Charters & Choice

GadflyIn a futile effort to counter the influence of test-preparation companies, New York City’s education department changed part of the test it administers to four-year-olds to determine whether or not they are gifted and talented. For parents who cannot afford to send their child to one of the city’s myriad private schools, a coveted and scarce seat in a public school gifted program is the best start they could give to their children. While many lament the unjust advantage that students with access to test-prep programs obtain, the true tragedy is the dearth of suitable options for all of the gifted children. For more, listen to this week’s Gadfly Show.

Eliciting a keen sense of deja vu, this year's AP Report to the Nation—College Board's tracking of AP course-taking patterns and exam pass rates—offers the same three takeaways as last year's report: Participation rates in the AP are fast on the rise (up 2 percentage points since last year and 14 since last decade). So are AP exam passing rates: up 1.5 percentage points since 2011 and 7 points since 2002. Still,...

Education reformers often tout that school choice will create more competition, leading to better performance in both traditional and non-traditional schools. In spite of this, researchers have been unable to consistently show a correlation between competition and school performance, creating ammunition for those who oppose school choice. A part of the problem is how the topic is researched. In their report, Susanna Loeb and Matthew Kasman explain that researchers focus on specific aspects of competition (i.e. school density in an area, the transfer rates of students) without factoring the perceptions of the school leaders who are responsible for changing curriculum and instruction. Loeb and Kasman analyzed data and surveys from Milwaukee Public Schools to determine what affect a principal’s perception of competition and how those school leaders respond. 

The results are surprising- the researchers reported that the number of schools in an area had little correlation with the perception of competition.  Conversely, the principals did report a greater sense of competition when their student transfer rates were higher and when they taught low and high achieving students. One potential reason for this is that schools specifically designed to serve these students such as charters succeeded in drawing students from...

Last week Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost reported that nine school districts manipulated student attendance data to improve their academic performance results. In response to these findings, Yost offered up thirteen recommendations for reforming Ohio’s system of reporting student enrollment. In an op-ed in Saturday’s Columbus Dispatch, he outlined his primary recommendation: Schools should count students and report enrollment more frequently than once per year.  Specifically, Yost said:

Ohio sends cash to local school systems based on the number of students in the school during Count Week in October each year. September doesn’t matter, and you don’t need to remember November — or January or February. Good attendance during one week locks in a year of state funding.

Money changes things. It drives behavior, frames decisions and affects thinking — sometimes in ways we don’t foresee or want. That’s one of the things I discovered during our statewide audit of attendance practices in schools.

Ohio should count kids every day, not once a year. A year-long financial incentive would drive attendance every day. The good news is that we know how to get the kids in school. Lining up the financial incentives with the goal of regular attendance would help keep...

CANCELED: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
5:30p.m. - 7 p.m. ET*
Columbus International High ...

Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio released an ambitious federal school-choice plan on Tuesday night.
Photo from Speaker Boehner's Flickr account.

The nation was perhaps too preoccupied with Marco Rubio’s gulp heard ‘round the world to notice that the senator, immediately after his Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday, released a far-reaching federal school-choice plan. And that’s too bad, for what has emerged this week is the most sweeping congressional idea to empower disadvantaged kids with private school alternatives since the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Just as many states now make available tax credit scholarships—cousins to school vouchers—Rubio would empower individuals or corporations to contribute money to nonprofit “scholarship granting organizations” in return for a tax credit—anywhere in the nation.  Those scholarship groups would, in turn, help low-income kids cover the tuition at a private school of their choice.

This is an ambitious plan, but one that would surely face resistance in a Democratically controlled senate that has repeatedly dogged the D.C. voucher program. And...

School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?

School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?

Many proponents of private school choice take for granted that schools won't participate if government asks too much of them, especially if it demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve many kids. But is this assumption justified?

A new Fordham Institute study provides empirical answers. Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types schools shy away from regulation more than others?

These are just some of the questions that David Stuit, author of the Fordham study, will discuss with a panel featuring John Kirtley of Step Up for Students (Florida), Larry Keough of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, and Paul Miller of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Getting picky about choice

Mike and Adam discuss school-choice regulations with John Kirtley of Step Up for Students. Amber talks up the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Amber's Research Minute

“Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? A Benefit/Cost Analysis of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program” by Patrick J. Wolf and Michael McShane (Association of Education Finance and Policy Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013).

Three years ago, Patrick Wolf and colleagues published a powerful defense of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP): In an IES-funded, gold-standard study, they found that merely offering a student access to a voucher through OSP increased that student’s graduation rate by 12 percentage points. Those who actually used a voucher saw their grad rates jump by 21 percentage points. This article resurrects that research—but with a twist. The authors reanalyze the data against the work that several economists have done to estimate the value of a high school diploma (based on lifetime earnings and tax payments, lifespan and health, and crime rate). Using these metrics, Wolf and co-author Mike McShane estimate the societal return on investment for the increased graduation rate afforded to the District of Columbia by the OSP. (Remember that the program is federally funded; DCPS was held financially harmless when students exited for private schools, meaning that the program’s price tag—$70 million—represented a real additional cost to all U.S. taxpayers, not just those in the District.) Analyses show that the OSP marked a net societal value of about $183 million over the lifetime of the graduates, or $2.62 in benefit for every dollar spent...

As state legislatures pass new charter school laws and tinker with the old, this National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) rating of such laws increases in worth. Now in its fourth iteration, the report ranks all relevant states’ charter laws based on the NAPCS’s own twenty-part model—and explains that charter laws are generally improving across the land: By basing its statute on the NAPCS model, Washington State’s newly minted law now ranks third. (Minnesota and Maine top the Evergreen State, taking spots one and two, respectively.) Louisiana, which enacted sweeping charter reform this year, bumped from thirteenth to sixth on the state rankings. Further, three states (HI, ID, and MO) lifted caps on charter school growth, three (CT, HI, and UT) improved their support for charter funding and facilities, and ten strengthened their authorizing environments. That said, more progress is needed: Only Maine and Louisiana received the top rating (four of four) for components of their charter-authorizing legislation—Maine for requiring performance-based charter contracts and Louisiana for requiring a transparent application, review, and decision-making process. Yet quality authorizing is pivotal to creating and running successful charter schools (and shutting those that don’t measure up).

SOURCE: Todd...

Hurrah for Scott Pearson, the executive director of the D.C. Charter School Board, for pointing out the guile of several Washington, D.C., leaders who want to “manage” the accelerating charter school growth in the city under the guise of collaboration. Joint efforts between city, district, and charter leaders are good if they lead to more and better options for all students, but some key city officials sound more like they’re trying to put a brake on the charter momentum.

When the latest figures from D.C. showed that the number of charter school students increased by 10 percent to 34,673 students, it brought the charter school market share of public education in the city to 43 percent. This led David A. Catania, the chairman of the D.C. Council’s new education committee, to tell the Washington Post on Sunday that there ought to be a way to help charter schools and district schools learn to co-exist, even if that means “a momentary pause” on charter growth. Similarly, Mayor Vincent C. Gray wants his education cabinet to develop a coordinated “road map for public education” in the city.

Pearson was right to challenge statements like these, telling Post reporter...