Ohio has finally proven that it is serious about cleaning up its charter sector, with Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly placing sponsors (a.k.a. authorizers) at the center of a massive charter law overhaul. House Bill 2 aimed to hold Ohio’s sixty-plus authorizers more accountable—a strategy based on incentives to spur behavioral change among the gatekeepers of charter school quality. Poorly performing sponsors would be penalized, putting a stop to the fly-by-nightill-vetted schools that gave a huge black eye to the sector and harmed students. Under this effort, high-performing sponsors would be rewarded, which would encourage authorizing best practices and improve the likelihood of greater quality control throughout all phases of a charter’s life cycle (start-up, renewal, closure).

While the conceptual framework for these sponsor-centric reforms is quite young, the reforms themselves are newer still. (House Bill 2 went into effect this February, and the previously enacted but only recently implemented sponsor evaluation is just now getting off the ground.) Even so, just five months in, HB 2 and the comprehensive sponsor evaluation system are already having an impact. Eleven schools were not renewed by their sponsors, presumably for poor performance, and twenty more are slated to close. Not only are academically...

Jesse Lovejoy

The San Francisco 49ers are taking science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to new heights for children throughout Silicon Valley.

We leveraged the powerful appeal of sports, as well as our location in the heart of the world’s tech capital, to motivate young people and enrich our community with STEM education platforms. At the outset, we asked ourselves how we could help make STEM more meaningful, relevant, and approachable to young students. We found that the best approach was to create a STEM learning platform that was unconventional in its pedagogy, atmosphere, programming, and reach. Our programs engage the full range of learning domains: physical, affective, and intellectual.

An Unconventional Atmosphere

The 49ers STEM Education Program, which opened in conjunction with Levi’s Stadium in 2014, provides K–8 learning platforms that teach content-rich lessons in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Housed in the Denise DeBartolo York Education Center inside the 49ers Museum presented by Sony, the program is committed to education and innovation that inspires students by repurposing football and the stadium as vehicles for learning.

Our field trips give sixty thousand students each year the opportunity to learn about STEM outside the classroom. The program—a...

Scott Pearson and Naomi Rubin DeVeaux

Editor's note: This is the sixth entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Earlier posts can be found herehere,  here, here, and here.

Many thanks to Mike Petrilli for launching this forum. Paul Hill’s contribution looked at the matter of discipline from the vantage of a school. In this post, we’d like to provide a charter school authorizer’s perspective.

An authorizer’s primary responsibility is to certify that charter schools comply with applicable laws, are open to all children, provide a healthy and safe environment, don’t misuse taxpayer dollars, and offer high academic quality while respecting a charter school’s freedom to design and run its own programs. Unlike traditional school boards, good authorizers focus on outcomes (like graduation and proficiency rates) and not on inputs (like what curriculum a school chooses to use). We avoid mandates and respect schools’ individuality.

Mike argues that schools’ use of out-of-school suspensions should be wholly up to them, akin to their dress codes or class sizes. We disagree for these reasons:

  • Excessive out-of-school suspensions and any use of expulsion causes children to leave their schools and enroll in new ones.  This impacts traditional public schools and other public charter schools who then enroll these
  • ...
Nat Malkus

Editor's note: This is the fifth entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Earlier posts can be found herehere,  here, and here.

At the National Charter Schools Conference in June, Secretary of Education John King challenged charter schools to rethink their approach to discipline. His remarks were measured and appropriate in their intent, but they were based on two sets of evidence—one compelling and one problematic.

King spoke about his personal experience as a co-founder of Roxbury Prep, a very successful Boston charter school. The school’s approach includes the use of strict discipline practices that resulted in a 40 percent suspension rate in 2014. Roxbury Prep has started to rethink its methods, but King acknowledged it has not done so fast enough, and he urged charter leaders to “commit to accelerate exactly this kind of work.”

King’s experience grounds his comments in the specifics of a school setting, as well as the particular procedures common in many “no-excuses” charter schools. He also said in his remarks that there should not be any “hard and fast rules or directives” to govern charter discipline, ostensibly because context is key to managing discipline. So far, so good.

However, King used...

The purpose of my last post was to suggest that those frustrated with school “accountability” should consider the structural elements that gave rise to our present accountability systems. My argument was that if we want to fundamentally change the way we assess public schools, we may need to change the way we deliver public education.

I tried to make the case that our historical reliance on one school provider per geographic area forced policy makers to create accountability systems that had certain inescapable characteristics (e.g., treating schools as interchangeable, using narrow performance measures). My argument here is that a “diverse provider” environment (where an area has an array of operators running an array of schools) allows for a very different kind of accountability system.

Fortunately, this conversation needn’t be hypothetical; chartering has given us real-world examples of geographies that fit the diverse provider bill. I think this experience offers at least five big lessons about what accountability can look like in this different environment.

First, chartering entered public education after a century of the district system. That meant that wherever charter schools emerged, there was already a district. Accordingly, a charter school has always been an “extra”—a choice-based alternative to existing...

Max Eden

Editor's note: This is the fourth entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Earlier posts can be found herehere, and here.

Secretary John King’s remarks at the national charter school conference last week encouraging charters to rethink discipline were fair and balanced. But the assumptions that often attend them are not. Charter school leaders, authorizers, and advocates should pay heed to King’s words but should not uncritically submit to the subtext.

King said,

Discipline is a nuanced and complicated issue….I am not here to offer any hard-and-fast rules or directives; but I believe the goal for all schools should be to create a school culture that motivates students to want to do their best, to support their classmates and to give back to their community, and to communicate to our students and educators in ways big and small that their potential is unlimited."

These words were measured and responsible, but the public debate on school discipline has been anything but. To many reporters, wonks, and staffers in King’s Office for Civil Rights, the issue is fairly straightforward: Too many students are being suspended, in both public and charter schools, and we must do something about...

Carrie Irvin

Editor's note: This is the third entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Earlier posts can be found here and here.

The charter sector, and its pundits and opinionators, are right to train our focus on the issue of out-of-school student suspension, which is fundamental to whether public charter schools are providing the best possible education to their students. But there is an important piece of this issue not being talked about enough: the role of charter school boards. The recent blog I co-wrote with Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, deputy director of the DC PCSB (the sole charter authorizer in Washington, D.C.), highlights how important it is that boards understand and actively engage in oversight of exclusionary discipline. After all, charter school boards are ultimately accountable for school operations and performance, including issues surrounding discipline.

Charter school board members are volunteers tasked with tremendous responsibility, and they need help, training, information, and support to build knowledge about this issue. It’s complicated and hard stuff; all of us involved in this discussion (who think about education professionally) are wrestling with it, so imagine how tough it is for volunteer board members. Yet that is where a huge share of accountability in the charter sector lies....

Sarah Yatsko

Editor's note: This is the second entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. The first post post is here.

Magicians rely almost exclusively on the technique of misdirection. In order for us to believe that the dove emerged from the handkerchief, the magician must “misdirect” our attention away from what would otherwise be the obvious sleight of hand.

This is how I see the debate on school discipline. All of our attention is focused on the child who is disrupting class, yelling at his teacher, or refusing to put away her cell phone. All the other problems contributing to that child’s misbehavior are hiding in plain sight, yet we fail to see them. We have been misdirected—first by the disruptive child, and then by the seductive belief that they are the problem and removing them from school is the solution. If we could just take away the handkerchief, there would be no dove.

This is why the debate that Fordham encourages here must be based in research, even though discipline in general—let alone in charter schools—is a tricky thing to study. Good research forces us to look beyond our tendentious and often baseless beliefs and pay attention to...

Over the last few months, my work on ESSA implementation and my thinking about new systems of urban schools have come together. I have a new hypothesis. And I think it has some interesting implications.

I now believe that our current understanding of “state accountability systems” is a reflection of a decision made one hundred years ago. When America started systematizing public education at the turn of the twentieth century, we made a very different choice from other Western nations. Instead of embracing a wide variety of nonprofit and government school providers from which families could choose, we determined that each geographic area would have a single government-run operator that would assign kids to schools based on home address.

This post isn’t meant to re-litigate that decision but instead to emphasize its deep influence on how we now think about accountability systems. When these systems were first considered and developed (in the 1990s and early 2000s), the single-provider district-based model was still synonymous in most places with public education. My point is this: Our understanding of an “accountability system” is actually better thought of as an “accountability system for the single-government-provider approach to school delivery.”

I think this is important...

Elliot Regenstein

Congressional leaders have taken pride in pointing out that early learning plays a more prominent role in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) than it did under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Early learning has made historic advances during President Obama’s tenure, and Secretary of Education John King has gone out of his way to talk about its value. Given all that, you would think that the Department of Education’s proposed rules for school accountability and improvement systems would reinforce the importance of early learning—but in fact, they appear to do just the opposite.

Accountability under ESSA

Under NCLB, test-based proficiency in grades three and up was the primary driver of elementary school accountability. State systems generally didn’t say anything about what went on in the K–2 years, so many school districts and schools understandably ignored those years in their improvement efforts.

ESSA changed that by requiring states to include an accountability indicator of school quality or student success that isn’t based on test scores. Accountability metrics are arguably the most important opportunity embedded in ESSA to advance early learning and improve the early elementary grades. Many of the law’s changes clarify that early learning is a permissible use of funds;...