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September 21, 2015

School boards as charter school authorizers

The issue of charter schools got thrust back into the spotlight with the recent court decision from Washington State that ruled the state’s charter school law unconstitutional. I’m not going get into the particulars of the case but the decision highlights the fine line between the public’s right to determine how their tax dollars are spent and accommodating a parent’s desire to choose a school that is right for their child.

Many states walk this fine line by allowing for the creation of charter schools that any parent can choose to send their child to while making sure the charter schools are authorized by the local school board to oversee but not run the schools. In such a setup, all parents have a choice about where to send their child to school and taxpayers still have a voice in holding charter schools accountable.

Yet, there are some proponents of charter schools who argue the school boards should not authorize charter schools. For example, in its annual state charter school policy rankings, the Center for Education Reform gives credit to states when they allow agencies or institutions other than local school boards to authorize charter schools .  The CER is certainly not alone. I’ve written about similar criticisms in the past here and here.

As I wrote earlier, such critics didn’t have any actual evidence to back up their argument against school board as authorizers. I pointed to the fact that while critics constantly claimed school boards were reluctant to allow charter schools into their districts, school boards actually had a higher acceptance rate than other authorizers such as state boards of education and independent state charter boards. In the years since, not much has changed. The most recent data from the National Association for Charter School Authorizers  showed that school boards had the second highest approval rate out of the five authorizing types. Moreover, only two other authorizing types had higher closure rates as well. As I argued previously, if school boards were so threatened by charter schools why are they more likely to approve a new charter school’s application and less likely to close them?

But one piece of data I didn’t have at the time was whether charter schools authorized by school boards were more effective than charter schools authorized by other agencies such as independent charter school boards. That data simply wasn’t available at the time. However, this past June the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University (CREDO) published a report that for the first time examined the impact of authorizer type on student outcomes. Keep in mind, the report is far from definitive. It is based on only one state, Texas, where 88 percent of the charter schools are authorized by the state board of education while the remaining 12 percent were authorized by school boards. While not conclusive, this report nonetheless provides additional evidence as to the effectiveness of school boards as authorizers.

Specifically, the report found school board authorized charter schools outperformed those authorized by the state board in both math and reading every year between 2009 and 2013. In some years students who attended charter schools made nearly a year’s more worth of learning than similar students who had attended charter schools authorized by the state board of education. So these were no small differences.

While the recent report doesn’t prove that school boards are more effective charter school authorizers than other agencies, it is one more piece of evidence to refute the claims from critics who believe school boards are holding charter schools back and shouldn’t be allowed to authorize charter schools. Such critics like to use anecdotes to back up their claims but school boards can use data to back up theirs just as effective authorizers are expected to do. – Jim Hull


Filed under: Charter Schools,school organization — Jim Hull @ 8:51 am

April 9, 2015

Expanding Learning Time: What you need to know

Deciding to increase the time students spend in school is no easy decision. Although a number of districts across the country have done so in recent years, no two districts did it in the same way. That’s because each district had differing reasons for making such a decision. Furthermore, each district had to make the decision within their own local context. As each district has their own political and resource challenges the must be considered when determining if and how to expand learning time.

Making such a decision can be daunting for school leaders. However, a recent report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) provides valuable information to those considering expanding learning time in their district. For example, the report notes that there are a variety of approaches to expanding learning time such as increasing the school day or year. But learning time can also be expanded by reducing the amount of non-instructional time and adding time for teacher activities that improve instruction. Each approach has its strengths and challenges which CEP details in case studies of 17 low-performing schools across 11 districts.

These case studies confirmed expanding learning time is no easy task but does has its rewards. However, expanding learning time is also quite expensive so district leaders must way the costs with the potential benefits of expanding learning time. The Center for Public Education’s (CPE) Making Time report is a resource for district leaders that provides an overview of what research says about the benefits of the differing approaches to increasing learning time. By considering the likely costs and benefits of expanding learning time district leaders can make a more informed decision on how to best utilize their limited resources to improve student outcomes – Jim Hull

February 19, 2015

A matter of principal

After a conversation with CPE’s senior policy analyst Jim Hull last week in which Jim helped explain to issues of accountability, the conversation segued onto the topic of school principals and the powerful role they play in public education. Apparently, Jim is not the only one who believes that principals are key players in student success.

In a recent piece by Real Clear Education, graduate training programs designed for principals should foster a more practical skillset. The report goes on to suggest that incorporating disciplines such as business administration, could provide principals with the training for activities that are actually practiced on the job. A caveat however, the report also makes it very clear that they are not advocating for schools to be run like automated businesses either. That being said, there are still numerous leadership skills taught within an MBA program that fall directly within (or should) the purview of a principal, such as budgeting, data analysis, talent and quality management, organizational change, and leadership.

One thing is clear; good principals are essential for school success. As mirrored in a report by CPE, The Principal Perspective, high-quality principal leadership can facilitate numerous beneficial school outcomes, such as increasing student achievement, reducing both student and teacher absences, and reducing the turnover of high-quality teachers. Additionally, principals can be the linchpins in school turnaround. When a new principal is introduced into a school challenged by low student achievement, one of the first tasks an effective leader would undertake would be to assess the quality of the teachers, in an attempt to replace the lowest-quality teachers and retain the highest-quality teachers. These recruitment skills could be fostered through training in talent management, whereas retainment skills are taught through quality management, both skillsets that are central in an MBA program. Furthermore, our report found that principals were most effective at the earlier grades (i.e., elementary school), with an effect that diminishes across middle and high school. A plausible rationale for this decreasing effect is that as the structure of the school expands, it becomes more difficult to organize and govern. One way to address this downfall however, could be to incorporate leadership into principal training so that principals are better prepared to handle larger systems producing just as strong effects as elementary leaders.

In summary, the pieces by Real Clear Education and CPE share a common theme: principals matter. Although individual principals are not making broad changes at the state or federal level, they are poised to have (and sustain) incredible impact locally. It is because of their unique position that they play such an important role in increasing school outcomes. Thus, ensuring that principals are provided with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in effective school leadership certainly seems like a good principle.

June 11, 2014

CPE’s latest report explores mayoral involvement in urban schools

CPE_MayoralControl_Slider Few would disagree that the future prosperity of cities are linked to the current performance of schools. It’s no doubt what has compelled many a mayor to take control of city schools, especially ones that are troubled and low performing. But do urban schools benefit under a mayoral governance model? Is student achievement higher in urban systems led by school boards or city mayors? What happens to community involvement in either arrangement? These were the questions CPE set out to discover in its latest report, Toward Collaboration, Not a Coup. As you can likely tell from the title, we concluded more could be achieved if the two offices worked together than apart. To find out how we got there, though, you’ll have to read the report.

January 9, 2014

EdWeek Ranks State Education Systems

Today, Education Week (EdWeek) released its annual special report Quality Counts 2014, which included its annual State of the States report card. Massachusetts earned top honors in the Student Achievement category by earning a B while the nation as a whole earned a C-minus, up from a D-plus in 2008—the first year EdWeek graded states on measures of student achievement. The U.S. earned higher grades in the other two categories– School Finance and EdWeek’s Change for Success Index– where the nation as a whole earned a C and C-plus respectively.

EdWeek’s annual report card shows once again that states vary considerably not only in achievement but how they fund their schools and the opportunity children born in their state are likely to succeed later on in life. States such as Massachusetts and Maryland not only received high marks from EdWeek but have also been compared favorably to high performing countries in previous studies while those states receiving the lowest grades from EdWeek typically scored below most industrialized countries as well. In these lower performing states, the typical student will less likely to be able to compete in the global labor market upon graduating high school.

How states can boost student achievement in this post-recession era of fewer funds and more rigorous requirements is certainly not clear. EdWeek attempted to provide more clarity to this question by surveying school district administrators across the country about how to best improve our public schools. Respondents were generally supportive of charter schools, virtual learning, and homeschooling but didn’t see these alternatives as having a major impact. These district officials also didn’t feel state and federal policymakers had much influence on school policies. In their opinion, it was school district officials and local school board members who have the most impact on school policies, not state and federal officials who seem to drive more of today’s reforms. So for states to increase their grades and become more competitive internationally, real reforms need to come from the local level and for states and federal officials to support those efforts.

Here are some of the key findings from this year’s report card:

K-12 Achievement Index

How do states compare on the academic achievement of their students in elementary through high school?

  • Public schools improved slightly since 2012- the last time the index was reported—but still earned a C-minus just as in 2012.
    • The grade is based on the academic status and growth over time in math and reading scores, narrowing of poverty-based achievement gaps, as well as high school graduation rates and the performance on the advanced placement test.
  • Massachusetts was once again top of its class in 2014 just has it has since 2008 by earning a B. Maryland and New Jersey scored slightly lower, but still earned a B and B-minus respectively.
  • Just two states–Mississippi, and the District of Columbia– received failing marks in 2014 compared to four states in 2012.
  • Thirty-two states earned grades between a D and C-minus.

Chance for Success Index

What are the odds that the average child who grows up in a particular state will do as well as the average child in the top-ranked state, at each stage of his or her educational life? (these stages are: the early childhood years, participation and performance in formal education, and educational attainment and workforce outcomes during adulthood)

  • Massachusetts ranked first for the sixth consecutive year by being the only state to receive an A-minus, while Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and North Dakota earned a B-plus.
    • This means that children in Massachusetts have the best chance of achieving positive life outcomes, according to EdWeek.
  • On the other hand, children in Nevada, New Mexico, and Mississippi have the least chance of achieving positive life outcomes by earning a D and D-pluses, respectively.
  • The nation as a whole earned a C-plus just as in 2013.

School Finance

How much do states spend on their schools? Is the spending distributed equitably?

  • Overall, the nation earned a C in School Finance similar to last year.
  • Wyoming’s grade dropped from an A to an A-minus but still received the highest grade of any state just as in 2013. However, West Virginia, New York, and Connecticut were close behind, all earning a B-plus.
  • On the other hand, four states — Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — received a D while Idaho received a D-minus. No state received a failing grade.
  • Out of the 12 states that improved their school finance scores North Dakota, North Carolina and New Hampshire made the greatest improvements by boosting their grades a half a letter.
    • However, 35 states actually saw declines in their school finance score.
  • States vary greatly in how much they spend on education even when taking regional cost differences into account.
    • Wyoming spent the most per pupil with $19,534 and Utah spent the least with $6,905—a $12,629 difference in per pupil spending.
  • There are also major differences in per pupil spending within states as well.
    • On average states spend $4,566 more per pupil in districts at the 95th percentile in school spending than in districts at the 5th percentile.
    • Alaska has the greatest difference at $13,023, while Utah had the smallest difference at $1,997 per pupil.
    • Only seven states-Alaska, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming spent more in low-income districts than in the states’ wealthier districts.

School District Administrator Survey

  • Nearly 9 of 10 respondents believed that accountability pressures have been a major driver of change in their districts.
    •  A slightly higher percentage of respondents believed economic and fiscal challenges were major drivers of change.
  • About half believed private schools, virtual schools and homeschooling had some influence on their districts.
    • A smaller percentage indicating that charter schools had some influence (probably because charters are present in far fewer districts nationwide).
    • Keep in mind, just 1 in 10 respondents thought these other options had a significant influence on their district.
  • Fifty-four percent of respondents believed that there needs to be a change in the current governance structure to meet today’s challenges.
    • The most common change happening in districts surveyed were:
      • Changing superintendents (66 percent).
      • Expanding school choice (48 percent).
      • Central office reorganization (30 percent).
    • Mayoral takeover had happened in 3 percent of surveyed districts.
  • Most respondents supported non-traditional options such as virtual learning (74 percent), charter schools (59 percent), and homeschooling (58 percent).
    • Few supported vouchers (14 percent).

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