Charters & Choice

This is Jurassic Park

Mike and Dara go beyond the Triassic in this week’s podcast, discussing a pre-K tax on tobacco, the new NGSS, and Texas’s two-step on graduation standards. Amber gets competitive with a discussion of school choice in Milwaukee.

Amber's Research Minute

Principals’ perceptions of competition for students in Milwaukee schools,” by Susanna Loeb and Matthew Kasman, Education Finance and Policy 8 (1): 43-73

GadflyThe Obama administration’s budget proposal was late to the party and is mostly a big yawn—at least when it comes to K–12 education. The big-ticket items, such as they are: level-funding for Title I and IDEA; new efforts to promote STEM education and tweak American high schools; and a Race to the Top for higher education. The real firepower is reserved for the President’s well-designed Pre-K plan, which would be the biggest federal expansion into early childhood since the creation of Head Start, to be financed by a huge increase in cigarette taxes. Were it not for Congressional realities, it might even be something to get excited about.

After changing part of the exam it uses to determine which four-year-olds are eligible for the coveted gifted-and-talented slots in its public schools, New York City has (very slightly) reduced the number of children who qualify. Yet most of the high scorers still came from the city’s richer areas—a problem, given that they altered the test precisely in order to combat the influence of income-related factors, such as...

This new study on school competition examines which types of schools experience more competitive pressure and asks Milwaukee principals which schools they identify as their primary source of competition. The analysts use Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) administrative, student-transfer, and achievement data for 2007–08 through 2009–10, as well as geographic data and MPS principal survey findings from 2010. Four key results arise: First, 45 percent of the surveyed principals reportedly experienced a lot of competitive pressure from other schools, 30 percent some, 14 percent a little, and 11 percent none. The schools of those who perceived some or a lot of pressure tended to have more poor children and those with special needs. Secondly, and surprisingly, the extent to which principals feel pressure is not related to geographic factors, such as the number of nearby schools serving the same grades. Analysts muse that this may be a result of the robust choice system in Milwaukee that includes transportation supports. However, the extent of competition is related to transfer rates out of a school and student performance—with low- and high-achieving schools feeling more pressure than those in the middle. Third, when asked to identify their biggest sources of competition, principals tended to point to schools that were similar to...

John Dues

Aaron and I responded to recent anti-charter school pieces that have popped up in some of the state’s newspapers in Hard to Kill Charter School Canards. As follow up to this, we’d like to share the first part of a letter written by educator John Dues.  John is school director for Columbus Collegiate Academy in Columbus and he was inspired to respond to some of the (mis)information shared in a letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch by Maureen Reedy over the weekend. We are happy to share his thoughtful insights. -Terry Ryan

This letter is written in response to the Letter to the Editor you wrote that appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on Saturday, April 6, 2013. My sincere hope is that you read this letter with an open mind and seriously consider a viewpoint different from your own on the topic of charter schools.

I believe we could learn a lot from each other, and I would be more than willing to sit down over coffee to discuss the contents of this letter. I am also extending an open invitation to you to visit Columbus Collegiate Academy, a high-performing, high poverty charter school on...

 “Nothing lasting thrives in a hostile environment. Just as too many charter supporters are hung up on defending all charters all the time, their tireless opponents are bent on creating false distinctions and are constantly attacking them from every imaginable direction. Double standards and hypocrisy are in ample supply on both sides.”

Chester E. Finn, Jr., Terry Ryan and Michael Lafferty, Ohio Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the frontlines, 2010

This quote summed up a key lesson learned from the charter school experience in Ohio over the first decade of its controversial life. Three years later, the lesson still rings true. And no doubt the long political struggle around charter schools has hurt the state’s overall charter school quality (great operators have far friendlier states to choose from), made it difficult for Ohio to improve its charter law (this struggle has been characterized by zero-sum battles at the state house), and retarded the power of charter schools to fulfill their potential (hard to thrive in hostile environments).

We’ve not shied away from taking on radicals on either side of the debate. Many in the charter community dislike us because we think accountability for school performance as measured by...

The West Carrollton school district, just southwest of Dayton, is the latest Ohio school district to pass an open enrollment policy allowing students from any district in the state to enroll in one of their schools. West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford told the Dayton Daily News that, “Our purpose is to be the school district of choice in Ohio. We want to give any student in the state the opportunity to experience the same great education that students currently living in the West Carrollton district are experiencing.” West Carrollton serves about 3,800 students, 58 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, and the district received an Effective (B) rating from the Ohio Department of Education in 2011-12.

Superintendent Clifford, Ohio’s 2013 superintendent of the year, acknowledged the decision to become an open enrollment district was driven by economics. “Our enrollment numbers right now are flat to slightly declining,” Clifford told the Dayton Daily News. District enrollment has declined about 13 percent since 1999 and Clifford argues, “In order to keep all of the great staff we have right now, we need to grow our student base. As we keep students, we can keep staff.” Each student that enrolls...

Enticing our top college graduates to teach in America’s classrooms is a serious challenge, bordering on an epidemic in some of our poorer communities and neighborhoods. According to the 2010 McKinsey reportAttracting and Retaining Top Talent in US Teaching,” just under one in four of our entering teachers come from the top third of their college class. For high-poverty schools even fewer entering teachers (a mere 14 percent) are top third talent.

In the Buckeye State, the Ohio Board of Regents’ data corroborate McKinsey’s finding that neither the best nor brightest are entering Ohio’s classrooms as teachers. According to the Regents, the average composite ACT of an incoming teacher-prep candidate was 22.75, below the average ACT score of the overall incoming freshman class for relatively selective universities. The middle 50 percent of incoming freshman to the Ohio State University, for example, boasted composite ACT scores between 26 and 30.  

What deters the best and brightest from entering (and staying) in our classrooms is, of course, a complicated issue with many hypotheses: low pay, stressful working conditions, rigid  certification requirements, lack of prestige, and archaic remuneration systems that fail to reward high-performing...

  • There is much debate astir in Ohio and across the country about the Common Core and what it means for our children and their education. This recent piece from National Review Online was co-written by Fordham’s Kathleen Porter-Magee and is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the logic and history surrounding the Common Core.
  • Terry Ryan takes on the Ohio Department of Education’s manual for evaluating physical education teachers. The blog sparked debate in the pages of Ed Week (here and here) and the Washington Post, and was cited by none other than Bill Gates.
  • Fordham’s Emmy Partin will be speaking Saturday, April 13 at 10:00AM at Berlin Presbyterian Church in suburban Columbus as a panelist in the Ohio School Boards Leadership Council debate on the Common Core. Other panelists will include State Board of Education member C. Todd Jones, State Representative Andrew O. Brenner, and others. Details about the event can be found here.
  • In February, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Community Research Partners gathered with expert educational panelists in Cleveland to discuss student mobility in our schools. The discussion was taped and will air on public television next week.
  • ...

According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States is experiencing an increase in the number of English language learners (ELL) served in the K-12 educational system. This includes Ohio as well—the Buckeye State schools are serving an ELL population that has nearly doubled since 1999. The chart below shows the increasing trend in ELL students in public schools—district and charter—from 1999 to 2012.

SOURCE: Ohio Department of Education,

As the ELL student population grows in Ohio and the rest of the country, charter schools will inevitably enroll an increasing number of these students, meaning that they’ll have to develop the infrastructure to work with these youngsters. To address charter schools’ needs, The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) has released Serving English Language Learners: A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools. The report provides charter schools with guidance for developing a strong ELL program. The comprehensive report provides an overview of legal requirements, admission strategies, program options, teacher qualifications, and evaluations metrics. In addition, the report also profiles charter schools with exceptional ELL programs in five states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Charter administrators with low...

In Ohio, there are over 600 traditional school districts. Some are large (the largest is Columbus City Schools at nearly 50,000 students) and some are small (the smallest being the “island” district, Put-In-Bay, with 71 students). But do these entities—school districts—actually matter in relation to student achievement? That’s the question Grover Whitehurst, Matthew Chingos, and Michael Gallaher of the Brookings Institution examine, in the aptly-titled report, Do Districts Matter?

To answer this question, the researchers use student-level data from Florida and North Carolina for fourth and fifth graders, from 2000-01 to 2009-10. The researchers isolate the impact of the district on achievement, while controlling for the impacts of teachers, school-buildings, and student demographics in their statistical model. The key finding: School districts, in the aggregate, have little impact on student achievement, relative that of school buildings—and to an even greater extent—classroom teachers.

In addition to the aggregate district analysis, the researchers also consider whether some districts have a greater impact on achievement than others. Using data from 2009-10, they find that, indeed, there are districts that have strong positive impacts and districts that have negative impacts. The difference between an effective and ineffective district? Nearly a half year of student...