Charters & Choice

School-choice advocates have touted results of this recent study—a joint publication of the Brown Center on Education Policy (Brookings) and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (Harvard). And they have every right to: The random-assignment study (a gold standard of research often elusive in school-choice research) boasts some strong findings for choice supporters. The study began in 1997 when Harvard’s Paul Peterson began tracking students who applied for a new privately funded voucher program in Gotham. Created after Cardinal John O’Connor invited then-school chancellor Rudy Crew to “send the city’s most troubled youth to Catholic schools,” the program offered three-year vouchers of $1,400 per year to 1,300 low-income youngsters. Peterson tracked participants as well as those who did not win the lottery. Fifteen years later, Peterson, along with Brookings’s Matt Chingos, show that black elementary school students who won the voucher lottery in New York City were 7 percentage points (or 20 percent) more likely to attend college than their peers who didn’t. Moreover, the percentage of black voucher students who attended a selective college was more than double that of black non-voucher students. (There...

The National PTA has taken a step that should help it dispel the criticism that it’s always in lockstep with the teacher unions: In its new policy platform, the parent-teacher association has taken the bold step of supporting giving groups other than local school boards the right to authorize charter schools.

For seventeen years, the National PTA, which has five million members, has urged state governments to give only school boards the authority to grant or deny charter applications. That changed this month, when the PTA’s board struck that restriction from its platform and extended its support, as the group’s president put it, to “all authorizing bodies.”

Sean Cavanagh at Education Week this week reported that the group says it wants to be more relevant in charter school policy, and its old position was at odds with the fact that local PTAs are increasingly working with charters authorized by universities or independent commissions. This is a big leap for a group that education analyst Thomas Toch once accused of being “out of step with many parents’ demands for change in public education today” and that has lobbied alongside teacher unions for decades. It’s also a change that collides...

The Cato Institute released a report from economist Richard Buddin today showing that “charter schools took approximately 190,000 students from private schools between 2000 and 2008,” a development that Cato scholar Adam Schaeffer said is “wreaking havoc on private education” while only marginally improving public schools. Overall, Buddin found that 8 percent of charter-elementary students and 11 percent of middle and high school students came from private schools. The numbers were worse for private schools in the nation’s major urban areas, where 32 percent of the elementary-charter enrollment was drawn from the private sector.

Food Addiction
Transfers from private to charter schools don't mean we're falling into a "charter-only reform trap."
Photo by Rennett Stowe.

It is true that charter schools have drained students from urban Catholic schools in particular (though my colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee has shown how enrollments declined at Catholic schools long before the first charters appeared). And Schaeffer and Buddin are right to point out the economic impact to the taxpayer...

We now have more evidence that school vouchers may have a big impact on students who struggle the most. A study released jointly yesterday by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Education Policy and Governance showed that black students who won a school-voucher lottery in New York a generation ago were more likely to attend college than students who didn’t win.

We now have more evidence that school vouchers may have a big impact on students who struggle the most.

The results come from the first random-assignment experiment of voucher effects on college attendance, which should thaw the icy reception that greets many school choice studies (the randomized trial is the gold standard of research). Fifteen years ago, Harvard’s Paul Peterson began tracking the performance of two groups of elementary-school age children—one group that participated in a privately funded voucher program in New York, and one group that wanted to participate but didn’t win the lottery for admission.

Now that enough time has passed, Peterson and Brookings colleague Matthew Chingos have been able to see how college attendance differed between the groups. They found that a modestly funded program—the vouchers...

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced this week that it is preparing to take the radical step of turning twenty-one of its schools over to independent management. Seventeen high schools and four special-education schools will come under the control of the recently formed Faith in the Future Foundation, which plans to bring a “more metrics-driven management structure” to a school system hemorrhaging money and enrollment. Other experiments in Catholic education, including those in New York, have given some schools more autonomy, but those arrangements generally kept ultimate control within the diocese. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput admitted to reporters that the parochial-school system needs more than fine-tuning and conceded that former Cigna Corporation chief executive Edward Hanway and his new foundation can “provide a level of creativity we wouldn’t be able to achieve on our own, and a broader level of community participation.” Indeed, Faith in the Future is developing university partnerships and digital-learning initiatives that other Catholic-school systems have been slow to embrace. Perhaps more importantly, it is probably better positioned than the Church to raise private dollars and appeal to a Catholic community agitated by dozens of school closures and a roiling clergy sex-abuse scandal. God willing, it will also be able...

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...