Charters & Choice

The Georgia Senate recently took an incremental step toward responsible and accountable private school choice by unanimously passing a bill that shines more sunlight upon the Peach State’s embattled tax-credit-scholarship program. If the House concurs, then parents and taxpayers will have more information about the students and the scholarship groups that participate—a good thing, to be sure.

A Kindergarten graduation
Picture by Santa Catalina School

But Senate Bill 243 doesn’t go far enough. Yes, it requires the nonprofit groups that administer the scholarships to disclose the number of students they serve and the amount of tax-credited donations that they receive. Well worth making public—but it reveals nothing about the program’s educational value.

Why not also pull back the curtain on student performance? Most of the school-voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs that exist in other states are designed to show the public at least how they’re performing overall in terms of student achievement. For example, private schools participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship administer a standardized test to their scholarship students and...

  • The U.S. Department of Education just announced more SIG money going out the door. At a TBFI event late last year, the Department and I tussled about the results to date, which showed that more than a third of participating schools (already among the lowest performing in the nation) had gotten worse despite this multi-BILLION dollar program. I sadly predicted these grim results several years ago—not because I’m clairvoyant but because stacks of research over decades showed that turnarounds aren’t a reliable or scalable strategy for generating more high-quality seats. But the Department remains bullish; the release says, “Early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools.”

    Many of us are looking forward to thoroughly analyzing the program’s effects, but we’ve been in a holding pattern. The Department still hasn’t released school-level results from Year 1 yet (even though those tests were given two years ago), and we’ve not yet received any results from Year 2 (even though those tests were given a year ago). Forgive the quick snark, but maybe we just have to wait until close of business on the Friday before Thanksgiving week again to get results.

  • ...

Terry Ryan addresses a gathering of the Ohio League of Women Voters at the Riffe Center on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

Terry Ryan was a guest of the Ohio League of Women Voters today during their annual Statehouse Day, participating in a panel session on education funding in Ohio with Dr. William Phillis, Executive Director of The Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding.

A standing room only crowd of highly-engaged individuals from across Ohio listened to opening statements that looked back at least as much at the history of education funding in Ohio as they looked to the future of that funding, as proposed in the current state budget, HB 59. Dr. Phillis presented the history of changes in the organization and administration and funding of “the public common school” since 1821, raising alarms over loss of money from existing districts via charter schools and vouchers as well as alarms over the loss of local control of education and the loss of community when schooling is not held in common in a given area of the state. He previewed his public testimony...

How could cities see their charter school sectors take off in quality, matching or besting the performance of their district schools, and the state? Public Impact researchers working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on a new study found that replacing low-performing charter schools while replicating high-performing ones could dramatically improve quality within just a few years. (For Fordham’s take on this, see the Ohio Gadfly Daily.)

Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality, with research by Lyria Boast, Gillian Locke, and Tom Koester, and foreword and Fordham analysis by Terry Ryan and Aaron Churchill, considered charter schools in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis—all of which have a decade-long history of charter schools and relatively large market shares of charter school students.

The study shows that the charter school sectors in five cities outperformed their home districts’ schools, which had similar levels of student poverty.

The study points the way to improving the quality of charter schools overall

But within each district, quality varied widely, from very high-performing charter schools to dismal ones.

The study also compared charter performance to average statewide performance—admittedly, a higher bar, as schools statewide had...

The quality of charters schools is a topic often covered by the media, stemming from debates about the potential impact of charter schools on student achievement. Only a few groups, however, place an emphasis on ensuring the quality of authorizers who contract with charters and have the responsibility to oversee their academic and fiscal performance. One of these groups called the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) publishes an annual report that collects self-reported survey data from authorizers, which indicate the extent to which they comply with the “Index of Essential Practices.” The best practices represent policies that would allow an authorizer to successfully accomplish their roles as a facilitator and compliance officer.

Of the eleven Buckeye State authorizers whom NASCA surveyed (including Fordham), NACSA found that Ohio’s authorizers scored well according to the index. Authorizers met nine to eleven out of the twelve possible indicators of best practices. NACSA, however, did critique states like Ohio who have implemented laws that do not allow authorizers to institute policies from the index. For example, the current law for charter renewals in Ohio prevents authorizers from issuing new schools a contract longer than the length of the authorizer’s own contract with...

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley today signed into law his state’s first private school choice program—a K–12 tuition tax credit—avoiding what was perhaps the most ridiculous attempt yet to thwart efforts to enact a voucher or tax-credit plan anywhere.

Bentley put his signature on the Alabama Accountability Act one day after the state’s Supreme Court lifted a restraining order that prevented him from even getting the bill, which passed two weeks ago along party lines. The Alabama Education Association had convinced a state judge last week to block legislative staffers from sending the bill to the governor, arguing that too many Republican lawmakers privately discussed rewriting a separate measure to include the tax credit without calling a public meeting.

The Alabama Supreme Court sensibly determined that the restraining order issued by Judge Charles Price was “premature.” The bill hadn’t even become law, and according to the top justices, there was no “existing case or controversy” that needed adjudicating.

In other words, there was no one harmed. As political scientist Joshua Dunn noted, courts don’t typically intrude in the internal workings of a state legislature, as a matter of separation of powers. The notion that the teacher union might have...

Assessing the President's Preschool Plan

Assessing the President's Preschool Plan

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for making preschool available to every child in America. But questions abound: Is universal preschool politically and fiscally feasible—or even educationally necessary? Should we be expending federal resources on universal pre-K or targeting true Kindergarten-readiness programs for the neediest kids? How robust is the evidence of lasting impacts? And what exactly is the president proposing?

White smoke over Fordham

Wondering what Congress should be doing about pre-K, why Boston has switched to a new school-assignment system, or why an Alabama judge doesn’t seem to care about the separation of powers? Mike and Daniela are, too! Amber talks tenure reform—and Mike has a great new show to pitch Donald Trump.

Amber's Research Minute

Do First Impressions Matter?Improvement in Early Career Teacher Effectiveness” by Allison Atteberry, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, February 2013)

Charter schools are booming. From zero charter laws and zero schools two decades ago, there are now more than two million students enrolled in 5,600 charter schools in more than forty states plus the District of Columbia. In seven cities (New Orleans; Detroit; Washington, DC; Kansas City; Flint; Gary; and St. Louis), at least 30 percent of public school students are enrolled in charter schools; in another eighteen cities, including five in our home state of Ohio, charters serve at least 20 percent of the public school–attending kids. It is safe to say that charters are no longer a boutique reform.

Searching for Excellence

But for all of the progress on charter quantity, there’s been disappointingly little progress on charter quality. While there are hundreds of high-performing charter schools across the country serving some of the nation’s neediest students, there are an equal number of charters failing to deliver. It was in recognition of this mixed performance that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) launched its One Million Lives campaign in late 2012. (Fordham, a charter authorizer in...

Hope Against HopeThe Friedman-ism that “every crisis is an opportunity” has, in the eyes of many, found dramatic and fitting vindication in the city of New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the teachers union was washed away, while the city’s traditional public schools were almost entirely supplanted by a host of new charters, many of them answerable to a new state-level governing body. The value of these changes has been frequently quantified by test scores, college-attendance rates, and similar informative (yet reductive) data. Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope offers a rare view from the ground—one that humanizes education reform in the Bayou City. She profiles a trio of figures (a novice teacher, a veteran principal, and a high school student) as well as a handful of charter schools. The conflicts at the core of Carr’s book—between different measurements of and causes for student success (or failure) and between guarding community culture and finding pathways to the middle class—transcend the Big Easy. But do not look for conflict resolution here. Carr’s intent, instead, is to articulate vividly what’s at stake....

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