This week in school choice: Unfettered

Travis Pillow

This week, charter school advocates called out some on their own side — specifically, virtual charters — for widespread underperformance. The ensuing debate revealed a tension that arises under the new definition of public education.

Here’s the key point:

Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president of [The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools], said choice is critical but shouldn’t be unfettered, “While the market dynamics and competitive dynamic [are] important … at the end of the day it’s not enough — it’s sort of a necessary but insufficient thing.”

Among other things, the groups calling for change want states to ensure students who enroll in virtual charter schools are prepared to succeed in them, and to force virtual charters to justify the per-pupil funding they receive. They did not say they want to eliminate full-time virtual schooling, which can benefit some students.

Still, pushback from virtual charters and their allies was swift.

Policies that restrict parent choice, or create perverse incentives for schools to turn away at-risk children or others deemed not to likely to succeed, should be rejected.  They have no place in the school choice movement.

Families often choose online schools because they are fleeing a school or situation that wasn’t working for their child, or for other reasons – bullying, special needs, medical issues, social or emotional challenges, safety concerns, academic problems, etc. For many families, online schools are the only available public school choice they have.

Does this debate pit the prospect of unfettered choice, despite dismal results for many students, against regulations that raise thorny questions of their own? Or is there a third way — perhaps one that involves setting clear standards for online learning providers, giving parents better information about how they perform compared to other schools, and creating education savings accounts that encourage parents to economize, instilling a new form of financial accountability?

Meanwhile…

The Center of Education Reform issued a “manifesto” claiming education reform has stalled.

And yet, if we as a movement are to be honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that our efforts to drive change have a hit a wall. The reality is that more was accomplished in the first nine years of the education reform movement than in the past 16.

Checker Finn is not so glum.

Meanwhile, charters and choice continue to burgeon—a good thing—but it’s clear today that ensuring high-quality school options is harder than simply providing options. Standards are more rigorous. Achievement among poor and minority kids has risen a bit. Teacher evaluations are more serious. Tests are better.

Yes, we have miles to go—many, many miles—and bravo for Jeanne’s pushing us forward. Sometimes, though, we also have to clean up behind ourselves. For example, we’re mindful today that some who have flown the reform banner were keener on making money for themselves than on serving children well—and that not every glittering innovation has turned into a success. (Both of those sobering realities are illustrated by the widespread failure of online charters.)

A recent evaluation of the the SEED School in DC again shows schools that raise test scores don’t always improve students’ later-in-life outcomes.

The lawsuit over Nevada’s education savings accounts will drag on deeper into summer.

More school districts create unified enrollment systems for charter and other public schools.

Charter school facilities funding is complicated, in part because it isn’t equitable.

New Hampshire’s governor vetoes a school choice bill.

Massachusetts voters take liberal stances on transgender rights, millionaire’s taxes … and charter school expansion.

Connecticut charter schools turn 20.

How principal autonomy and other reforms foundered in Baltimore.

Delaware charters get to keep extra bus funding.

Even award-winning teachers struggle to navigate the education system for children with special needs.

Quote of the Week

If something does not work for my children here at Behrman, be it a teacher, be it a textbook, I can get rid of it … I got to handpick teachers—I’d never been able to do that before.

-Rene Lewis-Carter, principal of Martin Behrman Charter School in New Orleans, on what makes charter schools different.

Tweet of the Week

https://twitter.com/ConorPWilliams/status/743472949416574976

See more on the above-referenced study here.

This Week in School Choice is redefinED’s weekly roundup of national news related to educational options. It appears Monday mornings on the blog, or, if you sign up here, in your inbox. Did we miss something? Please send tips, links, suggestions and feedback to tpillow[at]sufs[dot]org.

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