Charters & Choice

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a top-notch group of entities that are serious about sponsoring quality charter schools, issued a call this week for authorizers and state laws to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great new ones. They call it the One Million Lives campaign.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Number of Ohio charter schools in the lowest 15 percent of state performance.
Source: 2011-12 Ohio Report Card Results.

At the kickoff, NACSA President Greg Richmond said, “In some places, accountability unfortunately has been part of the charter model in name only. If charters are going to succeed in helping improve public education, accountability must go from being rhetoric to reality.” He then called for a policy agenda aimed at achieving both smarter growth and stronger accountability in these ways:

  • Establishing strong statewide authorizers that promote both high-quality growth and accountability,
  • Writing into law standards for authorizers that are based on NACSA’s excellent Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing,
  • Placing performance expectations for
  • ...

The Thanksgiving holiday may have drawn attention away from some noteworthy analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which called into question whether states should mandate special-education enrollment targets for charter schools, as New York State has done.

Why? Consider what CRPE found when it compared special-education enrollment patterns at charter schools and traditional schools throughout New York:

  • Enrollment patterns of high-need students at charter middle and high schools are indistinguishable from those at school districts;
  • Whatever discrepancy exists, it’s found mostly between charter schools and district schools at the elementary level;
  • And there is variation among charter authorizers; some authorizers oversee charters whose special education enrollments mirror those at district schools.

In other words, CRPE argues, a statewide difference in charter and district enrollments is too simplistic of a comparison. But even analyzing the variation at each grade level is no easy task. For instance, why would charter elementary schools concerned about their performance marks discriminate against special-education students if state testing doesn’t begin until the third grade? Could it be that charter schools are less likely to identify a student as having special needs (as the New York City Charter School Center has suggested) or...

It is difficult to overstate the findings from CREDO’s just-released study of charter schools in New Jersey. The stakes could not have been higher, and the results could not have been better, especially in Newark.

Charter opponents will find these results impossible to dismiss.

But first, consider the forces aligned against the charter sector in the Garden State. Charter schools are frequently under attack across the nation, but the aggression has been particularly acute in New Jersey of late.

Critics of reform in Newark accuse charter supporters of trying to “privatize” education and worse. Nearly as fierce has been the assault from anti-charter forces in the suburbs.

Then there are the many powerful establishment organizations—membership associations and so forth—that oppose charters to the hilt.

I seriously, if unwittingly, raised the stakes in recent days. I pointed out the predictably dismal turnaround results from the federal SIG program, arguing that a charter new-start and replication/explanation strategy was far likelier to lead to more high-performing seats.

Then I wrote a piece for the NY Daily News, in which I put the Newark school district on notice, arguing that...

I had an op-ed run this morning in the New York Daily News about the strengths of the new union contract in Newark and what to do when the district is still unable to generate improved results.  The Economist has interesting thoughts on the contract here.

Evidently, Dr. Ravitch and I agree about something.  Along those lines, you might want to spend a little time on this New Yorker magazine article about Dr. Ravitch’s career development and her current views and activities.

Indiana’s high court looks at the constitutionality of the state’s new scholarship program (I spill a good bit of ink on the history of this subject in Chapter 8 of my book).  IN was serious about accountability, inclusive of private schools, under State Superintendent Tony Bennett.  I hope that the court will take that into account…and that Bennett’s successor is similarly inclined.

BIG aspirations in Cleveland.  The city has very far to go.  I’d love to see city leaders take a new approach.

Great example from Washington, D.C. of how a charter sector can methodically replace an urban...

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program remains perhaps the most scrutinized voucher initiative of its kind, so it’s not surprising that it finally got a “review” from the Washington Post, and not a very positive one at that. The Post team determined that the program is subject to few quality controls and asserted that “the government has no say over curriculum, quality or management,” despite the fact that some schools collect more than 90 percent of their revenues from the voucher program.

Of course, governments have little to no say over the curricula at any private school that participates in any of the voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs that exist presently in fifteen states—as well they shouldn’t. But some state governments have, in recent years, held their voucher programs to account for producing decent results, and that’s where the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has fallen short.

Private schools that participate in the D.C. program must provide parents with the academic progress of their own children along with the aggregate performance of their children’s grade-level peers, but that’s as far as school-level disclosure goes. Students receiving vouchers must take standardized tests every year, but their results are not made public; they...

Terry Ryan, Fordham’s Vice President for Ohio Programs and Policy, penned a thoughtful comparison between the social narrative in which Mike Petrilli’s latest book The Diverse Schools Dilemma belongs and that in which the Ohio team’s new report on Student Nomads: Mobility in Ohio’s Schools fits. The parents who face the diverse schools dilemma are “socially-conscious middle-class parents” who wish for diverse and high-performing schools. The parents of “student nomads,” however, are—first and foremost—“struggling to simply find a permanent place to live.” To read more, click here for Terry Ryan’s post in today’s Flypaper.

Diverse schools

My colleague Mike Petrilli has written a fantastic book in The Diverse Schools Dilemma. It chronicles the struggles, tensions, and emotions that he and his wife experienced in trying to find diverse, yet high-performing, elementary schools for their two boys in the D.C. metro area.  Mike’s dilemma is one shared by many socially-conscious middle-class parents: How can we provide a great education for our own kids while at the same time supporting schools that serve a diverse (economically, socially, and racially) group of students? And the greatest show of support you can give a school is to deliberately entrust your own children to it.

As Mike documents, this is not an easy dilemma to resolve; sometimes the chosen path is filled with doubt, even regrets.

As I read Mike’s book, I kept thinking to myself how I wished all parents gave as much thought and concern to choosing where to send their kids to school as did he and his wife. If this were the case, there would be little need for education reformers—which...

Congratulations to Checker, who received the 2012 National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) President’s award for outstanding contributions to the field of gifted education. He accepted the award yesterday at the National Gifted Education Convention in Denver, Colorado, where he spoke about the importance of meeting the needs of our nation’s high-fliers:

"Why keep the supply of these schools limited given the high demand?" "How much human potential is our society failing to realize?" "How much are we squandering?"

For more on gifted education, try one of the following titles:

Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools, by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica Hockett

Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students, by Robert Theaker, Yun Xiang, Michael Dahlin, John Cronin, and Sarah Durant

Young, gifted, and neglected,” by Chester E. Finn, Jr. (in the New York Times)

The best bargain in American education,” by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica Hockett (in Education Week)

Raising the floor, but neglecting the ceiling,” by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica Hockett (in the Washington Examiner)

Q&A: Chester Finn Talks About Exam Schools,” by Catherine A. Cardno (in...

That’s right!  It’s the release of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual “Market Share” report, which shows the percentage of students in major cities that are educated by charters.

I love this thing.  It is chronicling a renaissance in urban public education.

The report is a yearly reminder of the amazing growth of charter schools and, more importantly, the expendability of the urban district.

Anyone who doubts the premise of my new book The Urban School System of the Future (reviewed here by Checker, here by Education Next, here by Sarah Tantillo)—that we can move beyond the failed district structure and create a system of schools based on the principles of chartering—need only spend a couple moments with this document.

In 15 cities, a quarter of public-school-attending students or more are now enrolled in charter schools. See the following examples:

  • Indianapolis: 25%.
  • Cleveland: 28%
  • St. Louis: 31%
  • Kansas City: 37%
  • Washington, D.C.: 41%
  • Detroit: 41%
  • New Orleans: 76%

When charters began 20 years ago, no one imagined that this was possible—that this new way of delivering public education would provide the desperately needed alternative to the dreadful district...

Exam schools

In a previous post, I lauded TBFI for digging into subjects that others have glossed over, typically due to a belief that we already have enough collective knowledge on the subject.  Usually, the result is that Fordham reports unexpected findings that indicate how much more complicated and interesting the matter actually is.

But there’s another type of research TBFI pursues that I find even more valuable:  the study of important stuff that most of us didn’t even know was out there.

For example, the Ohio team recently wrote about the challenges of student mobility; earlier, the national team looked at pension issues in charter schools, “private” public schools, and the red tape that affects school leaders. All of these are significant contributions to our understanding of under-examined corners of the K-12 world.

The recent product that best exemplifies this area of study is Finn and Hockett’s book on Exam Schools. I—like many of you, I suspect—knew that such schools existed. But I just never gave them much...