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.

A new survey from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice delivers a thorough look at how the public views an array of school-choice issues. The results could surprise even some seasoned policymakers and wonks. After a useful literature review summarizing decades of opinion research on school choice, the author digs into the results of his nationally representative survey: First, respondents were asked whether they support or oppose various forms of school choice, and he found greater public enthusiasm for tax credits and savings accounts than for vouchers. Second, respondents were asked a series of questions to determine whether arguments favoring school choice were more persuasive if they invoked ideals of freedom, competition, or equality. Freedom prevailed.  Third, as is often the case, respondents felt that reducing class sizes would be quite effective in improving our education system relative to the other ideas offered. Among the reform ideas tested, support for “vouchers is in the middle of the pack, with smaller class sizes, technology, and accountability perceived as more efficacious and reducing teachers’ unions’ influence, merit pay, and longer school days as less efficacious.” This all would seem to indicate the need for school-choice supporters to go big with their proposals to reach as many kids as possible. Logically, support may dwindle to the extent the public feels a given policy does not affect them. In addition, policies should be designed to ensure options are broad-based, diverse, high quality,...

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Earlier this week, AFT president Randi Weingarten came out against the use of value-added measures in teacher evaluations, citing recent VAM shortcomings in D.C. and Pittsburgh and launching the catchy slogan, “VAM is a sham.” VAM certainly is not perfect. But as Dara Zeehandelaar reminds us in this week’s Education Gadfly Show, teachers decades ago were concerned about being capriciously fired by principals who didn’t like them, which in turn led to the movement for a more structured and quantifiable teacher-evaluation system. Does Randi want to go back to favoritism? Or simply no accountability at all?

In a fascinating exposé of the Common Core opposition movement, Politico’s Stephanie Simon describes how a sophisticated group of strategists took a grassroots campaign, mainly populated by “a handful of angry moms,” and is milking it for political gain. With everyone’s questionable motivations out in the open, Gadfly would like to see the debate return to whether the standards are right for kids.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution, Eric Cantor named school choice as the best hope for the poor to escape cyclical poverty. He took special aim at New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, for planning a moratorium on charter school co-locations in the Big Apple, arguing that this could “devastate the growth of education opportunity in such a competitive real estate market.” Cantor went on to chastise President Obama for (again) refusing to fund the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a successful initiative that...

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We’ve passed the time for standing by and patiently hoping that Ohio’s lowest-performing charter schools will improve on their own. Or that the authorizers of such charters will solve this problem on their own. As a strong supporter of charter schools, my New Year’s resolution is to seize the promise of change and resolutely champion the effort to strengthen the quality of the charter sector across the Buckeye State.

I also know that undertaking such an effort sans allies won’t likely yield much change. But timing is everything—and now is the right time for all of Ohio’s charter advocates to take up the fight for quality schools.

The problem

Charters have been operating in Ohio for well over a decade, and their performance can be most accurately described as mixed. We’ve been blessed with some resounding successes, such as the Breakthrough Network in Cleveland, Columbus Preparatory Academy, and Columbus Collegiate Academy. These schools, and hundreds other like them around the country, highlight the great potential of charter schools to change the educational trajectory of at-risk students. Yet too many other charter schools in Ohio (and elsewhere) have struggled mightily, as documented by a series of newspaper stories and editorials. In Fordham’s own recent review of Ohio charter performance, we found the urban schools in this sector overall performing at the same low levels as district schools. That just doesn’t cut it. That doesn’t do the state’s neediest kids nearly enough good.

The challenges in...

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Readers of this blog have come to expect news from around the country, analysis, cogent commentary, and best-practice policy recommendations. All of that has been in large part due to the efforts of Adam Emerson. Sadly for us, Adam has moved on to become the Florida Department of Education’s Director of Charter Schools. We want to congratulate Adam on his new position. We also want to thank him for his insight and leadership on parental-choice issues for Fordham and for getting Choice Words off the ground.

But as they say, the show must go on. We are extremely excited to be taking over the reins of what we’ll call “Choice Words 2.0.” We will continue to provide readers with insight and news, and we will bring our own penchant for data, analysis, deep dives, and a variety of lenses through which to look at all aspects of parental choice.

Please let us know what you want to see us cover and share with us your own insights on topics as we cover them. For those wanting to know a little more about us, we’ve described below the background and experiences that we’ll bring to this work.

Chad and Michael: Who We Are

Michael Brickman is national policy director at Fordham, where he is already a regular contributor to the Flypaper blog and other publications. He served in...

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The sleepy issue of gifted education is poised to become a front-burner issue in 2014. The State Board of Education will soon rewrite Ohio’s operating standards, the controversial rules on how schools identify and serve gifted students. The state will release a second year of value-added data for gifted students, which indicate a school’s effect on these students’ learning gains. Columbus City Schools recently moved to seek approval from the state that would allow five of its high schools to adopt selective-admissions policies, based in part on gifted status. Finally, the time may be ripe for policymakers to create a statewide selective-admissions school for gifted students, as Illinois and Mississippi have done.

As gifted-education policies garner more attention, policymakers may want to know what data are available on gifted education in Ohio and what the data say (hint: they’re perplexing). Below are three points on Ohio’s gifted-education data.

1.) Gifted services data appear to be inconsistently reported by schools.

Ohio collects and reports two key data elements regarding gifted students: First, the state reports the number of students who are identified as gifted. Second, it reports the number of identified students who receive gifted services. The enrollment statistics for both gifted identification and services are reported at the school and district level. Schools are not required by law to serve their gifted students, only to identify them. Administrative code requires schools to report these data and submit an annual report, and it also requires an audit...

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The time for standing by and hoping that Ohio’s lowest-performing charter schools will improve on their own is over. As a strong supporter of charter schools, my resolution this year is to seize the promise of change that accompanies a new year and resolutely champion the effort to improve the quality of the charter sector.

While I am committed to raising the performance of our state’s charter schools, I also know that undertaking such an effort sans allies likely leads to failure. But timing is everything—and luckily, I believe that now is the right time for all of Ohio’s charter advocates to take up the fight for quality charter schools.

The problem

Charter schools have been operating in Ohio for well over a decade, and their performance can be most accurately described as mixed. There have been some resounding successes, such as the Breakthrough Network in Cleveland, Columbus Preparatory Academy, and Columbus Collegiate Academy. These schools, and dozens other like them, highlight the great potential of charter schools to change the educational trajectory of our most at-risk students. Yet there are other charter schools that have struggled mightily, as documented by a series of newspaper stories and editorials. In our most recent review of Ohio charter schools’ performance, we found that urban charters performed at the same low levels as district schools—which simply isn’t good enough.

The challenges in Ohio’s charter sector have garnered national attention, as well. The Center for Education Reform aptly...

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Join us on Thursday, January 30, 2014, at the Athletic Club of Columbus for the release of our revealing, in-depth look at five private schools across Ohio that accept voucher students and what that has meant for parents, students, administrators, and school culture.

Find more information by clicking here.

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Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that Louisiana’s voucher program contradicts federal desegregation orders resulted in a months-long courtroom fracas and a national debate on school segregation and equality of opportunity. With this and other disputes regarding school choice becoming increasingly heated, this recent paper by Gabriel Sahlgren, an author and academic at the UK-based Centre for Market Reform of Education, is timely indeed. In this international comparison, Sahlgren conducts a meta-analysis to draw lessons from predominantly European countries, including Sweden, Germany, and Denmark, for application in England, which introduced some school choice with the Education Reform Act of 1988. Sahlgren looked at both segregation (differences in enrollment between minority groups) and equity (differences in performance). He found that while choice had a mixed effect on school segregation, no evidence suggests that choice led to decreased equity. Several of the studies he overviewed, however, contained drawbacks in design, such as using proxies for variables or failing to control for funding discrepancies. Additionally, given the vastly variant histories and demographic makeups between nations, one must view any international comparisons with some skepticism. Nevertheless, the analysis contains several recommendations that deserve attention on our side of the pond. For example, Sahlgren proposes using lotteries as a tiebreak for oversubscribed schools and eliminating catchment zones altogether as means of lessening possible segregation. (Attorney General Holder: That sounds a lot like New Orleans to us.)

SOURCE: Gabriel H. Sahlgren, Dis-location: School choice, residential segregation and educational inequality (London: Centre for Market...

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Tomorrow morning, some of you are going to feel bad about yourselves for tonight’s debauch. Not much I can do for headaches and queasy stomachs, but I can help you insulate your self-esteem: Read these five things before the festivities. You’ll head into the evening knowing you smartened yourself up. And tomorrow, when someone looks at your haggard visage and says, “Last year went out with a bang, huh?” you can say, “Yes, indeed. I did some high-quality edu-reading.”

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As ESEA waivers change the school-accountability landscape, charter authorizers need to take the opportunity to rethink how we too can measure school progress. Ohio, as part of its Title I waiver, moved to an “A” to “F” rating system for schools, is implementing new standards and assessments, and is providing some flexibility around various reporting requirements. Ohio has also developed a new report card for schools that reports on—among other measures—AP/IB participation rates, student growth in multiple categories, gap closing, honors diplomas, industry credentials, and graduation rates. This revamp at the federal and state levels has, in turn, compelled us at Fordham to reconsider how we structure our own accountability plans for the eleven charter schools we authorize. This tension is captured in our recent report, Remodeled Report Cards, Remaining Challenges.

As per Ohio’s new school report card, the Buckeye State now deploys and reports on a slew of academic measures, including value-added scores for gifted students, students with disabilities, low-income students, and low-performing students. All are part of state accountability. Should they also be part of charter-to-authorizer accountability? Should we hold our charter schools to account for improving their performance on every measure that the state throws into its report card? When it comes to important authorizer decisions about schools—renewing their charters, putting them on probation, or letting them add grades or additional campuses, for example—what matters more: proficiency rates or growth? What about IB and AP passing rates? Graduation rates?

Looking at our authorized...

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