Charters & Choice

Chicago Mathematics and Science Academy teachers
Two years ago, teachers at the Chicago Mathematics and Science Academy voted to form a union by card check.
Photo from ACTS Michigan.

(Updated January 17, 2013 for the Education Gadfly Weekly)

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools should be careful what it wishes for. Although a recent case before the National Labor Relations Board was decided in the direction favored by the Alliance, by vacillating opportunistically on the issue of whether charters are public or private the organization has weakened the charter movement’s long game.

Here’s what happened: Two years back, teachers at the Chicago Mathematics and Science Academy voted to form a union via card check—a power granted to public employees under Illinois labor law. In response, the charter school asked the NLRB to intervene, arguing that it was a privately run institution, not a “political subdivision” of the state—and, therefore, that attempts to organize its employees should fall under federal law...

Kids reading
Should we trust the judgment of pre-adolescents to decide for themselves what makes educational sense?
Photo by slightly everything

While visiting a local high school as a liaison between my department at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and the high school’s Advanced Credit program, I had occasion to speak with its young principal—a newly minted doctor of education. I told him about a challenge facing those of us who teach in K–16 education: the difficulty of getting students to summon the patience, stamina, and will to read dense text, particularly book-length writings, in an age of instant gratification, sound-bites, jazzy graphics, and condensed versions of knowledge. In short, I asked him, do students still have the capacity for deep reading, followed by deliberation and reflection? Can they conduct serious discourse? The principal’s response struck me: “Today’s students are actually smarter and better than students of yesteryear, since students today get to choose their own readings.” Really? I immediately wondered whether we should trust the judgment of adolescents, much less pre-adolescents, to decide...

State of Education, State Policy Report Card 2013

State of Education, State Policy Report Card 2013

StudentsFirst's much-awaited (and plenty contentious) 2013 State Policy Report Card awarded its highest rankings (B-minuses) to Louisiana and Florida; a dozen states earned an F. After California was flunked, chief deputy superintendent Richard Zeiger took his ire to the New York Times: “‘This group has focused on an extremely narrow, unproven method that they think will improve teaching—and we just flat-out disagree with them.’”

This video's panel discussion digs into the new report card, the future of education reform, and how to bridge the divide between policy and practice.

Parent Revolution
Simply the threat of pulling the parent trigger could spur complacent administrators to act.
Photo from Strollerderby.

There is a reason why, after months of resistance, the Adelanto School Board this week voted unanimously to adopt the parent-triggered charter conversion of Desert Trails Elementary: It’s not the same board. Throughout 2012, all five board members had thwarted the efforts of the Desert Trails Parent Union to enact the nation’s first parent trigger, but only two of those board members are serving the district today.

Gone is Carlos Mendoza, the former school board president who went so far as to flout a California judge’s order to accept the parents’ plan to seek a charter operator for the troubled elementary school; in fact, he lost his re-election bid to a member of the Desert Trails Parents Union.  Gone, too, is Jermaine Wright, who vowed to block the schoolhouse door in handcuffs if that’s what it took to prevent a charter conversion. Wright fled the...

Some of Ohio’s largest school districts are embracing charter schools as part of their overall district reform strategies. Mayor Jackson’s education reform plan in Cleveland calls for tripling “the number of Cleveland students enrolled in high-performing district and charter schools from the approximately 11,000 students currently enrolled in these schools to approximately 33,000 by 2018-19.” In Columbus, Mayor Coleman’s “education commission” is exploring ways to encourage “the growth of high performing charter schools.” In Cincinnati the district recently announced a new partnership with the charter operator Carpe Diem (a high-performing blended-learning charter school model based in Arizona).

Fordham has long-advocated, along with groups like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for better cooperation and creative partnerships between school districts and quality charter schools. As far back as 2007, we argued for a “Portfolio Governance Approach to Meeting the Needs of All Dayton Children.”

Great school leaders are high in demand and portfolio districts compete aggressively for them

Unfortunately Dayton couldn’t run with the concept in 2007, but fast forward to 2013, and according to a new book by Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, and Betheny Gross entitled Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies for Managing Urban Schools,...

Judgment time for ed reform

Mike and StudentsFirst's Eric Lerum chat about StudentsFirst’s new policy report card, the fight in NJ over blended learning, and charter school expulsions in D.C.

Amber's Research Minute

Thomas Kane, et al., Measurements in Effective Teaching: Final Reports (Seattle, WA: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, January 2013).

Predictably, the anti-reform crowd is having a field day with Sunday’s Washington Post article (and related video), which reported the relatively high rate of student expulsions in D.C.’s charter school sector. There’s some legitimacy to this exercise in schadenfreude, considering how many of us reformer types have used the success of high-flying “no excuses” charter schools to bludgeon middling (or worse) district schools with the accusation that “if the charters can do it, so can you.” The retort—well-founded, in my view—is that most, if not all, of these high-flying charters aren’t serving the same population of kids as their traditional public school peers. They inevitably do a bit of creaming (even if unintentionally) on the front end and a number of them push out disruptive students on the back end. Apples-to-apples comparisons are made difficult by this “selection bias.”

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In my view, we should be proud of the charter schools that are identifying and serving high-potential low-income students—kids who are committed to using education to escape poverty and are often supported in that effort by education-minded parents.

The reason to celebrate these schools...

Eric Grannis
Eric Grannis
Eric Grannis: "The charter school concept ... [is] about providing families with a wealth of choices."

Deborah Meier recently lamented that the charter school movement has been co-opted by people she terms “Reformer/Deformers”—folks who favor high-stakes testing, merit pay, and overly strict “no-excuses” school models and undervalue socioeconomic integration. While Ms. Meier and I come from somewhat different philosophical perspectives (she is a Socialist and I am, well, not), I must confess sympathy for an aspect of her critique: Our focus on test scores is alienating many educators and parents with more progressive educational philosophies. Her message is one that school-choice advocates should heed, lest we wind up shooting ourselves in the foot.

The charter school concept is about the organization of our school system. It’s about providing families with a wealth of choices and creating schools that can be more innovative and responsive to families because they are independent. It’s not—or ought not to be—about a particular method or philosophy of education. There shouldn’t be an official charter school...

Achieve released the second draft of the Next Generation Science Standards this week. Project-leader Stephen told Education Week that the new draft is quite different from the old one. Here’s hoping that’s true. Stay tuned for a review from our own science experts.

In a study released at last weekend’s American Economics Association conference, researchers argue that mandatory vaccination programs—in addition to reducing morbidity rates from the relevant childhood diseases—effectively increase students’ likelihood of graduating from high school, possibly because of the weeks of school that ailing kids would miss. Interestingly, this effect was twice as strong among minority students.

The tiff over teacher evaluations in New York City turned into an all-out brawl after Mayor Bloomberg likened the United Federation of Teachers to the NRA in his weekly radio show last Friday. The timing of this particular analogy may have been unfortunate. Still and all, the overarching point he sought to make was valid: Teacher-union leaders, like those of some other interest groups, might be out of sync with their membership. Bloomberg seems to have fallen victim to an old political landmine: Telling...

“Nobody is satisfied with the educational performance of Ohio’s poor, urban, and minority youngsters—or the schools that serve them.” This was how we opened our 2010 report Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s High-Performing, High-Need Urban Schools, which examined high-flying elementary schools. That sentiment is just as true for the high schools in 2012 as it was two years ago for the grade schools we examined. Yet there are high schools in the Buckeye State that buck the bleak trends facing too many of our urban students. This report examines six of them -- urban high schools that are making good on promises of academic excellence; specifically, schools that work for low-income and minority students. These high schools make serious efforts not to leave anyone behind.