As the challenges of education governance loom ever larger and the dysfunction and incapacity of the traditional K-12 system reveal themselves as major roadblocks to urgently-needed reforms across that system, many have asked, “What’s the alternative?”
When charter schools first emerged more than two decades ago, they presented an innovation in public school governance. No longer would school districts enjoy the “exclusive franchise” to own and operate public schools, as chartering pioneer and advocate Ted Kolderie explained. Charters wouldn’t gain all of the independence of private schools—they would still report to a publicly accountable body, or authorizer—but they would be largely freed from the micromanagement of school boards, district bureaucracies, and union contracts. Autonomy, in exchange for accountability, would reign supreme. Over the course of its twenty-year history, however, American education and its charter school sector have evolved in important ways. One of the significant ways is school governance—not a topic that gets a lot of attention but, as it turns out, a crucial one that is overdue for an overhaul (and not just in the charter sector). The growth of nonprofit charter networks (CMOs), the ubiquity of for-profit school-management companies (EMOs), and the emergence of “virtual” charter schools have all upended the notion that charters would mostly be freestanding “community-based” schools of the “one-off” variety. Yet the public policies and practices that characterize charter governance haven’t kept pace with these real-world changes. To examine this mismatch more closely and consider how it might be set right, we interviewed nearly two dozen analysts, authorizers, board members, and practitioners with interest in and knowledge of charter schools. Not one of them felt that the inherited assumptions and regulations about governance in the charter sector are truly well suited to present-day realities. This brief explores several ways that charter governance might be rebooted.
Conducted jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact, the new research study Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality sheds light on charter performance — in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis. These cities were highlighted because they have relatively large numbers of charter schools and charter school students. These are cities where charters have been part of the educational landscape for a decade or more. Read this exciting report today!
In an era of budgetary belt tightening, state and local policy makers are finally awakening to the impact of teacher pension costs on their bottom lines. Recent reports demonstrate that such pension programs across the United States are burdened by almost $390 billion in unfunded liabilities. Yet, most states and municipalities have been taking the road of least resistance, tinkering around the edges rather than tackling systemic (but painful) pension reform. Is the solution to the pension crisis to offer teachers the option of a 401(k)-style plan (also known as a "defined contribution" or DC plan) instead of a traditional pension plan? Would this alternative appeal to teachers? When Teachers Choose Pension Plans: The Florida Story sets out to answer these questions.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has provided big-picture feedback and detailed, standard-specific commentary for the second draft of the Next Generation Science Standards—standards that done right, set a firm foundation upon which the rest of science education across the states will be constructed. In our comments on the first draft, we concluded that “the NGSS authors have much to do to ensure that the final draft is a true leap forward in science education.” In comments on Draft II, we address to what extent NGSS writers have moved closer to a set of K–12 science standards that even states with strong standards of their own would do well to adopt.
Many proponents of private school choice take for granted that schools won’t participate if government asks too much of them, especially if it demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve many kids. But is this assumption justified? A new Fordham Institute study—to be released on January 29—provides empirical answers. Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types schools shy away from regulation more than others?
America’s fragmented, decentralized, politicized, and bureaucratic system of education governance is a major impediment to school reform. In Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform, a number of leading education scholars, analysts, and practitioners show that understanding the impact of specific policy changes in areas such as standards, testing, teachers, or school choice requires careful analysis of the broader governing arrangements that influence their content, implementation, and impact. Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century comprehensively assesses the strengths and weaknesses of what remains of the old in education governance, scrutinizes how traditional governance forms are changing, and suggests how governing arrangements might be further altered to produce better educational outcomes for children. Paul Manna, Patrick McGuinn, and their colleagues provide the analysis and alternatives that will inform attempts to adapt nineteenth and twentieth century governance structures to the new demands and opportunities of today. *Copublished with the Brookings Institute and the Center for American Progress