Jon Hage Defends Charter Schools

May 2, 2014
FOX News

CER board member and Charter Schools USA, Inc. President and CEO defends charter schools and school choice on Fox News at the onset of National Charter Schools Week 2014.

“There’s a reason there are 2.5 million students in charter schools, and millions more on charter school wait lists throughout the country,” Hage says. “There’s a demand by parents – they want more.”

Work continues to ease stress on charter schools

by Bob Kellogg
One News Now
May 8, 2014

Tension between public schools and charter schools in Pennsylvania has been tense and competitive over the years. Legislation could help ease the situation.

Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation says charter schools have to go to the public schools for approval to operate. He says it’s like putting MacDonald’s in control of approving any new Wendy’s opening.

“It’s a big conflict, and that’s why in Pennsylvania right now we have 40,000 students on a waiting list to get into charter schools,” he tells OneNewsNow. “There simply aren’t enough spots available for the families who want them.”

Kara Kerwin of the Center for Education Reform says Pennsylvania legislators have grappled for a long time to get to a bill that would enable universities to become the authorizers of charters, easing the tension between public and charter schools.

“Where the process for legislation fails is because it’s brought along a lot of baggage from previous legislative cycles,” she explains. “Which means there is a lot of over-regulatory language that is unnecessary in the legislation and there are also some pieces of the bill that could financially hurt charter schools even more than they already are being hurt.”

Kerwin says states that have university authorizers have some of the strongest charter schools in the nation.

Setting the Record Straight on Charter Schools During National Charter Schools Week

by Kara Kerwin
The Chronicle
May 8, 2014

Americans are fans of fantasy and myth – the resounding success of franchises like Twilight and Harry Potter offer strong evidence to support this claim. But when it comes to our education system, Americans must learn to distinguish fact from fiction.

This is especially true of our nation’s charter schools. Despite the fact that over 2.5 million children are served by over 6,500 charter schools across the country, the majority of Americans have been swayed by tall tales and misinformation about the role of charter schools in our public education system.

One of the most common misconceptions is that charter schools are privately funded institutions. A recent survey from the Center for Education Reform (CER) found that only 20 percent of Americans correctly identified charter schools as public schools. Charter schools are in fact independent public schools that are held accountable for student results.

Another myth asserts that charter schools take money and resources away from the public school system. This could not be further from the truth. Like district public schools, they are funded according to enrollment and receive funding from the district and the state according to the number of students attending. In fact, charter schools actually do more with less, receiving 36% less revenue on average than traditional public schools.

When a student’s family relocates and moves from one public school system to another, the public school system itself does not lose any money. The same can be said of a student moving from a conventional public school to a charter school. When a child leaves for a charter school the money follows that child. This benefits the public school system by instilling a sense of accountability into the system regarding its services to the student and parents and its fiscal obligations.

Additionally, research shows that charter schools have a positive impact, or “ripple effect,” on neighboring public schools. A Harvard University study found that in Arizona, public schools neighboring charter schools scored increases in math achievement of more than three times that of schools with no charter schools in their communities. As the focus continues to shift from the needs of the system to the needs of children and parents, our children are better served.

Critics are quick to claim that because charter schools operate independently, they have lower teaching standards and less accountability than conventional public schools. This is pure fantasy. Charter schools design and deliver programs tailored to educational excellence and community needs. Because they are schools of choice, charter schools are held to the highest level of accountability – consumer demand. If they fail to deliver, they are closed.

Another common myth is that charter schools “cream” more advantaged students from traditional public schools. The reality, however, is that a majority of charter school students are non-white, or minority students. Only 45 percent of charter students are white, while 52.5 percent of public school students are white. Additionally, 61 percent of charter schools serve a student population where over 60 percent qualify for Free & Reduced Lunch.

Seventy-three percent of Americans support the concept of charter schools. The short story is that charter schools work, and are an asset to a public educaiton system that is slow to embrace innovation despite an ever-changing and increasingly global world.

As the nation marks the achievements of the charter school movement during National Charter Schools Week, it is important for parents, teachers, students and all of those involved with charter schools to share their successes so that all Americans can learn more about institutions committed to accountability and choice in education, and for lawmakers to take note so they can improve charter school laws, and in turn improve public education, in their state.

Kara Kerwin is President of The Center for Education Reform, a K-12 education policy and advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.

URGENT ACTION NEEDED – Federal Charter School Program


May 7, 2014

TO:  U.S. Charter School Leaders

CC: Parents, Advocates, and Friends

FROM: Kara Kerwin, President

RE:  URGENT ACTION NEEDED  – Federal Charter School Program

Tomorrow, the United States House of Representatives is slated to vote on the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, which reauthorizes both the federal Charter School Program and the Charter School Credit Enhancement Program.

As you know, we were concerned with some elements of the proposal and shared those concerns with charter leaders across the country. Last week, CER headed to Capitol Hill to offer our feedback and share the concerns of charter leaders to seek some clarity.

We met with the House Education & the Workforce Committee staff and senior counsel, as well as Members and their staff. We shared our frustrations together and agreed to promote the best, and most important parts of this proposal, which have been drowned out by advocates and opponents alike.

H.R. 10 – the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act is indeed about fostering innovation in the charter school sector. At its core, and the signature piece of the proposal is to incentivize states to encourage new schools that can meet the educational demand found in communities across the nation.

A lot of emphasis has been placed on other key and equally important components of the proposal to help replicate and expand existing high-quality charters. But H.R. 10’s sponsors recognize that those “high-quality” schools would never exist if they too weren’t once just a start-up, a “mom and pop” operation, with an innovative and bold idea to transform student learning.

H.R. 10 supports, first and foremost, “the startup of charter schools,” AND [not OR] “the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools.”

H.R. 10 also “assists charter schools in accessing credit to acquire and renovate facilities.” Which is much needed support when charter schools typically do not receive funding to cover the cost of securing and maintaining a facility while already receiving on average 36% less per pupil than their traditional public school peers who also receive both facilities funds and buildings.

The greatest area of concern is in implementation at the state level and charter leaders and proponents must be aware of what the Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act does, and how it prioritizes states based on the strength of their charter law. We will be sharing that guidance with you upon its passage.

But for now, YOUR IMMEDIATE ACTION is needed.

Share this memo with your parents, teachers, and community leaders.

Go to to register an opinion and learn more about how you and your school community can help in this eleventh hour.

Email or call us at 1-800-521-2118 and we can help connect you to your Members of the U.S. House of Representatives to voice your support today.

All it takes is one click or a two-minute phone call.

We’re standing by to help!


Budget Neglects More Than Half of All Charter Schools in New York State

Fundamental Flaws in State’s Charter School Law Must Be Addressed to Ensure Equity; Politics Do Not Trump Good Policy

CER Press Release
Washington, D.C.
April 1, 2014

The New York Legislature, together with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, crafted a budget passing late Monday night that financially favors a select few charter schools in New York City rather than giving charter schools – and the students they serve – statewide equitable treatment.

“Claims that the New York budget is exceedingly friendly to charter schools are little more than political spin,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform. “Some charters have been granted protections from opponents they surely deserve, and this is a good thing. But overall this budget creates a tiered system in its treatments of charter schools, and the fundamental funding inequity flaw in the state’s charter school law remains intact.”

The new state budget provides facility support that is limited to new and growing charter schools in New York City only. City schools in private facilities and all charter school students outside of New York City get nothing. This means that more than half of all public charter schools in New York state will receive absolutely no school facilities aid.

Additionally, the budget agreement contains an extension of a freeze in base per pupil aid for charter schools for another three years while spending on other public school students goes up, representing a distinct funding disparity for charter school students across the state.

“State policy needs to enact what’s best for all children, and the budget agreement passed Monday favors a select number of charter schools at the expense of many others,” said Kerwin. “Playing politics with schoolchildren as pawns like this is downright wrong and unacceptable.”

“An equitable budget treats a student in Brooklyn the same as a student in Utica or a student in Buffalo, regardless of whether they attend a charter or traditional public school,” said Kerwin. “To truly improve the quality of education in New York for ALL students, fundamental flaws in the state’s charter school law must be addressed rather than looking for band-aid solutions year after year. Ignoring funding inequities means more and better opportunities for underserved students will continue to fall prey to the whims of politicians.”

Massachusetts Fails to Lift Charter School Cap

Politics Overcome Demand to Create Quality Schools

CER Press Release
Washington, D.C.
March 25, 2014

Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform, released the following statement on the failure to lift the charter school cap in Massachusetts:

“It is extremely disappointing to see efforts to lift the charter school cap in Massachusetts come up short, and access to in-demand schools statewide fall victim to political interests.

“The fact that lawmakers could not reach a consensus on expanding a category of schools for which over 13,600 students are on waiting lists for should be very troubling to Massachusetts parents and students.

“Honoring a tired and unproductive system of reimbursement that actually enhances funding disparities overcame the need to foster quality schools for Massachusetts students most in need of educational choices.

“Strong charter school laws feature independent, multiple authorizers, few limits on expansion, equitable funding, and high levels of school autonomy. Currently, Massachusetts ranks 25th out of the nation’s 43 charter school laws, earning a grade of a “C.”

“Lifting the charter school cap in Massachusetts is integral in generating positive outcomes for students. It’s unacceptable that lawmakers continue to fail to acknowledge the positive effects of charters on student learning and today’s failure to address the demand for better schools is proof positive that the politics of it all trump what’s best for kids in the Bay State.”

Charter Schools in Wealthy Areas at Center of NYC Battle

By Laura Colby, Bloomberg

At Success Academy Union Square, a charter school in Manhattan, parents dropping off kindergartners one frigid morning include a radiologist with a Louis Vuitton bag slung over one shoulder and a fashion designer married to an investment banker. Some arrive in taxis.

Four of every 10 students at the school are poor enough to qualify for the federal lunch program, about half the New York City average. “This is a mixed-income school, which makes me happy,” said Paola Zalkind, Union Square’s principal, who greets each child with a handshake.

New York state law requires charter schools — publicly funded but privately run — to improve student achievement, especially among those “at risk of academic failure.” Still, Success Academy, the nonprofit that is the city’s biggest charter chain, is opening schools in wealthier neighborhoods like Union Square, where the median household income was $103,198 in 2012, about twice the city median, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The evolution of Success Academy illustrates a growing debate nationwide over charters serving higher-income families. California’s Bullis Charter School educates children of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. High Tech High, based in San Diego, has created schools whose students come from diverse economic backgrounds, as do those at Rhode Island’s Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy, said Priscilla Wohlstetter, a research professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Upscale Areas

As Success Academy opens in more upscale areas, the non-union chain has become a lightning rod for critics including the new mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, touching off a battle that threatens the growth of Success and the charter movement in the city.

“They’re trying to find ways to increase test scores; that’s why they go into the wealthier neighborhoods,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, a membership and union-funded nonprofit that advocates for low-income families. “It’s a false premise and it gets away from what charter schools were supposed to be used for. Charter schools were supposed to help low-income communities.”

Founded by former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz in 2006, the Success Academy group has outstripped traditional public schools on standardized tests. In mathematics, it says its schools delivered rates of student proficiency on state tests of 82 percent last year — versus 30 percent for all of New York City. Success gets five applications for every open seat, with students chosen by lottery. Donations from Wall Street hedge funds and others almost doubled last year to $23 million.

Space Denied

Mixing people from different economic backgrounds is essential to meeting her goal of excellence for all, Moskowitz said in an interview in her Harlem office, decorated with children’s artwork. “Thousands of kids are now going to failing schools,” she said. “It’s not as if New York is this high-performing educational system and is using its resources effectively.”

The most damaging blows to the charter schools and Success have come from de Blasio, a Democrat who served together on the city council with Moskowitz and took over as mayor in January. De Blasio had previously taken the position that charters with rich donors shouldn’t get space from taxpayers without paying.

“There’s no way Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, OK?” de Blasio said during his mayoral campaign.

In one of the new administration’s first actions, de Blasio’s schools chancellor Carmen Farina said she would move $210 million of funds that had been earmarked for charter school facilities to the mayor’s program to create universal pre-kindergarten.

Charter Suit

On Feb. 27, the city’s education department said it wouldn’t provide space for three of Success Academy’s proposed schools after reviewing previously approved expansion plans. No other charter schools among the 17 under review were denied accommodations. Success has appealed the decision to the state board of education.

Parents at one of the Success schools denied space sued the city this month, asking a federal judge to block the de Blasio administration’s action. Space can be a make-or-break issue for charter schools in New York, since their public funding doesn’t include money to buy or rent facilities.

“You can’t educate kids without real estate,” Moskowitz said. “We’re not going to allow anyone to throw our families off a cliff without a fight.”

Albany Rally

She responded to the mayor’s space decision by closing her schools for a day and busing children and parents to a pro-charter rally in Albany on March 4 in what she called a civics lesson. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo promised state support for charters at the rally.

Success Academy benefits from donations from hedge-fund managers including Third Point LLC’s Dan Loeb, who’s also chairman of the chain. In addition, Success gets money from the government for each student equal to about 70 percent of the roughly $20,000 allocated to regular public schools. Its 22 schools enrolled 6,700 students this year, up from 14 schools and 4,500 students a year earlier.

Five of the 22 schools, four of which opened in the last three years, are located in U.S. Census tracts with incomes above the city median. One is on the Upper West Side, where the median household made $109,313 in 2012.

Three of the nine new elementary and middle schools that Success planned for next year were to be located in affluent areas, before de Blasio’s real estate actions. Success also plans to open its first high school, in midtown Manhattan. Applications to charter schools are allowed from outside their neighborhoods.

Broken Shades

Success Union Square shares its building with Washington Irving High School, a traditional public school that has twice the percentage of students qualifying for the federal lunch program, a common measure of scholastic poverty. Success has bright, newly equipped classrooms, while many rooms in the high school have broken window shades and just one electrical outlet, according to Gregg Lundahl, a social studies teacher at Washington Irving.

“There’s a kind of bifurcation,” said Lundahl, a 25-year teaching veteran and leader of the local chapter of the United Federation of Teachers union. “It’s separate and unequal.”

“Nothing has changed” in Success’s mission, which is “to provide world-class education for kids at scale and improve public education at large so that all kids gain access to educational excellence,” Moskowitz said.

Success’s moves into affluent areas are part of an overall expansion of charter schools in New York, where their number grew from 17 to 183 during the 12-year administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.

Charitable Returns

Charter backers include Wall Streeters like Carl Icahn, who has started his own charter chain, and hedge-fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller.

“When it comes to return on a philanthropic dollar, few things beat supporting a high-performing charter school,” said John Petry, co-founder of Success Academy and the managing member of Sessa Capital, a New York hedge fund. “Unlike cancer research, where it’s hard to measure the impact of a donation, with education you can look at objective metrics such as test scores and see how well you’re doing.”

Charters are allowed in 42 states. They educated 2.3 million U.S. children in the 2012-13 academic year, tripling from a decade earlier. The average waiting list increased to 277 students per school from 233 in 2009, according to the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-area advocacy group.
Proficient Scores

Nationwide, the average charter school student gains the equivalent of eight more days’ worth of learning in reading over traditional public schools each year, according to a 2013 study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes. In mathematics, there was no difference.

At the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, director Kevin Welner said the overall results of the study showed charters and regular schools to be about the same. The eight days’ reading advantage, he said, wasn’t practically significant.

Success Academy says it is an outperformer. Its seven schools in Harlem and the Bronx that took state tests last year turned in scores well above their citywide peers. At its Bronx 2 academy, 97 percent of third-graders scored proficient in math, compared with 14 percent in the local city school district. On the English test, 77 percent were proficient at the Bronx 2 school, versus 12 percent in the local district.

Skimming Students

Some researchers say charters in New York skim the most motivated students because only the most involved parents care enough to apply — and because they have fewer troubled children. Success says its special-needs children are 15 percent of its enrollment, versus the 18 percent that the city reports for all schools.

English language learners, often students from immigrant families, are 11 percent, compared with 14 percent. Overall, Success says about three-quarters of its students qualify for the school lunch program, about the same as the traditional public schools, indicating similar levels of poverty.

Student suspension rates range from 14 to 22 percent at four Success schools in Harlem. The suspension rates are 6 and 7 percent in the two regular public school districts that include Harlem. Critics say Success weeds out the children who might bring down test scores.

High Attrition

Moskowitz “is able to push out kids she doesn’t want,” said Diane Ravitch, a New York University education researcher and author. “Her schools have a high attrition rate.”

Moskowitz has called the suspensions a school’s version of “time out,” conveying minimum standards of conduct.

Charters that share buildings with traditional public schools — as all 22 Success academies do — sometimes take resources from them, according to a report published last year by Westin’s Communities for Change. Public School 149 in Harlem lost a music room, a computer lab and a parent room to a Success Academy school in its building, said Barbara Darrigo, P.S. 149’s principal.

Ann Powell, a Success spokeswoman, said P.S. 149 “has 19 sections of students and 33 classrooms, so they have plenty of extra room.”

Moskowitz, who holds a doctorate in American history from Johns Hopkins University, founded the schools with Petry and Gotham Asset Management LLC’s Joel Greenblatt. The three met shortly after Moskowitz, a Democrat, lost a bid to become Manhattan borough president in 2005. The winner, Scott Stringer, was backed by the UFT union.

Moving Teachers

Success Academy students wear uniforms and attend school for extended days. The schools emphasize math, science and writing and require that parents read to their children each night. Turnover among the non-unionized teachers can be more than 50 percent a year, according to state reports on the individual schools. Success says that’s in part because it moves its teachers among its own network of schools.

In a news conference, de Blasio said his decision to deny Success space didn’t represent an anti-charter stance: Two of the proposed elementary schools would have been located in high schools, something that often makes parents of younger children uncomfortable. The third charter, a middle school, would have taken space from a public school in Harlem that serves special needs children.
Taking Space

“Why would you take space from some of the neediest kids in the city?” asked Principal Barry Daub, who said 36 special-education students would have been dispersed throughout the city, some needing long bus rides, if Success had been allowed to take over classrooms in his Mickey Mantle elementary and middle school in Harlem. A statement from Success said the student transfers would have occurred gradually.

The building, which also includes P.S. 149, already shares space with another branch of Success Academy, and Daub said he has had to shrink lunchtime at Mickey Mantle to 25 minutes to accommodate the charter school. Success has its own art room, while the art teacher at Mickey Mantle has none and must push an “art cart” from room to room, Daub said.

De Blasio has said last year in his campaign that he may charge rent on a sliding scale to charters that have the funds to pay. That position was backed in a paper released last month by the University of Colorado’s policy center, which cited Success Academy as a group with millions of dollars in assets.
Left Behind

While an economically diverse charter school can benefit students, it could also harm those left behind in regular public schools, said Erica Frankenberg, an assistant professor in the Department of Education Policy at Pennsylvania State University.

“It’s taking away the best and most advantaged,” Frankenberg said.

Success Union Square’s Zalkind sees it differently. “If you really want to close the achievement gap, you have to do socioeconomic integration,” she said. “Because to be successful, you have to be able to communicate with people who are not like you.”

Some of Success’s well-to-do board members and managers — including Moskowitz — send their own children to the schools. Moskowitz, a mother of three, earned $475,244 in the year ended June 2012, according a 990 tax filing — more than twice Mayor de Blasio’s $225,000 pay.

Much of Success’s philanthropy money goes to support an educational institute to train personnel, the creation of a proprietary school management software system and developing a curriculum for the new high school, according to Powell.
Knee Slapping

Some of it covers the schools’ first three years of operations, during which they generally have a loss, Powell said. Success’s schools each pay Success Academy Charter Schools Inc. a management fee. In the school year ended June 30, that sum was $2,029 per student, according to the schools’ independent auditor’s report.

Back in Union Square, Success kindergarten teacher Samantha Crane slaps her knees rhythmically, leading five-year-olds as they chant out the letters to spell “because,” ending with a fist-pump on the final “e.” In science class, the students learn about yeast and chemical reactions, bake bread and take a field trip to local bakeries.

When one child is called on, she has to wait to speak until all of her classmates show they are paying attention. “Lock and look at Rachel.” Crane says. “Three, two, one, go!”

In a science classroom in one of Success’s schools in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, a teacher tells two boys, “Stand still, hands at your sides. This is your warning.” When they don’t move quickly, principal Javeria Khan, a former compliance officer at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., has them stand by themselves for about half a minute, while the rest of the students move quietly to their desks. Children get rewards, in the form of smiley-face stickers, for good behavior, Khan said.

Some parents say they don’t mind the rules. “I went to Catholic school myself,” said Marina Eliasi, a stay-at-home mom whose daughter has done well at Union Square. “We chose it for the academics.”

Wyoming ranks low on accommodation of charter schools

by Leah Todd, Star Tribune

Wyoming’s charter school laws are among the most stringent in the United States, a new national report from the Center for Education Reform says.

That may be a reason that only four charter schools exist in the state, said Kari Cline, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Public Charter Schools.

Charter schools are independently run, publicly funded schools that operate under a contract, or charter, which establishes the school’s mission.

Such an agreement can allow charter schools to do things not done in traditional schools, Cline said.

Charter schools have grown steadily since the first charter school law was passed in the U.S. in 1991, said Alison Consoletti Zgainer, executive vice president of the Center for Education Reform and lead author of the report, which was released Monday.

The group advocates for laws that will accelerate the process allowing charter schools to gain approval in each state.

To the Center for Education Reform, strong charter laws allow more than one entity to approve a charter school, place few limits on a charter school’s expansion, fund charter schools equally and allow a charter school autonomy.

Wyoming passed its current charter school law in 1995. Under the law, only a local school board can authorize a new charter school.

Other states allow private organizations, a university or a state charter commission to approve charter schools.

“In order for more charter schools to open or for communities to embrace the possibility, we really have to address multiple authorizing structures,” Cline said.

Entities approving charter schools must be trained in what it takes to start a new school, she said.

“For us, it’s not about changing the law or the landscape to allow the proliferation of charters,” Cline said. “Because Wyoming is never going to be a Colorado, with hundreds of charter schools. Many of our communities don’t have that many students.”

In Colorado, 197 charter schools operate, according to the report. Colorado’s charter laws scored a B on the report, while Wyoming’s scored a D.

In Wyoming, charter school teachers must be certified, just as they must be at any other public school. Students at charter schools are required to take the same statewide tests as other public school children.

Charters in Wyoming are funded through the same school funding model as other public schools, according to the Wyoming Department of Education. The contract between a district and a charter can vary, however, resulting in some variation in charter school funding in the state.

The report scored Wyoming high in several areas, partially because the state does not place a limit on how many charter schools can operate in a district or statewide.

Overall, the organization ranked Wyoming’s charter school laws 40th in the nation.

‘A tough process’

Marcos Martinez spent 2 1/2 years forming PODER Academy, a college-readiness charter school in Cheyenne.

“It was a tough process,” Martinez, the school’s CEO, said. “The application is very detailed, and, you know, the application needs to be that way.”

The school opened in 2012 with 103 students in kindergarten through third grades. Martinez said the rigorous application process made PODER, which is a Spanish word for “to be able,” a better school.

“We took our time with it,” he said. “We had frequent talks with the district. I think that really helped.”

PODER Academy is the only charter school in Laramie County School District 1, a neighborhood district where children must attend the school closest to their residence. Parents support the school, he said. This year, 166 students are enrolled in kindergarten through fourth grades.

The group will soon apply to open a charter high school in Cheyenne, Martinez said.

Martinez said he sees two ways Wyoming can improve its charter school policy: create incentives for an already successful charter school to expand and replicate, and allow more than one entity to approve a charter school.

Spending more on Virginia students doesn’t mean they’re getting smarter

By Kathryn Watson, Watchdog

More money doesn’t necessarily translate to more successful, college-ready students.

A new study by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., finds that, adjusted for inflation, per-pupil spending from 1972 to 2012 has soared 120 percent in Virginia.

But SAT scores have remained virtually stagnant. In fact, when adjusted for participation and demographics, Virginia’s SAT scores actually fell by 3 percent.

Virginia isn’t alone. Nationally, per-pupil spending has increased close to 200 percent, and school employment has increased nearly 100 percent since 1970. Reading and math scores of 17-year-old students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have remained flat, the study found.

“There has been essentially no correlation between what states have spent on education and their measured academic outcomes,” wrote Andrew Coulson, director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom. Coulson conducted the study.

Of course, SAT scores aren’t everything. But Cato researchers argued the SAT is a mark of how well-read a student may be and whether he can think critically.

“While SAT scores are not a comprehensive metric of educational outcomes, the SAT measures reading comprehension and mathematical skills that are intrinsically useful,” Coulson wrote.

Delegate Steve Landes, chairman of Virginia’s House Education Committee, said it “does look as if both nationally and in Virginia student achievement is relatively flat in comparison with both state and local funds invested in K-12 education that have increased significantly over the same period. That is disappointing, and we will need to look at the study and results very carefully as we move forward in developing and reforming Virginia’s K-12 education system.”

International testing backs up that lack of correlation between more spending and success in critical cognitive areas.

The U.S. spends more per pupil than almost any nation, yet the U.S. was a miserable 36th in math, 28th in science and 24th in reading, according to the 2012 PISA assessment, ranking below countries such as Slovakia, Latvia and the Czech Republic.

It’s not news to Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, that more spending doesn’t equal better success.

“The conventional thought is if we just throw more money at the problem we will fix it and things eventually get better,” Kerwin told on Wednesday.

What matters more than spending are parent empowerment, choice and competition, Kerwin said, who added that charter schools provide the best example.

“Charter schools see about 30 percent less funding than public schools, and yet they’re doing so much more with less,” Kerwin said. “And so, the establishment finds that threatening.”

The problem isn’t money. Rather, it’s that traditional public schools lack empowerment, choice and competition.

That’s why charters are outperforming their public school counterparts — charters are renewed annually on a performance basis, and they compete with public schools for students and success.

Competition from charters naturally challenges traditional public schools, Kerwin said.

Charters are just one piece of the school-choice puzzle, but they’re a big one. And once again, Virginia scored an F in the Center for Education Reform’s 15th annual ranking of state charter school laws, released this week.

With just one independent authorizer that can establish charter schools in Virginia, and just six charters, Virginia shares a failing grade with only Kansas and Iowa.

“I think the most important thing in Virginia and what has plagued the charter school sector is the fact that school boards think they have exclusive authority over education,” Kerwin said. “… Making a charter school have to go to a local school board is the equivalent of McDonald’s asking a Burger King to open.”

It’s exactly the kind of scenario Virginians have seen played out in battles like the one between the Fairfax County Public School Board and the Fairfax Leadership Academy, a proposed charter school for at-risk students that got a hearty endorsement from the State Board of Education. The local school board ultimately killed the project, and charter hopefuls had nowhere to turn.

States that thrive are those in which many groups can authorize charter schools, such as respected universities, Kerwin said.

Virginia doesn’t have to languish at the back of the pack in CER’s report forever, Kerwin said.

All it takes is one lawmaker — with the guts to stand up for choice and accountability — to file a bill that paves the way for more authorizers. That, Kerwin said, is the most important step Virginia can take to nurture student success with fewer dollars.

Tennessee Must Strengthen Education Policies to Meet Growing Demand

Volunteer State Ranks 22nd on 15th Edition of Charter School Laws Across the States

CER Press Release
Washington, D.C.
March 17, 2014

Fewer than half of state charter school laws in the United States earn above-average grades according to The Center for Education Reform’s (CER) 15th Edition of Charter School Laws Across the States: Rankings & Scorecard released today, and Tennessee is no exception, earning a grade of “C” with a ranking of 22nd out of 42 states and the District of Columbia.

“Tennessee lawmakers today have an incredible opportunity to help expand educational options to families and students by improving the state’s charter school law to allow for multiple, independent authorizers and repeal restrictions that limit proven providers from investing in the success of Tennessee’s charter schools,” said Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform.

“While it is true the charter school sector in the United States has grown at a steady, linear pace since the first charter school law was passed in 1991, we know the highest charter school and enrollment growth is in jurisdictions with strong charter school laws,” said Alison Consoletti Zgainer, executive vice president of the Center for Education Reform and lead author of the rankings.

“With the length of the average charter school waiting list increasing to nearly 300 students there absolutely needs to be a sense of urgency around creating strong charter school laws that will accelerate the pace of growth to meet demand,” said Kerwin. “Not only are there hundreds of thousands of students on charter school wait lists, but the U.S. Census predicts the largest influx of school-aged children over the next 20 years at over 11 million. Lawmakers must be thinking outside the box to create a portfolio of new educational opportunities to create the predicted 315,000 new seats needed in Tennessee alone to meet this demographic reality.”

“States where parents have options to choose tend to yield higher growth rates in student achievement,” said Kerwin. Tennessee currently ranks 26th in the nation on the Parent Power Index, which measures how parent-friendly a state’s education policies are as a whole when it comes to parents both being able to have a say in their child’s education as well as gathering data about which education option is best for their child.

“As the nation celebrates twenty-plus years of charter schools and choice programs, history suggests state laws need to be modeled after success, not theory,” Kerwin added. “There should be no excuses from elected officials now that we have powerful evidence of what works.”

Click here to see the 15th edition of Charter School Laws Across the States: Rankings & Scorecard.

For more information about the choices and power parents have over their child’s education in Tennessee, visit the Center for Education Reform’s Parent Power Index.