Charters & Choice

CTE's evolution

On this week's podcast, Kate Blosveren Kreamer, Deputy Executive Director of Advance CTE, joins Alyssa Schwenk and Adam Tyner to discuss the future of career and technical education. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines teachers’ value-added scores in charter versus traditional public schools.

Amber’s Research Minute

Umut Özek et al.,Teacher Value-Added in Charter Schools and Traditional Public Schools,” Calder (January 2018).

Special School Choice Week edition

On this week's podcast, Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, and Nina Rees, CEO and president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, join Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss where the choice movement stands on the occasion of National School Choice Week. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines a study on school discipline reform in Philadelphia, complete with a jaw-dropping teacher survey.

Amber’s Research Minute

Abigail M. Gray et al., “Discipline in Context: Suspension, Climate, and PBIS in the School District of Philadelphia,” CPRE Research Reports (October 2017).

After losing its sponsorship, ECOT, the largest e-school in Ohio, appears to be on the brink of closure. Districts and other e-schools are bracing for the possible flood of new students, preparing to hire new teachers, manage students’ transcripts, and get them up to speed mid-year. Not surprisingly, politicians are squeezing the situation for every last drop. Taking hardline stances on charter schools in Ohio is like a free campaign booster shot, with this particular situation offering extra potency. Meanwhile, families of some 12,000 students are dealing with the nightmare of impromptu school shopping.

Much is being said about ECOT right now. This shouldn’t surprise, given its status as the largest and most maligned charter school in Ohio and the role of its founder among the old guard of widely reviled campaign contributors in laying the groundwork for a very partisan charter landscape in Ohio. Each development toward ECOT’s downfall has sharpened new arrows in the quiver from which to take aim against charter schools broadly—a serious portion of which deserve never to be mentioned in the same breath as the near-fallen giant. What, if anything, can be learned and applied from this?...

As reported by the Dispatch last week, Columbus City Schools has unveiled plans to expand selective admission among its magnet schools next year. This is a positive step in an often criticized district—an effort that should be applauded and helped to grow.

Twenty-five years of school choice in Ohio have largely laid to rest the archaic notion that a home address will determine what schools children will attend from Kindergarten through high school. Interdistrict open enrollment, charter schools, private school scholarships, home schooling, virtual schooling, and independent STEM schools render district boundaries all but irrelevant to parents who are able to navigate these options. Even within districts, specialized schools, programs that look like schools, and lottery-based magnet schools have proliferated, further eroding address-based school assignments and rigid feeder patterns. This is all for the good.

A lesser-known addendum to that list is selective admission, whereby certain schools are allowed to prioritize a percentage of their seats for students who meet particular criteria. Ohio has allowed selective admission—with some important caveats—since 1990, and Columbus City Schools was the first district in the state to make use of this option. Today, five of the district’s magnet...

In a recent blog post, University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham posits three possible types of personalization in personalized learning—children learning at their own speed, pedagogical tailoring, and individualized content. I have sought out all of these variations for my children over the years and, as Willingham notes, they are not mutually exclusive. But neither are they equally important. Let me make the case, as a father of two high school girls, that personalized pacing is a must-have, personalized pedagogy is a nice-to-have, and personalized content is largely to be avoided, at least until the end of the K-12 experience.

Personalized pacing and pedagogy

My children’s experience at The Metro School, a 6-12 STEM-focused early college school in Columbus, shows that students learning at their own speed is the prime mover of successful personalized learning (PL).

Metro’s model generally compresses what would be year-long courses in traditional schools into one semester. Course material is divided into discrete units and subunits, with each having clear goals for students and teachers and clearly connecting to the next. It moves fast, the expectations are high[1], and there is little downtime. Students’ progress is assessed regularly along the way,...

Three cheers for charter leaders of color

On this week's podcast, special guest Kim Smith—CEO of the National Charter Collaborative—joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss single-site charter school leaders of color. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines Raj Chetty’s new “Lost Einsteins” study, which finds that smart low-income kids are much less likely than their affluent peers to grow up to become inventors.

Amber’s Research Minute

Alexander M. Bell et al., “Who Becomes an Inventor in America? The Importance of Exposure to Innovation,” The Equality of Opportunity Project (November 2017).


The annual “parent power index” published by the Center for Education Reform raises worthy questions—how much power is afforded to parents, and what can they do to acquire more? Despite its various flaws, the index attempts to quantify the extent to which options and information are available to parents so they can make good decisions for their child’s education—a useful lens unto itself.

A plethora of other groups evaluate how well states are doing on education—doling out grades on the strength of charter laws or a bevy of other education policies like funding, test scores, or teacher quality. Even if we disagree with how some scorecards are calculated or the mischaracterizations that can flow from them, such grades can be informative. They provide a look at how states compare to their peers and how policy or legislative improvements can set the right conditions for success though of course not guaranteeing it. (As we know from a long journey to charter reform in Ohio, those conditions matter a lot.)

Yet even achieving wins in policy areas I think matter most for kids—like teacher quality or school choice—offers no guarantee that such reforms...

The charter schools popularity contest

On this week's podcast, Mike Petrilli, Alyssa Schwenk, and Brandon Wright discuss why charters enjoy more support in some states than in others. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the impact of administrator and parent support on teacher retention.

Amber’s Research Minute

Steven Bednar and Dora Gicheva, “Workplace Support and Diversity in the Market for Public School Teachers,” Education Finance and Policy (August 2017).


For too long, the topic of school choice in Ohio has been divisive and polarizing. You are invited to attend a thoughtful and substantive discussion of school choice with experienced leaders from across the state. This effort to find common ground and collaborative solutions in support of students promises to be a great evening. We hope you can attend.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

6:00 to 8:00 pm

Capital University Law School

Room 229, 303 E. Broad Street

Downtown Columbus

Panelists: Stephen O. Dyer (Innovation Ohio), Andy Boy (United Schools Network), Mary Ronan (former Superintendent of Cincinnati City Schools), and Chad L. Aldis (Thomas B. Fordham Institute),.

Refreshments will be served, and there will be time reserved for you to ask questions and gain insight into school choice efforts currently underway across Ohio.

We hope you’ll join the conversation.

Tickets are free but we urge you to register today....

Yesterday, the Ohio Department of Education released the second round of charter sponsor (a.k.a. authorizer) ratings. The Plain Dealer’s Patrick O’Donnell was quick out of the gate in noticing overall improvements from last year’s ratings (“Cleveland and other charter school sponsors doing a better job, new ratings show”) highlighting the Cleveland district’s own improvement as well as a high-level look at the grades. The Dispatch took a more negative spin, “Sponsors of 10 Ohio charter schools receive ‘poor’ ratings from state,” emphasizing that nearly half of sponsors earned a rating of Poor or Ineffective.

Indeed, 21 of 45 sponsors were deemed ineffective or poor for 2016-17. Yet the Dispatch omits the fact that all but six of these low-rated sponsors (one career technical center, one non-profit, and four educational service centers) were traditional public school districts. The story also took pains to note that those earning effectives did so “despite poor achievement ratings for some or many of their schools.” This is true, but it overlooks the reality that high-poverty schools across the board (charter or district) have struggled and will continue to struggle on achievement metrics until the state makes student growth over time a bigger...