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October 03, 2019

EdisonLearning Terminated in Chicago

EdisonLearning, the for-profit school management company, is a shrinking shadow of its once prominent self. Launched with much fanfare in 1991 as the Edison Project and taken public as a Wall Street darling by Merrill Lynch in 1999 as Edison Schools, the company changed its name a second time to EdisonLearning in 2008. At its height, the company in 2003 managed 133 schools enrolling 80,000 students in cities across the country. The company is now down to running two credit-recovery centers in Ohio and six alternative schools in Florida.

The latest bad news for the company, reported Chalkbeat in September, came in Chicago. After five years of running four credit-recovery centers in the Windy City, the company saw its contract terminated. School district officials concluded that students at the company’s schools “weren’t receiving enough in-person instruction and that its online curriculum offered mostly low-level tasks.”

In addition to faulting EdisonLearning for inadequate instruction, district officials took EdisonLearning to task for charging its own schools significant fees to use the company’s software. One official on this account, according to Chalkbeat, derided the company as a “money factory.”

Such criticism dovetails with censure of the company by district officials as well as former employees in Ohio, as reported by ProPublica in 2015, for aggressive marketing and for overstating attendance to collect per-pupil funding from the state.

Transforming Edison into a profitable operation has been an unending enterprise, as documented in the book Education and the Commercial Mindset (2016). The company, as the Edison Project, was initially slated to run a national network of for-profit private schools. But that plan hinged on the introduction of vouchers. With Bill Clinton’s defeat of George H.W. Bush in 1992, vouchers stood no chance of becoming a national reality in the near future. The company accordingly transmuted into a subcontractor, selling its management services to municipalities as well as charter boards to run schools.

This new model led to substantial growth and much support on Wall Street. When Merrill Lynch took Edison Schools public in 1999, the company was valued at $900 million. But with growth came mounting losses. Upon reaching its peak with 133 schools in 2003, the company shifted gears to focus more on providing school districts with professional development, curriculum guidance, and computer software for assessing student progress. The company moved further in this direction in 2008 when it changed its name for a second time to EdisonLearning.

In 2013, the company was forced to split. Its owner, Liberty Partners, a private equity group based in New York that purchased the company in 2003 for $91 million, was winding down. In what amounted to a fire sale, Liberty managed to sell only EdisonLearning’s supplementary educational services division to Catapult Learning, based in Camden, NJ, for $18 million. The remainder of the company trudged on in managing 11 schools, four online academies, and 13 credit-recovery centers. As Chalkbeat reported, with the nullification of the contract in Chicago, EdisonLearning is now down to two credit-recovery centers and six alternative schools.

September 09, 2019

Robert Pondiscio: Role of Parents Basic to Success of Charter Schools

Parental buy-in and involvement are the key ingredients to the success of high-performing charter schools, Robert Pondiscio writes in his forthcoming book, How the Other Half Learns: Equity, Excellence and the Battle Over School Choice.

In an excerpt published by The Wall Street Journal on September 7th, Pondiscio writes that high-performing networks like Success Academy in New York City succeed because of the parental engagement required.

Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, accordingly concedes what many charter advocates have denied: it is at bottom not the schools themselves that lead to impressive results but, rather, the enrollment only of children of parents willing to follow the rules set by the schools. Moreover, Pondiscio writes that while such sorting may seem unjust, there’s nothing wrong with it, as low-income parents should have the same freedom to choose a path for their children as do middle- and high-income parents.

Pondiscio grounds his analysis in the process at Success Academy. “By law, oversubscribed charter schools must admit students by lottery,” he writes. “Success Academy has roughly six applicants for every seat, which gives the appearance of a randomly selected student body. But it exercises unusual influence over which students end up actually enrolling. In the end, the chances of an applicant being offered a seat appear to be closer to 50/50 than one-in-six.”

Pondiscio elaborates: “Parents who win the lottery, and even those whose children are only on the wait list, must attend a series of mandatory meetings and complete various administrative steps for their applications to remain ‘active’ between the April lottery and the start of school in August. Those who falter fall away.

“At every step, school leaders aggressively preach to prospective parents about their no-nonsense culture and the expectation that parents come with eyes wide open, fully committed to Success Academy’s program and policies, including strict behavior codes, school uniform compliance, supervising homework, reading with children every night and recording what’s read in a log. Parents are warned repeatedly in unsparing language, ‘Success Academy may not be for you.’ Significantly, the schools offer no transportation or after-school programs, a potential deal breaker for working single parents or those without the support network to pick up and drop off their children every day.”

In justifying this approach, Pondiscio writes, “To deny low-income families of color the ability to self-select into safe and well-run schools with high expectations is to impose mediocrity on them, ostensibly for the public good. It is a burden that no affluent family is asked or expected to bear.”

Pondiscio closes in noting that Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of the network, contends she supports lotteries over screening because she doesn’t believe she could identify those families that would be successful. Yet Moskowitz, he writes, “has created a mechanism for those families to identify themselves.”

September 05, 2019

Wall Street Journal Publishes Dueling Op-Eds About School Reform

In the space of a week, The Wall Street Journal published dueling op-eds regarding the impact of the school reform movement.

In “Charter Schools’ Success Is an Illusion,” published August 27th, Glenn Sacks contended that the high test scores posted by charter schools reflect the same phenomenon of student sorting exhibited by district magnet schools.

Sacks, a teacher at a magnet high school in Los Angeles and co-chairman of the United Teachers of LA, explained that his students substantially outperformed students across California on the 2019 Advancement Placement U.S. Government and Politics exam but downplayed his own success as their teacher by noting the selection effect involved in magnet school enrollment. Sacks wrote this same effect is widely evident at charter schools.

“The selection effect that makes me appear more successful than I am,” Sacks wrote, “also makes charter schools appear more successful than they are…. Each spring, pro-charter websites are filled with standardized-test-score and college-acceptance hype, contrasting charters’ ‘success’ with traditional public schools’ scores and rates, as they were competing on a level playing field.”

Sacks wrote the playing field is quite tilted, however, and cited as evidence his own experience as a teacher at a neighborhood public school before moving to a magnet school. “Charter skimming is apparent in the public classroom,” he wrote. “Each year in the residential school, I lost a few students because they had been accepted to charters. Almost all of them were top-tier students.”

Making matters more challenging for neighborhood public schools, Sacks continued, is the charter school practice of shedding underperforming students: “At the same time, we received students midyear who struggled in charters and were bounced back to public schools.”

Seven days later, on September 3rd, the Journal published Karl Zinsmeister’s op-ed defending charter schools as well as the education reform movement in general.

In “Education Reform Will Weather the Left’s Assault,” Zinsmeister, lamented the recent backlash against charter schools and vouchers but declared the school reform movement is not going anywhere.

Resistance has mounted and growth has slipped, wrote Zinsmeister, editor in chief of Philanthropy and former domestic policy adviser to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and President George W. Bush.

As examples of pushback against the reform movement, Zinsmeister cited the rejection of applications for new charter schools in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles as well as the refusal in these cities to lease more space in school buildings to charter organizations; the decision by Houston’s Board of Education in May to discontinue using Teach For America to staff schools; and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s veto in June of a bill to expand the state’s tuition tax credit program funding scholarships at private K-12 schools.

Yet there are reasons for reformers to remain optimistic, Zinsmeister maintained.  “For one thing,” he wrote, “they have built a parallel infrastructure outside the old education establishment for teacher training, curriculum development, building acquisition, classroom management, etc. These institutions are durable enough to survive the current hostility, and they’re producing clear positive results.”

Zinsmeister wrote that another reason for hope is the presence among reformers of “inventive and fearless leaders,” one of whom, Virginia Walden Ford, is the subject of a feature film, Miss Virginia, to be released in October.

Ford, played by Emmy-winning Uzo Aduba, led the campaign for vouchers for low-income students in Washington, DC. The city’s Opportunity Scholarship Program was launched in 2004 and now allows approximately 1,600 students a year to attend private schools with public funding.

Zinsmeister compared Miss Virginia and its potential impact to Waiting for “Superman,” the 2010 documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim.

August 09, 2019

Adtalem, Formerly DeVry, Retreats from Brazil

Adtalem Global Education took another step this week at redefinition by putting its stake in 15 for-profit tertiary institutions in Brazil on the block, reported Reuters. These 15 schools enroll 82,000 students in total. Adtalem, which was DeVry Education until 2017, had sold DeVry itself in 2018, reported MarketWatch. While the for-profit tertiary sector in the United States has shrunk significantly over the past decade (because of fraud investigations spearheaded by the Obama administration concerning enrollment of underqualified applicants, inflation of student passing rates, and exaggeration of graduate employment data), the same sector in Brazil has mushroomed to address growing demand the government has not been able to meet with state-funded institutions. Approximately 30 percent of university students in Brazil, in fact, attended commercially operated schools in 2016, reported Inside Higher Ed. Adtalem itself posted an 18 percent increase in enrollment this year over last. This spike, reported Reuters, was driven significantly by demand for classes at its business school, Ibmec, and for classes online. According to Reuters, Adtalem is expected to sell its Brazilian assets for approximately $505 million.

March 19, 2019

NYC Specialized High Schools Continue to Offer Few Spots to Black and Hispanic Students

The story of admissions at New York City's selective high schools continues, reports The New York Times in a front-page article: of 895 spots at Stuyvesant High School, only 7 went to black students and 33 to Hispanic students; last year, 10 spots went to black students and 27 to Hispanic students.

The numbers were similar at Bronx High School of Science, the city's next most selective high school: of 803 spots, only 12 went to black students and 43 to Hispanic students; last year, 25 spots went to black students and 65 to Hispanic students.

While black and Hispanic students together make up 70 percent of students in New York City's public schools, they constitute only 10 percent of the students admitted to the city's eight so-called specialized high schools, which include, in addition to Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, Brooklyn Latin, Staten Island Tech, The High School for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at City College, Queens High School for the Sciences and York College, and The High School of American Studies at Lehman College. The last five were added to the city's system during the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Admission to these eight schools is based on results from one exam. Of the 27,500 students who took the exam for next year's freshman class, 5,500 were black. Of the 4,800 seats, 190 went to black students. Last year, of just over 5,000 seats, 207 went to black students.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to alter the application process in the name of integrating these eight schools. De Blasio needs approval from Albany to do this and has appealed to state lawmakers to replace the exam with a process of admitting the top students from middle schools across the five boroughs.

If de Blasio's proposal went into effect, according to a recent report, noted the Times, the portion of Asian-American students in the eight schools, which now amounts to 60 percent, would drop by half while the portion of black students would increase fivefold.

De Blasio's proposal has so far met fierce resistance from leaders of the city's Asian community. Lawmakers in Albany have yet to get behind de Blasio's plan and do not appear likely to do so. 

February 11, 2019

Puerto Rico Charter Sector to Grow in Second Year

Puerto Rico’s Department of Education held hearings on Friday, February 8, to consider the conversion of 30 traditional public schools into charter schools for the 2019-2020 academic year.

The island’s Education Reform Act, approved in March 2018, introduced charter schools as well as vouchers, with the stipulation that no more than 10 percent of schools could be charter schools and no more than 3 percent of students attend private or non-district public schools with the use of vouchers.

For charter schools, the baseline for determining the 10 percent was the number of schools as of August 15, 2018, which means that if more traditional public schools across the island are closed, the proportion of charter schools could in time exceed 10 percent.

In the first year following the Education Reform Act, there is only one charter school on the island: Vimenti, an elementary school in San Juan operated by the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico.

According to an article published by Noticel, Vimenti started in August 2018 with a kindergarten and first grade, enrolling 58 students in total—31 of whom come from the neighborhood, 27 from other neighborhoods, and 13 classified for special education. The plan is to add one grade per year as students progress through school. 

Supplementary funding for Vimenti, reported Noticel, comes from the Colibri Foundation, which donated $1 million, and the singer Marc Anthony, who gave $500,000.

In the hearings last week, the Department of Education considered proposals for four more charter schools in San Juan, five in Humacao, one in Bayamón, three in Caguas, six in Ponce, two in Arecibo, and nine in Mayaguez. In contrast to Vimenti, these schools would not be new schools built one grade at a time but, rather, conversions from traditional schools to charter schools.

According to one school administrator with direct knowledge of the hearing process, it is expected that at least 13 of the proposed conversions will be approved for the 2019-2020 year while the remaining 17 will be approved for the 2020-2021 year.

September 14, 2017

InfiLaw Corporation Target of Federal Whistle-Blower Suit

A former law professor at the recently shuttered Charlotte School of Law filed a federal whistle-blower suit against the law school’s owner, the InfiLaw Corporation, claiming the company “defrauded taxpayers of $285 million over a five-year period,” reported The New York Times.

According to the professor, Barbara Bernier, who taught constitutional law at the school from 2013 to 2016, the fraud practices included, one, breach of federal requirements that for-profit school operators may book no more than 90 percent of revenue from federal student loans; and two, “providing stipends to at-risk students to delay taking the bar exam” so not to tarnish the school’s reputation with a low passing rate.

Bernier filed the complaint in 2016, but it was only unsealed last month, reported the Times, “when the United States attorney’s office in Orlando, Fla.—where the lawsuit was filed, in InfiLaw’s state—filed a notice that it would not intervene.”

At the same time the complaint was unsealed, Charlotte School of Law closed its doors. In addition to Bernier’s suit, reported the Times, the school “faces several state and federal lawsuits from disgruntled law students who are saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. There is also a civil fraud inquiry on behalf of students being conducted by the North Carolina attorney general’s office.”

Regarding InfiLaw, it is based in Naples, Fla., and is owned in large part by Sterling Partners, a private equity firm based in Chicago. The firm’s portfolio also includes Arizona Summit Law School, in Phoenix; and Florida Coastal School of Law, in Jacksonville. Because of low rates of bar passage as well as declining enrollment in law schools in general, these schools  “have been on rocky ground in recent years,” according to the Times.

For more about for-profit law schools and their challenges, see the 2016 NCSPE working paper “Proprietary Law Schools and the Marketization of Access to Justice” by Riaz Tejani, a professor of legal studies at the University of Illinois. Tejani has since published Law Mart: Justice, Access, and For-Profit Law Schools (Stanford University Press, 2017).

September 11, 2017

NYC DOE Faulted for Failing to Monitor Yeshivas

While largely independent, private schools must comply with basic state requirements. In New York, that means private schools provide instruction that is “at least substantially equivalent” to what is provided by public schools. New York City’s ultra-Orthodox yeshivas were found two years ago to fall short of that measure, yet next to nothing has been done since, reported both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

This issue of insufficient compliance has all the more meaning in light of the Trump administration’s campaign to incent states to fund private schools through vouchers or tuition tax credits.

According to the Journal, the New York City Department of Education found in 2015 that 39 yeshivas failed to provide sufficient instruction in secular studies.  The DOE has since visited only six of those schools. And not one of those visits was a surprise inspection. Moreover, officials at the DOE had earlier this year promised a report by September 22nd but then stated more time would be necessary.

According to the Times, approximately 57,000 students attend ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in New York City.  An advocacy group called Young Advocates for Fair Education issued its own report and protested on the steps of City Hall that the DOE was not doing its job to protect these students.

The group contended in its report, recounted the Times, that, on average, “boys in elementary school received roughly 90 minutes of instruction in secular subjects, including reading and writing in English, four days a week. After age 13, the typical boy received no instruction in secular subjects. Since girls cannot become rabbis, they typically receive more secular education than boys.” As a result, the group maintains that “many of the students, particularly the boys, will finish school with poor to nonexistent English and math skills, and little knowledge of history or science.”

September 07, 2017

KIPP and Its Limits

In conjunction with a six-part series on education in the United States, the National Public Radio program With Good Reason published on its Web site an excerpt about the rise of KIPP from Education and the Commercial Mindset (Harvard University Press, 2016), an analysis of the impact of market forces on public schooling by NCSPE's director, Samuel E. Abrams. In this excerpt, Abrams describes the evolution of KIPP and similar charter management organizations (CMOs) as the successful non-profit response to Edison and other struggling for-profit educational management organizations (EMOs).

The growth in KIPP school openings has slowed down since the publication of this book, it should be noted. As Abrams explains in his book, while KIPP has benefited from its non-profit status by winning allegiance from idealistic, tireless young staff and by gaining substantial funding from philanthropists, the organization is necessarily constrained by the finite number of, one, teachers capable of working very long hours and, two, generous philanthropists. In addition, the organization is constrained by the finite number of students capable of abiding by the organization's stiff behavioral and academic expectations.

In 2014, KIPP grew by 15 percent, from 141 schools to 162; in 2015, by 13 percent, to 183 schools; in 2016, by 9 percent, to 200 schools; and in 2017, by 5 percent, to 209 schools. This slowdown comports with an ebb in charter school growth reported by Education Weekin March: 640 new charter schools opened in 2012; 501, in 2013; 404, in 2015; and 329, in 2015.

Citing a study by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the newspaper noted that large charter authorizers have seen a marked drop in charter applications, from an average of 18 in the 2011-12 school year to 7 in the 2015-16 school year.  One explanation offered by Education Week for the downturn is that CMOs "may have reached capacity." In addition, it should be pointed out that charter schools have run into mounting resistance, as illustrated by the NAACP's call for a moratorium on charter school growth in October 2016 and by the decisive rejection a month later of a referendum in Massachusetts to lift the cap on charter schools, with 62 percent of voters opposing the measure and 38 percent supporting it.


August 30, 2017

Tuition Tax Credits Come to Chicago

In a deal to shore up the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund and close the gap in school funding between high- and low-income communities across the state, the Illinois Senate voted 38-13 on August 29, reported The Chicago Tribune, to join the House in including a tuition tax-credit program to finance the enrollment of underprivileged children in Chicago private schools.

With this concession to advocates of school choice, the Illinois legislature, which is ruled by Democrats in both houses, has made Chicago another domain for tuition tax credits, which over the past decade have steadily become the preferred vehicle for funding enrollment of underprivileged children in private schools. Nearly 260,000 students across the country in 2016-2017 used scholarships endowed by tuition tax credits to attend private schools. The number using vouchers was just under 180,000. Those using education savings accounts amounted to 11,000.

The editorial board of The Chicago Tribune celebrated the compromise, which Republican Governor Bruce Rauner was expected to sign within days.  According to terms of the deal, Chicago Public Schools will receive $450 million in new money; the Chicago Board of Education will be permitted to raise property taxes by nearly $150 million to support the strained Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund; the state will in addition provide much greater support for the fund, increasing its allocation from $12 million to $221 million; and the state would set aside $75 million in tax credits to individuals and corporations donating money to a scholarship fund allowing underprivileged children to attend private schools, with donors getting a 75-cent tax credit per dollar and $1 million as the ceiling per donor.

If fully funded, Chicago’s tuition tax program will provide $100 million in scholarships.  Eligibility for these scholarships is limited to children from families earning no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, reported The Chicago Sun-Times.  Scholarships will be worth up to $12,280, roughly the per-pupil expenditure for Illinois.

Governor Rauner hailed the compromise, reported The Wall Street Journal. “For too long, too many low-income students in our state have been trapped in underfunded, failing schools,” said the governor. “We have put aside our differences and put our kids first. It’s a historic day for Illinois.”

To Democratic Senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss, the compromise set a "dangerous" precedent, setting the stage for the gradual defunding of public schooling, according to the Tribune.  “I can’t help but ask,” said Biss, “what next?”



August 25, 2017

Coding Academies Fold

Since 2012, dozens of coding academies have opened up across the country with the bold promise of training students in a few months to write computer code and thus obtain remunerative jobs in the digital sector. “But the coding boot-camp field now faces a sobering moment,” reported The New York Times, “as two large schools have announced plans to shut down this year—despite backing by major for-profit education companies, Kaplan and the Apollo Education Group, the parent of the University of Phoenix.”

This news calls into question the reigning optimism about this sector. Just one year ago, the Department of Education announced plans to launch a pilot program to permit students to use federal grants and loans to pay for courses at for-profit coding academies like the Flatiron School in New York, reported The Wall Street Journal. Flatiron charges $15,000 for a 12-week course in coding tailored to the demands of companies like Apple, Google, and Ticketmaster. With this pilot, the DOE was sidestepping conventional practice of requiring that institutions first gain accreditation from regional authorities. In addition, seventeen leading coding academies formed a coalition in March, reported the same newspaper, to generate uniform reporting standards to document job-placement rates and other key metrics.

According to the Times, “years of heady growth led to a boot-camp glut.” Moreover, many coding academies have not evolved to meet changing demands of employers.

“One of the casualties, Dev Bootcamp, was a pioneer,” reported the Times. “It started in San Francisco in 2012 and grew to six schools with more than 3,000 graduates. Only three years ago, Kaplan, the biggest supplier of test-preparation courses, bought Dev Bootcamp and pledged bold expansion.”

The other major casualty is The Iron Yard, founded in Greenville, South Carolina, in 2013.  Backed by the Apollo Education Group, this academy had grown to 15 campuses across the country.

Some academies nevertheless continue to flourish, including the Flatiron School, which was founded in 2012. According to Flatiron, reported the Times, more than 95 percent of the school’s 1,000 graduates have found jobs as coders. In addition, Flatiron introduced an online version of its program for a fraction of the price, charging $1,500 a month. 

August 17, 2017

DeVos Digs In

In what the Associated Press called “her first comprehensive sit-down interview with a national media outlet since taking office,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reflected on her experience so far and defined her goals in a 30-minute conversation with the AP’s Maria Danilova.

DeVos confirmed in the interview that the Trump administration is considering a federal tuition tax-credit program as part of its proposal for a tax overhaul.

Several states already have their own tuition tax-credit programs, with Arizona and Florida being the most prominent.  Arizona launched its individual income tax-credit program in 1997 and supplemented it with a corporate tax-credit program in 2006.  Florida introduced a corporate tax-credit program in 2001. Across the country, in sum, 280,000 students make use of state tuition tax-credit scholarships.

Historical precedent, however, does not bode well for the Trump administration on this front. Legislation for federal tuition tax-credits passed in the Senate nine times between 1969 and 1984 yet died on each occasion in the House of Representatives and have not been on the docket since.

DeVos also defended her revision of rules imposed by the Obama administration to harness for-profit tertiary institutions; the most stringent of the Obama administration’s regulations was the imposition of a so-called “gainful employment rule,” whereby annual loan payments of graduates of proprietary institutions benefiting from federal financial aid could not exceed 20 percent of their discretionary income.  An adamant supporter of for-profit school management, DeVos argued that “the last administration really stepped much more heavily into areas that it should not.”

DeVos likewise described the Obama administration’s assertion of authority regarding bathroom access in schools by transgender students as another form of federal overreach. DeVos said to Danilova that the states should decide this matter: “We really believe that states are the best laboratories of democracy on many fronts.”

On the topic of lightening oversight of charter schools, DeVos stood her ground: “I think the first line of accountability is frankly with the parents. When parents are choosing school, they are proactively making that choice.”



August 16, 2017

Backlash in Arizona Against Expansion of School Choice

A group called Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSA) claimed to have collected more than 100,000 signatures of registered voters to keep the expansion of the state’s Educational Savings Account (ESA) program from taking effect and to force a referendum vote in November on the expansion. According to state law, opponents needed 75,321 signatures to send the measure to a referendum vote.

Arizona’s ESA program was initiated in 2011 and capped at 0.5 percent of the state’s K-12 student population in the prior year.  A bill signed into law by the legislature in April would open the program to all 1.1 million of the state’s students.  In 2016-17, 3,500 students participated.

Unlike vouchers, which may be used only at private schools, ESAs function like debit cards, allowing parents to spend money on online educational programs, tutoring services, and community college courses as well as private school fees. In the case of Arizona, the value of ESAs amount to 90 percent of state per-pupil funding, though according to the legislation passed in April, students from low-income families would be entitled to 100 percent.

SOSA claims the expansion “would wreak havoc on public-school budgets,” according to a story in The Wall Street Journal.  Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice, an advocacy organization formerly titled the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, called the grassroots response an affront to parental liberty.

Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee employ similar ESA programs. North Carolina will introduce its own version in 2018-19.

In total, about 12,000 students are enrolled in ESA programs, making this the country’s smallest vehicle for school choice, behind vouchers with 180,000 participants, tuition tax-credit scholarships with 280,000 participants, and charter schools with 2.8 million participants. 

August 16, 2017

NYC Charter Schools Lobby for More Space

In a call with reporters organized by the charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, leaders of Success Academy Charter Schools, Bronx Charter School for the Arts, and International Charter School of New York expressed their frustration in failing to obtain more space from the New York City Department of Education.

According to a story in The Wall Street Journal, “The group said 27 charters in the city have pending requests for space. It analyzed the Department of Education’s ‘blue book,’ detailing school capacity in 2015-16, and concluded that in neighborhoods where charters want to expand, the city has 68 chronically underused buildings, meaning they have more than 300 empty seats for several years.”

The DOE, however, disputed this claim, asserting that the “blue book” doesn’t account for zoning changes or programs in store for buildings.

Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said she had asked the DOE in January for classroom space for 2,100 rising middle-schoolers. Moskowitz said she needed this space for September 2018 but had yet to get an answer.

In characteristically dramatic fashion, Moskowitz said, “These 2,100 kids are going to have their education aborted at fourth grade if we don’t have a solution.”

June 29, 2017

Supreme Court Rules on Public Money for Playground at Religious School

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that public money may be used to fund the renovation of a playground at a Missouri preschool administered by a church, despite the state's prohibition of government support of religiously affiliated educational institutions. In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority that the state decision against assisting the church in this matter "expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character."

Justice Roberts, however, qualified his opinion with a footnote regarding the latitude for such government funding: "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

In his concurrence, Justice Stephen Breyer elaborated on this qualification. Citing Everson v. Board of Education, a 1947 decision concluding that denial of "ordinary police and fire protection" to parochial schools did not comport with the intent of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, Justice Breyer wrote that renovation of a playground likewise served the public purpose of improving "the health and safety of children" and nothing more.

While concurring with Justice Roberts, both Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas took exception to this qualification, claiming it unnecessarily constricted the application of state funding to religiously affiliated schools. With Justice Thomas's endorsement, Justice Gorsuch wrote about this qualification, "I worry that some might mistakenly read it to suggest that only 'playground resurfacing' cases, or only those with some association with children’s safety or health, or perhaps some other social good we find sufficiently worthy, are governed by the legal rules recounted in and faithfully applied by the Court’s opinion. Such a reading would be unreasonable for our cases are 'governed by general principles, rather than ad hoc improvisations'.... And the general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise—whether on the playground or anywhere else."

To Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was joined in her dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the decision constituted a blow to the separation of church and state anchored in the Establishment Clause: "To hear the Court tell it, this is a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground. The stakes are higher. This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil govern- ment—that is, between church and state."

In connection with this decision, reported The New York Times, the Supreme Court returned two cases to state courts for review, one concerning school choice in Colorado and the other, provision of textbooks to private schools from a state lending program in New Mexico. 



May 25, 2017

DeVos Stonewalls House Subcommittee on Choice

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stonewalled members of a House Appropriations subcommittee on matters of school choice, reported The New York Times

In her first testimony before Congress since her stormy confirmation hearing in January, DeVos said that rules for admissions at private schools funded with vouchers from federal money the Trump administration plans to send to states should be decided by the states. Questioned by Massachusetts Democratic Representative Katherine M. Clark about whether private schools receiving federally financed vouchers could reject or expel students on the grounds that they come from homosexual, bisexual, or transgender families, DeVos said this was a matter for the states to decide. DeVos made the same claim about due process rights for children with disabilities attending private schools receiving federally financed vouchers.

"If a parent chooses to go to a school that is not a public school, then that is a decision made and a contract made with the provider," DeVos said. State governments, DeVos said, should be empowered to decide how such schools are regulated.

The issue of students from homosexual, bisexual, or transgender families attending schools financed by vouchers is not a hypothetical one, it should be noted. In a detailed story on state-sponsored vouchers in Indiana aired by National Public Radio on May 12, it was reported that Christian Lighthouse Academy in Bloomington, which received $665,400 in state voucher money this year, specifies in its admissions brochure that students from homes characterized by "homosexual or bisexual activity or any form of sexual immorality" may be barred from attending the school or expelled.

May 23, 2017

Corinthian Students in NJ Eligible for Loan Cancellations

New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino announced that state residents who attended schools run by the defunct for-profit tertiary network Corinthian Colleges are eligible for cancellation of federal loans taken out to cover the cost of tuition, reported the Associated Press. Porrino also said residents would be eligible for refunds on payments already made for courses taken at Corinthian.

Corinthian closed its doors in 2015 following imposition of tougher accounability measures for for-profit tertiary operators by the Obama administration. Corinthian was found by federal investigators to have inflated the job-placement record of its graduates from 2010 to 2014.

According to Porrino, 2,200 New Jersey residents are eligible for loan cancellations. Corinthian campuses attended by state residents include Everest Institute, Everest College, Everest University, Heald College, and Wyotech.

May 15, 2017

New York Times Faults NYC High School Choice System

In its lead editorial on May 15, entitled “Segregation in New York Schools,” The New York Times faulted New York City for failing to deliver on its promise a decade ago to diversify high schools with a citywide system of choice. Introduced in 2004 under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, this system permitted eighth-graders to apply to schools in any of the five boroughs rather than assigning students to neighborhood schools. Yet the effect, according to the Times, has been at best marginal. With navigation of the application process difficult and with many high schools employing selective criteria for admissions, such choice has been largely illusory, claimed the Times: “By eighth grade ... many low-income black and Hispanic children who have spent their early grades confined to failing schools—and passed through similarly poor middle schools—have already fallen too far behind in the competition for the high schools that could prepare them for college.”

For evidence of the system’s failure, the Times cited an article the newspaper had published a week earlier, entitled “The Broken Promises of Choice in New York City High Schools,” which found that “the racial isolation of black and Hispanic students is just as great in high school as in elementary schools.” For this article, the Times followed eighth-graders at a middle school in the Bronx as they navigated the serpentine process of applying to high schools. Because few of the students at this school, Pelham Gardens Middle School, landed spots at selective high schools, the newspaper concluded the city’s school choice system had not delivered on its promise of opening doors to minority students from disadvantaged neighborhoods. The Times nevertheless reported that this year’s eighth-graders at Pelham Gardens had not posted competitive scores as seventh-graders on the state’s exams in English and math: 29 of 146 passed the English test; 15 passed the math test; and only seven passed both.

While justified in condemning the replication of segregation at the high school level, the Times erred on three counts. The newspaper made no recommendations in its editorial for counteracting the deprivation that leads to the subpar grades and exam scores barring many low-income minority students from admission to top high schools. The newspaper failed to concede that the matching algorithm introduced in 2004 drastically rationalized the high school admissions process. And the newspaper in its article a week ago and another published in March exaggerated the selectivity of high schools. The cited University Heights Secondary School in the Bronx, for example, does not, as claimed, have 20 applicants per seat but rather 20 students per seat who rank the school as one of 12 in which they’re interested. As students can be matched with only one of the schools they rank, schools conversely can admit only a small portion of the students who rank them.





March 28, 2017

New York Times Rebukes DOE's Stance on For-Profit Colleges

In a scathing editorialThe New York Times criticized the new Department of Education for hiring an executive from a for-profit university as a special assistant to Secretary Betsy DeVos and for declaring "it would review and extend compliance deadlines" for the so-called "gainful employment rule" imposed by the Obama administration in 2015. This rule stipulates that the provision of federal funds (in the form of student loans) to for-profit tertiary institutions requires that "the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20 percent of his or her discretionary income ... or 8 percent of his or her total earnings." The Times opined: "The industry is trying to cast this 'gainful employment rule' as onerous and unnecessary. But the abuses that prompted the Obama administration to develop this rule in the first place are well documented." The newspaper went on to cite a study of the for-profit tertiary sector recently published by the Century Foundation tracing predatory practices back to "crooked schools [that] sprang up to swindle World War II veterans out of their G.I. Bill benefits." The new special assistant to DeVos is Robert S. Eitel, formerly a top lawyer for Bridgeport Education Inc., a company, the Times reported in a separate story, "facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending."

March 24, 2017

Charter Growth Ebbs

Charter school growth is slowing down, reported Education Week.  The decline since 2012, when 640 new charters opened, has been steady. In 2013, 501 new charters were launched; in 2014, 404; and in 2015, 329. Citing a study by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the newspaper noted that large charter authorizers have seen a marked drop in charter applications, from an average of 18 in the 2011-12 school year to 7 in the 2015-16 school year.  One explanation offered by Education Week for the slowdown is that national charter management organizations (CMOs) “may have reached capacity.” In addition, it should be pointed out that charter schools have run into mounting resistance, as illustrated by the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter school growth in October 2016 and by the decisive rejection a month later of a referendum in Massachusetts to lift the cap on charter schools, with 62 percent of voters opposing the measure and 38 percent supporting it. Yet while the number of new charter schools has ebbed, total enrollment in charter schools continues to climb, especially in such states as Minnesota, reported The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Although enrollment in traditional district schools grew by 2 percent over the past five years, stated the newspaper, enrollment in charter schools ballooned. More specifically, there were 41,604 students in Minnesota charter schools in 2012-13 and 53,960 in 2016-17. Grade additions in existing charter schools may explain much of this growth. New charter schools would explain the remainder.

March 16, 2017

Kentucky Becomes the 43rd State to Ratify Charter Legislation

Kentucky became the forty-third state to ratify legislation for charter schools on March 15, reported Education Week, with the state Senate approving a charter bill largely along party lines by a vote of 23-15. The Senate vote followed House approval the previous week. Republican Governor Matt Bevin, an ardent charter advocate, was expected to sign the bill. While Kentucky has been late to make room for charter schools, the legislation passed in the House and Senate was loose: specifically, the legislation placed no limit on the number of charter schools and permitted charter operators to outsource management to for-profit firms. Seven states remain without charter legislation: Vermont, West Virginia, Alabama, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana.

March 09, 2017

Cardinal Dolan Endorses Trump's Call for Funding School Choice

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan praised President Trump’s call in his inaugural address to Congress for “an education bill that funds school choice.” In addition, Dolan lauded Trump’s visit soon afterward with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to a Catholic school in Orlando, Florida, and expressed hope that Trump will succeed in getting Congress to approve a tuition tax credit system that replicates Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Florida’s program dates back to 2001 and now provides 98,000 students with scholarships averaging $5,500. Sixteen other states, including Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana, have similar programs. New York, Dolan’s home state, does not. While Dolan did not mention that Catholic schools have been closing across the country for lack of funding, this matter has been well documented. With more lay teachers on staff in place of nuns and priests, Catholic schools have become more expensive. And with many charter schools mandating the same formal attire and strict discipline that have distinguished Catholic schools, parents have opted for the free version. A federal tuition tax credit system stands to have a dramatic impact on the fate of Catholic schools.

March 08, 2017

Coding Schools Pursue Reporting Standards

To control quality and thwart the wave of bad publicity that decimated the for-profit tertiary sector, seventeen leading coding academies, reported The Wall Street Journal, “have formed a coalition and agreed to report results like job-placement rates for graduates so prospective students can compare schools. The metrics will be verified by an outside auditor.” Coding academies represent a new and booming portion of the for-profit educaiton sector. Since the first coding academy opened in 2012, many more have been launched. Tuition for courses that typically run three months averages $15,000. With demand for coders growing, graduates can earn more than $70,000 a year. According to the Labor Department, demand for software developers in general will grow 17 percent over the next decade, twice the rate of demand for people with other skills. While coding academies are not accredited and do not quality for federal student loans, the Department of Education, reported The Wall Street Journal, announced in August 2016 that it would launch a pilot program to provide loans to students attending some highly regarded coding academies, such as the Flatiron School in New York. 

February 25, 2017

For-Profit Schools Rebound Under Trump

The day of the presidential election, many for-profit education companies were trading near historic lows. In the tertiary sector, DeVry (DV) closed November 8th at $23.50, down 36 percent over five years; Strayer (STRA) at $58.68, down 38 percent over the same period; Apollo (APOL) at $8.73, down 92 percent; and American Public Education (APEI) at $14.85, down 61 percent. In addition, in the K-12 sector, K12 (LRN) closed November 8th at $11.19, down 67 percent over five years.

In the fifteen weeks since Trump’s election, all five stocks have climbed considerably: DeVry closed February 24th up 39 percent; Strayer, up 29 percent; Apollo, up 14 percent; American Public Education, up 64 percent; and K12, up 62 percent. Moreover, Laureate (LAUR) returned to the public market at the beginning of February, raising $490 million with an initial public offering of 35 million shares. The Baltimore-based company was publicly traded from 1993 to 2007, when it was taken private in a management-led buyout.

There should be little mystery to this transformation. As The New York Times reported, “Top officials in Washington who spearheaded a relentless crackdown on the multibillion-dollar industry have been replaced by others who have profited from it.” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been an especially ardent advocate of for-profit educational management. And in her confirmation hearing, DeVos refused to commit to perpetuating the Obama administration’s imposition of a gainful employment rule, which stipulated  that the provision of federal funds to tertiary institutions (via student grants and loans) required that “the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20 percent of his or her discretionary income ... or 8 percent of his or her total earnings.”

In accordance with this new regulation, two major tertiary for-profit operators repeatedly investigated for duplicitous advertising shut down: Corinthian Colleges in 2015 and ITT Educational Services in 2016. Soon after ITT announced its closure, the Department of Education nullified the authority of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) on the grounds of inadequate supervision; founded in 1912, ACICS served as the chief accrediting agency for for-profit colleges and university. And in the final weeks of the Obama Administration, the Federal Trade Commission announced that DeVry had agreed to pay $100 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging the company had both inflated the earnings of graduates and the percentage of graduates finding jobs in their fields within six months of finishing their programs.

To Steven Gunderson, the president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, an advocacy group for for-profit schools, the Trump administration represents redemption for commercial operators. “We’re going to get some regulatory relief, which is desperately needed,” Gunderson said to The New York Times. Gunderson explained that his group now has support in both Congress and the White House and aims to get the gainful employment rule repealed and the authority of ACICS restored.

November 15, 2016

Without Charters, Union City Achieves Academic Success through Robust Bilingual Education and Wrap-Around Services

Union City, New Jersey, continues to achieve academic success through robust bilingual education and wrap-around services, reported The Wall Street Journal. Defying conventional wisdom, Union City education leaders have not outsourced school management to charter operators but rather focused on improving bilingual education and making schools neighborhood hubs. As neighborhood hubs, schools in Union City serve three free meals a day to students, provide medical and counseling services, and host workshops for parents on immigration matters, nutrition, and good parenting. While 95 percent of students are Hispanic and approximately 15 percent are undocumented immigrants, the high-school graduation rate of 87 percent nearly matches the statewide average. In addition, scores on math and reading tests are one-third above the national average. In Improbable Scholars (Oxford University Press, 2013), David Kirp describes in detail the ingredients of this outlier school district.

November 14, 2016

Number of Home-Schooled Students Doubles from 1999 to 2012

The number of home-schooled students in the United States doubled from 1999 to 2012, reported The Washington Post. The data come from a recently released study published by the National Center for Education Statistics. About 1.8 million students aged 5 to 17 were home-schooled in 2012. That number represented 3.4 percent of students across the country. The distribution of home-schooled students by locale is fairly even: about one-third of home-schooled children lived in rural areas, somewhat more than one-third lived in suburbs, and somewhat less than one-third lived in cities.

November 14, 2016

China Bans For-Profit Operation of Primary and Lower-Secondary Schools

The Chinese government imposed a ban on for-profit operation of primary and lower-secondary schools, upending a burgeoning sector, reported The Wall Street Journal. The new law, entitled "Promotion of Private Education," stands to be costly for such commercial ventures as Nord Anglia Education, a company based in Hong Kong that manages six schools across China, and Avenues, a company based in New York that has long planned on opening a school in China. As the name of the law makes clear, private schooling is not the target. To the contrary, the Chinese government wants to promote private education to provide a wider array of academic offerings to students. However, the concept of for-profit management had fallen out of favor. In fact, the new law stipulates that private schools should better align curricula with the goals of the Communist Party. A bulletin from the Education Ministry declared that a central purpose of the law was to "ensure private schools are run from start to finish in a way supportive of socialism." This reversal by the Chinese government, in turn, provides a classic illustration of the political risk involved in foreign direct investment. Nord Anglia Education and similar companies will have to refashion themselves as nonprofits or close their schools. 


September 13, 2016

Battle Over Charters in Massachusetts Heats Up

While there is no doubt in Massachusetts that Hillary Clinton will take the state on November 8, a referendum question on the same ballot to lift the cap on the state's charter schools is hotly contested. The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 limited the number of the state's charter schools to 120. Of the state's 1,860 publicly funded schools today, 78 are charter schools. This portion of 4 percent falls short of the national average of 7 percent. Governor Charlie Baker and charter advocates want this gap closed. After the Senate and House failed to arrive at a solution this summer, their leaders decided to send the issue to the people in the form of a referendum question. As Question 2 on the November ballot, the proposal calls for permitting up to 12 new charter schools per year. According to a September poll by WBUR, Boston's National Public Radio affiliate, 48 percent of likely voters said they would vote against the proposal, 41 percent said they would for it, and the remaining 11 percent said they were unsure. Winning over the undecided has led to an intense battle and the influx of big money from out of state. According to The Boston Globe, $12 million has come from charter advocates to buy ads and commercials. Of that sum, Families for Excellent Schools, a national advocacy group based in New York, sent $5.5 million; Jim Walton, son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, gave $1.1 million; and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $240,000. Opponents have raised $6.8 million. The biggest contributor is the Massachusetts Teachers Association, providing $4.2 million. From out of state, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association gave $700,00 and $1.9 million, respectively. 

September 07, 2016

Wall Street Journal Accuses the Department of Education of Double Standard for For-Profit Colleges

In its lead editorial, The Wall Street Journal accused the Department of Education of employing a double standard in its treatment of for-profit colleges. Coming to the defense of ITT Educational Services--which shut down on September 6, two weeks after the DOE ruled that the company was no longer qualified to receive federal funding because of deceptive advertising, low graduation rates, and poor job placement of graduates--the newspaper contended that the DOE could have likewise gone after Laureate International Universities but did not. The newspaper claimed that because Bill Clinton was the honorary chancellor of Laureate from 2010 to 2015, the company received special treatment, even though graduation rates were similar to those at ITT and average student debt higher. 

September 07, 2016

ITT Shuts Down

The decision by the Department of Education on August 25 to deny ITT Educational Services federal funding foreshadowed an imminent shutdown by the for-profit college operator. ITT executives announced the expected on September 6, reported The New York Times, closing all of the company's 137 campuses but one that operates under a different name, Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire. This means approximately 35,000 students must make new plans for their studies and roughly 8,000 employees must look elsewhere for work. 

August 26, 2016

ITT Educational Services Becomes Another For-Profit College Casualty of Tighter DOE Oversight

The Department of Education dropped the hammer on ITT Educational Services, a for-profit operator of 137 colleges across 39 states, reported The New York Times. The DOE, according to the newspaper, decided on August 25 to bar ITT "from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid" and ordered the company "to pay $153 million to the department within 30 days to cover student refunds if its schools close down." The first measure alone amounts to a death blow, as nearly 70 percent of the company's revenue of $850 million last year came in the form of federal aid. "The company has been under increased scrutiny by the Education Department since 2014," the newspaper noted, "and has been accused by both federal and state regulators of misleading students about the quality of its programs and their employment potential upon graduation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit against ITT two years ago, accusing the college chain of predatory student lending." If ITT shuts down, it will join Corinthian Colleges as the second major U.S. for-profit tertiary institution in two years to cave under the pressure of tighter DOE oversight. 

August 12, 2016

DOE Rejects Utah For-Profit Appeal for Nonprofit Status

The Department of Education rejected an appeal from a Utah-based for-profit college operator to gain nonprofit status, reported The Wall Street JournalThe attraction of nonprofit status is patent: for-profit college companies cannot collect more than 90 percent of tuition in the form of federal student grants and loans; in addition, they must abide by new stringent requirements stipulating that graduates find employment in their field. The college in question is the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, with 12,000 students on campuses across four states (Arizona, California, Colorado, and Utah). In a blunt press release, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said, "This should send a clear message to anyone who thinks converting to nonprofit status is a way to avoid oversight while hanging onto the financial benefits: Don’t waste your time.” 

August 12, 2016

Coding Academies Win Federal Backing

The Department of Education is set to launch a pilot program to permit students to use federal grants and loans to pay for courses at for-profit coding academies like the Flatiron School in New York, reported The Wall Street Journal. Flatiron charges $15,000 for a 12-week course in coding tailored to the demands of companies like Apple, Google, and Ticketmaster. With this pilot, the DOE is sidestepping conventional practice of requiring that institutions first gain accreditation from regional authorities.

August 10, 2016

Facebook Collaborates with Charter Network to Develop Self-Paced Online Curriculum

Facebook has teamed up with Summit Public Schools, a charter network with 11 schools in California and Washington, to develop a student-directed online curriculum, reported The New York Times. Called the Summit Personalized Learning Platform, the new approach will be introduced this fall in 120 schools. "The software gives students a full view of their academic responsibilities for the year in each class and breaks them down into customizable lesson modules they can tackle at their own pace," read the story in the Times. "A student working on a science assignment, for example, may choose to create a project using video, text or audio files. Students may also work asynchronously, tackling different sections of the year’s work at the same time." While certainly iconoclastic, this methodology is far from original, something the newspaper failed to acknowledge. Kunskapsskolan, a school management company in Sweden running 36 schools, implemented a similar student-directed online curriculum in 2000. The New York City Department of Education introduced its own variation on this model in 2009 with School of One, now known as Teach to One, which operates six schools across the district.

August 04, 2016

Economists Find Charter Schools in Texas Have Insignificant Effects

Drawing on data from the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Workforce Commission for all students who graduated from public high schools in the state between 2002 and 2006, the economists Will Dobbie and Roland G. Fryer found in a working paper entitled "Charter Schools and Labor Market Outcomes" that charter schools, on average, had no impact on test performance and a negative influence on income. In the case of “No Excuses” charter schools—such as IDEA College Prep, KIPP, Uplift Education, and YES Prep, all defined by rigid behavioral and academic expectations—Dobbie and Fryer found a positive impact on both test performance and college enrollment but only a small, statistically insignificant effect on income.  Terming the results of their study counterintuitive given the widespread confidence in charter schools, Dobbie and Fryer speculated that it may be the case that “what it takes to increase acheivement among the poor in charter schools deprives them of other skills that are important for labor markets.”  

August 03, 2016

School Choice in England Leads to Significant Segregation

While oversubscribed charter schools in the United States must employ lotteries for admission, their counterparts in England--academies and free schools--have control over whom they admit. The result, according to an analysis summarized by The Guardian, has been significant segregation of students by class as well as academic achievement. The analysis, done by a company called DataDash, found that many academies and free schools enrolled a fraction of the underprivileged children in neighboring schools. Only 2 percent of students at one free school in Blackpool are eligible for free school meals, for example, while 42 percent of students in the district qualify. Similar disparities exist across the country, DataDash found. Legislated into existence in 2000, academies are former state schools funded by the central government and granted significant operational autonomy. There are now 5,302 academies. Free schools, introduced in 2010, are academies by another name, created by teachers, charities, parents, or religious groups. There are now 304 free schools. Prime Minister David Cameron and his education secretary, Michael Gove, pledged to make all schools in England academies in order to give parents more choice and school adminstrators more freedom. Cameron's successor, Theresa May, and her education secretary, Justine Greening, have so far stood behind this pledge.

August 02, 2016

NAACP Convention Delegates Call for Moratorium on Charter School Growth

Delegates at the annual convention of the NAACP last week called for a moratorium on charter school growth, reported Julian Vasquez Heilig on his blog, Cloaking Inequity. Meeting in Cincinnati, delegates declared that charter schools have operated without sufficient transparency; intensified segregation; employed psychologically harmful disciplinary policies; and deprived neighborhood public schools of necessary space and resources through co-location in district buildings. Heilig, education chair of the California/Hawaii branch of the century-old civil rights organization, explained that this resolution merely reflects the opinion of voting delegates, not policy. To become policy, the resolution needs approval of the NAACP National Board, which meets in the fall. Heilig nevertheless called the resolution a momentous event.

August 02, 2016

More than 7 Million Americans in Default on Student Loans

Approximately 16 percent of the 43 million Americans with student debt are in default, reports The Wall Street Journal: "These borrowers have gone at least a year without making a payment--ignoring hundreds of phone calls, emails, text messages and letters from federally hired debt collectors." The federal government has committed to work with debtors by cutting monthly payments and burying a portion of balances. In addition, the government is expanding its program to relinquish debt incurred by borrowers for degrees at schools found gulity of false advertising. Yet in despair, debtors are stonewalling the government. Especially hard hit have been students who attended for-profit institutions, who have defaulted on loans at more than twice the rate as their counterparts at nonprofit public or private schools. Three such students are profiled in this Wall Street Journal article, two of whom earned degrees as medical assistants from a small for-profit college in Oregon but could not find work in the field.

August 01, 2016

Carol Burris Challenges Public Nature of Charter Schools

Charter schools shouldn't be considered public schools, contended Carol Burris in an essay posted by Valerie Strauss on her Answer Sheet blog for The Washington Post, because they don't report directly, if at all, to elected school boards; because many of them enroll significantly fewer English language learners and students with special needs than neighboring district schools; and because many close their doors in upper grades to newcomers. In illustration of the last matter, Burris cited a pyramid effect on class size at one school in the Success Academy network, with 73 students in second grade dropping seven years later to 26 in ninth grade, 79 students in the following year's second grade dropping six years later to 44 in eighth grade. Whereas attrition in district schools is matched by enrollment of new students in upper grades, that does not occur at Success Academy and similar charter networks in the name of preserving a school culture. To Burris, this exclusionary practice necessarily conflicts with the definition of public education.

July 29, 2016

KIPP Fights "Summer Melt"

As many as 30 percent of poor urban high school seniors accepted to college don't attend because of doubts and fears that build over the summer. The national charter network KIPP fights this problem, known as "summer melt," with a three-week "summer bridge" program, reports The Wall Street Journal. With brush-up classes in math and writing as well as discussion sessions on time management, self-advocacy, financial budgeting, and campus social life, students get immersed in college before getting to college. 

July 23, 2016

Brazilian For-Profit Tertiary Sector Undergoes Significant Consolidation

While the for-profit tertiary sector in the United States has shrunk significantly over the past few years because of fraud investigations concerning enrollment of underqualified applicants, inflation of student passing rates, and exaggeration of graduate employment data, the same sector in Brazil has mushroomed to address growing demand the government has not been able to meet with state-funded institutions. Approximately 30 percent of university students in Brazil, in fact, attend schools run by for-profit companies. One company, Kroton, counts more than a million students in undergraduate programs spread across 130 campuses. The economic crisis in Brazil has nevertheless forced companies to consolidate, reports Inside Higher Ed, leading to significant merger-and-acquisition activity. Fear of a resulting oligopoly has led the House of Representatives in Brasilia to call for hearings on this activity.

July 22, 2016

Southern Poverty Law Center Challenges Constitutionality of Publicly Funded Charter Schools in Mississippi

Though Arkansas and Louisiana are both home to many charter schools, neighboring Mississippi passed legislation for charter schools only six years ago and is home to merely two charter schools. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the state should be home to none. In a lawsuit filed in the First Judicial District of the Chancery Court of Hinds County, the SPLC contended that the state constitution stipulates that publicly funded schools must be under the direct supervision of state and local boards of education.

July 22, 2016

California Attorney General Announces $169 Million Settlement with K12 Inc.

In acknowledgment of having overstated student progress and parent satisfaction in advertisements and of having inflated student attendance data, K12 Inc., the Virginia-based for-profit operator of virtual charter schools, agreed to a $169 million settlement with the attorney general of California, reported The San Jose Mercury News. According to the settlement, K12 must also drop any form of incentive pay for staff enrolling students; guarantee the accuracy of claims in advertisements; and ensure teachers properly monitor student attendance. Building on the settlement, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla introduced a bill to ban for-profit virtual charter companies from operating in the state. That proposal, Assembly Bill 1084, will be reviewed when legislators return to work in August.

July 22, 2016

Paul Tough Disavows Focus on Character Education

In a Q&A with Education Week about his new book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, Paul Tough disavows the confidence in character education he espoused in his 2012 book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Tough instead calls for a macrocosmic approach focused on bettering the everyday environment of young children. Citing research in neuroscience, Tough contends that interventions during early childhood to improve parenting, in particular, would lay the foundation for the shift in mindset some educators are trying to cultivate through instruction and assessment. "It's not that I think we shouldn't measure them [non-cognitive skills]," Tough said, "it's that I think we don't know how to measure them.... The most productive direction to try to change students' psychology is to think about what educators and policymakers can do to shape the environment that surrounds kids."

July 22, 2016

New York City to Add 16 More PROSE Schools

A reform initiative launched in 2014 by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) in partnership with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) will get 16 new sites in September, reported Politico. Called PROSE, for Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools of Excellence, this program permits affiliated schools to operate outside the boundaries of UFT and CSA contracts. Schools may schedule longer periods and days, for example. As such, PROSE at once comports with the pedagogical philosophy of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, formed in 1997 as a group of 28 high schools with considerable autonomy for curriculum and assessment, and constitues an implicit response by Mayor Bill de Blasio to the growing presence of non-union charter schools in the city, which he has repeatedly termed a solution for too few students. More fundamentally, PROSE comports with the vision of charter schools articulated in the 1980s by Ray Budde and Albert Shanker: alternative schools within districts serving as laboratories for innovation. PROSE started with 63 schools. With these additional sites, PROSE will number 140. The goal for PROSE by 2018 is 200 schools. 

July 22, 2016

Bridgeport Education under Federal Investigation

Bridgeport Education, the for-profit operator of Ashford University and the University of the Rockies, is under investigation by the Justice Department, reported The Washington Post, for having allegedly underreported the amount of tuition money it received from the federal government in the form of grants and loans. According to the 90/10 rule, for-profit universities may not receive more than 90 percent of tuition in this form. Justice Department investigators are studying financial documents from 2011 to 2014. There are nearly 51,000 students enrolled at the company's two universities.

June 30, 2016

Much School Choice in Detroit but Little Quality

The push for educational privatization in Michigan initiated a generation ago by Governor John Engler has resulted in abundant choice in Detroit, reports Kate Zernike in The New York Times, but little quality. With 53 percent of its students attending charter schools, Detroit has the second highest degree of charter enrollment in the county, behind only New Orleans, which transmuted into a largely charter district after Hurricane Katrina. Facilitating growth in Detroit, Zernike writes, is a controversial clause in a 2011 education law permitting for-profit educational managements companies (EMOs), such as J.C. Huizinga's National Heritage Academies, to rent space to schools they operate without having to pay taxes on their real estate earnings.

June 30, 2016

New York Times Blasts Governor Christie's School Funding Recommendation

In a scathing rebuke, the editorial board of The New York Times blasted Governor Chris Christie's recommendation that New Jersey's landmark compensatory school fundng formula be repealed. The editors called Christie's proposal "toxic." Grounded in a 1990 state court decision to allocate more money to poor school districts suffering from inadequate local property tax revenue, New Jersey's formula significantly subsidizes 31 school districts, several of them, such as Newark and Camden, home to many charter schools. 

June 30, 2016

AFT Pulls Pension Investments from Hedge Funds Opposed to Unionized Teachers

Setting aside whether the high fees and uneven performance of hedge funds justify investing retirement money of union members, AFT president Randi Weingarten is pulling money from hedge funds opposed to unionized teachers. Many hedge fund leaders, Daniel Loeb of Third Point LLC among them, are heavy backers of non-union charter schools and adamant critics of unionized teachers. Weingarten said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, "Why would you put your money with someone who wants to destroy you?" Loeb, chairman of the board of Success Academy, is fighting back. At a fundraiser for Success Academy in May, Loeb pledged an extra $1 million to the charter network in Weingarten's name.

June 30, 2016

Walton Family Foundation Donates $250 Million to Help Charter Schools Lease Space

The Walton Family Foundation announced a donation of $250 million to help charter schools lease space. A central impediment to charter school growth has been occupancy costs. Where charter schools obtain free space in school district buildings, their per-pupil allocations approximate per-pupil allocations in district schools. However, where such free space is not obtained, charter schools operate at a significant financial disadvantage. This Walton initiative will focus on established charter school networks with proven records as well as promising new charter schools in 17 cities, Boston, Camden, NJ, and New York among them. This donation comes six months after a $1 billion donation from the same foundation to spur charter school growth. 

June 23, 2016

New York State Senate Appears to Lift Lid on Number of Uncertified Teachers in Charter Schools

In return for conferring one more year of control of New York City’s schools to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Republicans in the State Senate extracted a concession from Democrats that appears to lift the lid on the number of uncertified teachers charter schools may employ. The charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools issued a statement calling the compromise “a massive victory.” State law currently stipulates that charter schools may have no more than 15 uncertified teachers on staff. As several charter school networks, Success Academy chief among, depend heavily on young teachers who’ve yet to earn certification, this modification of the law would significantly diminish pressure on leaders to staff their schools. The Assembly speaker, Carl E. Heastie, a Democrat, as well as spokesmen for Mayor de Blasio, however, disputed the interpretation of the wording of the compromise, claiming state charter law regarding employment of uncertified teachers remained unchanged. Trustees of the State University of New York will have the final word.

June 21, 2016

The Limits of Character Education

In a wide-ranging essay for The New Yorker, David Denby deconstructs the concept of “grit” espoused by Angela Duckworth and embraced by charter school networks employing the “no excuses” philosophy of hard work. Citing research by neuroscientists and pediatricians into early childhood development, Denby argues that “high levels of toxic stress” experienced by youngsters in blighted neighborhoods may put the development of grit “out of reach” for many of the students the focus on character growth is intended to help. 

June 19, 2016

Record Number of Charter Schools in Ohio Set to Close

A record number of charter schools in Ohio are set to close this year, reported The Columbus Dispatch, in response to a new state law mandating tighter standards. According to officials at the Ohio Department of Education, at least 19 of the state's 374 charter schools will not reopen. Last year, the total was 14.

June 16, 2016

Minnesotan Authors of Charter Legislation Reflect on 25 Years of Growth

Twenty-five years after Minnesotan lawmakers introduced the process of chartering schools, Education Week interviewed Ember Reichgott Junge and Ted Kolderie, two authors of the legislation, and documented the divergence of expectations and realities. The legislation itself broke from recommendations made by Albert Shanker in 1988 that charter schools function as experimental academies operated within the boundaries of district and union contracts. That breach, in turn, led to the unexpected operation of charter networks across the country. Minnesota nevertheless remained faithful to Shanker's vision in two critical respects, reports Education Week: first, only in Minnesota has the authority of chartering schools rested with the local teachers' union; and second, only four of the state's 160 charter schools are managed by multitstate charter networks, whereas approximately 40 percent of charter schools across the country are overseen by such networks.

June 16, 2016

Accreditor of For-Profit Colleges Facing Extinction

The U.S. Department of Education recommended on June 15 that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) lose its recognition. The organization, founded in 1912, has been at the center of a storm circling the for-profit colleges it has certified. Attorneys general in as many as 37 states have conducted fraud investigations into for-profit colleges for having enrolled underqualified applicants, inflated passing rates of students, and exaggerated employment data of graduates. The fate of ACICS will go to a vote next week by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), an advisory board serving the Department of Education. Should NACIQI vote ACICS down and should ACICS fail to win a reversal on appeal in court, The Wall Street Journal reported, the for-profit colleges certified by ACICS may face a loss of of "access to nearly $5 billion in federal finanical aid for more than 800,000 students." A sector already in retreat could thus collapse.

June 12, 2016

ITT Educational Services on the Brink of Bankruptcy

Long a Wall Street darling, for-profit college operator ITT Educational Services appears to be on its way to following former competitior Corinthian Colleges Inc. into bankruptcy. Citing financial weakness for the national network of 138 campuses across 39 states, the U.S. Department of Education informed company executives that they must pay the federal government $44 million to cover potential student refunds should the company fold. This money, Gretchen Morgensen explains in The New York Times, would be necessary to fund the forgiveness of federal student loans. According to federal law, students at colleges that collapse qualify for a "false certification discharge." With high student dropout and default rates, for-profit colleges have incurred increasing scrutiny from federal regulators and state attorneys general and, in the process, seen valuations and revenues plummet.

June 10, 2016

Gates Foundation Concedes School Reform a Daunting Challenge

The Gates Foundation conceded in a report that its campaign since 1999 to transform U.S. education has proven far harder than expected. In an editorial in The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper's board opined that the foundation's reversals on its considerable investment in small high schools (capped at 500 students), performance-based pay for teachers, and rapid roll-out of the Common Core standards illustrated the daunting challenge of school reform.

June 09, 2016

Growth in Urban Charter Schools Puts Financial Pressure on Host Districts

Considerable growth of charter schools over the past decade in Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and many other cities across the country has placed significant financial pressure on host districts. With money following students from district schools to charter schools, funding available for goods and services beyond fixed costs for host districts has necessarily declined, forcing school closures, requiring central office layoffs, and preventing raises for staff.

June 08, 2016

Surge in Montessori Charter Schools

A new study documents a surge in charter schools using the Montessori pedagogical philosophy. According to the study, approximately 82 percent of the 168 public Montessori schools opened since 2000 are operated by charter boards; the remainder are public magnet schools using the distinctive child-centered approach to learning. The study moreover finds that Montessori charters are considerably less economically and racially diverse than Montessori magnet schools.

June 07, 2016

Nevada Judge Upholds Constitutionality of State's School Choice Bill

Nevada District Court Judge Eric Johnson ruled that the state's new school choice bill, passed in 2015 and allowing families to use $5,100 in government money per child toward tuition at a private school, whether religious or independent, comported with the law. Johnson declared Senate Bill 302 "neutral with respect to religion" as parents, not state officials, determine where the money is spent. 

June 07, 2016

Pearson's Bridge International Charged with Intimidation of Canadian Researcher

Education International alleged that Pearson's subsidiary Bridge International, an operator of low-fee private schools in the developing world, orchestrated the arrest of a Canadian researcher studying the company's schools in Uganda. While the researcher, Curtis Riep, a doctoral candidate at the University of Alberta, had an appointment at a Bridge International school in Uganda, he was arrested for trespassing and impersonation and held for two days of questioning.