Michael R. Ford

In 1991, Milwaukee began a bold experiment in market-based education reform. Twenty-seven years later, the city’s education system is dramatically reformed, but the results of those reforms are something less than dramatic. Milwaukee’s NAEP scores trail other major cities, and the performance of Milwaukee schools on aggregate is unacceptably poor. What happened? Why has the birthplace of school vouchers not experienced the successes of other education reform hotbeds like Washington, D.C. and New Orleans? The failure of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) to fully deliver on its promises can be attributed to certain program features, as well as the positions taken by voucher supporters and opponents over the life of the MPCP.

First, it was never clear exactly what the MPCP was supposed to be. The original voucher coalition was a clumsy alliance of free-market reformers, social justice warriors, urban Democrats, and suburban and rural Republicans. Though the coalition was successful at creating the program, the diverse supporters’ long-term goals were never aligned, creating ongoing tensions amongst supporters that pulled the program in different directions. To put it another way, it was impossible for the MPCP to succeed because there was no agreement as to what success would look...

Nelson Smith

Hold my beer.

Now, I’m all for vigorous debates about education policy, but when they start calling me and my friends the “new education establishment,” I gotta respond.

That is exactly what happened to my organization, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), in a recent Flypaper entry by Max Eden. Eden provided color commentary for a recent collection of essays published by the Center for Education Reform (CER). Both book and blog accuse NACSA of aiming to stifle charter schools with burdensome rules and bureaucracy (or as the book puts it “to coerce uniformity and therefore isomorphism in the charter sector”).

For those unfamiliar with this corner of the sector, NACSA, founded in 2000, works to grow charter schools by strengthening the still-young profession of charter school authorizing. The role is given cursory attention in many state laws, so NACSA has devoted much of its energies to defining, in broad consultation with the field, what sound authorizing looks like. Our Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing situate the work within three basic commitments: maintaining high standards, protecting charter school autonomy, and upholding student and public interests.

It bothers Eden, CER’s Jeanne Allen, and others...

Jeff Danielian

As often happens when I find myself working outside on my deck, in the dry warm heat of the summer, with thunderous fireworks flashing, I become nostalgic and reminiscent in my writing. With the classroom door closed for a bit and my mind free to think about education, I thought I would share my own story.

I am often asked, as I am sure many of you are, “How did you become a teacher?” My response is never quite the same, and depending on how much time I have to discuss my winding road to the classroom, the story revolves around a simple phrase uttered over and over by a past mentor, a geology professor who still resides in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It is a simple one, and I have it scribbled on a sheet of paper on the wall in my classroom: Education is not about information.

One lesson stands out for me. I will never forget looking down at an aerial view of the Grand Canyon through a pair of stereoscopic glasses. It is one of those moments that, upon reflection, strengthened my belief in the power of education.

Our professor gave a brief introduction to...

Advocates of school choice breathed a sigh of relief last month when a pair of new studies showed that voucher programs in Indiana and Louisiana were performing better than prior research had suggested. But they shouldn’t get too comfortable.

The news that most students recovered the ground they lost when they first enrolled in these programs after three or four years is obviously welcome. But it is unlikely to satisfy critics, who will rightly note that students who returned to the public schools after a year or two lost significant ground, and that so far no statewide voucher program has shown significant benefits for the average participant. To the contrary, the last four voucher programs to be rigorously evaluated—including those in Ohio and Washington, D.C., as well as Indiana and Louisiana—have all shown negative or decidedly mixed effects.

Some informed observers have tried to explain vouchers’ struggles by appealing to the improved performance of public schools or the dilution of so-called “peer effects,” while others have pointed to methodological problems with the studies. Perhaps the disappointing performance of Ohio’s voucher program is due to the tests, which are high stakes for public schools...

By Ryan Reyna

Once upon a time there was a new Secretary of Education who was charged with providing states flexibility to meet their education goals through the Every Student Succeeds Act. Upon review of the first plan, she declared “these long-term goals are not ambitious enough,” so she read the next plan. “These goals may be too ambitious,” she stated about the second. Then she read the third plan. “These goals make sense,” she happily declared and recommended approval without haste.

If only this story was merely a fairy tale. Unfortunately, our reality is almost strange as fiction. As Michael Petrilli eloquently argued in his recent commentary, Secretary DeVos and her team stumbled out of the gate with respect to their initial review of the Delaware, Nevada, and New Mexico state plans. Each received feedback on their submitted ESSA plans on areas to improve—as to be expected—but the responses to state’s proposed long-term goals were anything but expected.

The Department suggested that Delaware’s goal to decrease by 50 percent the number of non-proficient students in each subgroup within twelve years did not meet the statute’s threshold for “ambitious.” Peer reviewers found Nevada’s goals to be “very ambitious,” as it...

A new working paper presents findings from an evaluation of the Indiana voucher program—a hot topic given the Trump Administration’s embrace of private school choice. Mark Berends (University of Notre Dame) and Joe Waddington (University of Kentucky) examine the impacts of the voucher program (a.k.a. Indiana Choice Scholarship Program) on Hoosier State students in upper elementary and middle school (mostly grades 5–8) who used a voucher to transfer to a private school during the 2011–12 through 2014–15 years, which were the first four years of the program.

Indiana’s program is now open to both low- and middle-income families, with lower tuition amounts available to the latter group; the average scholarship amount is still pretty low, at about $4,700 in grades 1–8. All students in private schools enrolling voucher students must take the state test. Over 34,000 students received a voucher in 2016–17, and the analysis focuses on the roughly 4,000 lowest-income students (i.e., those receiving the full voucher) who moved from a public to private school for the first time. They are matched to similarly poor public school peers in the same grade, year, and school as the student who receives a voucher and attends a private school the following...

The Center on Reinventing Public Education’s (CRPE) latest report asks whether public transportation can improve students’ access to Denver’s best schools of choice, and the answer appears to be “no.” Denver’s geography, diffuse population centers, and distribution of quality school seats in relation to poor students already complicate the school district’s own transportation efforts to make quality seats accessible in terms of travel time from home to school. As an experiment, CRPE researchers compared district residency and public transit route data via Google Maps Directions Application Program Interface to calculate travel times between each student’s home address and the schools to which they could have applied. The hope was to make quality schools more accessible to those who need them most—just like a parent researching such schools might do—but the results are discouraging.

Based on their analysis, CRPE finds that just 55 percent of low-income students could attend a high-performing school within thirty minutes of their home on public transit; that percentage falls to 19 percent for schools within fifteen minutes’ travel time. In other words, most low-income students would continue to face long commutes to the city’s top schools when using public transportation, despite a choice-friendly atmosphere that...

With a choice-friendly President and Secretary of Education now in office, private school choice programs have been cast into the national spotlight. This week has been no different: On Monday, researchers released two major studies on vouchers—one on Indiana’s program, the other on Louisiana’s—and the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that may have implications for choice programs across this nation.

Among other things, this means that the debate on private school choice has moved from the periphery of the education policy conversation to center stage. As a result, some of you may be joining the conversation for the first time. As a long-time participant in the voucher wars, we at the Fordham Institute thought it might be helpful to offer a get-up-to-speed guide featuring some of our “greatest hits” on the topic.

We’ve arranged it around four questions:

  1. What does the research tell us about the impact of school vouchers on participants and on traditional public schools?
  2. What is smart policy regarding results-based accountability in the context of private school choice?
  3. How can we encourage private schools to participate in choice programs, and get high-quality schools to grow or replicate?
  4. What are the pros and
  5. ...

The latest study from CREDO explores the student growth outcomes of charter networks in twenty-four states, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Overall, it includes 3.7 million students, 5,715 charter schools, 240 Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), fifty-four Vender Operated Schools (VOSs). And like previous CREDO studies, it relies on the virtual control record (VCR) method, which compares each charter school student to a statistically constructed “virtual” peer with similar attributes.

In the study, the authors identify three types of charter networks: CMOs, VOSs, and Hybrids. They define a CMO as an organization that oversees the operation of at least three charter schools and is the charter holder for those schools. In contrast, a VOS is overseen by an organization that operates at least three schools but does not hold their charters. Hybrid charter schools have aspects of both a CMO and a VOS.

Based on these definitions, the authors estimate that approximately 68 percent of charter schools are independent, meaning they don’t belong to any network, leaving 22 percent that are part of a CMO, 8 percent that are affiliated with a VOS, and just 1 percent that are Hybrids. On average, the authors estimate that independent charters have almost...

An average of forty-four million unique visitors use GreatSchools every year to check out schools in their area and elsewhere. A new study analyzes searches conducted on the website to learn whether changes in the local school choice environment are reflected in the information that parents seek about school quality.

Analysts link monthly search data in census-defined cities and towns to information on changes in six types of school choice policies: intra- and inter-open enrollment, tuition vouchers, tax credits for donations to private scholarship charities, tuition tax credits, and open enrollment for Title I schools specifically mandated by NCLB sanctions. The researchers analyze over one hundred million individual searches between January 2010, and October 2013; they combine those data with state-level measures of school choice policies that relate to the six areas above to see how changes in those policies relate to changes in search behavior on GreatSchools. They also examine how charter school openings and closings relate to online activity.

Their primary finding is that, for most policies, there’s an uptick in search frequency tied to increases in the prevalence of NCLB-induced choice (measured as when schools receiving Title I funds fail to meet annual yearly progress for...