Charters & Choice

That’s right!  It’s the release of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual “Market Share” report, which shows the percentage of students in major cities that are educated by charters.

I love this thing.  It is chronicling a renaissance in urban public education.

The report is a yearly reminder of the amazing growth of charter schools and, more importantly, the expendability of the urban district.

Anyone who doubts the premise of my new book The Urban School System of the Future (reviewed here by Checker, here by Education Next, here by Sarah Tantillo)—that we can move beyond the failed district structure and create a system of schools based on the principles of chartering—need only spend a couple moments with this document.

In 15 cities, a quarter of public-school-attending students or more are now enrolled in charter schools. See the following examples:

  • Indianapolis: 25%.
  • Cleveland: 28%
  • St. Louis: 31%
  • Kansas City: 37%
  • Washington, D.C.: 41%
  • Detroit: 41%
  • New Orleans: 76%

When charters began 20 years ago, no one imagined that this was possible—that this new way of delivering public education would provide the desperately needed alternative to the dreadful district...

Exam schools

In a previous post, I lauded TBFI for digging into subjects that others have glossed over, typically due to a belief that we already have enough collective knowledge on the subject.  Usually, the result is that Fordham reports unexpected findings that indicate how much more complicated and interesting the matter actually is.

But there’s another type of research TBFI pursues that I find even more valuable:  the study of important stuff that most of us didn’t even know was out there.

For example, the Ohio team recently wrote about the challenges of student mobility; earlier, the national team looked at pension issues in charter schools, “private” public schools, and the red tape that affects school leaders. All of these are significant contributions to our understanding of under-examined corners of the K-12 world.

The recent product that best exemplifies this area of study is Finn and Hockett’s book on Exam Schools. I—like many of you, I suspect—knew that such schools existed. But I just never gave them much...


For several years, in our role as charter school authorizer, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has worked closely and collaboratively with the governing authority (Alliance Community Schools) of the Dayton View and Dayton Liberty charter schools to encourage better results. After more than a decade of working together, the governing board fired the school’s operator, Edison Learning, at the end of the 2011-12 school year. At the start of this school year the management responsibilities for both buildings were turned over to a veteran Dayton educator and his management team. 

Because we believe there are many lessons to be drawn from this experience, we engaged veteran journalist Ellen Belcher to tell the story of these two schools and ongoing efforts to improve the education they provide some of Dayton’s neediest children. Ellen is an award-winning journalist and former editorial page editor of the Dayton Daily News, where she frequently wrote about education issues including those around charter schools.

Our task to Ellen was straightforward – talk to the board members (current and former), administrators, teachers, and parents involved in the two schools and find out their stories. Why, in their words, haven’t the schools lived up to their promise?...

After Bennett

Mike and Kathleen wonder what will happen to the Common Core after Tony Bennett’s defeat, and ask why so many students miss so much school. Amber ponders whether teacher turnover harms student achievement.

Amber's Research Minute

How teacher turnover harms student achievement; By Matthew Ronfeldt, Loeb and Wyckoff - Download PDF

Heather Schoell, a white, college-educated, stay-at-home mom living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., was incredulous when a friend suggested that she should send her daughter to the local public school. “Honestly, I was like, ‘Right, D.C. Public Schools—we’re not even looking at that,’” Schoell recalled later. Maury Elementary wasn’t much to look at; its drab 1960s-era building had opaque, yellowing windows that made the place feel desolate. One hundred percent of its students were African American, most from low-income families. Schoell pictured mayhem behind those dreary windows, poor kids just running around. But her friend, who had volunteered at the school for twenty-five years, continued to press her: “Give it a chance, go inside and see,” she would say.

    Student participates
    Research shows racially and socioeconomically integrated schools benefit all students.
    Photo by the Knight Foundation

So Schoell did, when her daughter was two and a half. And what she saw wasn’t at all what she’d imagined. The principal at the time, an army veteran, exuded a confidence that put many of Schoell’s concerns to rest. The school...

Charter schools in at least six cities and counties will benefit from local bonds and levies that voters approved on Election Day. Collectively, that means more than $500 million[1] of local tax dollars over the next several years for charter-school facility or operating costs in Cleveland; San Diego; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Metropolitan Denver (including school districts in Denver proper, Aurora, and Jefferson County). Why the sudden generosity in places that (with the exception of Denver) historically have barely tolerated charters, if that? Some charter leaders say school systems might have realized that it’s become harder to ask parents to pay higher taxes only for district schools when so many more of them are choosing charter schools for their children. Indeed, voters in these regions have joined a handful of other cities that, over the past few years, have set aside local dollars for charters by ballot initiative, when most districts and state legislatures still refuse to do so. Of course, voters might have never seen these ballot questions had it not been for legislators (like those in Colorado) who rewrote laws a few years ago, forcing districts to “invite” charters to discuss the needs...

Six days after the election, and by a miniscule margin, Washington State became the forty-second state to allow charter schools. Charter advocates and operators will have plenty of work ahead if they want to convince such a polarized electorate (which rejected charters thrice before) that the forty schools they’re now permitted to open will add quality and innovation to the state’s public school landscape. The battle is won, but the war will continue.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) has released the preliminary findings of their study on the impact of the GreatSchools program in D.C. and Milwaukee—and the news is good! The GreatSchools program runs an online search engine to help parents discover their children’s schooling options. The programs in the two cities studied went further, providing in-person parent training to supplement the materials. CEPA found that these programs successfully influenced parents to select higher-performing schools. Disseminating information, the goal of so many groups (ourselves included), is not always enough; groups that actively try to educate parents about their options should be lauded and replicated.

Mayor Bloomberg’s fiscal plan for...

Andy Smarick had all but completed this swell book when he was snapped up by Chris Christie’s team to fill the number-two job in the New Jersey Department of Education, which he did with much success over the past two years. During this time, the manuscript ripened. Now, as a partner at Bellwether Education Partners and a Bernard Lee Schwartz Senior Policy Fellow here at Fordham, he’s been able to polish and publish it. And, it’s even better than the original draft, thanks to Smarick’s latest experiences in the trenches.

Smarick’s starting place is the irrefutable contention that yesterday’s urban school system is broken beyond repair and needs to be replaced by something radically different if today’s children are to be soundly educated. What he would replace it with is a version of a “portfolio district” headed by a mayor-appointed “chancellor.” This sounds like the systems in D.C. and New York, but Smarick goes notably farther in three directions: First, he really does mean that all the schools in the city, not just a subset, would be run, charter-style, by outside operators, not by a municipal bureaucracy....

Nine months ago, the School Choice Demonstration Project delivered its final treatise on the Milwaukee school-voucher program, known as the MPCP (capping a run of thirty-seven reports on the topic). It concluded that “the combination of choice and accountability left the MPCP students in our study with significantly higher levels of reading gains than their carefully matched peers in MPS after four years.” This study by analysts at the Universities of Oklahoma and Kentucky and Furman University corroborates that encouraging assertion. Here, authors examine three years of achievement data—two years before and one year after stricter testing and public-reporting requirements were passed in Wisconsin for private schools accepting voucher students—to ascertain the impact of these new accountability provisions on student achievement. They found large increases in the average math and reading scores for students enrolled in voucher schools. Further, voucher students outperformed their traditional-school peers in reading in 2010-11 and narrowed the gap in math. Using value-added and other rigorous models, the research team was able to demonstrate that achievement increases in the neighborhood of 0.1 to 0.2 standard deviations reflect the impact of the new accountability policies as opposed to pre-existing trends and/or selective student attrition (think: counseling-out...

As I write in my brand-new book The Diverse Schools Dilemma, gentrification has supplied us with the best opportunity in a generation to create socioeconomically-mixed public schools. But is that opportunity being seized? We know that lots of neighborhoods are gentrifying. But are demographic changes in communities leading to demographic changes in their schools?

To find out, I had Greg Hutko, our research intern, sift through national education data to pinpoint the ten public schools that have seen the biggest decrease in their share of poor students (defined as those eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch) over the past three years. Here’s what we found:

Fastest-gentrifying schools
The 10 fastest-gentrifying schools

What to think of this list? First, I was surprised that the two neighborhoods thought of as the Ground Zero of gentrification—D.C.’s Capitol Hill and NYC’s Brooklyn—didn’t have any schools make the cut. And it’s telling that suburban schools outnumber urban ones on the list. (As Atlantic Cities just reported, the suburbs are where you find...