Charters & Choice

Olivia London

Last week, Terry and I wrote about Teach For America and its potential to improve inner-city public education in Ohio. We cite a couple examples of TFA alum who are transforming education in our nation's cities--and in the following article, we spotlight Sam Franklin, a TFA alum who is working to improve public education in Pittsburgh. As a graduate of Kenyon College, Franklin has ties to Ohio. We hope you'll be inspired by his story. - Aaron Churchill

This article originally appeared in Carnegie Mellon Today. It is reprinted with permission. 

Profound speech in hand, Samuel Franklin walked into his classroom of underprivileged sixth-graders for his first day in Teach for America. He planned to emphasize how they would team up to beat the odds, proving their critics wrong. But as the words came out of his mouth, he realized how silly he sounded. The students were waiting for him to start teaching.

Franklin, who had noticed inequalities in the public education system throughout his own time in school, had no doubt in his mind that he wanted to join Teach for America after finishing his undergraduate studies at Ohio’s Kenyon College. Teach for America recruits graduates...

“Nothing lasting thrives in a hostile environment. Just as too many charter supporters are hung up on defending all charters all the time, their tireless opponents are bent on creating false distinctions and are constantly attacking them from every imaginable direction. Double standards and hypocrisy are in ample supply on both sides.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr., Terry Ryan and Michael Lafferty, Ohio Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the frontlines, 2010

The following quote summed up a key lesson learned from the charter school experience in Ohio over the first decade of its controversial life. Three years later, the lesson still rings true. And no doubt the long political struggle around charter schools has hurt the state’s overall charter school quality (great operators have far friendlier states to choose from), made it difficult for Ohio to improve its charter law (this struggle has been characterized by zero-sum battles at the state house), and retarded the power of charter schools to fulfill their potential (hard to thrive in hostile environments).

We’ve not shied away from taking on radicals on either side of the debate. Many in the charter community dislike us because we think accountability for school performance as measured...

The West Carrollton school district, just southwest of Dayton, is the latest Ohio school district to pass an open enrollment policy allowing students from any district in the state to enroll in one of their schools. West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford told the Dayton Daily News that, “Our purpose is to be the school district of choice in Ohio. We want to give any student in the state the opportunity to experience the same great education that students currently living in the West Carrollton district are experiencing.” West Carrollton serves about 3,800 students, 58 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, and the district received an Effective (B) rating from the Ohio Department of Education in 2011-12.

Superintendent Clifford, Ohio’s 2013 superintendent of the year, acknowledged the decision to become an open enrollment district was driven by economics. “Our enrollment numbers right now are flat to slightly declining,” Clifford told the Dayton Daily News. District enrollment has declined about 13 percent since 1999 and Clifford argues, “In order to keep all of the great staff we have right now, we need to grow our student base. As we keep students, we can keep staff.” Each student that enrolls...

In Ohio, Fordham authorizes the state’s only KIPP school (KIPP Journey in Columbus). So we were excited to read Mathematica’s recent report KIPP Middle Schools: Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes. It  has garnered considerable media attention and commentary—from belief to skepticism—for its finding that KIPP schools significantly improve student outcomes. A large portion of the coverage and commentary has honed in on KIPP’s positive impacts on student achievement, with less attention paid to the Other Outcomes part of the report.

The other outcomes part of the report, however, deserves its share of attention—especially, the report’s analysis of what school-based factors explain KIPP’s success. This analysis is intended to pinpoint one, perhaps multiple, reasons why KIPP charter schools work for their students.

To answer why, the researchers link individual KIPP school’s impact estimates, which vary among the schools, with a set of 14 school-based explanatory factors. Here are some of the more interesting findings:

•Length of school day: Especially long school days are associated with lower student achievement. But, the KIPP schools with especially long school days also tend to spend more time in non-core subjects, which leads to point two—

•Instructional time:...

Andy Rotherham deserves respect as one of the most thoughtful proponents of education reform, as well as an impressive institution-builder. He and I probably agree on 90 percent of the issues, though we have sparred at times over the federal role, the balance between “excellence and equity,” and sundry other topics.

My greatest frustration, though, has been his unwillingness to offer full-throated support for school vouchers.

Maybe he’s finally ready. In a blog post yesterday, he predicted that if current reform efforts stall, the future will bring a “low-accountability environment coupled with much more choice” and pointed to the Indiana voucher program (recently upheld by that state’s Supreme Court and hailed by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post) as a sign of things to come.

What Andy may not fully appreciate is that Indiana’s voucher program has accountability in spades. As David Stuit and Sy Doan explain in their recent report for Fordham, School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring? , the Hoosier State has an “annual performance-accountability rating system” for participating private schools that is based on the results of state assessments—the same tests that public school pupils take. Indeed, the fact that private...

It is, perhaps, no longer news to see yet another 1.5 percent decline in Catholic school enrollment in the United States. However, two separate but related facts make this year’s annual statistical report from the National Catholic Educational Association more troubling.

1.    Charter enrollment exceeded Catholic school enrollment for the first time this school year (in 2011–12, each sector had about the same number of students). Catholic school enrollment dropped 1.5 percent to 2,001,740 students, while charter school enrollment increased 13 percent to 2,326,542 students. From here on, any graph plotting student numbers in each sector likely will look like a pair of open scissors.

2.    A recent report from U.S. Census Bureau researcher Stephanie Ewert shows that private school enrollment is negatively associated with charter school enrollment. This is similar to what economist Richard Buddin found in his report last year for the Cato Institute when he looked at charter and private school enrollment trends from 2000 to 2008. Ewert looks at more recent years and found that states with substantial increases in charter school enrollment experienced substantial decreases in private school enrollment—particularly at Catholic schools.

Vouchers and tax-credit scholarships have surely offset some of those...

  • Just got back from a great trip to Kansas City (part of my National Agitation Tour). The Kauffman Foundation is doing very important work (check out these videos), and their team members were terrific hosts. You can scroll through the audience’s take on my book talk here. Per my pushing for the replacement of the failed urban district, Marc Porter Magee, temporarily at the helm of the SS Hess-blog, turns in a good piece about the need for cage-busting leaders to change the system, not just break its rules.
  • Common Core (and assessments!) guru KPM teamed up with Sol Stern on National Review Online to explain to conservatives why the new common standards aren’t to be feared or pilloried. Tom Friedman’s column explains why the U.S. needs tougher standards and expectations, even (especially?) in our more comfortable (complacent?) middle-class communities.
  • If you care about urban schooling, charters, and/or governance reform, you ought to give the latest report from Fordham and Public Impact a read. It looks into charter performance in five cities and offers lots of
  • ...

The World is Phat

Mike and Kathleen bust some podcast moves, taking on Thomas Friedman over “innovation education,” revamped teacher-evaluation systems whose results look suspiciously last season, and the Atlanta test-fraud scandal. Amber is the mayor of mayoral control.

Amber's Research Minute

Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement: How Mayor-Led Districts Are Improving School and Student Performance by Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, March 2013).

Sir Michael Barber is no stranger to education reform—indeed, he is well known to serious policy reformers, education leaders, and wonks in the U.S. and around the globe, thanks to his key roles in British reforms under Tony Blair, his penetrating analyses of diverse systems while at McKinsey, his writings on “deliverology” and other education topics, and—most recently—his work as “chief education adviser” at Pearson.

A Kindergarten graduation

What practically nobody (outside Pakistan) knew about Barber until a week or two ago is that he has also served these past three years as “special representative on education in Pakistan” for Britain’s Department for International Development (the U.K. counterpart to USAID). In that capacity, he has spearheaded a remarkable ed-reform initiative—indeed, an education transformation, albeit just getting beyond the pilot stage—in Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan with 94 million people. Considering that nearly all the news about Pakistan that reaches American eyes and ears is so grim—political upheavals, terrorism, assassinations, floods, poverty, corruption, illiteracy—I was blown away to learn that Michael and his team of change-agents in the Punjab government,...

When the charter school movement started twenty-plus years ago, charters represented a radical innovation in governance: School districts would no longer enjoy an “exclusive franchise” on local public schools; they would compete with public, independent, autonomous (but accountable) charter schools too.

Charter governance brief
In the last twenty years, American education and its charter sector have evolved in important ways.

Much has happened in the charter sector since then—in fact, what began as a community-led, mom-and-pop movement has evolved to include a burgeoning assemblage of charter school networks, as well. But the laws ruling charter school governance remain largely the same. It’s time for a reboot in order to address three critical problems.

First, state laws and authorizer policies often require a full-fledged governing board for every charter school, and these policies make no exception for high-performing charter networks (such as KIPP and Rocketship Education). Thus, replicating at scale is difficult. In fact, only ten states explicitly allow for networks to operate multiple schools under the oversight of one governing board* and three...