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 feds must have been in a festive mood in the days leading up to Christmas, when they finally closed a four-year-old investigation into Wisconsin’s school voucher program. The probe was triggered by a 2011 complaint, jointly filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and local group Disability Rights Wisconsin, alleging that private schools were discriminating against students with disabilities. This was always a spurious charge on a few grounds. For one thing, private institutions aren’t bound by the same mandates as public ones under the Americans with Disabilities Act, making the case a tough sell from the start. For another, the few accommodations they are required to make for the disabled are difficult to achieve, since private schools receive much less federal funding than public ones. In an effort to negate the problem, state legislators have already inserted additional outlays for disability vouchers into future budgets. With any luck, the investigation’s death will help restore the reputation of a useful tool for expanded school choice.
  • Not all anti-reform agitation starts with Uncle Sam, though. In Tennessee, the Achievement School District is again weathering attacks from local lawmakers and activists—and while the criticism is still emanating
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A recent Akron Beacon Journal headline grabbed my attention, and not in a good way: “Ohio tells federal investigators that charter schools are getting better, but evidence isn’t convincing.” It’s among the latest in a string of news stories about Ohio’s win of a federal $71 million Charter School Program (CSP) grant—and, more distressingly, its possible loss of said grant.

The article uses the current federal investigation of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) as the hook (“Oh look! An article about that $71 million grant—I wonder what the status is.”), then launches into a discussion about the audit results from high-profile blow-up Next Frontier Academy and Ohio’s alleged inability to track misspent dollars. Another editorial from ABJ with an equally cynical title (“Ohio and its legacy of careless charter schools”) better explains the apparent linkage between the two topics: “Because of the shabby record-keeping, auditors could not reach firm conclusions about school enrollment and finances. Thus, conveniently enough, the Next Frontier story could not be included in the information sent to federal investigators. Next Frontier wasn’t alone, the records of other charter schools in similar disarray. That left the state in position to offer a rosier...

In its 2015 state policy analysis, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) found that fourteen states have seen positive charter policy changes since the organization’s inaugural report last year. These wide-ranging improvements demonstrate the value of sizing up a state’s legal framework, diagnosing its structural problems, comparing it to peers, and using that information to press policymakers for change. In other words, rankings like this—and other seemingly wonky law and policy reviews—may actually pave the way for real improvements.

NACSA analyzed and ranked every state with a charter law (forty-three, plus the District of Columbia) against eight policy recommendations meant to ensure a baseline of authorizer quality and charter school accountability: 1) Can schools select from at least two authorizers? 2) Does the state require authorizers to meet endorsed standards (like NACSA’s)? 3) Does the state evaluate its authorizers? 4) Do poor authorizers face sanctions? 5) Do authorizers publish annual performance reports on schools? 6) Is every charter bound by a contract that outlines performance expectations? 7) Are there strong non-renewal standards, and can authorizers effectively close poor performers? 8) Does the state have an automatic closure law on the books?

Additionally, the report offers...

Fifty years ago, Catholic schools educated 5.6 million children in thirteen thousand schools across America. Perhaps the most depressing passage of Catholic School Renaissance—a new book by Andy Smarick and Kelly Robson aimed at philanthropists—is found on pages twelve and thirteen, which present inglorious charts detailing the deterioration of Catholic schools and their enrollment. Though that decline is not presently as drastic as it was during the 60s and 70s, it’s easy to despair over the state of one of most successful learning mechanisms in U.S. history.

Luckily, the next hundred pages explain what ought to be done to save these national assets. Smarick and Robson believe that our growing national acceptance of school choice provides a climate ripe for a Catholic comeback—and donors have the biggest role to play in bringing about the renaissance. “The question is no longer whether Catholic schools should be run differently; it’s about how,” they argue. The book explains how promising models should be scaled and offers a few viable solutions to the biggest problems plaguing the sector (teacher recruitment and retention chief among them). In a useful appendix, it lists dozens of opportunities for donors to shape systems via marketing, data reporting, and...

Ohio has exemplary charter schools – beacons of quality that are helping students reach their full potential. Who are these high flyers and what can we learn from them? How can Ohio replicate, expand, and support great charters in every part of the state?

Fordham partnered with Steve Farkas and Ann Duffet of the FDR Group to survey the leaders of these exemplary schools to capture their thoughts on charter policy, hear what makes their schools tick, and learn what we can do to make sure that good schools flourish and expand.

Quality in Adversity: Lessons from Ohio’s best charter schools will be released on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. You are invited to join us as we discuss the findings and recommendations arising from this survey. A fitting way to celebrate National School Choice Week!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Coffee and pastries will be available

Program begins at 8:30 am

Program concludes at 9:45 am

 

LOCATION:

Chase Tower

100 East Broad Street - Sixth Floor Conference Room B

Columbus, OH 43215

Space is limited. Register today by clicking here....

Morgan Polikoff

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of visiting Success Academy Harlem 1 and hearing from Eva Moskowitz and the SA staff about their model. I’m not going to venture into the thorny stuff about SA here. What I will say is that their results on state tests are clearly impressive, and I doubt that they’re fully (or even largely) explained by the practices that cause controversy. (Luckily, we’ll soon have excellent empirical evidence to answer that question.)

Instead, what I’m going to talk about are the fascinating details I saw and heard about curriculum and instruction in SA schools. Right now, of course, it is impossible to know what’s driving their performance, but these are some of the things that I think are likely to contribute. (I’d initially forgotten that Charles Sahm wrote many of these same things in a post this summer. His is more detailed and based on more visits than mine. Read it!)

Here's what I saw in my tour of about a half-dozen classrooms at SA 1:

  • The first thing that I observed in each classroom was the intense focus on student discourse and explanation. In each classroom, students are constantly pressed to explain their reasoning, and other students respond constructively
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The Ohio Coalition for Quality Education (OCQE) has hit the airwaves in an effort to change the state’s accountability policies. The group claims that Ohio doesn’t take into account differences in student demographics across schools—and is thus unfair to schools educating at-risk pupils. Along with the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), they are promoting the adoption of a new accountability measure that they believe will solve the problem.

The trouble with their argument is that Ohio policymakers have already implemented a robust measure—value added—that takes into account student demographics. Given what these groups are lobbying for, it is important to review the basics of student achievement, demographics, and school accountability, including value-added measures.

Let’s first keep in mind that the concerns about student demographics and educational outcomes are hardly new. For decades, analysts have recognized the link between demographics and achievement. The famous “Coleman report” from 1966 was among the first studies to show empirically the massive achievement gap between minority and white students. Gaps by race or income status remain clearly evident in today’s NAEP and state-level test data.

These stark results, of course, call into question the use of pure achievement measures (e.g.,...

It’s not difficult to see what parents find so appealing about religious schools. Some put stock in the inherent academic superiority of private academies, but many others prioritize what they see as their character-building edge over traditional district schools: tighter discipline, a unitary culture, and strong ideological foundations. Of the many virtues imparted to students by religious education, though, few would have guessed that one would be religious tolerance. This new white paper suggests that Americans who have attended some form of religious school are less likely to harbor anti-Semitic animus as adults.

The study cleverly combines multiple strands of inquiry from the Understanding America Study, a nationally representative sample of 1,300 American adults conducted by the University of Southern California’s Center for Economic and Social Research. That survey’s administrators queried their subjects on the variety of their K–12 schooling experiences—but also asked them to respond to a series of eleven anti-Semitic stereotypes, which were selected from the Anti-Defamation League’s Global 100 analysis of anti-Semitic attitudes around the world. After striking from the sample those participants who had been homeschooled or received the bulk of their education abroad, the authors were left with a healthy data set of adults...

In light of Hillary Clinton’s charge that charter schools “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids,” as well 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. It reveals that 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 total enrollment...

Victory is inevitable. That’s my biggest takeaway from Fordham’s new report on America’s best and worst cities for school choice.

This conclusion may strike some readers as premature, but while profiling the thirty cities included in the study, I was struck by how consistent the dominant narrative was across sites: School choice has grown rapidly in the past decade, and in most cities, that growth seems poised to continue indefinitely.

I don’t mean to advocate complacency or downplay the differences between cities (a central theme of the report). But from a national perspective, it’s increasingly clear that—despite the occasional legislative or judicial setback—school choice is winning and will continue to win. It’s easier to kill a bill than an idea, especially one that has grown into a movement because it works for kids.

Take caps on charter schools, for example: Of the thirty cities in our study, nineteen are located in states with some sort of cap; in some (such as Boston), this constitutes a needless and galling constraint on the growth of the sector. But ask yourself: How many charter caps have been lowered in the last ten years? (Answer: almost none) And how many have been raised?...

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