Charters & Choice


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

Democrats Press Betsy DeVos on Privatization, ESSA, and LGBT Rights

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education, sought to use her confirmation hearing to beat back the notion that she would undermine public education as head of the department, as Democrats pressed her on everything from her views on the civil rights of gay and lesbian students, to states’ responsibilities for students in special education, and guns in schools. 

Latest News

Devos Pledges Not To Undo Public Education, Pushes Choice

In a sometimes contentious confirmation hearing, education secretary pick Betsy DeVos pledged that she would not seek to dismantle public schools amid questions by Democrats about her qualifications, political donations and long-time work advocating for charter schools and school choice.

DeVos said she would address “the needs of all parents and students” but that a one-size fits all model doesn’t work in education.

Latest News

What Betsy DeVos Did (and Didn’t) Reveal About Her Education Priorities

Donald Trump advocated on the campaign trail for a $20 billion federal school-voucher program. But during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday evening, Betsy DeVos, the president-elect’s choice to lead the U.S. Education Department, said school choice should be a state decision. She framed school choice as a right for students and families. And she said during the hearing that she was committed to strengthening public education for all students.

Latest News

Trump Education Pick Devos Promotes School Choice At Confirmation Hearing

Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos voiced strong support for public school alternatives at her confirmation hearing Tuesday, telling senators that “parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning fits the needs of every child.”

DeVos told the Senate Health, Education and Pensions Committe that she would be “a strong advocate for great public schools” if confirmed, but added that “if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child … we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

Latest News

Devos Grilled By Democratic Leaders Over Her Advocacy For School Choice

Betsy DeVos, a Michigan advocate for school choice and vouchers and President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, vowed Tuesday to protect any schools – public, private or otherwise – as long as they are working for students and parents and serving their needs.

Facing Democrats who questioned DeVos’ support of school choice and what it may mean for public schools, DeVos said she supports “any great school” – including public schools and those beyond what “the (public school) system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve.”

Latest News

Betsy DeVos’s Education Hearing Erupts Into Partisan Debate

At her confirmation hearing on Tuesday to be education secretary, Betsy DeVos vigorously defended her work steering taxpayer dollars from traditional public schools, arguing that it was time to move away from a “one size fits all” system and toward newer models for students from preschool to college.

The hearing quickly became a heated and partisan debate that reflected the nation’s political divide on how best to spend public money in education.

Latest News

Can Betsy DeVos Be Blamed for the State of Detroit’s Schools? What You Need to Know

Donald Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s next secretary of education doesn’t live in Detroit. She doesn’t routinely work in Detroit, either.

But Detroit is nonetheless sure to be on the agenda when billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos sits down Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee for the start of her confirmation hearings.

Latest News

Once A Flood, Applications For New Philadelphia Charters Slow To A Trickle

Once a hotbed of charter school expansion, Philadelphia has seen charter applications slow to a trickle.

Just four organizations applied for new charters during the 2016-17 application cycle. The district has also decided not to grow its Renaissance Schools program, through which charter operators take over struggling traditional public schools.

As a result, 2017 is shaping up to be a relatively quiet one on the charter front in the city.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Quickly Could Trump Change Public Education?

It’s shaping up to be a contentious year on the education beat, fueled in part by Donald Trump’s upset victory in the presidential election. For starters, in the days and weeks since his election, his campaign call for expanding school choice has sparked widespread discussion and debate.

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. 

Latest News

Choosing A School In Indianapolis Is Changing

Advocates for the new Enroll Indy unified enrollment system say it will make things easier by giving parents a single way to apply simultaneously to district and charter schools.

At a time when the changing school system has made choosing a school increasingly difficult, the goal is to help parents figure out which of their many school options will meet their children’s needs and demystify the process for enrolling.

Latest News

Jeb Bush’s Consolation Prize

There may be a silver lining to the 2016 presidential election for Jeb Bush — the elevation of his longtime friend, patron and political ally, Betsy DeVos, as education secretary.

If DeVos is confirmed by the Senate as most expect, Bush could see his views on education — repeatedly ridiculed on the campaign trail by Donald Trump — given new life as she turns their shared vision into national policy.

Latest News

Donald Trump and K-12 Education: Five Things to Watch in 2017

Happy New Year! It’s officially time to start writing 2017 on your checks.

The presidential transition means an especially busy start to the year. President-elect Donald Trump may not have talked much about education on the campaign trail, but the first part of the year will tell us a lot about the direction he wants to go and how much of a priority he places on the issue. What’s more, we’ll get a glimpse of how well he’s able to work with Congress on K-12, not to mention early and higher education.   

Here are five things to watch in the months ahead:

Latest News

‘School Choice’ Or ‘Privatization’? A Guide To Loaded Education Lingo In The Trump Era

Some people — including President-elect Donald Trump — believe that to improve U.S. education, the nation should stop spending so many tax dollars on public schools and instead invest in alternatives, including charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools.

They say they are part of a movement for school choice, for empowering all parents, regardless of income, to select the best learning experience for their children.

Latest News

The Learning Curve: Race and Class Often Color the Debate Over Charter Schools

Charter schools have existed in San Diego since 1994, but the debate over whether they’re good for public education shows no signs of slowing down.

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run. In San Diego, there’s been a steady growth of students opting out of traditional schools and into charter schools. This year, roughly 20 percent of students living within San Diego Unified boundaries are enrolled in charters, and district officials expect the numbers to rise.

Latest News

LA Unified Schools: Hubs for Education — and Social Services?

Los Angeles schools shouldn’t only be places where students go to learn; they should also be community centers, after-school gathering spots and hubs for social services.

That principle is better known nationally as the “community schools” model — and it’s about to get the endorsement of a newly-formed, powerhouse coalition of labor unions, faith-based groups and social justice organizations who see it as a new organizing principle for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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.

Latest News

How Trump’s Education Nominee Bent Detroit to Her Will on Charter Schools

Few disagreed that schools in Detroit were a mess: a chaotic mix of charters and traditional public schools, the worst-performing in the nation.

So city leaders across the political spectrum agreed on a fix, with legislation to provide oversight and set standards on how to open schools and close bad ones.

But the bill died without even getting a final vote. And the person most influential in killing it is now President-elect Donald J. Trump’s nominee to oversee the nation’s public schools, Betsy DeVos.

Latest News

Betsy DeVos’s Michigan Legacy

It’s clear how Betsy DeVos wants to change public education.

It’s equally clear how hard Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education will push, and how much she’ll spend, to make those changes. What’s less clear is whether her remedies for public education — unveiled in Michigan over more than two decades — actually help students learn.

Latest News

Xavier Partners With Charter Schools in Bid to Diversify New Orleans’ Teaching Force

Xavier University has joined forces with a nonprofit group at the forefront of the New Orleans charter school movement to create a first-of-its-kind “residency” program intended to diversify the city’s public school teaching force. The program will primarily recruit Xavier University seniors and recent graduates, many of whom have ties to the community. It is the first such partnership in the country between charter schools and a historically black college or university. 

Latest News

Donald Trump’s Huge, Ambitious School Voucher Plan, Explained

When Donald Trump set out to pick the next education secretary, he faced a stark choice. He could choose an insider who had shaped education policy for a state or large school district. Or he could bring in an outsider — someone who views traditional public schools as a failed system in need of dismantling.

He picked an outsider.

Latest News

How the Face of Denver Public Schools Is Changing, Explained in Five Charts

Colorado’s largest school district continues to grow, though not at the same breakneck pace that saw Denver Public Schools gain 20,000 students in the past decade. This year, DPS has 902 more students in preschool through 12th grade for a total of 92,331 kids, according to officials.

That’s about a 1 percent increase over last year, when the district had 91,429 students.

There are several reasons why student enrollment is slowing even as the city’s population is surging.

Latest News

NC Education Board Opens Door to Charlotte Charter School Takeover

With test scores low, enrollment declining and money tight, Charlotte’s Community Charter School got a chance at survival Thursday when the North Carolina Board of Education opened the door to takeover by another charter school.

It would be a first if it works, a prospect that some Board of Education members said holds out hope for other struggling charter schools. If it fails, Community Charter will have to close at the end of this school year.

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. 


Latest News

Detroit Just Created Its First Intentionally Diverse Charter School. Here’s Why It Might Not Stay That Way.

In the 20 years since charter schools first opened as a free alternative to traditional district schools in Michigan and around the country, many of the privately run, publicly funded schools have focused on serving poor students in urban areas. It’s one of the reasons why charter schools are some of the most segregated schools in the nation.

But a growing group of educators have tried to change that by building schools designed to attract kids from different backgrounds and different neighborhoods.

Latest News

Trump’s Education Secretary Pick Led Group That Owes Millions In Election Fines

A school-choice advocacy group headed by billionaire Betsy DeVos owes the state of Ohio more than $5.3 million for election law violations — a record fine that is now nearly a decade past due.

DeVos is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department. The unpaid fine dates back to 2008, when All Children Matter — a group that lobbied for school-choice legislation and was run by DeVos — broke Ohio election law by funneling $870,000 in contributions through its nationwide PAC to its Ohio affiliate, according to the Ohio Elections Commission.

Latest News

Another News Site Wrestles with a Potential Trump Conflict of Interest

Former network TV anchor Campbell Brown has always said she wanted her education-news site, The 74, to be perceived as a nonpartisan source for improving the nation’s primary- and secondary-school education.

But Donald Trump may have just dumped a major conflict of interest right into Brown’s, and The 74’s, lap.

By naming billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos as his pick for secretary of education on Wednesday, Trump put Brown in the awkward position of covering one of her closest allies.

Latest News

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Has Steered Money From Public Schools

It is hard to find anyone more passionate about the idea of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools than Betsy DeVos, Donald J. Trump’s pick as the cabinet secretary overseeing the nation’s education system. For nearly 30 years, as a philanthropist, activist and Republican fund-raiser, she has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence.

Latest News

Betsy DeVos: Fighter For Kids or Destroyer of Public Schools?

Betsy DeVos will either be a strong fighter for the education of kids or destroy public education. That about sums up the strong opinions about President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint DeVos to the highest education role in the nation. School choice and charter advocates praised her appointment. Union officials, Democratic activists and public school advocates slammed it.

Latest News

D.C.’s Public Charter School System Turned 20 This Year. Now What?

Malcolm “Mike” Peabody, a real estate developer and activist, believed that the failing schools and a lack of opportunities for poor black residents were a civil rights issue. He wanted to mend these impoverished neighborhoods by improving schools, but he thought it would be impossible given the hold the teachers union had on the school system. His solution: public education that could exist outside the D.C. Public Schools.

Latest News

Trump’s School Choice Proposal a ‘Mandate’ That Was ‘Never Talked About’

As the USA’s K-12 education community waits for President-elect Donald Trump to flesh out his proposals, one simple idea has captured nearly everyone’s attention: his plan to give families an eye-popping $20 billion in taxpayer funds to send their kids to the public, magnet, charter or private school of their choice.

But drill down a bit and the proposal gets complicated.

Latest News

How Workable is Trump’s $20 Billion School Choice Proposal?

President-elect Donald Trump’s biggest education pitch during the presidential campaign was for a $20 billion voucher program that students could use at both public and private schools. So, now that he’s been elected, how feasible is that? And would states even be interested in it?

The money would have to come from somewhere. Trump said during the campaign that he’d like to use existing federal funds to support his big school choice program, even though he didn’t say, specifically what pot of money he was referring to.

Latest News

Trump’s School Choice Expansion Plan May Face Uphill Battle

WASHINGTON — School voucher programs in the nation’s capital and Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana could serve as a blueprint for a Trump administration plan to use public money to enable disadvantaged students to attend the public or private school of their choice.

President-elect Donald Trump made clear that school choice would be an education priority.

Latest News

School Choice Likely to Top Trump’s Agenda for K-12 Education

What might change in public schools after Donald Trump becomes president in January is anyone’s guess.

But experts and insiders are predicting that education changes will not be a high priority for the Trump administration. During a panel discussion Monday at the National Press Club, several experts said the new administration will likely be more focused on health care and immigration.

If there are changes for education, they will likely come first in higher education, where Trump has promised to privatize student loan programs, some said.

Latest News

Which Washington-Area School Will Barron Trump Attend?

It’s been 35 years since a First Kid has attended a school other than Sidwell Friends, the private school whose student body has included Chelsea Clinton and both Obama girls. The elite Quaker institution in leafy upper northwest Washington has educated many a political offspring, from Vice President Biden’s grandchildren to Al Gore III to both Nixon daughters.

But will President-elect Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, enroll their 10-year-old son, Barron, there? Some educational experts say it’s unlikely.

Latest News

In Southeastern San Diego, Charters Are the New Neighborhood Schools

There are two schools in southeastern San Diego where more than 90 percent of students come from the surrounding neighborhood. Families are welcomed on campus and students walk down neighborhood streets to get to school.

It is very much the image of the neighborhood school that San Diego Unified wants to create in every corner of town. But these aren’t neighborhood schools the way district officials imagine them. They’re charter schools.

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?  

Latest News

Mass. Voters Appear To Reject Major Charter School Expansion

Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly rejected a major expansion of charter schools Tuesday, brushing aside calls for greater choice amid concerns about the overall health of public education.

The vote is a major victory for teachers unions and civil rights organizations, which argued that charters are diverting too much money and attention from traditional public schools that serve the overwhelming majority of students.

With 87 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday, the “no” side was leading 62 percent to 38 percent.

Latest News

Detroit District to Take Over 14 EAA Schools in June

The Detroit Public Schools Community District will take over 14 Education Achievement Authority schools in June and millions the authority owes the district has been resolved. Fourteen EAA schools will return to the district and hopefully, district officials say, so will the students occupying those buildings. There are about 5,500 students attending the 12 schools and another 1,000 enrolled in three charter schools.

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.

Latest News

Trump-Clinton? Charter Schools Are the Big Issue on Massachusetts’ Ballot

in deep blue Massachusetts, the contentious campaigning is not for president but for a ballot question on whether to expand charter schools. The pitched battle in this state, known as a bellwether on education policy, reflects the passions that charter schools arouse nationwide, particularly regarding a central part of the debate: If they offer children in lagging traditional public schools an alternative path to a quality education, do they also undermine those schools and the children in them?

Latest News

Schools That Work

Charter schools — public schools that operate outside the normal system — have become a quarrelsome subject, of course, alternately hailed as saviors and criticized as an overrated fad. Away from the fights, however, social scientists have quietly spent years analyzing the outcomes of students who attend charter schools.

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.

Latest News

In Bid to Lift Mass. Charter Cap, Pitched Battle Rages

A simple yes-or-no question being put to Massachusetts voters next month—whether a cap on the number of charter schools allowed to open in the state should be lifted—has turned into a national political battle between charter advocates and those who oppose the publicly funded but independently run schools.

Latest News

Charter Question Splits Suburbs — Even Suburbs With No Charter Schools

Gov. Charlie Baker argues in an ad supporting Question 2, which would allow 12 new charter schools a year, that the change would not affect suburban districts.

Baker’s message directly targets suburban voters: “If you like your school, Question 2 won’t affect you,” the governor says, “but Question 2 will change the future for thousands of kids who need your help.”

Latest News

Money from Charter School Advocates in 2016 Elections

How much are charter advocates spending?

A lot…. As of November 1, the top two spenders are both education reform groups — EdVoice and the Parent Teacher Alliance.

Both charter groups have spent $2 million more than the number three spender, the Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class, which is backed by oil companies.

Latest News

SD Unified’s Touted Grad Rate Excluded Thousands of Students

More than 11,000 students began school as freshmen in San Diego Unified in 2012, and just under 6,000 met graduation requirements in 2016. Yet the district proudly touts a 92 percent graduation rate for the class of 2016. The fact that thousands of students left district schools factored heavily into San Diego Unified’s graduation rate. To get this number, the district excluded thousands of students – like those enrolled in charter schools – from the very beginning.

Latest News

Bernie Sanders Jumps Into Massachusetts’s Charter School Fight, Opposes Question 2

Bernie Sanders says he opposes the Massachusetts ballot question to raise the charter school cap, in what is one of Question 2 opponents’ most high-profile, if not particularly surprising, endorsements. Inserting himself into the state politics of his southerly neighbor, the popular Vermont senator said in a statement Monday that the campaign supporting Question 2 was being backed by Wall Street hedge fund managers and, if passed, the measure would drain resources from public schools.

Latest News

Number of Home-Schooled Students Has Doubled Since 1999, New Data Shows

Approximately 1.8 million U.S. children were home-schooled in 2012, more than double the number that were home-schooled in 1999, when the federal government began gathering data on national home-schooling trends, according to estimates released Tuesday. The estimated number of home-schooled children represents 3.4 percent of the U.S. student population between the ages of 5 and 17.

The increase was fastest between 1999 and 2007, then slowed between 2007 and 2012, according to the estimates from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Member Stories

October 20-October 27
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

In Texas school districts, it’s often the men who are calling the shots. Shelby Webb of The Houston Chronicle explores why it’s the case that in a state where three out of four teachers are women, only one of five superintendents are female. Click here to bypass the story’s paywall.

Member Stories

October 13-20
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

Who will win the U.S. presidential election? Just ask America’s schoolchildren, who have accurately predicted the last 13 presidential elections, Greg Toppo of USA TODAY reports. This year’s nationwide mock election showed a landslide victory for Hillary Clinton.


Chicago could become the first U.S. city to cap its number of charter schools using a union contract, Lauren FitzPatrick writes for the Chicago Sun-Times.


Latest News

Judge Urges Families In School-Bullying Suit To Settle With City

A federal judge Tuesday strongly urged the Department of Education and parents who have filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of children who have been bullied at school to settle the case.

“I think this is the kind of problem best solved outside the courtroom,” Judge Nicholas Garaufis said Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court.

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.

Member Stories

October 6 – October 13
Here's what we're reading by EWA members

Learn about Finland’s transition toward a school schedule that merges multiple subjects into extended learning blocks, a move that could be the exception to the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Education Week’s Madeline Will has the story.

Melinda D. Anderson explains in The Atlantic how the “stress of racial discrimination may partly explain the persistent gaps in academic performance between some nonwhite students, mainly black and Latino youth, and their white counterparts.”

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 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. 

Member Stories

September 29-October 6
What we're reading by EWA members this week

In the first story of a new series for The Hechinger Report, Lynell Hancock writes about Greenville, Mississippi, whose school district was the first in the state to “defy the governor and voluntarily offer real choice for white and black children to enroll in each other’s schools.”


One year after the deadly shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, the unity and solidarity of the surrounding community hasn’t waned, Andrew Theen reports for The Oregonian.

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.


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.

Member Stories

August 18-25
A snapshot of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

Many people might think corporal punishment in U.S. schools is practically nonexistent in the modern era, but an Education Week analysis found more than 109,000 students were paddled, swatted, or otherwise physically punished at school in 2013-14, Sarah D. Sparks and Alex Harwin report.


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.

Member Stories

August 12-18
Here's what we're reading by EWA members this week

Who oversees a sexual assault charge on college campuses? There’s no set rule, and in some cases sports boosters adjudicate cases concerning student-athletes, reports Jake New for Inside Higher Ed.

After their son died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, this couple began asking questions about the cancer risk students who play on artificial turf face. The culprit may be the shredded tire bits deposited between the turf’s fake blades of grass, writes Debbie Cafazzo for The News Tribune.

Member Stories

July 28 – August 4
What we're reading by EWA members this past week

“At USC, the Warrior-Scholar Project aims to help veterans … hone academic and social skills that may be lacking or forgotten, dissuading many from considering a top-tier school,” writes Rosanna Xia of the Los Angeles Times

“Over 1 in 5 of California’s charter schools have restrictive admissions requirements or other exclusionary practices that keep out many students with the greatest academic needs,” reports Louis Freedberg of EdSource.

Member Stories

July 15 – July 21
What we're reading by EWA members these past two weeks

Larry Gordon of EdSource surveys the growing trend of universities opening satellite campuses in downtown centers, making completing degrees easier for adult learners in urban settings.

A charter school in East Oakland is offering an ambitious mix of rigorous summer academics mixed with art and play – a service typically reserved for middle-class parents willing to pay $300 a week for such programs. Sharon Noguchi of the San Jose Mercury News has more.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Key Coverage

Left Behind: The Unintended Consequences Of School Choice

Once a powerhouse Class AAAA school, North Charleston High can barely field sports teams anymore. Half of its classrooms sit empty. Saddled with a reputation for fights, drugs, gangs and students who can’t learn, middle-class families no longer give it a chance.

This is the unintended consequence of school choice.

Two-thirds of students in its attendance zone now flee to myriad magnets, charters and other school choices that beckon the brightest and most motivated from schools like this one.

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. 


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. 


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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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:


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.


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?


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?


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?


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?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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? 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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


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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.


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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.


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?


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?

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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:

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

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.

EdMedia Commons Archive

Five Questions For … Nina Rees, Newly Named President and CEO of the National Alliance For Public Charter Schools

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, representing 5,600 schools in 41 states and the District of Columbia, has announced the appointment of Nina Rees as the organization’s new president and chief executive officer. Rees previously served as first assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, and more recently spent more than six years as senior vice president for strategic initiatives for Knowledge Universe, a global education company.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Parent Trigger: Too Much Firepower for Public Education?

There’s a significant buzz out of Florida regarding proposed legislation that would enact a so-called “Parent Trigger:” Dissatisfied families could vote to have a local public school undergo significant restructuring including being converted to a charter school or turned over to a private operator.

Similar legislation has passed in California and Texas, not without controversy and ensuing conflict, and Indiana is also considering enacting a parent trigger.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Do Small Schools Work for Latinos?

Former New York CIty Mayor Michael Bloomberg viewed breaking up large failing high schools and creating smaller ones as one potential remedy to closing the achievement gap.

Now his successor, newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio will have the opportunity to reverse the program.

In a commentary piece for Education Week, University of California, Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller writes that many of the smaller campuses just furthered segregation by race and class. Small schools sometimes have just 200 students.