Charters & Choice

Last month, the Center for Research on Educational Options (CREDO) at Stanford University released a new analysis of the performance of charter management networks, entities that may be engaged to oversee the day-to-day operations of a charter school. (See here for a short review of the report.) As in past CREDO studies, the results showed wide variations in performance depending on several indicators: network type, state, demographics, years spent in charters by pupils, etc.

Despite dozens of analyses and myriad ways to parse the CREDO data, most of the buzz around this study has focused on the analysis of network type, by profit status. Here are four takeaways that venture beyond the flashy headlines.

1) The for-profit versus non-profit discussion needs lots of nuance. CREDO’s comparison of charters based on the profit status of their operators snatched many of the headlines. This was unsurprising, given the current political milieu and much larger rifts within the charter coalition, where “profit” seems to be playing proxy for other issues. Still, it’s simplistic at best and misleading at worst to say—as EdWeek did—“for-profit charter schools show poor academic growth.” In comparison to their nonprofit counterparts, schools overseen by...

At the end of June, Governor John Kasich vetoed a provision in the state budget bill that would have changed school grading calculations for purposes of evaluating the performance of Ohio’s charter school sponsors. Keep in mind that sponsors—as they should be—are evaluated in part on the basis of how well the charter schools in their portfolios are doing on state report card metrics. At issue here was the weight that the Ohio Department of Education places on student growth—or value added—relative to other measures. The General Assembly, seemingly unhappy with the current, bureaucratically derived framework for sponsor evaluations, had wanted to increase the weight on student growth from 20 to 60 percent. That change would have applied to the “summative” (or “overall”) A-F grades of charter schools when applied to the evaluation of their sponsors.[1]  

Transitioning sponsors towards a growth-centered system was a positive move by the legislature, and it’s disappointing that the governor vetoed the provision. Growth measures consider individual students’ academic performance over time and gauge a school’s impact on student achievement. They differ from status measures, such as proficiency rates, which are “snapshots” of student performance at a point...

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...

In a provocative headline, a recent Wall Street Journal article proclaimed that “Rural America Is the New ‘Inner City.’” The piece profiles Kenton, Ohio, along with several other towns across the nation that have recently suffered population losses, sluggish economies, and surging substance abuse. The sudden interest in communities like Kenton is not surprising, given that President Trump rode a wave of rural and small-town support to the White House.

Long a neglected realm of school reform, rural education is also capturing more attention. Collin Roth and Will Flanders of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty point out that rural students in the Badger State post some of the lowest ACT scores and highest college remediation rates; this mirrors data from Ohio. A recent study from the Rural School and Community Trust notes that nearly half of rural students are low-income (eligible for subsidized meals) and often have limited opportunities to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Meanwhile, a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education documents the challenges rural schools face recruiting and retaining teachers and securing parental involvement.

Of course, there isn’t a single cure-all that can elevate education in sparsely populated...

The student engagement edition

On this week's podcast, special guest Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss Fordham's new report What Teens Want From Their Schools: A National Survey of High School Engagement. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines early results from Joseph Waddington's and Mark Berends's ongoing study of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program.

Amber’s Research Minute

R. Joseph Waddington and Mark Berends, “Impact of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement Effects for Students in Upper Elementary and Middle School,” Center for Research on Educational Opportunity, University of  Notre Dame (ongoing).

Despite their pronouncements to the contrary, many of Ohio’s affluent suburban school districts are about as “public” as a gated community. That’s the right conclusion to draw from a series of recent events.

In late May, The Columbus Dispatch explored how some school districts in Ohio are rooting out students with “questionable residency” (my colleague Jamie Davies O’Leary also examined this Dispatch article here). For those unfamiliar with questionable residency, it refers to students who are enrolled in a school district where they claim to live, but who actually live elsewhere. In particular, the article focused on Bexley City Schools, citing arguments in favor of investigating residency claims from both the superintendent and the district’s law firm and investigators.

Three weeks later, we released Interdistrict Open Enrollment in Ohio: Participation and Student Outcomes. The report examined statewide data on Ohio’s open enrollment policy, which permits students to attend school in a district other than the one in which they live. Ohio’s policy is voluntary, which means it’s up to districts to decide whether to accept non-resident students. In total, 80 percent of Ohio’s 610 school districts allow open enrollees, and more than 70,000 students participate in the...

Bridging the research-to-policy divide

On this week's podcast, special guest Noelle Ellerson Ng, an associate executive director at the AASA, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss how to bridge the divide between education research and policy. During the Research Minute, David Griffith examines the recent CREDO study of charter management organizations.

Amber’s Research Minute

James L. Woodworth et al., “Charter Management Organizations 2017,” Center for Research on Education Outcomes (June 2017).

Recently, several school districts asked to be repaid a chunk of the money that the state of Ohio is attempting to recover from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT); House Bill 87, currently pending in the General Assembly, would grant them their wish. ECOT is the largest virtual school in Ohio and is notorious both for its political clout as well as its poor performance. It’s been embroiled in a lawsuit with the Ohio Department of Education and was recently ordered by the State Board of Education to return $60 million for being unable to prove all of its 15,000-plus students were logged in and adequately participating in learning last year. ECOT is fighting this decision and related issues in court.

ECOT’s track record may be poor, but there is something alarming in this discussion about the “lost money” that Ohio districts are now seeking. Regardless of whether ECOT could document their students’ attendance, these children were not being educated by their home districts either—because they didn’t attend their schools. That much is indisputable.

The question at the heart of the...

John Zitzner

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.

Not long ago, the Plain Dealer published an opinion article by former public school educator and teacher union head Bill Lavezzi. In his article, “Calls for funding equity for Ohio charter schools overlook charters’ failures and lack of transparency,” Lavezzi offered up five “simple, common-sense” standards that all charter schools should meet if they wish to receive equitable public funding. In the article, he also suggests that charters not meeting these conditions are “parasitic” and “undeserving not only of funding equity but of public funding itself.”

The idea that equitable funding for children should be conditional in the first place—especially for those students in public charter schools who are predominantly low-income and minority—makes about as much sense as a parent doing the same to his kids. In this analogy, public charter schools are the disliked step-child struggling to prove their worth to a parent dangling approval—and resources—conditionally for one, while doling it out unconditionally for the other....

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