Charters & Choice

Overview

Charters & Choice

Over the past two decades, charter schools have emerged as the fastest growing form of school choice, outpacing other alternatives such as vouchers, magnet schools, and homeschooling. Charters have also become a touchstone for how people feel about a host of related issues: job protections for teachers, the role of elected school boards and teachers unions, and the privatization of schools. The materials compiled in this Topics section examine the ways charter schools and other school choice options play out in the education process.

Over the past two decades, charter schools have emerged as the fastest growing form of school choice, outpacing other alternatives such as vouchers, magnet schools, and homeschooling. Charters have also become a touchstone for how people feel about a host of related issues: job protections for teachers, the role of elected school boards and teachers unions, and the privatization of schools. The materials compiled in this Topics section examine the ways charter schools and other school choice options play out in the education process.

Charter schools are publicly funded but run by independent boards. Usually, their teachers are not unionized and the operators do not have to adhere to all of same government regulations as district schools. Critics of charter schools argue they represent an attack on the public education system, erode the power of school boards and teachers unions, and can drain traditional schools of resources and more motivated families. Supporters say charter schools’ relative freedom from traditional strictures allows them to “innovate” by lengthening the school day or experimenting with the curriculum, for example. Supporters also maintain charters provide families, particularly poor ones, with more options and, at their best, spur the rest of the public system to improve.

Historical Developments

The nation’s first modern charter school opened in 1992 in St. Paul, Minn., after that state became the first to pass legislation paving the way for the quasi-public, quasi-private schools. At the time of their inception, charter schools attracted politically diverse supporters with very different motivations. Some, including former American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, hoped the schools might empower teachers to come together around a shared vision. Others, including William Bennett, the secretary of education under President Ronald Reagan, hoped charters would create an educational “marketplace” and challenge the government’s virtual monopoly on running schools. Those same tensions over the purpose of charters persist today.

Charter schools have grown rapidly in number since 1992, as most states have adopted legislation allowing for their creation. Charters proliferated in the wake of several unsuccessful efforts to create or expand school voucher programs—which direct public funds to private schools —in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many state lawmakers, particularly Republicans, saw charters as a more politically viable means of introducing choice and competition into the public education sphere. In 2010, several states lifted their caps on the number of charter schools to compete more aggressively for a share of the $4.35 billion offered through the federal Race to the Top fund; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decided that states without restrictions on charter school growth would be favored in the application process. By 2011, only 10 states did not have some form of charter school law in place, and the number of students attending the independently run schools topped two million—up from 1.1 million five years earlier.

Charter school laws vary considerably among states. They differ in terms of who can approve and start a charter school, the length of the contract, and whether the teachers can belong to unions. About 12 percent of charter schools nationally were unionized as of 2010. Typically, state laws will spell out who can authorize charter schools: Most often state departments of education and local school boards serve as authorizers, although in some states universities, nonprofits, community groups and other governmental entities can as well. An independent charter board usually signs a contract—or “charter”—with the authorizer detailing the school’s plan and the performance goals it agrees to live up to over a set time frame.

Current Issues

In recent years, much of the debate over charter schools has focused on their performance, which most researchers concur is not significantly better or worse than traditional public schools, on average. One significantly comprehensive multi-state study found that 17 percent of charter schools outperformed traditional schools in reading and math on state achievement tests; 37 percent performed worse; and the rest, nearly half, performed about the same. That finding has hardly put the debate about charter schools to rest, however. Critics pointedly note that charter schools have failed to transform public education and continue to draw outsized attention and private funding given what they see as mediocre results. But charter supporters home in on the hundreds of charter schools that are outperforming their traditional counterparts, arguing that it’s these outliers whose work and approach should — and can — be replicated.

Charter schools’ education philosophy, curriculum, popularity, and funding vary just as much as their results. Some charters are highly structured, while others have adopted progressive educational approaches, including Montessori and project-based learning. Some have waiting lists of hundreds of students, while others struggle to fill their seats. And some receive millions of dollars from private donors or foundations, while others spend less per pupil than traditional schools.

About 30 percent of charter schools are overseen by charter management organizations (CMOs) or education management organizations (EMOs): groups that run multiple schools, sometimes in a single geographic area and other times across different cities or states. EMOs manage a set of schools, usually imposing curriculum choices from the top down. EMOs do not always manage just charter schools, and they are more likely to be for-profit than CMOs.

Charter management organizations tend to function less like businesses than EMOs; CMO schools are united more by a shared educational philosophy than a particular business structure. When a CMO runs multiple schools in the same city or geographic area, the schools typically share “central office” or “back office” services, however. A majority of the nation’s charter schools — about 70 percent — are unaffiliated with management organizations. But CMO-led schools are growing at a faster rate than other types of charter schools, and many people consider them to be the future of the charter school movement, particularly in cities. A string of recent reports put out by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington scrutinized the sustainability of charter management organizations, which often rely on private funding sources and require their staffs to work longer school days. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) is one of the best known CMOs; in early 2012, it operated 109 schools in 20 states.

The charter school movement also faces increasing scrutiny over whether authorizers have been aggressive enough in closing poor and mediocre charter schools, particularly because the premise of charters is that they trade greater autonomy for greater accountability. About 15 percent of charter schools have been forced to close, according to one charter advocacy organization.

Finally, in a few cities, charter schools are expanding so significantly they could take over the entire system within a few years. In New Orleans and Youngstown, Ohio, more than half of the city public schoolchildren attend charters; in three other cities, more than a third do so. For anti-charter activists, such rapid growth raises concerns about privatization and the wholesale displacement of elected school boards and teachers unions. Meanwhile, advocates hope the long-term results in cities like New Orleans and Youngstown will prove charters can effectively educate urban schoolchildren at scale.

Other Types of Choice

Voucher programs let families send their children to private schools using government-funded tuition vouchers. Usually, voucher programs are limited to low-income families or students with special needs. The first modern voucher program started in Milwaukee in 1990. A coalition of African-American Democrats in the city and conservative leaders at the state level fought for the program. Voucher debates often produce unlikely political coalitions: Backers who see school choice for poor families as a social justice issue are often joined by those who favor a market-oriented approach to education. There are currently several voucher programs across the country, including in the District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin. As with charter schools, the research on vouchers is very mixed. The limited data that exist suggest the academic impact of vouchers is negligible.

Tuition tax credits provide tax incentives for contributions to organizations that provide privately funded scholarships for students who want to attend private schools. In other forms, voucher-like tax credits offer parents who choose private schools some return on their costs. About a dozen states have some form of private school tax-credit program, including Arizona, Florida, and Iowa. Such programs have sometimes been described as “backdoor vouchers” because they create a more indirect mechanism for public money to subsidize private schools. Unlike vouchers, they are usually not limited to low-income or disabled students. Like charters, tax credit programs proliferated in the late 1990s and early 2000s as school choice backers discovered they were more politically palatable than vouchers.

Magnet schools usually have a specific theme or curricular focus, like the arts or technology, and draw students from throughout a city or geographic region. Magnets originated in the 1970s as part of voluntary and mandatory desegregation efforts across the country. The theory was that magnets would be able to attract diverse student bodies more easily than most neighborhood schools. In some cities magnets have selective admissions, meaning students have to audition or take a test to get in; in others they are open to all regardless of ability. Magnets declined in political popularity after the 1980s, when many states and cities started to dismantle school desegregation programs and charter schools began to flourish. Although their growth has stalled, magnet schools still exist in about 30 states and enroll about two million students, approximately the same number as charter schools.

Additional forms of school choice include home schooling, virtual schools, and interdistrict transfer programs.

Latest News

Nation’s Only Federally Funded Voucher Program Has Negative Effect on Student Achievement, Study Finds

Students in the nation’s only federally funded school voucher initiative performed worse on standardized tests within a year after entering D.C. private schools than peers who did not participate, according to a new federal analysis that comes as President Trump is seeking to pour billions of dollars into expanding the private school scholarships nationwide.

Member Stories

April 21 – April 27
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

EdSource’s Mikhail Zinshteyn writes that both sides of the charter school debate are expecting another year of hearings over Senate Bill 808, a California bill that critics claim could lead to the shuttering of many charter schools.

 
 

Latest News

How Vouchers Transformed Indiana: Private Schools Live or Die By Test Scores

In the five years since Indiana began offering vouchers, the program has grown into one of the largest in the nation, and about $146 million in public funding was funneled to Indiana private schools through vouchers this year. But that money comes with strings attached, and low test scores have cost 16 schools the right to accept new vouchers. At least three have closed.

Latest News

Special Ed School Vouchers May Come With Hidden Costs

For many parents with disabled children in public school systems, the lure of the private school voucher is strong.

Vouchers for special needs students have been endorsed by the Trump administration, and they are often heavily promoted by state education departments and by private schools, which rely on them for tuition dollars. So for families that feel as if they are sinking amid academic struggles and behavioral meltdowns, they may seem like a life raft. And often they are.

Latest News

Devos Praises This Voucher-like Program. Here’s What it Means for School Reform.

Florida has channeled billions of taxpayer dollars into scholarships for poor children to attend private schools over the past 15 years, using tax credits to build a laboratory for school choice that the Trump administration holds up as a model for the nation. But there is scant evidence that these students fare better academically than their peers in public schools.

Latest News

DeVos Says Accountability Systems Could Promote School Choice

The Department of Education is considering rejecting states’ proposals for new accountability systems if they do not include options that empower parents or provide them with additional educational choices for their children.

“I think there’s certainly going to be a lot of discussion and back and forth as we go through this process,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said Wednesday in answering a question about whether her agency would reject a state’s accountability proposal if she views it as “antithetical to serving parents’ interests.”

Latest News

Devos Compares School Choice Fight to Uber vs. Taxis; Decries State of Test Scores

At a Tuesday event hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a speech compared the the response of the education establishment to taxi services undercut by services like Uber and Lyft.

“Just like the traditional taxi service revolted against ride-sharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice,” DeVos said. (It’s not the first time she’s raised Uber in the context of educational innovation, or the lack thereof.)

Blog: The Educated Reporter

USC Charter School Sets Students’ Sights on College

The waiting list to get into USC Hybrid High College Prep in downtown Los Angeles is long – about two students for every one admitted – and so is the commute for many of the students who go there. An hour-and-a-half each way by bus or car isn’t uncommon.

Latest News

Do Vouchers Give Kids Better Educations? Ohio Test Results Are Mixed

The school voucher programs that some federal and state officials want to expand have mixed test results in Ohio that make it unclear how much more students learn than if they had stayed in their local public schools. Ohio’s voucher programs, which give families grants to help pay tuition at private schools, have a low bar to clear to look successful. But the private schools receiving voucher dollars have mixed results, even when compared to these “failing” public schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Trump Begins to Flesh Out School Choice Agenda, But Questions Remain

There was no missing the symbolism in President Donald Trump’s first school visit since taking office — a stop at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida, this month.

St. Andrew is “one of the many parochial schools dedicated to the education of some of our most disadvantaged children,” Trump noted, and it’s been helped along by school choice policy.

Latest News

Why Charter Operators Exiting Tennessee’s Turnaround District Can Walk Away

When two charter school operators announced plans to leave Tennessee’s turnaround district this spring, many people were surprised that they could break their 10-year agreements. Across the nation, there’s nothing to stop charter operators from leaving, even when they promise to be there for a long time. And by design, that’s not unusual in the charter sector. For better or worse, operators are given that autonomy.

Latest News

Jefferson County Selects Charter School Company

In a decision Education Commissioner Pam Stewart called “historic,” the Jefferson County school board voted unanimously Tuesday to accept the application of Somerset Academy, Inc. to operate local schools and become the first charter school district in Florida.

According to Somerset’s website, the Miramar-based company operates 50 schools with 17,597 students in Florida, Nevada and Texas.

Latest News

State to Investigate Graduation Rates for Alternative Charter Schools

Florida Board of Education members said Wednesday morning they support the state’s review of graduation rates at alternative schools like an Orange County school that a national news story described as a dumping ground for struggling students.

A ProPublica story last month reported that alternative schools like Sunshine High School near Orlando are “release valves,” taking in students unlikely to graduate on time to improve the traditional high schools’ graduation rate.

Latest News

School Choice Fight in Iowa May Preview the One Facing Trump

When she was shopping for a school for her daughter Alma, Mary Kakayo found a lot to like in St. Theresa Catholic, including its Catholic social justice theme, student prayer and hour of religious instruction every day.

“Morally, my child knows how to respect others,” said Ms. Kakayo, whose daughter is now in the fourth grade. “She knows when to listen, and when to talk and bring in her ideas.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Trump Budget Signals Education Priorities

President Donald Trump’s first budget blueprint begins to flesh out the areas in which he sees an important federal role in education — most notably expanding school choice — and those he doesn’t. At the same time, it raises questions about the fate of big-ticket items, including aid to improve teacher quality and support after-school programs. 

Latest News

60 Years Ago, Resistance to Integration In Texas Led to School Voucher Plan

The Texas Senate Education Committee plans to discuss a bill next week that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to send their kids to private schools. The school voucher program is cited as a way to give students — especially low-income students — access to high-quality schools.

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have tried to pass a school voucher bill; lawmakers have introduced some kind of modern-day voucher program for at least 20 years.

But vouchers have a history in Texas that dates back to school integration. And it’s not pretty.

Latest News

Where School Choice Isn’t an Option, Rural Public Schools Worry They’ll Be Left Behind

The small parking lot outside of Schenck High School was crammed with cars, all there for the basketball game, the town’s featured event that night. The cold winter air whipped around white mounds of snow lining the town’s few residential streets and past the school to the vast blackness of Interstate 95.

Latest News

Trump Budget Would Make Massive Cuts to Ed. Dept., But Boost School Choice

President Donald Trump’s first budget seeks to slash the Education Department’s roughly $68 billion budget by $9 billion, or 13 percent in the coming fiscal year, whacking popular programs that help districts offer after-school programs, and hire and train teachers.

At the same time, it seeks a historic $1.4 billlon federal investment in school choice, including new money for private school vouchers and charter schools, as well as directing $1 billion to follow students to the school of their choice. 

Latest News

A Tale of Two Betsy DeVoses

Residents of this western Michigan town are having trouble reconciling the Betsy DeVos they know with the Betsy DeVos who serves as President Donald Trump’s controversial education secretary.  

The former is widely seen as pragmatic and generous, even by those who dislike her political leanings and devotion to charter schools. The latter? “Unprepared,” “tone deaf,” and “insulated” were phrases that came up more than once during interviews with people who either know DeVos or her family or are familiar with her dealings in this part of the state.

EWA Radio

Alternative Schools: Are Districts ‘Gaming’ the System?
EWA Radio: Episode 112

Heather Vogell of ProPublica discusses a new investigation into how districts utilize their alternative schools — campuses set up to handle struggling and troubled students. ProPublica concluded that by reassigning students unlikely to graduate out of mainstream classrooms, some traditional high schools were “hiding” their true dropout numbers, and boosting their own ratings within their state’s accountability system.

Latest News

Florida to Examine Whether Alternative Charter Schools Underreport Dropouts

Florida’s Department of Education is expanding an inquiry into how schools classify students who leave without graduating, in response to a ProPublica report that the state may have thousands more dropouts than it acknowledges.

Also in reaction to the ProPublica article, the school board chairman in Orlando is asking the district superintendent for a formal report regarding concerns that low-achieving students have been pressured to transfer from traditional to alternative high schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

After 25 Years, No Shortage of Charter Schools Research

Do charter schools really outperform traditional public schools? Is any such comparison skewed by the caliber of students who attend charters and their district-run counterparts?

Few questions are more contested in education policy circles, but 25 years since the first charter school opened in Minnesota, there is more data available than ever to find answers. Two prominent education researchers waded into the debate over charter schools and charter research at a recent Education Writers Association seminar in Los Angeles.

Member Stories

February 23 – March 2
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

Brian McVicar of Michigan Live spoke with parents facing some unsettling questions. For instance, if their children’s schools are closed because of poor academic performance, where would the kids go to get a better education? And, just as important, how would they get there?


 

Latest News

Texas House Education Chief Declares School Choice Bill DOA

The top education policy official in the Texas House said Tuesday that he would not allow the approval of school vouchers this legislative session, a blunt pronouncement that could be fatal to the prospects for legislation that is a priority for many top Republicans in the state.

Latest News

New York City’s Education Budget Has Jumped Over 40 Percent In 10 Years. Here’s Why.

Michael Bloomberg may have been the education mayor, but Bill de Blasio is spending a lot more money on it.

City spending on education has grown from nearly $17 billion in 2008 during Bloomberg’s reign, to a projected $24.3 billion for next year. In the last five years of Bloomberg’s tenure, education spending increased 13 percent; by the end of his first term, spending under de Blasio is projected to jump 27 percent.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What’s Ahead for School Choice in the Trump Era?

If anyone doubted that school choice would be a top educational priority for the Trump administration, the Republican president’s first address to a joint session of Congress laid that question to rest.

“I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children,” he declared. “These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.”

Latest News

Devos Criticized for Calling Black Colleges ‘Pioneers of School Choice’

Monday evening, the Education Department issued a statement from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that has infuriated many advocates for historically black colleges. The statement comes when many leaders of black colleges are in Washington for meetings at the White House and with Republican Congressional leaders, who have been wooing black colleges and pledging to help them.

Latest News

How Dallas’ Poorest Kids Could Be Left Behind Under Texas’ Voucher Plan

Peyton Salters loves his teachers at his South Dallas school. At 4 years old, he’s already learning to read.

But his mom, Keishana Salters, worries Dallas ISD could one day shut it down because of poor test scores. She wants Peyton in a stable school that pushes him.

Nearby charter schools have waiting lists. And private schools? The costs make them unimaginable, unattainable.

Another big problem: There isn’t one nearby.

How much choice families really have still depends largely on where they live, a Dallas Morning News analysis found.

Latest News

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins – The New York Times

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education was a signal moment for the school choice movement. For the first time, the nation’s highest education official is someone fully committed to making school vouchers and other market-oriented policies the centerpiece of education reform.

But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

What Does Charter School Innovation Look Like?

At Summit Public Schools campuses, you won’t see PowerPoint lectures on “Antigone” in English class or witness lofty explanations of the Pythagorean theorem in geometry. Instead, you’ll hear a discussion about the morals and ethics in the ancient Greek tragedy tied to students’ own teenage identity formation and observe discussions on how real-life problem-solving skills can be applied to math.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Should Charter Schools Be Held Accountable?

In the contentious debates over what is a good school, parents are frequently pitted against public officials. The stakes are especially high for charter schools, which periodically must be granted a new lease on life.

It’s a case of one side pointing to test scores or compliance with various rules of operation, and the other invoking their satisfaction with the school in ways that may be hard to measure. While regulators may be tempted to close a low-performing school, parents regularly object.

Latest News

Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?

In the days leading up to and after Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as secretary of education, a hashtag spread across Twitter: #publicschoolproud. Parents and teachers tweeted photos of their kids studying, performing, eating lunch together. People of all races tweeted about how public schools changed them, saved them, helped them succeed.

Latest News

‘Alternative’ Education: Using Charter Schools to Hide Dropouts and Game the System

Alternative schools have long served as placements for students who violated disciplinary codes. But since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 refashioned the yardstick for judging schools, alternative education has taken on another role: A silent release valve for high schools like Olympia that are straining under the pressure of accountability reform.

Latest News

The Mile High Promise, And Risk, Of School Choice

During Betsy DeVos’ bitter confirmation hearing last month for education secretary, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet pointed to Denver as a potential national model of a big city school district that’s found an innovative, balanced approach to school choice.

“Without exception,” the Colorado Democrat told DeVos, “we demanded quality and implemented strong accountability” for the mix of traditional, charter, innovation and magnet schools in the 92,000-student district.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Camino Nuevo Offers Families a Bilingual Choice

At 10 years old, Audrey Campos is the one who helps her 18-year-old cousin communicate with their grandparents. Unlike her cousin, Audrey speaks Spanish. That’s thanks, in part, to the public school she attends, part of the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy network.

Audrey was in the inaugural kindergarten class for the school’s bilingual program in 2011. She spent 80 percent of her day learning in Spanish that first year, though now Audrey speaks and hears mostly English in school.

Latest News

Where School Choice Isn’t an Option, Rural Public Schools Worry They’ll Be Left Behind

Washington has long designed education policy to deal with urban and suburban challenges, often overlooking the unique problems that face rural schools. With a new administration in the White House that prefers “school-choice” approaches — favoring charter schools and private-school vouchers so parents can opt out of public schools and bring taxpayer dollars with them — the nation’s rural schools are left to wonder about their fate.

Latest News

Governors, State Lawmakers Roll Out School Choice Proposals

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—now the nation’s most visible school choice advocate—takes the helm at a time when Republicans control the governor’s house or the state legislature in 44 states and have full control of the executive and legislative branches in 25 states.

Latest News

Charter Schools Blur Line Between Religious, Public Education

From the standpoint of democratic theory, the basic problem with school choice is this: Religious belief and affiliation can be vital sites of civic learning for many Americans. In their temples, mosques, and megachurches, Americans learn to cooperate, organize, identify, and engage with social problems. These skills help them develop the kind of bonding capital that forms the basis of a democracy; from that platform, citizens can develop the bridging capital that allows them to identify with and engage civil society as a whole.

Latest News

The Next Generation of Charter School Innovation and Impact

The rapid growth of the charter school sector in its early years was often framed as an opportunity to improve public education. Charter schools, with fewer bureaucratic hurdles, would be able to innovate and create a pipeline for improvement strategies that could circle back to the district-run schools and help everybody.

Member Stories

February 2-9
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

Lauren Camera writes for U.S. News & World Report that while DeVos may be a champion of school choice, she will need to take a piecemeal approach to expansion, as it is unclear whether measures like a voucher proposal would garner more support from lawmakers if pushed by DeVos.

On Kara Newhouse’s Women In STEM podcast for Lancaster Online, African-American teenagers from the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, school district share what they thought of the recent Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures.”

Latest News

Education Boss Gets First Assignment — Mend Fences With Foes

WASHINGTON (AP) — On her first day on the job, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos plunged into her initial assignment: mending fences with her opponents following a bruising confirmation battle. Parents across the country looked for clues as to whether she will fulfill their hopes or reinforce their fears.

Addressing several hundred Education Department staff members, DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor and school choice champion, vowed to work with everyone, including her critics, in ensuring the best education in the nation’s schools.

Latest News

Betsy Devos Can Change Education In America Without Doing A Thing

Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos narrowly squeaked through the Senate on Monday, winning confirmation by a vote of 51 to 50 after Vice President Mike Pence weighed in to break the tie.

DeVos is the most controversial education secretary ever. She was confirmed with fewer votes than any Cabinet secretary in history. If Democrats hadn’t abolished the filibuster on executive branch nominees in 2013, DeVos’s opposition would have relegated her to the heap of Cabinet might-have-beens.

Latest News

What Educators, Advocacy Groups Are Saying About Betsy Devos’ Rocky Confirmation

Education and advocacy groups reacted swiftly to Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as U.S. Secretary of Education Tuesday, with supporters praising the West Michigan native and opponents questioning whether she’ll promote school choice at the expense of traditional public schools.

DeVos was confirmed following a marathon 24-hour debate in the Senate, where Democrats decried the West Michigan native as inexperienced and said her support of taxpayer-funded vouchers and charter schools have undermined traditional public schools.

EWA Radio

Betsy DeVos Is Secretary of Education. Now What?
EWA Radio: Episode 108

Betsy DeVos takes the oath of office.

Kimberly Hefling of Politico discusses the new U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, who was confirmed Tuesday after Vice President Mike Pence was called in to break a 50-50 tie in the Senate. What will be her top priorities moving forward? How aggressively will the new secretary push school choice, and how likely is President Trump’s $20 billion school choice plan to gain traction? Has DeVos lost political capital during the bruising confirmation process? Was she held to a higher standard than other nominees for President Trump’s cabinet? And how much power will the Republican mega-donor have to roll back the Obama administration’s education policies and initiatives? 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Senate Confirms Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

After a bruising confirmation process and a Senate vote on Tuesday largely divided along party lines, Republican mega-donor and school choice advocate Betsy DeVos is the new U.S. secretary of education.

In her first public communication as secretary, DeVos signaled that school choice would be a paramount concern:

Blog: The Educated Reporter

School Segregation: Are Charter Schools the Problem?

Kriste Dragon grew up in Atlanta, a mixed-race child in a segregated school system.

When it came time to find a school for her children in her new Hollywood home, Dragon was hopeful that the neighborhood’s highly diverse demographics would be reflected in its schools. But instead, she found a low-performing school system that was as segregated — or worse — as what she’d experienced growing up.

Latest News

Betsy DeVos Wants to Use America’s Schools to Build “God’s Kingdom”

Since her nomination, DeVos hasn’t had much to say about her faith—or whether she plans to defend the separation of church and state in public schools. But when asked in 2001 whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

Latest News

Eli Broad’s Opposition to DeVos Reveals Faultlines in Charter School Movement

Philanthropist Eli Broad’s opposition to Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be U.S. secretary of education, underscores the complexity of the politics of the charter school movement, and is revealing further fault lines in it. In a remarkably blunt letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, he portrayed DeVos as a threat to the public education system in the United States.

Latest News

The Learning Curve: A Local Look at Charters and Segregation

The NAACP, the country’s oldest civil rights organization, made headlines last summer when it called for a moratorium on charter school expansion. Now, the group is holding a series of town hall meetings across the country, including one scheduled for later this month in Pasadena.

Latest News

Republicans Are Moving Quickly to Introduce School Choice Bills

It’s unclear whether President Donald Trump’s $20 billion federal voucher plan will get a lot of traction in Congress, or what form it might ultimately take. But don’t mistake that for a lack of overall enthusiasm among GOP lawmakers for expanding school choice during the Trump administration.

Latest News

More Non-catholic Students Are Enrolling in St. Louis Area Catholic Schools

Catholic schools have lost thousands of students over the past decade, forcing the announcement of the closure of three schools this academic year. Those students who left have overwhelmingly been Catholic. But during that same decade, an encouraging countertrend has emerged. Even as Catholic schools in the 11 counties of the St. Louis Archdiocese have lost 22 percent of their Catholic students, they have seen a 23 percent spike in non-Catholic enrollment.

Latest News

D.C. Charter Schools Would Be Able to Give Preference to Neighborhood Kids in Admissions

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed a new policy Monday that will allow charter schools to give preference in admissions to elementary school-aged children living within a half-mile of the school, and whose in-boundary public school is more than a half-mile away. The change, which Bowser is calling the “walkability preference,” will go into effect for the 2018-19 school lottery, which opens in December. The policy still has to be approved by the city council before going into effect.

Latest News

Here’s Why Betsy DeVos Will Likely Be Confirmed, Despite Pushback

Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education, is at the center of a social media maelstrom and has stirred more opposition than any other candidate for secretary in the department’s more than three decade history. However, DeVos only needs Republican support to be confirmed. And the GOP controlls the U.S. Senate 52 to 48. That means, if all the Democrats vote against DeVos as expected, three senators would need to flip to defeat her.

Latest News

School Choice Group Denies Coordination With DeVos

A school-choice advocacy group formerly chaired by Betsy DeVos is denying any ongoing coordination with her after a staffer purported to invite guests on her behalf to a congressional nomination hearing. Critics say the invitation — included in email correspondence obtained by The Detroit News — raises questions about DeVos’ ties to the nonprofit American Federation for Children, which she said she resigned from Nov. 22 after President Donald Trump nominated her to lead the U.S. Department of Education.

Latest News

Education Reformer: Charter Schools Can Be ‘Culturally Affirming,’ Not Segregated

Though some critics say charter schools that serve predominantly African-Americans, Latinos or Native Americans are “segregated,” such schools can be “culturally affirming” and should not be lumped with schools that are segregated in the traditional sense of the word. That was the key point that Chris Stewart, director of outreach and external affairs at Education Post, a school reform group, made at a recent charter school forum at the University of Southern California.

Multimedia

VIDEO: School Choice Policy & Politics in the Trump Era
Covering Charter Schools

What will President Trump and his administration mean for charter schools and school choice? Will the new president put political muscle behind his campaign pledge to create a new, $20 billion school choice program? How will the GOP-led Congress respond? What are the ramifications of key statewide elections, especially gains by Republicans and the defeat of a high-profile Massachusetts ballot measure to raise that state’s charter cap?

EWA Radio

“Rewarding Failure”: Education Week Investigates Cyber Charters
EWA Radio: Episode 107

Reporter Arianna Prothero discusses Education Week’s eight-month investigation of online charter schools,  including how some companies aggressively lobby states to craft regulations that allow them to flourish despite spotty records on student achievement. Why do some students opt for this kind of alternative publicly funded education? What do we know about attendance, academic achievement, and school quality in cyber charters? Who are the big players in the cyber charter industry, and how much is known about their policies, practices, and profits?

Prothero answers these and other questions and shares story ideas for local reporters covering online charter schools in their own communities.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

For Trump Pick DeVos, Confirmation Hearing Is a Bear

Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for billionaire school advocate Betsy DeVos — President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. secretary of education — was a doozy.

DeVos sought to present herself as ready to oversee the federal agency, but some of her remarks suggested a lack of familiarity with the federal laws governing the nation’s schools.

In her opening statement before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, DeVos said:

EWA Radio

2017: Big Education Stories to Watch
EWA Radio: Episode 104

Kate Zernike, The New York Times’ national education reporter, discusses what’s ahead on the beat in 2017. How will President-elect Donald Trump translate his slim set of campaign promises on education into a larger and more detailed agenda? What do we know about the direction Trump’s nominee for U.S. secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, will seek to take federal policy if she’s confirmed? Zernike also offers story ideas and suggestions for local and regional education reporters to consider in the new year. 

EWA Radio

Who Is Betsy DeVos?
EWA Radio: Episode 102

Veteran education reporters from the Detroit Free Press and The Washington Post discuss Betsy DeVos, the billionaire school choice advocate nominated by President-elect Donald Trump. David Jesse of the Detroit newspaper sheds light on DeVos’ Michigan track record on legislative causes, and what is known about her tactics and negotiating style. Plus, he explains how DeVos’ strong religious beliefs have influenced her policy agenda. Emma Brown of The Washington Post details why Trump’s proposal for $20 billion in school vouchers might be a tough sell, even to a Republican-controlled Congress. And she sheds light on the potential for the next administration to dismantle President Obama’s education initiatives, including scaling back the reach of the Office for Civil Rights at the Education Department.

Member Stories

November 17-December 1
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members in the last two weeks

Who is Betsy DeVos? Dale Mezzacappa, Greg Windle and Darryl Murphy of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook team up for a closer look at the Michigan billionaire who is poised to become the next U.S. secretary of education. 

 

EWA Radio

Trump Is Elected: What’s Next for Education Policy?
EWA Radio: Episode 97

Donald Trump spent little time on education issues during his campaign, but his victory is sure to have big implications. Journalists Alyson Klein of Education Week and Andrew Kreighbaum of Inside Higher Ed discuss the likely impact on P-12 and higher education. What will be President-elect Trump’s education priorities, and how will the GOP-controlled Congress respond? Will Trump follow through on his campaign pledge to provide $20 billion for school choice? What will be the fate of existing federal policy like the new Every Student Succeeds Act? And how will Trump approach the hot-button higher education issues like student loan debt and accountability?  

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Latino Students, Charter Schools and the Massachusetts Ballot Question

This Election Day, Massachusetts voters will decide whether to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state — a hotly contested ballot measure that’s drawn more than $34 million in fundraising among the two sides and garnered national attention, with parents of students of color and advocates for minority students on both sides of the issue.

Key Coverage

Rewarding Failure: An Education Week Investigation of the Cyber Charter Industry

With growing evidence that the nation’s cyber charter schools are plagued by serious academic and management problems, Education Week conducted a months-long investigation into what is happening in this niche sector of K-12 schooling. The result is a deep-dive account of what’s wrong with cyber charters. Education Week uncovered exclusive data on how rarely students use the learning software at Colorado’s largest cyber charter, the questionable management practices in online charters, and how lobbying in scores of states helps keep the sector growing.

Key Coverage

Outsized Influence: Online Charters Bring Lobbying ‘A’ Game to States

For five years in a row, the Hoosier Academies Virtual School had been failing.

The school, where students take all of their classes online while at home, had been assigned an “F” grade from the state of Indiana every year it had been open except its first, when it had garnered a “C.” That troubled track record had finally made the virtual school of nearly 4,000 students a candidate for state regulators’ chopping block.

Key Coverage

Higher Ground: KIPP Strives To Lift New Orleans Grads Past Their Struggles

Eleven years ago, as Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters receded, experts promised to transform the city by upending its schools, fixing poverty and crime by and through degrees. …

Far more students graduate from New Orleans public high schools now: 75 percent, up from 54 percent before the storm …

But the real test is what happens after high school. The new New Orleans won’t materialize if beaming teenagers walk off the graduation dais as if it were a gangplank.

EWA Radio

Chartering a New Course: KIPP’s Katrina Generation Goes to College
EWA Radio: Episode 93

Students march in parade holding a KIPP Central City Academy banner.

When Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans in 2005, much of the city’s infrastructure was washed away — including its public education system. Changes imposed after the storm have produced a system primarily of charter schools which are independently operated and publicly funded — including those run by the KIPP network.

In the new series “Higher Ground” (for NOLA.com/The Times Picayune), reporter Danielle Dreilinger looks at where the city’s KIPP’s graduates wind up after graduation. She talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about the project (part of the EWA Reporting Fellowship program), and how the high-achieving charter network is seeking to improve New Orleans’ students chances of postsecondary success. 

EWA Radio

Battle in the Bay State: Charter Foes and Supporters Square Off
EWA Radio: Episode 92

(Flickr/Ariel Waldman)

In Massachusetts, a referendum on charter schools is drawing national attention. At issue is whether to raise the state cap on the number of independently operated, publicly funded campuses, and allow existing schools to boost enrollment. But there is also unusually aggressive – and expensive — campaigning on both sides of the issue, raising questions about outside influence on the decision before Massachusetts voters.

James Vaznis of The Boston Globe talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about what’s at stake on the upcoming ballot, whether the Bay State’s reputation for high-achieving charter schools pans out, and how questions of diversity and equity factor into the fight.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education at Forefront in Statewide Elections

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock talks with students at the Billings Career Center in August 2016. The state's gubernatorial race is being closely watched by education advocates. (Casey Page/The Billings Gazette)

With so much attention focused on the campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, voters could be forgiven for forgetting they’ll be asked to decide plenty more in November. And the stakes are high for K-12 education in state-level elections, including races for governor, state education chief, and legislative seats, plus ballot measures on education funding and charter schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Building a ‘Super School,’ for $10 Million

Students at the Brooklyn Laboratory Charter School this week during a visit by U.S. Department of Education officials. The school is one of 10 winning applications in a competition to reinvent the high school model. (Photo credit: Ethan Covey)

In Louisiana, a high school focused around the theme of coastal restoration will be built on a barge — yes, a barge. Two Los Angeles educators have dreamed up plans for a high school designed to serve foster and homeless children. And the Somerville, Mass., district is planning a year-round high school that “feels more like a research and design studio,” reports the Boston Globe.

EWA Radio

Bright Lights, Big City: Covering NYC’s Schools
EWA Radio: Episode 89

(Unsplash/Pedro Lastra)

Today’s assignment: Reporting on the nation’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students and an operating budget of $25 billion. Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York has dug deep into the city’s special education programs, investigated whether school choice programs are contributing to student segregation rather than reducing it, and penned a three-part series on on one high school’s effort to reinvent itself. He talks with EWA public editor Emily Richmond about his work, and offers tips for making the most of student interviews, getting access to campuses, and balancing bigger investigations with daily coverage. A first-prize winner for beat reporting in this year’s EWA Awards, Wall is spending the current academic year at Columbia University’s School of Journalism as a Spencer Fellow.

Multimedia

Pre-K-12 Education in the 2016 Race
The U.S. Elections & Education: Part 1

Pre-K-12 Education in the 2016 Race

Experts and advocates assess how early childhood and K-12 education issues are factoring into the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They offer analysis of the candidates’ campaign positions and explore the complex politics of education policy. They also discuss other key elections around the nation with big stakes for education.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Crossing International Borders for a Better Education

Public Domain

Crossing an international border can be a hassle. But some parents in Mexico do it every day in pursuit of a better education for their children. 

San Antonio-based KENS 5 recently aired a story of a father who walks his two young children across the Mexico-Texas border daily so they can attend school in the U.S. The trek is worth it, he says.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Latinos, Standardized Tests and the Opt-Out Movement

Karen Falla of Univisión Dallas, left, moderated a discussion on standardized testing and the opt-out movement with panelists Peggy McLeod of National Council of La Raza, José Palma of the University of Minnesota, and Ruth Rodriguez of United Opt Out National (not pictured). Source: Leticia Espinosa/ Hoy

While the number of parents who opt out of having their kids take their states’ standardized tests has grown nationally, much of this movement appears to be made up of white, wealthier families. Latinos and other minorities seem to be less inclined to avoid standardized testing.

That should not be the case, said Ruth Rodriguez, an administrator with United Opt Out National.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Boston Charter Aims to Innovate, Extend Reach

English teacher Caroline Bartlett began her work with Match Public Charter School as a tutor, and was hired out of the organization's training corps. (Photo credit: Match Public Charter School)

In early May at Match Public Charter School in Boston, 18 freshmen are preparing to discuss themes from “Lord of the Flies.” Their English teacher is Ashley Davis, a 26-year-old native of Cincinnati who’s in her second year of teaching, but acts like a veteran.

Davis will soon have her students explaining the biblical allusions in the 1954 novel and debating whether mankind is naturally good or evil.

Seminar

The U.S. Elections & Education: Part 1
Washington, D.C. • August 30, 2016

Now that the White House race has narrowed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, how is education playing out as an issue in the campaign? Will it prove an important fault line between the Democratic and Republican candidates? Will Trump offer any details to contrast with Clinton’s extensive set of proposals from early childhood to higher education? What are the potential implications for schools and colleges depending on who wins the White House? Also, what other races this fall should be on the radar of journalists, whether elections for Congress, state legislatures, or governor?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Teachers’ Union Applauds Clinton Address, Except on Charters

Hillary Clinton shares her views and agenda for education in a July 5 speech to delegates for the National Education Association.
Photo credit: @KristenRec

Hillary Clinton vowed to be a partner with educators if she wins the White House, during a speech today to the nation’s largest teachers’ union. Clinton drew enthusiastic applause from National Education Association members for most of the address, including her calls to make preschool universally available, boost teacher pay, and ease the burden of paying for higher education.

But the presumptive Democratic nominee got a far more muted response, and even some jeers, when she made a positive plug — albeit very briefly — for charter schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Making School Choice Easier

Parents in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C., gather for an informational meeting last year about the lottery process for public schools of choice. (Flickr/Wayan Vota)

It used to be simple to register your child for school – just go to your local school, fill out some paperwork and you’re done.

But in an era when school choice is increasingly widespread, the process isn’t always so easy.  

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Wellness, Creativity, and Exemplary Teaching: The Codman Academy Formula

Physics teacher Maggie Mahmood works with sophomore students at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Dorchester, Mass. (Liana Heitin for EWA)

At Codman Academy Charter Public School, the walls in the lower school hallways aren’t covered in the bright reds, yellows, and oranges visitors might expect in an elementary setting. Instead, they’re subdued neutrals, mostly creams and browns. Rather than large chart paper displays and murals, there are natural wood panels, internal and external windows, and glass panels decorated with branches and leaves.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Charter School Sector’s Growing Pains

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with students during a college application rally at the Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Charter schools have expanded significantly in recent years, including in the nation's capital. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Roughly 25 years after the first charter school opened in Minnesota, the debate over these publicly funded but independently operated campuses remains polarized.

Juan Cofield, the president of the NAACP’s New England Area Conference opposes a looming public referendum in Massachusetts to lift that state’s cap on the number of charter schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

When States Take Over Schools

Students at Roose Elementary School in Detroit in March 2016. (Flickr/A Healthier Michigan). The Motor City is just one example of where a state has intervened to assume oversight of a struggling public education system.

Most reporters dread seeing the next school board meeting on the calendar. But as more states take over failing schools, removing them from local control, some journalists are finding open and easily accessible meetings harder to come by, and recognizing the value of what they’ve lost.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Experts Say Teachers Are Being Taught Bad Science

Source: Nora Newcombe's presentation at EWA's National Seminar in Boston

Here’s a quick quiz. Rate the following statements on a scale from one to five, with one meaning you totally disagree and five meaning you wholeheartedly agree:

  • Beginners and experts essentially think in the same way.

  • Most people are either left-brained or right-brained.

  • Students learn more when information is tailored to their unique learning styles.

Post

This Is What Happens When Charter Schools Think Big

Match Beyond has a bodacious goal: To invent a college program that wipes out undergraduate debt and cures poverty.

Not the rarefied college designed for that by-the-bootstraps, defy-the-odds high school senior trotted out for interviews and inspirational speeches when visitors come to high-poverty schools looking for their scholarship success stories.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Progressives in Massachusetts Shortchange Poor Kids, Governor Says

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks at EWA's National Seminar in Boston. (Photo by Katherine Taylor for EWA)

Massachusetts has long been the poster child for education.

For years now it’s ranked at the top in the country for math and reading achievement, boasted impressive graduation rates and made a significant financial investments over the last few decades to get there.

It’s no slouch when it comes to higher education either. Massachusetts harbors some of the best colleges and universities in the world, and it’s joining a growing number of states looking to make college more affordable.

Report

The Health of the Charter Public School Movement
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

The Health of the Charter Public School Movement: A State-by-State Analysis evaluates the health of the charter public school movement in key states across the country. Following the first report released in October 2014, this second edition measures movement growth, innovation, and quality, while this year doubling the number of quality measures. Due to these quality additions, a total of 18 states with charter school laws met the criteria for inclusion in this year’s report.

Key Coverage

The Promise of Social and Emotional Learning in U.S. Schools

For the eighth grader Kimberly Wilborn, a lesson about Nelson Mandela made it all click.

“Ms. Plante was talking about Nelson Mandela and how he forgave his jailers,” remembers Wilborn, who is being raised by her aunt on Chicago’s South Side. “And I thought if he can forgive them, I can forgive my birth mom and my dad for not being there for me. I actually cried. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

EWA Radio

Chicago’s Noble Charter Schools: A Model Network?
EWA Radio: Episode 60

Flickr/Mike Procario

In the Windy City, one out of every 10 high schoolers is enrolled at a campus in the Noble Network of Charter Schools. And while Noble students typically perform well, the network is facing some growing pains in the nation’s third-largest school district. Among the challenges: An increasingly diverse student population, competition for enrollment from traditional Chicago Public Schools campuses seeking to reinvent themselves, and concerns about Noble’s strict discipline policies and emphasis on preparing for the ACT college entrance exam.

Report

A Closer Look at the Charter School Movement: Schools, Students, and Management Organizations, 2015- 16
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Enrollment in charter public schools has grown by 250,000 students in the 2015-16 school year, and more than 400 new charter public schools have opened their doors, according to, A Closer Look at the Charter School Movement: Schools, Students, and Management Organizations, 2015- 16. The report also estimates that the total number of students currently attending charter public schools is nearly 3 million, representing a sixfold increase in charter school enrollment over the past 15 years.

EWA Radio

Diversity & School Choice in New York City
EWA Radio: Episode 55

(Flickr/Mikel Ortega)

New York City is one of the world’s great melting pots — so why aren’t efforts to diversify its schools taking hold?

As one of several Chalkbeat New York writers contributing to a new series, Patrick Wall is taking a close look at how school choice is playing out in the nation’s largest school district.

He spoke with EWA Public Editor Emily Richmond about some of the complexities of New York CIty’s multilayered approach for sorting students, and shared ideas for local reporters looking to dive into the data on school diversity in their own communities.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

England’s Charter-Style Schools on Rise

Students board the train home in Whitby, England. (Flickr/Matt Buck)

Without a doubt, the biggest change to the educational landscape in England over the next few years will be the growth of so-called academies and free schools, both modeled at least in part on U.S. charter schools. 

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would like every government-funded school in England to be a free school or academy by 2020. At present, they represent 60 percent of the country’s roughly 2,000 state-supported secondary schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Deeper Learning, Smarter Testing

Linda Darling-Hammond speaks to reporters at a seminar on motivation at Stanford in November. (Photo credit: EWA/Michael Marriott)

Since 2003, more information is produced every two days than the total sum of information produced between that year and the dawn of time, the CEO of Google said in 2010.  Easily web-accessible facts, names and articles have grown exponentially, so much so that some say students can’t be taught like they were in the past, when rote memorization was the gold standard for learning and information wasn’t at almost everyone’s fingertips.

Report

High School Closures in New York City

In the first decade of the 21st century, the NYC Department of Education implemented a set of large-scale and much debated high school reforms, which included closing large, low-performing schools, opening new small schools and extending high school choice to students throughout the district. The school closure process was the most controversial of these efforts. Yet, apart from the general sense that school closures are painful, there has never been a rigorous assessment of their impact in NYC.

Report

State Capacity to Support School Turnaround
Institute of Education Sciences National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

More than 80 percent of states made turning around low-performing schools a high priority, but at least 50 percent found it very difficult to turn around low-performing schools. 38 states (76 percent) reported significant gaps in expertise for supporting school turnaround in 2012, and that number increased to 40 (80 percent) in 2013.

EWA Radio

Summer Reading List: “The Prize”
EWA Radio: Episode 38

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

In 2010, billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced an unprecedented gift: he would donate $100 million to the public school district of Newark, New Jersey (dollars that would eventually be matched by private partners).

Dale Russakoff, a longtime reporter for The Washington Post, spent more than three years reporting on what turned into a massive experiment in top-down educational interventions—with decidedly mixed results. 

Seminar

69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts
Blog: The Educated Reporter

Parachutes and Shoe Leather: Reporting on New Orleans’ Schools

Students participate in the "Rethinking New Orleans Schools" Conference in 2009. (Flickr/Laura Slotkoff)

It would be difficult to find an education writer who has put in more time, or produced more nuanced stories, examining the big changes in New Orleans’ public schools sector than Sarah Carr. She spent seven years covering the post-hurricane education landscape, and its transition to nearly all charter schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

ACLU Sues to Block Nevada’s School Choice Law

Many neighborhood schools in the Las Vegas Valley have a clear view of the city's fabled Strip. (Flickr/Andrew)

The ACLU of Nevada has announced that it will challenge the state’s new, high-profile “education savings account” law. The measure would provide up to approximately $5,000 per child in public dollars to pay for school choice –including private or parochial school tuition — as well as other educational expenses.

The Nevada law has drawn national notice, as experts consider it unprecedented in scope, since most families in the state are eligible to participate.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

After Katrina: New Orleans Schools Fight to Flourish

An abandoned school bus in New Orleans in 2005. (Flickr/Gilbert Mercier)

A decade after the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, the city continues its struggle to recover. Most of the local public schools were replaced by (public) charter schools in the wake of the storm. This dramatic shift in the city’s public education “system” is firmly in the national spotlight as an ongoing experiment in school choice and reform.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

A Look at Latino Charter School Students in California

“The spread of charter schools throughout the East Bay and California is often viewed as a blessing or curse, depending on whom you ask,” a recent Contra Costa Times article begins. 

But among Latinos in the area, it would appear to be the former, according to the newspaper’s analysis of charter school demographics in Oakland, California, where charter schools have seen their enrollment nearly triple over the past decade. 

Multimedia

Trends in Charter School Finance
2015 EWA National Seminar

Trends in Charter School Finance

Funding for charter schools is a complex and divisive issue. Do charters get an equitable share of public dollars? How do school facilities fit into the equation, as well as private sources of support for the charter sector? What are recent evolutions in policy concerning charter finance and facilities, and what’s on the horizon?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Flavor of School Choice Policy Gains Ground in States

The trophy case at the highly regarded Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. A new Nevada law will allow parents to access state funds to pay for educational expenses, including tuition at private or parochial schools. (Flickr/David Syzdek)

The sweeping new school choice law in Nevada — or more precisely, educational choice law — has attracted significant national media coverage and analysis. Nevada public school families can apply to spend more than $5,000 in state aid per child on private school tuition or other educational expenses each year, including tutoring, online courses, textbooks, and even home-schooling.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

At Catholic High School, Chicago Students Earn While They Learn

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School's principal Pat Garrity, left, and its vice president of advancement, Elizabeth White. (Sarah Darville for EWA)

When Carolyn Alessio assigned her students to prepare to act out a trial to probe the themes of “Frankenstein,” she was surprised at what she found at the top of a few of their supporting documents — perfectly formatted docket numbers.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Urban Schools Landscape: Lessons From Chicago

Students a campus operated by the University of Chicago's charter school network. The Windy City's education policies took center stage during a session at EWA's 68th National Seminar. (Seong-Ah Cho, Urban Education Institute)

Urban education leaders crammed a marathon of Chicago’s public education woes and wonders into a 45-minute session (more akin to a 5K race) at the Education Writers Association’s recent National Seminar in Chicago.

Sara Ray Stoelinga, the director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, joined colleague Timothy Knowles for a breakfast panel titled “10 Lessons to Take Home From Chicago” at the EWA event.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Ten Questions to Ask on Nevada’s New School Choice Law

The Nevada Legislative Building in Carson City. The Silver State's newly approved school voucher law is attracting national attention for its breadth and depth. (Flickr/Ken Lund)

Nevada this week drew national attention after Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval signed legislation creating a universal school choice program that appears to be unprecedented in scope.

It’s what’s known as an “education savings account” program, though it’s similar in some respects to voucher initiatives. Or, as one analyst said, it’s akin to “a voucher on steroids.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Students, Teachers Thrive at U. of Chicago Charter School

Kindergarteners at the NKO campus of the UChicago Charter during a visit by EWA members in April 2015. (Beth Hawkins for EWA)

What’s most notable about the Chicago kindergarten class where assistant teacher Nichelle Bell is temporarily in charge is what is not happening. Teachers are not redirecting pupils, who are not off-task. Hands are not in other people’s spaces. Voices—those of children and adults—are not raised.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Charter Schools: Following the Money

President Obama visits the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School in New Orleans. The city has become fertile territory for charter operators, and reporters writing about the publicly funded campuses.  (Pete Souza for The White House)

Reporters should pay attention not just to the amount of money charter schools receive but how they are spending it, reporter and moderator Sarah Carr said as she kicked off a session on charter school finance at the Education Writers Association’s recent National Seminar in Chicago.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Covering School Choice, On a Deadline

Erik Robelen, EWA deputy director, introduces reporters at National Seminar in Chicago in April, 2015. (Madeleine Cummings)

When Lori Higgins of the Detroit Free Press began investigating for a series on charter schools, she and her colleagues gathered in a conference room at the Michigan Department of Education and started flipping through blue binders on every charter school in the state. The reporters pored over contracts and leases, filed Freedom of Information Act requests, visited schools, interviewed teachers, and had a data expert analyze student test scores.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Holding Charter Schools Accountable

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visits  Pembroke Pines Charter High School in Florida in 2012. Some policy analysts contend the bar for authorizing new charter schools is set too low in the Sunshine State as well as Arizona. (Flickr/U.S. Department of Education)

With charter schools serving about 6 percent of America’s public school students, most everyone — from teachers’ unions to researchers to right-leaning advocates — seems to agree that the publicly funded but independently run schools are here to stay. That much was clear from an Education Writers Association panel on the future of charter schools, held last month in Denver.

But what happens next is up for debate.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

The Charter School Quality Conundrum

Merrimack College student Megan Donahue completing her graduate practicum at the Lawrence Family Development Charter School, in Lawrence, Mass. A recent study finds charter schools in that state have relatively strong achievement, but across the nation quality has been very uneven. (Flickr/Merrimack College)

Charter schools increasingly are being scrutinized for the exact problem many advocates hoped they would help solve: poor student outcomes. How exactly to deal with those schools that do not meet academic expectations—or fail in other regards, such as employing questionable business practices or not being equitable in welcoming all students—have become key concerns.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Two Authors, Two Views on Future of Charter Schools

Authors Richard Whitmire (left) and Richard Kahlenberg speak with EWA's Erik Robelen at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

Where are charter schools headed? Two authors offer different takes on the movement.

A pair of recent books provide notably different takes on the charter schools sector, including its strengths and weaknesses, as well as what the main focus of these public schools of choice should be.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Debating the Special Education Challenge in Charter Schools

As the charter schools sector faces increased scrutiny for educating a smaller share of students with disabilities than traditional public schools, the conversation is increasingly focused on better understanding the reasons and looking for ways to improve the situation.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

On School Choice, Denver Grapples With Equity

Students at the Girls Athletic Leadership School, a Denver charter campus, begin their day with yoga. School leaders say transportation issues pose a significant hurdle for prospective families. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

Denver Public Schools has made strides in creating educational choices for families in the city, but still has work ahead to make those choices accessible to everyone, experts and a district leader agreed during a panel discussion last week in Denver.

The district, with nearly 90,000 students, has a variety of school options and a single, uniform application process for attending any of the city’s public schools.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

10 Years After Katrina, What Are the K-12 Lessons From New Orleans?

Hurricane Katrina sparked an unprecedented public education experiment in New Orleans. Panelists at EWA's seminar on charters and choice explored the lessons it may have for the rest of the country.
Source: Flickr/ News Muse (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Nearly a decade ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and, in doing so, catalyzed one of the most dramatic expansions of school choice in the country. With so many schools destroyed and students displaced, the state and city started from scratch.

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Charters & Choice: EWA in Denver

Paul Teske, dean of the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs, and EWA Executive Director Caroline Hendrie.  (EWA/Emily Richmond)

We spent two days in Denver last week talking about charter schools and choice with a wide range of academic experts, policymakers, and educators. 

Also presenting were journalists who recently undertook large-scale investigative reporting projects of the charter school world: David Jesse (representing the reporting team at the Detroit Free Press) and Dan Mihalopoulos of the Chicago Sun-Times:

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Special Education and Charter Schools
Charters & Choice Seminar

Special Education and Charter Schools

A worrisome dimension of charter schooling is the oftentimes disproportionately low share of students with disabilities served by this sector of public education. Experts explore what explains the situation, what’s being done about it, and highlight examples where intensive work is underway to ensure that charters effectively serve the needs of all children, including those with disabilities.

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School Choice Policy and Politics: What’s Ahead?
Charters & Choice Seminar

School Choice Policy and Politics: What’s Ahead?

Republican gains in the 2014 elections set the stage for a renewed push to expand school choice at the state and federal levels, including charter schools, vouchers, and tuition tax credits. What legislation is emerging and what stands the greatest likelihood of becoming law? To what extent will policymakers respond to concerns about quality and accountability in schools of choice?

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Private Schools and Public Funding
Charters & Choice Seminar

Private Schools and Public Funding

Public policy efforts to expand private school choice continue to grow, and may well get a boost from GOP gains in the midterm elections last fall. From vouchers to tuition tax credits and education savings accounts, what’s happening, what’s on the horizon, and why? How do these initiatives vary across states and cities? What role does and should testing and accountability play in publicly subsidized choice initiatives? Where do key legal challenges stand?

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Lessons From New Orleans
Charters & Choice Seminar

Lessons From New Orleans

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that sparked an unprecedented experiment in public education in New Orleans. Nearly all public schools in the city are now charters. A decade in, what have we learned about the New Orleans experience and what lessons does it offer to other states and communities that are looking to ramp up the role of charters and choice in public education?

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Eye on Denver
Charters & Choice Seminar

Eye on Denver

This city has developed a robust and diverse set of public school options for students, including several dozen charter schools as well as the district’s own “innovation” schools. Denver is also seen as a place, unlike many, where the district and the charter sectors play well together. What does school choice look like in Denver? How meaningful are the options for students? Is the choice landscape promoting equity?

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School Choice: Keeping Parents Informed

A classroom at Summit Public School: Denali, a charter campus in Sunnyvale, Calif. (EWA/Emily Richmond)

When I was a beat reporter in Las Vegas, families were constantly on the move. And my phone was constantly ringing with parents all asking for the same information: What’s the best school in town, and how do I get my child enrolled? 

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How One Charter Group Took a Start-Up Approach to Teaching

Classroom with Chromebooks Flickr/kjarrett (CC BY 2.0)

At Summit Public School: Denali, young learners do it differently. Most of the students at this Bay Area-area school complete their coursework on school-issued Chromebooks, where they access a portal to online videos, assigned readings and interim assessments they take at their own pace. It’s a competency-based approach to proving they have mastered the subject at hand. 

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The 2015 Education Beat: Common Core, Testing, School Choice

Students at New York University work on a computer programming project. More interactive learning is expected to be a hot topic in the coming year on both the K-12 and higher education beats. (Flickr/Matylda Czarnecka)

There’s a busy year ahead on the schools beat – I talked to reporters, policy analysts and educators to put together a cheat sheet to a few of the stories you can expect to be on the front burner in the coming months: 

Revamping No Child Left Behind

Report

How Parents Experience Public School Choice

This report examines parents’ experiences with public school choice across eight “high-choice” cities: Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. In each city, researchers surveyed 500 public school parents (4,000 total) and collected data on the systems that shape how they navigate school choice, including the availability of information, the process of enrolling, and transportation options.

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Impact Academy: Rethinking Student Assessment

Sophie Wellington at Impact Academy, Nov. 19, 2014. (EWA/Lori Crouch)

On a recent Wednesday morning, 11th-grader Sophia Wellington took to the undersized stage at the front of her high school gym and with seamless poise demonstrated what smarter student assessment could look like.

Seminar

Charters & Choice: Making Sense of the Fast-Evolving Landscape in K-12 Education
Journalist-Only Seminar

Charter schools. Vouchers. Education tax credits. The “portfolio” model of schooling in cities. It’s nearly impossible to find consensus on these hot-button issues, but one thing is clear: American families are seeing more school options at the K-12 level than ever before, especially in urban areas. And the Republican gains in the 2014 elections at the federal and state levels are widely expected to provide further impetus for expanding school choice.

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New Developments Signal More Growth for Charters

The nation’s charter schools sector appears poised for still more growth — and potentially increased geographic diversity — as several states that have long resisted the push for charters may finally allow them. Also, a fresh round of federal grants and new expansion plans by charter networks are fueling the upward trend.

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Five Questions For… NCEE’s Marc Tucker
On School Accountability, Teachers, and the Common Core

Marc Tucker

Marc Tucker, president and chief executive of the National Center on Education and the Economy, recently unveiled a proposed accountability plan for public schools that includes significantly reducing the number of tests students take, and building extensive professional development time for teachers into every school day. He spoke with EWA.

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Nashville Charter School Focuses on Neighborhood’s Needs

When LEAD Public Schools came into Nashville in 2010, they took over a campus that had seen a history of low performance and substantial overhauls. Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools intended to close the site – most recently occupied by Cameron Middle School – outright.

“This was a persistently struggling school for quite some time,” said Shaka Mitchell, who oversees public affairs for the Nashville charter network.

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Nashville Magnet School Students Sing Different Tune

More than a few reporters at EWA’s National Seminar who signed up for the visit to Pearl Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School in Nashville suggested that the campus would certainly be infused with country music elements. Perhaps cowboy hats and boots on each student, with future Taylor Swifts and Scotty McCreerys singing their way through the halls – right?

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The Authorizer Effect: Creating High-Quality Charter Schools

The Authorizer Effect: Creating High-Quality Charter Schools

Can the quality of a charter school be determined by the entity providing the authorization?

While the research on this question has been mixed, education and policy analysts agree that charter school authorizers wield significant power – particularly when it comes to deciding to launch a school, or to shutter one that fails to meet expectations.

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What Happens When States Take Over School Districts?

Dan Varner of Excellent Schools Detroit speaks at the 67th National Seminar.

State takeover districts have been lauded as the savior of children left behind by inept local school boards — and derided as anti-democratic fireworks shows that don’t address the root causes of poor education. Three panelists took an hour during EWA’s National Seminar in Nashville to get beyond the flash and noise and discuss the real challenges of state school takeovers, a process all acknowledged is disruptive.

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Will ‘Portfolio District Model’ Yield Returns on Investment?

The idea has a simple, seductive appeal. Expand the things that work, cut short the things that don’t.

The notion, drawn from the investment world, has manifested itself in public education as the “Portfolio District Model.” Instead of managing stocks and bonds, school districts manage schools, creating or expanding successful ones, closing unsuccessful ones, focusing with zeal on academic results.

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An International Viewpoint on Vouchers

Some of these Swedish soccer fans likely went to a school that's part of Sweden's voucher system. (Source: Wikimedia)

Do choice and competition improve education systems? Plenty of advocates and well-heeled foundations think so, underwriting research and efforts to bring more charter schools and voucher programs to fruition. But in Sweden, the market dynamics of school choice seem to have produced troubling results for the Scandinavian nation.

Key Coverage

Florida’s Charter Schools: Unsupervised Investigation

Unchecked charter-school operators are exploiting South Florida’s public school system, collecting taxpayer dollars for schools that quickly shut down.

A recent spate of charter-school closings illustrates weaknesses in state law: virtually anyone can open or run a charter school and spend public education money with near impunity, a Sun Sentinel investigation found.

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The Authorizer Effect

The Authorizer Effect

Whether it’s a curriculum that makes religion the fourth “R,” a principal who steers lucrative contracts to family members, or test scores that remain stuck in the cellar, charter schools often make the news for all the wrong reasons. Analysts have long seen a connection between problem charters and the process for deciding who gets a charter to operate in the first place. But how much difference does the quality of charter authorizing actually make? Have efforts to strengthen charter authorizing been effective, and if so, where?

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Achieving a New State: A Look at State Turnaround Districts

Achieving a New State: A Look at State Turnaround Districts

More places are experimenting with state-run initiatives to address chronically low-performing public schools. Converting such schools to charters is among the strategies these state-led districts employ. We showcase leading examples of the trend, including the Achievement School District in Tennessee. Observers also comment on the Louisiana Recovery School District and the Michigan Education Achievement Authority. How well are their strategies working?

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New Polls Show Americans Frustrated With State of Education

New Polls Show Americans Frustrated With State of Education

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, EWA’s Emily Richmond talks with Phi Delta Kappa’s Bill Bushaw about a new Gallup/PDK poll on attitudes toward public education. Watch it here!

The PDK/Gallup poll generated some media buzz, and when viewed alongside two other education polls released this week, reveals a populace that has an ambivalent view on the state of U.S. schools. 

Catch up with news coverage of the polls’ results and responses from stakeholders below:

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Dissecting the Data on Charter Schools

A new study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) concludes that charter school students in some states are making respectable academic gains while others are falling behind their peers at traditional public schools. (You’ll find a handy aggregation of the media coverage at EdMedia Commons.) The new CREDO report, like much of the charter schools research, is expected to spur criticism of its methodology and findings.

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National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Rates States’ Laws

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an advocacy organization, has released its new report “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws.” States were ranked based on a variety of factors including how difficult it is for charters to get up and running, whether states allow multiple authorizers (which typically means organizers have more opportunities to win approval), and whether there is a cap on the total number of charter schools allowed to operate.