Charters & Choice

A Chicago public school and public library will begin to share space on Thursday, breaking ground for a new “library-within-a-school” model that may be “copied and mimicked all across the city,” according to an enthusiastic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Windy City’s schools and libraries have both seen financial troubles in the last couple of years. Library Commissioner Brian Bannon has clarified that proliferation of this model would be about “reducing storefront and leased space” and possibly result in moving libraries, not closing libraries. Gadfly likes efficiency and books—so hat tip!

The school-funding crisis in Philadelphia has reached the boiling point: After Superintendent William Hite issued an ultimatum stating that schools may not open in time if the district does not receive at least $50 million more in funding by Friday, August 16th, Mayor Michael Nutter announced that it would borrow the cash, apparently obviating that eventuality. Now that the district will be able to re-hire some laid-off staff members, the School Reform Commission—Philadelphia’s appointed school board—will vote on whether to suspend portions of state law to grant Hite the flexibility to re-hire for reasons other than seniority. The...

  • New York City mayoral candidates look to Cincinnati Public Schools as an example to improve academic performance and provide students with greater opportunities.
  • Ohio lawmakers set out to repeal Common Core with newly introduced legislation that would repeal the rigorous new academic standards and place limits on student data collection.
  • Summer is cut short for some students as school districts set start dates as early as July to prevent the dreaded summer “learning slide.”
  • Movie star Matt Damon brings school choice into the spotlight. In a recent interview, Damon, an outspoken critic of education reform, admits that he sends his four daughters to a private school.

Despite the tireless marriage-wrecking efforts of Common Core opponents and their acolytes and funders, few states that initially pledged their troth to these rigorous new standards for English and math are in divorce mode. What’s far more fluid, unpredictable, and—frankly—worrying are the two elements of standards-based reform that make a vastly greater difference in the real world than standards themselves: implementation and assessment.

Don’t get me wrong. Standards are important, because they set forth the desired outcomes of schooling and it’s obviously better to aim for clear, ambitious, and academically worthy goals than at targets that are vague, banal, easy, or trendy. Standards are also supposed to provide the framework that shapes and organizes the rest of the education enterprise: curricula, teacher preparation, promotion and graduation expectations, testing and accountability, and just about everything else. (Kindergarten standards, for example, should affect what happens in preschool just as twelfth-grade standards should synch with what gets taught to college freshmen.)

But standards are not self-actualizing. Indeed, they can be purely symbolic, even illusory. Unless thoroughly implemented and properly assessed, they have scant traction in schools, classrooms, and the lives—and futures—of students.

California is the woeful poster child here, as I was reminded...

During my travels on Interstate 70, I have discovered Union Local School District. The district is located near the Ohio-West Virginia border, right at exit 208. Its high school isn’t hard to spot—a boxy two-story building that sits atop a knoll overlooking truck-stop fast food joints and gas stations.

I’ve learned a bit about Union Local and have come to think of it as a quintessential rural district. It enrolls 1,500 or so students, 99 percent of whom are white. A modest portion of its students are impoverished (42 percent). They play football on Fridays, and last I heard on the radio, a local car dealership donates $20 to the football team, if you test-drive their cars. The school district has a nature trail and an American flag etched into its high school lawn, as a reminder of 9/11.

Union Local is one of Ohio’s 231 rural districts that together serve 280,000 or so K-12 students—roughly equal the student population of Nebraska. But besides serving truck-stop communities and partnering with mom-and-pop car dealerships, what is known about rural schools? Specifically, what about the academics of Union Local and Ohio’s rural schools? Do they effectively prepare their kids to attend college?...

New York made education headlines last week, as its public schools reported substantially lower test scores than in previous years. The cause of the drop? This was the first year that New York administered exams aligned to the Common Core—though these were not the “official” Common Core-aligned exams (PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments). According to Education Week, proficiency rates for English language arts sunk by 24 percentage points, and, for math, proficiency declined by a staggering 34 percentage points. New York’s Commissioner of Education, John King, attempting to reassure the public, remarked that “the changes in scores do not mean that schools have taught less or that students have learned less.”

In contrast to New York—and earlier, Kentucky—the Buckeye State has not taken the interim step of ratcheting up the rigor of its assessments to prepare its students, educators, and public for the exams aligned to the Common Core. (Ohio is a member of the PARCC consortium of states, which is one of the two organizations that are developing Common Core exams.) And, if the results from New York and Kentucky are a predictor, Ohio should brace itself for a shock, come 2014-15, when the PARCC exams...

When the news came Thursday that the latest CREDO report showed outsize learning gains at New Orleans charter schools, I recalled the simplicity that Neerav Kingsland used to define his idea of “relinquishment” in public education. In a recent talk with Andy Smarick that appeared on Flypaper, Kingsland, the chief of New Schools for New Orleans, said that relinquishment was based on three principles: 1) educators should operate schools, 2) families should choose among these schools, and 3) government should hold schools accountable for performance and equity.

This is relevant to the CREDO report because New Orleans is practically the only city in the United States that adheres to these principles. By the time CREDO finished its analysis of learning gains in Louisiana, and in New Orleans particularly, nearly 80 percent of all public school students in the Crescent City attended a charter school. Arguably, since Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in 2005, a redefinition of public schooling, a rush of entrepreneurial activity, and renewed focus on what makes for a successful charter school have all contributed to the following CREDO findings:

  • Black students in New Orleans charter schools had the equivalent of nearly
  • ...

In 2011-12, Cleveland’s public school system (traditional district and charter) had 80 schools rated a D or F. Over 30,000 students enrolled in these buildings. Given these numbers, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s headline is remarkable: “Hundreds of Spots Remain in Cleveland's Top-Rated Public Schools this Fall.” 

The article goes on to describe how the city’s top-rated schools still have the capacity to serve more students this coming school year. These are both district and charter schools, and all produce solid academic results, while serving some of Ohio’s most needy students.

Among the district schools with open slots: The top-rated John Hay Academies, three so-called “exam schools,” had nearly 150 available seats; MC2 STEM school had 56; and Whitney Young Leadership Academy had 227 open seats. Among the charter schools, Cleveland’s E-Prep School—part of the Breakthrough Schools, one of the nation’s highest-performing charter school networks—had 60 empty seats. Two ICAN charter schools, a high-performing charter network based in Cleveland, had 70 open seats.

By my calculation, the total number of open seats on the PD’s distinguished list of schools—17 schools were listed in all—came to 1,105.

It’s a shame that there are any open seats in high-quality Cleveland schools, much less over...

Small-town Ohio and its “good old days” is the subject of a New York Times article by Robert Putnam, published this week. In it, he describes the Shangri-La of the late 1950s in Northwestern Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. Quite how he makes it from this to his usual conclusion that the collective “we” is a key missing element of today’s society – in terms of economic attainment, educational outcomes and the weave of the entire social fabric – is beyond my powers to understand.

The “American Dream” that Putnam describes leaves out women (unmarried ones for sure and by insinuation any married woman who harbored any ambition outside of homemaking), most black students (except perhaps the two from Port Clinton who “encountered racial prejudice in town” yet still managed to get into graduate school through education and effort) and all of the unmentionables from the era (homosexuals, mixed-race families, Italians, Poles, the disabled and the mentally ill) for whom the 1950s did no favors at all.

Any sense of a collective “we” from that era is largely male, wholly straight, mostly white, and solidly middle- and upper- class although those last two terms have definitely acquired...

Following the Tony Bennett flap, the A-to-F school-grading systems that Bennett championed are themselves under the gun. Some have argued in favor of increasing the number of measures upon which schools are graded, reflecting the variety of grades that parents see their children bring home from school every year. But at what point will more information become too much information? For a great discussion, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

After announcing its plans to withdraw from both Common Core–assessment consortia, Pennsylvania has clarified that it will in fact remain a member of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced—it just won’t be using either test. “Huh,” you say? The nominal difference means that the Keystone State will retain the right to “participate” in each group’s discussions.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Robert Samuelson argued that the fiscal crisis facing state and local governments can be boiled down to the clash of two interests: schools versus nursing homes. Samuelson characterized the impending pension crisis as a “prolonged squeeze” from retirement commitments to public employees, while we call it the “big squeeze” in our series of reports on...

Harvard EdLabs researchers Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer have plunged more deeply into the Harlem Children Zone’s Promise Academy, emerging with positive outcomes from this high-performing charter middle school in New York City. Previously, Dobbie and Fryer found that the Promise Academy had closed the black-white achievement gap, as measured by test scores, by the time sixth-grade lottery winners reached the eighth grade. Now the pair has looked to the school’s impact on more “medium-term” outcomes such as high school graduation, college enrollment, teen pregnancy, and incarceration—and they have found that the Promise Academy provides a huge human-capital boost. Six years after winning the admissions lottery, Promise Academy students not only score higher on the nationally normed Woodcock-Johnson math achievement tests than lottery losers, but they are more likely to enroll in college, by 24 percentage points. Additionally, female lottery winners are 12 percentage points less likely to become pregnant in their teens, while males are 4 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated. The Harlem Children’s Zone social and community-building services are well documented, but Dobbie and Fryer attribute Promise Academy’s success to the markers that make it a...

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