Charters & Choice

As poverty moves to the suburbs, KIPP Colorado contemplates moving with it

On this week's podcast, Kimberlee Sia, CEO of KIPP Colorado, joins Alyssa Schwenk and Brandon Wright to discuss charter school deserts in the Centennial State. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the effects of low-cost efforts to mitigate chronic absenteeism.

Amber’s Research Minute

Todd Rogers and Avi Feller, “Reducing Student Absences at Scale by Targeting Parents’ Misbeliefs,” Nature Human Behaviour (April 2018).

Comparing Ohio K–12 education to other states helps us gauge the pace of progress, provides ideas on improvement, and gets us out of our local “bubble.” In a recent post, my colleague Chad Aldis examined Ohio and Florida’s NAEP results, finding the Buckeye State wanting in terms of gains over the past decade. Terry Ryan has also offered an insightful comparison of Ohio’s charter policies to Idaho’s. This piece follows a similar path and takes a look at Ohio’s charter landscape relative to Arizona’s.

Why the Grand Canyon State? For starters, Arizona has a significant charter enrollment of about 180,000 students, or 16 percent of public-school enrollment (Ohio has roughly 110,000, or 7 percent). Arizona charters are also producing some stellar results. As Matthew Ladner has repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly) shown, Arizona charters have posted high scores on NAEP—and for two years straight, US News & World Report placed several of them in its top-ten high schools in nation.

Let’s start by comparing a couple terrific maps that my Fordham colleagues produced in their recent Charter School Deserts report. Figure 1 displays the charter locations for the Cleveland...

By Terry Ryan

NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.

Earlier this century, Dayton, Ohio, was a hotbed for charter school growth, largely driven by parents, mostly poor and minority, desperately seeking better options for their children. In 2002, the Council of the Great City Schools captured Dayton’s challenges when it reported that “no urban school system in Ohio has fewer children meeting state proficiency standards…The problem appears to be exacerbated by high teacher absenteeism.”

Throughout the 2000s, Dayton was annually rated by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools as a “Top Ten Community by Market Share.” In fact, by the mid-2000s, Dayton had more children per capita enrolled in charters than any city in the country, save for post-hurricane New Orleans.

I was Fordham’s Ohio point person from 2001 to 2013. A big part of my job was to try and responsibly seed the growth of quality charter schools, mostly in Dayton. This meant providing start-up grant support to prospective school operators, identifying individuals and groups we thought could run schools well, organizing technical assistance for schools through partner organizations,...


NOTE: In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Fordham Ohio staffers will be blogging about teachers, principals, and guidance counselors who made a positive difference in their schooling and in their lives. This is the fourth and final post, which does double duty of celebrating National Charter Schools Week as well. The first post can be found here; the second can be found here; and the third here.

Growing up, I attended five different elementary schools. District transportation interruptions, school closings, and family relocations forced me into changing schools at the end of each year. My memories of middle school aren’t much better: They involve metal detectors, fights erupting on cafeteria tables, and teachers reading the Dayton Daily News instead of teaching. Overall, the schools I attended were poorly staffed, overpopulated, and nearly devoid of learning.

By the time I entered high school, I was at a significant disadvantage. My parents and I were skeptical of the district high schools’ ability to adequately equip me with a strong secondary education and effectively prepare me for college, so we selected a charter school instead: the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA).

DECA was founded in 2003 as Ohio’s first...


For charter school supporters, it can be frustrating. There’s always something new in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) saga. The most recent allegation, by a whistleblower who’d worked for the online giant, is that officials from the school were ordering staff to manipulate student attendance data—after the school had already been ordered to repay $60 million in state funds as a result of a review of student participation by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

At about the same time, Senate President Larry Obhof mused that it might be time for the General Assembly to “take a look” at how the state calculates attendance and funding. “When the legislature’s able to do things or has the responsibility for doing things,” he said, “it should be the legislature, not an administrative agency, that does that.”

President Obhof is right. It’s time for legislative action. Thoughtful policymaking could not only hold online schools accountable for their work but also strengthen the virtual school sector and improve outcomes for students. Here’s a look at a few common sense reforms that the legislature should consider.

Commission a study on performance-based funding

Performance-based funding is an attractive solution that’s been pitched before,...

Jim Waters

NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.

During the raging debate in recent years about whether Kentucky would join America’s education civilization by allowing charter schools, Ohio’s dismal charter performance became a favorite whipping boy of school-choice opponents.

Less than three years ago, the headline atop a 1,000-word exposé in The Washington Post on the Buckeye State’s charter schools read: “Troubled Ohio charter schools have become a joke -- literally.”

Ohio’s bad charter schools provided piles of fodder for Kentucky’s anti-choice zealots committed to keeping these schools out of the Bluegrass State.

Worse is that Ohio’s failures gave charter-school opponents nationwide a convenient ploy to divert attention away from the decades-long academic failure of many school districts in other states, including Kentucky’s largest in Jefferson County, where parents would leap at the opportunity of enrolling their children in charters – if only they had it.

However, as an old Bob Dylan hit heralds: “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

Confirmation of the truth in Dylan’s lyrics is found in the newly released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results showing dramatic improvement...


If you were on vacation earlier this month—lucky you—you may have missed the release of the 2017 NAEP results. On the whole, you didn’t miss much. With NAEP results flat in much of the country, the prevailing narrative is that education progress has stalled. There were some exceptions around the country, like Florida, that continued to make impressive gains. Unfortunately, Ohio wasn’t one of those exceptions, as my colleague Aaron Churchill has explained.

Don’t take my word for it though, here are some data comparing Ohio and Florida’s NAEP performance.[1]

In summary, Florida is now cleaning Ohio’s clock on NAEP. But that wasn’t always the case: Notice how in 2003 Ohio had better NAEP scores in both fourth and eighth grade reading and math for black and low-income students. In 2017, Florida was superior in EVERY one of those categories. Florida’s most disadvantaged students made tremendous gains while Ohio’s languished. The progress hasn’t been limited to historically...


2016–17 was one of the slowest-growth years for charter schools in recent memory. Nobody knows exactly why, but one hypothesis is saturation: With charters having achieved market share of over 20 percent in more than three dozen cities, perhaps school supply is starting to meet parental demand, making new charters less necessary and harder to launch. If so, perhaps it’s time to look for new frontiers, especially if we want more children to enjoy the benefits of high-quality charters.

One option is to start more charter schools in affluent communities, which we surely support. But we couldn’t help but wonder: Are we overlooking neighborhoods in America that are already home to plenty of poor kids, and contain the population density necessary to make school choice work, but lack charter school options? Especially communities in the inner-ring suburbs of flourishing cities, which increasingly are becoming magnets for poor and working-class families priced out of gentrifying areas?

That’s the question that this report and its accompanying website address. The study, led by Miami University (of Ohio) Assistant Professor Andrew Saultz, analyzes the distribution of charter elementary schools across the country to provide parents, policymakers, and educators with information about which high and...

Is America still a nation at risk?

On this week's podcast, Bruno Manno, Senior Advisor to the Walton Family Foundation’s K–12 Education Reform Initiative and a Trustee Emeritus at Fordham, joins Mike Petrilli and Checker Finn to discuss this week’s NAEP results in the context of the thirty-fifth anniversary of A Nation at Risk. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines how accountability metrics related to student subgroups affect teacher turnover and attrition.

Amber’s Research Minute

Matthew Shirrell, “The Effects of Subgroup-Specific Accountability on Teacher Turnover and Attrition,” Education Finance and Policy (Forthcoming).


States lead on education

On this week's podcast, Carissa Moffat Miller, the new executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss CCSSO’s campaign to highlight innovative state education policies. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the effects of the National Heritage Academies chain of for-profit charter schools.

Amber’s Research Minute

Susan Dynarski et al., “Estimating the Effects of a Large For-Profit Charter School Operator,” The National Bureau of Economic Research (March 2018).