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.

Tim Scott

Editor’s note: Last week, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) sponsored an amendment that would have allowed Title I dollars to follow low-income children to the schools of their choice. It failed, 45–51. Still, we found his speech to be a particularly eloquent case for school choice generally. The transcript from the Congressional Record follows; we recommend watching it as well.

Mr. President, I rise today regarding my amendment No. 2132, specifically targeting an opportunity to improve education for those kids attending Title I schools. This is a portability amendment. As we debate this Education bill, we must ensure our focus is in the right place. Education policy is not about protecting a bureaucracy, it should not be about empowering Washington, and it cannot be about an endless, fruitless push for some sort of one-size-fits-all type of system. This conversation must be about kids—5-year-olds and 15-year-olds—and their unlimited potential.

I believe without question that each and every child has within them a reservoir of potential. We should make sure that the access to experiencing the fullness of their potential is available to all Americans throughout this country. Too many of our Nation’s children...

Chris Barbic

Editor’s note: Chris Barbic announced today his decision to step down as the head of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, a position he has held since 2011. Under his leadership, the Achievement School District has shown great promise, as described in two Fordham Institute reports by Nelson Smith. He released a public letter to explain his decision and offer a number of lessons he learned during his tenure. Those lessons are what follow, in Chris’s own words.

We do far better when we trust our teachers and school leaders. In the ASD, we trust educators by giving them the power to make the decisions that matter most in schools—staffing, program, budget, and time. They are the ones—not I or any “central” administrator—making things happen in schools, and with the right structure in place, this cycle of fast learning and educator-led decision-making will continue. By removing the bureaucracy—and putting the power in the hands of nonprofit school operators—we can eliminate the vicious cycle of the hard-charging superintendent needing to “reform” a central office once every three years.

Autonomy cannot outpace talent. All of our schools in the ASD are given autonomy. The difference between the high performers...

Not much going on in education new at the end of the week, and what there is is all about charter schools:

  1. In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced legislation intended to reform charter school laws across the nation, but especially in Ohio. Coverage begins with the Beacon Journal, which quotes our own Chad Aldis in response to Sen. Brown’s plan to curb “fraud, abuse, waste, mismanagement and misconduct”. Federal legislation of this type “misses the mark,” says Chad, and should be left to individual states. (Akron Beacon Journal, 7/8/15)
     
  2. This was followed by the Repository, which simply summarized Chad’s statement into the word “overkill” while discussing the new bill, which seems like “underkill” to me. (Canton Repository, 7/9/15)
     
  3. As usual, the PD goes in depth, noting among other things that Sen. Brown’s bill announcement included reference to the Stanford/CREDO study of charter school performance in Ohio released in December and that Ohio’s currently-stalled charter reform bill addresses many of the issues about which Sen. Brown is concerned. Heck, they even solicited reaction from the senator to Chad’s comments. Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/10/15)
     
  4. The Blade dispenses with the journalism
  5. ...

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has introduced the Charter School Accountability Act. In making his case for charter school reform, Senator Brown cites a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) showing Ohio charter students lagging their peers in traditional public schools on state assessments.

“While presumably well intentioned, Senator Brown’s effort to scale up federal involvement in public charter schools nationwide based upon a situation in Ohio misses the mark,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Making matters worse, it seemingly ignores the tremendous state work undertaken over the last six months by Governor Kasich and the Ohio legislature to craft the most comprehensive charter school reform legislation in the state’s history—a version of which has already passed both the Ohio House and Senate.”

Senator Brown has also offered the bill language as an amendment to the Every Child Achieves Act currently under consideration. Announcement of the legislation was met with strong support from both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

“Unfortunately, Senator Brown’s proposal goes well beyond simply strengthening accountability and transparency,” Aldis added. “The inclusion...

Perhaps you’ve been on vacation or caught up in the historic events of recent weeks, but over the past ten days, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute hosted our second annual Wonkathon. Last year’s was about charter school quality; this year’s focused on how to implement the brand-new (and groundbreaking) Nevada education savings account program. (Congratulations to Seth Rau of Nevada Succeeds, the winner of the Wonkathon, who both seized his home field advantage and proved that when it comes to using similes, you’d better go big or go home.)

As Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute rightly concluded, our blogfest demonstrated remarkable consensus, at least among the scholars, policy analysts, and practitioners who participated. Nobody wants Nevada to micromanage the program; everyone understands—and wants regulators to address—the risk of financial malfeasance. Most agreed that making educational providers assess their results with a nationally norm-referenced test was a reasonable approach.

Yet lurking behind the apparent consensus is an unspoken question: What’s this reform trying to accomplish? The law itself says it wants to increase student achievement and parental satisfaction. But go back and read the fourteen posts and you’ll find that the ones most enthusiastic...

In the midst of debates about whether school is the best place to combat the effects of poverty, several educational institutions have taken it upon themselves to integrate non-academic poverty-relief supports into their academic programs. According to a new report from the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, these schools offer unique on-the-ground efforts to support high-need students above and beyond the traditional academic model. They include KIPP, SEED schools, the Harlem Children's Zone, and community-based schools like those found in Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS).

Each organization offers its own take on anti-poverty programming. KIPP focuses on extended school days and longer school years, character education, and initiatives like KIPP Through College, which includes step-by-step assistance in the college admission process as well as after-school tutoring and counseling. These are services that other high-poverty schools struggle to offer. KIPP is also extending its services in specific locations; KIPP Houston, for instance, features a school-based health clinic called KIPP Care. The SEED schools, meanwhile, take efforts even further with a one-of-a-kind public boarding school model: Those enrolled live on campus five days a week, then head home for the weekend. Students, many of whom...

A new report by researchers at the University of Arkansas examines non-public revenue in public charters and traditional public schools (TPS). This is the same group of researchers that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute commissioned to do our first charter-district finance study—and thankfully, they’re at it again, dispelling the myth that charters get all the philanthropic dollars they need to make up the existing funding deficit. Not so.

Analysts engage in an in-depth examination of non-public funds for Fiscal Year 2011 in public charter and TPS sectors in the fifteen states where they possess sufficient data (which means this isn’t a representative sample). Non-public funds include revenues from areas such as food service (that yummy cafeteria food), investment revenue, program revenue, rental revenue, philanthropic funds, and others.

Key findings: TPS received $6.4 billion and charters $379 million of non-public revenue in 2011. For TPS, this amounts to an average of $353 per pupil; for charters, an average of $579 per pupil. Yet these numbers vary by state. For instance, in Michigan charters receive 50 percent less in per-pupil revenue from non-public sources than do the TPS. The types of non-public revenue coming in also change by sector. In TPS,...

In the reauthorization debate, civil rights groups are pressing to have ESEA force states to "do something" in schools where students as a whole are making good progress but at-risk subgroups are falling behind. Their concerns are not unreasonable, to be sure. Schools should ensure that all students, especially those who are struggling academically, are making learning gains.

Yet it’s not clear how often otherwise good schools fail to contribute gains for their low-achievers. Is it widespread problem or fairly isolated? Just how many schools display strong overall results, but weak performance with at-risk subgroups?

To shine light on this question, we turn to Ohio. The Buckeye State’s accountability system has a unique feature: Not only does it report student growth results—i.e., “value added”—for a school as a whole, but also for certain subgroups. Herein we focus on schools’ results for their low-achieving subgroups—pupils whose achievement is in the bottom 20 percent statewide—since this group likely consists of a number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including from minority groups.

(The other subgroups with growth results are gifted and special needs students, who may not be as likely to come from disadvantaged families or communities. The state does not disaggregate...

Sam Myers was among the first recipients of Ohio’s Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship, starting at Mansfield Christian School in the fall of 2012. It sounds simple, but the fight for the Myers family to access the school that best fit Sam’s academic needs was anything but easy.

For a look at that struggle, ably supported by the good folks at School Choice Ohio, take a look at this video:

 

One family’s hard work and persistence – to find an answer when others may not have even seen a problem – paid off not only for them but for thousands of others across Ohio.

Fast-forward to May 30, 2015, when Sam graduated from Mansfield Christian. A number of big-name well-wishers lined up to congratulate him. You can hear their own heartfelt words in this video:

In the words of our governor: you rock, Sam. Congratulations and best wishes for the great future ahead of you....

AEI just released a very good, short report on charter authorizing, “The Paperwork Pileup: Measuring the Burden of Charter School Applications.”

It argues that applications have become too onerous. Authors McShane, Hatfield, and English found authorizers are requiring more and more paperwork from prospective founders, moving chartering away from outcomes-focused accountability. As a former authorizer, I agree with much of the report. In my experience, government programs tend toward rule-based compliance and sclerosis. Systems eventually suffer an accretion of rules, and central administrators create policies to simplify their work at the expense of those they monitor. More specifically, I concur that some charter applications seem to equate length with rigor, ask for information with limited bearing on school quality, and pose major obstacles to first-time operators.

But some of the criticisms aimed at the report are also fair. NACSA believes its recommendations would threaten accountability. The organization defends, for example, application questions related to discipline, safety, and budgeting. They also pointedly note that some organizations calling for less regulation lack practical “experience working with charter schools and authorizers.” NACSA, on the...

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