Charters & Choice

Education reformers might be tempted to think they can claim victory in Michigan because voters overwhelmingly rejected a push from the teacher unions and others to engrave collective bargaining in the state constitution. Surely, the unions overreached here, but they won elsewhere on Election Day in the Wolverine State.

Education reform in Michigan suffered a crucial setback on Tuesday.

Or, more specifically, in Detroit, Highland Park, and Muskegon Heights—all of them school districts that have become educational wastelands and where the state had installed emergency managers to take control and (more importantly) to tear up union contracts to get the job done. In Highland Park and Muskegon Heights, that meant converting the school districts into charter-school districts. In Detroit, it meant keeping power out of the hands of a school board that one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence.”

This week, 53 percent of the state’s voters repealed the emergency-manager law, a victory for public-employee unions (teachers included, of course) that had spent the summer gathering signatures to put the question on the ballot. And that may unravel the boldest measures undertaken by these managers.

Detroit’s emergency chief, Roy Roberts, technically maintains...

Lots of people are weighing in on the implications of Tuesday’s election results.

  • Eduwonk Rotherham has a good piece in Time magazine lamenting Tony Bennett’s loss (my thoughts on that here), celebrating the wins for charter schools, and noting the continued strength of teachers unions when they are tested.
  • Mike comes to many of the same conclusions.  Tom Luna’s losses get his attention, as do a number of results from the Midwest.
  • Stergios also highlights the charter wins and the fallout from Bennett’s undoing (particularly regarding Common Core) and adds accountability and ESEA reauthorization to the list of affected subjects.
  • Naturally, the prolific Rick Hess has a series of posts on the subject, declaring the night a split decision for reformers.  He emphasizes the union wins and the subtle split in the reform community between conservatives and progressives.  See here for his take on Bennett’s loss and its implications for Common Core.
  • The WSJ’s Stephanie Branchero also concludes that voters are divided.  Branchero discusses Luna’s losses, the charter win in WA, and CA’s decision to spend more on schools.
  • Politics K-12 is already looking ahead, surfacing the five big issues
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Charter school supporters can claim victory in at least one high-profile ballot initiative (Georgia) and perhaps one other (Washington) but each state has a different story to tell—and lessons to teach.

In what may arguably be defined as a landslide, 59 percent of Georgia voters empowered the state to create an independent commission to authorize charter schools. But that margin of victory doesn’t even tell the whole story.

Consider Gwinnett County, the state’s largest school district, which has allowed only three charter schools within its boundaries and which filed the original lawsuit that ultimately killed Georgia’s previous independent authorizer (hence the constitutional amendment). Gwinnett superintendent Alvin Wilbanks once said that the question before voters would only empower the state to “privatize, defund, and dismantle public education.” But 63 percent of the county’s voters disagreed with him and said yes to the amendment.

While Georgia can claim a landslide, charter advocates in the Evergreen State may be getting by with a squeaker.

The state’s largest counties followed suit, including Fulton County (where 66 percent of voters said yes) and DeKalb County (64 percent). This highlights the arrogance of Wilbanks and other district superintendents, who warned that the amendment would only diminish...

The Milwaukee voucher program remains one of the most tightly-regulated school choice programs of its kind in the nation, and it deserves better than the sloppy conclusions of Diane Ravitch. In a blog post earlier this week, Ravitch noted—correctly—that tougher standards applied to the Wisconsin state test went badly for all Milwaukee students, especially voucher recipients (just 10 percent of whom were proficient in reading, compared to 15 percent of their district peers). But then she reports that legislation expanding the Milwaukee choice program to Racine absolved private schools of the requirement that they administer the state tests to their voucher-bearing students. “Therefore,” she writes, “their proficiency rate will not be known or reported.”

Wisconsin has made a lot of progress in holding its voucher program more accountable.

This is absolutely untrue. For the past few years, students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program have had to take the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination (WKCE), which is the same test administered to all public school students. When the Wisconsin legislature expanded the voucher program to Racine last year, nothing changed this requirement. In fact, test results for private schools in Racine and Milwaukee, as well as for public schools throughout...

The votes are in

Is education-funding “blackmail” fair play? Did teacher unions come out on top? Mike and Dara rehash Tuesday’s electoral results while Amber asks whether increased voucher accountability makes a difference.

Amber's Research Minute

School Choice and School Accountability: Evidence from a Private Voucher Program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Download PDF

The results are in and Ed Reform, our non-partisan candidate, had a mixed performance. Let’s see how eight key races and referenda turned out:

    Tony Bennett
    Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett's loss was an unexpected blow.
    Photo by Joe Portnoy.
  • Tony Bennett lost his re-election bid. There’s no sugar-coating it: This one hurts. Bad. As I wrote on Tuesday (and profanely explained to the Huffington Post), this was a referendum on the most aggressive reform agenda in the country. Despite being massively outspent, the unions managed to get one of their own elected to this critical post. We’ll have to wait for more data to determine the degree to which conservatives also punished Bennett for his support of the Common Core (perhaps inadvertently egged on by Arne Duncan’s tone-deaf cheerleading). But it’s no secret that some of them are gleeful. If they were the deciding factor, it will go down as one of the stupidest moves in the annals of education-policy history. Bennett will be fine (I
  • ...

The results are in (well, most of them anyway) and our non-partisan candidate, Ed Reform, had a mixed performance. Let’s see how the seven key races and referenda turned out:

  • Tony Bennett lost his re-election bid. There’s no sugar-coating it: This one hurts. Bad. As I wrote yesterday (and told the Associated Press), this was a referendum on the most aggressive reform agenda in the country. Despite being massively outspent, the unions managed to get one of their own elected to this critical post. We’ll have to wait for more data to determine the degree to which conservatives also punished Bennett for his support of the Common Core. If that was the deciding factor, it will go down as one of the stupidest moves in the annals of education policy history. Bennett will be fine (I suspect he’s already getting calls from Florida, Ohio, and other states looking for a hard-charging state supe). But a union-backed state superintendent is going to wreak all kinds of havoc in the state’s new voucher program and much else. (Just ask choice supporters in Wisconsin, where state superintendent Tony Evers has made life hard on choice schools
  • ...

Student mobility happens when kids change schools for reasons other than customary promotions. The change of schools may occur for any one of a multitude of reasons--anything from a simple change of address, to seeking out a nicer school or neighborhood, or due to family turmoil. These school changes can happen during the school year or over the summer.

This pioneering and comprehensive study investigates the phenomenon of student mobility in over 3,000 Ohio public school buildings (traditional district and charter). This is first-of-its-kind research, since as far as we know, there has never before been a statewide analysis of student mobility. In order to do this, we sorted through over 5 million student records over two school years (October 2009 to May 2011), relying on the Ohio Department of Education's database.

The result of this work is a fascinating picture of student mobility in Ohio, which we present through maps, tables, and charts. We urge you to dig into our work. You'll find in-depth analyses of mobility in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Toledo. And additional school building mobility data, presented in spreadsheet format, can be accessed through website of Community Research Partners, the study's lead researcher: www.researchpartners.org....

Want to know if school reform is winning in the court of public opinion? If the myriad efforts at ed-reform advocacy are paying off? Here are seven races and referenda to watch tonight, in order of importance:

Tony Bennett
Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett with the author.
Photo by Joe Portnoy.

1. Tony Bennett’s re-election

No one has pushed a more aggressive education-reform agenda than Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction (and Ed-Reform Idol) Tony Bennett and his fellow ed-reform activist Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. A big win will give a big boost to Hoosier-style reform.

2. The Washington State charter initiative

Seattle is the largest city in the country that doesn’t have any charter schools. This initiative would finally fix that. Charter supporters have failed at the polls before; will they prevail this time around?

3. Idaho’s Propositions 1 and 2

These two referenda would limit the scope of collective bargaining and mandate that student achievement be included in teacher evaluations. The unions are fighting...

It may be tempting for legislators to point to the scandalous payments made to an Orlando charter school principal as a reason to tighten regulations governing all charters. In the last week, we’ve learned that the principal of the now-closed NorthStar High Charter in Orlando not only received a $519,000 contractual payout from her board, her compensation exceeded the amount the school had spent on classroom instruction. (NorthStar closed before the Orange County School Board could shut it down for poor academic performance.)

Are school boards are doing enough to provide oversight of the charters in their portfolios?

But now might be a better time to set aside legislative energy and ask whether school boards are doing enough to provide oversight of the charters in their portfolios (as in many states, only school districts can authorize charter schools in Florida).

It may seem hard to hold the Orange County School Board accountable in this case. According to one official at the Florida Department of Education, the last couple of financial reports that NorthStar High sent to the school district showed that the principal earned about $73,000 a year. But her actual pay was much more. Last week, the...

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