Charters & Choice

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...

An op-ed that appeared in today’s Chicago Sun-Times from Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis contained a hint of panic. Not on the resolution of the teachers strike, now in its fifth day, but on Rahm Emanuel’s rumored plan to close 80 to 120 low-performing and poorly attended schools.

Lewis took aim at the city’s charter schools, and it’s not surprising. The waiting list for high-demand charters in the city has reached 19,000 names, and the mayor and his schools chief, Jean-Claude Brizard, want more charters to serve more students as they contemplate the closure of dozens of schools. The strike has accomplished two things: 1.) It has given Emanuel more political cover to enhance the charter sector, and 2.) it has given the charter movement more soldiers.

This week alone, the number of phone calls to Chicago charters from interested parents has tripled from the normal rate, said Andrew Broy, the president if the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. While most the city’s 119 charter schools can’t accommodate new families, Broy said his network is adding many of the callers to its list of active supporters and he’s touting that 5,000 parents may show up to the group’s...

Matthew Chingos and Paul Peterson knew there would be attempts to undermine their finding that a New York City voucher program had a positive impact on the college attendance of black students. When the Brookings Institution released the Chingos/Peterson study last month, many news reports unfortunately focused on the fact that only black students seemed to benefit significantly from the small, privately funded program (the voucher was worth just $1,400 annually when it was offered to low-income kids in 1997). Still, while frustrating, the media coverage never cast aspersions on the most significant claims in the study.

While frustrating, the media coverage never cast aspersions on the most significant claims in the study.

That task has now fallen to an academic review from the National Education Policy Center, a group that could never be confused for a friend to school choice. Sara Goldrick-Rab of the University of Wisconsin-Madison makes the preposterous claim that an “unmentioned” measurement error in the dependent variables (college attendance rates) suggests that there really are no statistically significant differences between the voucher’s impact on black students than on other students. Further, Goldrick-Rab argues that Chingos and Peterson fail to account for any negative effects...

Channeling Rahm

Kathleen and Mike cross the picket line and ask whether reformers have gone too far too fast on teacher evaluations. Amber makes the case for front-loading teacher pay.

Amber's Research Minute

How Should School Districts Shape Teacher Salary Schedules? Linking School Performance to Pay Structure in Traditional Compensation Schemes by Jason A. Grissom and Katharine O. Strunk - Download PDF

Los Angeles charter-school advocates are questioning the legality of a proposed moratorium on new charters. LAUSD's budget and achievement woes have many sources and underperforming charters are one of them, yes. Shutting out all new charters rather than shutting down the worst of the existing ones, however, is a bit like solving a technical disagreement over teacher evaluations by shutting down an entire school district. Ok, bad example.

Los Angeles Times editorial accused the Adelanto Elementary School District of deliberately obstructing an effort by parents to take control of an elementary school using California’s “parent trigger” law. Well, yes, but did parent-trigger proponents really expect the district and other opponents to acquiesce without resorting to easy bureaucratic and legal stalling tactics? If the parent trigger has become the “lawyer trigger,” is it time to admit the limits of this idea?

Louisiana plans to launch a marketplace for publicly funded courses next year that would allow students to select from online and in-person courses outside of their schools. Kudos to the Bayou State for developing a creative way to guarantee access to the increasingly diverse ways that education can be...

When Andrew Broy addressed reporters in advance of the Chicago teachers’ strike to say the work stoppage would have no impact on the city’s charter schools, he was doing more than just assuring current charter families that schools would remain open (12 percent of the city’s public school population of 400,000 is enrolled at charters). The president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools was also engaged in public relations, knowing the strike would force tens of thousands of parents to alter work schedules or scramble for day care.

“I just see charter options and opportunities growing in any event [but] if there’s a strike the pace might accelerate,” Broy told the Chicago Tribune.

This puts into practice Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s famous dictum to never let a serious crisis go to waste, but it also gives the charter school movement a reason to reflect on its attributes after twenty years. 

Leaders in the movement have been focused during the past several years on charter school quality, looking to scale up the best models and proffering the standards by which all charters and their authorizers should live by. This has been necessary for the vitality of the movement, but...

What do you get when a group of creative and motivated students are empowered to tell the story of their own charter school using video and music? You get a movie-style trailer that illustrates not only what the school means to them, but also what it's taught them. Check out DECA Prep's "coming soon" video, created and produced by DECA students.

In a world where cynicism and defeatism can rain down from the grown ups to the young people - and expect more of this in Ohio and elsewhere when "Won't Back Down" premieres later this month - this bit of real life from imaginative and empowered young people is worth celebrating.

What do you get when a group of creative and motivated students are empowered to tell the story of their charter school using video and music? You get a movie-style trailer that illustrates not only what the school means to them, but also what it's taught them. Check out DECA Prep's "coming soon" video, created and produced by DECA students, as are all their video materials.

In a world where cynicism and defeatism can rain down from the grown ups to the young people - and expect more of this in Ohio and elsewhere when "Won't Back Down" pemieres later this month - this bit of real life from imaginative and empowered young people is worth celebrating.

The 2012 Democratic Party platform released this week calls for the expansion of “public school options for low-income youth,” a position that has appeared in varying language in every Democratic platform since 1992. But as Marc Fisher of the Washington Post reported this week, the Democratic platform historically has been “a jagged series of experiments” that once made room for more than just public-school choice.

Democratic Donkey - Icon
The Democratic Party's thinking on private-school choice has changed significantly over time.
Photo by DonkeyHotey.

Today, the national party fervently rejects vouchers for private and parochial schools, but that wasn’t the case thirty years ago. In 1972, Democrats sought to “channel financial aid by a Constitutional formula to children in non-public schools,” a position that reflected not only the influence of the Catholic Church at the time but also the drive, the values and the persistence of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Moynihan, who also crafted education planks for the Democratic platforms of 1964...

A couple of reports last week reanimated the debate about what to do with Catholic schools, which have been hemorrhaging students for the last couple of decades. The new challenge—“one of their most complex… yet,” writes Sean Cavanagh in Education Week—is charter schools. One, by former RAND economist Richard Buddin, was published by the Cato Institute; the other, by Abraham Lackman, a scholar-in-residence at the Albany Law School, in Albany, New York, is not out yet, but was summarized by Cavanagh in the Ed Week story. Writes Cavanagh,

Many charter schools tout attributes similar to those offered by the church's schools, such as disciplined environments, an emphasis on personal responsibility and character development, and distinctive instructional and curricular approaches.

And Buddin, whose report is more broadly aimed at measuring the impact of charters on all private schools, says,

[C]harter schools are pulling large numbers of students from the private education market and present a potentially dev­astating impact on the private education market, as well as a serious increase in the financial burden on taxpayers.

As both Adam Emerson and Kathleen Porter-Magee have already pointed out, Catholic schools were in decline long before charters came...

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