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:


Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller recently published an opinion that should be good news for school-choice advocates who favor customized education for low-income students. He wrote this week that students opting for the state’s voucher program should also be allowed to receive special-education services, if eligible, at their local public school.

Photo from the Associated Press

This undoubtedly would anger two camps of school-choice opponents: 1) those who believe that private schools accepting voucher-bearing students must offer the same special-education services found at traditional public schools and 2) those who believe that once students leave the public school system, they give up everything it has to offer.

Of course, most choice opponents occupy both camps, and that goes for Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who this summer asked the attorney general a loaded question: Must a private school participating in the state’s voucher program offer special-education services to eligible students who qualify for both a voucher and a new special-education grant the state legislature approved this year?

Zoeller said no, writing in his opinion that private schools might refuse voucher students altogether if they have to administer special-education services...

 
 

The Washington Post (and many others) roundly decried the Department of Justice’s petition to disallow Louisiana from awarding vouchers to students in public schools under federal desegregation orders. Surely it’s folly to block students (mainly black and all poor) from escaping failing schools to which they would otherwise be condemned—and it’s outrageous to claim that this is good for civil rights. As 90 percent of the kids benefiting from Louisiana’s voucher program are African American, Gadfly cannot help but suspect political motives. We join the chorus: Shame on the Department of Justice for standing between disadvantaged children and their education dreams.

Massachusetts, with the nation’s highest-performing school system, models the power of comprehensive standards-based reform. As noted by the New York Times, the Bay State’s standards—like the Common Core—refrain from prescribing curriculum and pedagogy, meaning that teachers decide how to get their pupils across the finish line. There’s far more to the Massachusetts story, of course, including a higher bar, more money, charter schools, individual student-level accountability and tougher requirements to enter teaching. But it’s a story worth telling and retelling.

As the time...

Common Core
 

When I’m asked if I support the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I give an emphatic “yes.” They constitute the first multi-state plan to give substance and coherence to what is taught in the public schools. They encourage the systematic development of knowledge in K–5. They break the craven silence about the critical importance of specific content in the early grades. They offer an example (the human body) of how knowledge ought to be built systematically across grades. They state,

By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.

That principle of building coherent, cumulative content animates the most effective school systems in the world, and for good reason: The systematic development of student knowledge from the earliest grades in history, literature, science, and the arts is essential to...

 
 

 

It has always puzzled me why the Rev. H.K. Matthews hasn’t drawn more attention for his support for private school choice. His name may not carry the weight of King, Randolph, or Rustin, but it’s doubtful that the civil-rights movement would have quickened in Florida at the pace it did without the sacrifices Matthews made.

Chief among those sacrifices was Matthews’ freedom: When he was president of the Pensacola Council of Ministers in the 1960s, he led sit-ins at segregated lunch counters throughout Northwest Florida that led to his arrest—thirty-five times. He was gassed and beaten by police on the march with Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery, and he was blacklisted from jobs after protesting police brutality in the Florida panhandle. More recently, Matthews helped to lead protesters who bemoaned the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

So when Matthews calls school choice an extension of the civil rights movement, that assertion ought to at least merit a few high-profile headlines.

At least the Birmingham News recognized the allure of Matthews’s position. This week, the News published commentary from Matthews supporting the new Alabama tax-credit-scholarship program and reprimanding the Southern Poverty Law Center...

 
 

The dominant approach to public education for most of our nation’s history was for local districts to offer standard-issue schools, mainly neighborhood-based and essentially identical, that reflected some version of the community’s general preferences and values. Because those preferences differed somewhat from place to place, public schools differed somewhat, too. Schools might be a bit more “traditional” in more conservative suburbs and rural communities, a tad more “progressive” in liberal urban locales. But in any given community, there was usually just one flavor for everybody. (Even the exceptions were broadly standardized. For example, there might be a “vocational high school” in the community.) If you didn’t like it, you chose a private school or you moved—kind of like Henry Ford’s approach to car colors.

Today, however, families across much of the country can choose among multiple public-school options. These may include charter schools; magnet schools with various specialized or advanced programs; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) schools; career or college-preparatory academies; other neighborhood schools (via intra- and sometimes inter-district choice); and even virtual schools. Some cities—New Orleans and Denver may be the best examples—are pursuing “portfolio” approaches, offering a variety of school options throughout their communities. And...

 
 

The Justice Department may be the last major American institution that values racial integration for the sake of integration. Its lawyers have worked to encase aging federal school-desegregation orders in cast iron while families—both white and black—have sought more flexibility, quality schools, and choices as to where their children will attend.

DOJ attorneys may tolerate some flexible plans aimed at voluntary desegregation, such as magnet schools and other forms of public-school choice, but there’s one form of choice it seems the Obama Administration and its legal beagles will not accept: private-school vouchers.

Late last week, lawyers with the department’s Civil Rights Division petitioned a federal judge in Louisiana to stop the Bayou State’s new voucher program from spreading throughout the thirty-plus districts operating under federal desegregation orders.  During the 2012-13 school year, Louisiana awarded vouchers to nearly 600 students from these districts, and DOJ asserts that their exit caused thirty-four public schools in thirteen districts to stray from “the desired degree of student racial diversity.”

To regain that “desired degree,” the department wants vouchers prohibited in court-supervised districts, unless the cognizant judge grants permission. That may be in keeping with the Obama Administration’s hostility to private-school choice, but...

 
 

Count me among the fans of school choice who looked favorably upon this year’s results of the Phi Delta Kappa (PDK)/Gallup poll. (We’re a small group.) Yes, for two decades, the PDK/Gallup folks have all but guaranteed a negative response to the “voucher” question (“Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense;” which makes impoverished families who benefit from today’s voucher and tax credit scholarship programs sound like a special-interest group). But the poll points to an embrace of parental power elsewhere.

Consider:

  • A near super majority of public-school parents (63 percent) want their high school children to have an opportunity to earn credit in virtual school courses;
  • An overwhelming majority of all respondents and public-school parents (75 percent and 80 percent, respectively) favor opportunities for high school students to earn college credit over the Internet;
  • Ninety percent of respondents favor giving homeschooled children with special needs access to public-school services;
  • Eighty-one percent of public-school parents say that homeschooled children should have the opportunity to attend public school part-time; and
  • Eighty percent of all respondents say that homeschoolers should participate in public-school athletic programs and after-school activities
  • ...
 
 

Thirteen months ago, I wrote about the hostility charter-school athletic teams faced across the nation as they sought an equal opportunity to compete against their peers. The impetus for the piece was the story of Friendship Collegiate Academy and their sterling record of winning games and graduating students. While last school year was the first time that schools like Friendship were allowed to compete on an even playing field with their traditional public-school counterparts, this year the schools have received a greater degree of equality and have formed their own league, the Charter School Athletic Association.

This new league, while allowing charters to face one another, will also result in some facing-off against traditional public schools in citywide tournaments and championship games. Some may be quick to dismiss this news as only a sports story, but they ignore the important role sports play within society.

This new league will help D.C.-area charter schools for the following four reasons:

1.       Increased visibility for all charters. This league will undoubtedly raise the profile of all regional charter schools as their students compete with their traditional public school peers in soccer, volleyball, basketball, and softball. (The league formed too late for football.) For...

 
 

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