Charters & Choice

In 2011-12, Cleveland’s public school system (traditional district and charter) had 80 schools rated a D or F. Over 30,000 students enrolled in these buildings. Given these numbers, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s headline is remarkable: “Hundreds of Spots Remain in Cleveland's Top-Rated Public Schools this Fall.” 

The article goes on to describe how the city’s top-rated schools still have the capacity to serve more students this coming school year. These are both district and charter schools, and all produce solid academic results, while serving some of Ohio’s most needy students.

Among the district schools with open slots: The top-rated John Hay Academies, three so-called “exam schools,” had nearly 150 available seats; MC2 STEM school had 56; and Whitney Young Leadership Academy had 227 open seats. Among the charter schools, Cleveland’s E-Prep School—part of the Breakthrough Schools, one of the nation’s highest-performing charter school networks—had 60 empty seats. Two ICAN charter schools, a high-performing charter network based in Cleveland, had 70 open seats.

By my calculation, the total number of open seats on the PD’s distinguished list of schools—17 schools were listed in all—came to 1,105.

It’s a shame that there are any open seats in high-quality Cleveland schools, much less over...


Small-town Ohio and its “good old days” is the subject of a New York Times article by Robert Putnam, published this week. In it, he describes the Shangri-La of the late 1950s in Northwestern Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. Quite how he makes it from this to his usual conclusion that the collective “we” is a key missing element of today’s society – in terms of economic attainment, educational outcomes and the weave of the entire social fabric – is beyond my powers to understand.

The “American Dream” that Putnam describes leaves out women (unmarried ones for sure and by insinuation any married woman who harbored any ambition outside of homemaking), most black students (except perhaps the two from Port Clinton who “encountered racial prejudice in town” yet still managed to get into graduate school through education and effort) and all of the unmentionables from the era (homosexuals, mixed-race families, Italians, Poles, the disabled and the mentally ill) for whom the 1950s did no favors at all.

Any sense of a collective “we” from that era is largely male, wholly straight, mostly white, and solidly middle- and upper- class although those last two terms have definitely acquired...


Following the Tony Bennett flap, the A-to-F school-grading systems that Bennett championed are themselves under the gun. Some have argued in favor of increasing the number of measures upon which schools are graded, reflecting the variety of grades that parents see their children bring home from school every year. But at what point will more information become too much information? For a great discussion, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

After announcing its plans to withdraw from both Common Core–assessment consortia, Pennsylvania has clarified that it will in fact remain a member of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced—it just won’t be using either test. “Huh,” you say? The nominal difference means that the Keystone State will retain the right to “participate” in each group’s discussions.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Robert Samuelson argued that the fiscal crisis facing state and local governments can be boiled down to the clash of two interests: schools versus nursing homes. Samuelson characterized the impending pension crisis as a “prolonged squeeze” from retirement commitments to public employees, while we call it the “big squeeze” in our series of reports on...


Harvard EdLabs researchers Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer have plunged more deeply into the Harlem Children Zone’s Promise Academy, emerging with positive outcomes from this high-performing charter middle school in New York City. Previously, Dobbie and Fryer found that the Promise Academy had closed the black-white achievement gap, as measured by test scores, by the time sixth-grade lottery winners reached the eighth grade. Now the pair has looked to the school’s impact on more “medium-term” outcomes such as high school graduation, college enrollment, teen pregnancy, and incarceration—and they have found that the Promise Academy provides a huge human-capital boost. Six years after winning the admissions lottery, Promise Academy students not only score higher on the nationally normed Woodcock-Johnson math achievement tests than lottery losers, but they are more likely to enroll in college, by 24 percentage points. Additionally, female lottery winners are 12 percentage points less likely to become pregnant in their teens, while males are 4 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated. The Harlem Children’s Zone social and community-building services are well documented, but Dobbie and Fryer attribute Promise Academy’s success to the markers that make it a...


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.

Dr. Judy Hennessey is the superintendent of Deca Prep, a K-6 elementary school in its second year. Judy is also the superintendent of Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), Ohio’s first early college high school, serving grades 7-12. Judy is a Dayton native and alum of Dayton Public Schools.

Through her work at DECA, she saw the need to have better preparation for her students and the mission of Deca Prep is to ready first generation college students in a rigorous curriculum including academics and character education. The focus of Deca Prep and DECA is sending students to college.

Below are the questions and excerpts from our conversation.

Q: What's your biggest worry? 

A: Will the assessments be aligned in time. We’ve been working on preparing the instructional side for a few years.

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

A: Making sure new staff coming in are ready and on the same page. They need...


By the Company it Keeps: Neerav Kingsland

I met Neerav Kingsland in 2009. I was on my tenth trip to New Orleans post-Katrina, meeting with a foundation newly interested in supporting the local reform effort, and I wanted to spend a little time with New Schools for New Orleans, the organization leading much of the most promising work, to learn more about their efforts. Neerav and I spent a few hours together, and I walked away impressed beyond words.

Neerav Kingsland New Schools for New Orleans

I liked to think my ideas about systemic reform were advanced—heck, I was writing a book about it—but his ability to thoughtfully answer every question I could muster and precisely explain how big concepts were translating into practice demonstrated that he was the real leader in this business.

In the years since, my admiration for Neerav has only grown. On reform philosophy, he’s my intellectual doppelganger; but he’s so much smarter, and his experience helping to bring our shared beliefs to life...


Updated on August 8, 2013

As “school choice” laws go, this one is sloppy and coercive. If a school district in Missouri loses its accreditation (which means, more or less, that it’s failing), then its school board must pick an accredited district to which it will send students who want to transfer. Parents may choose a different district, but they’ll be responsible for their own transportation. The receiving district can’t say no. And when the unaccredited school district gets back its accreditation, the students must return.

This is not like other inter-district enrollment policies, such as the Schools of Choice program in Michigan, where students may attend any neighboring district—for any reason—so long as that district chooses to participate. Most Michigan districts are happy to take additional students and the revenue that comes with them, but residents in the Missouri districts poised to receive more students under the transfer law there have revolted.

There are three unaccredited school systems in the state: Kansas City Public Schools and the St. Louis–area districts of Normandy and Riverview Gardens, all mostly black. Normandy and Riverview Gardens have chosen to bus students to suburban districts, one of which is across the Missouri River...


Opt-Out or Cop-Out? A Debate on 'New' Accountability Systems

Opt-Out or Cop-Out? A Debate on 'New' Accountability Systems

Growing numbers of parents, educators, and school administrators are calling for a local "opt-out" from state tests and accountability systems.

Is this opt-out a cop-out? Or would students benefit from a system that their own teachers and principals devised? Should all schools be offered an opt-out alternative, one in which they propose to be held accountable to a different set of measures? What about opt-outs for high-achieving schools or schools with good reason to be different? Would such a system move us toward or away from the goals of the Common Core? As for charter schools, must they continue to be tethered to uniform statewide accountability systems? Or should we rekindle the concept of customizing each school's charter and performance expectations?

Louisiana voters are used to making the hard decisions about public education that divide their lawmakers. With any luck, they’ll have the chance to make those hard decisions again.

After all, it’s the voters and families of the Pelican State who are waiting in line for the public school alternatives that lawmakers have made available but can’t seem to fund adequately. Consider Louisiana’s new Course Choice program, which allows students to shop around for courses—virtual and otherwise—not offered in their zoned school. State schools superintendent John White said earlier this week that there was a wait list of 1,000 students who wanted to take part, with 100 new applications arriving daily.

But White will have to scrounge for dollars if he wants to accommodate everybody. He had to find $2 million to pay for the 2,000 slots he set aside initially, and he figured he’d need to find another $1.5 million just to meet current demand.

Why the funding dilemma? The state Supreme Court declared in May that a constitutionally protected source of public funding is off limits to this decidedly different way of educating the public. The “minimum foundation” for public education in Louisiana—which this...


The Washington Post profiled Josh Powell, a homeschooled young man, who—having never written an essay or learned that South Africa was a country—had to take several years of remedial classes at a community college to get back on track with his peers. Citing worry for his eleven younger siblings, all still being homeschooled by their parents, young Mr. Powell (now a Georgetown undergrad) urges that homeschooling to be subject to accountability. But just what kind of accountability? That’s a tricky question. This is a fascinating case—and a very touchy subject.

There’s a waiting list of about 1,000 students who want to take part in Louisiana’s new Course Choice program, which currently allows 2,000 youngsters to shop around for courses, virtual and otherwise, that are not offered in their home school. State Superintendent John White says that 100 applications pile in every day and that, to accommodate everybody, he’ll have to scrounge for money. The state Supreme Court has already ruled that a constitutionally protected source of public funding is off limits. White estimates that he’ll need another $1.5 million just to meet the current demand.

After reaching a long-awaited teachers’ contract in April, Hawaii’s...