Charters & Choice

When the charter school movement started twenty-plus years ago, charters represented a radical innovation in governance: School districts would no longer enjoy an “exclusive franchise” on local public schools; they would compete with public, independent, autonomous (but accountable) charter schools too.

Charter governance brief
In the last twenty years, American education and its charter sector have evolved in important ways.

Much has happened in the charter sector since then—in fact, what began as a community-led, mom-and-pop movement has evolved to include a burgeoning assemblage of charter school networks, as well. But the laws ruling charter school governance remain largely the same. It’s time for a reboot in order to address three critical problems.

First, state laws and authorizer policies often require a full-fledged governing board for every charter school, and these policies make no exception for high-performing charter networks (such as KIPP and Rocketship Education). Thus, replicating at scale is difficult. In fact, only ten states explicitly allow for networks to operate multiple schools under the oversight of one governing board* and three...

Another effort is afoot to turn Title I, at least partially, into a scholarship program for low-income kids. I’d love to see this happen. Anything we can do to create more accessible high-quality seats for disadvantaged kids gets my vote. But this windmill has seen tilting knights since the 1970s. Someday we’ll get our Dulcinea del Toboso. But the Galicians of this administration would sooner leave such plans bruised and battered.

Three very interesting job-related items!

The New York Times published a semi-balanced story today on the growth of the private school–choice movement—and attention is always welcome—but it also helped perpetuate two nagging myths about vouchers and tax-credit scholarships:

1.    Reporters Fernanda Santos and Motoko Rich wrote, “Research tracking students in voucher programs has also not shown clear improvements in performance.” Not true. As nine scholars and analysts noted in an Education Week essay published last year, results from gold-standard voucher research have consistently shown (among other positive effects) modest academic gains and outsize graduation rates among voucher recipients when compared to their public school–district peers.

2.    The story also repeated the fable that vouchers are accompanied by no accountability for academic results. Wrong. Choice advocate Dick Komer of the firm Institute for Justice told the Times that the only real accountability that matters is parental choice. Voucher opponent and union chief Randi Weingarten railed, “There’s absolutely no accountability with vouchers.” Both are wrong.

In fact, the two newest voucher programs, both of which have captured much attention (Indiana and Lousiana), as well as the proposed initiative in Tennessee, make clear that underperforming private schools won’t be welcome in these programs, for...

When the charter school movement started twenty-plus years ago, charters represented a radical innovation in governance: School districts would no longer enjoy an “exclusive franchise” on local public schools; they would compete with public, independent, autonomous (but accountable) charter schools too.

Charter governance brief
In the last twenty years, American education and its charter sector have evolved in important ways.

Much has happened in the charter sector since then—in fact, what began as a community-led, mom-and-pop movement has evolved to include a burgeoning assemblage of charter school networks, as well. But the laws ruling charter school governance remain largely the same. It’s time for a reboot in order to address three critical problems.

First, state laws and authorizer policies often require a full-fledged governing board for every charter school, and these policies make no exception for high-performing charter networks (such as KIPP and Rocketship Education). Thus, replicating at scale is difficult. In fact, only ten states explicitly allow for networks to operate multiple schools under the oversight of one governing board* and three...

“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.)

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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)

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