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 section of Story Starters 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 section of Story Starters 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 structures 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.  As of 2017, only eight states did not have some form of charter school law in place. And the number of students attending the independently run schools topped 2.6 million by 2014-15—up from 1.6 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. 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.

Perennial Issues

Over the  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. 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 exemplars whose work and approach should—and can—be replicated.

The charter school movement also faces 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.

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.

While the majority of charter boards operate just one site, some charter schools are overseen by charter management organizations (CMOs) or education management organizations (EMOs). These are 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 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; as of 2017, it operated 209 schools in 20 states.

The charter school movement also faces 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.

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.

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“When there’s a data session here and you have to pick which category you’re in, I would be in the beginner category,” said Adam Tamburin, a higher education reporter for The Tennessean, during a panel at the Education Writers Association’s 2019 National Seminar in Baltimore.

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(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

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The State of Private School Choice
EWA National Seminar • Los Angeles May 16, 2018

The State of Private School Choice

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Speakers:

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photo of students at EWA Character & Citizenship event..

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EWA 71st National Seminar Los Angeles graphic

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Monday, December 4, 2017

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Blog: The Educated Reporter

Trump’s School Choice Plan Could Quickly Stall in Washington, Analysts Say

Plans to expand school choice from President Donald Trump may be generating a lot of attention — but they should be taken with a dose of political reality, and not obscure other key issues.

That was one of the main messages from a panel of K-12 advocates discussing the changing politics of education, part of the annual conference of the Education Writers Association in Washington, D.C., this week.

Blog: The Educated Reporter Lori Crouch

DeVos Won’t Be Speaking at EWA Seminar But Here’s What Other Education Secretaries Had to Say

When U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos declined EWA’s invitation to speak at its 70th National Seminar, it prompted coverage from The Associated Press, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, among others, in part because of her already limited press availability in the nearly four months since she was appointed to the cabinet post.

EWA Radio

A Reality Check on Trump’s Education Budget
EWA Radio: Episode 123

Emma Brown of The Washington Post discusses President Trump’s budget proposal for education, with fresh analysis of the priorities and politics behind the line items. She also explains the prospects in the GOP-led Congress for the Trump plan. Overall, the president’s budget envisions deep cuts to the U.S. Department of Education budget, even as he wants to step up federal aid for school choice.  Which education programs are up for major cuts or outright elimination and why? How do some of the largest programs, like Title I aid for disadvantaged students and Pell grants, fare?

EWA Radio

White, Wealthy Cities Setting Up Their Own School Districts
EWA Radio: Episode 121

Lauren Camera of U.S. News & World Report discusses a little-noticed, and potentially troubling, trend: Dozens of cities nationwide have broken off from their counties to create new school districts, increasing student segregation by race, ethnicity, and family income. What are the implications of a recent U.S. district court ruling in Alabama that allowed such a move?

Blog: The Educated Reporter Lori Crouch

Girls Get Fresh Start at All-Female Charter School

Ask the principal of any U.S. high school and they’ll likely tell you their goal is to graduate all of their students “college- or career-ready.” That is, students should be prepared to begin postsecondary education or enter the workforce and be successful.

Andrea Purcell, the principal of an all-girls charter school, is no different, despite the fact that her group of 120 or so high school-aged students are among the most at-risk for dropping out.

Blog: The Educated Reporter Lori Crouch

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.”

Blog: The Educated Reporter Lori Crouch

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.

Blog: The Educated Reporter Elizabeth Thorne

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.

EWA Radio Allison Kowalski

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 George Dieter

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.

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 Elizabeth Thorne

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.

Webinar

Measuring the Soft Skills: What Reporters Need to Know

Measuring the Soft Skills: What Reporters Need to Know

Should schools measure skills like cooperation, communication, self-confidence and the ability to organize? Efforts to gauge these so-called “soft skills” are gaining traction in the classroom, especially with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. The new federal law calls on states and school districts to incorporate at least one measure beyond test scores and graduation rates in their accountability systems.

EWA Radio Allison Kowalski

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 Erik Robelen

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.

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 Caroline Hendrie

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

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 Michael Marriott

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 Allison Kowalski

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 George Dieter

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 George Dieter

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.

EWA Radio Michael Marriott

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 Caroline Hendrie

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 Michael Marriott

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 Mikhail Zinshteyn

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 Michael Marriott

Chicago Students Soar at Noble Charter High School

At Noble Charter High School in Chicago, seniors decorate their lockers with the names of colleges to which they've been accepted. (Jessica Huseman for EWA)

The Noble Network of Charter Schools is arguably Chicago’s most famous charter chain. Despite having schools only in one city and operating exclusively at the high school level, charter advocates now consider Noble to be in the same tier as KIPP and Achievement First — national brands in the no-excuses charter arena.

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:

Multimedia

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.

Multimedia

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?

Multimedia

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?

Multimedia

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?

Multimedia

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

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.

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.

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.

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.