A Bi-weekly Bulletin of News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 1, Number 44. October 31, 2007
Issue On the Web
Past Issues On the Web
News & Analysis
district graduation rates deserve closer look
A version of this analysis appeared October 28, 2007, as an op-ed in the Dayton Daily News (see here).
Charter schools in Ohio are the black sheep of public education. The governor made clear he doesn't like them with his inaugural state budget that sought to wipe out charters by loading on new regulations and cutting funding. Using an oddball legal strategy, the state attorney general has filed lawsuits to close three charters in Dayton and he promises action against as many as 30 others. Charter schools are badmouthed by many district officials and blamed for the financial woes facing urban school districts. Teacher unions spend much time and money plotting the demise of these schools and applauding any setbacks they face.
So, when evidence emerges that charters have actually helped districts and benefited needy students, it is not surprising that this news goes largely unreported. But this is exactly what has happened when it comes to rising graduation rates in urban school districts. Charters have played a critical role in helping some urban districts improve their high school graduation rates. Consider the numbers.
Dropout recovery charter schools
first opened in the Buckeye State in the 1999-2000 school year. These schools
serve students aged 16 to 22 who have dropped out of high school or are at risk
of dropping out. When a student enrolls in one of these dropout recovery schools,
that student is not considered a "dropout" in his/her home district.
City by city, enrollment in dropout recovery charter schools can be significant. In Dayton, for example, 920 students attended these schools in 2005-2006, a number equivalent to 29.2 percent of the district's 10th-12th grade enrollment that year. (To put this number in perspective, the 2005-2006 enrollment in Cleveland dropout recovery charter schools was equivalent to 14 percent of that district's 10th-12th grade enrollment; in Cincinnati it was 10.9 percent; in Columbus it was 1.8 percent.) It cannot be assumed that all of those students would otherwise have been enrolled in or dropped out of Dayton Public Schools. However, it is hard to deny that the district's graduation rate benefited mightily from these students having an education choice besides quitting a DPS school.
There are also trends between improved graduation rates and increased enrollment in dropout recovery charter schools. Enrollment in such schools in Dayton increased from 150 students in 2000-2001 to 920 students in 2005-2006. During that time, the district's graduation rate rose from 51.1 percent to 79.5 percent. From 2000-2001 to 2004-2005, Cleveland Municipal Schools' graduation rate increased from 36.1 percent to 51.8 percent just as enrollment in Cleveland dropout recovery charter schools jumped from 322 students to 1,889 students. In the Queen City, the district's graduation rate improved from 57.6 percent in 2000-2001 to 77 percent in 2004-2005; during that time, enrollment in dropout recovery charter schools in Cincinnati increased from 313 students to 1,024 students.
Smart school district officials know the benefits of education choices. Not surprisingly, a growing number of Ohio districts have welcomed dropout recovery schools, either as in-house programs (see here) or district-sponsored charters (see here). Last December, the Columbus Public Schools Education Foundation announced a $2 million matching grant from Limited Brands to provide for innovative educational programs, activities, and projects that the district's traditional school funding cannot afford. The first idea put forth by the foundation chairwoman and the district superintendent was a dropout recovery program modeled after the ISUS Institutes in Dayton (see here).
During this school board election season, when candidates pander to teacher unions by complaining about charter schools, it is important to remember the positive impact of charters on young people who are at risk of leaving school altogether. Dropout recovery schools take on the most at-risk students who have not been successful in traditional district schools. These students are prime candidates for dropping out and, thus, negatively impacting the district's dropout and graduation rates.
Districts officials should acknowledge the work and contribution of these schools and support the successful ones.
See also: "Study of nation's high schools: Columbus on list of 'drop-out factories'" from the October 30, 2007, Columbus Dispatch.
By Emmy L. Partin, Terry Ryan
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new world: Right and left flip-flop on testing
This commentary originally appeared in slightly different form in the October 21, 2007, Washington Times.
A decade ago, when President Bill
Clinton's "voluntary national test" proposal was crashing on the rocky shores
of a Republican-controlled Congress, scholar Chester E. Finn, Jr. quipped that
national testing was doomed because conservatives hate "national" and liberals
That may have been true then, but it doesn't appear true now. Consider the results of a recent national survey by Education Next, a journal published by Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Among other things, it asked a representative sample of 2,000 Americans, "Under No Child Left Behind, should there be a single national standard and a single national test for all students in the United States? Or do you think that there should be different standards and tests in different states?"
It wasn't even close; national testing
won by a landslide. A whopping 73 percent of respondents wanted a single test
(a Fordham Institute survey in early 2007 showed 57 percent of Ohioans want
a single national test, see here).
What's even more surprising, though, is that Republicans were more likely to
support this idea than Democrats--77 percent to 69 percent. As for ideology,
those self-identifying as "extremely conservative" were by far the
most enthusiastic about national testing: an incredible 88 percent of these
adults voiced their support, versus 64 percent of liberals.
National testing has become a conservative position. Yet the conventional wisdom in Washington is that national testing is a "third rail"--too hot for any politician to touch, especially because of conservative and Republican resistance. A staffer for liberal icon Sen. Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate education committee, told me the idea was "like vouchers," i.e., radioactive. Why are their perceptions and these poll numbers so far apart?
To be sure, there's a certain brand of traditionalist conservative activists who abhor national testing, such as Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum. She managed to derail Mr. Clinton's national testing proposal and would no doubt try to do it again. And support among conservatives would drop precipitously were the federal government put in charge of setting the national standards and tests--or if the move signaled greater federal control over local schools.
But the idea of setting a "single standard" clearly appeals to conservatives. After all, setting different standards for different people--think affirmative action, for instance--is an idea most associated with the Left.
And it's not a moment too soon to set such a single standard. Consider the findings of The Proficiency Illusion, a study published this month by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association. It found the difficulty of tests used to gauge student proficiency in reading and math under the No Child Left Behind act varies wildly from state to state, with some passing scores set at the sixth percentile and others set at the 77th.
This has real-world implications in classrooms. In Wisconsin, for instance, fourth graders have to demonstrate no more than a minimal reading ability in order to be considered "proficient," while their peers in Massachusetts have to decipher texts as tough as Tolstoy. Which "standard" do you think will result in a stronger education? And why should Milwaukee youngsters suffer because Badger State bureaucrats hold such low expectations for them?
As Congress updates the No Child Left Behind act this fall, lawmakers from both parties should embrace a common-sense approach to national testing. They should stop allowing each state to set its standards willy-nilly and remove the Fantasyland provision that 100 percent of schoolchildren reach "proficiency" by 2014.
Just as important, Washington should resist the urge to set the national standards and tests. Instead, Congress (or presidential candidates) should call on the nation's governors to come together, form a commission to set rigorous expectations for all students, and agree on a "single standard" for the nation as a whole. Republicans, especially, ought to get cracking; their "extremely conservative" base is waiting.
By Michael J. Petrilli
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News & Analysis
best school systems look for the best and brightest to teach
The Ohio teacher misconduct scandal is moving forward in predictable ways with the governor and the General Assembly scrambling to do something, the state teachers unions asking them not to go too far, and the Ohio Department of Education and various local school boards looking befuddled at best.
Once the state resolves the current mess over tracking teacher child molesters, however, we need to learn a lot more about the other 99.99 percent of the Buckeye State's 150,000+ teachers. For example, exactly how well do they teach? How much do they actually affect their students' learning? We've got no real quantifiable evidence in Ohio to answer these questions. But, we know that teachers are the key to a better education system, a goal that seems to have eluded the educational policy in most industrialized countries, according to a new survey searching for common threads in the world's most effective school systems.
The British publication The Economist (see here) reports on a new survey by McKinsey & Company, an internationally renowned consulting group, that examines top-of-the-heap school systems like those in Canada, Finland, Singapore, and South Korea. McKinsey reports schools in these countries do three things right: attract the best and brightest into teaching, get the best out of teachers, and intervene when students start falling behind. This isn't rocket science but most of the world's school systems don't do it. Studies in Tennessee and Dallas, according to The Economist, also have shown that teacher quality is the most significant school factor on student learning.
The world's top-performing education systems do not necessarily pay teachers gobs of money, but they make sure teaching is seen as a high-status profession. That enables South Korea to recruit primary-school teachers from the top 5 percent of graduates, Singapore and Hong Kong from the top 30 percent. Contrast this to the United States where teachers often come from the bottom third of college graduates.
Countries with top education systems also intensely train teachers after they're hired. Singapore provides 100 hours of training a year. Senior teachers oversee professional development in each school. In Japan and Finland, groups of teachers visit each others' classrooms and plan lessons together. This idea is taking root in the United States. Teachers in Boston schools arrange class schedules so teachers of the same subjects have free time for common planning. In Ohio, the same idea is used in the Granville schools in Licking County, among other districts.
And, according to McKinsey, in the most successful countries teachers intervene early when students look like they're in trouble. Finland has as many as one teacher in seven providing remedial help in some schools. A third of the pupils may get one-on-one lessons, according to The Economist.
McKinsey's conclusions are optimistic: "getting good teachers depends on how you select and train them; teaching can become a career choice for top graduates without paying a fortune; and that with the right policies, schools and pupils are not doomed to lag behind."
By Michael B. Lafferty
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continue to beat feet to charter schools
Ohioans continue to vote for charter schools with their feet. Ohio had 76,500 students--4 percent of the state's public school population and the sixth-largest number in nation--enrolled in charter schools, according to the latest rankings from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (see here).
Note: the Ohio Department of Education counts a few more students--76,966 last year and 77,223 in the current school year. Both figures compare with about 60,000 students just two years ago.
The first charter school opened its doors in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1992 and this year about 1.2 million students are enrolled in 4,200 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia. That is up from 1.16 million in about 3,900 schools in the 2006-2007 school year.
Five Ohio cities made the top-10 list of cities with the highest charter-school enrollment. Those cities, with enrollment percentages, are Dayton (27 percent), Youngstown (23 percent), Toledo (18 percent), Cleveland and Cincinnati (17 percent), and Columbus (13 percent).
Enrollment has grown rapidly and reports this year of violence in Cleveland and Toledo and among rival students at Columbus high schools don't help parental unease with public district schools. In Columbus, an estimated 4 percent of public school students attended charters just four years ago.
In Cincinnati, however, school leaders
indicate that, while public schools continue to lose students, the drop is not
as fast as in previous years because of a leveling off of students moving to
charters (see here).
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported public district school enrollment
of 34,796 students, down 2 percent from the preceding year but less than the
3 percent annual average decline since 2001. This doesn't come as a surprise
considering Ohio has a cap on the start-up of new charter schools.
Nationally, New Orleans led the nation with 57 percent of its students enrolled in charter schools, while Dayton, Southfield, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., tied for second. In Dayton, about 6,000 students are enrolled in charter schools, compared to 16,000 in the district.
Other key findings from the report: 32 percent of the respondents reported mandating increased instructional time over their public district contemporaries. And, among reporting charter schools, the average per-pupil cost was $7,155 and the average revenue per-pupil was $6,585, forcing charters to raise funds to bridge the gap. That compares with an average per-student expenditure for district schools in fiscal year 2004 of $8,310 and revenue of $9,518.
By Michael B. Lafferty
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the Milwaukee Public Schools: the Limits of Parent-driven Reform
Wisconsin Policy Research Institute
Two findings in a new report commissioned by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute probably will not--sadly--come as much of a surprise: 1) many parents just aren't that engaged in their children's education, for reasons ranging from illness and job demands to lack of literacy skills and just plain apathy, and 2) parents who utilize school choice in urban areas usually do so for reasons other than academics. A third finding is more unexpected: parental involvement has not driven the substantive education reform that many had hoped for and the capacity for parent-driven reform is more limited than previously predicted, at least in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) district.
The study by David Dodenhoff included parents who exercised choice to select a school within Milwaukee Public Schools or a neighboring public district, not parents who select charter schools or use vouchers for private school. Although parent-driven reform did not produce the expected academic results, Dodenhoff does not call for the abandonment of open enrollment policies or intra-district choice efforts. Instead, he calls on the district to realize the full potential of parental involvement by getting more families involved in education choice and improving the information and resources available to parents. The report also suggests that MPS should embrace more radical reforms to achieve the changes it wants and needs--but does not identify what those reforms might be.
There is an underlying message in this report that is applicable to Ohio as parents exercise choice through charter schools and the state's voucher program. Parents will continue to make education decisions for their children based on factors like safety, school proximity to home, loyalty to the school (I went to school there so it's good enough for my child) rather than on academic performance.
Policymakers and school choice advocates need to realize once and for all that school choice needs standards and accountability to deliver both market acceptance and academic improvements. School choice without standards and accountability will not close the achievement gap nor ultimately improve the life chances of children in the neediest schools and school districts.
By Emmy L. Partin
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FREE charter school board member training
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the Educational Service Center of Franklin County, and the Ohio Department of Education are presenting "Charter School Board Governance 101" in Columbus on Friday, November 30. This training session will provide critical, in-depth information about charter school law and potential legal liabilities, Ohio's academic accountability system, special education law, and compliance issues. The training is offered free of charge and open to all Ohio charter school board members.
For more information and to register, visit the Alliance's website, www.oapcs.org.
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Nationally and in Ohio, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, along with its sister organization the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, strives to close America's vexing achievement gaps by raising standards, strengthening accountability, and expanding high-quality education options for parents and families. As a charter-school sponsor in Ohio, the Foundation joins with schools to affirm a relentless commitment to high expectations for all children, accountability for academic results and transparency and organizational integrity, while freeing the schools to operate with minimal red tape. The Foundation and Institute are neither connected with nor sponsored by Fordham University.
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