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.

In a few months, education reformers will begin celebrating the twenty-fifth birthday of Minnesota’s groundbreaking charter school legislation, which passed in 1991 and inspired a wave of similar laws across the country. The charter movement can now vote, drink, and carry a concealed weapon. (But hey, maybe not all at once.)

The millennial era has been a time of rapid growth in the sector: Over six thousand charter schools now serve almost three million kids across the country. And all those ribbon-cutting ceremonies have given rise to a simultaneous flowering of research into the effects of charters. This meta-analysis from Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education set out to comb through the existing data to identify the specific impact of “no-excuses” charters on math and reading. Offering a brisk tour through the mission and methods of no-excuses schools, it should make handy reading for a public audience that still trips over some of the details even at the quarter-century mark.

After wading into an ocean of some five thousand initial titles, the authors finally ended up weighing the results of sixty-eight relevant studies published on schools that generally fit the no-excuses model...

A new study in the Journal of School Choice explores whether charter schools open in “high-demand” areas of New York City. In particular, the authors ask whether they situate themselves in high-density areas with lots of children, near schools with low academic performance, or in neighborhoods where parental satisfaction is low.

The study examines fifty-six new elementary charter schools that opened between 2009 and 2013, along with 571 traditional elementary schools. Data sources include parental satisfaction survey data from the New York City Department of Education (with 2008 as the base year for the traditional public schools), school proficiency rates on math (because math scores are more school-dependent than reading scores), and Census data on poverty and population.

The analysts compare parents’ dissatisfaction with their children’s current schools (relative to the number of charter openings in the area) and that area’s poverty rate. They find pockets of parental dissatisfaction scattered throughout southwest Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. Yet charter schools didn’t open in these areas. They tended to locate instead in clusters around central Brooklyn and along a stretch in western Manhattan, where parent satisfaction varied but was generally moderate or high.

Next, they detect a modest but imperfect relationship...

Last Friday, in a 6-3 decision, the Washington State Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the state’s voter-approved charter school law, threatening the future of nine new schools with more than 1,200 students.

The ruling was not based on the merits of the law (one of the strongest in the country on accountability). Nor was it based on the words of the state constitution. Instead, the majority cut off all funding from charter schools (the specifics on when and how to be determined by a lower court) by relying on an obscure 1909 judicial interpretation of the words “common schools.” These words are found in the state constitution, but aren’t defined. The majority held that under this century-old definition, the charter school law did not subject those schools to enough “local control,” and therefore is unconstitutional.

The holding hinged on this idea of control—despite the fact that these charters are subject to more accountability than the state’s traditional public schools. Parents choose whether their children will attend. Charters performing in the bottom quartile of all public schools must be closed if they continue to fail. And local school boards are free to sponsor charters. (In...

The tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina provided a much-needed occasion to reflect on the progress of the city’s schools since the floodwaters receded. One of the most important questions is whether New Orleans can stand as a national model for those seeking to transform the education—and therefore the life outcomes—of low-income children of color. I’m not completely sold yet.

In the wake of the storm, New Orleans’s education system was rebuilt virtually from scratch. More than one hundred low-performing schools were placed under the jurisdiction of Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD), which was created in 2003 to take over and reverse the fortunes of chronically disappointing public schools throughout the state. At a stroke, the city’s public school system was functionally transformed; today it’s a virtually all-charter “replacement district.” More than 90 percent of New Orleans public school students attend a charter school, with the RSD overseeing 70 percent of the city’s overall K–12 student population.

When reform-friendly commenters and cheerleading journalists write about the NOLA transformation, it’s become de rigueur to offer a standard qualifier--words to the effect of, “We still have a long way to go, but…” In this formulation, poor...

In the CRPE debate between Paul Hill and Robin Lake on the issue of charter back-fill, Paul's right. Robin, as always, makes excellent points and raises legitimate concerns. But in the grand trade-off they're debating—whether "high-output" charters should be able to be choosy about which kids they retain and what they do with vacancies that arise during the year—Paul makes the more persuasive argument, at least when judged by what's good for the kids who stand to benefit most from these schools. If we keep their interests squarely in front of us, we must wind up agreeing with Paul: "When drawing from a highly at-risk population, it is not easy to identify kids who will do the work a priori. It’s one thing for a student and family to promise daily attendance and completion of all assignments, but quite another to deliver. A high-output school has to let those kids who won’t fulfill their obligations go elsewhere, unless it is willing to abandon requirements that it considers essential to full college preparation. It should be free to fill seats that become vacant with kids who have a good chance of succeeding in the school, but shouldn’t be forced to fill vacancies."...

On Wednesday, the American Federation for Children sponsored and cohosted with the Seventy Four a first-of-its-kind summit at which six Republican presidential candidates talked about American education. They discussed hot-button K–12 education issues—Common Core, teachers’ unions, school choice—but struggled to name the exact role a president should play in that arena.

“A president can do many things; it doesn’t mean it should,” former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said.

Most candidates questioned the purpose of the Department of Education and favored state control of schools. Fiorina said the amount of money flowing through Washington does not correlate with student improvements.

“The federal government is the last place in the world I want holding states and local school districts accountable,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. But when pressed by Seventy Four editor-in-chief and summit host Campbell Brown, candidates agreed that presidential influence is the most useful tool for a president to move the needle on education.

“The bully pulpit needs to be used,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said. “This is crisis. Hundreds of thousands of kids can’t get jobs because of the skills gap….This has got to be the highest priority for the next president of...

Eight years ago, I offered my first public commentary about New Orleans’s post-Katrina reform strategy. In the spirit of personal accountability, I’m putting those words to the test, and I’ve asked six very smart, tough graders to check my work.

By way of background, in 2006 and 2007, I had reached maximum frustration with urban districts for failing millions of kids over decades. I was trying to figure out how to preserve the principles of public education while replacing—not merely changing—the district. My initial argument was published in late 2007 as an article in Education Next called “Wave of the Future.”

When I started drafting that piece, only a fraction of NOLA kids were in independent charters; the RSD-fueled reform approach was just getting started. But it looked like that great city had the potential to develop a new system of schools along the lines I was advocating—namely replacing the single government provider model with an array of autonomous and accountable chartered schools.

Though the article was about the charters-as-the-system approach, it included a very short call-out box on NOLA. I argued the city needed to focus on two things if it wanted to create this truly different system of...


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...