Charters & Choice

The March Madness edition

In this week’s podcast, Alyssa Schwenk and Brandon Wright discuss Washington State’s new charter school bill, John Kasich’s education record, and the use of on-topic streaming video in classrooms. In the Research Minute, David Griffith explains the benefits of grouping high-IQ kids with high-achievers.

Amber's Research Minute

David Card and Laura Giuliano, "Can Tracking Raise the Test Scores of High-Ability Minority Students?" NBER (March 2016).

Last week, we noted the departure of New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, essentially the face of the state’s rushed reform efforts over the past five years. This week, we learned who will step into the big chair, and the news isn’t wholly reassuring. Betty Rosa, the former Bronx principal and superintendent who is replacing Tisch, is the hand-picked choice of Common Core foes and a veteran of the testing wars. After winning a unanimous 15-0 confirmation vote, she announced that, were she a parent instead of a regent, she would choose to opt her own children out of state tests. That’s a potentially harmful claim in a state where 20 percent of eligible students were kept from participating in the assessments last year. The Tisch-Cuomo team certainly wasn’t a blameless player in the Common Core saga; the former chancellor has herself acknowledged the error in linking the brand-new tests to teacher evaluations, which led to an uproar among the state’s unionized instructors. But swinging too far to the other extreme by undercutting the standards won’t bring the city’s schools any closer to the accountability they desperately need.

You have to wonder how many times...

National news outlets including SlatePoliticoEsquire, and the Washington Post have predicted that charter schools might be a growing thorn in Governor John Kasich’s side as he competes for the Republican presidential nomination. Kasich is being criticized for the overall poor performance of Ohio’s charter school sector, as well as for last year’s scandal over authorizer evaluations and its aftermath (including a hold placed on Ohio’s $71 million federal Charter School Program grant).

But by calling charters Kasich’s “little problem back home”—or, more boldly, claiming that his track record with them is “terrible”—national reporters are missing big pieces of the story. If these journalists had dug a little deeper, they would have realized that Kasich mostly deserves praise, not scorn, for the steps he’s taken to improve Ohio charter schools. In fact, any real examination of the candidate’s record on charters would reveal that no Ohio governor has worked harder to strengthen oversight of the charter school sector.

Kasich inherited a charter sector that was notorious for conflicts of interest, regulatory loopholes, self-dealing, and domination by powerful special interests. The mediocre performance of Ohio’s charter sector precedes Kasich’s tenure as well: CREDO’s 2009 charter study rated Ohio among the lowest-performing states.

In his first year in...

  • Merryl Tisch, who is stepping down as chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents, gave a valedictory interview to the New York Times last week. As head of one of the foremost educational authorities in the state, she will principally be remembered for championing and helping implement the Common Core State Standards and a new teacher evaluation system alongside New York State Education Commissioner John King (confirmed Monday as secretary of education). Her efforts led to some necessary improvements in curriculum and instruction across the state, but they didn’t come without a backlash: Roughly one-fifth of all eligible students were kept out of the new tests by their parents last spring, and unions revolted over the Regents’ recommendation to link teacher evaluations to student scores. Now, with Governor Andrew Cuomo backing slowly away from that notion and an opt-out favorite in line to replace Tisch as chancellor, the movement for high standards looks like it’s undergoing a reset in the Empire State. It’s up to both local leaders and national reformers to make sure that new players don’t change matters for the worse.
  • You may be wondering why, after many months and approximately eight thousand primary
  • ...

The Aristotle edition

In this week’s podcast, Mike Petrilli welcomes guest host Dan Scoggin, founder of Great Hearts Academies charter schools. They discuss whether Senator Bernie Sanders misunderstands how charter schools function, how schools like Great Hearts can serve students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and what the U.S. Department of Education might look like if Ben Carson were Secretary. In the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the long term effects of disruptive peers in American classrooms.

Amber's Research Minute

Scott E. Carrell, Mark Hoekstra, and Elira Kuka, "The Long-Run Effects of Disruptive Peers," NBER (February 2016).

Here’s the speech I wish Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser would give:

Our great city has a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We have the nation’s best urban superintendent. We have a very high-performing charter sector—just named the healthiest in the nation!—that now serves nearly half of the city’s kids. Our parents, kids, educators, and citizens should be proud.

But public education in our city is also facing a number of systemic challenges: DCPS asks why it can’t function with the same freedoms as the charter sector. Charters ask why DCPS doesn’t have to get an authorizer’s approval to start new schools—and why district schools aren’t held accountable like charters. DCPS says it’s unfair that it has to serve as the educator of last resort for all city kids, while charters can choose not to backfill or take mid-year transfers. Charters say it’s unfair that DCPS gets to control all of the school facilities and gets more per-pupil funding.

These challenges may seem too many and too daunting. But they’re all components of a single issue: We have two sectors, scores of operators, and hundreds of campuses, but we don’t have a comprehensive, coherent system of schools.

The good news is that we have the...

A new report by the National Charter School Resource Center examines the unique position of rural charter schools across America.

Citing a lack of research on the subject, as well as the demand for more examples of successful practice, the authors identify some of the unique difficulties that rural charter schools face: attracting and holding onto diverse local talent, paying to transport students over large distances, and maintaining and securing school facilities.

These challenges are often more acute for rural charter schools than their urban counterparts. There are hidden costs to teachers living and working in rural areas, such as a lack of suitable housing, professional growth opportunities, and good transportation. Providing transportation to students in areas with few alternative options may be prohibitively expensive. Simply locating appropriate buildings in which to operate a charter school is usually easier in an urban environment, where disused structures are more frequently available. When rural charters need to construct their own, costs rise exponentially.

Using examples in five states, the authors showcase a handful of rural charters that have overcome this adversity by using their position to their advantage.

  • Having struggled to retain good staff, the remote Upper Carmen Charter School in Idaho
  • ...

A new set of four studies conducted by Pat Wolf and colleagues evaluate various aspects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program. The program, it’s important to note, prohibits participating schools from using their normal selective admissions process for their voucher kids and also mandates that they administer the state test, among other requirements.

The first study examines how the scholarships affect student achievement. It focuses on the 2012–13 applicant cohort, including those who took state tests in grades 3–6 in school year 2011–12. This provides student baseline scores for kids before entering the program. Students who applied to oversubscribed schools were randomly chosen to receive scholarships. The study found that the voucher program had a negative impact on participating students’ achievement in the first two years of operations, most clearly in math. Specifically, a voucher user who was performing at the fiftieth percentile at baseline fell twenty-four percentile points below their control group peers in math after one year. By year two, however, they were thirteen percentile points below, so at least they were on the upswing. (The results for reading impact can’t be presented with confidence.)

The second study measured the impact of the voucher programs on non-cognitive skills like...

If you’re at all interested in Washington, D.C. schools, you should read this excellent report by David Osborne. It serves as a quick and comprehensive history lesson on the city’s last two decades of reform. It also offers valuable analysis of the current state of play and makes a compelling argument about why things landed where they did.

But I think the report’s most valuable contribution is the implicit question it raises about the future. That question—related to the evolution of urban K–12 systems with district and non-district charter sectors—is being faced by cities from coast to coast. How the District (and other places) answers it will shape the next decade of urban school reform. In fact, because of D.C.’s work over the last twenty years and its strong leadership today, it could become the nation’s most important city for systemic reform.

Much of the report proceeds chronologically. If you know nothing about the recent history of D.C. schools, this is a great primer. But even if you’re familiar with the city, you’ll gain a new appreciation for how events and initiatives built on one another. There are many interrelated storylines: turnover in city government, shifting demographics, the creation of...

Editor's note: This post was first published on Flypaper on July 21, 2015.

John Kasich announced today that he’s running for president. The current governor of Ohio is the sixteenth Republican to join the crowded GOP primary, dwarfing the five-person field on the other side of the aisle. He’s also the twenty-first subject of our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Kasich entered politics in the late 1970s, when he was elected to the Ohio Senate. He moved on to the House of Representatives in 1983, representing the state’s Twelfth Congressional District until 2001. After taking a break from public life, he returned to take Ohio’s helm in 2011. During his time as the state’s sixty-ninth governor, Kasich has made education a priority, and his efforts have produced some positive results. Here’s a sampling of his views:

1. Common Core: “[The idea behind the standards was for] students in every state to be given the opportunity to compete with every other student….I want kids to jump higher….I’m going to make sure, at least in my state, that standards are high and local control is maintained….Now, some may call that Common Core. I...

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