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.

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.

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.

Voucher may be ‘stay out of jail’ card

670px-Play-Monopoly-With-Electronic-Banking-Step-9School vouchers may serve as a “stay out of jail card”, concludes a working paper by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick J. Wolf.

Crime rates are lower for young adults who experienced Milwaukee’s citywide voucher program as high school students, they found. Students who stayed in the voucher program through 12th grade — especially males — were significantly less likely to arrested than those who attended public high schools.

Good schools matter 

Families matter a great deal and schools very little when it comes to education, concluded the famous Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, 50 years ago. Coleman mixed up cause and correlation, writes Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby as part of Education Next‘s look back on the influential report.

Coleman “did not consider the possibility that advantaged children might have had high achievement precisely because their parents could choose good schools and ditch bad schools,” she writes.

Coleman believed teacher quality didn’t matter because measurable teacher characteristics, such as experience, education and vocabulary score, explained little of the variation in students’ achievement.

Parents always knew some teachers were better than others, writes Hoxby. These days, “numerous rigorous analyses of value-added demonstrate that teachers matter a great deal.”

Coleman failed to see that “good” families might be those who could discern which teachers were effective and get their children into those teachers’ classes. Thus, part of the apparent family effect was really a choose-effective-teachers effect.

(Before my daughter started kindergarten, I visited the two teachers’ classrooms and requested the one I liked the most. In later years, I networked with other parents to determine which teachers had the best reputations.)
Looking back, it is obvious that this early and voluntary desegregation was dominated by selection, that is, families’ own choices.Coleman also concluded that minority children achieved more when they had white classmates, Hoxby writes. But his study didn’t look at students randomly assigned to an integrated or all-black classroom. The data, from an era before desegregation orders, reflected “the sort of black families who were motivated and able to live in integrated neighborhoods.”

Hoxby attended voluntarily integrated schools in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  “Often, the blacks were professionals who already spent most of their working lives among whites, had white friends, and participated in mixed-race church and social groups. ”

Her research has found that “when students are randomly assigned to schools, it is the achievement and not the race of their peers that matters.”

Minority kids advance in choice schools

Urban minority students are more likely to complete high school aand enroll in college if they attend a charter or voucher-accepting school, writes Martin West in Education Next. Test scores may not be higher in urban schools of choice, but students go farther in school — and often in life.
Boston’s charter middle school students are closing the achievement gap in math, one study has found.

In Boston and New York City, other studies have found charter students are likely to avoid teenage pregnancy and incarceration and more likely to enroll in four-year colleges rather than two-year options.

In Washington, D.C., voucher usage greatly improved students’ chances of graduating. New York City voucher students are more likely to enroll in college and earn a bachelor’s degree than a control group.

“The chief beneficiaries of policies that expand parental choice appear to be urban minority students,” says West. “The benefits of school choice for these students extend beyond what tests can measure.”

The schools they chose

Included in the school choice stories on Education Post is Dashaun Robinson’s story how he failed in neighborhood schools, until he “found a small charter school in Providence, Rhode Island, and became a 10th grader, again, at the age of 18.” He’s now a sophomore at Rhode Island College.

Blackstone Valley Prep, a charter school in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, created a very small, supportive class to serve their son and other disabled students, write Kevin Sims and Krystal Vasquez. Despite his epilepsy, anxiety and adjustment disorder, he “loves learning” and performs at grade level.

Kim Wilborn

Kim Wilborn plans to earn a college degree.

Kim Wilborn, an eighth-grader, credits Perspectives Charter School in Chicago for  turning her into a straight-A student who’s forgiven her drug-addicted mother and taken her first steps on “a path to a brighter future.”

In elementary school, she “ran with a bad crowd,” she writes. There was  no homework. When she started Perspectives in sixth grade, she “didn’t know multiplication or division,” only how to punch numbers in a calculator. She got extra help to catch up in math.

In an ethics class called A Disciplined Life, she learning about taking responsibility — and forgiveness.

Even though he was in prison for 27 years, Nelson Mandela forgave the people who put him in there. He had dinner with one of his prison guards. He had lunch with the man who wanted him to get the death penalty. He was not bitter.

I didn’t want to be, either.

She’s learned how to push herself to overcome challenges.  Almost 200 pounds in sixth grade, she was encouraged to join the track team. “You have to keep going,” the coach told her. “When your legs get tired, you have to start running with your heart.”

I’ve lost a lot of weight since then. I have the willpower to keep going no matter how hard it gets.

. . . I get lots of homework now but it’s like when I started track: the more I’m used to it, the more I can do.

Gabby Dixon, a Perspectives high school student, likes the “small size and personal relationships.”

Her AP Literature is reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.

Sometimes I really have to sit down with my teacher to understand it — there’s so much going on in the text. What’s great is he told us it’s OK not to understand something right away. It’s OK to wrestle with a text. It’s OK to be vulnerable and open. That’s the best way you get to learn.

She’s also a big fan of A Disciplined Life.

Detroit’s disintegrating schools

Crumbling, Destitute Schools Threaten Detroit’s Recovery, headlines the New York Times.

Two words: New Orleans.

Yes, Detroit’s district-run public schools are moldy, rat-infested — and failing academically. But they’re not the only alternative.

Teachers called a sick-out this week, shutting down most of the district’s schools.

“We have rodents out in the middle of the day,” Kathy Aaron, a teacher of 18 years, told the Times. “Like they’re coming to class.”

The gymnasium floor at Charles L. Spain school is buckled and partially ripped out. Credit: Salwan Georges, New York Times

The gymnasium floor at a Detroit school is buckled and partially ripped out. Credit: Salwan Georges, New York Times

“Many worry that the state of the schools will hamper Detroit’s recovery from bankruptcy,” according to the Times.

The city is beginning to rebuild, said Mary Sheffield, a City Council member. “We have businesses and restaurants and arenas, but our schools are falling apart and our children are uneducated. There is no Detroit without good schools.”

But what if there are good schools — outside the district’s control? Fifty-five percent of school-age children in Detroit attend charter schools and others go to district schools in nearby suburbs. Detroit Public Schools enrollment has fallen by more than two-thirds in 15 years.

New Orleans.

Did reform fail in Newark?

School reform failed in Newark, according to most reviewers of Dale Russakoff’s The Prize, writes David Steiner in Education Next. However, the “stubborn facts” in this “compellingly readable book . . . complicate this conclusion out of all recognition.”

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“The combination of an extraordinary (and perhaps extraordinarily naive) 2010 donation of $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, the high-octane political antics of Mayor Cory Booker, and the very dedicated but consultant-reliant and at times tone-deaf district leadership of Cami Anderson converge to create an education drama of the first order,” writes Steiner, who is a John Hopkins education professor.

Five years later, Newark’s district-run schools had improved on some measures, but achievement scores were flat.

However, the city’s expanding charter schools proved to be a “success story,” Steiner writes. “Charter students in Newark gain an additional seven and a half months in reading and nine months in math” per year of schooling compared to similar students in district schools, concluded a 2012 CREDO report. Expanding the city’s charter sector helped many students.

Russakoff praises “public school teachers who kept their heads down and did wonderful work in their classroom,” writes Steiner.

(These teachers) took it upon themselves to glean many lessons from the city’s best charter schools, and found charter school leaders eager to help. They organized themselves as a nonprofit agency through which they raised private money to purchase the rigorous, early literacy program, developed at the University of Chicago for kindergarten through third grade, that was used in the two leading charter networks—the TEAM schools of the national KIPP organization and North Star Academy, a subsidiary of Uncommon Schools.

Ras Baraka, now mayor of Newark, opposed the reforms. But, as principal of a low-performing high school, he “mounted an aggressive turnaround strategy, using some of the instructional techniques pioneered by the reform movement.”

Newark schools have improved, writes Chris Cerf, who was state commissioner of education and is now superintendent of Newark Public Schools. Graduation rates are way up, he writes. “More students attend beating-the-odds schools.”

The Zuckerberg money made a huge difference in Newark, and continues to do so today. Yet The Prize has caused some philanthropists to question additional investments in public education, reading the book as a call to double down on charters since “districts are not fixable.”

School choice is the most powerful tool for change in Newark, writes Rashon Hasan, a school board member, in Education Post.