Charters & Choice

Six days after the election, and by a miniscule margin, Washington State became the forty-second state to allow charter schools. Charter advocates and operators will have plenty of work ahead if they want to convince such a polarized electorate (which rejected charters thrice before) that the forty schools they’re now permitted to open will add quality and innovation to the state’s public school landscape. The battle is won, but the war will continue.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) has released the preliminary findings of their study on the impact of the GreatSchools program in D.C. and Milwaukee—and the news is good! The GreatSchools program runs an online search engine to help parents discover their children’s schooling options. The programs in the two cities studied went further, providing in-person parent training to supplement the materials. CEPA found that these programs successfully influenced parents to select higher-performing schools. Disseminating information, the goal of so many groups (ourselves included), is not always enough; groups that actively try to educate parents about their options should be lauded and replicated.

Mayor Bloomberg’s fiscal plan for...

As I write in my brand-new book The Diverse Schools Dilemma, gentrification has supplied us with the best opportunity in a generation to create socioeconomically-mixed public schools. But is that opportunity being seized? We know that lots of neighborhoods are gentrifying. But are demographic changes in communities leading to demographic changes in their schools?

To find out, I had Greg Hutko, our research intern, sift through national education data to pinpoint the ten public schools that have seen the biggest decrease in their share of poor students (defined as those eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch) over the past three years. Here’s what we found:

Fastest-gentrifying schools
The 10 fastest-gentrifying schools

What to think of this list? First, I was surprised that the two neighborhoods thought of as the Ground Zero of gentrification—D.C.’s Capitol Hill and NYC’s Brooklyn—didn’t have any schools make the cut. And it’s telling that suburban schools outnumber urban ones on the list. (As Atlantic Cities just reported, the suburbs are where you find...


For several years, in our role as charter school authorizer, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has worked closely and collaboratively with the governing authority (Alliance Community Schools) of the Dayton View and Dayton Liberty charter schools to encourage better results. After more than a decade of working together, the governing board fired the school’s operator, Edison Learning, at the end of the 2011-12 school year. At the start of this school year the management responsibilities for both buildings were turned over to a veteran Dayton educator and his management team. 

Because we believe there are many lessons to be drawn from this experience, we engaged veteran journalist Ellen Belcher to tell the story of these two schools and ongoing efforts to improve the education they provide some of Dayton’s neediest children. Ellen is an award-winning journalist and former editorial page editor of the Dayton Daily News, where she frequently wrote about education issues including those around charter schools.

Our task to Ellen was straightforward – talk to the board members (current and former), administrators, teachers, and parents involved in the two schools and find out their stories. Why, in their words, haven’t the schools lived up to their promise?...

Moving Up is The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's charter school sponsorship accountability report for 2011-2012. Through it, we hope to help readers understand the complexities of charter schools and better appreciate the hard work of teachers, school leaders and board members who are serving not only the schools we sponsor but also the schools around the state and nation that are working to make a difference in the lives of children who badly need it. This year's report features an in-depth look at the struggles of two Fordham-sponsored schools in Dayton, researched and written by former Dayton Daily Newsreporter and editor Ellen Belcher.

To read our full report, click on the image below:

Six days passed after Election Day before news outlets were comfortable reporting that Washington would be the 42nd state to allow charter schools. But a victory is a victory: 50.81 percent voters in the Evergreen State finally said yes to charter schools, after having said no three times before. What’s more, the measure succeeded in spite of the fact that the state’s largest county, which includes Seattle, rejected the initiative 52-48 percent. With such a polarized electorate, advocates and charter operators will have plenty of work ahead to assure voters—especially those in Seattle—that the forty schools they’re empowered to open over the next five years will add quality, innovation, and variety to a public-education landscape that has done little to accommodate a multiplicity of approaches. Given the fact that opponents to the initiative still hadn’t conceded defeat as of Monday night (there were still 237,000 votes to count statewide), and given the fact that supporters of the initiative outspent opponents by $10 million, that job won’t be easy.

"Moving Up" is The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's charter school sponsorship accountability report for 2011-12. Through it, we hope to help readers understand the complexities of charter schools and better appreciate the hard work of the teachers, school leaders, and board members who serve not only the schools we sponsor but also the schools around the state and nation that are working to make a difference in the lives of children. This year's report features an in-depth look at the struggles of two Fordham-sponsored schools in Dayton; it is researched and written by former Dayton Daily News reporter and editor Ellen Belcher.

Andy Smarick had all but completed this swell book when he was snapped up by Chris Christie and Chris Cerf to fill the Number 2 job in the New Jersey department of education, which he did with much success over the past two years. During this time the manuscript ripened. Now, as a partner at Bellwether Education Partners and a Bernard Lee Schwartz Senior Policy Fellow here at Fordham, he’s been able (swiftly, at that) to polish and publish it. Now in print, it’s even better than the original draft thanks to Smarick’s latest experiences in the trenches.

Smarick’s starting place is the irrefutable contention that yesterday’s urban school system is broken beyond repair and needs to be replaced by something radically different if today’s children are to be soundly educated. What he would replace it with is a version of a “portfolio district” headed by a mayor-appointed “chancellor.” So far it sounds like D.C. and New York, but Smarick goes notably farther in three directions: He really does mean that all the schools in the city, not just a subset, would be run, charter-style, by...

Diverse Schools Dilemma

Modern urban parents face a quandary: Will the public schools in their walkable, socioeconomically-diverse communities provide a strong education for their kids? Mike Petrilli sheds light on this question and more in his new book, recently profiled by the Washington Post and USA Today. Through the lens of his own effort to find a school for his sons, Petrilli takes the reader through the ins and outs of making one of the most important decisions a parent can make. Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews says, “Every parent who has struggled with choosing a school should read this book. It is deep, up-to-date, blessedly short and wonderfully personal.”

The book’s official publication date is today, November 13. It is available for purchase in print, as an Amazon Kindle eBook, and as a Barnes and Noble Nook eBook....

For those who can’t get enough of all things charters and choice, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has assembled the best commentary and analyses from Fordham’s Choice Words blog, as well as select items from Fordham’s popular (and sometimes irreverent) Education Gadfly Weekly, into a single monthly e-mail digest. The Charters & Choice Digest will guide readers through the triumphs, the quarrels, and the political foibles that accompany the growth of school choice and charter schools—and no cows will ever be sacred. Consider the contents of the inaugural issue: Election Day and the prospects of charter schools on both coasts of the country; Andy Smarick on the future of the urban school system; a charter school scandal and its implications for authorizers; and an exploration of how even “No Excuses” charters can improve. There will be essays, reviews of notable books and papers, and must-read stories on school choice nationwide. To sign up for the newsletter, visit here or send an e-mail to editor Adam Emerson, the director of the Fordham Institute’s program on parental choice....

Education reformers might be tempted to think they can claim victory in Michigan because voters overwhelmingly rejected a push from the teacher unions and others to engrave collective bargaining in the state constitution. Surely, the unions overreached here, but they won elsewhere on Election Day in the Wolverine State.

Education reform in Michigan suffered a crucial setback on Tuesday.

Or, more specifically, in Detroit, Highland Park, and Muskegon Heights—all of them school districts that have become educational wastelands and where the state had installed emergency managers to take control and (more importantly) to tear up union contracts to get the job done. In Highland Park and Muskegon Heights, that meant converting the school districts into charter-school districts. In Detroit, it meant keeping power out of the hands of a school board that one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence.”

This week, 53 percent of the state’s voters repealed the emergency-manager law, a victory for public-employee unions (teachers included, of course) that had spent the summer gathering signatures to put the question on the ballot. And that may unravel the boldest measures undertaken by these managers.

Detroit’s emergency chief, Roy Roberts, technically maintains...