Charters & Choice

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...

More than 100,000 students in Ohio attended a public charter school during the past school year. Most of these students come from urban areas, as state law requires that a start-up charter school locate within the boundaries of either a “Big 8” urban district or a low-performing district. The charts below show the decade-long growth of charter schools, as well as the current percentage of students attending charters within Ohio’s urban areas.

Chart 1 shows the charter school growth in Ohio’s Big 8 urban areas over the past 10 years. None of the 8 cities’ charter sector has declined in enrollment (by way of contrast, all of these cities’ traditional districts have declined). The growth rates, however, vary across the cities. Columbus’ charter school sector has exploded, nearly quadrupling in student enrollment size. Cleveland and Toledo’s charter sectors have also expanded at a brisk pace, both more than doubling their enrollment. Meanwhile, Youngstown and Dayton’s charter schools grew at a considerably slower pace than their counterparts.

Chart 1: City’s charter schools grew at a varying pace in past decade – Percent change in charter school enrollment, 2003-04 to 2012-13.

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education - ...

By the Company it Keeps: Tim Daly

Derrell Bradford is a fighter for low-income kids, and he has the compelling personal story to back it up. He’s a prized possession of the ed-reform community.

Derrell Bradford Better Education for Kids

Derrell’s been dedicating his many talents to the State of New Jersey for some time now, recently as executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone, the state’s school-choice advocacy group, and now as head of Better Education for Kids, an advocacy outfit focused primarily on educator effectiveness.

But he’s much more than muscle; Derrell is a highly talented communicator. He’s a regular presence on major TV shows, and he’s a regular radio commentator. And he’s a truly gifted writer. When he’s representing the cause, we’re winning.

I’ve known Derrell for years now; we ran in the same school-choice circles for some time. But I got to know him much better during my time working for the New Jersey Department of Education. Not only was he a vocal...

That charter schools struggle to find and finance adequate building space is a problem that has received well-deserved attention lately, but few reporters and analysts have documented the challenges charters face in entering the multi-trillion-dollar municipal bond market.

So a hat-tip goes to longtime charter and reform leader Nelson Smith for drawing attention to a worthwhile report from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which found a lack of consensus among underwriters and investors as to what drives credit strength in the charter sector.

As they expand, more charters are turning to municipal bond markets to finance their building projects. When schools issue bonds, an investor essentially loans them money in return for regular interest payments until the bond “matures,” at which point the school repays the principal. School districts and other government entities issue bonds all the time, but many lenders continue to see charters as risky investments.

That perception has consequences for charters, which end up paying higher rates than schools districts, if they can find investors at all. And it’s a perception that seems to be based on a faulty picture of what makes a charter school viable for the life of a...

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