Charters & Choice

Each year, school choice advocates celebrate National Charter Schools Week. This year, they had an extra reason to break open the champagne: U.S. News and World Report’s annual best high schools ranking included a host of charter schools in its final list, including the three highest-ranked schools in the country.

Though charter success in general isn’t a surprise, the fact that more and more charter high schools are getting attention is important. High schools have remained relatively untouched by many aspects of education reform, and it shows in the data. Nationwide, high school achievement has been disappointing. NAEP scores for 12th graders are lackluster, as are ACT and SAT scores. The national high school graduation rate has hit at a record high, but there are concerns that the measure could be subject to gaming and low expectations. Effective reform at the high school level remains a mostly uncharted territory.

Luckily, there are some notable exceptions, including some high-profile charter school networks. For example, the Noble Network operates sixteen high schools in Chicago and has demonstrated remarkable achievement and growth with its largely minority and low-income student...

What we know about school vouchers

On this week's podcast, special guest Matt Chingos, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss what recent voucher studies mean for the current evidence base on school choice. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines lessons from Massachusetts about whether states can take over and effectively turn around school districts.

Amber’s Research Minute

Beth E. Schueler et al., “Can states take over and turn around school districts? Evidence from Lawrence, Massachusetts,”  Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (January 2017).

NOTE: This piece originally appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer in a slightly different form.

A recent Cincinnati Enquirer editorial by contributor Sarah Stitzlein sharply criticized Ohio’s current private-school scholarship programs and savaged Senate Bill 85, which would expand them. The recently introduced bill would open choice opportunities to working-class families by offering them partial tuition scholarships (aka vouchers) while continuing to offer full scholarships for pupils from low-income families.

Sadly, voucher critics distort private school choice and mislead the public as to why it’s worthwhile and how it works. They also distort or overlook key elements of the relevant research and make questionable claims about private schools.

Why vouchers? It’s no secret that wealthier parents enjoy a greater choice of schools for their children. They can afford to purchase homes in high-status suburban districts or cover the costs of private school education.

Yet few low- and middle-income families have similar opportunities. They typically send their kids to a public school that is assigned to them based on residential address. Many times, this works out fine. But when it doesn’t, students with limited means are stuck in schools that don’t meet their educational needs.

School choice, including private-school...

NOTE: The Education Committee of the Ohio Senate last week heard testimony on SB 85, a proposal that would expand Ohio’s private school voucher program. Fordham’s Chad Aldis was a witness at this hearing and these are his written remarks. You can watch archive video of the hearing here, courtesy of the Ohio Channel. Chad’s testimony begins at the 10:16 mark; questions from committee members and Chad’s answers begin at the 19:17 mark.

Thank you, Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Huffman, Ranking Member Sykes, and Senate Education Committee members for giving me the opportunity today to provide testimony in support of Senate Bill 85.

My name is Chad Aldis, and I am the Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The Fordham Institute is an education-focused nonprofit that conducts research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C.

We've long believed that every parent should have access to a good school that meets his or her child’s educational needs. School choice in its many forms, including open enrollment, magnet schools, charter schools, homeschooling, and private school choice, is important when a zoned school—for whatever reason—isn’t a good fit.

While supportive...

  1. In case you missed it this week, Ohio’s own pale, skinny version of the Loch Ness Monster resurfaced on the shores of the Scioto River, to take a context-free and factually-deficient lunge against charter schools, jaws a-slavering. Luckily, our own Chad Aldis was on hand to offer a rebuttal to Dennis’ menaces. (Gongwer Ohio, 4/24/17) The Dispatch covered the monster press conference, but did not include Chad’s comments. Must be a deadline thing. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/24/17) Marc Kovac of the Ohio Capitol Blog cited the Monster and included Chad’s best quote since the “paper victory” thing last week. Chad called Dennis’ planned anti-charter townhall tour “naked political grandstanding”. Boom! (Ohio Capitol Blog, via The Twinsburg Bulletin, 4/24/17) After resurfacing in Columbus following his long political slumber, the Lake Erie Monster dove back into the water and disappeared…only to reemerge in Washington Township. (Perhaps via the Great Miami and Holes Creek – who knows the ways of this mysterious creature?) A slightly less factually challenged version of the same lunge against charter schools was mounted in the Dayton area, followed by the same response from Chad, and then he was gone again into the depths. (Dayton Daily News,
  2. ...

When news broke the other day that LeBron James was starting a school in his home town of Akron, some commentators assumed it was going to be a charter. That’s an understandable mistake, as celebrities and stars of all stripes have gotten in chartering in recent years, from Andre Agassi to P. Diddy to Pitbull and beyond. And why not, given that in most places, the charter model comes with huge advantages for philanthropists wanting to make a difference, among them the freedom from district red tape and teacher union contracts.

LeBron chose to create his school in partnership with the traditional public school district, as a non-charter—likely due to his long-standing relationship with Akron City Schools. There’s no way to know whether he considered the charter route. But if he had, he’d have discovered a challenging charter school terrain suffering from the double whammy of recovering from a long-held poor reputation and inhospitable policies for education entrepreneurs.

First of all, kudos to LeBron, whose efforts to help struggling youth and his partnerships in Akron are nothing new. You can read more about the school plans here, but the gist is that the...

It’s well established that some charter schools do far better than others at educating their students. This variability has profound implications for the children who attend those schools. Yet painful experience shows that rebooting or closing a low-performing school is a drawn-out and excruciating process.

But what if we could predict which schools are likely not to succeed—before they’ve even opened their doors? Doing so would mean that authorizers could select stronger schools to open, thereby protecting children and ultimately leading to a higher-performing charter sector overall.

In Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School Is at Risk of Failing, analysts Anna Nicotera and David Stuit investigated that very question, examining more than six hundred charter school applications across four states. They found three “risk factors” in approved applications that were significant predictors of a school’s future weak performance in its first years of operation:

  1. Lack of identified leadership: Charter applications that propose a self-managed school without naming a school leader.
  2. High risk, low dose: Charter applications that propose to serve at-risk pupils but plan to employ “low dose” academic programs that do not include sufficient academic supports, such as intensive small-group instruction or extensive individual tutoring.
  3. A child-centered curriculum:
  4. ...
Last week, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) announced that the long-awaited Charter School Program (CSP) grant funds will soon be available. The federal program will provide $32 million in FY 2018 for high-quality charter startups and replications. This is good news for Ohio’s charter sector, as new school growth has sunk to historic lows, and is a breath of fresh air after Ohio nearly lost the grant.
Quick refresher on Ohio’s CSP drama
Here’s the bad news: Based on the announced criteria, hardly anyone will qualify for the money. Some quick context on CSP’s history: many charter networks wishing to expand or replicate have been able to do so primarily because of this pot of money. Many brand new models also got their start via CSP. But current criteria immediately disqualify many of Ohio’s 362 charter schools. Neither e-schools nor dropout recovery charter schools may access the money (unlike in years past), which slims down the qualifying pool by almost 100. In addition, all CSP applicants must have a preliminary contract with a sponsor that is rated Effective or...

Are you a school choice supporter or just interested in learning more about this issue that is gaining national prominence? Ohio parents, students, schools, and advocates will be holding a rally on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, at 11 a.m. on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse. And you’re invited to attend.

The event, supporting school choice in all of its many forms, is happening during National Charter Schools Week.

Image courtesy of School Choice Ohio

You can find more details about the event here. And you can register by clicking here

Charters come to the Bluegrass State

On this week's podcast, Kentucky State Senator Mike Wilson joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss charter schools in the Bluegrass State, which recently passed its first charter law. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines efforts to improve content knowledge and comprehension for English language learners.

Amber's Research Minute