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.

Efforts at a common, one-stop school-application process, a.k.a. “universal enrollment,” are underway for the first time in Washington, D.C.,  and Newark, New Jersey, and are under consideration in Philadelphia. Universal enrollment is already up and running in New Orleans and Denver, as well. The plans vary in size, scope, and complexity, but they are rational ways to put parents and students first within a dizzying array of educational choices. In fact, it’s clear that there are more school seats in most large cities than there are children to fill them.

Every parent theoretically has a number of choices, but the reality is that the school “marketplace” is often difficult to understand or navigate. Data are absent or inconsistent from school to school, different deadlines require quick decisions, applications can be hard to acquire or for families to complete, and visiting schools can be very difficult when parents and guardians don’t have access to or control over transportation and scheduling. All of these conspire to limit an individual family’s real choices even when quality school seats go begging.

To me, there are three basic components of choice that must work in unison: quality, visibility, and accessibility. If these are in place and functioning at peak, then a vibrant marketplace can exist and parents will likely be empowered with a number of realistic and attainable options for...

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In the midst of short-term and mostly small-scale snapshots measuring charter quality, this new Mathematica study brings a more panoramic portrait. Using longitudinal data, the authors sought to determine whether charter-school enrollment is indeed related to student success. As studies based on student test scores have yielded contradictory results,, this one employed other metrics: high-school graduation rates, college entrance and persistence, and students’ eventual earnings in adulthood. The authors gathered information on students in Florida and Chicago from 1998 to 2009, zeroing in on two subgroups: eighth-grade charter students who attended a charter high school and their peers who did not. The study found statistically significant results across all measurements. The students who remained in a charter high school were seven to eleven percentage points more likely to receive a diploma. They were also ten points likelier to attend college, and in Florida there was a significant positive difference (thirteen points) in the number who persisted through two years of college. Regardless of whether their charter education helped them get into college, charter students also had higher earnings by age twenty-five. The researchers contend that charter schools endow students with practical skills that allow them to succeed in college and the job market, long after they’ve left the charter environment. Let’s hear it for multiple metrics!

Kevin Booker, Brian Gill, Tim Sass, and Ron Zimmer, Charter High Schools’ Effects on Long-Term Attainment and Earnings (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, January 2014.)...

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Over the past eight years, New Orleans students have achieved what few previously thought was possible. In her recent Atlantic article on charter-school discipline policies in New Orleans, Meredith Simons recognizes these gains, noting that “New Orleans’s graduation rate has surpassed the state’s, growing from 54.4 percent in 2004 to 77.8 percent in 2012.”

Yet Ms. Simons, as well as others, believes that these gains have come at a high cost—that the results, while impressive, have too often relied on discipline policies that “feel at odds with the city’s culture.” In her article, Ms. Simons proposes her own ideal solution for melding our city’s culture with a positive school climate. And, to be honest, her vision sounds great. I imagine many parents would (and do) take pleasure in sending their children to such a school. And I’m thrilled that she and her colleagues have created an excellent school.

However, I do wish Ms. Simons had visited the schools she critiqued, as she might have gained an understanding of why parents send their children to these schools.

Because what often goes unexplained in such stories is this: Sci Academy, the flagship school of the nonprofit of whose school culture has come under attack, happens to be the third-most popular school for ninth-grade enrollees in the entire city.

The school that is supposedly inapposite to New Orleans’s culture happens to be amongst the...

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With thirty-two cities across the nation placing more than 20 percent of their students in charter schools, it is clear that chartering has changed the face of urban education. But what about students from rural areas? Do charters have the potential to boost their achievement, too? And what obstacles do charters face in rural communities? Andy Smarick explores these questions in a new report. First, he finds that very few rural charters exist; in fact, just 785 of the nation’s 5,000 or so charters were located in rural areas as of 2010—and just 110 in the most remote communities. Meanwhile, the challenges to rural-charter growth are many. Among them are laws that prohibit charters in rural areas, shortages in high-quality teachers, state funding mechanisms that disadvantage charters (often not limited to rural charters), and the logistics of schooling in remote regions. Given the myriad of factors that can stymie rural-charter-school growth, policymakers must enact strong charter policies. To this end, the report offers several policy recommendations, which include undoing policies that restrict growth into rural areas, loosening teacher-certification requirements, ensuring equitable funding, creating opportunities to leverage digital learning, and allowing charters to use vacant, publicly owned facilities. Importantly, the report also discusses the adverse financial impact a single, start-up charter school can have on a sparsely populated school district. The author suggests ways to soften the blow, such as dual district-charter enrollment (and dual per-pupil funding), a pool of state funds to reimburse affected districts, and a legal...

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“Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than that of competition,” said Senator Henry Clay in 1832. We’ve all bitten from the competition apple, and it tastes pretty good. Today, we have scores of TV channels, hotels, restaurants, car dealerships, and grocery stores from which to choose: an incredible amount of choice, all driven by free-markets and competition.

Competition is one reason why I love Ohio’s inter-district open enrollment policy. It allows school districts to compete for students, largely irrespective of where the student lives. Under state law, a district may adopt a local board policy, whereby it can admit students from either anywhere in Ohio or only from an adjacent district. Over 400 districts in the state have adopted an open enrollment policy.

As we reported in October, the state’s open enrollment policy has been put under the microscope in a legally mandated task-force review. The task force’s documents are now posted online and the report with policy recommendations is available also. The following are what I take away from the task force’s documents and report.

  • The growth of open enrollment is remarkable.  In 2012-13, 71,827 students attended a district via open enrollment. This more than doubles the number of open-enrolled students compared to 2002-03 when just 33,395 kids participated.
  • Many suburban districts refuse to participate in open enrollment. The map of districts that have adopted an open enrollment policy is eye-opening. It shows that districts surrounding the
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Editor’s note: This article wades into the ongoing debate over private school choice and public accountability. For background see here, here, here, here, and here.

Policymaking usually involves trade-offs, finding the right balance between competing objectives and even principles. This is especially true in education, where so much is at stake, both for vulnerable children and for the health of society.

One of the principles that should guide education policy is that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” (article 26, 3, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in San Francisco in 1948). Officially, at least, this right is acknowledged by almost every nation and is enshrined in many of their constitutions; it has been settled law in the United States since the Supreme Court’s 1925 ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510).

Americans agree, as Terry Moe showed in Schools, Vouchers, and the American Public. This is especially true of parents for whom public-school provision is of inadequate quality. “Among public [school] parents,” Moe wrote, “vouchers are supported by 73 percent of those with family incomes below $20,000 a year, compared to 57 percent of those with incomes above $60,000. . . .75 percent of black parents and 71 percent of Hispanic parents, compared to 63 percent of white parents. . . .72 percent of parents in the bottom tier of districts favor vouchers, while...

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Today marks the end of National School Choice Week. What started four years ago as a relatively small coalition of reform-minded organizations drawing attention to an issue they passionately supported has turned into a movement. Highlighted by a nationwide whistle-stop train tour, the most amazing part of the week is the thousands of events held all around the country by schools and organizations of all types. For at least one week, the focus shifts from the usual argument of public vs. private and lands squarely where it belongs—on empowering parents and their children with high quality educational options.

In honor of National School Choice Week, we want to take a break from our role as a Gadfly where we too often have to point out situations where quality is lacking. We’d like to recognize some Ohio charter schools that during 2012-13 achieved at a very high level. These schools made a difference in the lives of the students they served.

Given our consistent stance for high standards in all areas, it probably won’t surprise you that the bar to earn our recognition is quite high. To make the list, a charter school must be in the top 10 percent of all schools in the state on either the performance index measuring overall academic achievement or the value added measure that tracks learning gains.

We are proud to recognize and honor these twenty-five schools that have achieved a top ten rating.

Some of you may be...

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Yesterday at AEI’s terrific conference on “encouraging new and better schools” via school-choice programs, I presented a paper on what the recently resurgent private-school-choice movement can learn from the 20 years of successes and struggles of charter schooling.

I argued that three lessons from chartering ought to be utilized by choice advocates. The first is school networks. In the charter sector, these are generally called “CMOs” (charter-management organizations); in the private-schools world, they’re not called anything because they don’t yet exist (with just a few exceptions).

By adopting the school-network model, instead of remaining highly independent, private schools could realize economies of scale and huge benefits related to human capital. I also hypothesize that networks would help spawn a private-schools-support ecosystem in the nonprofit sector, akin to the ecosystem that has been developed around charters.

The second lesson relates to school incubation. A number of organizations across the nation have as a central mission helping charters get off the ground. They primarily work in four areas—helping to identify and train school founders and leaders; providing start-up funds to approved schools; giving strategic advice and support during the application process and after the school’s doors open; and advocating for improved policies. Private-school incubators could serve the very same functions, helping to create new, high-quality private schools.

The third lesson is accountability via authorizers. Early choice programs had few if any quality controls, meaning many low-performing private schools participated. Newer...

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At less than an hour, this documentary, directed by Choice Media founder Bob Bowdon, provides a digestible overview of school choice and how it impacts families. The film’s slightly hokey structure is a transcontinental exploration of school choice by train. On its way from California to New York, the train stops in seven cities, using each to focus a different mechanism of school choice, of which a few were particularly compelling:

  • At our stop in Adelanto, California, we meet a group of parents who successfully employed that state’s “parent-trigger” law to close their failing neighborhood school and reopen it as a charter school.
  • In Kansas City, Missouri, we are introduced to that state’s transfer law, which allows students assigned to unaccredited school districts the right to transfer to schools in better ones. We meet a mother and daughter who wake up at 4:00 a.m. because of the long bus ride that her child takes to school each morning to attend a quality public school.
  • Our stop in Erie, Pennsylvania, introduces us to several students who have opted to attend cyber charter schools rather than traditional high schools, and we see that cyber school students have a surprising amount of contact with their teachers via telephone or video chat. 
  • In Topeka, Chicago, Cleveland, and Rochester, we learn about homeschooling, charter schools, vouchers, and private schools, respectively.

You can visit all the stops by attending one of the many screenings as part of the School Choice Week Whistle Stop Tour.

SOURCE:...

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A state’s laws and policies set the conditions for a thriving charter-school environment. Good policy can ensure that public charters have access to the resources they need and the freedom to innovate, while also ensuring accountability for academic outcomes. But not all state charter laws are created equal. Some uphold the autonomy-accountability promise, while incentivizing, encouraging, and speeding the opening of high-quality schools. Some fall short—sometimes by a little, sometimes by a mile. Now in its fifth year, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’s (NAPCS) annual rating of state charter laws contains twenty components, including how well each state fares with respect to charter caps, authorizer standards and practices, the degree of school autonomy, and funding provisions. Minnesota, Indiana, and Louisiana topped the rankings. (Fordham’s home state of Ohio clocked in at a dismal but well-deserved twenty-eighth out of forty-three jurisdictions.) The biggest movers from 2013 to 2014? Mississippi leapt from forty-third to fourteenth place; Idaho jumped from thirty-second to twentieth; and Indiana moved up from ninth to second. NAPCS commended Mississippi for its “significant overhaul” of the state’s young charter-school law (enacted in 2010). The Magnolia State’s changes included a bump in the cap on start-up and conversion charters and the establishment of a statewide authorizing entity. Both Idaho and Indiana were lauded for strengthening their charter-school-renewal processes. Among the renewal provisions, both states require schools to seek a renewal of their charter from their authorizer, while authorizers must support a renewal (or non-renewal) decision based on school...

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