Charters & Choice

OhioFlypaper

By guest blogger and Fordham's Director of Charter School Sponsorship Kathryn Mullen Upton

The Columbus Dispatch writes today that "the truth about Columbus middle schools is brutal." More than 70 percent of the district's middle schools are rated "D" or "F" by the state and none of them met federal Adequate Yearly Progress targets.

A bright spot in this urban education landscape is the new Columbus Collegiate Academy (which the Fordham Foundation authorizes ). In 2008-09 (the school's first year), CCA was the highest performing middle school in Columbus. Of its inaugural class of sixth graders, most of who were performing well below grade level when school started in August 2008, 74 percent met reading proficiency and 82 percent met math proficiency on the state achievement tests. These are amazing results, especially for a first year start-up, ??and are not an aberration: NWEA MAP data (a nationally-norm referenced assessment) corroborate CCA's stellar state test results. (You can watch a video about Columbus Collegiate Academy's first official day of school in 2009.)

But it's been a brutal ride for CCA and other start-up charter schools in Ohio, including the Buckeye State's first KIPP school, KIPP Journey Academy (which is also authorized by Fordham). On top of the usual charter school start-up challenges, both CCA and KIPP have faced serious external challenges.

Ohio's charter schools only receive about 70 percent of the funding of district schools, yet the governor and House Democrats...

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This conversation about churches authorizing charter schools has raised my hackles. Not because it deals with religious organizations overseeing public schools and ensuring that public dollars are spent well (a conversation absolutely worth having), but because the conversation is happening in Ohio, where we already have too many charter school authorizers (70+ sponsors serving about 310 schools) - especially if the goal of authorizing is to birth and oversee great schools.

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has been sponsoring (as authorizing is called here) charter schools in the Buckeye State since 2005, and as such we have learned a ton about the business. First and foremost, that providing high-quality oversight of public charter schools is costly and time-consuming, and this is if things go well. Being a sponsor in Ohio means not only holding schools accountable for their results (and ultimately making life or death decisions about schools), but also helping schools navigate a myriad of regulatory and legal issues.

Our base sponsorship agreement with schools is more than 30 pages long - and this doesn't include dozens of pages of attachments - and deals with issues ranging from responsibilities of parties to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004. Quality sponsorship requires serious legal expertise.

In Ohio, many sponsors make their economics work by not only sponsoring schools (for this you can charge up...

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I'll take??Emmy's bait. I have no objection to churches working as authorizers, if they can do it well. Many of course run schools themselves-and some good ones, ones that we (Fordham) have been urging ed reformers to find ways to support and sustain. I haven't read Brookwood's application, so all I know is what google serves up, which includes this nice story about the church's work serving 54 special ed students "in grades seven through 12, including those with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and/or an autistic diagnosis." It certainly sounds like they're "education oriented," contrary to ODE, and (perhaps) that they've had some success.

So to me the question isn't whether they're a church, a tutoring program, a university, or a nonprofit think tank-it's simply whether they have the competence and the commitment to hold charter schools to a high standard, educationally, fiscally, and organizationally. I think ODE needs to have high standards for its authorizers, but it's distressing, if true, that Brookwood was rejected not on any of those grounds, but because they're a church.

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A central Ohio church has appealed the Ohio Department of Education's denial of its application to become a charter school authorizer (more on the story here, subscription required):

Brookwood [Presbyterian Church], doing business as Brookwood Community Learning Center, submitted a 49-page application to the ODE in November 2007 for approval as a charter school sponsor.

The church said that instead of reviewing application materials, the ODE determined that "neither the national Presbyterian church nor Brookwood Presbyterian Church is eligible to apply to become a sponsor" because they are not "education oriented" entities as required under state law.

"Despite the fact that nothing in the Ohio Revised Code prohibits a religious organization as such from ... being approved as a sponsor of community schools in Ohio, ODE's decision made it clear that the applicant's status as a church alone was a disqualifying fact in the eyes of ODE: 'also please know that no church has been approved as a sponsor,'" the church told justices.

It is true that no churches serve as authorizers in Ohio, but church-related organizations are certainly active in the charter sector with the knowledge and approval of the state.????Educational Resource Consultants of Ohio (ERCO) authorizes more than twenty charter schools in the Buckeye State.???? It was founded by Christ Tabernacle Ministries and the church still retains the rights to ERCO's trade name.???? Another state-approved authorizer, St. Aloysius Orphanage, oversees more than 30 schools and has deep roots...

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While we at Fordham view the results of the much talked about Hoxby charter study as encouraging and a good rebuttal to charter critics, here's a reminder of the antagonism toward charters in Ohio.??

In this week's Ohio Education Gadfly, we critiqued a report that called for a "scaling back" of charters in Ohio (by Policy Matters, a union-backed organization). Namely, it made broad claims that charters get an unfair "head start" despite using kindergarten test scores that the Ohio Department of Education itself says "do NOT measure school readiness." Also, the report cited literature that charters perform worse than district schools (we pointed out that it failed to mention Hoxby's report disproving claims that charters steal the better students) and didn't distinguish between Ohio cities where charters are doing well and where they are doing poorly.

The author responded quickly to our post, arguing that higher kindergarten test scores among Ohio charter students (despite the fact that not all charters serve kindergarteners) is evidence of cream-skimming and that charters are not reaching Ohio's hardest-to-education children. He also criticizes Fordham for being an "outspoken charter advocate" and says that current charter policy in Ohio "weakens efforts to create a stronger system." And apparently Hoxby's critique wasn't relevant to mention because she studied students in another state. Instead of trying to ask broad questions about how/why New York has a successful climate for charters - the author prefers the easier (and more politically popular) suggestion...

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Eric Ulas

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is a charter-school authorizer in our home state of Ohio and we currently oversee six schools in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Springfield.??In the Buckeye State, academic performance of schools is gauged by both student proficiency rates and progress (using a "value-added " measure).??Schools are expected to help students make one year or more of academic progress annually and are given a value-added ranking of "below," "met," or "above" corresponding with how much growth their students made. We're proud of the academic progress our schools made last year compared to their district and charter peers. The following chart shows the percent of students in schools by "value-added" rating for Fordham-authorized schools, the home districts in which they are located, and charter schools in the state's eight major urban areas.

Percent of Students in Fordham-authorized Schools, Home Districts, and "Big 8" Charter Schools by Value-Added Rating, 2008-09

Source: Ohio Department of Education interactive Local Report Card

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We commented on the new British Tory plan for education in last week's Gadfly. With Labor falling out of favor, it looks like the May 2010 election will swing in the conservative's favor and at the heart of the conservative education platform is a "radical" new plan to allow independently-operated publically-funded schools. (We, of course, call these charter schools.) But whether or not the idea will work is really dependent on the abilities of the Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families: Michael Gove. He's a wiry professorial MP with a non-Etonian pedigree (a rarity for Parliament conservatives) whose kids carpool with David Cameron's. This excellent Times UK piece has more.

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Yesterday in his column, Jay Mathews asks a question that plagues many of us:

"How do parents evaluate the schools their children may attend and escape the heartbreak of buying a great house that turns out to be in the attendance zone of a flawed school?"

Mathews proceeds to list "10 Ways to Pick the Right School," - suggestions like do your research, visit the school, check performance data, etc. But at least one resident of Columbus, Ohio, has come up with his own solution to avoid putting his kids in low-performing schools-- buy a $1 million dollar home in the city, rent a small apartment in a neighboring excellent school district and send your kids there, then sue the school district and the state superintendent when they try to stop you.

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Today's Education Gadfly and Wall Street Journal editorial both capture the most important news about Caroline Hoxby's well-publicized study on NYC charters ??? she rebuts the argument that charters' success rests on ???creaming??? the best students from district schools.

As the WSJ tells it:

The study nullifies any self-selection bias by comparing students who attend charters only with those who applied for admission through the lottery, but did not get in. "Lottery-based studies," notes Ms. Hoxby, "are scientific and more reliable."

In other words, she compares charter versus district school students without the worry that charter students are somehow different, not just demographically or academically, but because their parents may be more concerned about their educations (as evidenced by their choosing a charter). The comparison students/parents made that same choice, and they fared worse when left in a district school.

That's a pretty good rebuttal to charter critics like Richard Rothstein and Lawrence Mishel , who have argued (in part) that KIPP's success is over-stated because parents there are more motivated. (Rothstein has also argued that charters may not work well for kids whose parents are simply not motivated???Hoxby's analysis can't address that question.)

Yet Jonathan Gyurko (who certainly supports NYC charters) thoughtfully points out that it's not a perfect rebuttal. Hoxby herself suggests charters may indeed be getting better students (because the rejected students subsequently did relatively well in district schools, even if not as well as they would have...

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State Superintendent of??Louisiana??Paul Pastorek says the state will retain control of RSD for at least a few more years--and maybe forever. In a recent poll conducted in New Orleans, schools were found to be the number one improvement area in a pre- and post- Katrina comparison. It seems the state and people of New Orleans are wary of re-entrusting their schools to the New Orleans Parish School Board, especially in the wake of this improvement (and the Board's terrible history). State takeovers used to be a temporary relief tactic, reserved only for the most wayward of districts, and implemented only long enough to get the troublesome municipality back on the right track. Will Louisiana blaze yet another trail and implement permanent state control over the city of New Orleans? And will other states, perhaps with cities that need a Katrina-esque "do-over" (like Michigan's Detroit), follow suit?

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