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.

Columbus is the proud home to the Buckeye State’s lone KIPP charter school. Serving mainly poor and minority students from neighborhoods on the city’s east side, KIPP has quickly gained notoriety for making a big difference in their students’ lives. In fact, last school year, KIPP was ranked in the top 10 percent of schools in the entire state, with respect to its impact on student academic growth (a.k.a. “value added”). KIPP is helping kids who need help the most to achieve educational success.

Under the guiding leadership of its superb board and executive team, KIPP Columbus has ambitious plans to grow, so that it will educate 2,000 students by 2020. (It presently educates roughly 300 students.) It is building a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility that is set to open in August 2014. The facility is located on the site of a former Columbus State Community College golf course and makes every natural amenity—trees, hills, creeks—an integral part of the learning community. This is a part of Columbus many students rarely see, let alone interact with as part of their science and arts education.

KIPP Columbus is part of the national network of KIPP charter schools, which have 141 schools in twenty states. Rigorous evaluations conducted by Mathematica Policy Research have demonstrated the significant, positive impacts that the KIPP charter model has on their students’ achievement.

During National Charter Schools Week, we salute KIPP Columbus, one of Ohio’s finest charter schools....

Phoenix Community Learning Center is in the midst of a structural renaissance. The school, Fordham’s only sponsored school in Cincinnati, has plans to expand their current school building, which would eventually add three classrooms and a media center. The improvements will be done to the basement level, wherein the total additional square footage will top 14,000 square feet.  The additional space will also allow the lower grades to occupy the lower level of the building, while the upper grades occupy the upper levels of the school building.

Phoenix serves pupils in grades K–8 and is located in the Avondale community of Greater Cincinnati. Founded in 2001, it is a stalwart in its community and has seen its graduates move on to prestigious public and private high schools.

A strong expansion plan supports a growing enrollment trend at the school during the past two years, under the long-standing leadership of Superintendent Dr. Glenda Brown and School Leader Dr. Elaine Wilson. When implemented, the plan also envisions total enrollment well over four hundred pupils. 

Charter school growth is one thing, but growth in a high-performing charter school is a cause for celebration, most notably for the students, their families, and the community. Although Phoenix has no formal timetable for the expansion, the old adage “the sooner, the better” is reflective of the excitement. Phoenix is enthusiastically taking public bids from contractors who may be interested in participating in their visions for the future, a vision which we aptly celebrate during...

As noted in our intro blog to this week’s series on National Charter Schools Week, no two charter schools are alike. An excellent case in point is the two charter schools that Fordham sponsors in the Southern Ohio town of Sciotoville. In 2008, the existing schools in Sciotoville were traditional district schools in an area of the state hit hard by economic decline, but officials at the district took the bold step to convert their entire district into charter schools, severing some historic ties for families but maintaining many others. Sciotoville Elementary Academy is unique in a number of respects and is perhaps most indicative of administrators’ hopes for the future.

Sciotoville Elementary Academy (SEA) was the second-highest-performing school by performance index (a state measure of student proficiency) in Fordham’s portfolio in 2012–13. Led by Principal Foresta Shope and Superintendent Rick Bowman, the school serves grades K–4; over 80 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, similar to many of the historical Ohio River communities. In addition to delivering great academic outcomes for students, this school also offers a wealth of activities for students and parents. These include Junior Madrigals, Spelling Bee, community-service opportunities, an after-school enrichment program, and parent-engagement opportunities.

You can see that while SEA is a charter school in structure and function, the staff has taken great effort to make their school look and feel very much like it did when it was part of a traditional district. The...

President Obama signed a Presidential Proclamation naming May 4 through May 10 “National Charter Schools Week.” This reflects the growing bipartisan support enjoyed by charter schools across the nation. The widespread support shouldn’t be surprising given that there are nearly 6,500 independent charter schools serving more than 2.5 million children—many in our most economically disadvantaged areas.

Ohio’s charter growth has mirrored that of the nation, with 367 charter schools (in the 2012–13 school year) serving more than 115,000 students—6.5 percent of the state’s students. Unfortunately, there have been some high-profile school closures in the Buckeye State that have led some to question the impact of charter schools. And therein lies the problem.

There is a tendency in public discussion of charter schools to lump all charters together—for praise or for tarring—when, in most cases, no two schools are alike and actively resist reduction to “just another charter” with only a little investigation. True to the idea of experimentation and the quest for innovation that were instrumental in their creation, charter schools in Ohio can be almost anything: arts-centric, “no excuses,” STEM-focused, entirely online, or similar to a vocational school.

In honor of National Charter Schools Week, Fordham would like to show readers how varied its own portfolio of schools is, so we’ll be profiling a school each day this week with a snapshot of the staff, administrators, parents, and students who make up these strong and unique learning institutions. We believe these schools, like many other charter schools...

The Wall Street Journal dubbed 2011 “The Year of School Choice” after more than a dozen states enacted school-choice legislation that spring. The seeds planted three years ago are now sprouting all over the country in the form of a record student enrollment in publicly funded private-school choice programs. This growth is captured brilliantly in a new publication from the Alliance for School Choice—School Choice Yearbook 2013–14: Hope. Action. Results.

Through its compilation of data and use of graphs, the yearbook shows that the number of students participating in private-school choice programs during the 2013–14 school year is an increase of sixty thousand students—25 percent—from the prior year. This is the single biggest one-year increase in the history of private-school choice programs and brings the total number of participants to more than 308,000 students in eighteen states and the District of Columbia.

While the record number of participating students is the headline grabber in the yearbook, it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the content. The yearbook, in its interactive digital version, expertly intermixes compelling personal stories with research, a history of the choice movement, detailed information on every private-school choice program, and charts and graphs comparing programs across states.

The colorful and attractive presentation of the yearbook may lead you to believe that it is data lite, but that would be a mistake. While it provides the information in a format simple enough for novices, it also serves as a great resource for the...

Higher-quality products justify greater investments. Full stop. Unfortunately, when it comes to charter schools, states almost universally reject this logic. A new study out of the University of Arkansas examines the per-pupil funding of charter schools (which outperform traditional public schools, nationally) in the thirty states and D.C. that have substantial charter-school populations and found that charter schools, on average, received a whopping $3,814 per pupil less than traditional public districts in 2011—a 28.4 percent disparity. This means that the average charter school, which enrolls 400 students, receives about $1.5 million less per year than a district school of the same size. Just one state, Tennessee, provided greater per-pupil funding to charter schools (15 bucks more per pupil). Moreover, researchers found that this huge disparity has increased by 55 percent in the last eight years, even as charter-school performance has improved. So whence comes the disparity? It turns out that the major culprit is local government funding: district schools receive an average of $5,230 from local government sources, while charter schools average only $1,780. Local governments are stacking the deck against charters, even though charters do a better job of educating local students. It’s not hard to understand why; charter schools don’t have taxing authority for operational expenses or capital costs, and few school districts have chosen to share their bounty. Local policymakers—mayors, we’re looking at you—might want to reconsider that policy.

Meagan Batdorff, et al., Charter School Funding: Inequality Expands (Fayetteville, AR: Department of Education...

In 2013, there were a shocking number of charter-school failures across Fordham’s home state of Ohio, including seventeen in Columbus alone—most of them first-year startups. In response, the Ohio Department of Education required additional paperwork from six authorizers (often referred to as sponsors) looking to start new schools in the 2014–15 school year. They subjected those sponsors to an additional level of scrutiny with regard to their vetting processes, hoping to zero in on weak structures and poor advance planning before startup funds were released and students began attending the schools.

Last Friday, the department took an unprecedented step and issued a stern warning to three authorizers that they will be “shut down” if they proceeded with plans to open six new community schools due to a number of deficiencies in that paperwork. The deficiencies identified had one thing in common: connections or similarities to other charters that had ceased operation voluntarily or had been shut down.

It’s a shame that this step was necessary, but the recent track record of Ohio’s authorizers and the recent findings both suggest there was a need for additional scrutiny. We applaud this bold step and commend State Superintendent Richard Ross and his team for swift and decisive action.

Innovation Ohio’s broadside on charter schools—and, by extension, the parents who select them and the children who attend them—is outrageous. The report is not necessarily flawed because of their critique of charters, per se, but because of the Swiss-cheese analysis that supposedly bolsters its conclusions. The author of this report makes two analytical faux pas, and each are discussed in turn.

First, the report’s suggestion that most charter students land in a lower-performing school, relative to the district-run school they came from, is bunk because of the absence of analysis at the student level. When Community Research Partners, a Columbus-based research organization, analyzed student data from the Ohio Department of Education in a project supported by Fordham and ten other organizations, its analysts discovered that the majority of charter students transferred to a charter rated the same or better than the district school they came from. Of the charter students in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo—locations with relatively large concentrations of charters—39 percent went to a higher-rated charter school and 26 percent went to a charter school rated the same as the district school they had previously attended. (The students’ transfer data were taken from October 2009 to May 2011; at that time, the state issued school buildings an overall rating.) In the meantime, if we wanted to conduct an empirical evaluation of Ohio’s charter-school effectiveness relative to district schools, the richest analysis outside of a randomized experiment would be a student-to-student comparison, using achievement...

In 2013, there were a shocking number of charter-school failures across Ohio, including seventeen in Columbus—most of them first-year startups. In response, the Ohio Department of Education required additional paperwork from six authorizers (often referred to as sponsors) looking to start new schools in the 2014–15 school year, hoping to zero in on weak structures and poor advance planning before startup funds were released and students began attending the schools. Last Friday, the department took an unprecedented step and issued a stern warning to three authorizers that they will be “shut down” if they proceed with plans to open six new community schools. The deficiencies identified had one similarity: connections or similarities to other charters that had ceased operation voluntarily or had been shut down. It’s a shame that this step was necessary, but the recent track record of Ohio’s authorizers suggests there was a need for additional scrutiny. We applaud this bold step and commend State Superintendent Richard Ross and his team for swift and decisive action.

The Philanthropy Roundtable recently released an exceptional publication produced by an exceptional author.

Even though it’s meant to be straightforward guide for donors interested in charter schooling, were I teaching a course on K–12 policy and reform, it would be an assigned reading. Throughout From Promising to Proven, author Karl Zinsmeister provides thorough, trenchant analysis of this remarkable sector of public education. At its best, it serves as a fitting, even moving, encomium to the vision and work of the civically minded social entrepreneurs who’ve brought it to life.

This short book works masterfully on three levels.

On the surface, it is exactly what the doctor ordered if you’re a charter-intrigued philanthropist. It explains chartering practice and policy and describes the activities of the field’s leading organizations.

A cursory tour of the guidebook will leave the reader wiser about the distinctive characteristics of charter schools (autonomous, accountable, choice-based), its innovations (longer days and years, new approaches to staffing), and key strengths (increasing parental engagement, empowering educators).

The reader will also become familiar with the most important nonprofits in this space. These include direct-service providers (e.g., Building Excellent Schools, the Mind Trust, Charter School Partners), human-capital organizations (e.g., Relay, Sposato, the Ryan Fellowship), advocacy groups (e.g., charter associations, BAEO, 50CAN, Stand for Children), and foundations and intermediaries (e.g., the Walton Family Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Choose to Succeed, New Schools for New Orleans).

The guidebook also offers an extensive treatment of the sector’s most challenging policy issues,...

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