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:


  • Darius Brown’s educational biography, featured last week in the Dallas Morning News, should be encouraging for reformers. It’s the story of a bright young Texan from modest circumstances who, through his own talents and the prodigious advocacy of his single mother, took part in his district’s gifted program and won a Gates Millennium Scholars award and matriculate to Texas A&M. Unfortunately, his story isn’t representative—even though they account for 6.5 percent of the state’s students, black boys like Darius make up less than 3 percent of those enrolled in Texas’s gifted programs. One of the main reasons for the discrepancy is that too many states and districts still rely on referrals from teachers and parents for screening into such programs, rather than spending extra and instituting universal screening. As Jay Mathews argues in the Washington Post, settling for this narrower pool leads to gifted classrooms that are significantly whiter and more affluent. Above-average intelligence is a category of special learning need; the only thing setting it apart from, say, a physical disability or a lack of English fluency is that it doesn’t always make itself known. That’s why we need to do everything we can to identify and
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Paul Hill

Editor's note: This is the first entry in our forum on charter school discipline practices. Mike Petrilli's introductory post is here.

The ongoing exchange about suspensions and expulsions in charter schools needs to be seen from the school’s perspective. As a school of choice, a charter has two obligations: to maintain a climate conducive to learning, as it promises the families who choose it, and to do all it can to meet the needs of the students it has admitted. These can provoke tension when individual children disrupt others' learning or threaten to tear down the norms of diligence that support instructional programs.

This tension is inherent to K–12 schools (even advantaged private ones). Some private schools protect their overall climate by quickly suspending or expelling kids who get out of line. But most, committed to the kids they have admitted, act much more deliberately. They give students help and many chances. Suspensions are never ruled out because they are very effective in getting some parents’ attention. But because they are understood as harmful, suspensions are brief and seldom repeated. If parents don’t respond the first time, the school tries something else.

Expulsions are never totally off the table for...

At the National Charter Schools Conference last week, Secretary of Education John King challenged U.S. charter operators to rethink their approach to discipline and “lead the way on professional reflection and growth.” Though I’ve frequently expressed my worries about the rush to reform the nation’s approach to school discipline, the secretary’s comments were measured and constructive. I was particularly struck by his insistence that there not be any “hard and fast rules or directives.” (He might want to share the speech with his own Office for Civil Rights, which could be renamed the Office for Hard and Fast Rules and Directives.)

Helping charter schools examine and improve their discipline practices is praiseworthy; making them change their approach via top-down dictates is not. (Though I’m really talking about suspensions; expulsions are a different matter, as we do need to worry about open-enrollment public schools pushing kids out.) In my view, it’s totally inappropriate for regulators—especially the feds, but also school authorizers—to get heavy-handed on the suspensions issue, for at least five reasons:

  1. The school discipline data collected by the Office for Civil Rights are notoriously fishy; attaching stakes to them will make them even more so because people work to report the data
  2. ...

Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the second half of a two-part interview (the first half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: Mike Feinberg had started KIPP as a kind of “classroom-within-a-school” program, and he needed support to expand and grow. There is a story of him sitting on your car and grading while he asked you for more space to grow his program. What did he say to you to convince you that you should invest in him—and that it wouldn't be a disaster?

Rod Paige: Well, there were two Teach For America teachers, Mike Feinberg and David Levin, both teaching in elementary schools in the east part of the city. They had provided a lot of innovative programs and activities for the students in their fifth-grade...

I remember the exact moment I became a charter school supporter. It was 2006, and I was a few days away from completing my first year of teaching in Camden, New Jersey. The mother of one of my students wanted to speak with me after school. I’ll never forget what she asked me: She wanted to know if she should send her daughter to a nearby charter school for first grade or keep her in our district school. Specifically, she asked, “What would you do if you were me—if this were your child?”

If someone had asked me then my opinion on charter schools, or choice generally, I wouldn’t have had one. But I did have a strong opinion about wanting her child (small for her age, with a tough exterior that could be mistaken for anger if you didn’t know her well) to thrive. The charter up the street was the only one I’d ever heard of, even though the city suffered from a desperate shortage of schools where reading and math proficiency scores weren’t in the single digits. I knew a bit about that particular school. It was safe and orderly, placed high expectations on students, offered...

Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the first half of a two-part interview (second half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: The first charter law was passed in 1991, and Texas's charter law passed in 1995. When you were the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, do you remember the first time you heard about charter schools and what you thought about them?

Secretary Rod Paige: A couple of years before that, I read about charter schools in the press, and the idea impressed me even before the Texas legislature started to talk about it. I was excited about the idea because I thought it was a way to increase innovation in schools, a way to unleash the ideas that a lot of teachers...

School choice advocates have long agreed on the importance of understanding what parents value when selecting a school for their children. A new study from Mathematica seeks to add to that conversation and generally echoes the results of prior research. What makes this study somewhat unusual, however, is that its analysis is based on parents’ rank-ordered preferences on a centralized school application rather than self-reported surveys.

To analyze preferences, researchers utilized data from Washington, D.C.’s common enrollment system, which includes traditional district schools and nearly all charters. D.C. families that want to send their children to a school other than the one they currently attend (or are zoned to attend) must submit a common application on which they rank their twelve most preferred schools. Students are then matched to available spaces using a random assignment algorithm.

The study tests for five domains of school choice factors: convenience (measured by commute distance from home to school), school demographics (the percentage of students in a school who are the same race or ethnicity as the chooser), academic indicators (including a school’s proficiency rate from the previous year), school neighborhood characteristics (crime rates and measures of residents’ socioeconomic status), and other school offerings (including average...

  • 2016 is providing ample opportunities for the charter sector to take stock. The twenty-fifth anniversary of chartering’s inception has produced a bevy of retrospectives on the movement’s history, and this fall’s presidential election will pen a new chapter in the twisting narrative of school choice, power, and politics. In the meantime, the progress continues apace. On Monday, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation awarded its prestigious annual prize (and a cool $250,000) to IDEA Public Schools, a burgeoning CMO out of Texas. The network, which specializes in educating disadvantaged kids close to the Mexican border, pledged to split the loot with fellow finalists YES Prep and Success Academy. As much as we love charter excellence, solidarity between schools makes it even better.
  • NPR correspondent Anya Kamenetz’s exposé on Rocketship last week was something of a recognizable type. It resembled pretty closely last year’s in-depth New York Times article on Success Academy: a long and detailed piece examining the methods of a phenomenally successful charter network. Unfortunately, some also found it unwieldy, tendentious, and anecdotal. Washington Monthly’s Alexander Russo has deemed it a “takedown” that attempts to recast Rocketship’s high test scores and disciplined environment as somehow suspect. (There’s also the weird decision to refer to the nonprofit
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June 4 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the enactment of Minnesota’s charter school law, the nation’s first. In broad terms, the authors’ vision allowed for the creation of new schools that would be exempt from many of K–12’s overbearing regulations in return for these schools being held accountable for results.

As charter pioneer Ted Kolderie wrote, this horse trade would “…introduce the dynamics of choice, competition, and innovation into American’s public school system, while at the same time ensuring that new schools serve broad public purposes.”

The visionaries who developed the concept of chartering as a way to disrupt the century-old public education monopoly of geographically defined school districts held many different expectations for the kinds of schools that this would bring into being: schools for poor kids, for sure, but also teacher-led schools, STEM schools, classical schools, language-intensive schools, art and music schools, schools for children with disabilities, for children with special gifts, for mobile families, and so much more.

It was, in fact, meant to serve as a kind of engine of innovation and experimentation for the entire K–12 enterprise, and not just with regard to curriculum and pedagogy. Chartering also held—and holds—the capacity to develop new structures for delivering and governing...

On June 22, the Dropout Prevention and Recovery Study Committee met for its first of three meetings this summer. The committee is composed of two Ohio lawmakers (Representative Andrew Brenner and Senator Peggy Lehner) and several community leaders. It was created under a provision in House Bill 2 (Ohio’s charter reform bill) and is tasked with defining school quality and examining competency-based funding for dropout-recovery schools by August 1.  

Conducting a rigorous review of state policies on the state’s ninety-four dropout-recovery charter schools is exactly the right thing to do—not only as a legal requirement, but also because these schools now educate roughly sixteen thousand adolescents. The discussion around academic quality is of particular importance. These schools have proven difficult to judge because of the students they serve: young adults who have dropped out or are at risk of doing so. By definition, these kids have experienced academic failure already. So what is fair to expect of their second-chance schools?

Let’s review the status of state accountability for dropout-recovery schools and take a closer look at the results from the 2014–15 report cards. In 2012–13, Ohio began to provide data on the success of its dropout-recovery...

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