Charters & Choice

As I reported last week, 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.” I didn’t disagree with their appraisal.

Why the agreement? It’s because the standard matters.

So in Ohio, charters are "bad" compared to what standard? To answer, I take a slice of data from Cleveland to look at the performance of its charter schools relative 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...

The first results of the statewide testing of Indiana’s voucher students shows generally good marks for private schools participating in the program.  The group School Choice Indiana recently highlighted that voucher schools had an average 91 percent pass rate on the language arts portion of the test known as ISTEP+ and had an average 89 percent pass rate on the math portion. These exceeded the public school averages.

Rays of Light
Indiana deserves credit for shinging light on the performance of schools with voucher students.
Photo by Yorick_R.

In fact, NPR’s StateImpact Indiana reports that 171 of the 224 private schools in Indiana participating in the state’s new voucher program posted higher-than-average passing rates, and the average ISTEP+ pass rate at all schools receiving vouchers was 9 percentage points higher than the state’s overall average. But StateImpact also looked more closely at the schools that posted lower-than-average passing rates. Although that number only came to 41 voucher schools, those schools enrolled, on average, higher concentrations of...

Charter schools may be celebrating twenty years of existence, but the milestone gets most of them no closer to the surplus classroom space and facility financing controlled by local school boards.

Charters struggle to access surplus classroom space and facility financing controlled by local school boards.

Where local facility financing and public school space has come through for charters, it’s been at the behest of mayors, governors, and legislators who understand that charter schools are public schools and any system that obstructs their ability to get classroom space treats some public school students differently from others. Consider one example that Nelson Smith highlights in the current Education Next: Milwaukee Public Schools had been spending $1 million a year to maintain twenty-seven surplus school buildings that they refused to sell to charter schools. Why sell to the competition? The state legislature had to step in to allow the City of Milwaukee to sell the buildings over the school district’s objections.

Most states that have charter school laws, even laws that provide charters with at least some facility funding, can tell similar stories, and changing the circumstances isn’t easy. When a Florida senator wanted to force school districts to share ...

Mike is from Mars; Kathleen is from Venus

Kathleen and Mike wonder how to hold states accountable in twenty-seven different ways and debate whether gender-specific curricula make sense. Amber dives deep into census data on edu-spending.

Amber's Research Minute

Public Education Finances Report - United States Census

Would Henry V have benefitted from an all-boys school? David Brooks, in his critique of the American school scene, doesn’t look to single-gender schools to re-engage children like the rambunctious and adversarial Prince Hal, but officials at the U.S. Department of Education surely had boys like him in mind when they relaxed restrictions on single-sex public education six years ago.

prince hal and the moon
Perhaps Prince Hal could've used an all-boys school.
Photo by Kevin Rawlings.

Those revised Title IX regulations allowed single-sex education to flourish. Nearly 400 public schools nationwide currently offer single-gender classrooms (ten years ago, there were only a dozen) and another 116 schools exist to serve either all boys or all girls. The freedom to establish these schools comes with a sensible caveat: The option must be voluntary for families. An Associated Press report last week radiated more heat than light on this growth, but it reminded us of the move to engage children like Henry...

The folks at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice have put out a call for research proposals that explore the effects that choice and competition have on K-12 education.

The foundation is looking for proposals from individual researchers or groups of researchers on any school choice topic related to vouchers, education savings accounts, and tax credit scholarships. Accepted projects will receive contracts that range from $5,000 to $15,000, and priority will go to research that has implications for choice program design, policymaking and advocacy.

Proposals should be 800 words or less and should be submitted no later than 5PM September 4 to Paul DiPerna, the Friedman Foundation’s research director, at [email protected] or at One American Square, Suite 2420, Indianapolis, IN 46282. Researchers should include a cover sheet identifying the primary project contact as well as names(s), affiliation, telephone, and e-mail address. Those who submit proposals will learn of their status by November 15.

See here for suggested topics and a suggested proposal structure.

Ohio charters are gaining an international reputation—but for all the wrong reasons. In articles over the weekend, 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.

With every financial scandal and every school closing due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny—as they should.

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 failed to deliver. 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 closing due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny—as they should.

We’ve repeatedly recognized here, here, here, here, and here that Ohio’s charters have, as a whole, not delivered and need improvement. Other states do it...

Despite persistent hostility to charter school expansion in most states, there remains one aspect of charter schooling that fails to get the attention it deserves: athletics.

The limitations on charter school students’ access to sports penalize children and parents for choosing an alternative to a traditional public school. With considerable research showing the positive contribution that athletics participation has towards academic success, depriving students of this opportunity is not only unjust, it’s counterproductive to raising student achievement.

American Football
The actions of policymakers against charter school athletics are emblematic of the treatment of charters at large.
Photo by Anderson Mancini.

It is no coincidence that in areas where charter schools have proven academically effective and where they capture a larger share of the student population—Washington, DC, and New Orleans, in particular—charter school sports teams are finally gaining acceptance. An editorial in the Washington Post praised athletics director Clark Ray and noted that a “cruel inequity is coming to an end with the long-overdue decision...

Robb Snowe

This guest blog post is written by a former administrator at a charter management organization. Robb Snowe is a pen name.

Charter schools were born of the idea that, endowed with more autonomy and flexibility than traditional public schools, they would be free to experiment with different educational approaches, thereby serving as laboratories of innovation. Presumably, such experimentation would, at least in some cases, lead to better outcomes. The jury is still out on whether charter schools are, on the whole, “better” than district schools, but there is no question that some charters significantly outperform their district counterparts (and, of course, others compare much less favorably).

One could argue that CMOs are inherently involved in the business of “reform.”

To the extent that high-performing charter management organizations (CMOs) scale up by continuing to add schools, one could argue that they are inherently involved in the business of “reform.” After all, replicating a model that is different and, in some senses, “better” than the district model necessarily alters the educational landscape in a district, city, state, etc. The imprimatur might not have come from above (i.e., from government), but that doesn’t make it any less transformative.


The Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act has many of us talking about checks and balances, so let’s use this teachable moment to examine how separate branches of North Carolina’s government have left its first virtual charter school in limbo.

The North Carolina Board of Education simply ignored a law it didn’t like.

A Wake County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the North Carolina Virtual Academy can’t open this fall because the state’s Board of Education never said it could. The academy had won preliminary approval from the county school board where it would have been based, but Judge Abraham Penn said that ultimate approval lies with the state board.

The problem—one that even Judge Penn acknowledges—is that the state board refused to even consider the academy’s legitimate application. And this is where governance in the Tar Heel State breaks down.

When North Carolina’s 2011 legislative session ended in the summer of that year, lawmakers lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state and allowed for the creation of virtual charters. Months later, in October 2011, state Board of Education Chairman William Harrison told his colleagues, without asking for a vote,...