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.

Neerav Kingsland

Marc Tucker is the author of an important new report: Fixing Our National Accountability System. You can find the executive summary here.

Although Marc and I disagree on the promise of Relinquishment (most specifically on charter schools), I agree with much of this thinking.

But, in this report, Marc makes a strategic mistake in dismissing choice-based reforms.

To put it another way: if there is a grand bargain to be made that significantly increases student achievement in the United States, it could look like this:

  • Reduce testing frequency and increase testing rigor
  • Improve the quality of the teaching force
  • Increase charter schools and choice

Why could this bargain work? Because both Democrats and Republicans might actually support all three strategies.

Why might Marc’s vision not be realized without a charter strategy? Because, without charters, his reforms reduce testing accountability and increase spending, without increasing any elements of choice, competition, or entrepreneurship.

This is likely a nonstarter for many Americans, especially centrist and conservative policy makers.

Seventy percent of the public supports charter schools. Urban charter schools outperform traditional schools. And countries such as South Korea have shown that choice and competition can increase student achievement.

Pragmatically, Marc would be much more likely to see his vision realized if he embraced charter schools. And I believe firmly that this would be better for students.

So here’s my plea: Marc, embrace charters and choice in addition to your other excellent...

WHAT WOULD HUEY P. LONG DO?
Jindal’s about-face on Common Core has created chaos in Louisiana, the New York Times reports, and turned some allies against him. Says one, “No permanent friends. No permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.” Somewhere, the Kingfish smiles.

PICK ME! PICK ME!
Which U.S. city is the choice and charter capital? New Orleans? New York? Try Miami. This year, half of Miami-Dade students, 56,000 total, are in schools their families picked themselves, says the Miami Herald.

I’LL BET KRUGMAN HAS TENURE
“There’s no sense in putting something as crucial as children’s education in the hands of a professional class with less accountability than others and with job protections that most Americans can only fantasize about,” opines the Times' Frank Bruni.  

I’LL HAVE WHAT SHE’S HAVING
Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio in the New York Daily News on the eye-popping test results posted by Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy.  If she’s got the secret sauce to student achievement, it’s time for it to be bottled and sold.

FORDHAM IN THE NEWS
CSN News trumpets our new report The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don't Teach.  And Gannett Newspapers reminds readers of our review of Common Core, which gave the standards a B+ in English and an A- in math.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS AREN’T
This pro-unschooling article in Outside magazine (naturally) says classroom education “enjoys scant historical precedent.” Bust those kids out of school! Turn ‘em loose in nature!  Know what else has scant historical precedent? Movable type. Penicillin. The internal...

I’ll have what she’s having.

New York’s latest round of state test results were released last week and the biggest news is the scores posted by Success Academy, the network of twenty-two charter schools throughout New York City run by Eva Moskowitz. Only 29 percent of New York’s kids met the new higher English standards under Common Core. Success more than doubled it with 64 percent meeting the standards. Wait. It gets better. One in three New York City students scored proficient in math, but at Success it was better than nine out of ten.

With admirable restraint, the head of the New York City Charter Center, James Merriman, pronounced the results “remarkable” and attributed the results to Success’ intensive instruction. A lot of schools, including many charter high-fliers, offer high-octane teaching. None come close to matching Success Academy’s results the last two years. 

Remarkable? No, these are results that make your jaw hit the floor hard enough to loosen your fillings. Success Academy kids didn’t merely pass the state math test, they destroyed it. For example, 680 fourth graders sat for the state test at seven of Moskowitz’s schools. Care to guess how many earned a “4,” the highest level? 

Nearly five freakin’ hundred of them!

No, this is not “remarkable.” This is Secretariat winning the Belmont by thirty-one lengths. It’s Michael Jordan dropping sixty-three points on the Celtics in the playoffs.  It’s Tiger Woods demolishing the field and winning the Masters by eighteen strokes.

On the...

As a huge fan of both school choice and the NFL, I love the idea of a major star leading a great school and becoming a voice for school reform. Successful athletes who take time to give back, work with young athletes, and ensure kids get a great education should be commended, right? 

But a recent New York Times article digging into Deion Sanders’ two schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area should be enough to make any education-reform advocate’s skin crawl. Both his elementary school and high school were among the 9 percent of all Texas schools to receive the lowest rating from the state: “improvement required.” But according to the Times, the problems go much deeper, and many of them have to do with Deion himself.

For one thing, local and national coverage has described an obsessive focus on athletics, resulting Prime Prep securing top talent. There’s nothing wrong with that by itself, as—for better or worse—schools everywhere have long been accused of going out of their way to recruit top athletes. Yet when Prime Prep was accused of violating state athletic association rules, the Times reports, “Prime Prep founders announced that they would pull out of the University Interscholastic League. That did not please the school’s teachers. The withdrawal meant the school could not field a debate team, a choir, a band.” Now they play teams from other states or, just Thursday, a team from Mexico (at the $1.3 billion AT&T Stadium, naturally).

Prime Prep has also been in the news...

A new Mathematica study persuasively puts to rest a common charge leveled at KIPP charter schools: that their test score gains are largely attributable to the attrition of their lowest-performing students. The authors compare nineteen KIPP middle schools to district schools and find no meaningful difference among those who walk in the door of each type of school. Nor do they find any difference in student attrition rates on the way out. Students who enter KIPP in later grades do indeed tend to be higher performers, but “a large part of KIPP’s cumulative effect occurs in the first year of enrollment, before attrition and replacement could have any effect.” Thus, high-achieving “backfilled” students can account for no more than one-third of the cumulative KIPP effect. Analysts, however, couldn’t determine whether students and families attracted to KIPP and its intensity are more ambitious or motivated in the first place—a point Richard Kahlenberg highlights in a critique of the study on Education Next’s website. “When children hear about the rigorous regimen,” he notes—the extended school day and copious homework, for example—“particularly motivated families might be excited to sign up, while less motivated families could be scared away.” The careful and sober Mathematica scholars openly acknowledge that this is “a potentially important limitation of this study.” And so it is. Nevertheless, the criticism rankles. Do low-income children not deserve the opportunity to attend school with others who are motivated and whose parents are ambitious for their children? Some will...

After more than two years  of community-wide and bipartisan struggles to raise the bar for everyone in Cleveland schools, a sudden and incongruous shift has dropped expectations to a new low, at least for some of its freshman, just in time for the start of a new school year today.

The Freshman Fresh Start was recently approved by the school board of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). The resolution allows incoming freshmen to participate in extracurricular activities (sports and clubs) despite low grades that, under the current regulations for all other grades, would make them ineligible. Instead, incoming freshmen are now only required to pass (receive a “D” or higher) a minimum of five subjects in the preceding grading period. (For the first quarter of the year, eligibility would be based on the last quarter of the preceding year.) Formerly, the policy required that students a) not receive a failing grade in the previous grading period, b) maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher in the previous grading period, and c) maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.0 throughout the year.

It sounds innocent enough, but upon closer inspection, the implications are far-reaching and appalling. Incoming freshmen are now eligible for extracurriculars even if they fail one of their classes—never mind if that class is English language arts or math—in the preceding quarter. Thus, incoming freshmen qualify for extracurriculars even if their fourth quarter report card has all D’s and one F, thereby finishing with a.83...

In Ohio, like many states across the nation, reading achievement has largely stalled. The state’s reading scores on the domestic NAEP assessments haven’t moved over the past decade: In fourth-grade reading, the state’s average score was 222 in 2003 and 224 in 2013. The story is the same for eighth grade. Meanwhile, on state assessments, reading proficiency rates have improved noticeably in fourth grade (from 77 percent in 2006 to 88 percent in 2013), but fifth- and sixth-grade reading proficiency rates haven’t budged. In fifth grade, for instance, statewide reading proficiency was 75 percent in 2006 and 74 percent in 2013.

Test data suggest that strong and concerted efforts must be made to stem the tide of mediocre reading achievement. The Third Grade Reading Guarantee is one policy initiative aimed at improving early literacy. And in 2010, the state board adopted new English language arts (ELA) standards—part of the Common Core—in order to increase the rigor of what students are expected to know and be able to do when it comes to reading, writing, and grammar.

State leaders have created a policy framework—Third Grade Reading for foundational early-literacy skills and long-term growth under the Common Core—to improve ELA across Ohio. And now, for many Ohio schools, it’s implementation time. This made me wonder: Which schools are already making the biggest impact on their students’ reading achievement? Have any schools consistently helped their students make large gains on state assessments? Of course, past success is no...

EDITOR’S NOTE: This short review originally ran in Education Gadfly Weekly on July 23, 2014. Here we present the original review with an added Ohio perspective.

This new report from the University of Arkansas compares the productivity of public charter schools and district schools, both in terms of cost effectiveness and return on investment (ROI). For the cost-effectiveness analysis, the authors consider how many test-score points students gain on the 2010–11 NAEP for each $1,000 invested; to measure ROI, the authors used, among other data, student-achievement results from CREDO’s national charter school study (that matched students via a “virtual twin” methodology). The key finding: For every $1,000 invested, charter students across the United States earned a weighted average of an additional seventeen points in math and sixteen additional points in reading on NAEP, compared to traditional district students, controlling for student characteristics such as poverty and special-education status. This translates into charters nationwide being 40 percent more cost effective. Meanwhile, Buckeye State charters are less cost effective than national charters, though still more so than their district counterparts within the state. Ohio charters averaged nine additional NAEP points in both reading and math per $1,000 in funding relative to comparable districts. The researchers calculate ROI by converting the learning gains over time by students in charter and traditional sectors into an estimate of the economic returns over a lifetime and comparing those returns to the revenue amount invested in their education. Using Eric Hanushek’s existing estimates on lifetime earnings and productivity, they find...

Peet’s Coffee and Tea: We hardly knew you. According to the Columbus DispatchPeet’s coffee shop in downtown Columbus will close after less than a year of operation. (The shop is near where I work.) To quote the company’s spokesperson, the reason for closing the store is “to focus on our top-performing locations.”

If only Ohio’s policymakers, district leaders, and charter-school authorizers just as aggressively closed persistently underperforming schools, and instead directed resources to grow top-performing ones or those demonstrating promise, or to start new schools from scratch. (Of course, there has to be an orderly and responsible process to closing schools.) Rather, too many low-rated public schools, both district and charter, limp along year-after-year, depriving students of a great education on the taxpayers’ dime.

In the business realm, unprofitable entities are shuttered, sold off, or merged to allow the larger organization to thrive. Yet in public education it seems like bad schools are immortal—and that’s not good policy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An edited version of this piece appeared as a letter to the editor in the Columbus Dispatch on Saturday, July 19, 2014.

School choice often engenders controversy. From districts arguing amongst themselves about the impact of open enrollment to charter schools and districts squabbling over funding and facilities, the Buckeye state—a national leader in providing education options to parents—is no stranger to the debates that arise about school choice.

In a July 8 editorial (“The law is the law”), the Columbus Dispatch called out two Ohio districts for allegedly circumventing public-records laws in order to prevent families from knowing about their school-choice options. The editorial drew attention to a current lawsuit brought by School Choice Ohio (SCO) against Cincinnati Public Schools and Springfield City Schools. Dispatch editors wrote, “Public schools understandably want to avoid this [losing students to private schools], but they should fight against it by making their schools safer and more effective—not by scheming to prevent families from knowing about their options. Scheming in defiance of state law would be even worse.”

That sums it up quite nicely. The legal and ethical implications of Cincinnati’s and Springfield’s actions are clear: hiding voucher eligibility from students and their families, many of whom are stuck in failing schools, isn’t just dishonest, unfair, and shameful—it’s also illegal. But the most compelling part of the Dispatch’s argument is that if public schools don’t want to lose students to other schools, they must...

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