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.

Next-generation learning models—“technology-enabled” education, if you will—are designed to personalize education in any way necessary to help students at all performance levels meet and exceed goals. As with any innovation introduced into American education, next-generation models have met resistance and in many cases have been either halted altogether or subsumed into the by-the-book system. In their new issue brief, Public Impact’s Shonaka Ellison and Gillian Locke argue that charter schools are the ideal place for next-generation learning models. Charter-school autonomies, inherent in their DNA, provide the best platform for tech-driven innovations like ability grouping, mastery-based promotion, student-paced learning, separation of administrative and instructional duties for teachers, and online learning. The researchers show these practices are carried out in various combinations at a number of charter schools around the country. No mention is made in the brief about solely online schooling, whose model would seem to be synonymous with much of the innovation described here but whose results have too often fallen short of expectations. In fact, having a building in which to attend school seems to be an unstated requirement for creating the type of next-generation models the authors examine. And while Khan Academy and ASSISTments can extend the school day into the home, building a brick box just so students can come inside and use these tools inside seems somehow less than innovative. But the use of technology also requires the hard work of quality implementation. “Positive student results heavily depend on quality implementation,” the authors note. They make...

Always a hot topic for debate, charter school issues—especially those involving funding—are hotter than usual.

Let’s start at the national level, which we can see in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ new report The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: A State-By-State Analysis. NAPCS reports on twenty-five states and the District of Columbia, assessing the overall “health of the movement” by focusing on eleven indicators, including student-enrollment growth, innovation, and academic quality. Washington, D.C.’s and Louisiana’s charter schools come out on top, in part because of equitable funding for charters compared to district schools. Oregon and Nevada finish last for a number of reasons, not least of which being poor learning gains. Ohio finished in the middle of the pack, getting high marks for charter growth but struggling with student achievement.

The state of New York ranked fifth in the NAPCS analysis, just ten points behind Louisiana, but has experienced some well-publicized tussles over charter school issues in recent months, including a lawsuit filed by a group supportive of charter schools alleging that New York’s method of funding charter schools violates the state constitution and disproportionately hurts minority students. Buckeye state officials should keep an eye on this case, as Ohio charter school students receive similarly disparate funding.

As reported elsewhere in this issue, funding of charter schools is being debated in Fordham’s home state of Ohio as well. The Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools has issued their analysis of recently released Ohio report...

John A. Dues

 

John A. Dues is the Chief Learning Officer for United Schools Network in Columbus.
 

"There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children."

                                                                                                                       -Nelson Mandela

As a society, we are in need of some serious soul searching. There is an urgent need to support and create as many outstanding schools as possible as a part of a larger plan for improving life outcomes in Columbus’s most challenged neighborhoods. In Central Ohio, outcomes for kids that grow up just a few miles from each other can vary immensely. Drive east on Main Street from Miller Avenue in the Near East Side to Capital University in Bexley and in the span of two miles you will get a snapshot of the different worlds that exist within our city. Take that same drive on Central Avenue from Dana Avenue in Franklinton to Grandview and you will have a similar experience. 

Challenges facing our students

Over the last year, there have been a series of articles in the Columbus Dispatch that provide a lens into some of these troubled neighborhoods and the crises they face. Taken together, it starts to create a picture of the environment in which many children from neighborhoods like the Near East Side and Franklinton—neighborhoods where United Schools Network’s three schools are located—are living. These students come to school with needs that are far...

Marc Mannella

As the founder and Executive Director of KIPP Philadelphia Schools, I was surprised to read Dr. Laurence Steinberg’s Flypaper post on how KIPP charter schools approach character development. In response to his portrayal of our character work, I want to offer a KIPP educator’s perspective.

The headline of Dr. Steinberg’s piece asks, “Is character education the answer?” Neither I nor anyone at KIPP believes that teaching character in and of itself is the answer to the challenges faced by our students—85 percent of whom grow up in poverty. But just because character isn’t the answer, doesn’t mean it isn’t part of an answer. We know from several studies that certain character strengths play an important role in increasing students’ academic success. And a growing body of research, like that by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Dr. Carol Dweck from Stanford University, indicates that elements related to KIPP character strengths like social intelligence and optimism are ultimately teachable.

When approached thoughtfully and deliberately, teaching character strengths can help students develop the resiliency to overcome life’s obstacles. We’re already seeing that KIPP students graduate college at more than four times the rate of students from the country’s lowest-income families; by investing in character in our schools, we are aiming to raise that rate even higher.

While Dr. Steinberg is complimentary of much of KIPP’s work, his description of our approach to teaching character as a settled protocol is not entirely accurate. It is in fact a highly...

On the whole, the new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is another example of executive overreach and federal interference run amok. Really, the department is going to sue local school districts if their lighting is poor? Does anyone think this is a good idea? Secretary Duncan, this is "tight-loose"?

But there is a silver lining: This could be an incredibly helpful tool for charter schools. We know from a recent University of Arkansas study (and several before it) that charter schools are woefully underfunded. This is particularly true in states where most charters serve poor and minority children. They also have meager access to high quality facilities. (I hear some are even poorly lit!)

I'd love to see charter associations throughout the country file complaints with OCR, asking it to investigate states that don't do enough to provide equitable funding to charter schools serving high proportions of poor and minority children. Advocates in New York City might file a complaint against Mayor Bill de Blasio for refusing to provide equitable facilities. And certainly charter advocates that have already filed lawsuits alleging discrimination against charter schools (in Washington, D.C. and New York state) should use the tactic, too.

It almost certainly didn't mean to, but OCR may have stumbled into the most significant federal charter policy action since the birth of the charter movement two decades ago. So tenth-amendment hawks: Lighten up!...

A new report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools assesses the health of the public charter school movement by examining its progression and performance in twenty-five states and Washington, D.C. To qualify, states had to participate in the 2013 CREDO study and have at least 1 percent of public school students served by charters. They ranked the strength of each locale using fifteen indicators in three categories: growth, or the overall number of schools available and students served; innovation, defined as the “use of various innovative practices,” such as an extended school year; and quality, measured in additional days of learning for both reading and math. Washington, D.C. and Louisiana came in first and second, respectively, earning high marks for offering multiple charter school options for families, serving high numbers of economically disadvantaged youth, and showing strong student achievement gains. Nevertheless, the report suggests that both ought to make efforts to secure equitable operational funding. At the other end of the spectrum, Oregon and Nevada occupied the bottom two spots because they serve a low percentage of the state’s population of public school children, and their charters aren’t producing gains in reading and math. For these low performers, the report suggests changes in law that would allow for more in-school autonomy and more accountability for authorizers. The Alliance acknowledges that improvement can be made in identifying and collecting comprehensive data on public charter schools. Indeed. But, in the meantime, this debut analysis offers clarity to a movement...

With any luck, the “Know Your Charter” website from Innovation Ohio (IO) and the Ohio Education Association (OEA) will go the way of Pets.com and Geocities.com. The new website’s stated aim is to increase the transparency around charter-school spending and academic results by comparing them to traditional public schools. While greater transparency is a worthwhile goal, it looks like Innovation Ohio—a liberal advocacy group founded by former Strickland administration officials—and the Ohio Education Association (OEA)—the state-level affiliate for the nation’s largest labor union—let political spin get in the way of presenting information in a meaningful way.

The website misinforms the public by failing to report essential information about public schools, calling into question how much the website actually helps anyone “know” anything. In particular, Innovation Ohio (IO) and the OEA make the following crucial omissions in reporting basic school information:

1.) They ignore district funding from local property taxes. You’ll notice that the IO-OEA website reports only state per-pupil revenue for districts and public-charter schools. But remember, school districts are funded jointly through state and local revenue sources.[1] By reporting only state revenue, they flagrantly disregard the fact that school districts raise, on average, roughly half their revenue through local taxes (mainly property). Meanwhile, charters, with only a few exceptions in Cleveland, do not receive a single penny of local revenue, which leads to funding inequity between district and charter schools. When local, state, and federal revenue sources are combined, recent research from...

There’s a lot of talk about disruptive innovation these days. It seems hardly a month goes by that we don’t see some sort of exciting new innovation that changes an industry. Sometimes it happens over and over again in the same space. First we had paper maps that were replaced by custom driving directions we could print out from MapQuest (remember those?). Then came some very expensive GPS systems mounted in cars. Those, in turn, were replaced by much cheaper portable GPS systems from companies like Garmin, which were basically made obsolete by free map applications from Apple, Google, and others in nearly all cell phones sold today. All this in a handful of years! Fortunately, paper mapmakers weren’t ultra-powerful on Capitol Hill, or we might still be sitting in our cars trying to figure out how the heck you’re supposed to fold those things.

Unfortunately, the traditional public education system does have an army of apologists, lobbyists and piles of cash to protect itself and resist change.  Public unions are the best funded of these anti-change agents, but they are by no means the only players to resist everything from accountability to online learning to charter schools—none of which are really that radical when you think about it.

A white paper published by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, “Public Accountability for Charter Schools: Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight,” follows a familiar path. The ideas, almost certainly by design, would stifle the innovation we...

Heated debate has erupted over changes to Ohio’s new standards, assessments, and accountability policies. Most significantly, the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics has triggered efforts to roll back the new standards and the assessments associated with them. In addition to the Common Core, the state is undertaking other bold but controversial reforms, including the Third Grade Reading Guarantee—aimed at improving early literacy—and evaluations of teachers and principals that factor in student achievement.

These policy reforms reflect a shifting paradigm in K-12 education. For years, it was assumed that schools would provide an adequate education for all students. Since the early 2000s, prodded by federal law, states adopted policies whereby students have been required to meet “proficiency” benchmarks on state tests. This policy framework has moved the achievement needle forward: Disadvantaged students, for one, have demonstrated gains over the past decade on national assessments.

Yet the academic standards in Ohio and in many states across the nation remained too low, and student outcomes mediocre. The minimum expectations for what students should know and be able to do failed to match the demands of colleges and employers. As a result, Ohio and other states are raising academic expectations: “adequacy” and “proficiency” in K-12 education is passé. In its place, a new paradigm aims to ready students for college and career.

None of these big reforms—from Common Core to new assessments to clearer accountability for schools and educators—are stress-free, without complication, or uncontentious. These...

Ohio’s school and district report cards were released last week, nearly a month later than originally scheduled due to inclement weather….back in February and March. No matter; they’re here now and every education stakeholder is poring over them. But to what purpose are these troves of data being put? 

Out of the gate, stories in the media focused on the “big picture” issues: urban districts (pretty bad, with some rays of hope) and dropout recovery schools (same, minus most of those rays of hope). A single grade for “overall performance” is still not being given this year but should be available in 2016. That left analysts digging through a variety of indicators at all levels. Performance index scores, value-added calculations (very confusing), graduation rates, and other factors were considered, either in isolation or in tandem, producing very different conclusions depending on how the measures were parsed or weighted by the investigators. It is tempting to say that certain foregone conclusions were bolstered by the ways in which data were considered or not considered, but perhaps it is more accurate to say that getting an analysis of such a wealth of information out the door quickly necessitates a narrowing of focus, for better or worse.

We’ve already seen some really excellent investigation of report card data this year, adding the journalist’s touch to what could just be cold recitation of numbers. We hope to see more stories making apples-to-apples comparisons between...

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