Charters & Choice

You’ve seen the films—Waiting for “Superman”, The Lottery—you’ve heard the stories about parents anxiously filling out request forms months in advance in New York City or camping out for the “magnet school scramble” in Cincinnati. And you’ve even heard me talking about it on this very blog. Sometimes winning the lottery is the only thing you as a parent care about. That school is the best thing you can find for your child and there’s very little you yourself can do to access it aside from being lucky. If you don’t get in, do you have a Plan B and are you really willing to put yourselves through this again next year when the outcome could be the same?

Through luck and providence, we had a very good Plan B put together: another private school. More tuition, more religion, applying for the lottery again next year, another decision to be made for high school in just a couple of years. But it would work.

It turns out that several weeks after our first-round disappointment, more seats were opened in that popular “holy grail” school I told you about and one of my children won the second round lottery and got in.

Yep. Just one of the two.

We were then faced with several dilemmas: undoing Plan B for one, tackling the quick turnaround of admissions paperwork, figuring out how logistically to send our twins to two different schools in different parts of town—one Catholic and Montessori, the other...

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Among the shortcomings of the NGSS is its acute dearth of math content, even in situations where math is essential to the study and proper understanding of the science that students are being asked to master. Also problematic is the alignment of NGSS math with the Common Core State Standards for mathematics. Appendix L of the NGSS seeks to explain the alignment and apply math more thoroughly to NGSS science. This commentary by Johns Hopkins mathematician appraises that appendix. Download Commentary on Appendix L: Alignment of the Next Generation Science Standards with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics to read the appraisal.

It’s good news Wisconsin lawmakers are focusing more on the results of the nation’s oldest voucher program. This week, the chairmen of the Senate and Assembly education committees released a plan that, among other things, would rate the performance of private schools enrolling voucher-bearing students and kick the worst schools out of the program.

But, even though this plan has been two years in the making, it needs more time to marinate. It gives state education chief Tony Evers too much control to develop a report card for schools, and Evers has never been shy about his contempt for school vouchers.

The bill, for instance, requires Evers and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to develop an accountability system that measures schools’ achievement in reading and math, records student growth in those subjects, and judges other matters like college and career readiness and “pupil engagement.” A report card ranges from “significantly exceeds expectations” to “fails to meet expectations,” and private schools that land in the latter category are kicked out of the voucher program.

Let’s be clear, it’s appropriate for the state to take action against private schools that show consistently poor results in core subjects with their voucher-bearing students. Wisconsin’s neighbor, Indiana, also has passed a voucher law that holds participating private schools to account for their performance and keeps them from enrolling new voucher students if their results are sub-par.

But keep in mind that Evers once called the twenty-two-year-old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program...

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City-County Council members in Indianapolis convened a panel of experts yesterday evening to discuss the impact of charter authorizers on school quality. The Council invited Fordham’s Terry Ryan, Mind Trust’s Dave Harris, radio personality Amos Brown, Indianapolis Public School Board member Caitlin Hannon, and National Association of Charter School Authorizer’s (NACSA) Amanda Fenton to share their advice and experience in charter authorizing. Currently, Indianapolis’ 31 charter schools are authorized by Ball State University, the newly formed Indiana Charter School Board, and the Indianapolis Mayor’s office. The discussion was intended to help city leaders understand what charter authorizers do, as well as the pros and cons of having multiple authorizers within one city or state.

The background to this meeting was the passage of House Bill 1002 in 2011, which has increased the number of authorizers in the Hoosier State. The legislation granted the Indiana Charter School Board and private universities the ability to become authorizers of schools, in the hope that it would broaden the amount of charter schools serving students. Dave Harris, however, argued that expanding the authorizer market was a “solution to a nonexistent problem” for Indiana. Harris, who helped create the Indianapolis mayor’s authorization office, stated that authorizers in Indianapolis have not reached capacity and that including more authorizers in the city would allow low-performing charters to “shop around” for an authorizer, in order to stay open.

Drawing on his experience here in the Buckeye State (Fordham authorizes 11 charters...

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This is why it was important for Georgia voters to create an independent authorizer for charter schools.

This week, Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Erroll Davis asked the district’s Board of Education to stop approving new charter schools. The reason: Georgia’s Supreme Court has yet to decide whether Davis can withhold millions of dollars in tax revenues from charters to help pay off an old pension debt in the district. Until that judgment comes, Davis said he couldn’t “in good conscience” further burden the school system “in order to create new schools that will not pay their share.”

It must be noted that no charter ever approved by the school district is even partly responsible for this pension debt, which has grown to $550 million. And no charter employee benefits from this pension plan today. Rather, as district leaders have argued in court, charters should share this burden “because it keeps the Atlanta Public Schools fiscally sound.”

Those were the words of Charles Burbridge, the school district’s chief financial officer, who also testified in open court that he couldn’t recommend expanding charter schools in Atlanta “because every expansion of the charter school [sic] would be fewer dollars going to the traditional school district simply because of how we allocate pension.”

Fortunately, Atlanta’s Board of Education rejected such an argument this week and approved a new charter, the Atlanta Classical Academy, which had been in a holding pattern throughout this fight. But the fight...

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A Chicago public school and public library will begin to share space on Thursday, breaking ground for a new “library-within-a-school” model that may be “copied and mimicked all across the city,” according to an enthusiastic Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The Windy City’s schools and libraries have both seen financial troubles in the last couple of years. Library Commissioner Brian Bannon has clarified that proliferation of this model would be about “reducing storefront and leased space” and possibly result in moving libraries, not closing libraries. Gadfly likes efficiency and books—so hat tip!

The school-funding crisis in Philadelphia has reached the boiling point: After Superintendent William Hite issued an ultimatum stating that schools may not open in time if the district does not receive at least $50 million more in funding by Friday, August 16th, Mayor Michael Nutter announced that it would borrow the cash, apparently obviating that eventuality. Now that the district will be able to re-hire some laid-off staff members, the School Reform Commission—Philadelphia’s appointed school board—will vote on whether to suspend portions of state law to grant Hite the flexibility to re-hire for reasons other than seniority. The unions, naturally, are furious, but this appears to be the best possible outcome for students.

This week, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis asked the district’s Board of Education to stop approving new charter schools. The reason: Georgia’s Supreme Court has yet to decide whether Davis can withhold...

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Over the past twenty years, opponents have charged charter schools with further Balkanizing America’s education system. Give parents a choice, the thinking goes, and many will choose homogenous environments for their children. And there’s certainly evidence that charters in some cities tend to be more racially isolated than traditional public schools.

Capital City Public Charter School
Capital City Public Charter School in Washinton, D.C., has achieved a nearly even racial and socioeconomic balance.

    But could charter schools actually be a solution to segregation—particularly as gentrification brings more white and middle-class families to our urban cores? A growing crop of social entrepreneurs thinks so. In cities across the country, educators and parents are starting charters expressly designed for diversity.

    Charter schools have certain advantages. As start-up schools, they can be strategic about locations, picking spots that are well positioned to draw students from different racial and socioeconomic groups. They can design academic programs that take diversity as a given and make the most of it. And they can be thoughtful about putting elements in place to appeal to whites and blacks, Asians and Hispanics, rich and poor.

    Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., was founded in 2000. It’s one of the oldest charter schools with significant racial and socioeconomic diversity. It serves elementary and middle school students from almost every...

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    • New York City mayoral candidates look to Cincinnati Public Schools as an example to improve academic performance and provide students with greater opportunities.
    • Ohio lawmakers set out to repeal Common Core with newly introduced legislation that would repeal the rigorous new academic standards and place limits on student data collection.
    • Summer is cut short for some students as school districts set start dates as early as July to prevent the dreaded summer “learning slide.”
    • Movie star Matt Damon brings school choice into the spotlight. In a recent interview, Damon, an outspoken critic of education reform, admits that he sends his four daughters to a private school.
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    New York made education headlines last week, as its public schools reported substantially lower test scores than in previous years. The cause of the drop? This was the first year that New York administered exams aligned to the Common Core—though these were not the “official” Common Core-aligned exams (PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments). According to Education Week, proficiency rates for English language arts sunk by 24 percentage points, and, for math, proficiency declined by a staggering 34 percentage points. New York’s Commissioner of Education, John King, attempting to reassure the public, remarked that “the changes in scores do not mean that schools have taught less or that students have learned less.”

    In contrast to New York—and earlier, Kentucky—the Buckeye State has not taken the interim step of ratcheting up the rigor of its assessments to prepare its students, educators, and public for the exams aligned to the Common Core. (Ohio is a member of the PARCC consortium of states, which is one of the two organizations that are developing Common Core exams.) And, if the results from New York and Kentucky are a predictor, Ohio should brace itself for a shock, come 2014-15, when the PARCC exams arrive. Similar to the Empire and Bluegrass states, Ohioans should expect sizeable drops in proficiency rates in their local schools and districts, as we forecast in a report last fall.

    Ohio’s implementation of the Common Core in math and English raise the academic expectations for all Ohio students, whether...

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    During my travels on Interstate 70, I have discovered Union Local School District. The district is located near the Ohio-West Virginia border, right at exit 208. Its high school isn’t hard to spot—a boxy two-story building that sits atop a knoll overlooking truck-stop fast food joints and gas stations.

    I’ve learned a bit about Union Local and have come to think of it as a quintessential rural district. It enrolls 1,500 or so students, 99 percent of whom are white. A modest portion of its students are impoverished (42 percent). They play football on Fridays, and last I heard on the radio, a local car dealership donates $20 to the football team, if you test-drive their cars. The school district has a nature trail and an American flag etched into its high school lawn, as a reminder of 9/11.

    Union Local is one of Ohio’s 231 rural districts that together serve 280,000 or so K-12 students—roughly equal the student population of Nebraska. But besides serving truck-stop communities and partnering with mom-and-pop car dealerships, what is known about rural schools? Specifically, what about the academics of Union Local and Ohio’s rural schools? Do they effectively prepare their kids to attend college? Can their graduates compete academically with their brethren from Ohio’s (often, high-powered) suburban districts? Is it likely that their graduates will eventually attain jobs in an increasingly competitive labor market?

    If we start and finish with the state’s academic rating system, we find that nearly all rural districts perform quite...

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