Charters & Choice

Ever since their creation two decades ago, charter schools have been defined by three fundamental?if somewhat contradictory?ideas: accountability for results, school-level autonomy, and meaningful parental choice. That the charter notion has stood the test of time is a testament to the power of these three ideas. Charter schools remain at the center of the school reform conversation because they are the node that connects these disparate reform instincts with one another.

Consider parental choice. When charter schools were first proposed, back in the early 1990s, fervor for ?school choice? was running high. Milwaukee had just created the nation's first large-scale voucher program, and prominent scholars (like John Chubb and Terry Moe) and politicians (like Lamar Alexander) were calling for many more. But private school vouchers raised the specter of public support for religious schools; charters offered a secular alternative.

[pullquote]The debate is not whether parents should have choices but how broad those choices should be.[/pullquote]

Demand for ?autonomy? was reaching fever pitch, too. This was the era of ?reinventing government,? of Chicago's ?local school councils,? of enthusiasm for decentralization and ?site-based management.? Reformers saw stifling bureaucracies and hidebound teacher union contracts as anathema to the breakthrough innovations they craved. They viewed the magnet schools of the 1970s and 80s as a step in the right direction?at least in terms of offering parents distinct choices?but as far too timid in tackling the underlying malaise of ?the system.? At the least, charter schools would offer educators the chance to...

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OhioFlypaper

The bickering between the Baltimore Teachers Union and the KIPP charter network involving overtime pay for teachers in two KIPP schools has come to a close.? Education Week reported earlier this week that KIPP officials and the Baltimore Teachers Union were in conflict over the pay that teachers receive for working hours beyond the normal school day.? The BTU has negotiated agreements with the Baltimore city school district outlining provisions on how to compensate teachers who work overtime.? The problem, however, was that KIPP could not afford to pay their teachers the amount outlined in the provision since every teacher works over time every week ? and this is part of what makes their model successful.? Last year KIPP and the BTU negotiated an agreement that allowed them to pay their teachers only 20.5 percent of the overtime amount in the union contract.?

The BTU criticized KIPP for making public threats that they would have to shut down their schools if an agreement could not be reached rather than negotiating their concerns with the union.? KIPP tried to bypass the union through lobbying the state legislature to amend existing laws involving teaching contracts. The BTU and KIPP recently have come to a ten-year agreement that will pay teachers 20 percent of the overtime amount outlined in the union contract. Jay Matthews has been closely following the situation on his Class Struggle blog, and he reported that an agreement had been reached on Thursday.

I applaud the...

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A big congratulations to KIPP Journey Academy students McKeala Hudson and Michael Robinson, who were recently accepted into the KIPP STEP Summer Program at Deerfield Academy! Yes, that Deerfield Academy ? the prestigious prep school in Massachusetts whose students consistently populate the campuses of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.

The students are examples of the remarkable results that KIPP, which primarily serves economically disadvantaged students, has produced since it opened its doors in 2008. (Fordham authorizes KIPP Journey, Ohio's first and only KIPP school.) Already its students are scoring higher than the district average on the state mathematics assessment and higher than the state-wide community school average on the state science assessment. The STEP program is taught by a team of KIPP and Deerfield teachers, and includes three weeks of fully paid Deerfield courses focused on science and language arts.

After being accepted to the STEP program, McKeala and Michael each wrote an essay about their life goals and reasons for applying to the program. McKeala writes:

My goal is to become a News Reporter, to go to college at Spellman or the University of North Carolina (UNC), and to go to Columbus Academy for high school. I also want and to meet new teachers so they can inform me about how to be a better person. I will take this Deerfield experience as an honor since I am learning new...

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Yesterday Fordham's Kathryn Mullen Upton, director of charter school sponsorship for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, testified before the Ohio Senate Education Committee in support of SB 86.

The bill would enable the creation of a charter school that would ?serve adults of school age who are incarcerated or who have been released from the custody of the Department of Youth Services? (Gongwer News Service ? subscription required). The proposed school would be called WinWin Academy and would serve youths ages 18-22, and initially would be located at the Pickaway Correctional Institution. A second campus would open at the Ohio Reformatory for Women. Unlike current educational arrangements for incarcerated youth, the charter school/s would continue serving students after their release from prison and thus would provide continuity and assist them in their transition back to society.

In her testimony, Kathryn noted that:

While there are other programs that provide incarcerated persons the opportunity to complete basic courses and earn a GED or diploma, WinWin Academy stands alone in that it provides educational and mentoring continuity to students during the critical time when they leave prison and attempt to re-enter society.

The proposed model for WinWin Academy is exactly the kind of innovative educational program that Ohio's charter school mechanism was designed to incubate, and, if successful, help replicate. Ohio's charter school program is almost 15 years old and during that time it seems that there has been a shift away from conceptualizing and implementing something

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The New York Times is on a roll with its education coverage, today reporting on everything from Obama in Boston to Rick Scott in Florida and rich schools in Bronxville.? And though I got slapped on the wrist yesterday by John Thompson for tweaking the purveyor of ?the best journalism in the world,? it is precisely because they are the best (according to Thompson, of course) that we watch them ? and, occasionally, critique them.

Florida Moves Teacher Bill Forward. It looks like new Sunshine state governor Rick Scott will right the wrong of his predecessor Charlie Crist, who vetoed a pioneering teacher evaluation reform bill last year ? what Andy Smarick called ?the most disappointing education policy decision by a major Republican officeholder in recent memory.?? The revived and revised bill, introduced by Florida legislator Erik Fresen, would link teacher evaluations to student performance, put new teachers on one-year contracts, and institute an evaluation system that would determine raises and firings. ??We are under siege,? the head of one teacher union told the Times. Yup. And it may be time for besieged teacher unions to start thinking of the besieged students who can't read or write.

A Merger in Memphis.? Voters in Memphis decided by a large margin on Tuesday to hand over the reins of their ?103,000-student public school system to their smaller -- ?47,000 students ? suburban neighbor in Shelby County, ?effectively,? as the Times reports, ?putting an end to...

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Columbus Collegiate Academy, a Fordham-authorized charter school in one of Columbus's poorest neighborhoods (Weinland Park), has just been awarded the Gold-Gain EPIC award by New Leaders for New Schools for dramatic gains in student achievement.?

This award is an incredible accomplishment on the part of CCA school leader Andy Boy and his dedicated staff. Only four charter schools in the entire country earned the Gold award. CCA won EPIC's silver award last year ? and was the only charter school in the whole state of Ohio to win. The school's ability to continue making tremendous gains with students ? 94 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged ? propelled it into the very top tier for student growth, among the ranks of some of the most impressive charter schools in the country.

CCA Executive Director and Founder Andy Boy explained the school's keys to success in a press release:

We are so proud of our students and staff.? Our teachers and staff share the belief that all students can and will learn when provided the right environment for academic success.? Through high expectations, a structured school day, and an uncompromising focus on academics our students are outpacing students from around the country.

Kathryn Mullen Upton, director of charter school sponsorship at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, noted:

We are thrilled that Columbus Collegiate Academy is a 2011 EPIC Gold Gain School. This award recognizes the exceptional quality of the academic program at Columbus Collegiate, the

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That's the title of my new story in Education Next, about an experiment to take a successful religious school education model to the public sector. The subtitle of the story sums it up nicely:? ?How the Christian Brothers came to start two charter schools in Chicago.?

Let the walls come tumbling down!

Not so fast.? I have been writing about Catholic schools for a while ? see my 2007 Ed Next story Can Catholic Schools Be Saved?, Fordham's 2008 report, Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools??,?and in Flypaper?-- and had not encountered anything quite like what these education reformers were attempting in the Windy City. These are not Catholic schools -- well, not in the traditional sense.

It started almost ten years ago when Arne Duncan, then the head of Chicago Public Schools, asked the famed, 320-year-old Catholic order, which operates thousands of schools in 80 different countries, including dozens in the U.S., to start a charter school.? Duncan had visited the Brothers' two San Miguel middle schools, which the?order?operated on the city's poor Westside, and said, ?We can do this.??

How they did it is a fascinating tale of grit and determination,?about a committed group of Catholics who gave up their icons, statues, prayers, and catechism, ran a gauntlet of church/state hurdles, partnered with a Baptist congregation in one location and weathered an angry black community in another location ? and are now educating hundreds of Chicago's poorest public school...

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More bad news for charters in DC ? according to the Post's Bill Turque, Mayor Vincent Gray will hold the city's Uniform Per Student Funding Formula constant and cut the facilities allowance to public charter schools by $200 a head in order to help close a budget gap of over half a billion dollars.

Of course, school funding in Washington is far from "uniform." Retirement funding for DCPS teachers falls outside the formula, the city spends hundreds more per student on capital projects for traditional public schools than the $2,800 per student available to charters, and DCPS receives revenue from other city agencies outside the formula. Last year's Ball State study of charter school funding assessed the gap between DCPS and the charter sector in DC at over $12,000 per student in the 2006-07 school year.

Despite this sizable funding gap, the District's charter schools have performed at least as well as traditional district schools, with several star charter operators doing much better. They're doing more with a lot less and should be encouraged both for the choices they provide to parents here and for their admirable efficiency. Instead, Mayor Gray has decided it's "fair" to cut support for highly efficient schools of choice as much or more than support for less efficient district schools. That seems like a missed opportunity to save money in the long run and drive better outcomes for kids.

?Chris Tessone...

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