Charters & Choice

This is the fourth in a series of essays marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of America’s first charter school law. These commentaries are informed and inspired by our forthcoming book (co-authored with Bruno V. Manno), Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities, to be published this fall by Harvard Education Press. Read the other essays herehere, here, and here.

Our first essay paid homage to chartering’s origins, a prominent strand of which was the mounting awareness that K–12 education’s “one best system” was not meeting the educational needs of every child. One response, via the policy mechanism that became known as “chartering,” was to create a lightly regulated marketplace of diverse and generally autonomous schools that would strive to ensure high-quality education for all children—especially boys and girls in poverty—and empower families to determine what school best suits their singular needs. That was the theory, and a noble one it was. If only it had worked as well as its architects hoped.

In general, the charter marketplace—where it’s had the freedom and capacity to grow in response to demand—has done pretty well at responding to families’ non-educational priorities, such as safety, convenience, and a welcoming atmosphere....

Susan Aud Pendergrass

A high school diploma is a critical marker in the transition to adulthood that affects labor participation, social mobility, and opportunities for success. The good news is that high school graduation rates reached an all-time high of 82 percent in spring 2014. The overall graduation rate for charter public schools, however, fell short of that number by ten points. We know that charter schools have unique characteristics that occasionally don’t hold up well under cursory examination, and when we take a closer look, we find that there is actually a lot of good news about charter school high school graduation rates.

In 2010, America’s Promise launched the GradNation campaign in an effort to raise the percentage of high school students who graduate with a regular high school diploma in four years to more than 90 percent. As part of their campaign, the group publishes an annual report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, focusing both on schools that have reached that 90 percent threshold and those that graduate 67 percent or fewer of their students on time (once referred to as “dropout factories”). We analyzed the same data to examine these two thresholds for...

William Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, is the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate, running alongside Gary Johnson. The duo will face off in November against Republican Party's Donald Trump and Mike Pence and Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Here are some of Weld’s views on education.

  1. Common Core: “The Common Core proposes that we go to informational texts rather than literature, that we cut back on useless appendages like Dickens and Wharton and Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain in exchange for global awareness and media literacy, cross-cultural flexibility and adaptability. These are our new standards. I don’t know about no more Little Dorrit, no more Dombey and Son, no more Ethan Frome, no more Study in Scarlet, no more Speckled Band, no more Hound of the Baskervilles, not even The League of Red-Headed Men—not to mention Huckleberry Finn, the greatest American novel. So I’m not so sure about the Common Core approach to things. It kind of looks to me like an apology for muddleheaded mediocrity.” June 2013.
  2. Common Core, part 2: “My suggestion to [Massachusetts] Governor Patrick and the leadership would be: By all means, adopt the Common Core lock, stock, and barrel, and just add the MCAS and all our standards and all our
  3. ...

This week Ohio Auditor Dave Yost visited United Preparatory Academy (UPrep), a high-performing elementary charter school in the Franklinton neighborhood of Columbus. UPrep is part of the United Schools Network of charter schools whose middle schools and CEO, Andy Boy, were profiled recently by the Columbus Dispatch (“Charter school producing hoped-for results” and “Charter school stands out”).

The middle schools serve students who are over 95 percent and 82 percent economically disadvantaged, respectively; yet eighth graders at both middle school campuses outscored statewide averages for both reading and math proficiency by margins that the Dispatch calls “eye-popping.” UPrep serves students in grades K–2 and will be expanding to the third grade in the fall (and eventually up to fifth grade).

Auditor Yost toured the UPrep campus and visited classrooms. He also met with Andy Boy, who described the network’s future plans, the challenge of securing school facilities, and the overall impact that the schools have made on student outcomes as well as the neighborhoods in which they are located.

“Charter schools are accustomed to doing more with less. In the case of United Preparatory Academy, they’re doing a lot more with...

This is the third in a series of essays marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of America’s first charter school law. These commentaries are informed and inspired by our forthcoming book (co-authored with Bruno V. Manno), Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities, to be published in this fall by Harvard Education Press. Read the others here, here, here, here.

As noted in our first essay, chartering evolved from many theories, responded to many needs, sought to solve many problems, and embodied many hopes. These diverse tributaries flooded the charter stream with an abundance of different life forms. Yet one species has emerged at the top of the food chain, and its prominence has brought some risk to the ecosystem.

Charter schools today primarily serve poor and minority children, the kids who typically fare worst in big district school systems. Many state charter laws give priority to schools focused on at-risk students. Some states confine chartering to urban areas. And disadvantaged families typically enjoy fewer excellent school options, so they are more apt to choose charters when possible.

The “no-excuses” model has emerged as the most effective strategy for giving these kids a fresh lease...

[T]here are a myriad of strategies out there that ostensibly can make a difference for our children, but no matter which ones we pursue, their potential impact will be diminished if we do not find ways to empower poor parents to be able to exercise influence on the nature and direction of their children’s education. For me, the height of hypocrisy in America is to hear people whose children are taken care of, to oppose choices for poor parents.…I hear Clinton and Gore and all these people get up, talking about why we got to protect the existing system. Where do they send their kids? How can a teacher tell a poor parent, “I would never put my child in this school that your child is in, but you ought to keep your child here”? If it’s not good enough for their children, how in the world is it good enough for anybody’s children?

            –Howard Fuller, 1998

Howard Fuller’s famous, inaugural “Change the Complexion of the Room" speech was delivered on the occasion of the Center for Education Reform’s (CER) fifth anniversary. I had invited Howard precisely because I thought he’d “school” the growing education reform movement about why they...

Derrell Bradford

You can only watch a dragon eat its tail for so long before you feel compelled to intervene.

As I’ve watched the education community react to Robert Pondiscio’s argument that the Left is driving conservatives out of education reform, I’ve been increasingly frustrated to see so many people whom I like and respect (from Marilyn Rhames to Justin CohenChris Stewart, and Jay Greene) take aim at one another. I’m also convinced that the teachers’ unions are all having a good laugh at us while we play this verbal game of the Dozens amongst ourselves.

At the center of this conflict: A dividing line is being drawn between “markets” and “equity” as principles driving change in our schools. These two themes are both found in the underlying conflict of Pondiscio’s piece about the contrast between market/conservative solutions like school choice and the power of a movement like Black Lives Matter (with which the more progressive wing of the reform movement identifies).

I believe that Pondiscio’s piece only featured Black Lives Matter and the agenda of this year’s New Schools Venture Fund Summit (which I attended) as a proxy for capturing the changing view and face of the education...

Gary Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico, is the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee. He’ll face off (with running mate William Weld) in November against the Republican Party's Donald Trump and Mike Pence and the Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Here are some of his views on education:

  1. School choice: “I think I was more outspoken than any governor in the country regarding school choice—believing that the only way to really reform education was to bring competition to public education. So for six straight years as governor of New Mexico, I proposed a full-blown voucher system that would’ve brought about that competition.” August 2012.
  2. Federal role in education: “I think that the number-one thing that the federal government could do when it comes to the delivery of education would be to abolish itself from the education business….It’s also important to point out that the federal Department of Education was established in 1979. And there is nothing to suggest that, since 1979, that the federal Department of Education has been value-added regarding anything. So just get the federal government out of education.” August 2012.
  3. Common Core: “[Gary Johnson] opposes Common Core and any other attempts to impose national standards and requirements
  4. ...
Terry Ryan

I was the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s point person in Ohio for twelve years. I never met Robert Pondiscio but have followed his writing since leaving Fordham in 2013. I am also a former New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) Pahara fellow (class of 2008). Pondiscio’s piece, “The Left’s drive to push conservatives out of education reform,” has triggered an important conversation about race, power, politics, and school reform.

I was the only Republican in my cohort of Pahara fellows, which included the likes of progressive education leaders John King, Cami Anderson, and Andy Rotherham. I had philosophical disagreements with some of my New Schools colleagues, and I wasn’t nearly as excited about the election of President Barack Obama back in 2008 as they were. But every single one of my NSVF friends treated me and my opinions with respect. What’s more, they actually wanted to hear what I had to say.  

I attended the New Schools Venture Fund Conference in California that was at the center of Pondiscio’s piece. My take is different from his. I was less offended by the “push” of the political Left than I was disappointed by how voiceless the conservative ideas around...

Like much of Know Your Charter’s (KYC) charter school coverage, today’s report, “Belly Up: A Review of Federal Charter School Program Grants,” intentionally inflates the failures of Ohio’s charter sector, makes misleading performance comparisons, and falls short on providing comprehensive facts. The report reviews Ohio’s track record with the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant. Last year, Ohio was selected to win another CSP grant worth $71 million—money that is essential to help high-performing charter schools expand. The grant is currently on hold while federal officials review Ohio’s revised application, and its loss would deny Ohio’s high-quality charters much-needed resources.

“The CSP grant may represent the best way to improve Ohio’s charter sector, as it allows the state to replicate top performers and gives a competitive advantage to schools making a difference for students,” said Chad L. Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “We agree with Know Your Charter on at least one thing: federal grant dollars should be spent on replicating success. If we don’t—and that’s what will happen if Ohio loses the current grant—we can almost certainly count on Ohio’s charter sector being worse over the long haul.”

“Belly...

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