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.

Finding a facility for charter schools to call home is a challenge on a number of fronts, not the least of which is finance. Some charters have been fortunate to find an unused district school building. Here in Columbus, the high-performing United Schools Network utilizes two former Columbus City Schools’ facilities. Other charters, like KIPP Columbus have built its own school from scratch (though its first home was a former district building as well). Unfortunately, these examples are the exception rather than the rule.

For many charters, operating in a traditional school building is financially infeasible. While charter schools bear the responsibility to find their own facilities, they receive only a small amount of state money for the task. Anecdotally, we know that this has forced many charters to make ends meet by residing in facilities that weren’t originally built for the specific purpose of educating children.

We wondered exactly how many charter schools use non-traditional facilities. To answer this question, we looked at the seventy-nine charter schools located in Franklin County (most are in Columbus) and then searched their addresses on the county auditor’s real estate website, which provides information including structure type and ownership (present and...

Editor's note: This post is the second in a series reflecting on the author's first year as superintendent at the Partnership Schools, a nonprofit school management organization that (thanks to an historic agreement with the Archdiocese of New York) was granted broad authority to manage and operate six pre-K–8 urban Catholic schools.

Last week, Eliza Shapiro published an article at Capitol New York that explored the “charter-like” approach the Partnership for Inner-City Education is bringing to its Catholic schools. In many ways, that characterization is true. We are, after all, partnering with some pioneers from the charter world. And we’re implementing many of the best practices that so many of us have learned from the most successful CMOs.

At the same time, though, there is a lot that it misses. We are much more than “charter-like schools”; we’re Catholic schools. And our rich history is the foundation of what we do. Some of the differences are obvious: We can wear our faith on our sleeve and teach values unequivocally. We teach religion. We prepare students for the sacraments. We operate on shoestring budgets.

But there are other differences that have a more subtle—but perhaps more profound—impact on the work...

Charter schools joined the usual suspects—tax reform, school funding, and Medicaid—as one of the most debated and well-publicized issues of this spring’s legislative session. If you’ve followed the issue, that probably doesn’t surprise you. After all, Governor Kasich, President Faber, and Speaker Rosenberger all announced their intentions early in the year to tackle charter school reform. The result was three strong pieces of legislation (House Bill 64, House Bill 2, and Senate Bill 148) that sought to improve the charter sector. When the legislature recessed for the summer, only HB 64, the state’s biennial budget bill, had passed. (HB 2 and SB 148 won’t be analyzed here, as they’re still pending in the legislature.)

When Governor Kasich’s team rolled out HB 64, it contained a host of charter school reforms. The focus was on strengthening the Ohio Department of Education’s ability to oversee charter school sponsors. It built on the department’s recently implemented sponsor evaluation system and instituted a series of sanctions and incentives for sponsors in an effort to drive improved student achievement at the school level. The proposal also included a series...

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,...