Charters & Choice

Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) epitomizes the relentlessness and vision necessary to close achievement gaps in urban education. Started in the basement of a church with 57 students in 2008, CCA evolved into one of the city’s top-performing middle schools. It earned national awards for the gains achieved by students who are overwhelmingly disadvantaged, and grew into a network of schools serving 600 students. I visited CCA in its original location in 2009. Despite its unassuming surroundings, I knew right away this school was different. It was the type of place that inspires you the moment you step through the door. Its hallways echoed with the sound of students engaged in learning. College banners and motivational posters reminded students—and visitors—of why they were there. Teachers buzzed with energy, motivated by a combination of urgency and optimism—all students can and will learn. Its founder and visionary leader, Andrew Boy, spoke deliberately and matter of factly about the success CCA would help each student achieve. He...

Today, the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission announced eight winners in the state’s inaugural round of funding to charter schools to purchase, construct, or renovate classroom facilities. The $25 million competitive grant was created through last year’s budget bill (HB 64) to enable high-performing charter schools to access funds for growth and expansion, and ultimately serve more students in Ohio’s neediest communities. Nineteen charter schools and eleven charter networks were eligible for the award, and thirteen applications were submitted. The winners are as follows:

The announcement can be found here.

The winners include two Fordham-authorized charter schools/networks, DECA Prep in Dayton and the United Schools Network (USN) in Columbus. Fordham’s Vice President for Sponsorship and Dayton Initiatives, Kathryn Mullen Upton, said, “We are thrilled that DECA Prep and United Schools have secured much-deserved facilities dollars. Families and students in some of Dayton’s and Columbus’ most challenged communities who will have new school opportunities are the true winners.”

Ohio’s public charter schools receive, on average, 28 percent fewer taxpayer dollars (federal, state, and local combined) than do traditional public schools. These inequities are exacerbated by the...

Charter school performance is a mixed bag: some charters outdo their neighborhood district schools, others show no difference, and some do worse. A new Mathematica meta-analysis attempts to identify the characteristics common to each of these groups. What, in other words, makes a high-performing charter schools so effective?

As author Phillip Gleason notes, it is difficult to carry out studies of this nature. Much of the data are based on observation, so determining causation is essentially impossible. Observation also takes time and costs money, which usually necessitates small sample sizes. And many of the “practices” being studied are abstract concepts, such as principal quality, that are difficult to measure quantitatively and objectively.

To mitigate these impediments, Gleason compiled seven studies that used different methods—including observational study, survey administration, and lottery-based designs (comparing students who won a spot via charter lotteries to those who did not)—to study charters schools around the country. The sample sizes in each of these studies range from twenty-nine to seventy-six schools.  

Three charter characteristics were found to be linked to high student achievement in many studies (therefore showing a ‘strong association,” according to Gleason—a term he never defines quantitatively): longer school days and/or school years; a...

Catherine Worth

During my tenure as a teacher, I would inevitably listen to at least one of my colleagues explain their decision to leave the classroom at the end of each school year. When explaining their choice to throw in the towel, novice and veteran teachers alike would cite reasons along the lines of “This work is just too hard” or “I’m burned out and can’t do it anymore.” These teachers became part of a statistic we hear about often—the teacher turnover rate. Eventually, I joined them myself. Yet if my three years of teaching in a high-performing, majority-minority, urban charter school taught me anything, it’s that this revolving door can be a positive thing for schools and their students.

Teacher turnover is a buzzy concept typically used in conversations regarding school effectiveness and the issues plaguing urban schools. The 2012–13 Teacher Follow-up Survey to the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), commissioned by the National Center for Education and Statistics (NCES), found that 15.7 percent of public school teachers either moved schools or left the profession between 2011–12 and 2012–13. In charter schools, this number is slightly higher at 18.4 percent. Despite this meager difference, charter schools typically receive the most flack when...

The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) has produced a “toolkit” to provide charter schools with alternative systems of discipline that—the authors claim—will foster positive school environments.

The report begins by reviewing more punitive disciplinary practices (e.g., suspension and expulsion) and noting that they are correlated with poor student outcomes. (They make no claim of causality.) They then assert that charters have higher rates of out-of-school suspensions than traditional public schools (a somewhat misleading claim; more on that below) and that these punishments are disproportionately felt by students of color, those with disabilities, and those identifying as LGBTQ.

The toolkit goes on to outline five rather self-evident “enabling factors” for charter schools undertaking discipline reform, such as a deep dive into behavior data to target areas for improvement and the development of alternative discipline models based on schools’ needs. It also describes some non-traditional systems of discipline—such as restorative practices (relationship building), structural interventions, “emotional literacy,” and culturally-responsive approaches—and provides sample practices and evidence of prior implementation.

The toolkit identifies possible benefits of discipline models that forego exclusionary practices, but it doesn’t begin to present a comprehensive picture of today’s policy discussions regarding charter school discipline. For example, Fordham President...

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously quipped, but they are not entitled to their own facts. This idea animates "The Learning Landscape," a new, accessible, and engaging effort by Bellwether Education Partners to ground contemporary education debates in, well, facts.

A robust document, it’s divided into six “chapters” on student achievement; accountability, standards, and assessment; school finance; teacher effectiveness; charter schools; and philanthropy in K–12 education. Data on these topics can be found elsewhere, of course. Where this report shines is in offering critical context behind current debates, and doing so in an admirably even-handed fashion. For example, the section on charter schools tracks the sector’s growth and student demographics and offers state-by-state data on charter school adoption and market share (among many other topics). But it also takes a clear-eyed look at for-profit operators, the mixed performance of charters, and other thorny issues weighing on charter effectiveness. (Online charters are a hot-button topic that could have used more discussion). Sidebars on “Why Some Charters Fail” and case studies on issues facing individual cities lend the report heft and authority, along with discussions on authorizing, accountability, and funding. In similar fashion, the chapter on standards and...

Dear Mark and Priscilla,

Please allow an aging education reformer to offer some unsolicited advice regarding the work of the new Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Almost twenty years ago, I wrote a long public letter to Bill Gates that drew lessons from earlier philanthropic efforts in K–12 education—including many billions of dollars wasted by the likes of Ford, Rockefeller, and Annenberg. In it, I offered suggestions for the most useful work that the then-new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation might do in this realm, particularly by advancing the (also new) concept of charter schools.

In fact, Gates has done—and continues to do—good work in the charter sector. Much of what his foundation has undertaken in the K–12 realm, however, has fallen prey to the classic temptation to try to reform school districts. You—Mark—apparently succumbed to that same temptation when you committed $100 million to the renewal of public education in Newark, by way of both district and charter schools. Smart fellow that you are, you’ve acknowledged that the charter part of this generous gift has done some good (whereas the district part, not so much). You’ve probably read Dale Russakoff’s provocative book about what went wrong in Newark; she notes that you...

The virtual charter school edition

On this week’s podcast, Alyssa Schwenk and Dara Zeehandelaar discuss Fordham’s new study of Ohio’s virtual charter schools. During the research minute, Amber Northern examines the effects of school closures in New York City.

Amber's Research Minute

James J. Kemple, "School Closures in New York," Education Next (August 2016).

A major development of recent years has been the explosive growth of online learning in K–12 education. Sometimes it takes the form of “blended learning,” with students receiving a mix of online and face-to-face instruction. Students may also learn via web-based resources like the Khan Academy, or by enrolling in distance-learning “independent study” courses. In addition, an increasing number of pupils are taking the plunge into fully online schools: In 2015, an estimated 275,000 students enrolled in full-time virtual charter schools across twenty-five states.

The Internet has obviously opened a new frontier of instructional possibilities. Much less certain is whether such opportunities are actually improving achievement, especially for the types of students who enroll in virtual schools. In Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio's Virtual Charter Schools, we at Fordham examined this issue using data from our home state of Ohio, where online charter schools (“e-schools”) are a rapidly growing segment of K–12 education. Today they enroll more than thirty-five thousand students, one of the country’s largest populations of full-time online students. Ohio e-school enrollment has grown 60 percent over the last four years, a rate greater than any other type of public school. But even since they launched, e-schools...

It used to be that when people talked about urban school success stories, Catholic schools were at the center of the discussion. Twenty years ago, Cardinal John O’Connor, then archbishop of New York, all but dared public school leaders to send their hardest-to-teach students to archdiocesan schools. “Send me the lowest-performing 5 percent of children presently in the public schools,” O’Connor declared, “and I will put them in Catholic schools—where they will succeed.”

Such was the audacity of urban Catholic school leaders back then. We were confident. Our schools routinely outperformed neighborhood public schools. Our results were stronger—and longer-lasting—and our success came at a bargain price.In fact, it was the historic success of urban Catholic schools that fed the reform movement in general and the charter school movement in particular. Catholic schools were proving what was possible, and entrepreneurial young education leaders were quick to seize the opportunity to do the same in the public sector.

Over the past two decades, that confident leadership has been shaken by declining enrollment and financial struggles. Some in the reform sector and elsewhere have even taken to writing off urban Catholic schools as a relic of a bygone day.

At the same time, efforts from...