Charters & Choice

How could cities see their charter school sectors take off in quality, matching or besting the performance of their district schools, and the state? Public Impact researchers working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on a new study found that replacing low-performing charter schools while replicating high-performing ones could dramatically improve quality within just a few years. (For Fordham’s take on this, see the Ohio Gadfly Daily.)

Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality, with research by Lyria Boast, Gillian Locke, and Tom Koester, and foreword and Fordham analysis by Terry Ryan and Aaron Churchill, considered charter schools in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis—all of which have a decade-long history of charter schools and relatively large market shares of charter school students.

The study shows that the charter school sectors in five cities outperformed their home districts’ schools, which had similar levels of student poverty.

The study points the way to improving the quality of charter schools overall

But within each district, quality varied widely, from very high-performing charter schools to dismal ones.

The study also compared charter performance to average statewide performance—admittedly, a higher bar, as schools statewide had...

The quality of charters schools is a topic often covered by the media, stemming from debates about the potential impact of charter schools on student achievement. Only a few groups, however, place an emphasis on ensuring the quality of authorizers who contract with charters and have the responsibility to oversee their academic and fiscal performance. One of these groups called the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) publishes an annual report that collects self-reported survey data from authorizers, which indicate the extent to which they comply with the “Index of Essential Practices.” The best practices represent policies that would allow an authorizer to successfully accomplish their roles as a facilitator and compliance officer.

Of the eleven Buckeye State authorizers whom NASCA surveyed (including Fordham), NACSA found that Ohio’s authorizers scored well according to the index. Authorizers met nine to eleven out of the twelve possible indicators of best practices. NACSA, however, did critique states like Ohio who have implemented laws that do not allow authorizers to institute policies from the index. For example, the current law for charter renewals in Ohio prevents authorizers from issuing new schools a contract longer than the length of the authorizer’s own contract with...

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley today signed into law his state’s first private school choice program—a K–12 tuition tax credit—avoiding what was perhaps the most ridiculous attempt yet to thwart efforts to enact a voucher or tax-credit plan anywhere.

Bentley put his signature on the Alabama Accountability Act one day after the state’s Supreme Court lifted a restraining order that prevented him from even getting the bill, which passed two weeks ago along party lines. The Alabama Education Association had convinced a state judge last week to block legislative staffers from sending the bill to the governor, arguing that too many Republican lawmakers privately discussed rewriting a separate measure to include the tax credit without calling a public meeting.

The Alabama Supreme Court sensibly determined that the restraining order issued by Judge Charles Price was “premature.” The bill hadn’t even become law, and according to the top justices, there was no “existing case or controversy” that needed adjudicating.

In other words, there was no one harmed. As political scientist Joshua Dunn noted, courts don’t typically intrude in the internal workings of a state legislature, as a matter of separation of powers. The notion that the teacher union might have...

Assessing the President's Preschool Plan

Assessing the President's Preschool Plan

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for making preschool available to every child in America. But questions abound: Is universal preschool politically and fiscally feasible—or even educationally necessary? Should we be expending federal resources on universal pre-K or targeting true Kindergarten-readiness programs for the neediest kids? How robust is the evidence of lasting impacts? And what exactly is the president proposing?

White smoke over Fordham

Wondering what Congress should be doing about pre-K, why Boston has switched to a new school-assignment system, or why an Alabama judge doesn’t seem to care about the separation of powers? Mike and Daniela are, too! Amber talks tenure reform—and Mike has a great new show to pitch Donald Trump.

Amber's Research Minute

Do First Impressions Matter?Improvement in Early Career Teacher Effectiveness” by Allison Atteberry, Susanna Loeb, and James Wyckoff (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, February 2013)

Charter schools are booming. From zero charter laws and zero schools two decades ago, there are now more than two million students enrolled in 5,600 charter schools in more than forty states plus the District of Columbia. In seven cities (New Orleans; Detroit; Washington, DC; Kansas City; Flint; Gary; and St. Louis), at least 30 percent of public school students are enrolled in charter schools; in another eighteen cities, including five in our home state of Ohio, charters serve at least 20 percent of the public school–attending kids. It is safe to say that charters are no longer a boutique reform.

Searching for Excellence

But for all of the progress on charter quantity, there’s been disappointingly little progress on charter quality. While there are hundreds of high-performing charter schools across the country serving some of the nation’s neediest students, there are an equal number of charters failing to deliver. It was in recognition of this mixed performance that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) launched its One Million Lives campaign in late 2012. (Fordham, a charter authorizer in...

Hope Against HopeThe Friedman-ism that “every crisis is an opportunity” has, in the eyes of many, found dramatic and fitting vindication in the city of New Orleans. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the teachers union was washed away, while the city’s traditional public schools were almost entirely supplanted by a host of new charters, many of them answerable to a new state-level governing body. The value of these changes has been frequently quantified by test scores, college-attendance rates, and similar informative (yet reductive) data. Sarah Carr’s Hope Against Hope offers a rare view from the ground—one that humanizes education reform in the Bayou City. She profiles a trio of figures (a novice teacher, a veteran principal, and a high school student) as well as a handful of charter schools. The conflicts at the core of Carr’s book—between different measurements of and causes for student success (or failure) and between guarding community culture and finding pathways to the middle class—transcend the Big Easy. But do not look for conflict resolution here. Carr’s intent, instead, is to articulate vividly what’s at stake....

GadflyA fierce school-choice debate rages in Alabama—but the threat to the Common Core standards has receded, for now. When it became clear that the Senate Education Committee would not approve a bill to revoke the Heart of Dixie’s commitment to the standards, the sponsor of the bill himself withdrew it from consideration. This is well and good. Now maybe they can get back to safeguarding the separation of powers—and implementing the Common Core.

South Dakota has the (dubious) honor of being the first state to explicitly authorize school employees to carry guns to work. State groups representing teachers and school boards expressed concern that the bill had been rushed to a vote, did not actually make schools safer, and ignored other approaches to safety, such as employing armed officers. In related news, a Texas school employee recently shot himself at a concealed-carry class for teachers.

Boston has approved a new school-assignment plan that reflects not just geography but also school quality—amounting to the greatest change in the way that the city assigns students in twenty-five years and “finally...

Joshua Dunn

Alabama governor Robert Bentley signed into law a comprehensive school-choice bill that will equip those parents who wish to send their kids to another public or private school with tax credits—but not before a series of events too ridiculous to even be termed a farce.

Theater of the absurd
Farce doesn't even begin to describe what happened last week in Alabama.

Two weeks ago, the Alabama House and Senate, both controlled by Republican supermajorities, passed the Alabama Accountability Act, giving parents with children in failing schools a tax credit for tuition at private schools. Naturally, organizations such as the Alabama Education Association (AEA), opposed as they are to letting students escape even the worst of public schools, howled that the measure violated state law. But this time, rather than at least having the decency to sue once the legislation was signed, the AEA decided to lawyer up before it even reached the governor’s desk.

Initially, the bill was called the School Flexibility Act and did not include tax credits. After the House and Senate passed different versions of the bill, the...

In just two decades, charter schools have grown from a boutique school reform strategy to an alternative public school system serving a significant percentage of the nation’s K-12 students. In 1996, just 19 states had charter legislation in place, and there were only about 250 charters serving some 20,000 pupils. Fast forward to 2013: 41 states and the District of Columbia now have charter laws on the books, and there are more than 2 million students enrolled in 5,600 charter schools.

Many students attending charters are in high-need, high-poverty neighborhoods; in Cleveland for example—in Fordham’s home state Ohio—nearly 15,000 students (25 percent of Cleveland’s public school students) attended a charter school during the 2011-12 school year. This begs the question: how are these schools doing in comparison to their district peers and in comparison to their wealthier peers across the state? And how might we structure closure and new school policies to increase the number of high-flying charters while reducing the number of academic laggards?

Conducted jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact, the new research study Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality sheds light on charter performance — in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland,...