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:


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...

Recently, several school districts asked to be repaid a chunk of the money that the state of Ohio is attempting to recover from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT); House Bill 87, currently pending in the General Assembly, would grant them their wish. ECOT is the largest virtual school in Ohio and is notorious both for its political clout as well as its poor performance. It’s been embroiled in a lawsuit with the Ohio Department of Education and was recently ordered by the State Board of Education to return $60 million for being unable to prove all of its 15,000-plus students were logged in and adequately participating in learning last year. ECOT is fighting this decision and related issues in court.

ECOT’s track record may be poor, but there is something alarming in this discussion about the “lost money” that Ohio districts are now seeking. Regardless of whether ECOT could document their students’ attendance, these children were not being educated by their home districts either—because they didn’t attend their schools. That much is indisputable.

The question at the heart of the...

John Zitzner

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.

Not long ago, the Plain Dealer published an opinion article by former public school educator and teacher union head Bill Lavezzi. In his article, “Calls for funding equity for Ohio charter schools overlook charters’ failures and lack of transparency,” Lavezzi offered up five “simple, common-sense” standards that all charter schools should meet if they wish to receive equitable public funding. In the article, he also suggests that charters not meeting these conditions are “parasitic” and “undeserving not only of funding equity but of public funding itself.”

The idea that equitable funding for children should be conditional in the first place—especially for those students in public charter schools who are predominantly low-income and minority—makes about as much sense as a parent doing the same to his kids. In this analogy, public charter schools are the disliked step-child struggling to prove their worth to a parent dangling approval—and resources—conditionally for one, while doling it out unconditionally for the other....

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election and his selection of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, a lot of attention has been focused on school choice. Though charters and vouchers have received the lion’s share of attention, there’s another under-the-radar school choice program that impacts thousands of students: interdistrict open enrollment, a policy that permits students to attend school in a district other than the one in which they live.

Though Ohio’s program was one of the nation’s earliest, limited information has been available about who participates and how they perform academically. To shed some light on this important program, we commissioned a report: Interdistrict Open Enrollment in Ohio: Participation and Student Outcomes. On June 6, we hosted an event to present the findings and to learn more about how the policy works in practice.

Opening the event was Dr. Deven Carlson, a professor from the University of Oklahoma and one of the report’s co-authors. Carlson began by overviewing Ohio’s open enrollment program. (His slide deck is available here.)  

Report co-author Deven Carlson presents findings

In regards to...

The best advice my wife and I received on how to manage daily life with newly born twin daughters was from our pediatrician: get them on a schedule. Any schedule that works for you is fine, but it should be the same schedule for both children, and stick to it. It was a great insight from a pro and it has served us well. Our lives have gone far more smoothly than we feared they would all those years ago in the wake of the arrival of two very tiny babies needing constant care and attention.

My girls, circa 2002. Note the socks used for gloves on their tiny hands. Another decision point.

We have continued to treat our kids as a unit in most matters, including their education, which was marked by several decision points on opting into and out of schools. Now, however, as they finish their first year of high school, we are faced, for the first time, with choosing separate options for the girls—and that process has brought some new insights.

First, school choice is not a...

In case you missed it, Fordham released a new report last week: a first-of-its-kind analysis of the districts and the students utilizing open enrollment across district boundaries in the Buckeye State, focusing on which districts did and did not open their borders and on the academic outcomes of students who take advantage of the opportunity.

Interest in the findings was widespread and a sample of the local, state and national media coverage includes:

  • The Columbus Dispatch – which has previously covered local school residency and attendance issues
  • The blog of The 74 Million – including an interview with Fordham Ohio’s research guru Aaron Churchill
  • The blog of Chalkbeat – including a national perspective on the issue
  • Statehouse news site Gongwer Ohio – who covered the report and the release event held in Columbus

If you weren’t able to join us for that release event and the important panel discussion included therein – which included the perspective of urban and suburban district leaders as well as a vital parent perspective – please visit Fordham’s YouTube channel or click on the image below to see the full video.

...

Bernie Moreno

NOTES: 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.

This commentary was originally published in Crain’s Cleveland Business.

As a business owner in Cleveland as well as other cities, I spend a lot of time thinking about return on investment (ROI).

It's a financial term that when used in public education can make some people feel uncomfortable. Students and teachers are not units or widgets, and running schools is not a business — or so the thinking goes. Many would argue that the educational process of expanding a child's mind and equipping them for a lifelong love of learning simply can't be reduced to numbers.

I agree that teaching is an art form, that children are unique, and that K-12 public education — as a public good — cannot and should not be reduced to balance sheets alone. Yet we see the results of a poor education very much in terms of numbers.

These are cold, hard facts that we must contend with and eventually pay for. Low percentages of students who can't read or do math at grade level lead...

In April, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos toured the Van Wert school district in rural northwestern Ohio along with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. In such sparsely populated communities, private and charter schools are usually scarce. But does that mean school choice does not exist? Absolutely not: In a Cleveland Plain Dealer op-ed published just before her visit, Secretary DeVos noted that “parents or guardians of nearly 20 percent of students who live within Van Wert’s district lines choose to send their children to a nearby district.”

She was of course referring to interdistrict open enrollment, a public school choice policy that allows students to attend school outside of their “home district” without having to pay tuition. While open enrollment often flies under the radar, it’s among the oldest and most widespread forms of school choice in America. Minnesota passed the nation’s first open enrollment law in 1988, and several other states, including Ohio, enacted similar laws shortly thereafter. Forty-four states now allow some form of open enrollment: Some states require their districts to participate in open enrollment (it’s mandatory), while others leave that decision to local districts.[1]

Like any choice initiative,...

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