Charters & Choice

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said yesterday that it is turning twenty-one of its Catholic schools over to independent management, a move the Philadelphia Inquirer justifiably called “radical.” Philadelphia was home to the nation’s first diocesan Catholic school system. Now it has the first Catholic school system run by a foundation of lay people.

What’s happening in Philadelphia is unprecedented.

The Faith in the Future Foundation will assume control over seventeen diocesan secondary schools and four special education schools starting this fall (the archdiocese will maintain control over elementary schools). The group formed earlier this year to promote Catholic education in the city. Now it has pledged to bring a “more metrics-driven management structure” to a school system hemorrhaging money and enrollment, and it is bringing marketing prowess to a church losing good will, too.

The 1.5 million members of the archdiocese have grown agitated since church leaders closed twenty-seven schools this year and spent $11 million to respond to a grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. The church may still own the buildings and assets it’s turning over to the foundation, but it will no longer be calling the academic and financial shots at the schools. That...

So what if it was a legal technicality? Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has found a way to keep an incompetent Board of Education from doing lasting damage to Detroit’s 69,000 remaining public-school pupils: He said seven of the board’s eleven members were elected to geographic districts when they were supposed to serve at-large, the district’s enrollment having fallen below the threshold that allows representation by geography. He filed a lawsuit last week to unseat them, prompting editorial writers in the Motor City to ask why he didn’t complain last year when school board elections put those members in office. But they know why:  Schuette filed his lawsuit the day after the dysfunctional board assumed greater control of the district from a weakened “emergency manager.” The A.G. had taken his own emergency action.

There is ample justification. For years, Michigan had limited the board’s powers by designating an emergency manager to oversee district spending. The board had nominal oversight over academics but lost that authority early last year when the legislature gave the emergency manager oversight over all school operations, together with the ability to tear up union contracts.

But it didn’t last. A voter registration group backed by...

Flying squirrels!

After a week’s hiatus, Mike and Rick catch up on the Romney-Ryan merger, creationism in voucher schools, and the ethics of school discipline. Daniela explains teachers’ views on merit pay.

Amber's Research Minute

Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession by Sarah Rosenber and Elena Silva with the FDR Group - Download the PDF

Mitt Romney’s plan to voucherize (though he doesn’t call it that) Title I and IDEA has considerable merit—but it’s not the only way the federal government could foster school choice and it might not even be the best way.

It’s not a new idea, either. I recall working with Bill Bennett on such a plan—which Ronald Reagan then proposed to a heedless Congress—a quarter century ago.

It had merit then and has even more today, if only because the passing decades have brought so much more evidence that the original versions of these programs don’t do much for kids. As America nears the half-century mark with Title I, we can fairly conclude that pumping all this money into districts to boost the budgets of schools serving disadvantaged students hasn’t done those youngsters much good by way of improved academic achievement, though of course that cash has been welcomed by revenue-hungry districts (and states). Evaluation after evaluation of Title I has shown that iconic program to have little or no positive impact, and everybody knows that the No Child Left Behind edition of Title I—which encompasses AYP and the law’s accountability provisions—hasn’t done much good either. It has, however, yielded...

Georgia voters are fortunate to experience a debate that’s dominated largely by policy wonks. In the fall, they’ll get to decide who has the power to authorize charter schools. The November ballot will ask whether the state and local school boards can share that responsibility. That question shines a spotlight on the issue of local control, and provides an opportunity to rethink what that means.

Citizens of the Peach State have this question before them because their state Supreme Court last year declared the Georgia Charter Schools Commission unconstitutional. Four of the seven justices ruled that only locally elected boards of education could authorize charters. The commission, an independent state panel, had authorized sixteen schools, and it did so over the objections of local boards.

Georgia voters are fortunate to experience a debate that’s dominated largely by policy wonks.

But if voters renew the state’s power to authorize charters (which I hope they will) they’ll do more than just re-establish the charter commission. They’ll be saying that local boards can’t be the only authority to say yes or no to charters. In essence, they’ll be re-affirming the concept of local control.

Voters last affirmed the constitutional language that governed...

The Fordham Foundation is excited to announce that as of July 1 we have three new schools in our sponsorship portfolio. DECA PREP, Columbus Collegiate Academy – West, and Village Preparatory School::Woodland Hills Campus are all now part of Fordham’s sponsorship efforts. These three schools join eight others that we already sponsor, bringing the total to eleven schools throughout the state of Ohio. All three of these schools stem from other high-performing schools, and we have full confidence that they will provide a great education to youngsters in Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland.

Here is a quick look at each of the new schools.

DECA PREP - Dayton, Ohio
DECA PREP will open this fall as a new K-6 school in Dayton designed to immerse first-generation college-goers into a rigorous and structured elementary academic setting to ensure that they will be successful in high school and college. DECA PREP will incorporate components of the academic model of its sister school, the highly successful Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), which serves grades 7-12 in Dayton and has produced tremendous results over the years. In 2010-11 DECA received an Excellent with Distinction designation from the Ohio Department of Education (the...

Louisiana recently submitted a proposal to that state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that calls for school choice and quality control in the state’s voucher program-- two words that have not been paired together enough here in Ohio. Specifically, the plan calls for a practical accountability system for the state’s voucher program. Louisiana’s K-12 scholarship program awards students who meet a residency and income requirement and who attend a low-performing school a scholarship to attend a private school of their choice. Currently approximately 5,000 students are using a public voucher in Louisiana.

The accountability plan, which would be the first of its kind in the nation, would introduce an accountability system based on a “sliding scale” (i.e. those schools enrolling more voucher students would be held to a higher level of accountability-- an idea Fordham proposed three years ago). Under the new system schools enrolling an average of greater than ten students per grade or forty or more students enrolled in tested grades will have their test scores reported. Schools will then be given points based on their performance, similar to the ones given to the public schools. Schools who receive low scores in the second year...

When first proposed, the Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA) generated the familiar bombast characteristic of public policies that offset private-school tuition. The late Teddy Kennedy declared, in 1998, that the accounts would “privatize education” because families who saved for private or parochial K-12 schooling could enjoy tax-free gains on their investment. Then-President Clinton argued that only wealthy families would reap the rewards, which would cost the federal government billions, and later made good on his promise to veto the measure when it passed.

From its inception, the Coverdell ESA encouraged families to save.

George W. Bush resurrected the bill when he took the Oval Office, but the late Georgia Senator Paul Coverdell died before he could see his effort enacted into law. A decade has passed and the tax break is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2012. Lawmakers should extend the program’s benefits.

From its inception, the Coverdell ESA encouraged families to save. It never really was a voucher, as Kennedy had claimed. Unlike a tax-credit scholarship, contributions to the Coverdell aren’t tax-deductible. Rather, families enjoy tax-free earnings on their investments so long as they use the money to cover qualified education expenses (which can include religious schooling).

Additionally,...

It started as a fairly typical funding-equity lawsuit and ended with a startling Wall Street Journal headline, “Michigan City Outsources All of Its Schools.” The story, about the poor performing and all-but-bankrupt Highland Park school district, raises all kinds of questions about our nation’s public-education system. (More from my colleague Bianca Speranza about implications for Ohio of Highland Park's plan here.) Why is it failing our poor children (which I wrote about last week)? Can it be fixed? Can it be fixed by turning schools over to charter-management organizations (CMOs)? And if we do turn them over to CMOs, do they have to be nonprofits?

As many defenders of the status quo are beginning to realize, the road to improvement cannot be paved with the same defective asphalt.

According to a report by Jenny Ingles in the web-based Take Part, in early July the ACLU and eight students from the Highland Park school district, located just outside of Detroit, filed a class-action suit against the state because students in the district weren’t learning: On a college-ready state exam, 90 percent of the district's eleventh graders failed the reading portion, 97 percent failed the math...

America’s states, cities and schools are hurting big time financially. This is not news but the fact that the bad news keeps coming especially hurts.  For example, just released unemployment numbers show an increase to 8.3 percent as American households lost 195,000 jobs. The underemployment rate – which includes those who are underemployed or who are working part time rose to 15 percent. This economic pain has struck education hard, leaving public school budgets strapped for cash and making business-as-usual more and more difficult. Districts around the country are now starting to take some drastic, and sometimes controversial, actions.

Highland Parks Public Schools, a small district in Michigan that is one the state’s lowest-performers, is on the verge of financial collapse. It made news last week when officials there announced plans to outsource its schools to a private for-profit charter school operator. The district handed over operations to The Leona Group which runs 54 schools in five states; 22 of its schools are in Michigan. The Leona Group will now oversee decisions around the hiring of staff, school curriculum and instruction, as well as school facility and maintenance issues.

What led up to such drastic action and...

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