Charters & Choice

A moratorium on charter schools in New Hampshire may end well after all. The state Board of Education, which is the only active charter authorizer in the Granite State, said about a week ago that it would stop creating new charters until the legislature would adequately fund them. The eight schools the board had approved during the last two years had consumed an additional $5 million in state aid, the board’s chairman argued. There was no money left to fund any more.

This is the second time this month that we’ve seen a public board charged with authorizing charters flouting the law.

Fifteen charters had applied to the board at the time. Seeing the urgency, legislative leaders acted to assure the Board of Education that they would free up money necessary to meet the costs of new schools. That could end the moratorium later this fall, but that still leaves a problem unresolved, one that an editorial today in the Nashua Telegraph pointed out: “We always thought it was the responsibility of the state Board of Education to approve or reject new applications for charter schools based on their merits …”

That is exactly what New Hampshire...



Many of today’s parents yearn to live in or near the lively, culturally vibrant heart of the city—in diverse, walkable neighborhoods full of music and theater, accessible to museums and stores, awash in ethnic eateries, and radiating a true sense of community. This is a major shift from recent generations that saw middle class families trading urban centers for suburbs with lawns, malls, parks, and good schools.

But good schools still matter. And standing in the way of many parents’ urban aspirations is the question: Will the public schools in the city provide a strong education for my kids?

To be sure, lots of parents favor sending their sons and daughters to diverse schools with children from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. But can such schools successfully meet the educational needs of all those different kids? How do middle class children fare in these environments? Is there enough challenge and stimulation in schools that also struggle to help poor and immigrant children reach basic standards? Is there too much focus on test scores? And why is it so hard to find diverse public schools with a progressive, child-centered approach...

In January 2010, California became the first state to offer parents another path when it passed the Parent Empowerment Act, aka “parent trigger” law. This measure allows parents to force turnaround efforts at a school, similar to those framed by the federal School Improvement Grant program, including reconstitution as a charter and replacement of half the staff. Since then, six other states have adopted “trigger” legislation (including Ohio, which passed a pilot program for Columbus City Schools in 2011). Another twenty-plus have considered (or are currently considering) similar legislation. This form of parent empowerment has merit, even if it hasn’t actually happened yet in real places. Indeed, no real school has successfully implemented a parent trigger—for school systems, teacher groups, and other establishment forces have myriad means available to block it.

For a preview of how it might really happen, we turn to Hollywood: This film—produced (and presumably subsidized) by Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media and starring Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart)—chronicles the efforts of two moms (one of them also a teacher) as they struggle to reconstitute...

Skeptics of charter schools have argued that the impact of charters on student performance can be attributed to their ability to “skim motivated students.” That is to say, in simplified terms: high-flying charters are high-flying, not because of their ability to educate kids more effectively than their traditional public school peers, but because of their ability to attract and retain cream-of-the-crop students.

Mathematica Policy Research, a top-notch policy and program evaluator, has recently looked into this precise question, using KIPP charter schools as its guinea-pig. KIPP, with its 125 schools in 39 states and the District of Columbia, is one of the largest charter school networks in the U.S. In Ohio, it operates one middle school in Columbus (sponsored by Fordham).

The researcher ask whether KIPP schools have (1) higher rates of attrition of its low-performers, compared to their district school peers; and (2) whether KIPP schools have higher rates of “late arriving” high-performers, compared to their district counterparts. If the researchers find higher rates of attrition or late-arriving, one could infer that the positive impact that KIPP charters have on student performance (found here, here, and here) is a function of selection...

The first union to ever organize a Massachusetts charter school has disbanded. What was once hailed as a “historic organizing victory” by the American Federation of Teachers has dissolved after what yesterday’s Boston Globe described as “a long stretch of diminished activity.”

Unions are a poor fit for charters anywhere.

But conditions at the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton, Massachusetts, have never been good for the union, and they highlight why unions are a poor fit for charters anywhere.

When teachers first organized at the Brighton school four years ago, Marc Kenen, the executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said that he doubted unionization would work. “Generally, charter school teachers join charter schools because they don’t want to work in a unionized atmosphere,” he told the Globe.

Indeed, nearly all of the teachers who established the union left after just a few years, and the Globe reported last year that newer faculty members debated whether to dissolve it. Some said they saw the merit in having a contract but thought the American Federation of Teachers, with whom they were affiliated, cared more about its own agenda than the needs of the charter school.


The redefinED blog has put together its annual calculation of Florida students that take advantage of the state’s many public education alternatives. These include district choice programs such as magnet schools, open enrollment, and International Baccalaureate, as well as charter schools and the Florida Virtual School. Jon East, a former editorial writer at the Tampa Bay Times, relied largely on state Department of Education surveys required of Florida’s sixty-seven school districts to help determine that, in 2011-12, 43 percent of students in Florida public education opted for something other than their zoned school.

With a minor exception, only local school boards are allowed to authorize charter schools in Florida.

Not surprisingly, the state scored high on the Center for Education Reform’s newly released Parent Power Index, which aims to show parents in one state how much power they have over their children’s education compared with those in other states. School choice is a big part of that measurement (teacher quality and transparency are others). Florida landed in second place—1 percentage point on the index behind Indiana. The center remarked, “[Florida] ranks consistently in the top ten for its charter laws. [It] also has been a leader in providing...

In a few weeks, the Los Angeles school board will discuss enacting a moratorium on new charter schools, a measure that one board member claims is necessary to better assess the quality of a sector that now enrolls 15 percent of L.A. pupils. Not only would such a moratorium flout the law—school boards can’t simply set aside their legal obligation to consider charter applications—it would be an irresponsible way to manage charter-school quality. The board should be weeding out bad charters, both extant and prospective, but that’s only half of the job of a charter-school authorizer (and a difficult job at that). The board would be more effective—and more convincing when they say they care about charter students—if they made the effort to find new and promising providers to replace the failures. But, as with many moves like this, school-board members here seem intent on slowing the growth of charters by artificially capping enrollment (the wait list for L.A. charters is presently about 10,000). The board tried unsuccessfully to impose a moratorium on charters six years ago, just as the city became the first in the United States to contain 100 such schools, and it has become more antagonistic ever...

A college political science professor of mine once used this analogy to understand politicians: “There are two types of politicians: the ‘show ponies’ and the ‘workhorses.’” The show ponies, he would say, are politicians who love—and seek—the limelight. They’re the Fox News politicians. The workhorses, in contrast, are the politicians who memorize an assembly’s rules and grind away at legislative writing.

The Windy City is the moment’s education show pony. The drama of Chicago’s teachers’ strike, chalk-full of a furious teacher’s union, the tough-talking mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and the veil of presidential politics have shone the spotlight on Chicago. For four days during the week of September 11 to 17 the strike made the front page of The New York Times. As theatrical show—yes, with some substance to boot—one cannot get much better than Chicago, September 2012.

The Windy City is the moment's education show pony, but the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead.

While the show’s been going on in Chicago, the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead. In Dayton, education leaders are working toward higher quality charter schools, are implementing blended learning models into their classrooms, and are worrying about a fair and efficient school...

Los Angeles was the first American city to claim 100 charter schools, a milestone it reached in 2006. The California Charter Schools Association embraced the moment by telling reporters that “Los Angeles Unified has quickly become the nationwide leader in promoting innovative public school options, like charter schools, to tackle the challenges of low student achievement and overcrowding.”

The Los Angeles school board can’t simply set aside its legal obligation to consider a charter application.

In the years since, the district has grown more antagonistic towards a burgeoning charter sector that presently serves about 15 percent of the city’s public school students. And the state charter association has become increasingly frustrated. Now that a board member has proposed a moratorium on new charters, the association has responded by calling the move “blatantly illegal.”

It’s right. The Los Angeles school board can’t simply set aside its legal obligation to consider a charter application. But school board member Steve Zimmer has proposed doing exactly that, supposedly to better examine how charters are complying with state law and district policies. Specifically, Zimmer wants the district to create an oversight panel to more aggressively monitor charters; board members collectively have sought additional...

Thanks in part to the requirements of the Federal Race to the Top program, since 2010 states and districts across the country have adopted teacher evaluation systems that use student achievement as part of the assessment of individual teachers’ performance. Given the amount of energy and political capital the education-reform community has put into developing, negotiating, and implementing these plans, you would think it’s a sure fire way to boost student achievement. Unfortunately, the top-down nature of these changes may very well be undercutting any chance they have to make a real difference for kids.

Top-down systems that bypass or undermine school leaders rarely produce excellence in the classroom.

The problem is not about the details of these evaluation systems—although clearly some are better than others—but rather who should be in the driver’s seat in making the decisions about how to hire, fire, and evaluate teachers. And the reality is that teacher-evaluation reforms are unlikely to succeed for reasons education reformers should know well: Top-down systems that bypass or undermine school leaders rarely produce excellence in the classroom.

It wasn’t that long ago that education reform was driven forward by a commitment to freeing determined principals who had a vision...