Charters & Choice

Joshua Dunn

Farce has been standard fare in litigation over school choice since the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris upholding the constitutionality of vouchers. At the time of Zelman, chief counsel for the National Education Association (NEA) said the organization would rely on “Mickey-Mouse provisions” in state constitutions to attack choice programs. No claim was too ridiculous. But farce doesn’t seem to capture what happened last week in Alabama.

Theater of the Absurd
Farce does not seem to capture what happened last week in Alabama.

Two weeks ago, the Alabama House and Senate passed the Alabama Accountability Act, giving parents with children in failing schools a tax credit for tuition at a private school. The bill passed by 2-1 margins in both houses of the Republican-controlled legislature. Naturally, organizations such as the Alabama Education Association (AEA), opposed as they are to letting students escape miserably failing schools, howled that the measure violated state law. But this time, rather than at least having the decency to sue once the legislation was signed,...

In New Jersey, the state department of education released draft regulations for a new teacher evaluation system. The slide deck they used to describe the plan is superb. Among other things, the package includes rules governing the use of student performance data, including “student growth percentiles” (SGP). I was with the department when this all was just a set of ideas nearly three years ago. Since then, the state has moved forward slowly but steadily—see the timeline on slide 4—rolling out a smart, fair plan. I’m proud of my old team.

PARCC, one of two testing consortia associated with Common Core, released a bevy of materials last week (Education Week writes it up here). The group’s website now has a wide array of resources available, including item and task prototypes, explanations of design features and policies for students with disabilities, and an over-arching guidance document. The consortia are reaching a pivotal moment: states need to budget and make decisions about sunsetting current tests. This release was probably timed (wisely) to give member states confidence that PARCC is on schedule. As I’ve written previously, should states have...

The Letdown Edition

Mike and Dara talk about Louisiana’s ed-reform disappointment, anticipate the effect of big money in L.A. (or not), and plan for the Snowquester that wasn’t. Amber puts her teacher hat back on with a study on student ability grouping.

Amber's Research Minute

Does Sorting Students Improve Scores? An Analysis of Class Composition,” by Courtney A. Collins and Li Gan, NBER Working Paper Series (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, February 2013)

Education reformers who take on the important but massive issue of school governance often find themselves, like three captains at the helm of the same ship, attempting to navigate in different directions. The devolution model, piloted by Andy Smarick and Neerav Kingsland, embraces efforts to expand the role of charter organizations and dispenses with the district. The school-transformation model, put forward by Mass Insight, relies on third-party support to construct K–12 feeder patterns of allied schools; and the portfolio strategy, championed by the authors of this short CRPE paper, puts forward a system in which diverse, autonomous schools are governed by the district via performance contracts. Though these approaches seem to conflict, the authors of this paper contend that these proposals are actually complimentary variations on a theme: Government ought to steer (e.g., set goals, judge performance) but not row (i.e., provide). The success of the portfolio model, which creates exactly this kind of government, depends on the supply response: the presence of smart entrepreneurs with innovative ideas about education, folks who are willing to fund those ideas, and so on. And while the devolution and school-transformation models can provide the supply response (respectively, a marketplace...

It’s not often a piece of legislation is challenged in court before it becomes law. But since Alabama teacher unions and school boards are so intent on quashing any alternative to the traditional school district, they have marshaled every resource to defeat what should be the state’s first private school choice plan.

When Republicans passed a tuition tax credit late last week, the Alabama Education Association cried foul and took the GOP to court, claiming that legislative leaders violated the state’s Open Meetings Act by privately discussing the measure and tacking it on at the last minute to an entirely different education bill. This afternoon, a state judge gave the union a temporary victory and forbade the governor from signing the bill until next week when a hearing determines what will happen next.

Not to be sidelined, the Alabama Association of Schools Boards and the School Superintendents of Alabama have sent Governor Robert Bentley a joint letter urging him to reject the measure, using faulty assumptions to claim that such a law would reduce education funding by tens of millions of dollars.

The harm done to these parties is real only if one assumes that every education dollar...

Mathematica Policy Research last week released a major research report showing that students attending KIPP middle schools make substantial additional academic growth relative to peer students who attend other public schools.

Nationwide, the KIPP network of charters consists of 125 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia; of those, this report focused on 43 middle schools serving students in grades five through eight. The student population that participated in the study was 96 percent black or Hispanic; 83 percent qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. 

Mathematica found that after three years, KIPP schools produced an additional eleven months of learning growth in math and eight months in reading. The report also dispels the myth that KIPP schools’ positive effects on learning are a function of “teaching to the test”.  Mathematica examined test results from both state assessments and from the nationally norm-referenced test (Terra Nova), for which teachers and students do not prepare, and found consistently positive results for both exams.

Ohio currently has one KIPP school, KIPP: Journey Academy, which serves grades five through eight in Columbus, and is sponsored by Fordham. While Mathematica did not include KIPP: Journey in its study, we do know...

Yesterday was the first day of public testimony on Governor Kasich’s budget proposal before the Ohio House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Committee. Terry submitted testimony on behalf of the Fordham Institute, as did Students First and others.  Following is a good recap from Gongwer News Service:

Terry Ryan, vice-president for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, offered support for the budget, saying the funding offered through the formula would outpace that of almost every other comparable state in FY 14. He also offered suggestions for use in the budget or as the subjects of future legislation.

Firstly, he said all dollars should follow students to the schools they actually attend, but funding is still stuck in categorical programs and flows to the district but not necessarily the building attended.

Mr. Ryan also called for annual academic return on investment reporting for all public schools, both districts and charters. "Just as some districts are more productive than others so are some schools and these should be acknowledged and better understood," he said.

More mandates related to regulations, laws and contract should be eliminated if they force funds to be spent in...

The latest study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has profound implications for the artificial cap on charter school growth in Massachusetts. According to the report (released today), the typical charter school student gains about one and a half more months of learning in a year in reading than students in a typical district school and two and a half more months of learning in math. The gains in Boston were even more pronounced: twelve months of additional learning in a year in reading for charter students and thirteen months more in math.

Yet there remain 45,000 students in Massachusetts waiting for a seat in a charter school, thanks mostly to a state-imposed cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Boston and other low-performing districts. State education officials have been authorizing schools where they can, approving five new charter schools this week and expanding eleven others, but there still isn’t enough supply; the new openings are expected to serve just 3,100 students, half of them in Boston.

“The more schools we open, the longer the waiting list gets,” Massachusetts Charter Public School Association director Marc Kenen told the Boston...

Advanced Placement Podcasting

Andy Smarick and Kathleen Porter-Magee rock this week’s podcast. Find out why AP Calculus has such high pass rates, why being overwhelmed with choices can be a good thing, and why rising grad rates may be a red herring. Amber is hip to KIPP.

Amber's Research Minute

KIPP Middle Schools: Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes by Christina Clark Tuttle, et al. (Washington, D.C.: Mathematica Policy Research, February 2013).

GadflyWith just a few hours left before automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts take effect, the odds seem slim that Congress will pull a rabbit out of this hat. But despite the Obama administration’s doomsday rhetoric (40,000 teacher layoffs, a huge blow to Head Start, and seven of the ten plagues), the reality seems—if not optimal—manageable. School nutrition programs, Pell Grants, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families won’t be cut, and most school districts won’t feel the pinch until the beginning of the 2013–14 school year. And when they do, it will be minor (perhaps 2 percent of their budgets in most cases). In other words, it’s a great opportunity to stretch the school dollar.

On Monday, President Enrique Peña-Nieto signed Mexico’s most sweeping ed-reform bill in seven decades into law. Mexico will now use uniform standards for hiring teachers, require merit-based promotions, and enjoy the ability to draw the first census of Mexico’s education system (because the 1.5 million-member-strong teacher union controlled the system, no one knew exactly how many schools, teachers, or students existed). One day later, police arrested...