For several years, in our role as charter school authorizer, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has worked closely and collaboratively with the governing authority (Alliance Community Schools) of the Dayton View and Dayton Liberty charter schools to encourage better results. After more than a decade of working together, the governing board fired the school’s operator, Edison Learning, at the end of the 2011-12 school year. At the start of this school year the management responsibilities for both buildings were turned over to a veteran Dayton educator and his management team. 

Because we believe there are many lessons to be drawn from this experience, we engaged veteran journalist Ellen Belcher to tell the story of these two schools and ongoing efforts to improve the education they provide some of Dayton’s neediest children. Ellen is an award-winning journalist and former editorial page editor of the Dayton Daily News, where she frequently wrote about education issues including those around charter schools.

Our task to Ellen was straightforward – talk to the board members (current and former), administrators, teachers, and parents involved in the two schools and find out their stories. Why, in their words, haven’t the schools lived up to their promise?...

Late last week, the US Department of Education announced the 20 winners of the latest “Investing in Innovation” competition.

On its website, the Department has a number of documents worth checking out if you’d like to learn a little more about the competition itself and those awarded funds.  Here are the things that jumped out at me.

  • I had never heard of most of the winners.  Of late, the ed-reform community has become enamored of a number of flashy tech organizations that focus particularly on hybrid learning and the transition to Common Core.  Most of these winners are outside of that cool-kids lunch table.  Lesson to reformers: We should start grazing around the rest of the cafeteria.
  • Almost three times the amount of money was given to “validation” awards (up to $15m) than to “development” awards (up to $3m); no money was given to the largest “scale up” categories (up to $25m).
  • Grants were pretty well spread among the five absolute-priority areas, such as “Teachers and Principals,” “STEM,” and “Parent and Family.”  However, only one award was given in the area of “Standards and Assessments” (to Jobs for the Future for work in the Rio Grande Valley
  • ...

Andy Smarick had all but completed this swell book when he was snapped up by Chris Christie and Chris Cerf to fill the Number 2 job in the New Jersey department of education, which he did with much success over the past two years. During this time the manuscript ripened. Now, as a partner at Bellwether Education Partners and a Bernard Lee Schwartz Senior Policy Fellow here at Fordham, he’s been able (swiftly, at that) to polish and publish it. Now in print, it’s even better than the original draft thanks to Smarick’s latest experiences in the trenches.

Smarick’s starting place is the irrefutable contention that yesterday’s urban school system is broken beyond repair and needs to be replaced by something radically different if today’s children are to be soundly educated. What he would replace it with is a version of a “portfolio district” headed by a mayor-appointed “chancellor.” So far it sounds like D.C. and New York, but Smarick goes notably farther in three directions: He really does mean that all the schools in the city, not just a subset, would be run, charter-style, by...

Education reformers might be tempted to think they can claim victory in Michigan because voters overwhelmingly rejected a push from the teacher unions and others to engrave collective bargaining in the state constitution. Surely, the unions overreached here, but they won elsewhere on Election Day in the Wolverine State.

Education reform in Michigan suffered a crucial setback on Tuesday.

Or, more specifically, in Detroit, Highland Park, and Muskegon Heights—all of them school districts that have become educational wastelands and where the state had installed emergency managers to take control and (more importantly) to tear up union contracts to get the job done. In Highland Park and Muskegon Heights, that meant converting the school districts into charter-school districts. In Detroit, it meant keeping power out of the hands of a school board that one newspaper columnist said was “sauced on power and staggering with incompetence.”

This week, 53 percent of the state’s voters repealed the emergency-manager law, a victory for public-employee unions (teachers included, of course) that had spent the summer gathering signatures to put the question on the ballot. And that may unravel the boldest measures undertaken by these managers.

Detroit’s emergency chief, Roy Roberts, technically maintains...

Lots of people are weighing in on the implications of Tuesday’s election results.

  • Eduwonk Rotherham has a good piece in Time magazine lamenting Tony Bennett’s loss (my thoughts on that here), celebrating the wins for charter schools, and noting the continued strength of teachers unions when they are tested.
  • Mike comes to many of the same conclusions.  Tom Luna’s losses get his attention, as do a number of results from the Midwest.
  • Stergios also highlights the charter wins and the fallout from Bennett’s undoing (particularly regarding Common Core) and adds accountability and ESEA reauthorization to the list of affected subjects.
  • Naturally, the prolific Rick Hess has a series of posts on the subject, declaring the night a split decision for reformers.  He emphasizes the union wins and the subtle split in the reform community between conservatives and progressives.  See here for his take on Bennett’s loss and its implications for Common Core.
  • The WSJ’s Stephanie Branchero also concludes that voters are divided.  Branchero discusses Luna’s losses, the charter win in WA, and CA’s decision to spend more on schools.
  • Politics K-12 is already looking ahead, surfacing the five big issues
  • ...

A well-informed Louisiana resident shared this tantalizing post-election tidbit from the Bayou State, further evidence that Americans are growing restless with the dysfunctionality of traditional public-school governance:

In 2012, our legislature narrowly passed a bill that put a local option school-board term limit proposition on this year's ballot in 67 parishes. (There are 70 total but the Recovery School District doesn't have a board and Lafayette and Jefferson Parishes already have term limits.) On Tuesday, the proposition passed with enormous margins. The lowest support was at 70% (Baker) and the highest at 85% (St. Tammany, which has one of the most backward, anti-reform boards in the state). In fact, 1.16 million people in Louisiana voted for school-board term limits.

You can find the 2012 legislation here:

Although limiting the terms of public officials sometimes turns out to be a mixed blessing, declaring school board members less than immortal—at least giving voters the opportunity to do that—is a step that reformers in other states should consider.

Charter school supporters can claim victory in at least one high-profile ballot initiative (Georgia) and perhaps one other (Washington) but each state has a different story to tell—and lessons to teach.

In what may arguably be defined as a landslide, 59 percent of Georgia voters empowered the state to create an independent commission to authorize charter schools. But that margin of victory doesn’t even tell the whole story.

Consider Gwinnett County, the state’s largest school district, which has allowed only three charter schools within its boundaries and which filed the original lawsuit that ultimately killed Georgia’s previous independent authorizer (hence the constitutional amendment). Gwinnett superintendent Alvin Wilbanks once said that the question before voters would only empower the state to “privatize, defund, and dismantle public education.” But 63 percent of the county’s voters disagreed with him and said yes to the amendment.

While Georgia can claim a landslide, charter advocates in the Evergreen State may be getting by with a squeaker.

The state’s largest counties followed suit, including Fulton County (where 66 percent of voters said yes) and DeKalb County (64 percent). This highlights the arrogance of Wilbanks and other district superintendents, who warned that the amendment would only diminish...

The Milwaukee voucher program remains one of the most tightly-regulated school choice programs of its kind in the nation, and it deserves better than the sloppy conclusions of Diane Ravitch. In a blog post earlier this week, Ravitch noted—correctly—that tougher standards applied to the Wisconsin state test went badly for all Milwaukee students, especially voucher recipients (just 10 percent of whom were proficient in reading, compared to 15 percent of their district peers). But then she reports that legislation expanding the Milwaukee choice program to Racine absolved private schools of the requirement that they administer the state tests to their voucher-bearing students. “Therefore,” she writes, “their proficiency rate will not be known or reported.”

Wisconsin has made a lot of progress in holding its voucher program more accountable.

This is absolutely untrue. For the past few years, students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program have had to take the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Examination (WKCE), which is the same test administered to all public school students. When the Wisconsin legislature expanded the voucher program to Racine last year, nothing changed this requirement. In fact, test results for private schools in Racine and Milwaukee, as well as for public schools throughout...

The results are in (well, most of them anyway) and our non-partisan candidate, Ed Reform, had a mixed performance. Let’s see how the seven key races and referenda turned out:

  • Tony Bennett lost his re-election bid. There’s no sugar-coating it: This one hurts. Bad. As I wrote yesterday (and told the Associated Press), this was a referendum on the most aggressive reform agenda in the country. Despite being massively outspent, the unions managed to get one of their own elected to this critical post. We’ll have to wait for more data to determine the degree to which conservatives also punished Bennett for his support of the Common Core. If that was the deciding factor, it will go down as one of the stupidest moves in the annals of education policy history. Bennett will be fine (I suspect he’s already getting calls from Florida, Ohio, and other states looking for a hard-charging state supe). But a union-backed state superintendent is going to wreak all kinds of havoc in the state’s new voucher program and much else. (Just ask choice supporters in Wisconsin, where state superintendent Tony Evers has made life hard on choice schools
  • ...

Want to know if school reform is winning in the court of public opinion? If the myriad efforts at ed-reform advocacy are paying off? Here are seven races and referenda to watch tonight, in order of importance:

Tony Bennett
Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett with the author.
Photo by Joe Portnoy.

1. Tony Bennett’s re-election

No one has pushed a more aggressive education-reform agenda than Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction (and Ed-Reform Idol) Tony Bennett and his fellow ed-reform activist Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. A big win will give a big boost to Hoosier-style reform.

2. The Washington State charter initiative

Seattle is the largest city in the country that doesn’t have any charter schools. This initiative would finally fix that. Charter supporters have failed at the polls before; will they prevail this time around?

3. Idaho’s Propositions 1 and 2

These two referenda would limit the scope of collective bargaining and mandate that student achievement be included in teacher evaluations. The unions are fighting...