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:


We’ve learned a few lessons about school choice over the past few decades. Key among those lessons are that quantity does not equal quality and that conditions must be right for choice to flourish. Good intentions only take you so far; sturdy plants grow when seeds are planted in fertile ground. 

We learned as much five years ago when we teamed up with Rick Hess on America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform, a study that explored the ideal conditions for school reform at the city level. We found that too few of our big cities possessed the talent, leadership, infrastructure, culture, and resources to beckon enterprising reformers and then help them succeed.

But we also found some innovators on that list of cities, many of which served as “proof points” and role models for stodgier places. (Especially notable were New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and New York City.)

Now we’re back with a “spinoff,” America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Choice, which focuses on school choice specifically and considers many additional questions—but again demonstrates the spectrum of receptivity to fundamental education reform when one looks across cities.

Priscilla (Penny) Wohlstetter, a distinguished research professor at...

Robin Lake and Michael DeArmond

At CRPE, we believe strongly in taking a city-wide view of education. The reality of urban education these days is a complicated mash-up of schools run by districts, charter providers, independent private schools, and sometimes even state agencies. It’s usually the case, however, that research reports (e.g., the NAEP TUDA, the CREDO studies, the Brookings Choice report) focus only on a small portion of that picture. We were therefore happy to see that Fordham’s new study on school choice took a specifically urban view to identify the most “choice-friendly” cities in the country. As Rick Hess described it, the report is basically a gardener’s guide: Through an exhaustive array of indicators, the authors have developed a list of soil components that they believe should make for a healthy choice environment.

We produced our own city-wide indicators a few months ago. In Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities, we assessed all public schools on a variety of outcomes: what share of schools were performing above other schools with similar demographics, how quickly all the cities’ schools (both charter- and district-run) were improving compared to other schools in the state, what percentage of low-income students had access to high-performing schools,...

National School Choice Week (NSCW) may fall in January (rather than December), but it seems to herald a season of hope this year. Signs of progress can be seen in the week’s sudden prominence (the first NSCW featured 150 events, while 2016’s features over sixteen thousand) and in the long list of mayors and governors officially recognizing it. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Over the last few years, political will seems to have coalesced around the issue. Families and educators are taking to the streets to defend their schools, and local leaders are responding to that pressure with action. As more voters come to value their educational options, it’s starting to feel like every week is School Choice Week.

Still, we should be wary of spiking the football prematurely, given how much work remains to be done in some parts of the country. At the end of last year, Fordham published one of the biggest studies in its history, and certainly the most detailed and wide-ranging survey of urban school choice ever conducted: America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Choice. Using an array of indicators touching on everything from funding disparities to the tone of local media...

As my Fordham colleague David Griffith wrote late last year in a post accompanying the release of The Best (and Worst) Cities for School Choice, resistance to the spread of parental choice in education is futile. The genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no going back. That’s not to say that political resistance from some quarters will simply die down, or that we’ll proceed without setbacks. Far from it. But as choice in general and charter schooling in particular continue to grow, they build formidable constituencies. Nobody is marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to defend Common Core or standardized testing. But parents whose children benefit from choice are not going to surrender it without a fight.

The most important questions about school choice are no longer “whether,” but “how” and “where” and “which kinds” and “how many.” And the most interesting debates are no longer waged between choice advocates and opponents, but within the school choice movement itself. Just like the raging family feuds within each of our political parties, the divisions are real. And they run deep. That’s because the movement’s “big tent” now has factions in its various folds and corners that agree on parental choice but little...

Education Cities is a nonprofit network of thirty-one city-based organizations in twenty-four cities that works to “dramatically increase the number of great public schools across the country.” As a practical matter, that means they champion, convene, and court high-quality charter schools to open or come to their respective burgs. They call the local folks who do the courting “harbormasters.” Like their nautical namesakes, these figures “facilitate safe and cooperative navigation in a challenging space.” Thus, this report functions as advice. It seeks to answer a few questions: “What do operators want? What roles and activities of local harbormasters are most, and least, helpful to those running great schools?” The answers, although not particularly surprising, are worthwhile. Good charter operators want to go where there’s a need, where they are wanted (e.g., a pro-charter political climate), and where they can reliably attract talent in the form of both teachers and leaders. Funding support, either directly or through opened doors, doesn’t hurt either.

So what does an education harbormaster do, exactly? One or more of the following: They invest in high-quality school growth, strengthen talent pipelines, advocate for choice-friendly policies, and/or rally community support. The report is based on interviews with eighteen...

I’ve dedicated a big part of my career to expanding school choice. I think it’s the right thing to do for kids, families, educators, neighborhoods, civil society, and much else. In fact, I’m convinced that years from now, students of history will be scandalized to learn that we used to have a K–12 system defined by one government provider in each geographic area.

“Do you mean,” they’ll ask, “that kids were actually assigned to schools based on home address, even if those schools were persistently underperforming?”

But probably the most important lesson I’ve learned over the last fifteen years—the reason why school choice progress moves so slowly—is this: An education system without school choice makes perfect sense from the point of view of central administrators.

In fact, the district-based system (a single public sector operator of schools) that we’ve had for the last century is extraordinarily rational when viewed from above. A city has lots of kids, and those kids need to be educated. A central schooling authority will take care of it.

The central authority looks at a map and partitions the city into similarly populated sections, each with its own “neighborhood school.” For simplicity’s sake, those schools can be named...

Penny Wohlstetter and her coauthors have delivered a terrific new Fordham study, “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Choice.” It finds a creative, concrete, and unusually useful way to get under the hood and delve into messy questions about the availability of choice, quality control, political support, and the effects of policy environment. The result is exceptionally useful for understanding what individual cities are doing and contemplating how they might do better.

Wohlstetter has powerfully extended an earlier study that I did with Fordham back in 2010, “The Nation’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform.” That study looked at education ecosystems, examining a broad set of variables that included philanthropic support, political leadership, bureaucratic burden, and the talent pool. Here, Wohlstetter looks specifically at the issue of choice, which allows her to go deeper and get more granular. She examines the entire picture of choice in thirty cities, including charter, magnet, and private schools. She finds that New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Denver lead the pack; that New York City is becoming less hospitable to choice under Mayor de Blasio; and that some southern cities are surprisingly strong on choice.

This kind of analysis is invaluable...

Fordham Ohio’s latest report will be released on Wednesday, January 27, and will detail the results of a survey of leaders of some of the state’s highest-performing charter schools.

What do those leaders think of Ohio’s overall support for charter schools, closing failing charters, and criticism of the sector? These questions and more will be answered in this important new report.

Quality in Adversity: Lessons from Ohio’s best charter schools will be available Wednesday, January 27, by clicking here.

 

A few years ago, a couple of my Fordham colleagues coined the phrase “public private” schools to describe schools that educate virtually no low-income students. In the report, they suggested the following notion: Though “public” in name, high-wealth schools are, in practice, pretty much equivalent to private ones. Families wanting to enroll their children in such schools effectively pay “tuition” through higher real-estate taxes and/or paying a fortune on housing. Low-income families are functionally excluded from sending their children to these schools.

But when an affluent district enacts an open enrollment policy, students outside its jurisdiction can attend. This suggests that they’re acting more in their public than private nature. Since 1989, Ohio has permitted such inter-district open enrollment, and today, most (though not all) districts participate. For the 2015–16 year, 81 percent of districts allowed some degree of open enrollment.[1]

So what about Ohio’s public private school districts? Do any of them open their doors for all comers? Or are they adhering more closely to their “private” identity by denying non-resident students the opportunity to enroll? Let’s take a look at the data.

When my colleagues examined public private schools in 2010, they identified...

Ohio has been included in lots of national rankings and scorecards lately. The latest comes from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which ranks the Buckeye State at number twenty-three (out of forty-three states) for its charter school law. At first blush, twenty-third doesn’t seem like much to laud (after all, we just lamented Ohio’s fall to twenty-third in Education Week’sQuality Counts” ranking). But there’s more to Ohio’s modest slot than meets the eye.

For starters, Ohio improved five slots from last year. In fact, it was the third-most-improved state in terms of rankings, next to Oklahoma and Massachusetts. More important than its rise in the rankings (which could occur for a host of reasons, including other states’ charter climates getting worse) is the reason why. The report notes that Ohio’s improvement occurred because “it enacted legislation that improved its authorizer funding provisions and strengthened its charter monitoring processes.” They went further, praising other aspects of House Bill 2: “It is important to note that the legislation enacted in Ohio made a lot of other positive changes to the state’s law; it dealt with some specific challenges that have emerged...

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