Charters & Choice

The last thing Detroit families need is for an incompetent school board to regain control of the Motor City’s worst schools, but that may happen now that Michigan voters have repealed the state’s “emergency manager” law. The repeal has emboldened the Detroit Board of Education to undo many of the biggest reforms that emergency managers have put in place in the district during the last four years. Perhaps the worst of these decisions (so far!) was voiding the contract that emergency manager Roy Roberts forged last year with the state’s fledgling Education Achievement Authority, a recovery district modeled on Louisiana’s and run out of Eastern Michigan University. The EAA had taken possession of the lowest-achieving schools in Detroit (and has been praised by Arne Duncan), but it remained an inter-local agreement between the university and the school district. The Detroit school board, which one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence,” now wants to take those schools back under its fold. Eastern Michigan has vowed to fight, but it’s hard to see how kids will benefit from this custody battle if the state doesn’t codify the recovery district into law. Two bills were introduced recently...

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a top-notch group of entities that are serious about sponsoring quality charter schools, issued a call this week for authorizers and state laws to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great new ones. They call it the One Million Lives campaign.

At the kickoff, NACSA President Greg Richmond said, “In some places, accountability unfortunately has been part of the charter model in name only. If charters are going to succeed in helping improve public education, accountability must go from being rhetoric to reality.” He then called for a policy agenda aimed at achieving both smarter growth and stronger accountability in these ways:

  • Establishing strong statewide authorizers that promote both high-quality growth and accountability,
  • Writing into law standards for authorizers that are based on NACSA’s excellent Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing,
  • Placing performance expectations for charter renewal into state law,
  • Empowering authorizers to close schools that fail to meet the expectations set in their charter contracts,
  • Holding authorizers accountable for the performance of their schools and their authorizing practices, and
  • Creating automatic school closure laws that make it impossible for education failure to persist forever.


Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch, the education-reform movement's "explosive turncoat."
Photo by OHSchoolBoards on Flickr.

Diane Ravitch, the education-reform movement’s explosive turncoat, has singled out Checker Finn’s recent dissent from for-profit school models for adulation with a blog entitled, “Checker Finn Opposes the For-Profit Model in Education.” We can quibble about whether Checker’s comment means he opposes the for-profit model (he is more than capable of defending himself on that score), but it is true that in Fordham’s recent report “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: The Edison Story in Dayton,” Checker says, “Shareholder return ends up trumping the best interests of students…Most of the models I admire today are run by non-profit groups.”

I don’t find that quite so newsworthy as the fact that Ravitch extols the Fordham Institute, which she helped found, for “showing other advocacy groups what it means to be transparent and self-critical and honest.” That may be damning with faint praise, especially in the reformation-like context in which Diane has nailed her complaints to the church...

Parker Baxter

Last week, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) launched “One Million Lives,” a multi-pronged campaign to provide better schools to one million children by closing failing charter schools and opening many more good ones. 

It might seem odd that an organization that supports charter schools would call for the closure of hundreds of them. But it’s not. It makes perfect sense.

At the heart of the charter school concept is a bargain between schools and the entities that authorize them. Charter schools agree to accept greater accountability, including the possibility of closure, in exchange for greater freedom from bureaucratic rules that can inhibit effective teaching and learning. Charters receive autonomy over inputs in exchange for accountability for outcomes.

The surest way to cripple the charter movement is to let failing charter schools continue to operate.

The possibility of closure is essential to making the charter school bargain work. It is not a coincidence that where charters are working well, the threat of closure is real—and that where they are not, closure is rare. If closure isn’t a real possibility, the charter bargain is out of balance. When the link between autonomy and accountability is broken, quality...

The Louisiana Constitution allows lawmakers more freedom to design public education than its school boards and teacher unions would have us believe. So it’s no surprise that what is “public” today includes a largely charter school system in New Orleans, four publicly funded private-school-choice programs, a recovery school district, and the emergence of online charter schools.

The consolation for the families who opted for school choice is that this was always going to be decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court

That’s why it was frustrating to see a state judge declare late Friday that Louisiana’s newest and largest voucher program is illegal because it diverts “vital public dollars” to private schools. According to Judge Timothy Kelley, the state was wrong to fund its new voucher program by the same revenue stream that provides a “minimum foundation” to its public elementary and secondary schools.

That was the same argument put forward by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association when they sued to abolish the voucher program, which presently serves nearly 5,000 children in 113 private schools.

But what is the difference between privately operated charter schools and private schools accepting voucher-bearing students if each are...

Paul Basken
Diverse Schools Dilemma
The Diverse Schools Dilemma is a well-reasoned exploration of the topics of education, race, and demographics.

Mike did a great job with his new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma.

I was raised in a close-in Boston suburb, at a time when Judge Arthur Garrity turned everything upside down with his forced busing order. J. Anthony Lukas helped make that dilemma of school integration personal through his Pulitzer-winning masterpiece, Common Ground. A generation later, Mike has made the story practical by walking the reader through his own hands-on exploration of what school integration really means for a parent seeking the best both for his child and his wider society.

I now have two kids of my own and live in the D.C. area, so my wife and I essentially went through much of what Mike and his wife did in trying to make a local school choice that could provide both diversity and top-quality education. We, in fact, looked at some of the very same schools and...

The most misleading statistic in American education is the fact that just 4 percent of American children attend charter schools. A blip, this is! A rounding error! Totally insignificant!

What the national figure hides is the immense variation in charter school “market share” (or “penetration,” if you prefer) in cities around the nation—ranging from 0 percent in Seattle to 76 percent in New Orleans.

But a picture is worth a thousand words. Here, courtesy of a recent report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, is charter-school enrollment as a percentage of total public school enrollment, calculated by district. (The bigger the dot, the bigger the charter-school market share.)

NAPCS 2012 Market Share Map
Charter-school market share: The bigger the dot, the larger the percentage of charter enrollment.
Data from NAPCS study.

A few things are noteworthy:

  • At least when it comes to market share, charter schools are only a big deal in the Eastern half of the country. That’s surprising, as so much of the “entrepreneurial”
  • ...

We’re choosy

Mike and Adam celebrate school-choice victories in New Jersey and Race to the Top and worry about the battles ahead. Amber ponders state-mandated special-ed enrollment targets.

Amber's Research Minute

New York State Special Education Enrollment Analysis by CRPE - Download PDF

Jeb Bush at summit of Foundation for Excellence in Education
Jeb Bush pushed hard for putting the interests of children first.
Photo by Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images

I don’t know whether his hat is edging into the 2016 presidential election ring, but I do know that Jeb Bush gave a heck of an education keynote on Tuesday morning at the national summit convened in Washington by his Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education.

At this annual bipartisan-but-predominantly-Republican soiree aimed at state legislators and other key ed-policy decision makers—this year’s was by far the largest and grandest of the five they’ve held so far—Bush pushed hard for putting the interests of children first and did so in language plainly intended to appeal across party lines. A later session, which I had the pleasure of “moderating,” brought much the same message from John Podesta of the Center for American Progress. Though nobody expects Podesta to vote Bush for president (or...

The new teacher contract in Newark has rightfully caused widespread celebration. It has earned praise from New Jersey’s governor and education commissioner, Newark’s mayor and superintendent, local and national labor leaders, and many others. There seems to be a consensus that a new day has dawned for public education in this troubled city.

    Chris Christie
    Gov. Chris Christie has shown that he is committed to helping Newark schools improve.
    Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The history of urban school improvement efforts suggests, however, that we ought to temper our enthusiasm. The roadside is littered with much-ballyhooed but ultimately unsuccessful attempts to fix failing inner-city schools.

But if reform leaders are willing to exploit the opportunity that lurks in the Newark contract, this could turn out to be a pivot point in the nation’s decades-long effort to reform urban schooling.

This contract is an enormous improvement over its predecessors: It reforms compensation by prioritizing effectiveness instead of seniority. It speeds the implementation of improved...