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:


A new policy paper from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) explores how state education agencies (SEAs) can take advantage of their unique position to foster improved district-charter collaboration.

The authors lament, as did we in a recent report, that district and charter leaders are too often tearing chunks out of one another rather than finding ways to work together. Whether the endgame should be an all-charter system, as in New Orleans, or some kind of side-by-side system, as in Washington, D.C., most cities will have to find a working balance between the two sectors.

The paper makes a series of policy recommendations for how SEAs could facilitate this balance and act on the increased authority granted to them by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). They could, for example, use their unique position to tie financial and accountability incentives to collaboration efforts, provide cover for school districts in places where local politics are toxic, and remove state legal impediments to district-charter collaboration. ESSA also gives states the more flexibility to allot funding, design accountability systems, and adopt other constructive policies (like unified enrollment or facilities sharing) that promote district-charter collaboration.

The authors then point to examples like Florida’s...

Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) epitomizes the relentlessness and vision necessary to close achievement gaps in urban education. Started in the basement of a church with 57 students in 2008, CCA evolved into one of the city’s top-performing middle schools. It earned national awards for the gains achieved by students who are overwhelmingly disadvantaged, and grew into a network of schools serving 600 students. I visited CCA in its original location in 2009. Despite its unassuming surroundings, I knew right away this school was different. It was the type of place that inspires you the moment you step through the door. Its hallways echoed with the sound of students engaged in learning. College banners and motivational posters reminded students—and visitors—of why they were there. Teachers buzzed with energy, motivated by a combination of urgency and optimism—all students can and will learn. Its founder and visionary leader, Andrew Boy, spoke deliberately and matter of factly about the success CCA would help each student achieve. He...

Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost calls for “learning-based” funding approach for e-schools

COLUMBUS (OH) – Today, Auditor of State Dave Yost opened a two-day charter summit by issuing a challenge to charter advocates and policy makers: Overhaul e-school funding. Specifically, Yost urged a major shift in the way the state pays e-schools—from funding based on enrollment and attendance to a modernized, competency-based funding model. This approach, already being piloted in a few states, would provide payments to e-schools when their students demonstrate learning rather than simply by awarding funding based on “time in a chair.”

“As Auditor Yost points out, online students can learn anytime, anywhere,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy. “Unfortunately, seat-time funding policies are not well-aligned to online learning. Competency-based funding would place the emphasis where it belongs—on student learning and mastery, rather than on whether a child is logged into a computer.”

Auditor Yost called on the legislature to rework the funding structure with the goal of producing an “educated citizen.” While putting forward several principles to guide the debate, Yost made clear to summit attendees that the experience and expertise of charter leaders would be needed in crafting...

Dave Yost

On August 11, 2016, Ohio’s elected state auditor delivered the following remarks during the opening of the Ohio Charter School Summit. His comments address the state’s well-documented struggles with online education head on and offer practical, learning-focused ideas for improving the sector.

We are here, very simply, because we care about educating our children and understand one very simple truth: not all children are the same. And here is a second truth that is like it: not all schools are the same.

Put another way, not all kids can learn in a given school, and not all schools will be able to teach a given child.

All the other arguments in favor of school choice—innovation, competition, efficiency—all of them are secondary to this one idea, that we owe to our children their best opportunity to learn. It is the first principle. School choice is not a policy option, it is the only logical conclusion—a conclusion that is proven and measured in the lives of these young people we met a few minutes ago, and many more like them.

Your work, your lives, and this conference are all about increasing the number of these shining stars in...

Charter school performance is a mixed bag: some charters outdo their neighborhood district schools, others show no difference, and some do worse. A new Mathematica meta-analysis attempts to identify the characteristics common to each of these groups. What, in other words, makes a high-performing charter schools so effective?

As author Phillip Gleason notes, it is difficult to carry out studies of this nature. Much of the data are based on observation, so determining causation is essentially impossible. Observation also takes time and costs money, which usually necessitates small sample sizes. And many of the “practices” being studied are abstract concepts, such as principal quality, that are difficult to measure quantitatively and objectively.

To mitigate these impediments, Gleason compiled seven studies that used different methods—including observational study, survey administration, and lottery-based designs (comparing students who won a spot via charter lotteries to those who did not)—to study charters schools around the country. The sample sizes in each of these studies range from twenty-nine to seventy-six schools.  

Three charter characteristics were found to be linked to high student achievement in many studies (therefore showing a ‘strong association,” according to Gleason—a term he never defines quantitatively): longer school days and/or school years; a...

Catherine Worth

During my tenure as a teacher, I would inevitably listen to at least one of my colleagues explain their decision to leave the classroom at the end of each school year. When explaining their choice to throw in the towel, novice and veteran teachers alike would cite reasons along the lines of “This work is just too hard” or “I’m burned out and can’t do it anymore.” These teachers became part of a statistic we hear about often—the teacher turnover rate. Eventually, I joined them myself. Yet if my three years of teaching in a high-performing, majority-minority, urban charter school taught me anything, it’s that this revolving door can be a positive thing for schools and their students.

Teacher turnover is a buzzy concept typically used in conversations regarding school effectiveness and the issues plaguing urban schools. The 2012–13 Teacher Follow-up Survey to the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), commissioned by the National Center for Education and Statistics (NCES), found that 15.7 percent of public school teachers either moved schools or left the profession between 2011–12 and 2012–13. In charter schools, this number is slightly higher at 18.4 percent. Despite this meager difference, charter schools typically receive the most flack when...

The National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) has produced a “toolkit” to provide charter schools with alternative systems of discipline that—the authors claim—will foster positive school environments.

The report begins by reviewing more punitive disciplinary practices (e.g., suspension and expulsion) and noting that they are correlated with poor student outcomes. (They make no claim of causality.) They then assert that charters have higher rates of out-of-school suspensions than traditional public schools (a somewhat misleading claim; more on that below) and that these punishments are disproportionately felt by students of color, those with disabilities, and those identifying as LGBTQ.

The toolkit goes on to outline five rather self-evident “enabling factors” for charter schools undertaking discipline reform, such as a deep dive into behavior data to target areas for improvement and the development of alternative discipline models based on schools’ needs. It also describes some non-traditional systems of discipline—such as restorative practices (relationship building), structural interventions, “emotional literacy,” and culturally-responsive approaches—and provides sample practices and evidence of prior implementation.

The toolkit identifies possible benefits of discipline models that forego exclusionary practices, but it doesn’t begin to present a comprehensive picture of today’s policy discussions regarding charter school discipline. For example, Fordham President...

A major development of recent years has been the explosive growth of online learning in K–12 education. Sometimes it takes the form of “blended learning,” with students receiving a mix of online and face-to-face instruction. Students may also learn via web-based resources like the Khan Academy, or by enrolling in distance-learning “independent study” courses. In addition, an increasing number of pupils are taking the plunge into fully online schools: In 2015, an estimated 275,000 students enrolled in full-time virtual charter schools across twenty-five states.

The Internet has obviously opened a new frontier of instructional possibilities. Much less certain is whether such opportunities are actually improving achievement, especially for the types of students who enroll in virtual schools. In Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio's Virtual Charter Schools, we at Fordham examined this issue using data from our home state of Ohio, where online charter schools (“e-schools”) are a rapidly growing segment of K–12 education. Today they enroll more than thirty-five thousand students, one of the country’s largest populations of full-time online students. Ohio e-school enrollment has grown 60 percent over the last four years, a rate greater than any other type of public school. But even since they launched, e-schools...

It used to be that when people talked about urban school success stories, Catholic schools were at the center of the discussion. Twenty years ago, Cardinal John O’Connor, then archbishop of New York, all but dared public school leaders to send their hardest-to-teach students to archdiocesan schools. “Send me the lowest-performing 5 percent of children presently in the public schools,” O’Connor declared, “and I will put them in Catholic schools—where they will succeed.”

Such was the audacity of urban Catholic school leaders back then. We were confident. Our schools routinely outperformed neighborhood public schools. Our results were stronger—and longer-lasting—and our success came at a bargain price.In fact, it was the historic success of urban Catholic schools that fed the reform movement in general and the charter school movement in particular. Catholic schools were proving what was possible, and entrepreneurial young education leaders were quick to seize the opportunity to do the same in the public sector.

Over the past two decades, that confident leadership has been shaken by declining enrollment and financial struggles. Some in the reform sector and elsewhere have even taken to writing off urban Catholic schools as a relic of a bygone day.

At the same time, efforts from...

As readers may recall, I’m in the middle of a series of posts about ways we can improve our schools beyond changing public policy. If this is only mildly familiar, it might be because of the hiatus since my last contribution, which is due to my procrastinating. And for good reason, I believe: I have very mixed feelings about the argument I’m about to make.

The argument is simple: If we want to improve our schools and school systems, we need to do much better at recruiting, developing, placing, and supporting effective leaders. That much is plain common sense, and not very controversial. Various strains of “effective schools” research going back decades find that leadership is essential for excellence.

Where I get hung up, though, is with the idea that great leaders can make schools—and especially school districts—work well, given the dysfunction of the larger system within which they must work, and the Gordian knot that’s been tied by decades of contradictory, often compromising, laws and regulations, not to mention the impossible politics often created by unruly elected school boards. (A knot that reform—especially charter schooling—has tried to cut.)

Strong leaders are surely better...

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