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:


Last month, the Center for Research on Educational Options (CREDO) at Stanford University released a new analysis of the performance of charter management networks, entities that may be engaged to oversee the day-to-day operations of a charter school. (See here for a short review of the report.) As in past CREDO studies, the results showed wide variations in performance depending on several indicators: network type, state, demographics, years spent in charters by pupils, etc.

Despite dozens of analyses and myriad ways to parse the CREDO data, most of the buzz around this study has focused on the analysis of network type, by profit status. Here are four takeaways that venture beyond the flashy headlines.

1) The for-profit versus non-profit discussion needs lots of nuance. CREDO’s comparison of charters based on the profit status of their operators snatched many of the headlines. This was unsurprising, given the current political milieu and much larger rifts within the charter coalition, where “profit” seems to be playing proxy for other issues. Still, it’s simplistic at best and misleading at worst to say—as EdWeek did—“for-profit charter schools show poor academic growth.” In comparison to their nonprofit counterparts, schools overseen by...

Butch Trusty

Many education and philanthropic leaders in America’s cities understand the interdependencies between schools, talent, policy, and community engagement in transforming local education systems to meet the needs of more students and families. But few leaders have thought deeply about the true potential of focusing on multiple pathways for high-quality school-seat creation as a strategic approach to accelerating the growth and improvement of great public schools.

With great respect for the challenge and complexity involved in systems-level change, we at Education Cities have observed that, historically, leaders across the country have missed opportunities to reach their goals faster and more sustainably by not pursuing a variety of seat-creation paths.

To name this common problem and to hopefully encourage leaders to widen their view of what is possible, we wrote Pathways to Success: Providing More Children Access to Great Public Schools. In addition to describing six seat creation pathways we believe have the most likelihood for success, we also touched on the relative advantages and disadvantages of each, and made the case for the benefits associated with not emphasizing any one pathway too heavily.

The abridged version of the paper is straightforward. The basic pathways pursued by most cities include:

  • Replication:
  • ...
Michael R. Ford

In 1991, Milwaukee began a bold experiment in market-based education reform. Twenty-seven years later, the city’s education system is dramatically reformed, but the results of those reforms are something less than dramatic. Milwaukee’s NAEP scores trail other major cities, and the performance of Milwaukee schools on aggregate is unacceptably poor. What happened? Why has the birthplace of school vouchers not experienced the successes of other education reform hotbeds like Washington, D.C. and New Orleans? The failure of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) to fully deliver on its promises can be attributed to certain program features, as well as the positions taken by voucher supporters and opponents over the life of the MPCP.

First, it was never clear exactly what the MPCP was supposed to be. The original voucher coalition was a clumsy alliance of free-market reformers, social justice warriors, urban Democrats, and suburban and rural Republicans. Though the coalition was successful at creating the program, the diverse supporters’ long-term goals were never aligned, creating ongoing tensions amongst supporters that pulled the program in different directions. To put it another way, it was impossible for the MPCP to succeed because there was no agreement as to what success would look...

With a choice-friendly President and Secretary of Education now in office, private school choice programs have been cast into the national spotlight. This week has been no different: On Monday, researchers released two major studies on vouchers—one on Indiana’s program, the other on Louisiana’s—and the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that may have implications for choice programs across this nation.

Among other things, this means that the debate on private school choice has moved from the periphery of the education policy conversation to center stage. As a result, some of you may be joining the conversation for the first time. As a long-time participant in the voucher wars, we at the Fordham Institute thought it might be helpful to offer a get-up-to-speed guide featuring some of our “greatest hits” on the topic.

We’ve arranged it around four questions:

  1. What does the research tell us about the impact of school vouchers on participants and on traditional public schools?
  2. What is smart policy regarding results-based accountability in the context of private school choice?
  3. How can we encourage private schools to participate in choice programs, and get high-quality schools to grow or replicate?
  4. What are the pros and
  5. ...

The latest study from CREDO explores the student growth outcomes of charter networks in twenty-four states, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Overall, it includes 3.7 million students, 5,715 charter schools, 240 Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), fifty-four Vender Operated Schools (VOSs). And like previous CREDO studies, it relies on the virtual control record (VCR) method, which compares each charter school student to a statistically constructed “virtual” peer with similar attributes.

In the study, the authors identify three types of charter networks: CMOs, VOSs, and Hybrids. They define a CMO as an organization that oversees the operation of at least three charter schools and is the charter holder for those schools. In contrast, a VOS is overseen by an organization that operates at least three schools but does not hold their charters. Hybrid charter schools have aspects of both a CMO and a VOS.

Based on these definitions, the authors estimate that approximately 68 percent of charter schools are independent, meaning they don’t belong to any network, leaving 22 percent that are part of a CMO, 8 percent that are affiliated with a VOS, and just 1 percent that are Hybrids. On average, the authors estimate that independent charters have almost...

An average of forty-four million unique visitors use GreatSchools every year to check out schools in their area and elsewhere. A new study analyzes searches conducted on the website to learn whether changes in the local school choice environment are reflected in the information that parents seek about school quality.

Analysts link monthly search data in census-defined cities and towns to information on changes in six types of school choice policies: intra- and inter-open enrollment, tuition vouchers, tax credits for donations to private scholarship charities, tuition tax credits, and open enrollment for Title I schools specifically mandated by NCLB sanctions. The researchers analyze over one hundred million individual searches between January 2010, and October 2013; they combine those data with state-level measures of school choice policies that relate to the six areas above to see how changes in those policies relate to changes in search behavior on GreatSchools. They also examine how charter school openings and closings relate to online activity.

Their primary finding is that, for most policies, there’s an uptick in search frequency tied to increases in the prevalence of NCLB-induced choice (measured as when schools receiving Title I funds fail to meet annual yearly progress for...

In a provocative headline, a recent Wall Street Journal article proclaimed that “Rural America Is the New ‘Inner City.’” The piece profiles Kenton, Ohio, along with several other towns across the nation that have recently suffered population losses, sluggish economies, and surging substance abuse. The sudden interest in communities like Kenton is not surprising, given that President Trump rode a wave of rural and small-town support to the White House.

Long a neglected realm of school reform, rural education is also capturing more attention. Collin Roth and Will Flanders of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty point out that rural students in the Badger State post some of the lowest ACT scores and highest college remediation rates; this mirrors data from Ohio. A recent study from the Rural School and Community Trust notes that nearly half of rural students are low-income (eligible for subsidized meals) and often have limited opportunities to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Meanwhile, a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education documents the challenges rural schools face recruiting and retaining teachers and securing parental involvement.

Of course, there isn’t a single cure-all that can elevate education in sparsely populated...

Despite their pronouncements to the contrary, many of Ohio’s affluent suburban school districts are about as “public” as a gated community. That’s the right conclusion to draw from a series of recent events.

In late May, The Columbus Dispatch explored how some school districts in Ohio are rooting out students with “questionable residency” (my colleague Jamie Davies O’Leary also examined this Dispatch article here). For those unfamiliar with questionable residency, it refers to students who are enrolled in a school district where they claim to live, but who actually live elsewhere. In particular, the article focused on Bexley City Schools, citing arguments in favor of investigating residency claims from both the superintendent and the district’s law firm and investigators.

Three weeks later, we released Interdistrict Open Enrollment in Ohio: Participation and Student Outcomes. The report examined statewide data on Ohio’s open enrollment policy, which permits students to attend school in a district other than the one in which they live. Ohio’s policy is voluntary, which means it’s up to districts to decide whether to accept non-resident students. In total, 80 percent of Ohio’s 610 school districts allow open enrollees, and more than 70,000 students participate in the...

Boredom. We’ve all experienced it many times. Though we tend to think of it as unpleasant but endurable and harmless tedium, some research now suggests boredom may be harmful to our health—it is potentially linked to everything from weight gain, to depression, to physical pain—even to cheating on one’s spouse!

Boredom may exist in elementary or middle school, but it is endemic to high school. Indeed, it’s practically a rite of adolescent passage to profess one’s perennial state of ennui—as if no one or nothing is cool enough to sustain the interest of a sixteen-year-old.

What educators need to take seriously is the distinction between typical teenage whining and signs that students are actually disengaging from their formal education. Such disengagement is a portent of trouble, and not just because student engagement is closely linked to academic achievement.[i] Among high school students who consider dropping out, half cite lack of engagement with the school as a primary reason, and 42 percent report that they don’t see value in the schoolwork they are asked to do.[ii]

Teachers, of course, play a central role in engaging students in learning. A...

Rekha Balu and Barbara Condliffe

With the expansion of school choice systems, policymakers and researchers are increasingly focused on making the school choice process accessible and clear for families. From prekindergarten to high school selection, school districts and third-party organizations have revamped their school-finder websites to introduce more graphic displays of information and changed the kinds of information they present to include factors beyond academics (such as travel times).[1]

Essentially, school district offices of enrollment and outreach are acting as “choice architects” for parents and students: those who design the environment or organize the context in which people make decisions. This brief offers guidance for current and aspiring school choice architects, including school districts and external support organizations that help families with the school selection process. It draws on insights from MDRC’s extensive work with nearly thirty government agencies, nonprofits, and educational institutions around the country testing different choice architectures—the presentation and framing of choices—and distills key lessons for school choice.

1. Present school choice as a sequence of decisions

School choice is not just one choice. It is a multistep process that requires families to move through increasingly complex decisions: (1) when and how to start the process, (2) where...

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