Quality Choices

Nationally and in Ohio, we strive to develop policies and practices leading to a lively, accessible marketplace of high-quality education options for every young American (including charter schools, magnet schools, voucher programs, and online courses), as well as families empowered and informed so that they can successfully engage with that marketplace.

Resources:

Our many choice-related blog posts are listed below.


Fordham’s choice experts:


Joanne Weiss

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution are hosting a timely event, “A New Federal Push on Private School Choice? Three Options to Consider.” This week we are running guest posts by the event’s panelists, offering their advice for the new Administration and Congress. Below is the second of a two-part series by former Obama Administration official Joanne Weiss. These posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Competitive programs are particularly good vehicles for empowering those closest to the work to bring forward good ideas that are tailored to the needs and circumstances of particular places. And despite the handful of cities that are working today toward the principles outlined in my previous post, there is still much to be learned about designing successful choice policies—and it’s no secret that what succeeds in one place may be different in key details from what works somewhere else. A policy targeted at creating successful citywide or regional proof-points would significantly contribute to the field’s knowledge and evidence base.1 Competitions, when well designed and executed, can be strong mechanisms for seeding models and advancing learning because:

  • They identify the
  • ...
Joanne Weiss

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution are hosting a timely event, “A New Federal Push on Private School Choice? Three Options to Consider.” This week we are running guest posts by the event’s panelists, offering their advice for the new Administration and Congress. Below is the first of a two-part series by former Obama Administration official Joanne Weiss. These posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The incoming Trump administration’s early policy announcements promise to spur renewed conversation on the meaning, goals, and mechanisms of school choice. For the past two decades, I have worked on issues related to choice with teachers and principals, charter school and district leaders, school board members, and city and state leaders. Based on all I have learned from them, I suggest a set of principles to ensure that policy aims are clear, guardrails support success, and implementation is coherent. I will also propose, in tomorrow’s post, a new competition—mounted by a large foundation, a city, a state, or the federal government—that’s designed to encourage locales to develop approaches to school choice that put families first.

School choice, in a variety...

More than sixty years after Brown v. Board, traditional district schools are more often than not still havens of homogeneity. Static land use guidelines, assignment zones, feeder patterns, and transportation monopolies reinforce boundaries that functionally segregate schools and give rise to the adage that ZIP code means destiny for K-12 students. Asserting that student diversity is an object of increasing parental demand, at least among a certain subset of parents of school-age kids, the National Charter School Resource Center has issued a toolkit for charter school leaders looking to leverage their schools’ unique attributes and flexibilities to build diverse student communities not found in nearby district schools. The report cites a number of studies showing academic benefits of desegregated schools, especially for low-income and minority students. It is unlikely that the mere existence of documentable diversity is at the root of those benefits. More likely, it is a complicated alchemy of choice, quality, culture, and expectations that drives any observable academic boosts. Garden-variety school quality is a strong selling point for any type of school, but this toolkit sets aside that discussion to focus on deliberately building a multi-cultural student body for its own sake. Bear...

Peter Cunningham recently called district-charter collaboration the “great unfilled promise” of school choice. He explains the possibilities by pointing to a host of cities that are already benefiting from collaboration: In New York City, districts and charters are partnering to improve parent engagement. In Rhode Island, charters are sharing with district schools their wealth of knowledge on how to personalize learning effectively. Boston has district, charter, and Catholic schools working together on issues like transportation and professional development and has successfully lowered costs for each sector. The SKY Partnership in Houston is expanding choice and opportunities for students. The common enrollment system in New Orleans has solved a few long-standing problems for parents (like issues with transparency), and partnerships in Denver have set the stage for even more innovation. Though the type and extent of collaboration differs in each of these places, the bottom line is the same: Kids benefit.

Here in the Buckeye State, there are thousands of kids in need of those benefits. Our most recent analysis of state report card data shows that within Ohio’s large urban districts (commonly known as “the Big Eight”), proficiency rates were far below...

Education Week just issued its twenty-first “Quality Counts” report card for states. Ohio’s grades are so-so—and nearly identical to last year’s. Yet with a “C” overall and ranking twenty-second nationally, the Buckeye State’s standing relative to other states has fallen dramatically since 2010 when it stood proud at number five.

Ohio’s slide in EdWeek’s Quality Counts ranking has become easy fodder for those wishing to criticize the state’s education policies. Those on the receiving end of blame for Ohio’s fall have included: Governor Kasich (and the lawmakers who upended former Governor Strickland’s “evidence-based” school funding system), Ohio’s charter schools (never mind that nothing whatsoever in the EdWeek score cards takes them into consideration!), and even President Obama (specifically for his 2009 Race to the Top program). I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard or read that Ohio’s plummeting ranking is incontrovertible evidence of things gone awry.

An almost-twenty slot drop in rankings sounds terrible, but my guess is that many people who lament it don’t know what the ratings comprise or that EdWeek’s indicators have changed over time. Let’s take a look at the overall rankings, and then take a...

John Morris

NOTE: The State Board of Education of Ohio on December 13, 2016 debated whether to change graduation requirements for the Class of 2018 and beyond. Below are the written remarks of John Morris, given before the board.

Members of the Board,

Thank you for giving me a moment to offer testimony on behalf of the construction industry. Members of the industry sent me here to thank you for setting a new higher bar with the class of 2018 graduation requirements. We are excited that this board has supported maintaining high standards for graduating and earning a diploma in the State of Ohio. Members of the construction industry were very pleased when the phase out of the Ohio Graduation Test was announced in favor of multiple end-of-course exams and the opportunity for an industry credential to help a student graduate. We expect this new system to be an improvement over the current system that graduates many without the skills to succeed in college and continuously FAILS to introduce others to the hundreds of thousands of pathways to employment via industry credentials.

For many decades, industries such as construction and manufacturing enjoyed a steady stream of individuals coming directly from "vocational" schools...

NOTE: The State Board of Education of Ohio is today debating whether to change graduation requirements for the Class of 2018 and beyond. Below are the written remarks that Chad Aldis gave before the board today.

Thank you, President Gunlock and state board members, for allowing me to offer public comment today.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-oriented nonprofit focused on research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C.

High school diplomas are supposed to signal whether a young person possesses a certain set of knowledge and skills. To its credit, Ohio is phasing in new graduation standards that will do that by better matching the expectations of post-secondary institutions, employers, and our armed forces. The new standards ask our young people to demonstrate readiness by either passing end of course exams (EOCs), achieving a remediation free ACT or SAT score, or earning an industry credential.

After years of low graduation standards, Ohio’s new requirements are a major step in the right direction. We need to set the expectations high for the young men and women who...

Ohio’s charter school reform discussions have mostly focused on sponsors—the entities responsible for providing charter school oversight. Overlooked are the important changes in Ohio’s charter reform law (House Bill 2) around operators. Operators (aka management companies) are often the entities responsible for running the day-to-day functions of charter schools; some of the responsibilities they oversee include selecting curriculum, hiring and firing school leaders and teachers, managing facilities, providing special education services, and more. (To get a sense of the extent of operator responsibilities, read through one of their contracts.)

Extra sunshine on operators has been especially needed in a climate like Ohio’s, where operators historically have wielded significant political influence and power not only with elected officials but even over governing boards. For instance, one utterly backwards provision pre-HB 2 allowed operators to essentially fire a charter’s governing board (with sponsor approval) instead of the other way around—what NACSA President Greg Richmond referred to as the “most breathtaking abuse in the nation” in charter school policy.  

HB 2 installed much-needed changes on this front, barring the most egregious abuses of power and greatly increasing operator transparency. The legislation required that contracts between charter...

One in seven adults’ ages 18-24 in Ohio lacks a high school diploma and faces bleak prospects of prospering in our economy. Dropouts earn $10,000 less each year than the average high school graduate according to the U.S. Census Bureau, are almost twice as likely to be unemployed, and typically earn an average annual income of $20,241 which hovers just above the poverty line for a family of three in Ohio. Dropouts also drag down the Ohio economy; over the course of their life, they consume an estimated $292,000 in public aid beyond what they pay in taxes.

To mitigate the number and cost of dropouts, Ohio has permitted the creation of ninety-four dropout prevention and recovery schools. Collectively, these schools enrolled sixteen thousand students in the 2015-16 year. They serve at-risk and re-enrolling students—pupils who previously dropped out but are now re-entering the education system—with the aim of graduating students who might otherwise slip through the cracks.

To hold these schools accountable for successfully educating at-risk students, Ohio has created an alternative report card. This report card assigns an overall rating of “Exceeds,” “Meets,” or “Does Not Meet” standards based on the...

One of the big Ohio education stories of 2016 was the growing popularity of College Credit Plus (CCP), a program that provides students three ways to earn college credit from public or participating private colleges: by taking a course on a university campus; at the student’s high school where it’s taught by a credentialed teacher; or online. Many students and families have found that the program saves them time and money and provides valuable experience. For families with gifted or advanced students, it is a chance for acceleration even as early as seventh grade; for students in high-poverty rural and urban areas, it may be the only way to take high-level courses in basic subjects, let alone electives.

Before registering, students in grades 7-12 must be admitted to the college based on their readiness in each subject they plan to take a class in—a decision made by each higher education institution and determined by GPA, end-of-course (EOC) exam scores, and other available data. Once admitted, students can register for any course the school offers, except for those that are considered remedial or religious. (The latter restriction is presumably intended to keep church and...

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