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.


Our many choice-related blog posts are listed below.

Fordham’s choice experts:

Previous research has found that oversubscribed urban charter schools produce large academic gains for their students. But are these results related to test score inflation, defined by one assessment expert as “increases in scores that do not signal a commensurate increase in proficiency in the domain of interest”? To explore this question, a recent study examines state testing data from 2006 to 2011 at nine Boston middle school charters with lottery-based admissions. By exploiting the random nature of the lottery system, prior studies have found that these schools produce substantial learning gains on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).

To carry out the analysis, author Sarah Cohodes breaks down the learning gains by the various components of the state assessment—akin to how one might disaggregate overall gains by student subgroup. For example, a math assessment contains several different testing domains (e.g., geometry versus statistics), with some topics being tested more frequently than others. The hypothesis is as follows: If the gains are attributable to score inflation, we might expect to see stronger results on frequently tested items relative to obscure ones. In line with their incentives, teachers might strategically focus instruction on items with the highest odds...

The passage of comprehensive charter school reform in the form of House Bill 2 was supposed to move charters past the controversies that had overshadowed the excellent work of good schools. The new era promised to be focused less on audits and academic failings and more on how charters can create more high quality education options for families in the Buckeye State. Unfortunately, a series of troubling recent developments involving online charter schools threatens to undermine the progress that Ohio has made. Rather than waiting until the clarion call for change is deafeningly loud, Ohio charter advocates should once again step up and lead the effort to improve their sector.

Online charters in the spotlight

While the academic performance of online charter schools has been criticized before, a national study released in October by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University provided the most compelling—and shocking—data to date showing the lackluster academic achievement of online charter school students. In Ohio, for example, the CREDO study indicated that online students lost seventy-nine days of learning per year in reading and 144 days in math compared to their peers in traditional public schools....

Next week, in a series daily blog posts, Jay Greene and I will explore areas of agreement and disagreement around the issue of school choice and school quality. In particular, we will address the question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results?

The school choice tent is much bigger than it used to be. Politicians and policy wonks across the ideological spectrum have embraced the principle that parents should get to choose their children’s schools and local districts should not have a monopoly on school supply.

But within this big tent there are big arguments about the best way to promote school quality. Some want all schools to take the same tough tests, and for low-performing schools (those that fail to show individual student growth over time) to be shut down (or, in a voucher system, to be kicked out of the program). Others want to let the market work to promote quality and resist policies that amount to second-guessing parents.

Look for the first post, from Jay, on Monday....

Since their inception in 1999, Buckeye charter schools have grown rapidly. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), Ohio had just over fifty-nine thousand charter students in 2004–05; ten years later, that number had more than doubled to 122,000 students, representing 7 percent of the public school population. These statistics demonstrate the impressive and sustained growth of the charter movement in Ohio; but where do most charters students live? Are they evenly distributed throughout the state or heavily concentrated in a few areas? Which cities have the largest charter “enrollment share,” and what areas of the state have very few charter students? Answers to these questions can help us identify opportunities for growth and partnership—and even make the case for policy change.

To conduct this analysis, I use the enrollment data from the state’s District Payment Reports (FY 2015: Final #3 payment). These reports display the number of charter students who live within the jurisdiction of each district (on a full-time equivalent basis), so we can count students by their districts of residence.[1] This analysis of charter enrollment yields three main takeaways.

The majority of charter students live in urban areas...

Since the passage of House Bill 2, much attention has been paid to how Ohio’s charter sector can build on policy reforms and improve itself. With the imminent (we hope) arrival of federal Charter Schools Program grant dollars, Ohio has a better opportunity than ever to raise its charter game. There are already several charter networks and schools doing great work, but the Buckeye State still has tens of thousands of students, especially in urban areas, enrolled in low-quality schools. It’s time for Ohio to start recruiting top-notch charter management organizations (CMOs) to increase the number of high-quality seats. But how?

Enter a recent report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) that examines the best way for state and local leaders to recruit high-performing CMOs. The report is based on a 2015 survey conducted by NAPCS and the Foundation for Excellence in Education of over twenty high-performing CMOs. Authors compiled the results and pinpointed the elements that CMOs consider when deciding whether and where to expand.

One of the most useful aspects of the report is its analysis of the three types of charter markets: “emerging,” “risk-reward,” and...

In 2014, we hosted our first-ever Wonkathon, which was dedicated to the subject of charter school policy. Joe Siedlecki of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation was voted the wisest, wonkiest wonk of all.

Last year, we returned with a sequel focused on the implementation of education savings accounts in Nevada. Seth Rau, then at Nevada Succeeds, took home the big prize despite (or perhaps because of) his colorful analogy.

For 2016, we’re taking a look at the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and its potential for expanding parental choice. We’ve asked a select group of education policy wonks to respond to the following prompt: 

Many observers credit No Child Left Behind with contributing to the significant expansion of parental choice in American education over the past fifteen years. It wasn't necessarily the school choice provisions contained in the law (which were limited and poorly designed), but what its passage did to shine a spotlight on school failure and create a sense that better schools were desperately needed.

Likewise, some in the school choice movement are disappointed that the new Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't do much legislatively to promote choice. But are they overlooking the law's potential?...

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...