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.

Last week, in his State of the State address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put the weight of his office behind an education tax credit—a bill that would provide dollar-for-dollar tax relief to both individuals and businesses who donated money to either public schools or to scholarship funds that aid needy students in private and parochial schools.

This is an idea I have a personal stake in. As the superintendent of six Catholic schools in New York City, I know how financially challenging it is to keep these schools open and what a difference the donations from this tax credit would make in supporting the important work of our teachers and students.

Of course, for some people the idea of a public policy that provides any tax relief for supporters of religious schools is a third rail. They conjure up a vision of religion being forced on children or of the American ideal of “education for democracy” withering away.

But that not only represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the roots of American public education, it also ignores the reality of the debate. Rather than a choice between keeping religion in or out of our schools, it is really a debate about whether we should have a single state-sanctioned perspective on the values taught in schools or a plurality of approaches from which parents can choose. 

Common Schools, Majority Values

An uncomfortable reality for...

Congressional Republicans have promised to overhaul the No Child Left Behind act this year; the big debate so far has been whether to maintain the law’s annual testing requirements. At a hearing on the issue last week, Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), was clearly sympathetic to arguments by several witnesses that Congress should keep the testing mandate but dump the rules that prescribe how states must hold schools accountable for test results. As he summarized it for Time in an interview after the hearing, “You have to have the annual test. You have to disaggregate it. You have to report it, so we know how schools and children and school districts are doing. But after that, it’s up to the states, who spend the money and have the children and take care of them and it’s their responsibility to devise what’s success, what’s failure and [what the] consequences [should be].”

That Uncle Sam might back off of its demands that states intervene in failing schools has some reformers on the left on full alert. Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners—an alumnus of the Obama administration—considers it an abdication of responsibility, especially considering the $15 billion a year the feds spend on our schools via the Title I program. His colleague Anne Hyslop goes even further, saying it “eviscerates the federal role.”

I strongly suspect that these folks are going to lose the argument, mostly because Alexander is committed...

Today marks the start of National School Choice Week. Across the country, over 11,000 events will take place from the intimate (school open houses and homeschool how-to sessions) to the enormous (Capitol Rallies across the country); from our own gathering to online events. It is one week of the year during which the focus is on the benefits parents and children gain from having the opportunity to choose the school that best fits their needs.

School choice in Ohio comes in many forms, including public charter schools, private schools (and voucher programs that help needy students pay private tuition), open enrollment, STEM schools, vocational centers, post-secondary enrollment options, and home schooling. Among these choice options, charter schools have clearly become the most prominent feature of Ohio’s school-choice environment; they educate over 120,000 students, many of whom come from low-income families.

Given the high profile of charter schools, it is worth pausing on School Choice Week to honor the very best of Ohio’s charter schools. The table below is an honor roll of Ohio charter schools. It displays twenty-two charter schools that were ranked in the top ten percent in either the state’s performance-index score (student achievement) or value-added-index score (student growth over time). One school, Columbus Preparatory Academy, was rated in the top ten percent in both categories. An asterisk next to a school name indicates that the charter school made our top-quality charters list in 2012–13 (fourteen of the twenty-two schools are second-time recipients).

Table:...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Daily News.

Talk about glaciers melting! The high-profile-yet-nearly-immobile education policies and politics of the Empire State may have cracked last week, the result of rapid climate change within New York’s Democratic leadership.

Two changes, actually, both of them dramatic.

The easier one to describe was veteran Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s arrest last Thursday by the FBI on federal corruption charges, accused on multiple counts of using his government position to enrich himself. It’ll take a while for the judicial machinery to clatter and crank.

In the meantime, he has already agreed to temporarily vacate the powerful role that he has occupied and has used to foil, frustrate, delay, and defenestrate many an important education-reform initiative within the state legislature—at least those opposed by the teachers’ unions whose foremost champion he has been.

Whew. Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving fellow.

Silver’s demise would not, in and of itself, cause New York to raise the cap on charter schools, much less enact a tax-credit scholarship program, both hated by the union and its buddies (a list that extends beyond the speaker). But the week’s other climatic—perhaps climactic—change significantly boosts the prospects of these reforms and more: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s awesome (and radically union-unfriendly) education-reform agenda as laid out in his State of the State address and budget proposals.

The list includes revamped (and...

Before Christmas, we gave you the rundown of all the media outlets that focused on charter quality and policy thanks to two Fordham-sponsored reports:  Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report on Charter School Performance in Ohio and Bellwether Education Partners’ The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations for Ohio's Charter School Sector. The holidays are over now and we’re nearly a week into the new year and media outlets are still talking about the reports and largely concur on the need to improve Ohio’s charter sector. In case you missed the rash of editorials over the past two weeks, here’s a quick look at what they say:  

On Christmas Eve, Fordham’s Chad Aldis appeared in the Columbus Dispatch with commentary about the relationship between bad law and bad charter schools. He focused first on the results from the CREDO report, which found that Ohio charter students, on average, lose an equivalent of 14 days of learning in reading and 43 days of learning in math relative to their district peers. Chad pointed out that while these numbers are bad in their own right, they are even more appalling when compared to charter results from across the country. “Michigan charters add 43 extra days of learning in [reading and math]; and in Tennessee, charters provide an eye-popping 86 additional days of learning in reading and 72 days in math,” he said. “Charter schools can and do work in many other places, so why...

It’s been a busy month in the world of Ohio charter schools.

First, on December 9, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a report on Charter School Performance in Ohio, supported by Fordham-Ohio. Using test data from 2007–08 through 2012–13, CREDO concluded that Buckeye charters produce mediocre results that haven’t improved much in recent years. In fact, the low academic performance of Ohio charter students is estimated to be the equivalent of fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days in math each year compared to traditional district students. Our summary of the findings spelled out the good news and the bad, but more importantly focused on the direction that Ohio’s charter sector needs to take in order to improve. We weren’t the only ones to take this tack.  

The Plain Dealer published two pieces on the CREDO report; the first largely focused on the “big picture” data points as noted above. In the second piece, education reporter Patrick O’Donnell noted that the "grim" results underscore an immediate need to improve charter quality. But he also pointed out that, unlike other areas of the state, Cleveland charters showed positive results—the equivalent of fourteen additional days of learning in both reading and math. The Plain Dealer also noted that CREDO’s research shows equivalent percentages of special education students and English language learners in charters and traditional districts—an important rebuke to charter critics’ claim that the percentage of such students is...

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released the latest in its School Survey Series—this installment features data compiled on Ohio’s private schools. Because private schools are less regulated than public schools, there’s a dearth of information available. What does exist is largely demographic in nature or the result of surveys voluntarily completed by school leaders. The Friedman report uses a combination of data from the U.S. Department of Education (survey) and the Ohio Department of Education (demographic), most of it presented in terms of percentages. While there are some differences between the two sets of numbers, no matter how you slice it, the numbers of private schools and students have declined over the years. The annual federal surveys show average enrollment in private schools was 245 students in 2011–12, down from a peak of 272 students in the 1995–96 school year. And the demographic makeup of private schools is shifting as well. From 2005–06 to 2011–12, the number of black private school students increased by 3 percent, while their share of the public school population moved downward—likely a result of the state’s myriad voucher initiatives. In 2014–15, nearly half of Ohio’s private schools are registered to accept students in the largest voucher program, the EdChoice Scholarship. However, many of those schools report to ODE that they are not operating at full capacity, and author Andrew Catt’s analysis of the self-reported numbers suggests that as many as 36,794 currently open seats could theoretically be filled with scholarship...

The 2014 version of the State Teacher Policy Yearbook from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) focuses heavily on the “critical issue” of teacher preparation. And in the glare of that spotlight, NCTQ finds that, while the average state grade for teacher preparation policies has improved from a D in 2011 to a C in 2014, there is still far more work to be done to ensure that new teachers are prepared to help students meet the demands of college and career-ready standards. Three states—Florida, Indiana, and Rhode Island—are ahead of the pack and earned grades of B+. Two states (Alaska and Montana) earned dismal F grades. Ohio falls into the middle of the pack with a grade of C, but this “average” grade hides several troubling truths about Ohio’s teacher preparation practices. For example, in Ohio, only fourth- and fifth-grade elementary teachers are required to pass adequately rigorous content tests. In fact, the Buckeye State is one of only four states in the nation that doesn’t require all elementary teachers to pass a content test prior to licensure. Ohio’s middle school teacher preparation policy is better, since teachers must pass an appropriate content test in every core subject they are licensed to teach. The same is true at the high school level, but the tests have significant loopholes for science and social studies teacher candidates. These candidates, who often specialize in certain disciplines (think chemistry vs. biology; American history vs. world history), are permitted to take content tests...

Welcome to a special Fordham-in-the-news edition of Late Bell. On the heels of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)’s study on charter school performance in Ohio, as well as Bellwether Education Partners'  examination of potential changes to Ohio charter law, we’ve assembled some of the relevant local and national news coverage of both publications for your perusal. Enjoy!

THIS MUST BE WHY CHECKER WEARS SPURS AROUND THE OFFICE
Speaking before an audience in Cleveland, CREDO’s director, Macke Raymond, depicted Ohio’s situation as “grim,” though she conceded that the city’s charter schools “are creating a positive result.” In the Plain Dealer’s synopsis of the talk, they recalled a NACSA characterization of the state as “the Wild, Wild West” of charter sectors.

FALL OF BYZANTIUM
The Daily Caller quotes Ohio State Auditor David Yost in its review of official reactions to both reports. In a statement, Yost described the state’s charter regulations as “byzantine” (great SAT word, everyone), asserting that they have given rise to “lax oversight by boards, conflicts of interest, improper spending and even criminal conduct by some rogue schools and operators.”

THE GOOD KIND OF AUDIT
Yost went on to laud the recommendations set forth in the Bellwether study, raising the hope that some could be enacted in the future under recently re-elected Governor John Kasich: “This report does a good job of pointing out where Ohio’s governance of community schools doesn’t work. We can do a lot of good...

Juliet Squire

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at Bellwether Education Partners' Ahead of the Herd blog.

We recently offered ten policy recommendations to address the discouraging performance of Ohio’s charter school sector. We think the building blocks of our recommendations (e.g., strengthening the autonomy/accountability bargain, improving authorizing, creating smart incentives) are relevant to all states, and we suspect the specifics of some recommendations might fit the bill in some states.

But our report was written in response to conditions in Ohio. Several provisions in the Buckeye State’s law are unusual, and after more than fifteen years of charter experience, Ohio can now see the long-term consequences of many of its policy decisions.

For instance, the legislature tasked the Ohio Department of Education with crafting an authorizer-ranking system that will help the state restrict low-quality authorizers’ ability to oversee charters. We believe this accountability boost (importantly, without any new burdens on schools) is necessary in Ohio because the state has so many authorizers, some of which oversee large numbers of persistently low-performing schools. In states with fewer authorizers, stronger authorizing practices, and/or stronger charter school performance, this novel policy is far less critical.

Similarly, in 2006, Ohio passed legislation to automatically close persistently failing charter schools. We call for strengthening that law, which currently has loopholes for schools serving specific student populations. If all Ohio charter schools were successful, or if all Ohio authorizers held their schools accountable, an automatic-closure law would be unnecessary....

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