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.

Matthew Levey

In early April, I wrote that school choice is the highest form of fairness because it rewards positive behavior and aligns the interests of parents, children, and schools. Some disagree, arguing that school choice disadvantages the non-choosers. It is admirable to want to protect the most vulnerable students—the children of parents who do not or cannot engage effectively. But we must not do this at the expense of families who are engaged and do make good decisions for their kids.

As we parents often remind our children, two wrongs don’t make a right.

By encouraging parents to make choices, we also send an important message to students about our values. For the kindergartners at my school, a choice might be as simple as how to share the wooden blocks with a new friend. This simple and safe experience helps them practice the larger and more consequential decisions they will face.

Across the income spectrum, the parents I’ve met are concerned with our failure in both schools and civil society to inculcate critical values in our children. Research affirms the importance of persistence, delaying gratification, and other “gritty” non-academic values. If we ignore parent behaviors in the name of fairness,...

Susan Pendergrass

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has consistently believed that all schools should be held accountable for the performance of their students and that any school that isn’t performing should be closed.

But closing a school can be difficult, and the impact of any closure ripples through the community and the lives of the students. Some question whether the disruption is worth it. In the traditional public school system, the urge to avoid this disruption almost always carries the day, and in the rare event that a school is closed, it’s usually due to persistent dwindling enrollment. Fortunately, we have emerging research that sheds light on the effect of school closures on students who attended those schools.

The Fordham Institute has conducted a study that measures the achievement trends of nearly twenty-three thousand students who attended one of 198 urban schools in Ohio—both traditional and public charter schools—that closed between 2006 and 2012. With the use of student-level longitudinal data provided by the Ohio Department of Education, the Fordham researchers were able to determine how the students from the closed schools fared after they were moved to a new school. The study...

A decade ago, I became fixated on what I saw as the biggest problem in K–12 education—that we continued to assign low-income inner-city kids to persistently failing schools.

My study eventually led me to conclude that we actually had a system-level problem: The existence of long-failing schools was a symptom of the urban school district. Its fundamental characteristics—functioning as a city’s monopoly public school operator; assigning kids based on home address; coping with constraining civil service, tenure, and labor contract rules; enduring toxic school board politics—inhibited the progress our kids so desperately needed.

So I started thinking about a new way of delivering, organizing, and managing a system of urban schools. I first wrote about it in “Wave of the Future,” extended the idea in “The Turnaround Fallacy,” and filled out the argument in The Urban School System of the Future.

The basic idea is that families are empowered to choose the schools that best meet the needs of their kids. A wide array of operators—across the district, charter, and private school sectors—are allowed to offer a diverse selection...

How should city-level leaders manage a portfolio of schools? The first thing they should do is take stock of the city’s supply of public schools. A new report from IFF, a nonprofit community development financial institution, provides a helpful look at Cleveland’s public schools, both district and charter. In an effort to uncover those with the highest need for quality seats, the analysis slices the city into thirty neighborhoods based on several variables: schools’ academic performance, facility utilization and physical condition, and commuting patterns. The facility analyses are the major contribution of this work, principally the schools’ utilization rates—the ratio of student enrollment to the physical capacity of the building. The utilization rates are needed to determine the actual number of available high-quality seats. The analysts obtained building-capacity statistics through the district; they estimated charter capacity by using the schools’ highest enrollment point (perhaps underreporting charters’ capacity—especially for new schools). Happily, the study reports that Cleveland’s highly rated K–8 schools are at 90 percent capacity. Yet it is less satisfying to learn that its highest-rated high schools are at only 68 percent capacity (the report does not suggest any reasons why). Meanwhile, most of the city’s poorly rated schools...

We released a new report today, School Closures and Student Achievement: An Analysis of Ohio’s Urban District and Charter Schools, that could change the way we think about school closure.  The study reveals that children displaced by closure make significant academic gains on state math and reading exams after their school closes.

The study examined 198 school closures that occurred between 2006 and 2012 in the Ohio ‘Big Eight’ urban areas (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown). The research included 120 closed district-run schools and 78 closed charter schools. Taken together, these closures directly affected 22,722 students—disproportionately low-income, low-achieving, and minority students—who were in grades 3-8 at the point of closure.

Three years after closure, the research found that displaced students made the following cumulative gains:

  • Students who had attended a closed district school gained forty-nine additional days of learning in reading and thirty-four additional days in math and;
  • Students who had attended a closed charter school gained forty-six additional days in math.

Further, the study reveals that students who attended a higher-quality school after closure made even greater progress. Three years after closure, displaced students who transferred...

  1. Our own Kathryn Mullen Upton was interviewed on TV in Dayton yesterday, discussing the new Senate bill on charter law reform. Blah blah blah sponsor quality. Blah blah blah great effort to close loopholes. Blah blah blah weed out poor performing schools. Who cares about all that, true though it is? That 3D Fordham logo is the bomb.com! (WHIO-TV, Dayton, 4/23/15)
     
  2. Speaking of said Senate bill, the Blade today joins in on the major-daily opining on the latest effort at charter law reform in Ohio. It is an improvement, they say, but are still not big fans. (Toledo Blade, 4/24/15)
     
  3. Back to Dayton to finish our clips today. Here is a really interesting piece about a woman who undertook a dangerous effort to leave her native Ecuador and come to the United States. Once she got here, her troubles didn’t end. She and her children have ended up in Dayton and after many years, things are starting to look up for them all. One of the brightest spots for mom and daughters alike: Dayton Early College Academy. Worth a listen all the way through. Kudos to journalist Lewis Wallace for this and the other pieces
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Thank you Chair Hite, Vice Chair Sawyer, and subcommittee members for giving me the opportunity to testify today in support of House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 148.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C. It’s worth noting, given the subject matter of my testimony, that Fordham’s Dayton office is also a charter school sponsor.

I’d like to start by commending Governor Kasich and legislative leaders from both chambers and both parties for taking on the issue of charter school reform. Despite bipartisan support for charter schools in much of the nation, they remain a deeply divisive issue in Ohio. My hope is that this bill could start to change that. At the end of the day, we all want our students to have access to high-quality schools.

Organizationally, Fordham has long focused on the need to improve accountability and performance in all Ohio schools. Last year, after seeing an onslaught of troubling stories about charter schools, we commissioned research to learn more about the problems...

The process of reforming charter school law in Ohio took another big step forward last week with the introduction of S.B. 148 in the Ohio Senate. Jointly sponsored by Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) and Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron), the bill is the result of workgroup sessions over the last nine months to craft the best legislation possible to improve charter school oversight and accountability.

The new Senate bill follows on the heels of House Bill 2, a strong charter school reform measure passed by the House last month. The Senate proposal maintains many of the critical provisions that the House bill included and adds some additional measures. Specifically, the Senate bill:

  • Strengthens House language around sponsor hopping
  • Increases transparency around expenditures by operators
  • Requires all sponsors to have a contract with the Ohio Department of Education
  • Incorporates much of Governor Kasich’s proposal related to charter school sponsor oversight
  • Prohibits sponsors from spending charter funds outside of their statutory responsibilities
  • Assists high-performing charter schools with facilities by encouraging co-location and providing some facility funding

We published a full roundup of press coverage of the rollout in a special edition of Gadfly Bites on April 16. Important highlights can be...

In case you were hanging out beneath some stone-like material yesterday, you missed the fact that Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) introduced Senate Bill 148 yesterday (companion House version HB156 was also introduced). These bills represent the latest work toward charter school reform in Ohio. So far, the Governor, the House, and the State Auditor have all weighed in with significant reform plans to improve accountability, oversight, and – most importantly – quality of charter schools and sponsors.

Not to toot our own horn, but these efforts hit high-gear following publication of two Fordham-sponsored reports back in December. In case you were hanging out beneath said rock-like material back then as well (seriously, what are you up to?), you can check out those reports and more here.

Sen. Lehner’s bill is the culmination of many weeks of workgroup sessions with high-level stakeholders in the state and debate over active legislation in the House.

As with previous important stops along the “road to redemption” as we like to call it, media attention on these bills was quick and widespread. So, here’s a special edition of Gadfly Bites, biting into the various iterations of media coverage:

1.       Fordham participated in Sen....

Back in January, the Education Research Alliance (ERA) for New Orleans released a study looking at patterns of parental choice in the highly competitive education marketplace. That report showed that non-academic considerations (bus transportation, sports, afterschool care) are often bigger factors than academic quality when parents choose schools. It also suggested strongly that it was possible for other players in the system (e.g., city officials, charter authorizers, the SEA) to assert the primacy of academic quality by a number of means (e.g., type and style of information available to parents, a central application system). A new report from ERA-New Orleans follows up by examining school-level responses to competition, using interview and survey data from thirty schools of all types across the city.

Nearly all of the surveyed school leaders reported having at least one competitor for students, and most schools reported more than one response to that competition. The most commonly reported response, cited by twenty-five out of thirty schools, was marketing existing school offerings more aggressively. Less common responses to competition included improving academic instruction and making operational changes like budget cuts so that the need to compete for more students (and money) would be less pressing.

These...

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