Charters & Choice

Diverse Schools Dilemma

Both Brooklyn, NY, and Northwest D.C. are home to emotionally charged, racially tinged fights over neighborhood school boundaries. Urbanists beware: As the “great inversion” continues and our cities gentrify, this is a sign of things to come.

In Brooklyn, the fight is focused on two elementary schools in Park Slope. One of these, P.S. 321, is overcrowded, the result of a baby boom in its increasingly affluent community, as well as of a school-system policy that allows students to stay at the school even after their families move elsewhere in the city. To deal with the crowding, officials plan to shrink its attendance zone, which means redistricting some children into a new school to be opened a few blocks away.

That second school stirs anxieties among many middle-class parents because it will be more socioeconomically diverse. As Naomi Schaefer Riley opined in the New York Post,

Aren’t Park Slopers looking for diversity? Writing at Park Slope Patch last year, neighborhood resident Louise Crawford asked parents and leaders “What Matters to Park Slope.”...
  • Very important Ed Week article about the decision by the Louisiana DOE to reject every math and reading textbook submitted for district use. The reason? They were deemed insufficiently aligned with the expectations of Common Core. This is the biggest state-level statement I’ve seen so far, indicating Louisiana’s substantial commitment to implementing CCSS. I’m in the camp that believes that while CCSS could be meaningful, much stands in the way.: The two testing consortia could set low or no cut scores, states could lose interest in the standards and/or tests, states could implement the new standards halfheartedly, etc. Rick Hess recently explained other reasons CCSS could be in jeopardy—these being more related to deficiencies in the reform community’s priorities and approaches to reform.
  • Excellent piece in today’s New York Times on higher-education accountability from the always-excellent Kevin Carey. This is a terribly important and difficult issue: Higher-ed institutions often have gigantic endowments and receive enormous support from the feds, state governments, and families, yet we have virtually no reliable information on which institutions are improving student learning or how. Carey suggests a modest path forward while continuing to surface an underappreciated issue.
  • Worthwhile white paper from
  • ...
Diverse Schools Dilemma

Modern urban parents face a quandary: Will the public schools in their walkable, socioeconomically diverse communities provide a strong education for their kids? Mike Petrilli shed light on this question in his book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma. Here’s a roundup of recent and forthcoming media attention that Petrilli’s book has garnered.

Reviews and articles

In his second review of the Diverse Schools Dilemma (you can read the first here),  the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews expounds on Petrilli’s insights into parenting-style variance: “If middle class and low-income parents have different methods with their kids and different expectations for their schools, how do principals and teachers serve both populations?” (11/29/12)

Rick Hess, writing for his Education Week blog Straight Up, calls Petrilli a “model of perpetual angst himself when it comes to [choosing schools for his kids]” and the book a terrific blend of “personal anecdotes, surprising evidence, and conversations with researchers and parents.” (12/7/12)

Mike Petrilli was quoted in a New York Post article on the school...

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio received a lot of attention for his speech this week at the Jack Kemp Foundation, mostly for his remarks on how government can play a role in revitalizing the middle class. In addition to more conventional Republican ideas for economic growth and job creation—lighter regulations, tax reform—Rubio outlined several strategies for education investment, some of which would complicate, rather than simplify, the federal tax code.

And that may not be a bad thing, especially if those ideas lead to more educational opportunities for households that cannot afford them otherwise. Consider one of the senator’s more controversial suggestions: a corporate federal tax credit scholarship, one that would help low-income students cover the cost of a K–12 private education. There were few details in Rubio’s brief remarks on this subject, but we have examples in more than a dozen states to show how this might work.

The largest of these is in the senator’s home state of Florida: Corporations with a tax liability in the Sunshine State can receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit by donating to a nonprofit scholarship organization. And that organization, in turn, awards scholarships worth up to $4,335 to children who qualify for...

Bayou blues

Checker and Education Sector’s John Chubb discuss expanding the school day, dismal graduation rates, and Louisiana confusion. Amber depresses us with a report on record-high unemployment among young people.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity by The Annie E. Casey Foundation - Download PDF

Three years ago, Stanford’s Center for Research in Education Outcomes (CREDO) up-ended the conversation on charter school effectiveness with its much-cited study of sixteen states’ charter schools. This new report extends that kind of analysis into the Garden State, where the authors find a bumper crop of quality charters, particularly in Newark. CREDO analysts matched over 10,000 charter students in grades three through eight with “twin” students in traditional public schools (rigorously controlling for a host of student characteristics), tracking them between 2006-07 and 2010-11. The report offers a host of interesting data and solid ammunition for charter proponents in New Jersey—though its findings also raise a few serious questions. First, the good news for charters: Sixty percent of New Jersey charters outpace district learning gains in reading and 70 percent do so in math. And only 11 percent and 13 percent perform significantly worse (for reading and math, respectively). Statewide, charters added about two more months of annual learning in each subject compared to traditional public schools. Newark charters boast an additional seven and nine months’ learning in reading and math over the course of a year, respectively....

The Louisiana Constitution allows lawmakers greater freedom to design public education than the state’s school boards and teacher unions would have us believe. So it’s no surprise that what is “public” in the Bayou State today includes a largely charter school system in New Orleans, four publicly funded private-school-choice programs, a recovery school district, and online charter schools.

    Students boarding school bus in Louisiana
    Jindal sought more than just budgetary leftovers when working to fund the voucher program.
    Photo from Wikimedia Commons

That’s why it was frustrating to see a state judge declare late Friday that Louisiana’s newest and largest voucher program is illegal because it diverts “vital public dollars” to private schools. According to Judge Timothy Kelley, the state was wrong to fund its new voucher program from the same revenue stream that provides a “minimum foundation” to its public elementary and secondary schools.

That was the same argument put forward by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association when they sued to abolish the voucher program, which already serves nearly 5,000 children in 113...

The last thing Detroit families need is for an incompetent school board to regain control of the Motor City’s worst schools, but that may happen now that Michigan voters have repealed the state’s “emergency manager” law. The repeal has emboldened the Detroit Board of Education to undo many of the biggest reforms that emergency managers have put in place in the district during the last four years. Perhaps the worst of these decisions (so far!) was voiding the contract that emergency manager Roy Roberts forged last year with the state’s fledgling Education Achievement Authority, a recovery district modeled on Louisiana’s and run out of Eastern Michigan University. The EAA had taken possession of the lowest-achieving schools in Detroit (and has been praised by Arne Duncan), but it remained an inter-local agreement between the university and the school district. The Detroit school board, which one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence,” now wants to take those schools back under its fold. Eastern Michigan has vowed to fight, but it’s hard to see how kids will benefit from this custody battle if the state doesn’t codify the recovery district into law. Two bills were introduced recently...

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a top-notch group of entities that are serious about sponsoring quality charter schools, issued a call this week for authorizers and state laws to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great new ones. They call it the One Million Lives campaign.

At the kickoff, NACSA President Greg Richmond said, “In some places, accountability unfortunately has been part of the charter model in name only. If charters are going to succeed in helping improve public education, accountability must go from being rhetoric to reality.” He then called for a policy agenda aimed at achieving both smarter growth and stronger accountability in these ways:

  • Establishing strong statewide authorizers that promote both high-quality growth and accountability,
  • Writing into law standards for authorizers that are based on NACSA’s excellent Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing,
  • Placing performance expectations for charter renewal into state law,
  • Empowering authorizers to close schools that fail to meet the expectations set in their charter contracts,
  • Holding authorizers accountable for the performance of their schools and their authorizing practices, and
  • Creating automatic school closure laws that make it impossible for education failure to persist forever.


Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch, the education-reform movement's "explosive turncoat."
Photo by OHSchoolBoards on Flickr.

Diane Ravitch, the education-reform movement’s explosive turncoat, has singled out Checker Finn’s recent dissent from for-profit school models for adulation with a blog entitled, “Checker Finn Opposes the For-Profit Model in Education.” We can quibble about whether Checker’s comment means he opposes the for-profit model (he is more than capable of defending himself on that score), but it is true that in Fordham’s recent report “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: The Edison Story in Dayton,” Checker says, “Shareholder return ends up trumping the best interests of students…Most of the models I admire today are run by non-profit groups.”

I don’t find that quite so newsworthy as the fact that Ravitch extols the Fordham Institute, which she helped found, for “showing other advocacy groups what it means to be transparent and self-critical and honest.” That may be damning with faint praise, especially in the reformation-like context in which Diane has nailed her complaints to the church...