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:


Choice as a means to drive school improvement is a simple enough idea: If parents are permitted choose where to send their kids to school, they will (in theory) maximize what they value—good schools, presumably—while minimizing their effort and risk to get it. And (also in theory) no one should be more motivated to get what they value than those who currently can’t gain access to it.

As the authors of this paper note, however, studies have tended to find that this simple idea doesn’t always play out that way in real life. The students most likely to move to a higher-quality school are typically already higher-achieving and less likely to live in poverty.

Post-Katrina New Orleans turns out not to be an exception to the rule. On average, the authors find, high-achieving NOLA students switch to high-quality schools, and low-achieving students transfer to low-quality schools. This is “suggestive evidence of a stratified school system and may lead to increased student segmentation based on student achievement and school quality,” they note.

The study, one of the first on student mobility in post-Katrina New Orleans, examines student-level data from 2007 to 2011. “It is clear some students are taking advantage of...

Rob Kimball

Outliers make for great stories and headlines, but they don’t do much for policy discussions—particularly school choice policy. Recently, there has been a flurry of headlines citing tales of “extreme sacrifice” by Detroit students in their efforts to commute great distances to the schools of their choice. The reality is that the majority of Detroit students, charter or traditional, don’t travel farther than four miles or ten minutes to school.

Using 2013–14 data from over one hundred thousand Detroit students’ homes and enrolling schools, Data Driven Detroit conducted a study with the Skillman Foundation and Excellent Schools Detroit to better understand the school commute. They grouped students’ residences into census tracts and measured the driving distance to schools, finding that the average K–8 charter school commute was 3.53 miles. The average high school commute was 4.92 miles.

With Google Maps’ new Direction and Distance APIs, we can estimate commute times and the most direct street routes with updated streetscape data. Using a sample of home addresses from 9,579 Detroit students enrolled in eighteen charter schools authorized by Grand Valley State University, we found that the typical student travels 3.5 miles and 8.9 minutes to school. This trend is consistent with...

In the wake of Prince’s untimely death on Thursday, the world marks the passing of a multi-talented performer and musical polymath. Prince Rogers Nelson was one of his generation’s most gifted songwriters; a virtuosic guitarist; a compelling (if somewhat enigmatic) screen presence; and a champion for the sartorial cause of purple. Even his most dedicated fans may not realize, however, that he leaves behind a legacy in the realm of education as well.

The High School for Recording Arts (HSRA), located in St. Paul, Minnesota—essentially Prince’s backyard—is a charter school focused on project-based learning for students interested in music and recording. Among other perks, it boasts a student-operated record label and a weekly timeslot on local radio, all with the goal of leading at-risk kids from idleness and poverty to lives of creative fulfillment. The school released a statement today mourning the musician’s death and discussing his influence on its mission. “The history of the charter school is inextricably connected to the artist known as Prince, and his spirit has always permeated through the music studios, classrooms, and hallways of HSRA,” it begins.

HSRA’s founder, David Ellis, was a troubled student himself. In the 1980s, he toiled fruitlessly at the...

Renée N. Stoeckle

Pope Francis is exhorting church leaders across the globe to join the school choice movement.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis issued the second apostolic exhortation of his papacy, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”). The document is not official church doctrine, but rather a public teaching of the pope that calls the faithful to action on a particular subject—in this case, the modern family. Given that this pope has issued only two apostolic exhortations in his three-year papacy, the inclusion of school choice speaks volumes about Francis’s priorities.

In Amoris Laetitia, the pontiff reiterates the church’s teaching that choice in education is a fundamental right of parents “of which no one may claim to deprive them”—meaning the state must not deny parents the right to select their children’s educational path, be it public or private, regardless of their financial means.

Francis calls upon the state to provide educational opportunities for all families, but he emphasizes that “parents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education—accessible and of good quality—which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions” (paragraph eighty-four).

Amoris Laetitia comes in response to last fall’s “Synod on the Family,” a weeks-long global meeting of Catholic Bishops...

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...

Pages