Charters & Choice

It turns out a decision from Ball State University to cut ties with seven badly performing charter schools in Indiana was no death sentence. Four of these seven have been reprieved: Two found new sponsors and two others were born again as campuses of a private Christian school.

All but one of these four previously received F grades on the state’s latest school report card (the fourth received a D), and performance had been getting worse, not better. For eighteen months, Ball State held repeated meetings with these schools but found little hope of a turnaround. In January, the university declined to renew their contracts.

When these schools began to shop around for new sponsors, National Association of Charter School Authorizers president Greg Richmond said they were engaged in a race to the bottom, scouring for patrons with lower standards to stay alive. Two of the schools ultimately found new authorizers in small private colleges that had virtually no experience in authorizing charter schools. Two others operated by Imagine Schools opted to reopen as campuses of the fledgling Horizon Christian Academy and encouraged their families to apply to Indiana’s voucher program.

Their...

Here’s the second half of my compilation of recent publications you might want to read.

  • If you’re interested in the educator-evaluation debate, you ought to take a look at Democrats for Education Reform’s recent report, Culture of Countenance. A number of groups have begun analyzing the consequences of the nation’s rapid overhaul of laws and regulations related to evaluations. DFER’s contribution is giving attention to the most overlooked aspect—observations. An underreported finding of the MET study is that observations may
  • ...

By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

I’ve known Mashea Ashton on and off for almost a decade. We’ve done charter school stuff together and crossed paths in various other pursuits. I always liked and respected her a great deal. In my mind she was good people.

Marc Porter Magee 50CAN

But through a fellowship program, I got to know Mashea even better. And for that I’m eternally grateful. Seldom will you come across someone with so much ability and yet so much humility. She is reflective and kind to the core, and she does this work with a quiet passion.

As you’ll see in the questions, Mashea has just about done it all. She’s worked for some of the most influential ed-reform organizations, and she’s currently leading a major effort in one of America’s most prominent ed-reform cities.

But you’ll also see in her answers how she manages to avoid the limelight: by simply being decent and modest and giving others credit.

And that is...

Three years ago, a Fordham report on charter school autonomy highlighted several states that “tie the hands of charters with their overly restrictive statutes.” Maryland was in that Hall of Shame, and the recent action of one charter-sponsoring school district shows that the state has much to do before it can make it out.

Last month, the soon-to-be-opened Frederick Classical Charter School had prepared to offer jobs to nine teachers who met the school’s requirements to provide instruction in the “trivium” of classical education—grammar, logic, and rhetoric. But the Frederick County school district quashed those plans and told the charter that it had to hire at least six district teachers who needed placement because they were either returning from leave or were laid off from under-enrolled schools.

When Frederick Classical president Tom Neumark asked to interview these district employees, he discovered that school board policy prevented him from even learning their names. “It’s not that we don’t want [them],” Neumark told the Frederick News-Post. “It’s that we don’t know them. We want to talk to them and assess if they’re a good fit for the school.”

This trip down the rabbit hole was inevitable given the...

After a judge ruled last year that Los Angeles was in violation of the Stull Act—a forty-year-old state law signed by Governor Ronald Reagan requiring that principal and teacher evaluations include student-achievement measures, and spurred on by Los Angeles’s ongoing attempt at obtaining a district-level NCLB waiver, Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy announced that, as of next year, the district will “fully implement the evaluation changes” tested in an ongoing pilot program.

After three years of failed negotiations and angst galore, New York City has a teacher-evaluation plan. Teachers’ evaluation ratings will be comprised of student-test scores (20 to 25 percent), school-established measures (15 to 20 percent), and in-class or video-recorded observations (55 to 60 percent). But don’t break out the celebratory flan just yet! Some are balking at plans to assess subjects like art, gym, and foreign languages, and at least one mayoral candidate has already come out against the plan.

On Tuesday, D.C. councilmember David Catania announced seven proposals that could reform the District’s public education system dramatically—including a five-year facility plan and a process for handing over surplus buildings to charters. For her part,...

By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

Robin Lake is the Director of the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington. I’m personally indebted to her, because for more than a decade, my thinking has been consistently informed, influenced, and improved by CRPE’s work. Robin has been instrumental to CRPE’s most important contributions, including extensive research on charter schooling and hands-on support for districts attempting the groundbreaking “portfolio” concept.

Robin Lake CRPE

She has published on issues as diverse as special education, turnarounds, accountability, innovation, LIFO, SEA reform, and governance. Her counsel is sought by organizations across our field and by policymakers of all stripes.

And she’s just a really good person. Everyone likes and respects Robin, especially those who know her best. I’ve admired her thoughtful, sensible approach to this work and her honest, down-to-earth interactions with friends and colleagues.

Her responses will give you a flavor for her many other strengths. She’s sharp, modest, open, honest, and really funny.

Now she’s TOTALLY...

In both our role as researchers and as a charter school authorizer we have come to appreciate over-and-over again the critical importance of school leaders in making schools great. Yet, there is no harder job than running a successful school building for high-poverty students; nor a more important job. We are fortunate that some of these leaders work in schools that Fordham sponsors and it is our privilege to tell a little bit of their stories and the impact they are having on students in Ohio.

Today’s Q&A is with Rick Bowman, the superintendent of Sciotoville Community School, located in rural Southern Ohio. Tragically, we recently learned that Quintin Howard, a 17-year-old senior at Sciotoville passed away in a single vehicle accident on May 25th. At a candlelight vigil for Mr. Howard, Bowman led a prayer and encouraged the community saying “This is a family. They’re not going to be alone. They’re going to have all of us, and we’re going to have each other to work together to get through this very difficult time.” This is a reminder that school leaders are not only a school’s chief executive and chief academic officer. Sometimes, they’re a community’s consoler-in-chief.

For...

Last Friday, as I was about to board a plane, I read an article about an exciting initiative being launched in Washington, D.C.

During the flight, I drafted a long, gushing piece, praising Abigail Smith, the new deputy mayor for education, and arguing that D.C. was becoming the most important city for systemic reform after New Orleans.

Upon landing, I was on the verge of posting the piece when I saw another D.C. schools announcement.

This one took the wind from my sails.

I sadly shelved the paean.

Here’s the story: D.C. has recently undertaken two invaluable reforms that, when combined with the city’s other systemic features, place D.C. on the brink of becoming the urban school system of the future.

But a third announcement shows that some city leaders are still tragically wedded to the old, failed approach.

I’ll start with the good news, then the bad, and end with a recommendation for solidifying D.C.’s place as a national model for systemic reform.

The Mayor’s Office announced that unused district facilities will be made available to charters (with a preference for high performers) and that the city will establish a common enrollment system for district...

The number of high school graduates from Ohio’s charter schools has risen sharply in the past decade. In spring 2002, only 580 students graduated from a charter; in spring 2011 (the last year of available graduation data), 6,301 students graduated from a charter, only slightly below of graduates of Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus school districts combined. 

Where do charter school grads go upon graduation? Not likely to college. Only around 1 in 10 charter school graduates head directly into an Ohio public university or college (two- or four-year), according to the Ohio Board of Regents. Note: The Regents’ data do not account for high school graduates who attend an out-of-state, private, or for-profit college—thus, underreporting the number of college-bound grads.

For graduates of e-school charters, a measly 9 percent made the plunge into college, while for graduates of brick-and-mortar charters, it’s 11 percent. There is, however, considerable variation across the charters. As might be expected, Ohio’s few high-performing high school charters had a higher percentage of grads go off to college. For example, 48 percent of Dayton Early College Academy’s (DECA) and 50 percent of Toledo School for the Arts’ graduates enrolled directly into an Ohio college. On the flip...

The best thing one can say about Illinois’s new moratorium on virtual charter schools is that it could have been worse. The folks at the Illinois Network of Charter Schools talked lawmakers down from a three-year ban on any new charter with “virtual-schooling components” to a one-year moratorium on new online schools outside of Chicago. The bill the governor signed last week also demands policy recommendations from the state’s charter school commission that could lead to quality and cost-efficient online learning.

Virtual charter school
Did lawmakers want a moratorium to "better understand the effects" of virtual schooling, or was it a power grab?
Photo by wader

But did lawmakers want a moratorium to better understand the effects of virtual schooling, as some explained, or was this the result of a power grab by influential suburban school districts worried about the prospect of losing students to charters they never before had to fear?

The objection to a single virtual charter application from eighteen Chicagoland districts points to...

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