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.


Our many choice-related blog posts are listed below.

Fordham’s choice experts:

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) recently released the results of its revised sponsor evaluation, including new ratings for all of the state’s charter-school sponsors. Called “authorizers” in most other states, sponsors are the entities responsible for monitoring and oversight of charter schools. Under the current rating system, sponsors are evaluated in three areas—compliance, quality practice, and school academic outcomes—and receive overall ratings of “Exemplary,” “Effective,” “Ineffective,” or “Poor.” Of the sixty-five Buckeye State sponsors evaluated, five were rated “Effective,” thirty-nine “Ineffective,” and twenty-one “Poor.” Incentives are built into the system for sponsors rated “Effective” or “Exemplary” (for instance, only having to be evaluated on the quality practice component every three years); however, sponsors rated “Ineffective” are prohibited from sponsoring new schools, and sponsors rated “Poor” have their sponsorship revoked.

Number of charter schools by sponsor rating

Evaluating sponsors is a key step in the direction of accountability and quality control, especially in Ohio, where the charter sector has been beset with performance challenges. Indeed, the point of implementing the evaluation was two-fold. First, the existence of the evaluation system and its...

David Steiner

NOTE: The publication of a recent Flypaper post arguing that growth measures (like “value added” or “student growth percentiles”) are a fairer way to evaluate schools than are proficiency measures drew quick reaction both inside and outside of Fordham. Here we present a "letter to the editor" in response to the initial blog post, lightly edited.

To the editors:

I find your argument that state accountability systems should increase the weight of growth indicators, as against proficiency indicators, perplexing. Here is a summary as to why.

The most basic difficulty with the growth models you recommend is this: they attempt to estimate a school’s average contribution to students’ achievement based on past achievement within a given state and a comparison group in that state. Such a growth measure is norm-based rather than criteria-based, i.e., relative to other students in other schools as opposed to an external standard. Assigning such a heavy weight to relative growth may end up removing a school from funding and other support even if its students perform far more poorly than students in schools that would be identified for intervention.  

To focus on the details: The first problem in your recommendation is its lack...

Ohio Charter Accountability Takes Big Leap Forward with First Sponsor Evaluation Ratings

Today the Ohio Department of Education released results for the state’s new comprehensive sponsor evaluation system. The ratings resulted in 5 sponsors being deemed effective, 39 ineffective, and 21 poor. No sponsors were rated exemplary.

“Completion of the first sponsor performance review is a critical step forward in Ohio’s goal to improve its charter sector,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “Sponsors provide critical oversight for charters schools, determining when to intervene, non-renew, or close schools—and just as importantly, when and where to allow charters to open in the first place. Given this tremendous responsibility, they are essential to our accountability system.”

Ohio’s sponsor evaluation system—initially put in place by HB 555—was revised last fall by a Department task force. The evaluations grade sponsors on three equally weighted categories: compliance—how well they follow applicable rules and laws and ensure their sponsored schools do the same; quality practices—whether they are adhering to general principles of quality authorizing; and academic performance—how well their schools performed on a variety of report card metrics.

“The Department of Education deserves...

Piet van Lier

NOTE: All photos used in this piece were graciously provided by the Cleveland Transformation Alliance. The photo at the top of this page features HBCU Preparatory School student Meiyah Hill and school principal Tim Roberts.

Standardized test scores are the most common measure of academic success in our nation’s K-12 schools. While they are an important indicator, most observers would agree that tests don’t tell the whole story about what’s happening in our public schools.

Given the recent changes to Ohio’s assessments and standards and their impact on test scores statewide, the need to tell a deeper story about public education has become even more evident.

In Cleveland, we know that Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools is enabling both district and charter schools to create new learning environments that are laying a foundation for sustainable academic improvement. Progress is slow and not always visible from the outside, but it’s happening.

That’s why the Cleveland Transformation Alliance recently partnered with Civic Commons ideastream to share powerful stories about education in Measuring Success Behind the Numbers. The conversation included three storytellers:

  • Student Meiyah Hill talked about how HBCU Preparatory School, a charter middle school in Cleveland, made her feel
  • ...
Erika Sanzi

In his new book about charter schools, The Founders, Richard Whitmire makes a simple assertion in Chapter 15: “High school is boring.” And judging from the money and expertise that went into making it less boring and just plain better, it’s clear that he and others are onto something.

He uses the chapter about “Summit Basecamp Schools” to introduce and lay out one innovative way some charter schools across the country are beginning to work to redefine the high school experience:

For the past several years, some of the country’s brightest tech minds and wealthiest foundations have joined hands with the White House to solve one of America’s most remedy-resistant problems: High school is boring.

Summit Public Schools, a group of charter schools known for their innovation, teamed up with Facebook code writers to develop a personalized learning software tool. Rhode Island signed on as an early adopter, and Whitmire spent some time visiting. Now in its second year, there are thirteen Summit Basecamp schools in the Ocean State, all of which are using Summit’s personalized learning plan created for all subjects in grades six through twelve.

The Basecamp model is designed around a commitment to self-directed learning....

A new Fordham Institute study, Charter School Boards in the Nation's Capital, asks a simple but largely uninvestigated question: Do the characteristics, views, and practices of charter boards have any bearing on charter school quality?

To answer this critical question, we enlisted two of Bellwether Education Partners’ savviest analysts, Juliet Squire and Allison Crean Davis.

The object of our analysis, Washington D.C., has both pros and cons. It’s a good place to analyze charter board governance because its scale (sixty-two boards overseeing 112 campuses) is sufficient for comparisons. And it operates under a single set of laws and regulations, a uniform set of school-quality metrics, and a single authorizer that values transparency.

Yet the sector is also atypical. It is relatively large—enrolling nearly half of the city’s public school students—and high performing. This differentiates it from many others across the country that are less established, more fragile, and include suburban and rural charter schools, so we cannot and do not claim that our findings are generalizable beyond the nation’s capital.

Nevertheless, they paint a detailed and revealing portrait of what is occurring in D.C.—and what may be, could be, or should be occurring elsewhere. Our survey response rate was...

Management expert Peter Drucker once defined leadership as “lifting a person's vision to higher sights.” Ohio has set its policy sights on loftier goals for all K-12 students in the form of more demanding expectations for what they should know and be able to do by the end of each grade en route to college and career readiness. That’s the plan, anyway.

These higher academic standards include the Common Core in math and English language arts along with new standards for science and social studies. (Together, these are known as Ohio’s New Learning Standards.) Aligning with these more rigorous expectations, the state has implemented new assessments designed to gauge whether students are meeting the academic milestones important to success after high school. In 2014-15, Ohio replaced its old state exams with the PARCC assessments and in 2015-16, the state transitioned to exams developed jointly by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Ohio Department of Education.

As the state marches toward higher standards and—one hopes—stronger pupil achievement and school performance, Ohioans are also seeing changes in the way the state reports student achievement and rates its approximately 600 districts and 3,500 public schools. Consider these developments:

As the standards...

Twenty-five years into the American charter school movement there remains little research on the impact of charter authorizers, yet these entities are responsible for key decisions in the lives of charter schools, including whether they can open, and when they must close.

A new policy brief from Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance seeks to shed some light on authorizer impact in post-Katrina New Orleans, specifically does the process by which applications are reviewed help to produce effective charter schools? And after those schools have been initially authorized, does that process also shed light on which types of charter schools get renewed?

It merits repeating that the authorizing environment in New Orleans was unlike anywhere else in the country: Louisiana had given control of almost all New Orleans public schools to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Recovery School District (RSD). Independent review of charter applications was mandated in state law, and tons of organizations applied to open new charters.

To facilitate the application process, BESE hired the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). NACSA reviewed and rated applications, and in most cases BESE followed those recommendations. As the authors point out, NACSA is...

The annual release of state report card data in Ohio evokes a flurry of reactions, and this year is no different. The third set of tests in three years, new components added to the report cards, and a precipitous decline in proficiency rates are just some of the topics making headlines. News, analysis, and opinion on the health of our schools and districts – along with criticism of the measurement tools – come from all corners of the state.

Fordham Ohio is your one-stop shop to stay on top of the coverage:

  • Our Ohio Gadfly Daily blog has already featured our own quick look at the proficiency rates reported in Ohio’s schools as compared to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). More targeted analysis will come in the days ahead. You can check out the Ohio Gadfly Daily here.
  • Our official Twitter feed (@OhioGadfly) and the Twitter feed of our Ohio Research Director Aaron Churchill (@a_churchill22) have featured graphs and interesting snapshots of the statewide data with more to come.
  • Gadfly Bites, our thrice-weekly compilation of statewide education news clips and editorials, has already featured coverage of state report cards from the Columbus Dispatch,
  • ...

As students and teachers settle back into school routines, thousands of high schoolers are getting their first taste of classes that are supposed to prepare them for college. Some of them are sitting in Advanced Placement courses, while others have enrolled in district-designed advanced courses. In general, most people seem to take it for granted that high school courses that are labeled “advanced” are an effective preparation tool for college. A new analysis out of Brookings calls the conventional wisdom into question.

At issue is whether high school courses impact college performance at all. The Brookings authors point to a 2009 review of college preparation from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) that found “low evidence” that academic preparation for college actually improved college classroom outcomes. Despite myriad college preparation methods reviewed, none of them—including advanced coursework like AP classes—was strongly predictive of college readiness.

The Brookings authors did some further analysis of their own on the impacts of high school course-taking. After examining a nationally representative database of U.S. students and controlling for academic, demographic, and individual-level variables, they found that, on average, advanced high school courses do little to prepare students to succeed...