Charters & Choice

In case you missed it, Fordham Ohio released a new report yesterday—Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program—a first-of-its kind rigorous examination of the state’s largest voucher program. Say what you will about the frankly disappointing findings but never say that Fordham is afraid to go where the data lead. Here is the higher-level coverage the report received both in Ohio and nationally. More to come, I imagine:

  1. Ohio’s voucher students fare worse than public-school peers, study finds (Columbus Dispatch, 7/7/16)
  2. Study: Public-school students test better than voucher users (Associated Press, 7/7/16) – more than two-dozen outlets published this AP piece, which mainly notes that the Dispatch covered our report.
  3. Ohio Study Latest to Show Poor Voucher Results: 7 Theories Dissect The Trend (The 74 Million blog, 7/7/16)
  4. Ohio Vouchers Have Mixed Impact on Student Performance, Study Finds (Education Week. 7/7/16)
  5. Study Finds Failing Ohio Voucher-Funded Schools Perform Worse than Public School Counterparts (WKSU-FM, Kent, 7/7/16) – ran in other public media outlets as well
     
  6. Principal investigator on the EdChoice evaluation, Dr. David Figlio, presented his findings and took audience questions at a City Club of Cleveland event yesterday. You can find audio and video of
  7. ...
Sarah Yatsko

Editor's note: This is the second entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. The first post post is here.

Magicians rely almost exclusively on the technique of misdirection. In order for us to believe that the dove emerged from the handkerchief, the magician must “misdirect” our attention away from what would otherwise be the obvious sleight of hand.

This is how I see the debate on school discipline. All of our attention is focused on the child who is disrupting class, yelling at his teacher, or refusing to put away her cell phone. All the other problems contributing to that child’s misbehavior are hiding in plain sight, yet we fail to see them. We have been misdirected—first by the disruptive child, and then by the seductive belief that they are the problem and removing them from school is the solution. If we could just take away the handkerchief, there would be no dove.

This is why the debate that Fordham encourages here must be based in research, even though discipline in general—let alone in charter schools—is a tricky thing to study. Good research forces us to look beyond our tendentious and often baseless beliefs and pay attention to...

Over the last few months, my work on ESSA implementation and my thinking about new systems of urban schools have come together. I have a new hypothesis. And I think it has some interesting implications.

I now believe that our current understanding of “state accountability systems” is a reflection of a decision made one hundred years ago. When America started systematizing public education at the turn of the twentieth century, we made a very different choice from other Western nations. Instead of embracing a wide variety of nonprofit and government school providers from which families could choose, we determined that each geographic area would have a single government-run operator that would assign kids to schools based on home address.

This post isn’t meant to re-litigate that decision but instead to emphasize its deep influence on how we now think about accountability systems. When these systems were first considered and developed (in the 1990s and early 2000s), the single-provider district-based model was still synonymous in most places with public education. My point is this: Our understanding of an “accountability system” is actually better thought of as an “accountability system for the single-government-provider approach to school delivery.”

I think this is important...

Shortly after Ohio lawmakers enacted a new voucher program in 2005, the state budget office wrote in its fiscal analysis, “The Educational Choice Scholarships are not only intended to offer another route for student success, but also to impel the administration and teaching staff of a failing school building to improve upon their students’ academic performance.” Today, the EdChoice Scholarship Program provides publicly funded vouchers to more than eighteen thousand Buckeye students who were previously assigned to some of the state’s lowest-performing schools, located primarily in low-income urban communities. Yet remarkably little else is known about the program.

Which children are using EdChoice when given the opportunity? Is the initiative faithfully working as its founders intended? Are participating students blossoming academically in their private schools of choice? Does the increased competition associated with EdChoice lead to improvements in the public schools that these kids left?

Fordham’s new study utilizes longitudinal student data from 2003–04 to 2012–13 to answer these and other important questions. 

Three key findings:

  • Student selection: The students participating in EdChoice are overwhelmingly low-income and minority children. But relative to pupils who are eligible for vouchers but choose not to use them, the participants in EdChoice are
  • ...

Shortly after Ohio lawmakers enacted a new voucher program in 2005, the state budget office wrote in its fiscal analysis, “The Educational Choice Scholarships are not only intended to offer another route for student success, but also to impel the administration and teaching staff of a failing school building to improve upon their students’ academic performance.” As economist Milton Friedman had theorized decades earlier, Ohio legislators believed that increased choice and competition would boost education outcomes across the board. “Competition” in the words of Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby, “would be the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats.”

Today, the EdChoice program provides publicly funded vouchers (or “scholarships”) to more than eighteen thousand Buckeye students, youngsters previously assigned to some of the state’s lowest-performing schools, located primarily in low-income urban communities.[1] That much is known. Yet remarkably little else is known about the program. Which children are using EdChoice when given the opportunity? Is the initiative faithfully working as its founders intended? Are participating students blossoming academically in their private schools of choice? Does the increased competition associated with EdChoice lead to improvements in the public schools that these kids left?

The present study utilizes longitudinal...

A new case study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education examines how the cities of Washington, D.C., and New Orleans are approaching discipline so that suspensions or expulsions are “more appropriately and fairly applied while still respecting schools’ autonomy.”

The report describes how D.C.’s sole authorizer, the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), was interested in reducing charter schools’ out-of-school suspensions and expulsions—likely in the wake of accusations that they were suspending or expelling students unfairly or more often than district schools. (Across the country, schools have also been accused of racial bias when they suspend “disproportionate” numbers of minority students.) So in partnership with DCPS and other city leaders, they decided to release “School Equity Reports” that document school-level data on suspensions, expulsions, student exit, and mid-year enrollment.

The authors found that between 2012–13 and 2014–15, the average suspension rate across all city schools dropped from 12 to 10 percent, and suspensions for students with special needs fell from 23 to 19 percent (they don’t have reliable baseline data from before then). Examining comparable schools from 2012 to 2014, additional analyses show that the citywide declines in short-term suspension rates (meaning less than ten days) were driven mostly by charter schools....

  • Darius Brown’s educational biography, featured last week in the Dallas Morning News, should be encouraging for reformers. It’s the story of a bright young Texan from modest circumstances who, through his own talents and the prodigious advocacy of his single mother, took part in his district’s gifted program and won a Gates Millennium Scholars award and matriculate to Texas A&M. Unfortunately, his story isn’t representative—even though they account for 6.5 percent of the state’s students, black boys like Darius make up less than 3 percent of those enrolled in Texas’s gifted programs. One of the main reasons for the discrepancy is that too many states and districts still rely on referrals from teachers and parents for screening into such programs, rather than spending extra and instituting universal screening. As Jay Mathews argues in the Washington Post, settling for this narrower pool leads to gifted classrooms that are significantly whiter and more affluent. Above-average intelligence is a category of special learning need; the only thing setting it apart from, say, a physical disability or a lack of English fluency is that it doesn’t always make itself known. That’s why we need to do everything we can to identify and
  • ...
Paul Hill

Editor's note: This is the first entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Mike Petrilli's introductory post is here.

The ongoing exchange about suspensions and expulsions in charter schools needs to be seen from the school’s perspective. As a school of choice, a charter has two obligations: to maintain a climate conducive to learning, as it promises the families who choose it, and to do all it can to meet the needs of the students it has admitted. These can provoke tension when individual children disrupt others' learning or threaten to tear down the norms of diligence that support instructional programs.

This tension is inherent to K–12 schools (even advantaged private ones). Some private schools protect their overall climate by quickly suspending or expelling kids who get out of line. But most, committed to the kids they have admitted, act much more deliberately. They give students help and many chances. Suspensions are never ruled out because they are very effective in getting some parents’ attention. But because they are understood as harmful, suspensions are brief and seldom repeated. If parents don’t respond the first time, the school tries something else.

Expulsions are never totally off the table for...

At the National Charter Schools Conference last week, Secretary of Education John King challenged U.S. charter operators to rethink their approach to discipline and “lead the way on professional reflection and growth.” Though I’ve frequently expressed my worries about the rush to reform the nation’s approach to school discipline, the secretary’s comments were measured and constructive. I was particularly struck by his insistence that there not be any “hard and fast rules or directives.” (He might want to share the speech with his own Office for Civil Rights, which could be renamed the Office for Hard and Fast Rules and Directives.)

Helping charter schools examine and improve their discipline practices is praiseworthy; making them change their approach via top-down dictates is not. (Though I’m really talking about suspensions; expulsions are a different matter, as we do need to worry about open-enrollment public schools pushing kids out.) In my view, it’s totally inappropriate for regulators—especially the feds, but also school authorizers—to get heavy-handed on the suspensions issue, for at least five reasons:

  1. The school discipline data collected by the Office for Civil Rights are notoriously fishy; attaching stakes to them will make them even more so because people work to report the data
  2. ...

Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the second half of a two-part interview (the first half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: Mike Feinberg had started KIPP as a kind of “classroom-within-a-school” program, and he needed support to expand and grow. There is a story of him sitting on your car and grading while he asked you for more space to grow his program. What did he say to you to convince you that you should invest in him—and that it wouldn't be a disaster?

Rod Paige: Well, there were two Teach For America teachers, Mike Feinberg and David Levin, both teaching in elementary schools in the east part of the city. They had provided a lot of innovative programs and activities for the students in their fifth-grade...

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