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:


The cause of school choice took a major step forward in Florida last week when Governor Rick Scott signed a bill codifying open enrollment and increasing funding for charter schools. The new law directs $75 million toward capital projects for the state’s 650 charter schools, weighted especially toward those that serve disabled students or those from low-income families. (In addition to the funding carrot, legislators introduced an accountability stick: Charters will now submit compulsory financial statements on a monthly or quarterly basis, and those that receive F ratings for two consecutive years will be automatically shuttered.) But the headline result is undoubtedly the introduction of open enrollment, which will allow students—with particular preference given to highly mobile kids in military families and foster care—to attend any public school in the state with slots open.

Scant weeks after their narrow victory in the Supreme Court’s Friedrichs case, teachers’ unions have won another critical battle—this time at the state level—with a friendly ruling in Vergara v. California. A three-judge appeals court panel overturned the original ruling from Judge Rolf Treu, which invalidated state laws around teacher tenure and due process rights. The case, which hinges on guarantees of equitable education...

When Mayor Nan Whaley came into office in 2014, she showed great political courage in making education a top priority, something no Dayton mayor in memory had done. To galvanize public support for change, she formed a broadly-representative City of Learners Committee, held “listening sessions” throughout the city, and published two reports updating citizens on the committee’s progress. The committee—and Mayor Whaley—have rightly identified preschool, afterschool and summer learning, business partnerships, mentoring, and (as discussed below) high-quality schools as urgent needs that, if successfully tackled, would definitely improve education in Dayton. That’s something just about everyone living in or near the Gem City recognizes as a grave shortcoming in our community.

For this to happen, more high-quality schools are absolutely essential; but this is where the City of Learners Committee hasn’t gotten it quite right. Its newest report, published earlier this month, uses 2013-14 state data to rank Dayton’s district and charter schools in three categories: high, intermediate, and struggling. Unfortunately, it paints a rosier-than-reality picture of actual school performance, thus giving a misleading impression of the depth of today’s school-quality problem.

Last year (2014-15), the Dayton Public Schools were the lowest performing of 610 Ohio school districts on the...

Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series about the performance of Ohio’s urban high schoolers. The first post examined graduation rates and ACT scores.

Recognizing that traditional four-year graduation rates send overly encouraging signals about whether students are ready for post-secondary education, Ohio rolled out six “Prepared for Success” measures in 2014 to create a more complete picture of high school success. In this post, I look at two of these metrics, Advanced Placement (participation rates and scores) and dual enrollment (percentage of students earning three or more college credits while in high school).[1] Three findings emerge.

First, while every Ohio Big 8 district fell well below the state averages for graduation rates and ACT scores, the same cannot be said for AP and dual enrollment. A few hold their own on AP participation and scores, and several outperform the state on dual enrollment. This likely reflects urban districts’ earnest attempts to close opportunity gaps for students, as well as their economies of scale and proximity to institutions of higher education, but it may also be caused by low state averages generally. Second, the data itself is worrisome:...

A new publication by Tim Sass and colleagues examines the effect of charter high schools on long-term attainment and earnings. The study builds on others by the same authors, as well as a working paper of the study released over two years ago.

The authors focus on charter high schools in Florida, where they can access a wealth of data from the state department of education’s longitudinal database. That information includes various demographic and achievement data for K–12 students, as well as data on students enrolled in community colleges and four-year universities inside and outside of Florida. (The latter info was gleaned from the National Student Clearinghouse and other sources, and employment outcomes and earnings are merged from another state database.)

The sample includes four cohorts of eighth-grade students; the first cohort enrolled in 1997–98, the last in 2000–01. They are able to observe labor outcomes for students up to twelve years removed from their eighth-grade year.

Before we get to the results, let’s address the biggest analytic hurdle to be overcome: selection bias—meaning that charter school students, by the very act of choosing an educational alternative, may be different in unobservable ways from those who attend traditional public schools (TPS). Indeed,...

Last week, we noted the departure of New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, essentially the face of the state’s rushed reform efforts over the past five years. This week, we learned who will step into the big chair, and the news isn’t wholly reassuring. Betty Rosa, the former Bronx principal and superintendent who is replacing Tisch, is the hand-picked choice of Common Core foes and a veteran of the testing wars. After winning a unanimous 15-0 confirmation vote, she announced that, were she a parent instead of a regent, she would choose to opt her own children out of state tests. That’s a potentially harmful claim in a state where 20 percent of eligible students were kept from participating in the assessments last year. The Tisch-Cuomo team certainly wasn’t a blameless player in the Common Core saga; the former chancellor has herself acknowledged the error in linking the brand-new tests to teacher evaluations, which led to an uproar among the state’s unionized instructors. But swinging too far to the other extreme by undercutting the standards won’t bring the city’s schools any closer to the accountability they desperately need.

You have to wonder how many times...

National news outlets including SlatePoliticoEsquire, and the Washington Post have predicted that charter schools might be a growing thorn in Governor John Kasich’s side as he competes for the Republican presidential nomination. Kasich is being criticized for the overall poor performance of Ohio’s charter school sector, as well as for last year’s scandal over authorizer evaluations and its aftermath (including a hold placed on Ohio’s $71 million federal Charter School Program grant).

But by calling charters Kasich’s “little problem back home”—or, more boldly, claiming that his track record with them is “terrible”—national reporters are missing big pieces of the story. If these journalists had dug a little deeper, they would have realized that Kasich mostly deserves praise, not scorn, for the steps he’s taken to improve Ohio charter schools. In fact, any real examination of the candidate’s record on charters would reveal that no Ohio governor has worked harder to strengthen oversight of the charter school sector.

Kasich inherited a charter sector that was notorious for conflicts of interest, regulatory loopholes, self-dealing, and domination by powerful special interests. The mediocre performance of Ohio’s charter sector precedes Kasich’s tenure as well: CREDO’s 2009 charter study rated Ohio among the lowest-performing states.

In his first year in...

Ohio’s 2014–15 report cards are now fully available for all schools and districts except dropout prevention and recovery programs (due at the end of March). With ten graded measures and several ungraded components as well, there are dozens of ways to parse the data to learn how well Ohio public schools are performing—and more importantly, how well equipped students are for later life success. (Performance on the report cards is not the same as true college and career readiness; check out our recently released statewide report card analysis, Facing Facts, for more about that.)

Much of Ohio’s high school data is relatively new and merits exploration. High school report cards include traditional graduation rates as well as additional measures intended to gauge students’ college and career readiness. These “Prepared for Success” measures (rolled out in 2013–14) remain ungraded until next year, but they yield valuable information in six categories: 

  • College admission tests (participation rates on ACT/SAT, mean scores, and percentage receiving remediation-free scores),
  • Dual enrollment (specifically, the percentage of students earning at least three dual enrollment credits while in high school),
  • Industry credentials,
  • Honors diplomas awarded,
  • Advanced Placement (participation rates and test results), and
  • International Baccalaureate (participation
  • ...

Here’s the speech I wish Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser would give:

Our great city has a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We have the nation’s best urban superintendent. We have a very high-performing charter sector—just named the healthiest in the nation!—that now serves nearly half of the city’s kids. Our parents, kids, educators, and citizens should be proud.

But public education in our city is also facing a number of systemic challenges: DCPS asks why it can’t function with the same freedoms as the charter sector. Charters ask why DCPS doesn’t have to get an authorizer’s approval to start new schools—and why district schools aren’t held accountable like charters. DCPS says it’s unfair that it has to serve as the educator of last resort for all city kids, while charters can choose not to backfill or take mid-year transfers. Charters say it’s unfair that DCPS gets to control all of the school facilities and gets more per-pupil funding.

These challenges may seem too many and too daunting. But they’re all components of a single issue: We have two sectors, scores of operators, and hundreds of campuses, but we don’t have a comprehensive, coherent system of schools.

The good news is that we have the...

A new report by the National Charter School Resource Center examines the unique position of rural charter schools across America.

Citing a lack of research on the subject, as well as the demand for more examples of successful practice, the authors identify some of the unique difficulties that rural charter schools face: attracting and holding onto diverse local talent, paying to transport students over large distances, and maintaining and securing school facilities.

These challenges are often more acute for rural charter schools than their urban counterparts. There are hidden costs to teachers living and working in rural areas, such as a lack of suitable housing, professional growth opportunities, and good transportation. Providing transportation to students in areas with few alternative options may be prohibitively expensive. Simply locating appropriate buildings in which to operate a charter school is usually easier in an urban environment, where disused structures are more frequently available. When rural charters need to construct their own, costs rise exponentially.

Using examples in five states, the authors showcase a handful of rural charters that have overcome this adversity by using their position to their advantage.

  • Having struggled to retain good staff, the remote Upper Carmen Charter School in Idaho
  • ...

A new set of four studies conducted by Pat Wolf and colleagues evaluate various aspects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program. The program, it’s important to note, prohibits participating schools from using their normal selective admissions process for their voucher kids and also mandates that they administer the state test, among other requirements.

The first study examines how the scholarships affect student achievement. It focuses on the 2012–13 applicant cohort, including those who took state tests in grades 3–6 in school year 2011–12. This provides student baseline scores for kids before entering the program. Students who applied to oversubscribed schools were randomly chosen to receive scholarships. The study found that the voucher program had a negative impact on participating students’ achievement in the first two years of operations, most clearly in math. Specifically, a voucher user who was performing at the fiftieth percentile at baseline fell twenty-four percentile points below their control group peers in math after one year. By year two, however, they were thirteen percentile points below, so at least they were on the upswing. (The results for reading impact can’t be presented with confidence.)

The second study measured the impact of the voucher programs on non-cognitive skills like...

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