Charters & Choice

The purpose of my last post was to suggest that those frustrated with school “accountability” should consider the structural elements that gave rise to our present accountability systems. My argument was that if we want to fundamentally change the way we assess public schools, we may need to change the way we deliver public education.

I tried to make the case that our historical reliance on one school provider per geographic area forced policy makers to create accountability systems that had certain inescapable characteristics (e.g., treating schools as interchangeable, using narrow performance measures). My argument here is that a “diverse provider” environment (where an area has an array of operators running an array of schools) allows for a very different kind of accountability system.

Fortunately, this conversation needn’t be hypothetical; chartering has given us real-world examples of geographies that fit the diverse provider bill. I think this experience offers at least five big lessons about what accountability can look like in this different environment.

First, chartering entered public education after a century of the district system. That meant that wherever charter schools emerged, there was already a district. Accordingly, a charter school has always been an “extra”—a choice-based alternative to existing...

Max Eden

Editor's note: This is the fourth entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Earlier posts can be found herehere, and here.

Secretary John King’s remarks at the national charter school conference last week encouraging charters to rethink discipline were fair and balanced. But the assumptions that often attend them are not. Charter school leaders, authorizers, and advocates should pay heed to King’s words but should not uncritically submit to the subtext.

King said,

Discipline is a nuanced and complicated issue….I am not here to offer any hard-and-fast rules or directives; but I believe the goal for all schools should be to create a school culture that motivates students to want to do their best, to support their classmates and to give back to their community, and to communicate to our students and educators in ways big and small that their potential is unlimited."

These words were measured and responsible, but the public debate on school discipline has been anything but. To many reporters, wonks, and staffers in King’s Office for Civil Rights, the issue is fairly straightforward: Too many students are being suspended, in both public and charter schools, and we must do something about...

Carrie Irvin

Editor's note: This is the third entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Earlier posts can be found here and here.

The charter sector, and its pundits and opinionators, are right to train our focus on the issue of out-of-school student suspension, which is fundamental to whether public charter schools are providing the best possible education to their students. But there is an important piece of this issue not being talked about enough: the role of charter school boards. The recent blog I co-wrote with Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, deputy director of the DC PCSB (the sole charter authorizer in Washington, D.C.), highlights how important it is that boards understand and actively engage in oversight of exclusionary discipline. After all, charter school boards are ultimately accountable for school operations and performance, including issues surrounding discipline.

Charter school board members are volunteers tasked with tremendous responsibility, and they need help, training, information, and support to build knowledge about this issue. It’s complicated and hard stuff; all of us involved in this discussion (who think about education professionally) are wrestling with it, so imagine how tough it is for volunteer board members. Yet that is where a huge share of accountability in the charter sector lies....

Eighteen months ago, Ohio proved it was finally serious about cleaning up its charter sector, with Governor Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly placing sponsors (a.k.a. authorizers) at the center of a massive charter law overhaul. The effort aimed to hold Ohio’s sixty-plus authorizers more accountable—a strategy based on incentives to spur behavioral change among the gatekeepers of charter school quality. Poorly performing sponsors would be penalized, putting a stop to the fly-by-night, ill-vetted schools that gave a huge black eye to the sector and harmed students. Under House Bill 2, high-performing sponsors would be rewarded, which would encourage authorizing best practices and improve the likelihood of greater quality control during all phases of a charter’s life cycle (start-up, renewal, closure).

While the conceptual framework for these sponsor-centric reforms is now toddler-aged, the actual reforms are still in their infancy. (House Bill 2 went into effect in February of this year, and the earlier enacted but only recently implemented sponsor evaluation is just now getting off the ground.) Even so, just five months in, HB 2 and the comprehensive sponsor evaluation system are having an impact. Eleven schools were not renewed by their sponsors,...

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
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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.” 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
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