Pre-K and Charter Schools: Where State Policies Create Barriers to Collaboration

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Download the full reportforeword and executive summary, and the base report.

In Pre-K and Charter Schools: Where State Policies Create Barriers to Collaboration, authors Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel examine thirty-six jurisdictions that have both charter schools and state-funded pre-K programs to determine where charters can provide state-funded pre-K. Among the findings:
  • Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have both state-funded pre-K and charter laws. Of those, thirty-two have at least one charter school serving preschoolers.
  • Charter schools in all but four states face at least one significant barrier to offering state pre-K. Nine have statutory or policy barriers that preclude charter schools from offering state-funded pre-K; twenty-three other states technically permit charters to offer state-funded pre-K but have created practical barriers that significantly limit their ability to do so in practice.

The most common practical barriers include low funding levels, small pre-K programs, barriers to kindergarten enrollment, and local district monopolies on pre-K funds.

Recommendations for state policymakers:

  • Ensure that the state's definition of a "charter school" includes pre-K in the activities or grade levels that charters are permitted to offer.
  • Establish clear policies that allow charter schools operating publicly funded pre-K to enroll the children served by those programs directly into their kindergarten classes.
  • Make certain that charter schools have equal access to state pre-K funds.

Recommendations for federal policymakers:

  • Include pre-K in the federal definition of "charter school."
  • Ensure that federal preschool programs, including Head Start, provide charters equitable access to funding.

State Profiles


If you have questions about the book, please email David Griffith.

School Closures and Student Achievement: An Analysis of Ohio’s Urban District and Charter Schools

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School Closures and Student Achievement: An Analysis of Ohio’s Urban District and Charter Schools examines 198 school closures that occurred between 2006 and 2012 in the Ohio ‘Big Eight’ urban areas (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown). The research included 120 closed district-run schools and seventy-eight closed charter schools. Taken together, these closures directly affected 22,722 students—disproportionately low-income, low-achieving, and minority students—who were in grades 3-8 at the point of closure.

The study reveals that children displaced by closure make significant academic gains on state math and reading exams after their school closes.

Three years after closure, the research found that displaced students overall made the following cumulative gains:

  • Students who had attended a closed district school gained forty-nine additional days of learning in reading and thirty-four additional days in math and;
  • Students who had attended a closed charter school gained forty-six additional days in math.

Further, the study reveals that students who attended a higher-quality school after closure made even greater progress. Three years after closure, displaced students who transferred to a higher-quality school made the following cumulative gains:

  • Students who had attended a closed district school gained sixty-nine additional days of learning in reading and sixty-three additional days in math and;
  • Students who had attended a closed charter school gained fifty-eight additional days of learning in reading and eighty-eight additional days in math.

Estimated gains are based upon a 180-day school year and are benchmarked against the gains displaced students would have likely made, had they attended their closed school.

Dr. Deven Carlson of the University of Oklahoma and Dr. Stéphane Lavertu of the Ohio State University conducted the research and authored the report. They used data provided by the Ohio Department of Education and applied empirical methods to gauge the impact of closure on students’ academic achievement.

Shutting Bad Schools, Helping Students
By Michael J. Petrilli and Aaron Churchill
Wall Street Journal

Closing schools has benefits
Editorial Board
Columbus Dispatch

If you have questions about the book, please email Aaron Churchill.

The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations for Ohio's Charter School Sector

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Over 120,000 charter students in Ohio deserve the opportunity to receive an excellent education. But far too often, Ohio charters have produced mediocre results. In the most extensive evaluation of Ohio charters to date, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) recently found that Ohio charter-school students, on average, make less academic progress than their district counterparts.

Part of the problem has been Ohio’s incoherent charter-school law—a law that has too often failed to put students’ best interests first. Instead, in too many ways, it has protected powerful vested interests, smothered schools with red tape, starved even the best schools, and tolerated academic mediocrity.

But fixing Ohio’s charter law is no easy task. The law itself is roughly 40,000 words and has been amended nineteen times since its enactment in 1997. It contains many peculiar exceptions, loopholes, and restrictions.

Policymakers must know exactly what needs to be repaired and how best to make the fix. Authored by Bellwether Education Partners, a national education-consulting group, this report offers ten policy recommendations that, if implemented, will lead to stronger charter policy in Ohio.

These recommendations pivot around three central objectives that policymakers must focus on in a charter-reform bill:

  • Define governing relationships: Currently, Ohio charter law too vaguely defines the powers and responsibilities of each actor in the charter-governing system. State policymakers need to remedy this by more clearly and explicitly establishing the governing relationships in the charter-school structure.
  • Purge conflicts of interest: State policymakers should not tolerate permissive laws that allow adults to make dishonest gain at the expense of students’ best interest.
  • Help charters compete: At present, state policy treats Ohio charters as second-class public schools. They receive less overall taxpayer funding, garner scant facilities support, and are often at the mercy of traditional districts when it comes to student transportation. Now is the time to remedy charter-funding inequities.

The Ohio policymaking community is poised to tackle charter-school reform. This report, The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations for Ohio’s Charter Sector, builds on the policy foundations laid in our 2006 charter-policy report, considers the latest developments in Ohio charter policy, and reflects some of the very best thinking nationally concerning charter-school policy.

Wise policymakers—those who care deeply about the twin principles of good governance and robust competition in our public institutions—will keep this report at their side in the coming days.


If you have questions about the book, please email Aaron Churchill.

Charter School Performance in Ohio

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Charter schools are quickly becoming a defining feature of Ohio’s public-education landscape, educating over 120,000 children statewide. The “theory of action” behind charters is fairly simple. Empower parents with choice, give schools greater freedom, and hold schools accountable to a contract—and higher student achievement, more innovation, and stronger parental engagement will follow.

But how does theory stack up against reality? Are Ohio charters actually producing better results than their district counterparts? One way to answer this question is by analyzing student achievement data, and since 1999, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has been the nation’s foremost independent evaluator of charter-school performance.  

In the most comprehensive analysis of Ohio charter school performance to date, CREDO looks at student test-result data from 2007-08 to 2012-13 to evaluate the academic impact of Ohio charters. 


If you have questions about the book, please email Aaron Churchill.

2014 Fordham Sponsorship Annual Report

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The 2014 Fordham Sponsorship Annual Report is our opportunity to share the Fordham Foundation’s work as the sponsor of eleven schools serving 3,200 students, and our related policy work in Ohio and nationally. We are fortunate as an organization that our policy work benefits our sponsorship efforts; and, that our lessons from sponsorship inform our policy and advocacy strategies.

In the pages of this report, you will see that Fordham as a whole is committed to increasing the number of quality seats available to children - both as a policy and as a concrete goal within our portfolio of schools. We report candidly on the performance of our portfolio, our approach to sponsorship, and key policy publications from 2014. 


If you have questions about the book, please email Aaron Churchill.

Poised for Progress: Analysis of Ohio's School Report Cards 2013-14

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On September 12th, Ohio released school report-card ratings for the 2013-14 school year. This report compiles and analyzes the statewide data, with special attention given to the quality of public schools in the Ohio Big Eight urban areas: Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown (both district and charter school sectors). Using the state’s key report-card measures, the performance-index and value-added ratings, we assess the overall quality of each public school receiving these ratings in these areas—and calculate the number of students in high-quality seats in each area.

The key findings:

  • There are too few high-quality seats in Ohio’s urban areas. On average, just 16 percent of public-school seats—including both district and charter—were high-quality in the Big Eight. In contrast, 36 percent of public-school seats were low-quality.
  • High-quality seats by sector: A higher proportion of charter seats were high quality (22 percent) compared to district seats (13 percent) in the Big Eight urban areas.
  • Low-quality seats by sector: A slightly lower proportion of charter seats were low quality (32 percent) compared to district seats (38 percent) in the Big Eight urban areas.

There is also variation in the performance of the charter-school sectors across the Big Eight. The charter sectors in Cleveland and Columbus had considerably higher proportions of high-quality seats than the district-run schools located in those cities. In Cleveland, 28 percent of charter seats were high quality, compared to just 12 percent in the district. Meanwhile, in Columbus, 32 percent of charter seats were high quality, compared to just 8 percent in the district. In other cities, like Akron, Canton, and Toledo, the traditional district had higher proportions of high-quality seats compared to those cities’ charter-school sectors.

Download the report to learn more about the performance of Ohio’s public schools, statewide and in its eight largest urban areas.


If you have questions about the book, please email Aaron Churchill.

Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice

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After twenty years of expanding school-choice options, state leaders, educators, and families have a new tool: course choice, a strategy for students to learn from unconventional providers that might range from top-tier universities or innovative community colleges to local employers, labs, or hospitals.

In Expanding the Education Universe: A Fifty-State Strategy for Course Choice, Fordham’s Michael Brickman outlines policy questions and options to weigh when designing course-choice programs, including issues of student eligibility, course providers, funding, quality control, and accountability.

Spotlight: Course Choice in Louisiana

Louisiana is not the only state with a course-choice program (others include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin), but it is the farthest along in making such options widely accessible—and the way it has handled any challenges posed by these programs make it an ideal exemplar. Read about barriers that State Superintendent John White and other leaders have had to overcome in designing and implementing course choice. 


If you have questions about the book, please email Dara Zeehandelaar.

In the Media

May 16, 2014
Association of American Educators

Pluck and Tenacity: How five private schools in Ohio have adapted to vouchers

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Roughly 30,000 kids in Ohio take advantage of a publicly funded voucher (or “scholarship”). But as students flee public schools for private ones, how does life change for the private schools that take voucher kids? Can private schools coexist with a publicly-funded voucher program? Can they adapt as they educate more students from disadvantaged backgrounds?

This new report from the Fordham Institute digs into these questions. Our study finds that, yes, voucher programs are changing private schools. But at the same time, these private schools are bravely—even heroically—adapting to such changes.

Written by Ellen Belcher, former editor at the Dayton Daily News and an award-winning journalist, Pluck and Tenacity delivers a candid view of life in private schools that take voucher kids. For this report, Ellen traveled across Ohio, visiting five schools: Three are Catholic—Immaculate Conception in Dayton, Saint Martin de Porres in Cleveland, and St. Patrick of Heatherdowns in Toledo—and two are evangelical—Eden Grove in Cincinnati and Youngstown Christian School.

The case studies yield seven key takeaways about private “voucher schools”:

  1. They are relentlessly mission oriented, and vouchers help support their missions
  2. These private schools have kept their distinctive values (e.g., behavioral standards, religious practices)
  3. The schools have become more diverse
  4. As they welcome more students who are far behind academically, these schools set high standards
  5. The schools worry—even agonize—about their academic quality
  6. Financial realities factor into the schools’ decisions to take voucher students
  7. None of the schools objected to state testing requirements.

For policymakers, this report should prompt clear thinking about how to strengthen voucher programs. As our research shows, some private schools are teetering financially, which is one (but not the only) reason lawmakers should consider boosting the per-pupil voucher amount. At the same time, if states make substantial public investments in private-school options, taxpayers have every reason to expect strong student outcomes. The good news is that private schools seem to understand the need for academic accountability and transparency when participating in voucher programs.

On January 30, 2014, we convened a group of school leaders in Columbus to discuss the report's findings. Click on the image below to watch the video of that event:

Private Schools, Public Vouchers - School Leaders Panel

We also convened a group of education policy leaders to discuss the report's implications. Click on the image below to watch the video of that event:

Private Schools, Public Vouchers - Policy Leaders Panel

Correction (3/10/14): The report's title pages have been updated to attribute authorship of the Executive Summary.


If you have questions about the book, please email Aaron Churchill.


Public accountability & private-school choice

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The Fordham Institute supports school choice, done right. That means designing voucher and tax-credit policies that provide an array of high-quality education options for kids that are also accountable to parents and taxpayers. In that vein, Fordham has created the Public accountability & private-school choice toolkit to help with the design of strong outcomes-based accountability in private-school-choice programs.

We recommend that states

  • Require that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) participate in state assessments. (While we prefer state assessments as policy, we think any widely respected test that allows for ready comparison against other schools or districts is a reasonable compromise);
  • Mandate public disclosure of those assessment results, school by school, save for schools that enroll fewer than ten voucher (or scholarship) students in grades that are tested; and
  • Use a sliding scale when it comes to acting on the test results—i.e., private schools that derive little of their revenue from programs of this kind should be largely left alone, while those that receive more of their dollars from state initiatives should be held more accountable.

This toolkit was updated in June 2014 to reflect that mandating nationally norm-referenced tests is a reasonable compromise for accountability measures in these programs.

Public accountability & private-school choice: Infographic

View a larger version


If you have questions about the book, please email Amber Northern.

In the Media

January 17, 2014
Dropout Nation

Remodeled Report Cards, Remaining Challenges

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We are pleased to release our 2012-13 sponsorship annual report Remodeled Report Cards, Remaining Challenges. Annual reports for sponsors (i.e., charter school authorizers) are mandatory under Ohio law. In ours, we strive to strike the balance between reporting on various compliance requirements and capturing some of the more interesting aspects of our sponsorship work during the previous year. Toward that end, Remodeled Report Cards, Remaining Challenges provides an overview of Ohio’s new accountability system for schools and summarizes the performance of the Fordham-sponsored schools.

This year we also tried to capture the schools’ perspective regarding persistent challenges - and how the schools address those challenges – by weaving together comments from school leader interviews conducted by veteran journalist Ellen Belcher. Our goal was to more directly connect readers with the outlook in the schools themselves.

We hope that the transparent reporting on school performance and input from school leaders in the field provides an interesting read. 


If you have questions about the book, please email Aaron Churchill.