Posts Tagged ‘politics and governance’

School Choice Bills Prominent in State Legislatures

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

State legislatures across the country have been busy considering various school choice bills.  Just last week, both houses of the Maine state legislature passed a bill to establish a charter school program in that state.  All that remains is for Governor Paul LePage to sign the bill into law for Maine to become the 41st state to pass charter school legislation since 1991.  The Oregon legislature recently passed a package of education bills, including ones to expand virtual charter school enrollment and allow intra-district school choice, on a space available basis.  The most recent Choice Center book, School Choice and School Improvement, includes a chapter dedicated to the effects of intra-district school choice transfers.  You can see the appendix for the chapter here.

Southern states are also in on this trend.  North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue signed a charter school bill this month.  The new law removes the cap on the number of charter schools in the state, which previously stood at 100, and chartering authority continues to be controlled by the State Board of Education.  In Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam recently signed a bill that removes the cap on the number of charter schools as well as restrictions on student eligibility to attend charter schools.  State legislators play a key role in the school choice debate.  In School Choice Agenda Setting: A National Analysis of Individual State Legislators, researchers Francis Shen and Kenneth Wong explore this role.  To find out what political and policy conditions have been found to facilitate charter reform and growth, see another paper by Wong and Shen, Charter Law and Charter Outcomes: Re-Examining the Charter School Marketplace.

With all of the interest in new charter legislation, research is as important as ever.  Be sure to visit our research publications page for more on what our studies have found.  Particularly relevant to these latest developments is the section on policy and governance.  Check out Differences that Make a Difference: An Examination of the Relationship between Charter Law “Strength” and Student Achievement.

Effects of Autonomy in Charter Schools

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Does autonomy lead to better schools?  Greater autonomy is often claimed to be linked to greater innovation, especially in the debate about charter schools.  In a newly released report, the Center on Reinventing Public Education explores the opportunities and challenges of charter schools because of their autonomy.

Inside Charter Schools:  Unlocking Doors to Student Success uses multiple data sources including surveys and case studies to address this issue.  Charter schools are granted more autonomy than traditional public schools in exchange for more accountability, to school authorizers as well as parents and students.  This greater autonomy allows charter school principals and boards to: create their own mission and the curriculum that is best suited to their chosen mission, have more control over hiring policies and staffing, and other focused programs.  However, the presence of autonomy does not insure a good school, it is just an opportunity.  There are also many challenges that arise from this independence.  High staff turnover, limited principal training in enlarged roles and limited support are just some of the challenges confronting these leaders.  Overall, the utilization of autonomy is more important than its simple presence.

For more information, check out the paper!  A brief is also available for this study.

Charter authorizers and student achievement?

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Does the charter school authorizer have an impact on student achievement?  This is a key question in charter policy and law.  Many theories and suggestions for improving education, including charter schools, are difficult to implement.  However, if the type of authorizer has an effect on student achievement within the charter school, lawmakers could use this information to adapt charter laws to improve charter schools in a fairly simple way.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education has released a new paper, Charter School Authorizers and Student Achievement: A Case Study of Ohio, co-authored by Ron Zimmer (along with Brian Gill and Kaitlin Obenauf) who has previously conducted research for the Choice Center.   This research examines whether student achievement levels in charter schools vary by authorizer type.  Ohio is a great site for this research because its charter law allows for multiple authorizers, including local districts, universities, and nonprofit organizations.   The authors found variation of student achievement among types of authorizers.  For more information about the specific findings, check out the paper!

A research brief is also available for this paper.  Find it here.

School Choice Week – State of the Union and Policy/Governance

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Last night, education was one of the main topics in President Obama’s State of the Union Address.  Race to the Top was highlighted as a successful way for the federal government to encourage states to create more rigorous standards of teaching and learning, reforming education at the local and state level.  School choice was expected by many to have a prominent place in the President’s education, but it did not.  As Congress and the President work toward reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or replacing No Child Left Behind as President Obama said in the State of the Union, now is a good time to examine what we know about the impacts of laws on education.

Much of our research on policy and governance deals with charter laws and governance.  However, one research project, School Accountability under No Child Left Behind, specifically examines the impacts of the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  In Achievement Tradeoffs and No Child Left Behind, Ballou and Springer compare the achievement outcomes from high-stakes versus low-stakes years after passage of the bill to determine the impact of the legislation.  Springer also examines the effect of accountability on the distribution of student test scores and whether higher achieving students are harmed by the gains of their lower-performing peers.   As a new reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is considered, it is important to take into account the findings of researchers on the impacts of previous legislation.

For more information on what is known about school choice effects in general, check out our publication page!

Policy context and charter laws

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Charter schools and mayoral control are both hot topics in education reform.  Indiana combined these reform strategies when enacting a new charter school law in 2001.  Under the law, the mayor of Indianapolis was granted authorizing authority to charter schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district, as well as 10 surrounding districts within metro Indianapolis.  The question is often asked “Do charter schools work?”, maybe a better question would be in what context.

The newly published research brief, Taking Charge of Choice: How Charter School Policy Contexts Matter, explores the policy context surrounding the development of this law.  In order to do this, in-depth interviews were conducted with key stakeholders and documents were analyzed relating to the period of charter school law adoption in Indiana. The report describes how diverse elements can come together to create A unique policy environment, focusing on issues of public collective action, trust between institutions, and investment from entities outside the city government.  In Indianapolis, increased civic capacity led to the creation of the Mayor’s Office of Charter Schools to oversee authorization and accountability.

This research brief summarizes a longer report on the context of charter school reform in Indianapolis.  Policymakers and researchers interested in an in-depth account of how a unique charter school policy comes about may want to read the full report here.

Will School Choice Ride the Big Red Wave?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

One topic of interest to post-election pundits has been how key education issues will fare after last week’s state and congressional elections. Several news organizations suggest that the Republican sweep may give school choice new prominence in both Congress and state legislatures.

 The Washington Post writes that education reform provides a rare area for possible common ground between the Obama Administration and the new Republican Congress in part because both support charter schools. The Post discusses odds of whether the new Congress will have much appetite for reauthorizing – or revising – No Child Left Behind, with its provisions for charter school options.The newspaper also notes that Race to the Top, the administration’s school reform grant competition that favors charter school expansion, awarded an early, large grant to Tennessee, home state of Lamar Alexander, a leading Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

 Fox News  lists school choice as one of several issues the new Congress might be eager to embrace, building on buzz from the film “Waiting for Superman.” Charter schools are already well established and expanding in many states, but Fox predicts that vouchers will enjoy a resurgence of support among congressional Republicans.

 The Dallas Morning News speculates that the new, more-Republican-than-ever Texas House and Senate may be emboldened to push for issues that have failed in recent years such as allowing school vouchers and lifting the state’s cap on the number of charter schools. Whichever programs gain traction will have to be inexpensive or financed through fees because the state faces a shortfall for the next biennium that could exceed $24 billion.


Check out these publications from the NCSC archives for more information on the politics of charter school laws, No Child Left Behind, and public opinion on school reform.

The Persuadable Public: The 2009 Education Next-PEPG Survey asks if information changes minds

School choice agenda setting: A national analysis of individual state legislators

Responses to No Child Left Behind among Traditional Public Schools and Public Charter Schools

Editors’ Preface, Special Issue on Policy, Politics, and Organization of School Choice

The Future of New Orleans Schools

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

A school district with one of the most broad-based school choice plans in the country may be in for some big changes, and the possibility has many in New Orleans stirred up.

 Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek has issued a proposal to start allowing the transfer of schools out of the Recovery School District, a state-operated jurisdiction that has attracted national attention for turning around failing schools after Hurricane Katrina, frequently using charter schools as a fulcrum for change. Transfers could begin in the 2012-13 school year.  

The debate for many centers on a question of local control vs. state takeover, according to a recent story and follow-up  in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, with many assuming that schools leaving the Recovery district would move to the Orleans Parish School Board, which the Times-Picayune notes was “stripped of all but 16 of the city’s best schools in the post-Katrina reorganization” because the schools were failing. The newspaper said charter school operators and parents also are expressing wariness about leaving the Recovery incubator, with its successful track record and unusual levels of autonomy. With the Recovery district, charters now outnumber traditional public schools in New Orleans 2 to 1.

But a move to the Orleans Parish board would not be guaranteed. Pastorek’s proposal includes a provision for “the City of New Orleans to affirm that it wishes to continue with the governance structure represented by the Orleans Parish School Board, substitute it with a different governing body or provide an additional authorizing entity, or otherwise establish a governing structure that is suitable to manage the kinds of schools that have been developed in the Recovery School District.” Further, transfer would not be automatic. Only schools that met certain academic criteria would be eligible, and those schools would have the freedom to choose whether to stay in the Recovery district or move. The plan includes transfer procedures for schools run by the Recovery district as well as independent charter schools, which would sign MOUs with the new governing entity. Schools not academically eligible for transfer would be required to stay in the recovery district “until eligible for transfer.”  The Recovery district oversees 23 traditional schools and 46 charters in New Orleans, according to its Web site.

Pastorek’s proposal would require the state board of education to ensure that schools choosing to leave the Recovery district, known as RSD, “are afforded conditions and expectations that provide support and oversight similar to their experiences in the RSD, which led to their improved performance.” The new arrangement must protect the schools’ autonomy, set clear academic goals, provide support, and guarantee funding levels. The Recovery district gives its schools unusual freedoms, including control over hiring and firing and length of the school day and year, with the provision that failure to improve will lead to closure, restructuring or conversion to charters.

The Orleans Parish district restructured its school board and operations after Katrina and now oversees both charter and traditional public schools. Recently, the local district began publicizing its readiness to take on additional schools from Recovery. One flier entitled “We are Ready!” highlights academic achievements of schools still under the board’s control and ticks off fiscal improvements since Katrina.

The Recovery district was created as a temporary solution for resuscitating failing schools, with the authority to operate schools put under its jurisdiction for at least five years. The state law creating the special district required the state and Recovery superintendents to come up with a recommendation for the future of schools under the Recovery district’s control by the end of the five-year period, which occurs this fall.   

The Cowen Institute at Tulane, a think tank dedicated to education reform that was created after Katrina, issued a paper criticizing Pastorek’s proposal for providing too little detail on some important points. For example, the institute says the proposal should include a detailed, proactive plan for immediately overhauling a group of schools that have failed to improve significantly under the Recovery district’s control, including five high schools that the district has said it eventually plans to convert to charter schools. The Cowen paper also puts too many constraints on the Orleans Parish board as conditions for receiving transfer schools.

 The state board of education is scheduled to vote on the proposal in December.


Read these papers from the NCSC archives about charter school governance and operations.

Charter School Governance

When urban school districts innovate: The politics of turning around low performing school organizations through charter schools

Charter School Outcomes in California

What Happens When Regular Public Schools Convert to Charter Schools?

School Choice Options, Instructional Conditions, and Student Achievement Gains

Asking the Right Questions about School Choice

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

This is an interesting time in the world of school choice. On the one hand, there’s a growing body of research examining the effectiveness of choice, most often comparing achievement in charter schools or voucher plans to traditional public schools. But the lack of consensus among some prominent studies has left many in the public confused. Add to that recent expressions of disillusionment by early choice advocates such as Diane Ravitch and debates about  the success of school choice become even more complicated.

One long-time choice advocate is taking a stab at explaining the sources of disillusionment and suggesting different ways to frame the debate. In a new essay and blog post, both entitled “Does School Choice ‘Work’?”, Rick Hess, writes that, for starters, whether choice “works” is the wrong question. Framing the question that way, he says, creates expectations that charter schools or voucher programs have the power to quickly raise test scores and cure problems across the wide range of American schools.  Instead, Hess, who is director of educational-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, advocates focusing on larger organizational issues, such as whether the creation of school choice has brought market forces to education. Has it, for example, introduced innovations and competition that have forced public schools to change and diminished the power of their bureaucracies?   “The key,” he writes on the Education Week blog,“is to stop fixating on ‘choice’ and start talking about ‘deregulation’.” The post is based on a longer essay on the National Affairs site that explains his opinions more fully.

Hess also tosses a few barbs at some of his fellow choice advocates, arguing that part of any current disappointment can be traced back to overpromises by early choice advocates, citing particularly John Chubb and Terry Moe who use of the word “panacea” in their influential book Politics, Markets and America’s Schools. “The search for that panacea, and the insistence that it must be just around the corner, have been destructive distractions,” Hess writes, because they have led to narrow judgments of success based on test scores and ignored bigger questions about how market forces play out in a domain shaped by large public bureaucracies. “Since reformers have suggested that the mere presence of choice will bring about dramatic improvement in schools, the expectation has been that the simple fact of having an alternative — even inadequately funded vouchers, or charter schools hog-tied by regulation — should yield demonstrable gains in academic achievement,” he writes. In this environment, he challenges reformers and researchers to shift the focus to what market forces should look like in American K-12 education, the extent to which these forces exist at this point, and how their success should be assessed. “The questions to focus on are when, how, and why deregulation and monopoly-busting improve the quality and cost effectiveness of goods and services,” he writes, “and whether they can do the same for K-12 schooling.”


One hallmark of the National Center on School Choice’s research has been a mission to investigate the effects of choice within broader contexts. Some examples:

Charter Schools and Civic Leadership in Indianapolis

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

What makes an education reform successful? Researchers often assess the success of charter schools by comparing their academic performance with that of traditional public schools. A National Center on School Choice project in Indianapolis is pushing for a deeper understanding by also investigating the social and political context of a unique charter school experiment run out of the mayor’s office. The project is explained in a new research brief on the NCSC Web site.

The study found that students who moved to charter schools for more than one year had bigger gains in mathematics than they would have experienced if they had stayed in public schools. Gains were also larger in reading but those results were not statistically significant. NCSC researchers found evidence that Indianapolis charters differ in instructional conditions than traditional public schools and that teachers in the charters go into more depth when teaching mathematics, particularly focusing on a sound understanding of basic skills.

The NCSC researchers surmised that at least some of the academic success arose from the combination of independence and civic support enjoyed by Indianapolis charter schools. The experiment is unusual in several ways. The mayor’s office not only has special permission granted by the state to authorize charter schools, it also has designed a comprehensive accountability system to ensure quality. Both parts of the process are characterized by extensive outreach and local support. Leaders from the city’s business, service and philanthropic sectors stepped forward to found charter schools, which had to survive a rigorous and competitive application process to be approved. Once schools were up and running they were subjected to annual scrutiny through a system that includes standardized testing; site visits by teams of experts; surveys of parents, students and staff; and external financial reviews. The mayor’s office continues to approve new schools, and the number has grown from three in 2002-03 to 17 in 2008-09. The system has been praised for emphasizing quality over quantity. 

 The brief, which explains the paper Charter School Effects in an Urban School District: An Analysis of Student Achievement Gains in Indianapolis, is written in plain language that makes it useful to lay readers as well as scholars.

 For More Information

Read these additional papers about Indianapolis charter schools from the NCSC publications archive.

Taking Charge of Choice: How Charter School Policy Contexts Matter

Opportunities for Innovation in Indianapolis Mayor Sponsored Charter Schools

Mathematics and Reading Instruction in Charter and Traditional Public Schools:  Content, Cognitive Complexity and Alignment to State Standards and Assessments

Choosing Indianapolis Charter Schools: Espoused Versus Revealed Academic Preferences

The NCSC is funded by a 5 year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Its lead institution is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The center is housed on the campus of Peabody College, one of the nation's top graduate schools of education.