Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: The charter-school quality agenda
J. Petrilli and Tyson
We’ve seen big wins on the charter-school front over the
last two years. Advocates in many states successfully eliminated or raised caps
on new charters (New York, Massachusetts), created new statewide authorizers
(Indiana), and unlocked resources for school facilities (D.C.). Each of these
initiatives should lead to significant growth in the charter sector in the
But expanding the reach of charters is only half of the
equation. Ensuring their quality is
even more important. On this front, state lawmakers should target efforts on
three main policies, and follow the lead of those blazing each trail.
By far the most important thing states can do to promote school
quality is to make sure that charter authorizers—those that charter, oversee,
and, if necessary, shutter charter schools—have the incentives, skills, and
tools to do their jobs well. States with strong authorizers—such as
Massachusetts and New York—tend to boast high-quality charter schools. Those
with lackluster authorizing practices have struggled.
Since the charter movement began, we have learned a great
deal about what is required of effective authorizers (thanks, in part, to the
great work done at the National
Association of Charter School Authorizers and the National
Alliance of Public Charter Schools). These authorizers are responsible, professional
organizations that believe in charters but equally in student achievement. They
have expert staffs. They have sufficient resources (via school fees or a state
appropriation) to play their role competently. And they themselves are held to
account for their performance and that of their schools. For example, the Ohio legislature recently
passed a law that will bar authorizers from opening new schools if their
current schools are particularly low-performing. That’s well worth trying
Which state statutes are particularly strong on charter
Minnesota, the state with the top-ranked charter law for two
years straight, according to the NAPCS, provides a good primer. Authorizers are
able to collect sufficient fees to oversee their charters effectively. Before
sponsoring a charter, the state requires them to undergo a thorough vetting by
the commissioner of education, and then submit to a state review of their
school-evaluation practices every five years. At every step, from initial authorization
to renewal or closure, clear and comprehensive procedures exist for
relationships among state, authorizer, and charter. States that already boast
high-quality authorizers may not need that level of prescription, but for
jurisdictions with legitimate quality concerns, the Land of 10,000 Lakes offers
a strong example.
Expanding the reach of charters is only half of the equation. Ensuring their quality is even more important.
for the Replication of High-Quality Charter Schools
One of the most promising developments of recent years has
been the rise of networks of high-performing charter schools. Policymakers
would be smart to find ways to recruit these networks to their states—and to
encourage the widespread replication of effective models. Here are some things
states might do:
districts to share facilities with high-performing charters.
Ohio allows school districts to include high-performing charter schools’ test
scores in their performance ratings—if they provide facilities to them. A
win-win, this move eases the facilities challenges which often cause
high-quality schools to pass up expansion or replication and offers districts a
boost on their performance rating. Columbus Public Schools, for example, opened
up space to a new KIPP school in part because of this incentive. New York City
was able to lure several top-notch networks to Gotham by providing high-quality
space. Especially when charters are under-funded, access to facilities can be a
real incentive for high-achieving schools to come to town.
a pipeline of talented teachers and leaders.
As successful schools expand, they need access to a pool of great teachers and
leaders in order to continue excelling. Streamlining licensure policies and
recruiting non-traditional teachers from programs like Teach For America or The
New Teacher Project benefit charter and district schools alike.
“smart” caps. If policymakers are determined to
limit the number of charter schools allowed in the state (we’d prefer no
charter caps, but if they must), it’s
important to make exceptions—“smart caps”—for excellent charter schools (from
inside or outside the state) to expand and replicate. In Michigan, this means
that high-performing charters can convert to “schools of excellence” after
meeting rigorous criteria, freeing up slots for authorizers to sponsor new
schools and replicate their success. In Connecticut, charter enrollment is
restricted, but the state board can waive the caps for schools with a track
record of success.
An Academic “Death
Penalty” for Chronically Low-Performing Charter Schools
lawmakers need to get serious about instances of chronic failure in the charter
sector. The fundamental theory of charter schools is that bad schools get fixed
or get closed. Yet we’ve
learned from experience that shuttering a bad charter school is just as
politically challenging as closing a bad district school. If authorizers don’t
have the fortitude or will to address school failure, state law must step do it
(yes, Ohio again) provides a decent model for putting this strict
accountability into practice. Since 2006, Buckeye charter schools in a
persistent state of “academic emergency” (generally for three years) have been
legally subject to automatic closure. This provision has already led to the
shuttering of seventeen charters, with three more scheduled to close in June of
2012. Strict enforcement has coincided with better performance: The Ohio
Department of Education reports that the percentage of charters on the state’s
“Academic Watch” and “Academic Emergency” lists dropped from 64 percent in
2007-08 to 43 percent in 2010-11. That’s still too big a number, of course, but
not as big as before.
sector will never be 100 percent full of great schools. Nor should it be; the
genius of chartering is the chance for innovators to try new approaches and
sometimes fail. What’s critical is to put in place policies that expeditiously
move the failed efforts off the stage and create room for stronger ideas to
take their place. States: Get cracking!
released this piece (in a slightly different form) at the PIE-Network
annual summit. To read other policy briefs from the summit, click here.
Opinion: Statue in a block of marble
E. Finn, Jr. and Kathleen
Science will soon join the short list of K-12 subjects for
which American states, districts, and schools will have the option of using
new, common (aka, “national”) academic standards. Is this a good thing for
American students and teachers—and for the nation’s future? It depends, of
course, on whether the new standards (and ensuing assessments, etc.) are better
than those that states have been devising and deploying on their own.
When those “common” standards are ready, we will review and
evaluate them. In the meantime, we are completing our review of existing state
science standards and planning to publish those evaluations later this year—just
as we did in July 2010 for the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI)
in English language arts and math.
But unlike the Common Core standards, whose authors scoured
the nation and the world for evidence and advice regarding essential content
and rigor in those subjects for the K-12 grades, the drafters of these “next
generation” science standards are beginning with an anchor document—the Framework
for K-12 Science Education that was released by the National Research
Council (NRC) in July 2011.
At this time, we’ve no idea how the common science standards
themselves will turn out. But we can gauge the quality of the framework
that will undergird it. How reliable a guide is that document to the essential
content of K-12 science? And even if it is
solid on content, how good a job does it do of presenting that content in
clear, usable form?
We set out to answer those questions by turning, once
again, to one of America’s most eminent scientists, Paul R. Gross, who has
been a lead reviewer of state and national (and international) science
standards and frameworks for Fordham since 2005.
So what did Dr. Gross find? A lot that’s good and strong,
timely and useful. He gives the document as a whole a more-than-respectable
grade of B-plus and, when it comes to content and rigor alone, he gives it top
marks: seven points out of a possible seven. He terms the Framework “an
impressive policy document, a collective, collaborative work of high quality,
with much to recommend its vision of good standards for the study of science.”
In particular, Dr. Gross finds that the progression of content through the
grades is intelligently cumulative and appropriately rigorous—and not bogged
down by “science appreciation” or “inquiry-based education.”
That’s the good news. But, unfortunately, that’s not the end
of it. Dr. Gross also finds the strong content immersed in much else that could
distract, confuse, and disrupt the priorities of framework users. He finds, in
the Framework’s protracted discussion of “equity and diversity”—especially in
its emphasis on differentiating content and pedagogy—the risk of contradicting
the Framework’s own core mandate, which is to frame the same science
content for all young Americans.
To ensure that the standards this Framework informs don’t end
up suffering from the overreach and sprawl that plague far too many existing
state versions, standards-writers must make some critical decisions about
priorities that were not made by the authors of the Framework itself.
In Dr. Gross’s concluding words, “If the statue within this
sizable block of marble were more deftly hewn, an A grade would be within
reach—and may yet be for the standards-writers, so long as their chisels are
sharp and their arms strong.”
The NRC Science Framework, then, fits into the familiar
category of valuable products that are best used carefully, with due attention
to users manuals, reviewers’ comments, and consumer cautions. Think of a model
train that works beautifully so long as the tracks are properly laid. Picture a
restaurant at which you can eat a terrific meal—nutritious, tasty, balanced,
and economical. If careless, however, you may find yourself neglecting the good
stuff and consuming more than you should of tempting but disappointing fare.
And so we offer this advice to users of the NRC
Framework now and in the future: Select carefully.
News Analysis: A Rocky Mountain low
Keep the money with the kid; it's just good sense
(Photo by Carissa Rogerse)
A series of scathing articles soiled the
pristine robes of digital learning this week, revealing stunningly high
turnover, lamentable academic performance, and negligent oversight among
Colorado’s largest online schools. The investigation by Education News Colorado
and the I-News Network
finds, among other things, that more than half of the Centennial State’s online
students left their virtual schools in favor of local brick-and-mortars during the
2008-09 school year. Yet, though they left mid-year, the per-pupil funding
attached to them stayed with their virtual educators. The Centennial State’s
virtual schools did not commit malfeasance: They followed the letter of the
law. In Colorado, school funding is based on a single “count” day, meaning that
schools receive a set number of funds based on enrollment numbers in October,
irrespective of how many students still attend that school in June. It’s no big
surprise that virtual schools would have high attrition rates—students and
families are trying out a very different model of education, after all—which
makes it even more inexcusable for states to maintain funding systems that
don’t take twenty-first-century realities into account. As digital-learning proponents, we welcome exposés
of this ilk—if only to showcase how antiquated our current system is, and how
it needs to change fast if we’re going to allow innovation to thrive and
|Click to listen to commentary on CO's virtual schools from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
News Analysis: No need to reinvent the wheel
Geez this boulder is heavy; give me a hand!
(Photo by Kris Bradley)
For a bit over a year, the National Council on
Teacher Quality has been engaging in a mammoth undertaking: to dive behind the
Oz-like curtain and collect data on the efficacy and rigor of each and every
one of America’s teacher-preparation programs—difficult not only because of the
size of the dataset but also because of resistance to such data collection.
Slews of education schools have refused to participate in the survey (the
University of Wisconsin, all of Georgia’s public institutions, and New York’s
SUNY system come to mind). But let that be no hindrance to Arne Duncan, who
announced last week a
new federal plan to improve teacher-preparation programs. The initiative
will center upon three axes: The first will support states as they collect data
on training-program quality (based on job placement, a survey of program
graduates, and the value-add that alum contribute to student achievement). The
second will seek to revamp the TEACH grant program, providing scholarships to
strong teacher candidates while also monetarily supporting states that develop
rigorous teacher-training systems. And the last will kick in funds to support
minority-serving institutions. While mending America’s broken teacher-prep
system is an admirable goal, Duncan would be better served by streamlining his
objectives. A proposal: Ditch the monetary incentives attached to the proposed, yet amorphous
“rigorous teacher-training systems.” Instead, condition receipt of these new
federal dollars on a state’s participation in NCTQ’s efforts (they’ve already
pushed this boulder halfway up the hill, and would likely appreciate some
reinforcements)—and the adoption of improved data systems.
|Click to listen to commentary on Duncan's new proposal from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
Review: The Hamilton Project: Promoting K-12 Education to Advance Student Achievement
The Hamilton Project, a Brookings initiative, approaches education as one facet
of economic reform—and produces work with a refreshing attention to the
cost-effectiveness and economic impact of education reforms. See, for
example, a series of papers released last month from some of the most
accomplished scholars in education. UChicago whiz Derek Neal, for instance, proposes
changes to standardized tests—eliminate multiple-choice, vary test formats,
never repeat questions from previous years—that can boost student achievement.
Jonah Rockoff and Brian Jacob use cost-benefit analyses to argue convincingly
for later school start times, more K-8 schools, and increased teacher content specialization,
particularly for young teachers. The most ambitious paper, by the Harvard team
of Bradley Allen and MacArthur genius Roland Fryer, navigates what works and
what doesn’t with incentive programs. The duo concede that incentives for
teachers and outcomes have poor track records, but still lobby hard for carefully designed rewards for student
behaviors that can affect higher performance: Kids should get paid—and paid
well—for reading books, not acing tests. Give these papers a look.
Adam Looney, Michael Greenstone, and Paige Shevlin, “Improving
Student Outcomes: Improving America’s Education Potential,” (Washington,
D.C.: The Hamilton Project at Brookings, September 2011).
Derek Neal, “New
Assessments for Improved Accountability,” (Washington, D.C.: The Hamilton
Project at Brookings, September 2011).
Brian A. Jacob and Jonah E.
Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and
Teacher Assignments,” (Washington, D.C.: The Hamilton Project at Brookings,
Bradley M. Allen and Roland Fryer, Jr., “The
Powers and Pitfalls of Education Incentives,” (Washington, D.C.: The
Hamilton Project at Brookings, September 2011).
Review: Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice
off his September 2010 report on out-of-school suspensions in middle schools,
this policy brief from UCLA Civil Rights Project analyst Daniel Losen asserts
that minority students are being over-punished when compared with their white
peers. The data that he reports are jarring: According to the federal Office of
Civil Rights, the rate of suspensions has been increasing since the 1970s,
dramatically so for minority students. During the 1972-73 school year, 3
percent of white students and 6 percent of black students were assigned an
out-of-school suspension. In 2006-07, the percentage of suspended white
students ticked up two points while that of suspended blacks more than doubled
(to 15 percent). What’s impossible to know from these data, however, is whether
the punishments are warranted. Is racism at play here, or are minority students
more likely to break the rules? (Is it a little bit of both?) One can readily
agree with Losen’s implicit conclusion: More data are needed to understand
what’s really going on.
Review: Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K-12 Future
This paper marks one of the final breaths of the
big Pew initiative to expand universal pre-K. (Pew’s Pre-K Now campaign will
cease operations at year’s end after a decade of work and more than $10
million pumped into early-ed advocacy.) But a grand breath it is. After much
throat-clearing about the benefits of early childhood education, the authors
introduce a hefty list of state and federal policy recommendations to ensure
expansion of pre-K programs going forward: Pre-K standards must be added to the
Common Core, assessments must be developed for the early grades, and education
schools must incorporate child development in all teacher-prep programs. Of
course, we’ve long
questioned the efficacy and financial feasibility of expanding publicly funded
preschool programs to all of America’s tots rather than targeting it to the
neediest among them. So, while some may wax nostalgic with this passing of
Pre-K Now, we aren’t sad to welcome Pre-K Yesterday.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Amber changes her name to Waterfall
Janie and Daniela go two-for-two. This week they
unpack Duncan’s teacher-prep plan, quality control in digital learning, and the
parallels between football and education. Amber boots out ineffective teachers
and Chris calls out of turn.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: Teacher quality—know it when you see it?
We can’t improve the quality of our nation’s
educators or teacher-training programs without a serious dialogue around what
good teaching looks like, especially for the most at-risk students for whom
excellent teaching is most vital. Further, policies must be structured in ways
that tease out the attributes and skills of excellent educators and identify
and develop these in less effective teachers.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: AMO non-enforcement: Easy Flex vs. ESEA flex?
By Christy Wolfe
I wrote about how, instead of a complicated waiver process, the Department of
Education should simply consider not enforcing some of the most contentious
NCLB policies, such as the requirement to reach 100 percent proficiency by
2014. For example, the Department could “issue a statement that, as a ‘matter
of policy’ it will allow states to freeze their AYP annual measurable
objectives (AMOs) for one year or so, or perhaps until reauthorization, without
creating huge hoops to jump through to get that flexibility.”
On Tuesday, the Department did just that. Well, it
ignored that part about not creating a complicated waiver process.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Briefly Noted: Broader. Not necessarily bolder.
- Tennessee’s new “diploma project,” which
requires students to earn two additional core credits in high school, isn’t
playing out quite as expected. To comply with the mandate, Montgomery
County is adding a class period to the school day—by shortening all other
classes eleven minutes. There’s a phrase for this: Putting old moonshine in new
words are tossed around like Frisbees in the eduwonk world. But what do terms
like “twenty-first-century skills” and “next generation learning” actually
a recent paper, Parthenon comes to the rescue with answers on how to define
the latter—and how to bring this new-style learning to scale.
trip to Byron, Minnesota anyone? The town’s senior high school recently
combined two of Gadfly’s favorite edu-initiatives: When the school realized
its textbooks didn’t align with the North Star State’s math standards—but that
it didn’t have the funds to purchase new books—its teachers scoured the
Internet for free web-based curricula, creating their own virtual textbooks.
Productive innovation and school-level autonomy? Count it.
week in the Atlantic, Kevin Carey proposed
a match.com-type program for college placements. We’ll see your proposal,
Kevin, and raise you another: Why not extend that down to secondary education?
Parents navigating choice-rich districts or the complicated digital-learning
table would be all in.
elephant in the room has finally been named. After a decade of ado over the
achievement gap, smart folks are finally weighing in on whether top-performers
are getting short shrift. Check out the latest
New York Times “Room for Debate”
for more. Or come to Fordham on October 17.
Last Sunday, George Will laid
down a doozey of an op-ed, stomping all over Arne Duncan’s “waiver” plan.
“The expansion of federal power [something we’ve been doing since Taft]
inevitably expands executive discretion that marginalizes Congress.” Those who
forget (or ignore or choose not to heed) the past…
Announcement: The other achievement gap
America’s laser-like focus on decreasing the
achievement gap has recently come into question. In this grand pursuit, are we,
in fact, leaving our highest-performing students behind? If so, what will this
mean for our future international competitiveness? Join Fordham and a panel of
experts—including Frederick Hess, Joshua McGee, Ulrich Boser, and John
Cronin—as we tackle these questions on October 17 from 4:00 to 5:30PM. Stay
tuned for the official event announcement, which will tell you how to register.
Featured Fordham Publication: Are Bad Schools Immortal? The Scarcity of Turnarounds and Shutdowns in Both Charter and District Sectors
This study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
finds that low-performing public schools—both charter and traditional district
schools—are stubbornly resistant to significant change. After identifying more
than 2,000 low-performing charter and district schools across ten states,
analyst David Stuit tracked them from 2003-04 through 2008-09 to determine how
many turned around, shut down, or remained low-performing. Results were
generally dismal. Seventy-two percent of the original low-performing charters
remained in operation—and remained low-performing—five years later. So did 80
percent of district schools. Read
on to learn more—including results from the ten states.