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:


Cris Gulacy-Worrel

NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.

The recent request by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) to apply for Ohio’s Drop Out Prevention and Recovery (DOPR) designation has shined a spotlight on this unique type of alternative school and has created many misconceptions surrounding what they do, the students they serve, and how they serve them.

Those of us who have dedicated our careers to providing safe, inclusive, high-quality learning environments for our most challenged students think these misconceptions should be identified and exposed. DOPR is a status for which schools must apply and is outlined in state law. The designation has existed for many years. Only programs that meet the components set forth by law are approved by the Department of Education. DOPR schools must meet specified academic as well as financial objectives set by the Department. The designation is not a shelter for charter schools to utilize as a protection against public accountability for student performance, nor are drop out recovery waivers intended to be leveraged by schools not specializing in this specific student population. The designation is meant...

Teenagers declaring “I’m bored” is as timeless as a John Hughes film, but may mask a serious problem: Among high school students who consider dropping out, approximately 50 percent cite a lack of engagement with school as a primary reason, and 42 percent report that they don’t see value in the work they are asked to do. In a recent Fordham study, What Teens Want: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement, we found that many students are not being served effectively by the traditional “one size fits all” comprehensive high school. At the same time, there’s growing support for giving adolescents more educational choices.

To explore what keeps these schools from proliferating and how obstacles can be overcome, Fordham, along the American Federation for Children, invited Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, Kevin Teasley, president of the Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation, Jon Valant, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Zach Verriden, executive director of HOPE Christian Schools (Wisconsin Region) to participate in a panel discussion on August twenty-second, moderated by senior vice president for research, Amber Northern.

Speaking from their unique perspectives, the four panelists covered various issues within high school...

Terry Ryan

Competition or cooperation? The district-charter school debate has swung back and forth between these alternative strategies since the first public charter schools opened twenty-five years ago. No group has striven harder over that period to find a workable balance than the Seattle-based Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). Better Together: Ensuring Quality District Schools in Times of Charter Growth and Declining Enrollment is CRPE’s latest effort to bring a moderate, research-based middle-ground to the fraught charter/district relationship that is still too often defined by acrimony, blame, and zero-sum arguments.

Better Together builds on CRPE’s deep expertise in establishing and promoting “District-Charter Collaboration Compacts.” It grows out of the conversation of “more than two dozen policymakers, practitioners, researchers and advocates” that took place at CRPE’s behest in January. Can school districts and charter schools co-exist, even cooperate, in cities with overall declining student enrollments? Is there a “grand bargain” to be struck that could benefit both sectors while—most important—serving the best interests of students, voters, and taxpayers?

District-charter collaboration is especially challenging in communities with declining student enrollments. In Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Dayton, the district population has declined by tens or hundreds...

Research confirms what common sense dictates: Students learn less when their teachers aren’t there. According to multiple studies, a ten-day increase in teacher absence results in at least ten fewer days of learning for students.

Clearly, some absences are unavoidable—teachers are only human. But compared to their counterparts in other industries and other countries, U.S. teachers seem to have poor attendance. On average, they miss about eight school days a year due to sick and personal leave (in addition to the breaks they get for school vacations and national holidays); meanwhile, the average U.S. worker takes about three-and-a-half sick days a year. Yet the first of these averages obscures the degree to which absenteeism is concentrated among a subset of teachers.

In Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, Fordham senior research and policy associate David Griffith takes an unprecedented look at teacher chronic absenteeism rates in charter and traditional public schools—that is, the percentage of teachers who miss at least eleven days of school, excluding professional development days and field trips.

His major findings include the following:

  • Nationally, teachers in traditional public schools are almost three times as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter
  • ...

As Ohio’s annual report cards are released this week, Fordham is gearing up to dive into the data and explore what it means about K-12 public education in the Buckeye State.

We won’t be alone; reporters, bloggers, and education advocates will all offer their own hot takes, many of which will examine charter school performance data. If the past is any indication, some headlines and stories will be patently unfair.

Sadly, much of this will be intentional. Charter foes have historically used the report card release as an opportunity to denigrate the sector, lumping even the very best schools together with perennial low performers and those seeking to evade accountability.

In other instances, apples-to-bananas comparisons may be inadvertent. Reporters are expected to consume a massive amount of information and quickly produce insightful stories about educational performance trends or accomplishments of schools in their region. Still other reporters may be new to the education beat, or may rely on the analyses published by said charter critics without having the time or experience to subject them to scrutiny.  

Let’s discuss what a fair comparison looks like and what to watch out for.

Attempting to make apples-to-apples comparisons

Fordham has...

It’s no secret that high-quality early childhood education can lead to significant and positive short-term impacts for children, particularly those from disadvantaged circumstances. Unfortunately, much of the current research also points to a troubling “fade out” trend—the gains that students make in preschool gradually decrease until they disappear completely.

A recent study from Mathematica seeks to add to this discussion by investigating whether the pre-K programs offered by some KIPP charter schools produce more lasting impacts. Researchers selected KIPP for several reasons, including the fact that it employs several practices that are considered high quality (such as well-educated teachers and low teacher-child ratios). Most significant, though, is that many KIPP pre-K students continue their education in a KIPP elementary school—increasing the probability that their elementary school experience will align with their pre-K experiences, and thereby potentially lead to longer-lasting impacts.

The study explored three research questions and used slightly different methods to examine each. The samples were relatively small, but the analysts were able to employ experimental methods that allow us to draw stronger conclusions about the effects of KIPP pre-K. A series of standardized tests (like the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement) were used to measure...

Charter opponents have long claimed that charter schools siphon resources away from the traditional public school system. The ideological motivation for this line of reasoning is clear when touted by teachers unions and their friends: i.e., calling charters parasitic unless they conform to traditional school practices, including mandatory unionization, makes that bias obvious. There’s also a technical basis for the argument, given how charters are funded in Ohio and in many states. Indirect or pass-through funding inevitably feels like a loss to districts and contributes to hostility toward charter schools for “stealing” students and “draining” the system.

But what impact do charter schools actually have on traditional public schools and the students who remain there? Are such loaded accusations deserved? Or might the presence of charters improve student outcomes through competition or as effective charter practices spill over into district schools?  

Recent research from Temple University professor Sarah Cordes sheds needed light on this question. Cordes examined the impact of charter schools in close proximity to, or even co-located with, traditional public schools (TPS) in New York City over a fourteen-year time span. Her analysis departed from previous research examining charter effects at the district level or...

When you think about education, it’s worth asking two questions over and over again: Why is this thing the way it is? And does it have to stay this way?

One thing you hear often in education is that your ZIP code shouldn’t determine your educational destiny. This is something even folks who say they oppose “education reform” ostensibly believe.

So if that’s true, why is your house the overwhelming predictor of the sort of education you will receive?

I am willing to concede that during the early days of public education—open to all, paid for by taxpayers, and free at the point of delivery, as Sir Ken Robinson describes it—it might have made sense to organize compulsory schooling for children around small localities, principally because, in the absence of state and federal revenue streams or even state mandates and responsibility for education, taxing a community via its wealth in property probably made sense.

It was also probably easier to ask your neighbor to chip in on the financing of the local common school than it would have been to get someone from another town to do it. This was a policy decision grounded in localism and local identity,...

John Mullaney

NOTES: John Mullaney is the Executive Director of the Nord Family Foundation. Both authors were part of the Straight A Fund advisory board in FY 14-15.

This piece originally appeared in a slightly different form in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In 2013, Governor Kasich and Ohio legislators enacted the Straight A Fund, one of the nation’s largest statewide competitive grant programs for K-12 education. The idea sprang from philanthropic foundations across Ohio who saw this as an opportunity to have the state co-invest in truly innovative approaches to teaching, learning, and assessment. A 2009 report Beyond Tinkering was presented to the legislature with specific recommendations to initiate such a fund. With $250 million in state funding over fiscal years (FY) 2014 and 2015, Straight A awarded sixty-one grants in amounts ranging from about $200,000 to $15 million. The fund was intended to spark innovative thinking and practices with the goal of boosting student achievement and reducing costs.

Yet after an initial burst of excitement, enthusiasm for Straight A waned. Collaborators from the philanthropic sector expressed concerns about the legislative emphasis on cost-savings, which some felt eclipsed the focus on innovation and achievement. In FY 2016-17, state lawmakers...

The big squeeze continues. Ohio’s charter sector shrinks again as reforms enacted in 2012 and 2015 are fully implemented. The Buckeye State will see a record-low number of new charter schools open this fall, a slow-down that persists for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, twenty-two schools shut at the end of the 2016-17 school year, the fourth highest number in Ohio’s almost twenty-year charter history. A handful of law changes essentially have accomplished what decades of “self-policing” among authorizers could not: Authorizers have been forced to act more judiciously when determining who should be allowed to start a school and what it takes to keep a school open.

While we are encouraged to see that Ohio’s charter sector has become more quality focused, contraction of the sector alone won’t deliver great options for kids who desperately need them. These numbers point to a worrisome lack of capacity in the state around launching new schools and replicating high-quality models—a situation that warrants attention and action. Let’s take a quick look at the data.

Closures

Twelve of the twenty-two charter schools that closed their doors this June were overseen by traditional public school districts. This provides further evidence that...

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