Archive for the 'School Choice' Category

17th 2017
Tax Reform Would Harm Cristo Rey Students

Posted under Private Schools & Ross Izard & School Choice & Tax reform & Vocational Education

The House of Representatives’ newly proposed tax reform would greatly impair the Cristo Rey Network’s ability to provide educational opportunities to low-income students. The Washington Examiner’s Todd Shepherd–the Independence Institute’s former investigative reporter–describes the negative implications of the proposed tax reform in his piece House tax reform could cripple innovative education model aimed at low-income families.

My good friend, and senior fellow at the Independence Institute, Ross Izard, wrote a private school profile called Building Hope: A Profile of Arrupe Jesuit High School that exemplifies the local impact of the Cristo Rey Network here in Colorado.

Cristo Ray’s consortium of high schools emphasizes the combination of “four years of rigorous college preparatory academics with four years of professional work experience.” The network is Catholic, but open to all students. Its primary concern is helping low-income students reach success, despite religious affiliation.

The network is incredibly successful–it has graduated over 13,000 students, 90 percent of which enroll in college. That’s an enrollment rate 29 percent above the national average for low-income students and 4 percent above the national average for high-income students.

The average Cristo Rey household earns around $37,000 annually, but the network’s 32 schools are exclusively private, college-prep institutions. To pay for their education, students participate in the Corporate Work Study Program, in which they work at local businesses that in exchange pay for the majority of their tuition.

As of now, the tuition students earn through the work study program is untaxed–it goes straight from the business to the school with no obstructions.

With the introduction of the House’s new tax reform, this would no longer be the case. The tuition students earn from their work study program would no longer be exempt from taxation. This would also mean that when it came time to apply to college the Cristo Rey students’ work study would be counted as income. Consequently, the financial aid they receive for college would be diminished.

This negative externality of the proposed tax reform is an unnecessary obstacle forced upon students working for a brighter future–though I believe many legislators are blissfully unaware that it is being included in the reform. Hopefully by the time I go to high school, my brightest friends will get the best opportunity to maximize their potential, despite their income. I wonder how that would be possible without the full support of groups such as the Cristo Rey Network?




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3rd 2017
Let’s Not Forget Colorado’s Successful Charter Schools

Posted under CDE & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

Lots of great things have been happening in school choice lately. All over the nation, research is emerging about the success of charter schools. I’ve highlighted some of these studies, specifically from New York and Florida, but it’s been awhile since we talked about charter schools in Colorado. So today, why don’t we?

The newest comprehensive research done by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), the 2016 State of Charter Schools Triennial Report, displays the success charter schools in Colorado have had in improving education for the general student population and disadvantaged groups.

Contrary to the opponents of school choice who claim that charter schools are the religious right’s 21st century attempt at segregation, CDE determined that public charter schools in Colorado actually serve a greater percentage of minority students than the state average for non-charters. 46.9% of charter school students are minorities, while the state average in 45.9%.

Though public charter schools in Colorado serve slightly fewer students that qualify for free or reduced lunch programs (FRPL), those that do attend charter schools show greater academic proficiency. On the 2014 state Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, charter school students that qualified for free or reduced lunch programs predominantly outperformed their traditional public school peers. For reading, “across all grade levels the percentage of [FRLP] students meeting or exceeding grade level benchmark expectations was greater for charter schools than non-charter schools,” and for math “across all but fifth-grade the percentage of [FRLP] students meeting or exceeding grade-level benchmark expectations was greater for charter schools than non-charter schools.”

The number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch programs in charter schools has more than doubled since 2001, likely because of the exceptional results charter schools have produced. As more research surfaces that charter schools “generally outperform state non-charter schools on state performance measures, overall and with educationally disadvantaged groups,” their demand will continue to grow.

While students at charter schools almost exclusively outperformed students in traditional public schools, they fell short in one area.

CDE’s study notes that charter schools are behind traditional public schools in postsecondary and workforce readiness performance. To explain this gap, CDE points largely to the fact that a “disproportionally greater percentage of charter schools fall into the online and AEC [Alternative Educational Center] categories than do non-charter schools.”

So why would having a lesser percentage of students in AEC schools push the statistics to favor traditional public schools? Well, on average an AEC school contains a considerably greater amount of special education students, English language learning student, and students that qualify for the FRLP. There are about 8 times more charter school students in AEC’s than traditional public school students.

I don’t see a problem with the statistic being skewed this way–after all, the point of many charter schools is to provide educational options to traditionally disadvantaged groups.

Take the New America School for example. New America is an AEC that serves students aged 14-21, and is focused on helping provide “academically underserved students the educational tools to support and maximize their potential.” This includes English language learning students, student-parents, and new immigrants. New America concentrates on making sure these groups of students get an adequate educational foundation, rather than four-year graduation rates and progressing its students into pretentious colleges.

Opponents of school choice claim that charter schools have misrepresented student populations–that they have filtered out students and segregated the lower classes, all in an attempt to put the numbers in their favor. As CDE’s report exemplifies, this is simply not the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.




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1st 2017
Florida Charter Schools do More with Less

Posted under Academic Achievement & Accountability & charter schools & Educational Choice & Grades and Standards & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

Boy, would I like to visit Florida. Walt Disney World, Legoland, and a flourishing assortment of innovative charter schools–what’s there that a five-year old wouldn’t love?

OK, to be honest I’m more excited by the theme parks than the schools, but the growth and success of Florida’s charter schools is like Splash Mountain to my policy nerd friends over at the Independence Institute.

One of the most recent testaments to the success of charter schools in Florida is the Florida Department of Education’s (FLDOE) Student Achievements in Florida’s Charter Schools report.

FLDOE’s report uses 4.2 million test scores from the 2015-2016 school year to compare charter school students to traditional public-school students “in terms of grade level achievement, learning gains, and achievement gap.”

In 84% of the comparisons, students in charter schools had higher grade level performances, and in 85% of comparisons the average learning gains for charter school students were higher.

Florida’s charter schools are thriving; it’s no wonder their enrollment has almost tripled in the last ten years.

And no, the results of this report were not fueled by charter schools filled with preppy white suburban kids. The number of charter school minority students in this study exceeded those in traditional public schools by 6.8%.

In fact, the learning gaps between charter school African-American students and charter school white students, in contrast to the learning gaps between TPS African-American students and TPS white students, were lower for 81.8% of comparisons. Furthermore, the learning gaps between charter school Hispanic students and charter school white students were lower for 100% of comparisons–that’s right, all of them.

Despite receiving notoriously less funding than traditional public schools in past years, Florida’s charter schools have made exceptional strides. According to FLDOE’s research, they have predominantly surpassed traditional public schools. Once again, charter schools in the sunshine state have done more with less.


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19th 2017
Stanford Study Reveals the Success of New York City’s Charter Schools

Posted under charter schools & Educational Choice & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

The leaves are changing color, school is in full swing, and the air has finally cooled off. Fall is officially here in Colorado! While many kids are debating whether to be a dinosaur or superhero for Halloween, many parents have become caught up in the debate about charter schools. There has been a lot of uproar around charter schools lately, which can make the issue hard to understand from an objective standpoint. Luckily, a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) has shed some empirical light on the issue.

My friend Connan Houser– who is a research associate at the Independence Institute–wrote an op-ed titled “The undeniable efficacy of charter schools” which was published in The Hill. Connan’s piece goes into greater detail about CREDO’s findings, but I’ll give you the most important points in this post.

In early October, CREDO released a study which followed over 97,000 charter school students in New York City over the course of four years. The study found that charter schools had exceptionally positive results on students’ learning outcomes, especially for subgroups which traditionally underperform in education.

The most impressive subgroup in the study was charter school students in poverty, who outperformed non-poverty traditional public-school students. Charter school students in poverty tested at a level equivalent to receiving 55 days of extra learning in math, and at an equal reading level as “their more affluent peers.”

I could go on citing more statistics which display the impact of charter schools in New York City, but fortunately CREDO broke their findings down into a table that even a five-year-old could understand.


Table 8: Summary of Statistically Significant Findings for New York City Charter School Students

  Reading Math
New York City Charter Students Positive Positive
Charters in 2012-2013 Similar Positive
Charters in 2013-2014 Positive Positive
Charters in 2014-2015 Similar Positive
Charters in 2015-2016 Positive Positive
Elementary School Charter Students Positive Positive
Middle School Charter Students Similar Positive
High School Charter School Students Similar Similar
Multi-Level School Charter Students Positive Positive
First Year Enrolled in Charter School Negative Positive
Second Year Enrolled in Charter School Positive Positive
Third Year Enrolled in Charter School Positive Positive
Fourth Year Enrolled in Charter School Positive Positive
Black Charter School Students Positive Positive
Hispanic Charter School Students Positive Positive
Charter School Students in Poverty Positive Positive
Black Charter School Students in Poverty Positive Positive
Hispanic Charter School Students in Poverty Positive Positive
English Language Learner Charter School Students Similar Positive
Special Education Charter School Students Positive Positive
Charter CMO Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Similar Positive
Charter CMO Elementary Schools Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Elementary Schools Positive Positive
Charter CMO Middle Schools Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Middle Schools Similar Similar
Charter CMO High Schools Similar Positive
Charter Non-CMO High Schools Similar Similar
Charter CMO Multi-level Schools Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Multi-level Schools Similar Similar

Fig 1. Summary of Statistically Significant Findings for New York City Charter School Students, 2012-2016.  Graph from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, Chater School Performance in New York City, (Stanford University: CREDO 2017), 53. Online.


CREDO’s study concluded that students in “New York City charter schools experienced more learning gains in a year, on average, than their [traditional public-school] counterparts.” It also found that, for minority students, attending charter schools “indicated a significant academic advantage.”

It is time to consider what CREDO calls “evidence about charter schools’ impact on student outcomes,” rather than the unintelligible anti-charter school commotion. When deciding upon the futures of children like myself, adults need to hold unbiased and transparent research, such as CREDO’s, in the highest regard. Only then can we truly discern what educational models are working, and find ways to implement them into the broader educational system.


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17th 2017
AFT Jumps in Douglas County School Board Race with a BIG Splash

Posted under Blaine Amendments & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Educational Choice & School Board & School Choice & Vouchers

I just came home from school and read an article about the Douglas County School Board race. The article is titled Douglas County ‘Dream Team’  candidates get dream support via $300,000 from National Teachers Union” by Sherrie Peif from Complete Colorado. My mom and dad say this race is the most watched school board race in the country. The AFT, a teachers union, and other school choice opponents have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race because they oppose school choice. I don’t understand why anyone would want to stop children from attending a school that they want to attend. But I don’t always understand grown-ups.

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25th 2017
Summer break was exciting for school choice!

Posted under Blaine Amendments & Colorado Supreme Court & Constitution & Courts & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Educational Choice & School Board & School Choice & United States Supreme Court

It has been a long summer break, but I’m back watching over education in Colorado!  And, oh my, what a summer it has been for school choice!

On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 7-2 in favor of tire scraps.

Huh?  Tire scraps?

That’s right, tire scraps.

A private, church-affiliated preschool in Missouri applied for the provisioning of tire scraps for playground resurfacing under a state grant program, but was turned down because of their church affiliation under the Missouri State Constitution’s Blaine clauses.  The school challenged the decision in court.  The case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, made it all the way to our country’s high court, which decided that First Amendment freedom of religion rights supersede the discriminatory Blaine clauses of Missouri’s State Constitution.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision means that just because the preschool was affiliated with a church, that should not prevent them from being eligible for the State’s tire scrap grant program.

Okay, why should Colorado care about tire scraps in Missouri?

In light of this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to rule on another Blaine-related case—the case regarding Douglas County School District’s Choice Scholarship Program (CSP).

Let’s back up for a moment.  In 2011, a Denver District Court judge placed an injunction on the CSP.  The decision was overturned by the Colorado Court of Appeals in 2013.  That decision was petitioned to the Colorado Supreme Court, which struck down the CSP 4-3, with three of the four justices in the majority citing Blaine clauses.  The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Moving back to this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision on the CSP, ordering the Court to reconsider the case given the Trinity Lutheran ruling.  The case was then sent back down to the District Court.  Why exactly?  It’s hard to say.  Could this be a political maneuver to test the will and ability of the plaintiffs to see the case through?  Perhaps we’ll never know.

And that’s where things stand now.  School choice advocates are anxiously awaiting the ultimate ruling on the CSP which may take several months…

…which brings us to yet another obstacle: school board elections are just over two months away, and the current majority on the Douglas County School Board that supports the ongoing case is in danger of being voted-out in November.  In fact, if they lose just one seat out of the four that are up for election, the Board may flip.

The importance of the Douglas County School District’s ongoing commitment to the pursuit of the CSP case cannot be understated.  I will be keeping a close watch on the upcoming election, knowing that it is perhaps the most important election related to school choice in our country’s recent history.

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8th 2016
New Profile Highlights Crossroads School in Longmont

Posted under Media & Private Schools & Publications & School Choice & Tax Credits

I had a serious internal debate with myself this morning about whether I should use a Friday post to engage in a major policy discussion. There are several such discussions out there that we need to have, and have them we shall. But I think I’ll save you the brain damage for now and instead engage in a little shameless self-promotion.

Well, not quite “self-promotion,” since I, Little Eddie, didn’t technically write “Altering Course: A Profile of Crossroads School.” My Independence Institute policy friend Ross Izard took care of that. Then again, it just so happens that I agree with Ross on every issue—sometimes to the point that people allege that we may, in fact, be the same person. Which sort of reminds me of a funny meme:

Continue Reading »

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15th 2016
New Report Reviews Research on Educational Choice

Posted under Education Savings Accounts & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits

I know this isn’t a “cool” thing to say, but I get really excited about new research. I eat up statistical analyses like most people eat donuts (I eat those, as well). But do you know what is way more exciting than a single new study on a fascinating education topic? A review of a whole bunch of tasty research.

Enter the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice’s new edition of “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice.” Written by Dr. Greg Forster, these reports are a great way to stay up to date with the latest research on educational choice. The last report was published in 2013, so this new edition brings a bunch of new information to the table. Continue Reading »


10th 2016
Dougco’s Voucher Lawsuit Muddle Explained

Posted under Colorado Supreme Court & Constitution & Courts & Douglas County & Legal Issues & School Choice & United States Supreme Court

I got a lot of questions yesterday about yet another ruling on the Douglas County voucher program. Was this good news? Was it bad news? Which lawsuit was this anyway? What the heck is going on in Douglas County?

It occurred to me after about the 50th question that stuff has gotten pretty complicated when it comes to vouchers in Dougco. We’re going to dedicate today’s post to clearing up the confusion. After all, there’s nothing worse than being perplexed over the weekend.

Let’s start from the beginning. Most everyone probably remembers that the original Dougco voucher program was shot down by the Colorado Supreme Court almost a year ago thanks to our state’s icky Blaine Amendment. That decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the whole process was complicated by the tragic (in so, so many ways) death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the fact that SCOTUS had already taken a Blaine-related case out of Missouri.

The case remains in limbo somewhere in the echoing hallways of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to decide whether it will hear the case at all. It will likely remain undecided for some time. But Douglas County didn’t want to wait to get a voucher program up and running, so it approved a new version that excludes faith-based schools in March 2016.

For those of you keeping score, this means that there are now two Dougco voucher programs out there. Continue Reading »


13th 2016
New Study Studies Studies on School Choice

Posted under Private Schools & Research & School Choice & Tax Credits

Well, friends, the 2016 legislative session is officially a done deal. I’ll have an official wrap-up (autopsy?) for you next week, but for now we can all breathe a little easier knowing that the crush of state-level education politics will recede for the most part until the fall. That leaves plenty of time to nerd it up, and nerd it up we shall.

Let’s get the policy party started today with a new study out of the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform. Written by M. Danish Shakeel, Kaitlin P. Anderson, and Patrick J. Wolf, the study takes a look at the effects of private school choice programs around the world. Or, rather, the study looks at studies on the effects of private school choice programs around the world. That makes it a “meta-study.” Today’s lesson in impenetrable academic jargon: Studying studies yields meta-studies. You’re welcome.

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: I have a love-hate relationship with meta-studies. On one hand, comprehensive examinations of previous research are enormously valuable for those of us who swim in policy waters. On the other hand, they can easily fall victim to cherry picking, or the tendency to pick only studies that agree with whatever point you want to make. Then you have the issue of ensuring that the studies you are studying with your meta-study are actually decent—a question that often leads to screening processes that can, once again, easily fall victim to bias. That’s why you so often see meta-studies on the same subject reaching entirely different conclusions.

As a matter of fact, this particular meta-study is largely intended to correct what the researchers see as flaws in previous reviews of school choice research. Continue Reading »


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