Charters & Choice

Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio released an ambitious federal school-choice plan on Tuesday night.
Photo from Speaker Boehner's Flickr account.

The nation was perhaps too preoccupied with Marco Rubio’s gulp heard ‘round the world to notice that the senator, immediately after his Republican response to the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday, released a far-reaching federal school-choice plan. And that’s too bad, for what has emerged this week is the most sweeping congressional idea to empower disadvantaged kids with private school alternatives since the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Just as many states now make available tax credit scholarships—cousins to school vouchers—Rubio would empower individuals or corporations to contribute money to nonprofit “scholarship granting organizations” in return for a tax credit—anywhere in the nation.  Those scholarship groups would, in turn, help low-income kids cover the tuition at a private school of their choice.

This is an ambitious plan, but one that would surely face resistance in a Democratically controlled senate that has repeatedly dogged the D.C. voucher program. And...

School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?

School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?

Many proponents of private school choice take for granted that schools won't participate if government asks too much of them, especially if it demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve many kids. But is this assumption justified?

A new Fordham Institute study provides empirical answers. Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types schools shy away from regulation more than others?

These are just some of the questions that David Stuit, author of the Fordham study, will discuss with a panel featuring John Kirtley of Step Up for Students (Florida), Larry Keough of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, and Paul Miller of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Getting picky about choice

Mike and Adam discuss school-choice regulations with John Kirtley of Step Up for Students. Amber talks up the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Amber's Research Minute

“Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? A Benefit/Cost Analysis of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program” by Patrick J. Wolf and Michael McShane (Association of Education Finance and Policy Journal, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013).

As state legislatures pass new charter school laws and tinker with the old, this National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) rating of such laws increases in worth. Now in its fourth iteration, the report ranks all relevant states’ charter laws based on the NAPCS’s own twenty-part model—and explains that charter laws are generally improving across the land: By basing its statute on the NAPCS model, Washington State’s newly minted law now ranks third. (Minnesota and Maine top the Evergreen State, taking spots one and two, respectively.) Louisiana, which enacted sweeping charter reform this year, bumped from thirteenth to sixth on the state rankings. Further, three states (HI, ID, and MO) lifted caps on charter school growth, three (CT, HI, and UT) improved their support for charter funding and facilities, and ten strengthened their authorizing environments. That said, more progress is needed: Only Maine and Louisiana received the top rating (four of four) for components of their charter-authorizing legislation—Maine for requiring performance-based charter contracts and Louisiana for requiring a transparent application, review, and decision-making process. Yet quality authorizing is pivotal to creating and running successful charter schools (and shutting those that don’t measure up).

SOURCE: Todd...

Three years ago, Patrick Wolf and colleagues published a powerful defense of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP): In an IES-funded, gold-standard study, they found that merely offering a student access to a voucher through OSP increased that student’s graduation rate by 12 percentage points. Those who actually used a voucher saw their grad rates jump by 21 percentage points. This article resurrects that research—but with a twist. The authors reanalyze the data against the work that several economists have done to estimate the value of a high school diploma (based on lifetime earnings and tax payments, lifespan and health, and crime rate). Using these metrics, Wolf and co-author Mike McShane estimate the societal return on investment for the increased graduation rate afforded to the District of Columbia by the OSP. (Remember that the program is federally funded; DCPS was held financially harmless when students exited for private schools, meaning that the program’s price tag—$70 million—represented a real additional cost to all U.S. taxpayers, not just those in the District.) Analyses show that the OSP marked a net societal value of about $183 million over the lifetime of the graduates, or $2.62 in benefit for every dollar spent...

Hurrah for Scott Pearson, the executive director of the D.C. Charter School Board, for pointing out the guile of several Washington, D.C., leaders who want to “manage” the accelerating charter school growth in the city under the guise of collaboration. Joint efforts between city, district, and charter leaders are good if they lead to more and better options for all students, but some key city officials sound more like they’re trying to put a brake on the charter momentum.

When the latest figures from D.C. showed that the number of charter school students increased by 10 percent to 34,673 students, it brought the charter school market share of public education in the city to 43 percent. This led David A. Catania, the chairman of the D.C. Council’s new education committee, to tell the Washington Post on Sunday that there ought to be a way to help charter schools and district schools learn to co-exist, even if that means “a momentary pause” on charter growth. Similarly, Mayor Vincent C. Gray wants his education cabinet to develop a coordinated “road map for public education” in the city.

Pearson was right to challenge statements like these, telling Post reporter...

Quality education
Nurturing quality charters takes wherewithal, political capital, and—above all—interest.
Photo by woodleywonderworks.

The One Million Lives Campaign launched in the fall by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers has captured popular (and media) attention, mostly for its call to shutter the worst-performing charter schools. But that’s only half of its purpose. The point of “One Million Lives,” as its name suggests, is to create the conditions that allow a million kids a seat in at least 3,000 high-performing schools.

So let’s take a moment to consider the other half of this worthy effort. Parker Baxter, NACSA’s Director of Knowledge and one of the charter movement’s smarter thinkers on growth and accountability, has taken to the Dell Foundation’s blog to encourage authorizers and policy makers to find ways to replace bad charter schools with good charter schools.

As hard as it’s been to close bad schools, nurturing high-flying charters is at least as tricky: It takes wherewithal, political capital, and—above all—interest, or...

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.

The result is...

Amber and Rob, sitting in a tree…

Mike and Kathleen are disappointed by the most recent Next Generation Science Standards and by Alabama’s decision to withdraw from the Common Core testing consortia…But if Amber’s discussion of a study on charter performance didn’t cheer them up, news of her recent engagement did!

Amber's Research Minute

Charter School Growth and Replication by Emily Peltason and Margaret E. Raymond (Stanford, CA: Center for Research and Education Outcomes, January 2013)

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...