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.

John H. "Skip" McKoy
Scott Pearson

Andy Smarick is clearly disappointed with the op-ed we authored in the Washington Post. We argued that, for many reasons, the rough balance we have in Washington, D.C. between charter schools and traditional public schools is serving our children well.

We don’t want to debate Andy’s points one by one. Nor do we want to repeat many of the smart observations made by D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) member (and Smarick’s Bellwether colleague) Sara Mead in her recent post.

But we do want to clarify a few points that may have been ambiguous in the Post article, as we fear the lack of clarity may have contributed to Andy’s alarm and could possibly concern other education reformers.

First, this does not signal a slowdown in PCSB’s authorizing. PCSB has approved seventeen schools in the past three years. There is no intention on the part of PCSB’s staff—nor, to our knowledge, PCSB’s other board members—to stop approving strong charter applications. And there has been no slowdown in our efforts to support growth by high-performing charters already in D.C.  ...

In his proposed budget , Governor John Kasich calls for the creation of a competency-based education pilot program. Competency-based education is premised on the idea that students only move on to more complex concepts and skills after they master simpler ones. While that sounds somewhat negative at first blush, it also means that mastering current content quickly leads to advancing sooner than the standard march from grade to grade. Kasich’s proposal would provide grants to ten districts or schools that were selected through an application process created by the Ohio Department of Education to pilot the program.

The competency-based model goes by different names in different places. In Ohio, there are schools that already utilize it but call it something different: mastery grading. (Be sure to check out how schools like Metro Early College School and MC²STEM high school, as well as districts like Pickerington, make it work.) Mastery grading assesses students based on whether or not they’ve mastered specific skills and concepts. Instead of an overall grade that takes homework completion, daily assignments, class participation, and test grades that cover multiple standards into account to formulate an average, mastery grading breaks down a student’s...

If you’re at all interested in school choice, you really should read a trio of recent reports.

They’re unusually informative. The CREDO study on urban chartering found that most city-based charter school sectors are producing substantially more academic growth than comparable district-run schools (others’ take on the report here, here, and here).

The Brookings “Education Choice and Competition Index” rates the school choice environment in 107 cities. An interactive tool helps you see how the cities compare with one another on everything from the accessibility of non-assigned educational options and the availability of school information to policies on enrollment, funding, and transportation.

The NACSA report on state policies associated with charter school accountability attempts to describe how laws, regulations, and authorizer practices interact to influence charter quality. The report translates NACSA’s excellent “principles and standards” for quality authorizing into a tool for describing, assessing, and comparing states (TBFI Ohio on the report here).

I could write at length about the finer points of each. They all have valuable arguments and findings.

But I want to call your attention to something in particular. The Brookings and NACSA reports assess environmental...

D.C.’s charter school sector stands as a shining example of what urban chartering can accomplish for kids in need.

It has outstanding results and serves a student population that mirrors the District’s. Just as importantly, it refutes the simplistic narrative that a New Orleans-style system is only possible through a natural disaster. The D.C. charter sector has grown methodically for almost two decades, now serving nearly half the city’s public school students.

It is demonstrating that the district can be replaced in a gradual, deliberate fashion.

It could offer America’s cities an invaluable new example of an all-charter approach. NOLA’s pioneering Recovery School District-led system is hugely promising, but D.C.’s Public Charter School Board (PCSB)-led system could potentially show us even better strategies.

Unfortunately—almost unbelievably—that won’t come to pass should PCSB’s current leadership have its way.

In a Washington Post op-ed and Education Next article, the board’s executive director and chair explain that they don’t want high-quality charters to become the system or even to predominate. They want “balance” with the district.

Their justification reflects an unwarranted deference to the status quo, a surprising dearth of vision in tackling emergent challenges, and...

In Ohio and across the nation, charters have struggled to obtain adequate, appropriate space in which to operate. As competitors, districts have been reluctant to allow charters to operate in buildings that they own, whether through co-location in an open district school or taking residence in a shuttered school. But according to the latest report from the National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC), a few states and cities have been proactive in helping charters access district facilities. The report, using charter survey data across fourteen states from 2007 to 2014, reveals that charters in California and New York—New York City, in particular—were most likely to operate in district-owned space. In California, nearly half (45 percent) of charters operated in district facilities, while 31 percent of New York charters did so. In New York City, 62 percent of the city’s charters operated in a district facility, undoubtedly encouraged by the $1 rental fee that the district was permitted to charge charters (an innovation of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s). The study also reported some variation in the financial arrangements between districts and charters: Of the charters that operated in a district-owned facility, 46 percent of them reported paying no fee to...

Andy delivered a shortened version of the following comments at a PPI launch event for Hill & Jochim’s new book, A Democratic Constitution for Public Education.

Thank you for having me here. I’m thrilled to talk about this great new book, which, incidentally, all of you should go out and buy immediately. I’m a big fan of Ashley’s work at CRPE, and Abby played a crucial role in advancing D.C.’s system of schools during her time as deputy mayor.

Paul’s and David’s contributions over more than two decades have hugely influenced my thinking. I’m honored to be on this panel with them.

There’s so much to like about this book, but I only have ten minutes. So for that reason, and because I’m generally a malcontent, I’m going to focus mostly on the questions and half-concerns I have. But please don’t infer anything other than this: I think Paul and Ashley’s book is terrific.

I’ll focus on three points.

First, the book does an excellent job helping the reader understand the district’s four categories of activities, which need to be disaggregated, repackaged, and reassigned as the district loses its place as the monopoly school provider.

Second, over the last twenty...

I didn’t see common enrollment systems coming.

When I started writing The Urban School System of the Future in 2009, I didn’t foresee the extent of the complications associated with parental choice in cities with expansive networks of accessible schools. At that point, the vast majority of city kids were still assigned to schools, and the conventional wisdom was that this would be the case for years to come.

My, how things have changed.

New Orleans is now a virtually all-charter system. Detroit and D.C. have about half of their kids in charters; in Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Cleveland it’s more than 30 percent.

This growth is great. Kids in urban charters learn more in math and reading, and the benefits are being realized most by disadvantaged students. It’s forcing city leaders to rethink the operations, oversight, and governance of public schools (see Camden, Memphis, and Detroit).

But—as explained in a primer by CRPE—if cities simply add more choice schools in the absence of changes to the enrollment process, parents can struggle to find information on schools, be forced to fill out widely varying school applications, and then receive...

Since its birth in 1990, Teach For America (TFA) has been one of the most scrutinized education reform programs on record. Not without reason: TFA takes a bold, innovative approach to teacher selection and preparation. Instead of having aspiring teachers slog through the conventional education school coursework before setting foot in a classroom, TFA recruits young people from selective universities, provides a five-week training program, and places them in high-need schools, including in Northeast and Southwest Ohio. The research evidence on TFA teachers’ impact has been mainly positive—particularly in math in the higher grades. But somewhat less known is the impact of TFA in the earlier grades. This study analyzes TFA teachers’ effectiveness in grades PK–5, employing “gold standard,” random-assignment methodology. Researchers randomly assigned 2,153 students to 156 teachers—sixty-six TFA and ninety comparison teachers—in thirty-six high-poverty schools, most of which were located in the urban South. The study compares students’ reading and math outcomes from the 2012–13 school year along the Woodcock-Johnson III achievement test for grades PK–2 and state tests for grades 3–5. The main finding: Across grades PK–5, no differences in average math and reading outcomes were detected between students taught by a...

NOTE: Below is the text of a press release issued by Fordham today.

The Ohio Department of Education has awarded the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s sponsorship operation a rating of “Exemplary,” the state’s highest mark, for our work sponsoring charter schools.

On a zero-to-100 scale, our scores are as follows:

  • Quality Practices: 97.4
  • Student Academic Outcomes: 100
  • Compliance: 100
  • Overall Score: 99.1

“This recognition would not be possible without the hard work of the schools with whom we work,” said Kathryn Mullen Upton, Vice President for Sponsorship and Dayton Initiatives “We look forward to continuing to improve our efforts to positively impact outcomes for the children in the schools that we serve.”

The Department evaluates sponsors in three critical areas: quality practices, student academic outcomes, and compliance. Quality practices includes all areas of a sponsor’s day-to-day work: review of proposed school applications, contracts, monitoring and oversight, renewal, school closure, technical assistance, and agency commitment. Student academic outcomes are evaluated based on learning gains made by students at different levels of proficiency. Compliance focuses on the extent to which a sponsor monitors the health and...

Boarding schools are often associated with the rich and the privileged; as such, they are seen as an out-of-reach option for low-income families searching for high-quality education. But in a world of ever-increasing school choice, must boarding schools remain out-of-reach? Do tuition-free boarding schools that serve primarily academically struggling, low-income children exist?

The answer is yes, they do—but they’re extremely rare. A 2003 study from the University of Chicago interviewed policy experts, educators, child welfare and youth development professionals, and parents of children who attend boarding schools designed for students with social and economic disadvantages. The study concludes that “urban or community boarding schools represent a promising idea that deserves serious consideration.” Yet the authors are careful to point out that many people harbor concerns “about the meaning of out-of-home settings used primarily by low-income or minority children.” They cite America’s troubling legacy of using boarding schools for shameful reasons can lead to understandable suspicions about residential education models for low-income, high-need youth.

However, there are examples of places where the residential education model is already in place and working—and where families are thrilled with the results. In 2009, New York Times Magazine looked at the...

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