Choice Words

Louisiana has shown us that it’s possible to offer private-school choice and control for quality in a way that doesn’t cramp what makes a private school unique.

And in doing so, Louisiana is among rare company in school-voucher policy. While other states have made voucher and tax credit scholarship programs more transparent, Louisiana joins only Indiana in an attempt to regulate enrollment at schools that consistently show poor performance.

Other states should take notice of what is a sensible plan for voucher accountability.

Other states should take notice of what is a sensible plan for voucher accountability.

Under the proposal submitted today to the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, private schools that enroll an average of ten voucher students per grade or more than forty in grades that are tested will be assessed points under a scoring system similar to one administered to public schools. Once in the voucher program, if these private schools score below fifty out of 150 points in their second year of participation, or in any year thereafter, they won’t be able to enroll scholarship students for the following school year.

Additionally, schools that have been in the program for at least four...

Who should control education? That’s the subject of a new study analyzing forty years of polling data assessing public opinions on education governance. Michigan State University researchers Rebecca Jacobsen and Andrew Saultz mostly examined survey results from the often-cited annual Gallup poll to conclude that “the public often expresses strong support for local control.”

Who should control education?

Gallup poll questions aren’t known for nuance and complexity. So it’s no surprise that the conclusions from this study are just as simplistic.

Jacobsen and Saultz begin their report by carping that folks like Fordham’s Checker Finn say that school boards and current notions of local control have become antiquated in the twenty-first century. Reformers and policymakers, Jacobsen and Saultz argue, should realize that the public sees a role for federal and state governments in education, but not when it comes to local decision making.

But the authors suggest the only alternative to the status quo of “local decision making” is federal or state control. In fact, Finn has argued for a re-invention of local control, and more recently wrote in the journal National Affairs that enhanced levels of parental influence and choice have allowed new forms of local control...

The first results of the statewide testing of Indiana’s voucher students shows generally good marks for private schools participating in the program.  The group School Choice Indiana recently highlighted that voucher schools had an average 91 percent pass rate on the language arts portion of the test known as ISTEP+ and had an average 89 percent pass rate on the math portion. These exceeded the public school averages.

Rays of Light
Indiana deserves credit for shinging light on the performance of schools with voucher students.
Photo by Yorick_R.

In fact, NPR’s StateImpact Indiana reports that 171 of the 224 private schools in Indiana participating in the state’s new voucher program posted higher-than-average passing rates, and the average ISTEP+ pass rate at all schools receiving vouchers was 9 percentage points higher than the state’s overall average. But StateImpact also looked more closely at the schools that posted lower-than-average passing rates. Although that number only came to 41 voucher schools, those schools enrolled, on average, higher concentrations of...

Charter schools may be celebrating twenty years of existence, but the milestone gets most of them no closer to the surplus classroom space and facility financing controlled by local school boards.

Charters struggle to access surplus classroom space and facility financing controlled by local school boards.

Where local facility financing and public school space has come through for charters, it’s been at the behest of mayors, governors, and legislators who understand that charter schools are public schools and any system that obstructs their ability to get classroom space treats some public school students differently from others. Consider one example that Nelson Smith highlights in the current Education Next: Milwaukee Public Schools had been spending $1 million a year to maintain twenty-seven surplus school buildings that they refused to sell to charter schools. Why sell to the competition? The state legislature had to step in to allow the City of Milwaukee to sell the buildings over the school district’s objections.

Most states that have charter school laws, even laws that provide charters with at least some facility funding, can tell similar stories, and changing the circumstances isn’t easy. When a Florida senator wanted to force school districts to share ...

Would Henry V have benefitted from an all-boys school? David Brooks, in his critique of the American school scene, doesn’t look to single-gender schools to re-engage children like the rambunctious and adversarial Prince Hal, but officials at the U.S. Department of Education surely had boys like him in mind when they relaxed restrictions on single-sex public education six years ago.

prince hal and the moon
Perhaps Prince Hal could've used an all-boys school.
Photo by Kevin Rawlings.

Those revised Title IX regulations allowed single-sex education to flourish. Nearly 400 public schools nationwide currently offer single-gender classrooms (ten years ago, there were only a dozen) and another 116 schools exist to serve either all boys or all girls. The freedom to establish these schools comes with a sensible caveat: The option must be voluntary for families. An Associated Press report last week radiated more heat than light on this growth, but it reminded us of the move to engage children like Henry...

The folks at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice have put out a call for research proposals that explore the effects that choice and competition have on K-12 education.

The foundation is looking for proposals from individual researchers or groups of researchers on any school choice topic related to vouchers, education savings accounts, and tax credit scholarships. Accepted projects will receive contracts that range from $5,000 to $15,000, and priority will go to research that has implications for choice program design, policymaking and advocacy.

Proposals should be 800 words or less and should be submitted no later than 5PM September 4 to Paul DiPerna, the Friedman Foundation’s research director, at [email protected] or at One American Square, Suite 2420, Indianapolis, IN 46282. Researchers should include a cover sheet identifying the primary project contact as well as names(s), affiliation, telephone, and e-mail address. Those who submit proposals will learn of their status by November 15.

See here for suggested topics and a suggested proposal structure.

Despite persistent hostility to charter school expansion in most states, there remains one aspect of charter schooling that fails to get the attention it deserves: athletics.

The limitations on charter school students’ access to sports penalize children and parents for choosing an alternative to a traditional public school. With considerable research showing the positive contribution that athletics participation has towards academic success, depriving students of this opportunity is not only unjust, it’s counterproductive to raising student achievement.

American Football
The actions of policymakers against charter school athletics are emblematic of the treatment of charters at large.
Photo by Anderson Mancini.

It is no coincidence that in areas where charter schools have proven academically effective and where they capture a larger share of the student population—Washington, DC, and New Orleans, in particular—charter school sports teams are finally gaining acceptance. An editorial in the Washington Post praised athletics director Clark Ray and noted that a “cruel inequity is coming to an end with the long-overdue decision...

The Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act has many of us talking about checks and balances, so let’s use this teachable moment to examine how separate branches of North Carolina’s government have left its first virtual charter school in limbo.

The North Carolina Board of Education simply ignored a law it didn’t like.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the North Carolina Virtual Academy can’t open this fall because the state’s Board of Education never said it could. The academy had won preliminary approval from the county school board where it would have been based, but Judge Abraham Penn said that ultimate approval lies with the state board.

The problem—one that even Judge Penn acknowledges—is that the state board refused to even consider the academy’s legitimate application. And this is where governance in the Tar Heel State breaks down.

When North Carolina’s 2011 legislative session ended in the summer of that year, lawmakers lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state and allowed for the creation of virtual charters. Months later, in October 2011, state Board of Education Chairman William Harrison told his colleagues, without asking for a vote,...

What is the nature of the relationship between a charter school authorizer and a charter school board? Fordham’s Terry Ryan often makes the case, just as he did at the recent conference of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, that it’s similar to a marriage. Spouses bring their own interests and agendas to the union, and it takes a system of checks and balances to keep the marriage from failing, as so many do.

Katie & Porter's Wedding
The marriage between charter schools and their authorizers can be challenging.
Photo by Kimberly Vardeman.

To date, most of our policy discussions have focused on holding one partner in the authorizer-charter relationship accountable: the school itself. Two recent papers suggest we should pay more attention to the inputs and outcomes of the significant other.

One paper comes from David Osborne for the Progressive Policy Institute, who argues that “the key to quality in the charter sector is quality authorizing” and calls for authorizers to do...

Terry Ryan, Fordham's vice president for Ohio programs and policy, posted a review of David Osborne's new paper on charter school accountability that anyone interested in school choice, whether he or she lives in the Buckeye State or not, shouldn't miss. As Terry writes on the Ohio Gadfly Daily blog, Osborne focuses on authorizer quality,

the single biggest driver of charter school quality. Osborne writes, “Today, it is time to open a third frontier: authorizer quality. The key to quality in the charter sector is quality authorizing.” When I read this sentence I wanted to jump out of my chair and do a quick dance around my desk. Fordham has been arguing—with our friends at organizations like the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Charter Alliance—this case since at least the mid-2000s, both in Ohio and nationally. The hard fact is that most people—and this includes lawmakers, policy makers, and others involved in setting education policy—have no idea what authorizers are, what they do, or why they matter.

Read the rest of the review for Terry's perspective on why that's such a crucial problem....