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:

After losing its sponsorship, ECOT, the largest e-school in Ohio, appears to be on the brink of closure. Districts and other e-schools are bracing for the possible flood of new students, preparing to hire new teachers, manage students’ transcripts, and get them up to speed mid-year. Not surprisingly, politicians are squeezing the situation for every last drop. Taking hardline stances on charter schools in Ohio is like a free campaign booster shot, with this particular situation offering extra potency. Meanwhile, families of some 12,000 students are dealing with the nightmare of impromptu school shopping.

Much is being said about ECOT right now. This shouldn’t surprise, given its status as the largest and most maligned charter school in Ohio and the role of its founder among the old guard of widely reviled campaign contributors in laying the groundwork for a very partisan charter landscape in Ohio. Each development toward ECOT’s downfall has sharpened new arrows in the quiver from which to take aim against charter schools broadly—a serious portion of which deserve never to be mentioned in the same breath as the near-fallen giant. What, if anything, can be learned and applied from this?...


As reported by the Dispatch last week, Columbus City Schools has unveiled plans to expand selective admission among its magnet schools next year. This is a positive step in an often criticized district—an effort that should be applauded and helped to grow.

Twenty-five years of school choice in Ohio have largely laid to rest the archaic notion that a home address will determine what schools children will attend from Kindergarten through high school. Interdistrict open enrollment, charter schools, private school scholarships, home schooling, virtual schooling, and independent STEM schools render district boundaries all but irrelevant to parents who are able to navigate these options. Even within districts, specialized schools, programs that look like schools, and lottery-based magnet schools have proliferated, further eroding address-based school assignments and rigid feeder patterns. This is all for the good.

A lesser-known addendum to that list is selective admission, whereby certain schools are allowed to prioritize a percentage of their seats for students who meet particular criteria. Ohio has allowed selective admission—with some important caveats—since 1990, and Columbus City Schools was the first district in the state to make use of this option. Today, five of the district’s magnet...


You don’t have to look far to find cogent rebuttals to a recent Associated Press story on charter schools and segregation. That analysis—which blames charter schools for intensifying segregation in public schools—is reminiscent of a political campaign where, running from a suspect track record, an incumbent blames the challenger for something he himself has done.

In this case, in a country that is deeply segregated, and whose public schools are deeply segregated both because of changing demographics and the precondition of residential assignment that pervades the public system, charter schools are being scapegoated for creating the racially divided and isolated world that the public schools themselves have given us. It’s the sort of pablum only a politico could offer.

The arguments many have made to counter this are spot-on, in particular about the difference between being assigned to racial isolation versus minorities making affirmative choices to be with people who share their skin color and, perhaps, their values. But there’s a piece that’s missing, and so much turns on understanding it that we gloss over it at our own peril.

The truth is, the attack on charters and their perceived role in segregation reveals a...


In a recent blog post, University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham posits three possible types of personalization in personalized learning—children learning at their own speed, pedagogical tailoring, and individualized content. I have sought out all of these variations for my children over the years and, as Willingham notes, they are not mutually exclusive. But neither are they equally important. Let me make the case, as a father of two high school girls, that personalized pacing is a must-have, personalized pedagogy is a nice-to-have, and personalized content is largely to be avoided, at least until the end of the K-12 experience.

Personalized pacing and pedagogy

My children’s experience at The Metro School, a 6-12 STEM-focused early college school in Columbus, shows that students learning at their own speed is the prime mover of successful personalized learning (PL).

Metro’s model generally compresses what would be year-long courses in traditional schools into one semester. Course material is divided into discrete units and subunits, with each having clear goals for students and teachers and clearly connecting to the next. It moves fast, the expectations are high[1], and there is little downtime. Students’ progress is assessed regularly along the way,...


Today, Fordham released a new report suggesting changes to Ohio’s school report cards to help parents and taxpayers get the best information about the performance of their schools and districts. This is the preface to that report.

Most of us can remember getting report cards as kids. Sometimes the grades would be a validation of a job well done; sometimes they were disappointing, considering all the effort we had made in class. Sometimes—let’s admit it—the grades were low but also fair, given the quality of our work or the lack of effort we had put into it.

Regardless of how we felt at the time, most of us recognize that report cards played an important, if not always pleasant, role in our education. We needed the feedback that they generated in order to know our strengths and weaknesses, and they were important to parents and guardians who could offer help when our grades signaled that greater support was needed.

Likewise, the educational health of our schools hinges in no small part on periodic reviews of how they’re...


The annual “parent power index” published by the Center for Education Reform raises worthy questions—how much power is afforded to parents, and what can they do to acquire more? Despite its various flaws, the index attempts to quantify the extent to which options and information are available to parents so they can make good decisions for their child’s education—a useful lens unto itself.

A plethora of other groups evaluate how well states are doing on education—doling out grades on the strength of charter laws or a bevy of other education policies like funding, test scores, or teacher quality. Even if we disagree with how some scorecards are calculated or the mischaracterizations that can flow from them, such grades can be informative. They provide a look at how states compare to their peers and how policy or legislative improvements can set the right conditions for success though of course not guaranteeing it. (As we know from a long journey to charter reform in Ohio, those conditions matter a lot.)

Yet even achieving wins in policy areas I think matter most for kids—like teacher quality or school choice—offers no guarantee that such reforms...


For too long, the topic of school choice in Ohio has been divisive and polarizing. You are invited to attend a thoughtful and substantive discussion of school choice with experienced leaders from across the state. This effort to find common ground and collaborative solutions in support of students promises to be a great evening. We hope you can attend.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

6:00 to 8:00 pm

Capital University Law School

Room 229, 303 E. Broad Street

Downtown Columbus

Panelists: Stephen O. Dyer (Innovation Ohio), Andy Boy (United Schools Network), Mary Ronan (former Superintendent of Cincinnati City Schools), and Chad L. Aldis (Thomas B. Fordham Institute),.

Refreshments will be served, and there will be time reserved for you to ask questions and gain insight into school choice efforts currently underway across Ohio.

We hope you’ll join the conversation.

Tickets are free but we urge you to register today....


Yesterday, the Ohio Department of Education released the second round of charter sponsor (a.k.a. authorizer) ratings. The Plain Dealer’s Patrick O’Donnell was quick out of the gate in noticing overall improvements from last year’s ratings (“Cleveland and other charter school sponsors doing a better job, new ratings show”) highlighting the Cleveland district’s own improvement as well as a high-level look at the grades. The Dispatch took a more negative spin, “Sponsors of 10 Ohio charter schools receive ‘poor’ ratings from state,” emphasizing that nearly half of sponsors earned a rating of Poor or Ineffective.

Indeed, 21 of 45 sponsors were deemed ineffective or poor for 2016-17. Yet the Dispatch omits the fact that all but six of these low-rated sponsors (one career technical center, one non-profit, and four educational service centers) were traditional public school districts. The story also took pains to note that those earning effectives did so “despite poor achievement ratings for some or many of their schools.” This is true, but it overlooks the reality that high-poverty schools across the board (charter or district) have struggled and will continue to struggle on achievement metrics until the state makes student growth over time a bigger...


Since 2012, the Center for Education Reform (CER) has released an annual “parent power index,”—a scorecard for states as well as an interactive tool for parents “to discover whether their state affords them power over their child’s education—and if not, what they can do to get it.”

The index rates states along five categories: (private) school choice, charter schools, online learning, teacher quality, and transparency—and then provides an overall score. It also offers quick facts on statewide achievement (NAEP proficiency and ACT scores) and student enrollment. On the latest index, Ohio ranks eleventh in the nation and scores well above the national average in all but one of the five categories.

How Ohio performed on the 2017 Parent Power Index

The question CER seeks to answer is an incredibly important one: how much power do parents really have? Unfortunately, this particular index is only partially accurate. Let’s take a quick look at what it got right, where it went askew, and how this local Ohioan views parent power in the Buckeye state.

School choice

The index gave Ohio a C for...


For the first time in their lives, my twin daughters are attending separate schools. It was a hard decision made after a lot of research and soul searching. My wife and I think both schools are good ones, but I’d be lying if I said I was 100 percent confident. The national debate over whether and how parents can know best when it comes to school choice has me wondering if we’ve chosen well. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that we had full information and access to many options, but I know that’s not the same for every family. That should be the debate on parental choice. Perhaps the process that my family went through—and the differences between the schools we ultimately chose—can help shed light on the larger discussion.

The school that both girls attended through ninth grade last year is an odd one, to be sure, and not just because of its sixth-through-twelfth-grade orientation. As a standalone STEM school, it is more like a charter than a traditional school, but it has no sponsor or elected board; it is supported by a consortium of higher education, philanthropic, and district leaders. As...