Charters & Choice

Louisiana broke new ground this week with a sensible plan for holding “voucher schools” accountable. State Superintendent John White will put into practice a “sliding scale” of accountability (an idea we first floated three years ago): Private schools enrolling large numbers of publicly funded students will be held to greater public transparency and results-linked accountability than schools enrolling just a handful. Specifically, private schools that enroll an average of ten voucher students per grade or more than forty in grades that are tested will be assessed points under a scoring system similar to one administered to public schools. A lower score could keep a school from enrolling students in the program, and it could, over time, trigger a quality review by the state Department of Education. Transparency around student-achievement results can be found in the voucher programs of other states (including Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio), but only Louisiana will have the authority to banish from the program schools that show consistently poor performance. This is a common-sense policy that can make vouchers more politically sustainable—and work better for kids, to boot.

A version of this analysis appeared on the Choice Words blog.

RELATED ARTICLE: “Plan for holding...

Ohio charters are gaining an international reputation—but not for the best of reasons. In recent articles, The Economist chides Ohio charters for having “done badly” and operating without oversight in a “Wild West” environment. And these remarks are written in articles that praise charters schools more generally.

With every financial scandal and every school closure due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny.

With a prominent global publication taking our charter schools to task, readers around the world—from New York City to London to Tokyo—now know what many of us locally know too well. Ohio’s charter sector has underperformed in comparison to other states. Despite some exceptional schools (e.g., DECA in Dayton, Constellation Schools and Breakthrough in Cleveland, KIPP and Columbus Collegiate Academy in Columbus), charters in Ohio—as a group—have far too often disappointed students and parents who placed their hopes in these schools. With every financial scandal and every school closure due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny.

When it comes to student performance in charters other states do it better. We’ve argued in a 2006 report to lawmakers, in a 2010 book, in numerous op-eds, and in public testimony to lawmakers that Ohio’s charter sector needs...

As reported above, Ohio charter schools received a bad rap in recent articles by The Economist. After singing the praises of charters in some of America’s largest cities, The Economist went on to disparage Ohio’s charters, stating that they “have done badly.” And, as a group they have if academic performance is what matters.

Below I take a slice of data from Cleveland to look at the performance of its charter schools relative to two comparison groups. First, I compare how Cleveland’s charters stack up against Cleveland Municipal School District (the city’s traditional public school). Second, I compare Cleveland's charters against a broader set of public districts--all districts in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland Municipal, poorer inner-ring suburban districts, and some affluent suburban districts.

I use the fourth grade math proficiency rate—essentially, the proportion of students who “pass” Ohio’s annual standardized test in a given grade and subject—for the 2010-11 school year. And by using what’s called a “z-score” in statistics, I calculate how far each school's proficiency rate is above or below the average proficiency (pass) rate.[1] A school with a positive score has an above-average proficiency rate; vice-versa, a school with a negative score has a below-average rate.

Figure 1 shows...

  • Special-education spending recommendations (August 2012)
    Nathan Levenson and his team at the District Management Council have done extensive work on special education spending in Ohio and elsewhere.  Together with the ESC of Central Ohio, Fordham commissioned Levenson to examine state and local special education spending practices and offer recommendations to simultaneously improve the quality of services provided to students with special needs while achieving greater cost-effectiveness in an era of diminishing resources.
  • Annual analysis of Ohio school performance (August 2012)
    As in past years, we will analyze the academic performance results of Ohio’s schools, with a special focus on the state’s urban centers and charter schools.  This year’s analysis will have an improved focus on charter school performance in four major cities—Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton. We’ll look at how charters compare with their district peers—for not only the past school year but also the past decade. And in addition to looking back at the past ten years, we’ll also peer into the future, with some projections of what statewide proficiency rates may be when the Common Core State Standards come to the Buckeye State in 2014-15.
  • Statewide Study of Student Mobility (September/October 2012)
    This analysis,
  • ...

The Task Force on Charter School Quality and Accountability issued their Renewing the Compact report in 2005. This seminal charter school report set forth goals around five key areas:

  • Achievement: Focus resolutely on student achievement
  • Talent: Draw talented individuals to the classroom and leadership positions
  • Funding: Gain equitable funding for charter schools
  • Support: Increase support for the charter school community
  • Scale: Build up successful schools and close those that fail

A new report from the North-Carolina based Public Impact evaluates the progress that the nation’s charter school sector has made over the last seven years in regards to meeting the goals above. It also provides recommendations for improvements moving forward. Public Impact interviewed a variety of key stakeholders including education leaders, charter school representatives, and think tanks.

The first question asked of the interviewees looked at positive developments or trends over the past several years. Major successes over the last seven years include:

  • Proof points of quality: Charter schools around the country demonstrate that underserved students can achieve at high levels.
  • Increased recognition of quality and accountability:  Policymakers and authorizers have increased their focus on quality

Along with recent successes, numerous challenges still remain, including the following:

  • Inadequate supply
  • ...

Louisiana has shown us that it’s possible to offer private-school choice and control for quality in a way that doesn’t cramp what makes a private school unique.

And in doing so, Louisiana is among rare company in school-voucher policy. While other states have made voucher and tax credit scholarship programs more transparent, Louisiana joins only Indiana in an attempt to regulate enrollment at schools that consistently show poor performance.

Other states should take notice of what is a sensible plan for voucher accountability.

Other states should take notice of what is a sensible plan for voucher accountability.

Under the proposal submitted today to the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, private schools that enroll an average of ten voucher students per grade or more than forty in grades that are tested will be assessed points under a scoring system similar to one administered to public schools. Once in the voucher program, if these private schools score below fifty out of 150 points in their second year of participation, or in any year thereafter, they won’t be able to enroll scholarship students for the following school year.

Additionally, schools that have been in the program for at least four...

Who should control education? That’s the subject of a new study analyzing forty years of polling data assessing public opinions on education governance. Michigan State University researchers Rebecca Jacobsen and Andrew Saultz mostly examined survey results from the often-cited annual Gallup poll to conclude that “the public often expresses strong support for local control.”

Who should control education?

Gallup poll questions aren’t known for nuance and complexity. So it’s no surprise that the conclusions from this study are just as simplistic.

Jacobsen and Saultz begin their report by carping that folks like Fordham’s Checker Finn say that school boards and current notions of local control have become antiquated in the twenty-first century. Reformers and policymakers, Jacobsen and Saultz argue, should realize that the public sees a role for federal and state governments in education, but not when it comes to local decision making.

But the authors suggest the only alternative to the status quo of “local decision making” is federal or state control. In fact, Finn has argued for a re-invention of local control, and more recently wrote in the journal National Affairs that enhanced levels of parental influence and choice have allowed new forms of local control...

Move to the head of the class

Mike and Rick reunite to talk social mobility, the NEA’s membership woes, and what sequestration would actually mean for schools. Amber explains where parents stand on digital learning.

Amber's Research Minute

Learning in the 21st Century: A 5 Year Retrospective on the Growth in Online Learning - Project Tomorrow

“Public education sometimes seems to operate on its own planet, immune to the conventions that bind other areas of our economy and public life,” writes Nelson Smith in this National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report. He further explains (in a companion Education Next article) that “school districts have largely lost their monopoly on education programming, but are still the only game in town when it comes to financing, developing, and deploying public school buildings.” Of the forty-two states that now have charter laws on the books, only eleven offer direct support for facilities expenses, and only three provide more than $1,000 per pupil toward these costs. Charters have no taxing power, no access to state capital budgets, and often no bonding authority. What’s more, when states do enact laws offering facilities aid to charters, these statutes are too often interpreted away or disregarded. Smith’s exposé offers an historical account of the situation and current examples of how it plays out in states and districts. Smith concludes with three potential approaches to facilities-portfolio management. The “Real Estate Trust” would put a single state entity in charge of all school facilities; schools (both public and charter) would receive faculties funding...

For two decades now, school-choice supporters have advanced two main arguments. First, it’s unfair to trap poor kids in failing schools when better options are available. And second, giving these kids a choice will force the entire public-education system to improve.

Those assertions are still compelling, but they have their limitations. Namely: What about kids who aren’t poor; attend schools that aren’t failing; and live in school districts that, by some measures at least, aren’t in dire need of improvement? I’m talking, of course, about our affluent, leafy suburbs. Do their residents deserve school choice too?

Suburban Landscape (1989)
Why shouldn't suburban residents enjoy options for public schooling?
Photo by Hunter Desportes.

Set aside, for a moment, the fact that many suburban communities are diversifying, with low-income and otherwise disadvantaged children moving into them in greater numbers than ever before. Forget, too, that even our best suburban districts are no great shakes when judged by international comparison. Focus just on the most...