Charters & Choice

[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.”


The Chewbacca Mom edition

On this week’s podcast, Robert Pondiscio and Alyssa Schwenk look at the radical Left’s attempted takeover of education reform, Common Core’s impact on the achievement gap, and the difficulty in measuring charter school quality. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines whether a teaching exam predicts educator effectiveness.

Amber's Research Minute

Dan Goldhaber, James Cowan, and Roddy Theobald, "Evaluating Prospective Teachers: Testing the Predictive Validity of the edTPA," CALDER (May 2016).  

In theory, competition has the potential to boost quality and lower prices. But how is this theory working in education? This report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice provides an overview of the research on competition in American K–12 education and offers suggestions to enhance the competitive environment.

The report finds that competition in the form of charters, vouchers, and tax credits does indeed inspire competitive gains. But these gains are relatively small. An in-depth literature review reveals that forty of the forty-two studies on the impact of competition on public school students’ test scores find neutral-to-moderately-positive effects. These findings run counter to one of the most common arguments against choice programs—namely, that school choice does academic harm to those “left behind” at traditional public schools.

The report also examines whether school choice acts as a lever to exert market pressure and decrease educational costs. While the answer to that question is unclear, the report did note a discrepancy in the efficiency—defined as effectiveness per dollar—between traditional public and choice options. Charter schools appear to be doing more with less. Although they receive about 28 percent less funding per student than local district schools, they are achieving greater student gains. ...

A new study uses twenty-five years of data on the Milwaukee voucher program to examine the extent to which factors like school newness, institutional affiliation, market share, and regulatory environment put voucher schools at risk of failure.

Examining data for every private school that participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) between years 1991 and 2015, analysts find that 41 percent of the 247 schools that participated for at least one year failed—meaning that they were terminated via regulatory action or else voluntarily shut their doors. Another 11 percent either merged with another school or converted to a charter school. The analysis includes information on both the likelihood of leaving the program and the risk of failing.

Start-up voucher schools and those unaffiliated with a religious institution have comparatively higher risks of failure over time. Simply being a start-up increases the risk of failure by 332 percent, and the risk of leaving MPCP for any reason increases it by about 218 percent. (The average time to reach failure for a failed start-up is 4.3 years, compared to 8.7 for existing schools.) On average, start-up MPCP schools enroll 90 percent of their students via vouchers.

Having a religious affiliation, however,...

NOTE: This is the introduction to Fordham Ohio's latest report—Pathway to Success: DECA prepares students for rigors of college, realities of life—researched and written by former Dayton Daily News editor and journalist Ellen Belcher. You can read the full report here. It is the first in a series of charter school student profiles.

Too much of what we hear about urban public schools in America is disheartening. A student’s zip code—whether she comes from poverty or economic privilege—often predicts her likelihood of educational (and later-life) success. Motivated by this unacceptable reality, some schools have worked relentlessly against the odds to deliver excellent educational opportunities to students no matter their background. Charter schools in particular have played a role in creating high-quality choices for urban students. Many are led and staffed by incredible visionaries who hold high expectations for all students and have made it their mission to ensure that more inner-city kids make it to (and through) college. When we hear about these schools, it behooves us to pay attention—to celebrate them, study them, and do our damnedest to support them. While there’s no silver bullet for fixing what ails urban public education, there are common undercurrents of


This is the second 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 here, here, here, and here.

Supporting charter schools requires tough love. It isn’t enough to create them and let kids attend them. They also need to be run with integrity; their books need to balance; their pupils must be safe; and above all, their academic achievement has to be strong, especially when gauged by student growth.

Some of America’s highest-achieving schools are charters, but so are some of its worst. Averaging across all 6,800 of them, some critics declare that their performance is roughly equal to their district counterparts. But such a superficial analysis ignores their variability—the reality that they range from dismal to superb. Let’s look a little more closely.

State variance

A quarter-century in, charter schools are still absent from seven states, and seventeen other jurisdictions have fewer than fifty each. Forty-four states have charter-enabling laws on the books, but...