Charters & Choice

“Autonomy, in exchange for accountability” has been the mantra of charter school theorists since before the first charter opened its doors in Minnesota in 1991. But, far too often over the last two decades this mantra has been more ideal than reality. Getting the balance right between autonomy and accountability has been so hard because there has been much confusion over the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the non-profit charter school governing boards, school operators, and authorizers in the autonomy/accountability deal.

Fordham’s new policy brief by Adam Emerson, “Governance in the Charter School Sector: Time for a Reboot,” tackles the governance issue head-on. One section in particular is especially interesting to me because of our role as a charter school authorizer in the Buckeye State. Ohio, and other states with strong charter school networks (both non-profit CMOs and for-profit EMOs), has struggled to balance the power and influence of school operators with that of their non-profit governing board. Too often boards are seen as little more than a necessary evil while operators run the show. It is not at all uncommon for charter school operators in Ohio to “hire” board members, and then use them as a rubber stamp...

“Autonomy, in exchange for accountability” has been the mantra of charter school theorists since before the first charter opened its doors in Minnesota in 1991. But, far too often over the last two decades this mantra has been more ideal than reality. Getting the balance right between autonomy and accountability has been so hard because there has been much confusion over the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the non-profit charter school governing boards, school operators, and authorizers in the autonomy/accountability deal.

Fordham’s new policy brief by Adam Emerson, “Governance in the Charter School Sector: Time for a Reboot,” tackles the governance issue head-on. One section in particular is especially interesting to me because of our role as a charter school authorizer in the Buckeye State. Ohio, and other states with strong charter school networks (both non-profit CMOs and for-profit EMOs), has struggled to balance the power and influence of school operators with that of their non-profit governing board. Too often boards are seen as little more than a necessary evil while operators run the show. It is not at all uncommon for charter school operators in Ohio to “hire” board members, and then use them as a rubber stamp for...

This Q&A with T.J. Wallace, the executive director for Dayton Liberty Academies, is the sixth of our seven-part series on school leadership. (Please see our Q&A with Dr. Glenda Brown, Andy BoyDr. Judy Hennessey, and Hannah Powell Tuney, and Chad Webb.)

*  *  *  *

Two years ago T.J. Wallace was recruited to be a principal at the Dayton Leadership Academies. His job was to turn around the Dayton Liberty campus, which was facing possible closure for back-to-back failing state report cards.

At the time, EdisonLearning, Inc., a for-profit management company, was operating his school and a second, known as the Dayton View campus. Both had poor test scores and were plagued by administrative chaos. The schools’ board and their authorizer, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, were out of patience. Fordham and the board took matters into their own hands and chose Wallace, imposing him on their management company.

This year Edison Learning is gone and Wallace is the executive director of both schools.

The 58-year-old former Catholic high school principal is running one school that last year was graded a “C” by the state and a second that received an “F.” The K-8 buildings...

The Fordham Institute has been engaged in a wide range of conversations recently, ranging from gifted-student education to Common Core to charter school quality. If you’ve missed any of these events or publications, check out the following notes.

Ordinarily, states that measure the academic performance of public school students assess students with disabilities no differently than students in general education. But exceptions are made, primarily for children with severe cognitive disabilities. And testing accommodations frequently are part of a student’s Individualized Education Plan (such as extending the time it takes to take a test).

Those exceptions partly explain why the Thomas B. Fordham Institute excluded special-education voucher programs from a study of how private schools view the regulations that come with various voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs. Traditional testing tools aren’t always the best measure for students with special needs, but that doesn’t mean no accountability measures should follow special-needs students who leave a public school for a private school with a publicly funded voucher.

Virtually no accountability measures, however, exist in most of the nation’s special-education voucher programs, including the largest such program in the United States, Florida’s McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities. And the coalition of schools that oversees the McKay program appears to want to keep it that way—and it’s wrong to do so.

The McKay Coalition surveyed its own Florida schools after Fordham published School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring, which...

The All-Girl Edition

Dara and Kathleen put on their thinking caps to discuss Common Core implementation, ability grouping, and pre-K absenteeism. Amber joins in for some March Madness dishing—and some tough love for eighth-grade Algebra.

Amber's Research Minute

The 2013 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning? by Tom Loveless (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, March 2013)

When charter schools first emerged more than two decades ago, they presented an innovation in public school governance. No longer would school districts enjoy the “exclusive franchise” to own and operate public schools, as chartering pioneer and advocate Ted Kolderie explained. Charters wouldn’t gain all of the independence of private schools—they would still report to a publicly accountable body, or authorizer—but they would be largely freed from the micromanagement of school boards, district bureaucracies, and union contracts. Autonomy, in exchange for accountability, would reign supreme.

Over the course of its twenty-year history, however, American education and its charter school sector have evolved in important ways. One of the significant ways is school governance—not a topic that gets a lot of attention but, as it turns out, a crucial one that is overdue for an overhaul (and not just in the charter sector).

The growth of nonprofit charter networks (CMOs), the ubiquity of for-profit school-management companies (EMOs), and the emergence of “virtual” charter schools have all upended the notion that charters would mostly be freestanding “community-based” schools of the “one-off” variety. Yet the public policies and practices that characterize charter governance haven’t kept pace with these real-world changes.

To examine this...

The Georgia Senate recently took an incremental step toward responsible and accountable private school choice by unanimously passing a bill that shines more sunlight upon the Peach State’s embattled tax-credit-scholarship program. If the House concurs, then parents and taxpayers will have more information about the students and the scholarship groups that participate—a good thing, to be sure.

A Kindergarten graduation
Picture by Santa Catalina School

But Senate Bill 243 doesn’t go far enough. Yes, it requires the nonprofit groups that administer the scholarships to disclose the number of students they serve and the amount of tax-credited donations that they receive. Well worth making public—but it reveals nothing about the program’s educational value.

Why not also pull back the curtain on student performance? Most of the school-voucher and tax-credit-scholarship programs that exist in other states are designed to show the public at least how they’re performing overall in terms of student achievement. For example, private schools participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship administer a standardized test to their scholarship students and...

  • The U.S. Department of Education just announced more SIG money going out the door. At a TBFI event late last year, the Department and I tussled about the results to date, which showed that more than a third of participating schools (already among the lowest performing in the nation) had gotten worse despite this multi-BILLION dollar program. I sadly predicted these grim results several years ago—not because I’m clairvoyant but because stacks of research over decades showed that turnarounds aren’t a reliable or scalable strategy for generating more high-quality seats. But the Department remains bullish; the release says, “Early findings show positive momentum and progress in many SIG schools.”

    Many of us are looking forward to thoroughly analyzing the program’s effects, but we’ve been in a holding pattern. The Department still hasn’t released school-level results from Year 1 yet (even though those tests were given two years ago), and we’ve not yet received any results from Year 2 (even though those tests were given a year ago). Forgive the quick snark, but maybe we just have to wait until close of business on the Friday before Thanksgiving week again to get results.

  • ...

Terry Ryan addresses a gathering of the Ohio League of Women Voters at the Riffe Center on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

Terry Ryan was a guest of the Ohio League of Women Voters today during their annual Statehouse Day, participating in a panel session on education funding in Ohio with Dr. William Phillis, Executive Director of The Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding.

A standing room only crowd of highly-engaged individuals from across Ohio listened to opening statements that looked back at least as much at the history of education funding in Ohio as they looked to the future of that funding, as proposed in the current state budget, HB 59. Dr. Phillis presented the history of changes in the organization and administration and funding of “the public common school” since 1821, raising alarms over loss of money from existing districts via charter schools and vouchers as well as alarms over the loss of local control of education and the loss of community when schooling is not held in common in a given area of the state. He previewed his public testimony...

Pages