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:

I recently visited United Preparatory Academy (UPrep). It’s a charter school serving students in grades K-4 (growing to grade five) located in Franklinton—one of Columbus’s poorest neighborhoods, where the median household income is thirty percent lower than the city-wide average. About half the population has less than a high school diploma, and just one in ten have earned a four-year college degree. I say all this not to reduce the neighborhood, its families, or its children to these data points—but because from a research point of view, it makes what I’m about to tell you all the more powerful.

Before the visit started, I sat in the office alongside children who’d been dropped off wearing a random assortment of clothes other than the school uniform. It became apparent that it was a struggle for some families to keep freshly laundered clothes in stock for their children. This challenge is part of a growing conversation about how high-poverty schools go beyond the classroom in order to serve families, and more specifically, curb truancy. About ten kids waited while the office manager reached into a cabinet filled with black dress pants and bright blue, logoed polo shirts. One by one,...

Christine Campbell

Across the country, in Atlanta, Camden, Indianapolis and at least ten other cities, more schools are operating under a kind of partnership school model: a “third way” governance strategy that breaks through district-charter divides. Some education leaders, like Fordham Institute president Mike Petrilli, think this approach should be avoided at all costs. But others, myself included, see it as a potentially promising way to turn around struggling schools or increase the number of quality school options in a neighborhood.

Partnership schools might be thought of as the next stage in district-charter collaboration or a key component in implementing a portfolio management strategy. With a few mature exceptions, most of these arrangements are relatively new. The theory behind what their role is and how well it delivers is largely untested, and student outcomes have not been expressly studied. A new CRPE brief offers a lay of the land on this promising approach and outlines questions that policymakers and researchers should consider as more of these partnerships grow.

Partnership schools, like charter schools, enjoy more freedom than a traditional district-run school. But partnership schools are legally distinct from charter schools. In some cases, districts can open them through...

School choice is becoming more and more common across the country, creating more and more stories of student and family success. The Foundation for Excellence in Education wants to hear as many success stories as possible and has launched a contest to find them.

The Choices in Education Video Competition begins soon and is seeking video submissions from students, parents, or alumni of existing school choice programs (public school choice, charter, magnet, private school, virtual learning, or homeschool) and even from students and families who want more choice in their state. The best part: the winners will be chosen based not on the quality of the video, but on the sincerity and passion of the story told.

Three Grand Prize Winners will each receive a $15,000 cash prize, one People’s Choice Winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize, and three Finalists will each receive a $5,000 cash prize.

So what are you waiting for? The deadline for submissions is December 1, 2017.

You can find more information and submission information by clicking here.

Good luck! 

When it comes to gauging the performance of Ohio’s public charter schools, unfair comparisons and generalizations are all too common. Apples-to-oranges comparisons between individual schools and entire districts, as well as casual disregard for charter schools’ high percentages of children in poverty (while contrasting their performance with wealthier children), are inaccurate forms of analysis at best. At worst, they’re intentionally disingenuous. But unless you’re a wonk at heart, these data offenses probably aren’t on your radar.

There’s another refrain from charter critics that disturbs me—not as a data analyst or researcher, but as a parent. It’s the implication that if you’ve moved your child to a school that performs lower on report card measures than the district school to which you are zoned, that choice isn’t a very good one.

I see this critique often from charter critic Stephen Dyer as well as from bloggers, teachers unions, and other choice opponents. Dyer frequently asserts that lower-performing charter schools “drain” public resources from higher-performing ones. You can see this logic at work in specific complaints or in sweeping statements appearing in just about every Innovation Ohio brief, like:

…half of all state money sent to charters goes...

By expanding access to options including charters, choice advocates hope that more students will reap the benefits of attending high-performing schools. But do all families have charter options in their area? In this study, researchers chart the Ohio landscape and seek to answer two questions: First, where are charter schools located with respect to the poverty and racial demographics of their community? Second, do low-income families have equal access to charter schools?

To answer these questions, researchers Andrew Saultz of the University of Miami and Christopher Yaluma of the Ohio State University (and a Fordham research intern this past summer) collected data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Ohio Department of Education. These data were then used to conduct analyses on the geographic locations of brick-and-mortar charters and the characteristics of their surrounding communities. For the purposes of this study, a family is said to have access to a charter school if they live within a five-mile radius of one.

Unsurprising for those who are familiar with Ohio, the majority of charters are located in large cities like the Big 8 (e.g., Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton). This is almost certainly due to Ohio...

Dr. Geno Thomas

NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.

Lowellville Local Schools in Mahoning County, Ohio, where I am superintendent, has participated in Ohio’s open enrollment program for almost 20 years. Our district enrolls about 600 students annually, about 54 percent of whom attend from outside Lowellville’s district borders through Ohio’s open enrollment option. The program’s impact on our schools and students has been overwhelmingly positive, yet there has been some skepticism about open enrollment across the state. Most of these criticisms seem territorial at heart or seem to stem from a philosophical opposition to choice. Folks might ask, “Why should taxpayers have to pay for students who live outside their district?” or they may wonder about capacity issues, overcrowding, or transportation issues when serving kids outside of their bounds.

But there are other aspects of the program worth knowing about—real benefits for students, families, educators, and communities when districts opt to allow students via open enrollment.

1)      Greater course offerings. In Lowellville, given the manner in which...

Cris Gulacy-Worrel

NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.

The recent request by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) to apply for Ohio’s Drop Out Prevention and Recovery (DOPR) designation has shined a spotlight on this unique type of alternative school and has created many misconceptions surrounding what they do, the students they serve, and how they serve them.

Those of us who have dedicated our careers to providing safe, inclusive, high-quality learning environments for our most challenged students think these misconceptions should be identified and exposed. DOPR is a status for which schools must apply and is outlined in state law. The designation has existed for many years. Only programs that meet the components set forth by law are approved by the Department of Education. DOPR schools must meet specified academic as well as financial objectives set by the Department. The designation is not a shelter for charter schools to utilize as a protection against public accountability for student performance, nor are drop out recovery waivers intended to be leveraged by schools not specializing in this specific student population. The designation is meant...

Teenagers declaring “I’m bored” is as timeless as a John Hughes film, but may mask a serious problem: Among high school students who consider dropping out, approximately 50 percent cite a lack of engagement with school as a primary reason, and 42 percent report that they don’t see value in the work they are asked to do. In a recent Fordham study, What Teens Want: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement, we found that many students are not being served effectively by the traditional “one size fits all” comprehensive high school. At the same time, there’s growing support for giving adolescents more educational choices.

To explore what keeps these schools from proliferating and how obstacles can be overcome, Fordham, along the American Federation for Children, invited Tamar Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, Kevin Teasley, president of the Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation, Jon Valant, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Zach Verriden, executive director of HOPE Christian Schools (Wisconsin Region) to participate in a panel discussion on August twenty-second, moderated by senior vice president for research, Amber Northern.

Speaking from their unique perspectives, the four panelists covered various issues within high school...

Terry Ryan

Competition or cooperation? The district-charter school debate has swung back and forth between these alternative strategies since the first public charter schools opened twenty-five years ago. No group has striven harder over that period to find a workable balance than the Seattle-based Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). Better Together: Ensuring Quality District Schools in Times of Charter Growth and Declining Enrollment is CRPE’s latest effort to bring a moderate, research-based middle-ground to the fraught charter/district relationship that is still too often defined by acrimony, blame, and zero-sum arguments.

Better Together builds on CRPE’s deep expertise in establishing and promoting “District-Charter Collaboration Compacts.” It grows out of the conversation of “more than two dozen policymakers, practitioners, researchers and advocates” that took place at CRPE’s behest in January. Can school districts and charter schools co-exist, even cooperate? Is there a “grand bargain” to be struck that could benefit both sectors while—most important—serving the best interests of students, voters, and taxpayers?

District-charter collaboration is especially challenging in communities with declining student enrollments. In Rust Belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Dayton, the district population has declined by tens or hundreds of thousands of students. Detroit, for example,...

Research confirms what common sense dictates: Students learn less when their teachers aren’t there. According to multiple studies, a ten-day increase in teacher absence results in at least ten fewer days of learning for students.

Clearly, some absences are unavoidable—teachers are only human. But compared to their counterparts in other industries and other countries, U.S. teachers seem to have poor attendance. On average, they miss about eight school days a year due to sick and personal leave (in addition to the breaks they get for school vacations and national holidays); meanwhile, the average U.S. worker takes about three-and-a-half sick days a year. Yet the first of these averages obscures the degree to which absenteeism is concentrated among a subset of teachers.

In Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools, Fordham senior research and policy associate David Griffith takes an unprecedented look at teacher chronic absenteeism rates in charter and traditional public schools—that is, the percentage of teachers who miss at least eleven days of school, excluding professional development days and field trips.

His major findings include the following:

  • Nationally, teachers in traditional public schools are almost three times as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter
  • ...