should be left to individual states. (Akron Beacon Journal, 7/8/15)
  2. This was followed by the Repository, which simply summarized Chad’s statement into the word “overkill” while discussing the new bill, which seems like “underkill” to me. (Canton Repository, 7/9/15)
  3. As usual, the PD goes in depth, noting among other things that Sen. Brown’s bill announcement included reference to the Stanford/CREDO study of charter school performance in Ohio released in December and that Ohio’s currently-stalled charter reform bill addresses many of the issues about which Sen. Brown is concerned. Heck, they even solicited reaction from the senator to Chad’s comments. Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/10/15)
  4. The Blade dispenses with the journalism
  5. ...

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has introduced the Charter School Accountability Act. In making his case for charter school reform, Senator Brown cites a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) showing Ohio charter students lagging their peers in traditional public schools on state assessments.

“While presumably well intentioned, Senator Brown’s effort to scale up federal involvement in public charter schools nationwide based upon a situation in Ohio misses the mark,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Making matters worse, it seemingly ignores the tremendous state work undertaken over the last six months by Governor Kasich and the Ohio legislature to craft the most comprehensive charter school reform legislation in the state’s history—a version of which has already passed both the Ohio House and Senate.”

Senator Brown has also offered the bill language as an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act currently under consideration. Announcement of the legislation was met with strong support from both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

“Unfortunately, Senator Brown’s proposal goes well beyond simply strengthening accountability and transparency,” Aldis added. “The inclusion...

Perhaps you’ve been on vacation or caught up in the historic events of recent weeks, but over the past ten days, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute hosted our second annual Wonkathon. Last year’s was about charter school quality; this year’s focused on how to implement the brand-new (and groundbreaking) Nevada education savings account program. (Congratulations to Seth Rau of Nevada Succeeds, the winner of the Wonkathon, who both seized his home field advantage and proved that when it comes to using similes, you’d better go big or go home.)

As Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute rightly concluded, our blogfest demonstrated remarkable consensus, at least among the scholars, policy analysts, and practitioners who participated. Nobody wants Nevada to micromanage the program; everyone understands—and wants regulators to address—the risk of financial malfeasance. Most agreed that making educational providers assess their results with a nationally norm-referenced test was a reasonable approach.

Yet lurking behind the apparent consensus is an unspoken question: What’s this reform trying to accomplish? The law itself says it wants to increase student achievement and parental satisfaction. But go back and read the fourteen posts and you’ll find that the ones most enthusiastic...

In the midst of debates about whether school is the best place to combat the effects of poverty, several educational institutions have taken it upon themselves to integrate non-academic poverty-relief supports into their academic programs. According to a new report from the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, these schools offer unique on-the-ground efforts to support high-need students above and beyond the traditional academic model. They include KIPP, SEED schools, the Harlem Children's Zone, and community-based schools like those found in Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS).

Each organization offers its own take on anti-poverty programming. KIPP focuses on extended school days and longer school years, character education, and initiatives like KIPP Through College, which includes step-by-step assistance in the college admission process as well as after-school tutoring and counseling. These are services that other high-poverty schools struggle to offer. KIPP is also extending its services in specific locations; KIPP Houston, for instance, features a school-based health clinic called KIPP Care. The SEED schools, meanwhile, take efforts even further with a one-of-a-kind public boarding school model: Those enrolled live on campus five days a week, then head home for the weekend. Students, many of whom...

A new report by researchers at the University of Arkansas examines non-public revenue in public charters and traditional public schools (TPS). This is the same group of researchers that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute commissioned to do our first charter-district finance study—and thankfully, they’re at it again, dispelling the myth that charters get all the philanthropic dollars they need to make up the existing funding deficit. Not so.

Analysts engage in an in-depth examination of non-public funds for Fiscal Year 2011 in public charter and TPS sectors in the fifteen states where they possess sufficient data (which means this isn’t a representative sample). Non-public funds include revenues from areas such as food service (that yummy cafeteria food), investment revenue, program revenue, rental revenue, philanthropic funds, and others.

Key findings: TPS received $6.4 billion and charters $379 million of non-public revenue in 2011. For TPS, this amounts to an average of $353 per pupil; for charters, an average of $579 per pupil. Yet these numbers vary by state. For instance, in Michigan charters receive 50 percent less in per-pupil revenue from non-public sources than do the TPS. The types of non-public revenue coming in also change by sector. In TPS,...

In the reauthorization debate, civil rights groups are pressing to have ESEA force states to "do something" in schools where students as a whole are making good progress but at-risk subgroups are falling behind. Their concerns are not unreasonable, to be sure. Schools should ensure that all students, especially those who are struggling academically, are making learning gains.

Yet it’s not clear how often otherwise good schools fail to contribute gains for their low-achievers. Is it widespread problem or fairly isolated? Just how many schools display strong overall results, but weak performance with at-risk subgroups?

To shine light on this question, we turn to Ohio. The Buckeye State’s accountability system has a unique feature: Not only does it report student growth results—i.e., “value added”—for a school as a whole, but also for certain subgroups. Herein we focus on schools’ results for their low-achieving subgroups—pupils whose achievement is in the bottom 20 percent statewide—since this group likely consists of a number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including from minority groups.

(The other subgroups with growth results are gifted and special needs students, who may not be as likely to come from disadvantaged families or communities. The state does not disaggregate...

Sam Myers was among the first recipients of Ohio’s Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship, starting at Mansfield Christian School in the fall of 2012. It sounds simple, but the fight for the Myers family to access the school that best fit Sam’s academic needs was anything but easy.

For a look at that struggle, ably supported by the good folks at School Choice Ohio, take a look at this video:


One family’s hard work and persistence – to find an answer when others may not have even seen a problem – paid off not only for them but for thousands of others across Ohio.

Fast-forward to May 30, 2015, when Sam graduated from Mansfield Christian. A number of big-name well-wishers lined up to congratulate him. You can hear their own heartfelt words in this video:

In the words of our governor: you rock, Sam. Congratulations and best wishes for the great future ahead of you....

AEI just released a very good, short report on charter authorizing, “The Paperwork Pileup: Measuring the Burden of Charter School Applications.”

It argues that applications have become too onerous. Authors McShane, Hatfield, and English found authorizers are requiring more and more paperwork from prospective founders, moving chartering away from outcomes-focused accountability. As a former authorizer, I agree with much of the report. In my experience, government programs tend toward rule-based compliance and sclerosis. Systems eventually suffer an accretion of rules, and central administrators create policies to simplify their work at the expense of those they monitor. More specifically, I concur that some charter applications seem to equate length with rigor, ask for information with limited bearing on school quality, and pose major obstacles to first-time operators.

But some of the criticisms aimed at the report are also fair. NACSA believes its recommendations would threaten accountability. The organization defends, for example, application questions related to discipline, safety, and budgeting. They also pointedly note that some organizations calling for less regulation lack practical “experience working with charter schools and authorizers.” NACSA, on the...

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...