Charters & Choice

Predictably, the anti-reform crowd is having a field day with Sunday’s Washington Post article (and related video), which reported the relatively high rate of student expulsions in D.C.’s charter school sector. There’s some legitimacy to this exercise in schadenfreude, considering how many of us reformer types have used the success of high-flying “no excuses” charter schools to bludgeon middling (or worse) district schools with the accusation that “if the charters can do it, so can you.” The retort—well-founded, in my view—is that most, if not all, of these high-flying charters aren’t serving the same population of kids as their traditional public school peers. They inevitably do a bit of creaming (even if unintentionally) on the front end and a number of them push out disruptive students on the back end. Apples-to-apples comparisons are made difficult by this “selection bias.”

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In my view, we should be proud of the charter schools that are identifying and serving high-potential low-income students—kids who are committed to using education to escape poverty and are often supported in that effort by education-minded parents.

The reason to celebrate these schools...

Some of Ohio’s largest school districts are embracing charter schools as part of their overall district reform strategies. Mayor Jackson’s education reform plan in Cleveland calls for tripling “the number of Cleveland students enrolled in high-performing district and charter schools from the approximately 11,000 students currently enrolled in these schools to approximately 33,000 by 2018-19.” In Columbus, Mayor Coleman’s “education commission” is exploring ways to encourage “the growth of high performing charter schools.” In Cincinnati the district recently announced a new partnership with the charter operator Carpe Diem (a high-performing blended-learning charter school model based in Arizona).

Fordham has long-advocated, along with groups like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for better cooperation and creative partnerships between school districts and quality charter schools. As far back as 2007, we argued for a “Portfolio Governance Approach to Meeting the Needs of All Dayton Children.”

Unfortunately Dayton couldn’t run with the concept in 2007, but fast forward to 2013, and according to a new book by Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, and Betheny Gross entitled Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies for Managing Urban Schools, there are now close to 30 urban school districts across the country pursuing “the...

This article about the remarkable success of New Orleans charters helps support the case I made in The Urban School System of the Future: Smart chartering is the right systemic approach for drastically improving student achievement over time. This article is particularly exciting because it uses ACT scores as the measure of achievement (a rigorous indicator of readiness for post-secondary work) and because high school improvement continues to be one of the most stubborn challenges in urban K–12 reform.

I’m no reflexive advocate for ed tech generally or blended learning specifically, but the NJEA, New Jersey’s largest teacher union, is doing itself a disservice by suing to stop charters from making use of online learning. The early results elsewhere suggest that blended learning has promise, and the state is moving into this field slowly, which is prudent. Moreover, given that the charter at the heart of this controversy is in low-performing Newark, where new approaches are desperately needed, the NJEA (which, to its credit, supported the state’s tenure reform legislation) is handing its opponents talking-point fodder.

Sunday’s major article on D.C. charter expulsions is worth the read. It raises too many important issues for me to...

In the biggest non-surprise of 2012, the U.S. Department of Education rejected California’s request for an ESEA waiver after the Golden State refused to play by Arne Duncan’s rules (i.e., agreeing to the conditions he demanded) in return for greater flexibility. The next move is California’s—do we smell a lawsuit?

In Italy, where job prospects for the young are few and far between, the possibility of landing a rare teaching gig at a public school set off a frenzied rush of applicants. Their Education Ministry has not held certification exams since 1999 (citing budget concerns), opting instead to fill “vacancies with temporary hires, making aspiring teachers and unions furious.” This certainly puts our own problems in perspective.

Education leaders panicking over the Common Core’s shift to online assessments should print out, highlight, underline, and memorize this recent publication from Digital Learning Now!, the third in a series aimed at preparing schools for the Common Core and personalized digital learning. The paper provides two sets of recommendations: one for state and districts making the shift to Common Core and one for the state testing consortia building the assessments.

In a month characterized by tragedy and loss,...

Ball State University
A quarter of Ball State-authorized charters rank in the bottom 15 percent of Indiana's schools.
Photo from INDelight Photography cc.

Before the holiday break, Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes gave the charter school movement more good news, this time from Indiana: Students in the Hoosier State’s charter schools, on average, had greater learning gains than their peers in traditional schools. Statewide, charter students gained what amounted to an additional month and a half of learning in reading and math. And in Indianapolis, charter students had about two months on their district-school counterparts in reading and nearly three months in math.

The findings were released just a couple of weeks after the Stanford-based group found similar results for New Jersey students. But the Indiana story was tempered by a more sobering fact: The findings would have been better if not for the performance of schools overseen by one authorizer—Ball State University.

Bad performance at Ball State–authorized charter schools erased...

Mark Zuckerberg
Zuckerberg will give away $500 million to Newark schools.
Photo by deneyterrio via photopin cc.

After a massive donation to district schools of Newark, NJ, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is planning to give away $500 million to education and health, with details TBD. I’d love to see Mr. Zuckerberg invest in the urban school system of the future instead of jamming more money into broken urban districts. My intellectual doppelganger, Neerav Kingsland, feels the same way.

The ladies of Politics K-12 always know what to write about. This piece about RTTT-D scoring by Michele McNeil is a great example. It has all of the pertinent information that a casual RTTT-D follower could want and valuable insights for those closer to the competition. It’s a must-read for people interested in federal education policymaking and implementation—and for anyone trying to learn how to blog.

Add Indianapolis to the list of cities doing chartering right: Stanford’s CREDO found that not only are its...

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

Turnaround Merry-go-round: Is the music stopping?

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of Education released an analysis of the federal School Improvement Grants program, which invests in persistently underperforming schools with the expectation that they will turn around. The early results of its most recent $3-billion infusion, as described by Education Week: "mixed" ( Two-thirds of the schools made gains in math or reading scores, but the other third saw achievement decline. Program supporters contend that one year of data is not enough to draw conclusions about the program. Critics ask whether taxpayers should expend a single cent more on what they deem a failed experiment.

Who's right? The Fordham Institute is bringing together three leading voices on urban schooling for a debate on the future of turnarounds: Bellwether Education and Fordham edu-wonk Andy Smarick; the Department of Education's Carmel Martin; and former Chicago schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.

America has nearly 12,000 school superintendents, of whom the overwhelming majority are career educators who have taught in the classroom and risen through the administrative ranks of public education. Most are middle-aged-to-older white males—and almost half say they will retire within five years.

Joshua Starr
Joshua Starr has emerged as a fully fledged anti-reformer.
Photo from WAMU 88.5.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be ardent change-agents. They’ve lived and worked within this system and will benefit from its pensions in retirement. Why make waves?

To be fair, some are earnest, tireless, and imaginative reformers, bent on altering public education so that it better serves the country’s girls and boys. Among the most nationally visible of these have been Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Kaya Henderson, Tom Boasberg, John Deasy, Jean-Claude Brizard, and Andres Alonso. (Several of these, of course, followed non-traditional paths to the corner office.) Others, just as committed to major overhauls, are well known only in their communities, such as Cleveland’s Eric Gordon, Cincinnati’s Mary Ronan, and Dayton’s Lori Ward...

This week, Student Achievement Partners—the group co-founded by Common Core architects David Coleman and Jason Zimba—announced a partnership with the NEA and AFT to develop and disseminate Core-aligned curriculum at no cost to teachers, thanks to a three-year, $11-million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. As Kathleen Porter-Magee noted in yesterday’s Common Core Watch, “Given the dearth of quality, CCSS-aligned materials available to teachers who are already working to align their practice to the new standards, this additional investment is welcome.” We eagerly await the materials.

A task force convened to determine whether D.C. charter schools ought to give admissions preference to nearby students came up with a verdict on Friday: While the District should allow charters that move into closed public school buildings to give neighborhood preference, other charter schools should not be compelled (or even allowed) to do so. This is a sensible compromise that will ease the burden on students transitioning from schools that are closing while maintaining a central tenet of the charter school idea: to be open to all students, regardless of home address.

As part of its “30 under 30” series,...

A D.C. City Council’s task force looking at neighborhood preferences for the district’s charter schools came out recently with some sensible recommendations that ought to inform similar conversations in other cities.

D.C. charter schools, the task force decided, should remain open to all comers in the city, but charters that move into closed district schools should voluntarily give admissions preference to children who live nearby.

For the District of Columbia, this is a reasonable conclusion that helps to ensure that disadvantaged kids in a given locale have access to a good education while upholding a central tenet of the charter-school idea: that these institutions should be open to all students, regardless of their home address.

But the critical word here is “voluntarily.” Other school districts, such as those in Denver and Chicago, have insisted on neighborhood preference as a condition for handing over public school buildings to charters. That’s a cudgel the D.C. task force has wisely avoided using.

Instead, the task force (which included representatives from D.C. Public Schools, city government, the teacher union, and charter schools) recommended giving D.C. charters that move into district schools the ability to offer a “time-limited” admission preference to families most affected...