Charters & Choice

This spring, we promised to talk to some educators about the implementation for the Common Core Curriculum and PARCC assessments. What we asked was how they and their schools have prepared and what could potentially hinder a smooth transition.

The first school leader we spoke with was Chad Webb, the head of school for Village Preparatory Academy:Woodland Hills Campus (Village Prep) in Cleveland. Chad is an Ohio native and was a principal in the city of New Orleans Louisiana Recovery School District after Hurricane Katrina.  Village Prep is one of the Breakthrough Schools with a structured school culture focusing on reading and math instruction, integrating technology and a unique entrepreneurship curriculum. Beginning in kindergarten, all students (who are referred to as scholars) have a goal of doing their best and attending college.

Below are the questions and excerpts from our conversation.

Q: What's your biggest worry? 

A: Increased rigor of course, but making sure we are preparing our scholars when the new assessment piece takes place.

Q: What do you need to put in place before this all starts?

A: Making sure we are meeting all the teaching points and staff preparation. Our director of curriculum and instruction has...

A new era dawned today for Columbus’ public education system. Today, at Indianola K-8 School—the nation’s first junior high school—Governor Kasich signed House Bill 167, the Columbus Reform Plan. The reform plan was crafted in response to the cheating scandal that has rocked Columbus City Schools, first reported publically last summer.

Governor John Kasich signs House Bill 167

The legislation, which raced through Ohio General Assembly in 39 days, enacts three major reforms: establishes an independent auditor, empowers the mayor to authorize charter schools, and shares local levy dollars, which normally fund only district schools, with high-performing charter schools. These reforms represent three of the 55 reforms put forward by the Columbus Education Commission.

Columbus mayor Michael B. Coleman (left) and Ohio governor John Kasich (right)

House Bill 167 better positions Columbus’ public schools (district and charter) to compete with the highest-performing urban school systems in the nation. By empowering the mayor with greater authority over the public school system—in his remarks, Governor Kasich dubbed the mayor, “the enforcer”—schools will be held to higher performance standards, while gaining the political support and clout that an influential mayor can...

July in Washington, D.C. encompasses the almost intolerable heat and humidity that a swamp can offer.  The city, coincidentally, was built on a swamp many years ago.  However, Washington D.C. was also the sight of the 13th annual National Charter Schools Conference, held just last week.  The conference is magnificently put together by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), a national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. 

Having walked away from the conference with many useful experiences, great industry contacts, and a recharged energy to the mission of advancing the charter school cause, there was one breakout session I attended that stood out for me as being the crucible for all the other topics discussed during the conference.  The session dealt with charter school boards and how to find good board members.

Let’s start with this premise – good board members are indeed hard to find.  No one will dispute that a passion to the cause, along with a connection to the community, and of course, a desire to serve are all essential qualities for board members.  However, what I found most interesting was the lack of mention of a very important skill set --...

The charter school movement has inspired a lot of enthusiasm for multi-school networks and their ability to expand, but now it’s time to talk more about how these networks are governed.

Ben Gamla Charter School Clearwater
Why is the successful Ben Gamla Charter closing its doors after one year?
Photo from the Jewish Press of Pinella County

To be sure, it’s less exciting to talk about the configuration and operation of governing boards than it is to talk about scaling up successful charter school models. But this much is true: It’s no fun dissecting the breakdown in governance that has led to a charter school’s closure.

That’s the current reality in Clearwater, Florida. There, the Ben Gamla Charter School is closing its doors after one year of operation not because it performed poorly (most of its fifty students scored well on the state assessment) or because of financial problems (it was thousands of dollars in the black) but because it wrested too much control from its parent foundation....

Traditional school districts and public charter schools are often positioned as competitors, rivals, even enemies. But must they? In February 2010, the Gates Foundation established the District-Charter Collaboration Compact initiative to promote peace and join these two forces in the real battle: improving educational outcomes. This interim report—naught more than a status update, but instructional nonetheless—documents these efforts to date. Sixteen cities participated in the first round, sharing things like physical resources, facilities, and instructional best practices and developing a common enrollment system, expedited by $100,000 Gates grants to each community. Progress on Compact commitments (including a special education collaborative in New York and shared professional development in Boston) has been “episodic,” however, rocked by things like leadership transitions (in Chicago, for instance, initial progress made under Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard has slowed since his exit) and local anti-charter sentiment. Still, the update lauds the fact that district leaders in all sixteen cities report improved dialogue. In December 2012, seven of the sixteen communities—Hartford, Denver, New York City, Boston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch, Texas—were granted additional funds, totaling close to $25 million, to continue the work.

SOURCE: Sarah Yatsko, Elizabeth Cooley Nelson, and Robin Lake, District-Charter Collaboration...

If in preparation for celebrating our nation's declaration of independence—and by the way, for the record, the actual Declaration of Independence is a suggested text in the Common Core, as are many of our founding documents—you missed the thirteenth annual National Charter Schools Conference, here are twelve key takeaways (and only a handful of Fordham plugs and shout-outs):

1. From panels, to keynote speakers, to just plain old networking, everyone was citing the latest CREDO study, but Andy Smarick's take—as well as Adam Emerson's challenge to charter advocates—go in-depth on what the findings mean.

2. Pitbull—yes, a hip-hop artist gave a keynote address bright and early on Monday (How many people had even had their coffee?). For the best take on his speech, check out The Washington Post's Reliable Source.

3. The Walton Family Foundation was inducted into the Alliance's Hall of Fame for its tireless work in improving education and the school-choice movement (they have invested more than $1 billion in education*).  The only question is why this recognition didn’t come earlier.

4. Howard Fuller, for many, represents what the charter school movement is all about. He calls it as he sees it—and...

The global competitiveness of the U.S. education system continues to drive much of the school reform dialogue. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) contributed to the conversation last week with a broad report on the progress and productivity of education in the U.S.

In Remedial Education: Federal Education Policy, Rebecca Strauss, associate director of Renewing America publications at CFR considers the most critical challenges facing America’s education system. The report identifies the system’s biggest problems: achievement gaps between the rich and poor, inequality in government spending and performance outcomes, and rising college tuition. After this bleak diagnosis, Strauss presents a comprehensive summary of the federal government’s efforts at improving the state of public education. The report identifies four pillars to innovation: (1) “improving teacher evaluation and effectiveness; (2) expanding high-quality charter schools; (3) encouraging states to adopt common, college-ready standards; and (4) developing data systems to track student performance.”

The report describes the federal government’s continued implementation of accountability standards through the Bush and Obama administrations. This is evidenced by further teacher effectiveness and data-driven education developments. In her appraisal of charter school innovations, Strauss recognizes Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools as one of many high-quality charter...

Ohio governor John Kasich has a guest post over at Fordham’s Ohio Gadfly Daily celebrating the state’s newest school-choice initiative, the Income-Based Scholarship Program. And he has good reason to celebrate: This newest effort means that Ohio has more private-school-choice programs than any other state.

School choice has a long history in the Buckeye State, as the governor reminds us. The first program in Ohio (and the second oldest in the nation) was created in Cleveland in 1995 and last year benefitted 6,000 students. Additionally, the state’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program, the Autism Scholarship Program, and the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program collectively helped nearly 20,000 K–12 children last year attend a private school of their choice.

Those may not seem like big student numbers, but with every program that’s added and with every student enrolled, Ohio is laying the bricks to build a mansion of publicly funded alternatives to a traditional education. The newest program will start in the fall for Kindergartners who come from households whose incomes fall below 200 percent of the poverty level, and it will grow by one grade level every year.

“Not every student’s education needs can be met in the...

A recent press release from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) estimated that 920,007 students are currently on a waitlist to attend charter schools, a jump from the previous year’s 610,000. For some education reformers, this may be a great statistic because it indicates charter schools are taking a more prominent role in education. For others, this same statistic may be absolutely terrifying.

As more charter schools open to meet this demand, students will have a greater potential to be exposed to innovative and rigorous approaches to education. Conversely, a greater demand for a charter school education also runs the risk of having a large number of charters open that disregard the quality of the educational services they provide. In an ideal world, sponsors would sort through charter school applicants to pick out potential high flyers, but news stories about mismanagement and the poor academic performance of some charter schools has shown that sponsors can fail in outlining rigorous criteria for the charter application and renewal process.

As we see a growth in charter schools applicants and a failure in approving high flyers, what are city leaders and legislators to do?

Columbus’s Mayor Michael...

Last week, I was preparing for an upcoming adventurous Alaskan vacation that included thoughts of my wife and me, peacefully floating by dangerous summer artic icebergs, when those mental images were suddenly dashed as I opened up my local newspaper.  The Cincinnati Enquirer reported dubious spending activities by the superintendent of the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy (CCPA) and the contracted treasurer who was approving them. 

Both the school director and the treasurer face twenty six counts of theft in office, unauthorized use of property, tampering with evidence and tampering with records.  The amount in question exceeds $350,000, and focuses on credit card transactions over the course of a few years that covered lavish trips to Europe, Las Vegas, day spas, an Oprah show in Boston, and so on, under the guise of legitimate business expenses.

The Enquirer also made reference to three other charter school treasurers who were found by State Auditor Dave Yost, to be responsible for more than $1 million in questionable, and possibly illegal, spending of public dollars.  All three were involved in the finances of some of Ohio’s most troubled charter schools.  

As Fordham’s charter school finance expert on the ground in Ohio for our...

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