Charters & Choice

After twenty years of charter schooling, the research literature is voluminous, but much of it is contradictory and confusing—not to mention politically motivated. With this in mind, Columbia University professor Priscilla Wohlstetter and her colleagues set out to separate the empirical wheat from the ideological chaff and review more than a decade of charter school literature to show how charters have progressed. While the authors can, through their synthesis of high-quality studies, tell us much about accountability (more schools close due to mismanagement than from their failure in the marketplace) and the unintended consequences of charters (re-segregation, but not widespread, and not unanticipated), the book is important especially for telling readers what we still don’t know about the charter sector. Consider the key issue of performance: Most charter research analyzes student achievement, but it generally consists of student snapshots and is devoid of the large-scale, random-control studies that are the gold standard. As a result, we’re left with contradictory evidence on how well charter students perform and inconclusive findings on how various factors like autonomy affect school outcomes. But by identifying this gap of knowledge, the authors map out new possibilities for research: How are charters using their autonomy, and...

GadflyOur Gadfly readers won’t be surprised that in India, where a quarter or more public school teachers are absent at any given time, the demand for quality education among the poor has created a thriving market of private schools. Some think tanks, such as the Economist-profiled Centre for Civil Society, and provincial governments are running voucher experiments—with encouraging results. But as the Economist points out, the Indian government, which has proven to be innovative in some areas like health care, remains mulish in its opposition to private schools, designing rules apparently aimed at their eradication. For the sake of their nation’s children, we urge them to reevaluate.

A new NCTQ study finds that during the Great Recession, forty of the fifty largest school districts froze or cut teacher pay at least once between 2007 and 2012. Still and all, teacher pay did rise, if only slightly, over that five year period. The trends were “on par with almost all of the comparable professions” they assessed. Fascinatingly, Chicago clocked in with the highest pay raises (6.5 percent).

Christine Quinn, a front-runner...

The Louisiana Supreme Court may have ruled that Governor Bobby Jindal and the Legislature cannot fund the state’s voucher program with the same “minimum foundation” constitutionally reserved for public schools, but that doesn’t mean that Jindal has to scrap his effort. Just after the 6–1 decision Tuesday, Jindal pledged to keep the program alive by funding it elsewhere in the budget. About 8,000 children had already been promised vouchers for next year.

But it’s hard to imagine how the program could grow much more than that if the governor has to find budgetary leftovers to fund it. Every year since 2008, the governor and lawmakers have had to scratch and claw for funds to bankroll the New Orleans voucher program, which was the precursor to the statewide voucher effort. In 2011, the New Orleans program got $9 million from the general budget, which amounted to less than $5,000 per student then.

By contrast, Louisiana’s K–12 public schools received $3.4 billion from the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) in 2011, which came to an average $8,763 per pupil.

And that helps explain why Jindal sought funding for the statewide voucher program through the MFP. The governor can’t fund reform adequately...

Few school systems have embraced a crisis of opportunity quite like the school system in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Just five years ago, when the economy collapsed on everyone, the Reynoldsburg district was cutting deep into its staff and establishing buffers such as a $500 pay-to-play activity fee on families. Exasperated parents fled to neighboring districts and voters repeatedly rejected the district’s many levy requests. Pupil enrollment eventually fell by 10 percent from 2008 to 2012, and once crowded schools found themselves with extra space.

But while other suburban school districts succumbed to hand-wringing at such moments of despair, Reynoldsburg responded with innovation. It slashed central office staff and sent more resources to individual schools, empowering principals with key decision-making authority. It developed “themes” at schools with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and it established more charter schools and enhanced school choice throughout the district. Most unusually, it bartered with a community college, a hospital, a preschool, and a dance company to utilize its extra space in ways that benefitted its own students.

But perhaps most important, write Ellen Belcher and Terry Ryan in their informative profile of the district for the Fordham Institute, Limitless, Education,...

From left: Greg Harris, Robert Kilo, Judy Hennessey and Terry Ryan

A coalition that included high performing charter schools from Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee’s Education Subcommittee on May 7th. Following introductions from Fordham’s Terry Ryan, Dayton Early College Academy’s Superintendent Judy Hennessey began to speak in front of the Subcommittee only to be interrupted by Committee Chair Senator Randy Gardner, “Senator [Peggy] Lehner has just commented you lead one of the best schools in the country.”

Jokingly Judy Hennessey nodded and said, “Now we are striving for world class.”

The coalition of high performing charter schools included school leaders and policy advocates from KIPP Central Ohio, United Students Network, Breakthrough Schools, Dayton Early College Academy, and Students First Ohio who gathered to urge Senators to enact policies that would help facilitate the growth of high performing charter schools in the state. Among the policies discussed, the coalition asked the subcommittee to consider the reinstatement of funding for the Straight-A Fund (from $150 million to $300 million), increasing the per pupil facilities funding to charter schools (from a...

The Reynoldsburg City School District, just east of Columbus, is far down the “portfolio management” path – further than probably any suburban school district of its size. This feature article discusses portfolio management and takes readers behind the scenes in Reynoldsburg.

The Fordham team has been involved in a variety of discussions and events during the past few weeks. Here's a recap of the latest Fordham highlights:

Fordham's Checker Finn discussed Conservatives and the Common Core in a recent blog. Terry Ryan was quoted in a Columbus Dispatch article about Common Core critics.

Terry Ryan testified May 7 at the Senate Finance Committee with high achieving charter school leaders. Read his testimony and a recap of the event.

As the charter movement enters its third decade, it is imperative that policymakers and legislators understand the perspective of those schools that have succeeded in providing their students with a quality education. The charter sector in Ohio is often seen by those outside as a monolith – for better or worse – but Fordham has long known that there are both high-flyers and underachievers. As an organization that focuses on the availability of quality education for Ohio’s children, Fordham feels it is imperative that the lessons of the high-performing charter schools be known above and beyond the “charter sector” as a whole.

As a step in accomplishing this goal, Fordham’s own Terry Ryan has helped form a coalition of high performing charter schools to testify in front of the Senate Finance Committee’s Education Subcommittee. The schools in which these leaders work represent some of the best public schools that Ohio has to offer. While each leader is advocating for their school and telling the story of what success looks like in their cities, they also provide overarching policy recommendations that could help forward the expansion and replication of successful charters including:

  • Supporting the implementation of the Straight-A-Fund
  • Increasing the
  • ...

When the Ortonville Montessori charter school outside of Flint, Michigan, offered to buy a vacant building from the Brandon school district for $100,000, district officials weighed whether it made more fiscal sense to take the money now or demolish the building as planned and avoid losing possibly more students—and more state funding per pupil—to the charter. Last week, the Brandon Board of Education opted for demolition.

It didn’t matter that the building has sat empty for years and that the district has tried unsuccessfully to sell it to other buyers. It didn’t want to sell to the Ortonville charter because, as Brandon superintendent Lori McMahon casually told a local reporter, “It would be competition for us.”

While extreme, the challenges facing Ortonville focus attention on the struggles for adequate facilities that still bedevil most charter schools. Now twenty years old, many charter schools still commonly rent or own building space that is much smaller than that occupied by their traditional public school peers or that lack kitchens, gymnasiums, libraries, or science and computer labs.

That’s the assessment of a survey of charters in ten states released last week by the Charter Schools Facilities Initiative, a joint...

Philly’s Schools Phuture?

During the research for my book, one of the most interesting and depressing tidbits I uncovered was that the handful of high-performing, high-poverty traditional public schools described in No Excuses had not been grown by their districts. The central recommendation of my book is that the “four principles of chartering” should be applied across all three sectors; that includes growing great schools of all types (charter, private, and district). Charter growth has been happening via CMOs for more than a decade now, but the Philadelphia Schools Partnership has found a number of district schools to expand. Interesting development.

Addressing Non-urban Poverty

It appears that, slowly but surely, the education-reform community is paying more and more attention to the needs of low-income kids in rural areas (more on this from Bellwether soon). For years now, the primary focus has been on America’s cities. Maybe it should come as no surprise that Teach for America is stepping forward; TFA has long had a number of non-urban outposts. Its new program is designed to train TFA alum for school leadership positions in rural America. This is a tiny...