Charters & Choice

This report from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (widely known as CREDO) investigates, among other questions, whether it’s possible to predict the long-term academic success (or failure) of a charter school during its early years. The authors examined five years’ worth of data from more than 1,300 schools run by 167 charter-management organizations (CMOs) and 410 schools run by education-management organizations (EMOs). (Per CREDO, a CMO directly operates the schools in its network; an EMO contracts with a governing authority to operate the school.) To assess the quality of these outfits, CREDO paired charter-going students with “virtual twins” from their neighborhood district school. The analysts offer four key findings. First, initial signs of school quality are predictive of later performance: Roughly 80 percent of charter schools in the bottom quintile of performance during its first year of operation remain low performers through their fifth year. And 94 percent of schools that begin in the top quintile stay there over time. (Of course, we know from our experience as an Ohio charter authorizer that there are exceptions to this rule.) Second—as we’ve heard before—CMO quality varies greatly: Across the management organizations that were examined, 43 percent outpace the...

Bill Gates just released his foundation’s annual letter, and he summarizes the edu-important parts here. He focuses on the findings of the gigantic MET study. While I’m happy that he is personally publicizing what they learned about teacher effectiveness, this short piece only underscores the concerns I raised here. Implementing the study’s findings is the tough part, but his only reference to that is a glancing blow about budgeting. I really hope they have a detailed, coordinated plan in place.

Check out a smart piece by Checker on the very important issue of cut scores for common assessments. This is one of the issues that, if mishandled, may contribute to the centrifugal force pulling the testing consortia—and Common Core—apart. (Cost may prove to be another.) If you think I’m mother hen-ing this thing, consider Alabama’s recent decision to drop out

According to Politics K–12, a number of House GOP leaders are charging that the Administration is standing in the way of students hoping to participate in the D.C. scholarship program. This program, which allows a small number of D.C. kids to choose...

Growing quality charter schools requires strong charter school authorizers. That’s a key takeaway from Stanford University’s CREDO study, Charter School Growth and Replicationreleased last week. To assess charter school quality in 23 states (including Ohio) and the District of Columbia, CREDO examined over 2 million charter student records from 2005-06 to 2009-10.

A charter school authorizer, of which Fordham is one, has four primary responsibilities: (1) review charter applications, (2) contract with the charter school, (3) ensure compliance, and (4) renew or not renew the charter school’s contract based on school performance, especially academic performance. In each area of responsibility, except compliance, CREDO’s findings suggest that charter school authorizers must strengthen its practices to ensure a growing supply of high-quality charters. Three of CREDO’s findings, in particular, have relevance to charter authorizer practices.

First, CREDO found significant variation in the quality of charter school management networks, or CMOs (e.g., KIPP). Authorizers must be persnickety in the educational organizations with whom they contract—there are sour lemons as well as delicious apples in the CMO barrel. CREDO’s analysis discovered that the finest CMO networks (e.g. KIPP and Uncommon Schools) have large positive effects on students’ learning growth, while the lowest performing networks...

Ohio’s charter law remains mediocre despite numerous reform efforts over the last decade. According to the latest “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of the State Charter School Laws” produced by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) the Buckeye State’s charter school law ranks 27 out of 43 states and the District of Columbia.

NAPCS ranks state laws based on two primary factors: 1) the freedoms and flexibilities state laws provide charter operators; and 2) the quality of accountability provisions for both charter school operators and authorizers. There are 20 Essential Components of the NAPCS rankings and these range from freedoms such as “No Caps on Charters,” “Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemptions,” and “Equitable Operational Funding” to accountability measures such as “Authorizer and Overall Program Accountability” and “Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal and Revocation Decisions.”

Ohio has made some progress – and this is reflected in the NAPCS state rating of Ohio inching up from #28 last year to #27 this year. But, other states are making progress faster. Big charter states, those that have at least 4.5 percent of their students enrolled in public charter schools, that have made steady progress and improvements to their laws...

  • Kilgour School in Mount Lookout is creating an after-school app development class for their elementary school students, giving the students one more reason to ask their parents for a smartphone.
  • Governor Kasich unveiled his education reform plan, detailing new funding schemes to distribute state dollars and initiatives that incentivize innovation. Superintendents seem optimistic toward the new plan but eagerly await the specific details for their districts.
  • Analysts say that introducing income-based eligibility to the voucher program will allow 1.8 million elementary and secondary students to qualify for tax-funded tuition to private schools.
  • In an effort to improve academics ahead of the new Ohio standards, Cincinnati Public Schools will expand all of its high schools to teach 7th-12th graders. In this new model, students will be able to start taking pre-algebra as early as seventh grade.

In the early years of Ohio’s voucher programs, proponents of private school choice cautioned that schools wouldn’t participate if government asked too much of them in the way of regulations and accountability for student achievement. That was certainly a plausible theory at the time – after all, when the EdChoice Scholarship program launched in 2005, Ohio’s public schools were only just getting used to our increased battery of state tests. But evidence from a new report shows that the theory doesn’t hold true today, and that policymakers could pursue expanded accountability for private schools—especially when it comes to transparency about student achievement and progress.

The Fordham Institute’s national team commissioned David Stuit of Basis Policy Research and his colleague Sy Doan to examine closely thirteen existing voucher and tax credit scholarship programs and describe the nature and extent of their regulations as well as how many private schools participate in them (and how many do not). They also asked them to survey private schools in communities served by four of the country’s most prominent voucher programs (including EdChoice and the Cleveland Scholarship & Tutoring Program) to see how heavily regulations and program requirements weigh in schools’ decision whether to participate.


I wrote this book because, first and foremost, I wanted our community to know that our activities don’t have to be dictated by decisions made a hundred years ago, especially when those decisions have led to consistently heartbreaking results.

Second, the solution is right in front of us—it’s at work every single day, in cities from coast to coast. We just need to take it from its limited application and scale it, which will take far less work than you might imagine. And it will allow us to do what should have been ages ago: bring an end to the failed urban district.

In the simplest terms, chartering should replace the urban district.

Namely, four systemic innovations that chartering introduced into public education should serve as the tools for managing a city’s portfolio of schools. This is a plan for continuous improvement.

Here a quick walk through how our thinking and activities need to change to realize the urban school system of the future.

First, we have to begin with a new guiding question. Instead of asking, “How do we improve the district?” which wrongfully assumes that the district must be the central actor, our new question should be, “How...

Kojo, Mike, and Abigail

Earlier today on WAMU, Washington’s local NPR station, Kojo Nnamdi hosted a discussion on a major issue facing parents in the D.C. region and around the country. As some popular schools become overburdened—and others face under-enrollment—districts contend with the process of redrawing school boundaries. This is a hugely controversial issue for families, some of whom have changed schools several times already.

One possible alternative to shifting boundaries is to, as Mike Petrilli points out during the show, “sever this link between a parent’s zip code and their child’s educational opportunities” by eliminating traditional school borders altogether. He noted that many students in the District of Columbia—almost 50 percent—are already attending charter schools, while another 25 percent attend traditional public schools out-of-boundary.

Abigail Smith, an independent ed-reform consultant and former chief of DCPS’s transformation office, shared her knowledge of the technical difficulties and opportunities that school choice afford parents. An interesting conversation ensues—be sure to check it out!...

No single philanthropic organization has put more effort and money into the advancement and improvement of school choice—both public and private—than the Walton Family Foundation, which just announced total education-reform outlays in 2012 totaling $158 million. That represents about 37 percent of Walton’s total philanthropic investment during the year. (In second place are freshwater conservation and other environmental concerns.).

While Walton is frequently lauded (and attacked) for its contributions to efforts that shape education policy (contributions that totaled $61 million last year, a bit of that to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute), far more went to foster quality schooling.

For instance, nearly $15 million went to the Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit venture-capital group that works to expand the number of seats in high-performing charter networks (a mission the fund has executed with notable success, as attested in the new CREDO report on charter school growth and quality).  About $8.4 million went to the acclaimed KIPP Foundation and $3.2 million to the highly regarded school-leadership group called Building Excellent Schools. A whopping $24 million went to groups like the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and various state-level charter associations to improve existing...

Public education is a set of guiding principles—a combination of beliefs about something that ought to be provided. Some characteristics include,

  • Availability to all children
  • Tuition-free
  • Non-discriminatory
  • Preparation for success in career and higher education

But these principles can be operationalized in countless ways. How we bring them to life is up to us.

A good analogy is democracy. That too is a set of principles:

  • Suffrage for all adults
  • One person, one vote
  • Secret ballots
  • Fair counting of results

But it can take many forms. In the US, we elect a president and Congress separately. In the UK, the prime minister is part of their legislature.

Every four years, we’re reminded that Iowa has a caucus while New Hampshire has a primary. These, and more, are all legitimate forms of democracy.

The problem with urban public education is that we have been led to believe that there is but one real way to deliver public schooling: the district. In fact, many people believe that “the district” and “public education” are synonymous.

But they are not. The district is just one way to deliver public education.

We can do something different.

Some of you have probably believed that to have...