Friedman: Competition drives innovation

Competition from charter and private schools is the key to transforming education, concludes Pursuing Innovation, a new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

District school students make achievement gains when their schools are competing with charters or private schools that accept school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, according to 30 of 42 studies analyzed.
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MPCPMPSACTMost educational choice programs result in “modest improvements” at district schools, the report found.

However, in Florida (tax-credit scholarships) and Milwaukee (vouchers), “significant increases in publicly funded educational options resulted in bigger increases in public school students’ achievement.”

Despite significant improvement in Milwaukee’s district schools, the city’s choice students outperform Milwaukee Public Schools students in math and, especially, in English Language Arts. On Wisconsin’s statewide “Badger” tests, choice students did better than similar students in district schools.

“Empowering parents with the ability to choose a school that best suits the child’s needs is working in Wisconsin and resulting in students performing better academically,’ said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children.

Is AP for average kids? More schools say ‘yes’

Charter and magnet schools dominate the list of most challenging high schools, according to Jay Mathews’ 2016 index.

BASIS Oro Valley, an Arizona charter school, ranks first on the Challenge Index with the highest percentage of students taking the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests. Other BASIS schools rank second and fourth.

BASIS also has three schools in the top 10 of the U.S. News list of best high schools, which is based on test scores and graduation rates.

Ninth-graders can take AP Chemistry at BASIS Oro Valley in Arizona.

Ninth-graders can take AP Chemistry at BASIS Oro Valley in Arizona.

Mathews designed the Challenge Index to identify “schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests.” That’s why he doesn’t look at passing rates, which reward schools that restrict AP/IB/Cambridge to top students. He created a separate “public elites” index for schools that enroll “a high concentration of top students.”

Charters, which are 7 percent of high schools nationwide, make up one third of the top 100 schools on the list.

Skilled teachers can show show even “habitual slackers” that “struggling with a challenging course is less boring than sitting through a painfully slow remedial course,” Mathews believes.

At IDEA charter schools in Texas, where most students come from low-income Mexican-American families. 99 percent of graduates go on to college.

At IDEA charter schools in Texas, where most students come from low-income Mexican-American families. 99 percent of graduates go on to college.

I’m not sure I agree that all or most students belong in what are supposed to be college-level courses, especially if the “average kid” is now a remedial “slacker?” But some schools are getting students to take and pass high-level courses.

“In some of the poorest parts of Texas,” six schools in the IDEA Public Schools charter network made the top 50 on the Challenge Index, he writes. At 11th-ranked IDEA College Mission, for example, 91 percent of students qualify for a free or subsidized lunch.

Last year they had AP test participation rates twice as high as those of affluent public schools such as McLean and Whitman high schools, or private schools such as National Cathedral and Holton-Arms.

. . . Low-income students who take AP courses “are significantly more likely to graduate from college than students who never take an AP course,” said Michael Franco, the network’s vice president for secondary school programs.

The network has increased pass rates while expanding access, Franco told Mathews. “Last year, 81 percent of our seniors graduated with AP credit.”

Can Austin High be saved? Should it be saved?

Austin High School on Chicago’s West Side is fighting to survive, writes Kate N. Grossman in The Atlantic. Like dozens of low-performing schools in low-income neighborhoods, Austin has lost students to charters, magnets — and district schools in safer neighborhoods. Loyalists want to turn Austin back into a neighborhood school. Can Austin High be saved? Should it be saved?

“With 391 students, including just 57 freshmen across three academies in a building meant for nearly 1,700, Austin is one of 35 Chicago public high schools that are well under half full,” Grossman writes.  “Ten schools aren’t even a quarter full.” Most are in low-income black neighborhoods that are losing population.

Three-fourths of Chicago’s high schoolers chose not to attend their neighborhood school this year. That leaves the city’s “most challenging and low-achieving students” in half-empty schools. With funding tied to enrollment, there’s no money to maintain programs and staff.

Austin was closed in 2004 for “weak performance and chaos,” and reopened in 2006 as three small academies. Achievement remained low. Enrollment fell steeply. A recruitment drive has fizzled.

At Austin, only four families came to a well-planned open house in March, despite sending 430 invitations . . .

. . . just 8 percent of 712 eighth graders in Austin’s attendance boundary chose Austin in 2014.

Citywide, 31 percent of high school students who rejected their neighborhood school chose charters; the rest picked a district-run school.

Detroit parents will do almost anything to send their children to better schools, reports Detroit Chalkboard. Parents can choose a charter, magnet or suburban schools, but they must provide their own transportation.

Monique Johnson leaves home just after 6 a.m. with her son Shownn, 13, an eighth-grader. They “catch a ride to a bus stop eight blocks from their home, avoiding closer stops that are too dangerous. Their first bus comes at 6:20.

Shownn is exhausted at that hour and sometimes sleeps on his mother’s shoulder during the 25- to 40-minute ride along Schoolcraft Road toward Woodward Avenue. The bus drops the pair at the corner of Woodward and Manchester in Highland Park. Mother and son typically wait 20 minutes for their next bus, the No. 53, while peering warily through the dim light cast by the Walgreens across the street.

. . . Mother and son typically arrive at University Prep Science & Math Middle School, a well regarded charter school in the Michigan Science Center, around 7:30 a.m. and Johnson waits with her son until his classes begin at 7:50.

She gets at home about 9:30. “That’s about three and a half hours before she has to leave again on another four buses to return to Shownn’s school and bring him home.”

I guess she doesn’t think it’s safe for her 13-year-old son to make the journey by himself.

Denver improves with choice, charters

Denver has expanded choice and charters — and improved student achievement, writes David Osborne, director of Reinventing America’s Schools at the Progressive Policy Institute, in Education Next.

Since 2005, Denver Public Schools (DPS) “has closed or replaced 48 schools and opened more than 70, the majority of them charters,” he writes. The district also has opened charter-like “innovation schools.” Eighteen percent of students are now in charters and 19 percent in innovation schools.

Charters and traditional schools receive equitable funding and use a common enrollment system.

On-time graduation rates and test scores have increased significantly, far faster than the state average, writes Osborne. “DPS has more than doubled the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement courses, and black students now take advanced math classes at the same rate as whites (Hispanic students lag by only 1 percentage point).” College-going rates are up for low-income students as well.

20,000 NYC students apply to Success charters

More than 20,000 New York City students have applied for 3,228 available spots at Success Academy charter schools, reports the New York Post.

Admission is by lottery.

The network is opening five more elementary schools and two new middle schools this fall. Success will use a $25 million donation to fund expansion.

Test scores are very high for Success charter students, who are predominantly black and Latino. The schools have been criticized for tough discipline policies. Apparently, many parents don’t care.

Study: Charter high grads earn more as adults

Florida students who attended charter high schools earn significantly more as 23- to 25-year-olds than those who went to traditional public high schools, concludes a large-scale study by Vanderbilt and Georgia State researchers. Charter high school students are more likely to complete high school, go to college and stay in college, concluded the study, which was published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

Former charter students earned $2,300 more per year, on average, in their early to mid-20s, said Ron Zimmer, one of the researchers.

Test scores weren’t higher at the charters, but these schools may do better at “promoting life skills like grit, persistence, self-control and conscientiousness,” he said.

To create a control group of students from education-minded, school-choosing families, researchers compared charter eighth graders who went on to traditional public schools with charter eighth graders who enrolled in charter high schools. They crunched the numbers five different ways to show their results were “robust.”

It’s not news that charter schools boost “attainment” — years of schooling — for disadvantaged students, even when test scores are no higher. Going farther in school and college pays off.

Zeeconomics has more on the long-term effects of charter school attendance in Boston, Chicago and Florida.

Catholic schools change to survive

Hard hit by demographic changes and competition from charter schools, Catholic schools are trying new strategies to survive, while remaining true to their religious mission, write Kelly Robson and Andy Smarick in Education Next.

A Cristo Rey student works at a medical center in Baltimore. Photo: Cristo Rey

A Cristo Rey student works at a medical center in Baltimore. Photo: Cristo Rey

Urban Catholic school students – especially those from low-income, minority families — “are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, earn higher wages, and engage in pro-social behaviors like voting and volunteerism,” they write.

At its mid-1960s peak, Catholic schools educated 5.6 million students in approximately 13,000 schools, they write. That’s down to  fewer than 2 million students in 6,500 Catholic schools. Many urban schools have closed.

Now, school consortia are helping Catholic schools tackle common problems and achieve economies of scale.

Private school management organizations, nonprofits that manage a set of schools, also provide economies of scale and educational expertise.

Girls at Lourdes Academy, a Notre Dame ACE Academy . Photo: University of Notre Dame

Girls at Lourdes Academy, a Notre Dame ACE Academy . Photo: University of Notre Dame

Technology is helping boost engagement — and achievement — while reducing costs. Seton Education Partners is helping Catholic schools use blended learning effectively.

Another cost-saving model known as “micro-schooling” splits “students’ time between classroom, home, and online learning,” write Robson and Smarick.

In addition, voucher programs, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts are helping lower-income parents afford a Catholic education for their children.

NYC charters retain more students

Attrition rates are lower at New York City charter schools than at district-run public schools, according to a WNYC analysis of district data.

Citywide, 10.6 percent of charter school students transferred out in 2013-14, compared to 13 percent of traditional public school students, reports Beth Fertig and Jenny Ye.

Only one student left KIPP's Washington Heights Middle School last year, an attrition rate of less than 1 percent.

Only one student left KIPP’s Washington Heights Middle School in 2013-14, an attrition rate of less than 1 percent.

Other studies show “charters lose a smaller share of special-needs students than district schools, she writes.

KIPP’s “no excuses” schools lost students at one-quarter the rate of district schools. The Icahn network, which is more “huggy,” had one-third the attrition rate.

Success Academy, which has very high test scores, has been accused of pushing out unwanted students. The New York Times reported on a “got to go” list of difficult students kept by the principal of a Success school in Brooklyn,

Yet, “most of Success’s 18 schools in the 2013-14 school year had attrition rates that were lower than those of their local districts,” report Fertig and Ye. Only two schools were slightly higher.  Overall, the attrition rate for Success Academy schools was 57 percent of the rate at district schools.

Two stand-alone charters posted high attrition rates, WNYC found. Both have closed.

Alexander Russo wonders why the story has received little attention.

Clout shift: Charters rise as unions decline


Who will be the education base of the Democratic Party in 2024? asks Neerav Kingsland on his relinquishment blog.

Teachers’ unions, which usually oppose charter expansion, are losing membership, while charter schools are growing, he notes. This year, more students are enrolled in charter schools than there are teacher union members.

Kingsland predicts there will be two or three times more charter parents than unionized teachers in five to seven years.

If charter school families become politically active, they’ll hard to ignore, Kingsland writes.

Update: As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 on the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which challenged mandatory union fees for teachers who are not members.  The court’s 1977 decision upholding “fair share” fees to cover collective-bargaining costs will remain in force until a future challenge comes to a nine-member court.

Choice raises graduation rates

 Vouchers, charters,  lotteries and small schools of choice have been shown to increase high school graduation rates without raising costs, according to Fourteen Economic Facts on Education and Economic Opportunity from Brookings’ Hamilton Project.

Also effective — but not cost free — are “double-dose algebra” in ninth grade, an intensive mentoring pilot and increased funding.

“Many urban charter schools are able to significantly improve test scores in math and English in one year,” the report found.