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 Akron Beacon Journal recently reported on the struggles of Next Frontier Academy, a charter school whose failures have included incomplete student records, missing funds, inflated enrollment figures, an inability to make payroll and rent, and student-on-student (and student-on-staff) violence that went unreported to the police. This type of educational malpractice ought to make everyone angry—especially charter school supporters and allies. Mercifully—for its forty students and Ohio’s taxpayers alike—the school closed this summer.

The closure isn’t an anomaly in the Buckeye State. Since the charter school movement’s inception in 1997, over two hundred schools have shut their doors. According to the Beacon Journal, “more charter schools closed last year than at any point in the industry’s seventeen-year history in Ohio.”

Closure isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. It certainly isn’t proof that the movement has failed, as some critics suggest. Charter schools that are under-enrolled, financially unstable, or academically deficient should be closed. This feature sets them apart from traditional public schools that stay open forever regardless of performance, and it should be embraced. Moreover, evidence suggests that students are the winners when low-performing schools are closed, despite the initial disruption and inconvenience that may occur. A Fordham...

In the age of charter schools, Common Core, test-based teacher evaluations, and other hot-button education reform issues, Catholic schools have largely taken a backseat in our public conversations. When we do read about them in the media, it is often bad news: financial struggles, declining enrollment, closures. As recently as last week, headlines have spoken of the “demise” of urban Catholic schools.

As the superintendent of Partnership Schools, a network of six Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx, I know the challenges our schools face. But the mood of gloom and doom misses the bigger story—an unprecedented partnership among parents, teachers, church leaders, and philanthropists that is setting the stage for an urban Catholic school revival.

This week, between his Pope Francis’s visit with world leaders at the United Nations and his audience with tens of thousands at Madison Square Garden, he has chosen to make a quiet stop to visit with students and families at one of the schools in our network, Our Lady Queen of Angels.

This is the first time a pope has ever visited an American parochial school, and his timing couldn’t be better. Francis brings with him a renewed focus on the service and social...

In the fall of 1996, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) implemented a new accountability system that placed 20 percent of its schools on “probation.” Poor reading test scores made up the sole criterion for censure, and those scarlet-lettered schools were plastered on the front page of both Chicago newspapers. A new study by Peter Rich and Jennifer Jennings of NYU takes a look at enrollment changes in these “probation schools,” both before and after the imposition of the new accountability system. The authors attempt to determine if the addition of new information (“This school is not performing up to par”) motivated more or different school change decisions among families.

1996 may seem like ancient history to education reformers, but the study illustrates the perennial power of information to motivate school choice decisions. In 1996, CPS had (as it still does) an open enrollment policy that allows any family to choose any school in the district other than their assigned one, provided there is space available. Since the district provided no transportation to students either before or after the policy was imposed, that issue was moot. The number of schools and seats within the district also stayed the same. In other...

If KIPP were a geographic school district, it would roughly be the nation’s sixty-fifth largest, somewhere between Boston and El Paso. With 162 schools and nearly sixty-thousand students, it’s also growing like kudzu, courtesy of a five-year, $50 million scale-up grant awarded in 2010 through the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) program. At that time, KIPP’s stated goal was to double in size while maintaining its positive impact on kids.

Taxpayers seem to be getting a solid return on that investment. A new report from Mathematica, which contracted with the KIPP Foundation under the terms of the i3 grant, finds that “network-wide, KIPP schools have positive, statistically significant, and educationally meaningful impacts on student achievement, particularly at the elementary and middle school grades.” The picture is murkier at the high school level, where KIPP had “educationally meaningful impacts” on students who were new to the network. No statistically significant effects were found among students continuing from KIPP middle schools, however. Still, the high schools have positive effects on “several aspects of college preparation, including discussions about college, applying to college, and course taking.”

The study is based on both lottery-based and quasi-experimental designs in eight KIPP elementary...

During his time in the United States, Pope Francis will make a quiet stop at East Harlem’s Our Lady Queen of Angels. His visit to this 120-year-old elementary school, which educates an overwhelmingly low-income and minority student body, underscores the Church’s centuries-long commitment to the disadvantaged. But it will also shine a light on an unreported story in urban education: the budding renaissance of Catholic schools.

For fifty years, inner-city Catholic schools have been shuttering, victims of shifting city demographics, changes in the workforce, the advent of charter schooling, and much more. Impoverished families have too few accessible school options to begin with, so this erosion of parochial schools has been especially painful. A substantial body of evidence shows that Catholic schools have an unusual ability to help underserved kids succeed. Newer research suggests that longstanding urban Catholic schools foster social capital outside their walls, helping to decrease crime and other societal ills.

In the early 1970s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (a White House adviser at the time) saw a looming crisis and warned President Nixon about the tragic consequences if these schools disappeared. Little was done; as a White House aide thirty-five years later, I was...

This report examines the impact of the Gates Foundation “collaboration grants” in seven cities: Boston, Denver, Hartford, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch (Texas). In each of these cities, districts and charters have signed a “compact” committing them to closer cooperation (and making them eligible for grants). These compacts have many goals, including the increased sharing of facilities, the creation of common enrollment systems, and other changes in policy; however, this report focuses on activities that “target specific staff participants,” such as school partnerships, cross-sector training, and professional development.

Based on conversations with teachers, principals, and central office administrators, the authors conclude that “overall progress in increasing collaboration has been limited.” In particular, while collaboration between principals has increased as a result of the grants, it is still concentrated among those already “predisposed to cross-sector work.” Moreover, in schools not led by such principals, collaboration between teachers is still “minimal to nonexistent.” More progress is evident at the central office level; but even there, some administrators are skeptical that these efforts can lead to “systematic change.” According to respondents, barriers to collaboration include “limited resources, teachers’ unions, and cross-sector tensions.” However, the report also identifies a few promising...

A new report by the Fiscal Research Center at Georgia State University seeks to quantify how much families were willing to pay for a greater likelihood of receiving access to a charter school between the years 2004 and 2013.

Author Carlianne Patrick examines thirteen metro Atlanta start-up and conversion charter schools that have priority admission zones within their designated attendance zones. Each school has three “priority zones.” The rules governing when a priority zone comes into play and how it interacts with the lottery are quite complex, but the idea is basically this: You get a higher chance of getting into a particular charter school if you reside in priority zone one.

Patrick limits the analysis to home sales within close proximity of the border between priority-one and priority-two attendance zones because they represent a change in admission probability. She claims that residences close to the border—in this case, less than half a mile—should be similar in both observable and unobservable ways, including access to jobs and amenities, styles of houses, foreclosures in the area, etc.

Patrick measures the effect of being on the priority-one side of the border between zones one and two. She also controls for transaction date,...

One of the biggest debates raging in education policy today is whether schools of choice are serving their fair share of the hardest-to-educate students or abandoning them to traditional public schools.

I have been more willing than most education reformers to acknowledge that some degree of selection bias is inevitable in a system of choice. The parents who seek out options for their children are, by their very nature, different than parents who do not, and this will likely have an impact on the academic performance of their children.

Furthermore, I have been happy to defend some degree of selectivity, both explicit and implicit. I support exam schools, for example. High-achieving students, especially those growing up in poverty, have not been well served by our traditional public school system, and I believe they deserve a place to go to school where they can learn to their full potential.

Still, wherever you stand on these debates, it’s certainly worth knowing whether the demographics of schools of choice match those of the larger community. This has driven many rigorous analyses of charter school populations, such as the proportion of their students ...

In a few months, education reformers will begin celebrating the twenty-fifth birthday of Minnesota’s groundbreaking charter school legislation, which passed in 1991 and inspired a wave of similar laws across the country. The charter movement can now vote, drink, and carry a concealed weapon. (But hey, maybe not all at once.)

The millennial era has been a time of rapid growth in the sector: Over six thousand charter schools now serve almost three million kids across the country. And all those ribbon-cutting ceremonies have given rise to a simultaneous flowering of research into the effects of charters. This meta-analysis from Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education set out to comb through the existing data to identify the specific impact of “no-excuses” charters on math and reading. Offering a brisk tour through the mission and methods of no-excuses schools, it should make handy reading for a public audience that still trips over some of the details even at the quarter-century mark.

After wading into an ocean of some five thousand initial titles, the authors finally ended up weighing the results of sixty-eight relevant studies published on schools that generally fit the no-excuses model...

A new study in the Journal of School Choice explores whether charter schools open in “high-demand” areas of New York City. In particular, the authors ask whether they situate themselves in high-density areas with lots of children, near schools with low academic performance, or in neighborhoods where parental satisfaction is low.

The study examines fifty-six new elementary charter schools that opened between 2009 and 2013, along with 571 traditional elementary schools. Data sources include parental satisfaction survey data from the New York City Department of Education (with 2008 as the base year for the traditional public schools), school proficiency rates on math (because math scores are more school-dependent than reading scores), and Census data on poverty and population.

The analysts compare parents’ dissatisfaction with their children’s current schools (relative to the number of charter openings in the area) and that area’s poverty rate. They find pockets of parental dissatisfaction scattered throughout southwest Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. Yet charter schools didn’t open in these areas. They tended to locate instead in clusters around central Brooklyn and along a stretch in western Manhattan, where parent satisfaction varied but was generally moderate or high.

Next, they detect a modest but imperfect relationship...