With the state budget bill on the books, most loyal Gadfly readers have more time to kick back and read something other than legislation. Here’s a synopsis of a few recent reports that caught my eye. Ohio has one of the nation’s largest AP opportunity gaps
Tackling Ohio’s toughest education challenges: Remove geographic restrictions on brick-and-mortar charter schools
With the state budget bill on the books, most loyal Gadfly readers have more time to kick back and read something other than legislation. Here’s a synopsis of a few recent reports that caught my eye.
Ohio has one of the nation’s largest AP opportunity gaps
Now in its sixth decade, the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) program has been one of the nation’s most successful. The program today reaches more than high school students who take ranging from calculus to music theory. Students can earn college credits by passing end-of-course AP exams.
Despite efforts to expand AP,have raised concerns about course-taking disparities by race and urbanicity. Using U.S. Department of Education data from the 2015–16 school year, a from the Center for American Progress (CAP) shines a light on such opportunity gaps. At a national level, the study shows that rural students typically have less access to AP—38 percent of them attend a high school that offers zero to three courses—compared to a national average of 21 percent. Black students also have less access to AP, though Hispanic students are more likely to attend schools that offer more AP courses.
The CAP analysis also provides useful state-by-state AP data. Data show that 35 percent of Ohio’s rural students attend high schools with minimal AP course offerings, close to the national average but higher than states like California and Florida. More troubling, however, are the AP opportunity gaps for Black and Hispanic students. CAP’s analysis reveals 51 percent of Ohio’s Black students attend schools offering just zero to three AP courses, whereas 48 percent of Hispanic students do so. Those figures far exceed the national averages of 27 and 19 percent for those respective groups. They also put Ohio at the very bottom of all fifty states when it comes to Black students’ access to AP coursework and third-worst for Hispanics.
While students of color may instead be participating in Ohio’s, policymakers still ought to consider CAP’s recommendations for expanding access to AP. Promising ideas include creating a statewide organization dedicated to growing and supporting AP programs, requiring automatic enrollment in AP courses when students demonstrate proficiency in a subject, ensuring that AP exam fees are fully paid for, and reporting AP participation and exams data by student group. Hear, hear.
A new model to rank states’ charter sectors
Policy wonks have long debated the best approach to judging a state’s charter school sector. The two most prominent charter rankings come by way of the, the , and the . While those rankings offer a useful perspective on how state policies align with model laws, some have them for overlooking outcomes such as enrollment growth or student achievement. They have a point: States can have a charter law that looks great on paper but doesn’t do a whole lot of good for parents and students.
A newfrom the Education Freedom Institute (EFI) takes a fresh approach. Created by Kennesaw State University professors Benjamin Scafidi and Eric Wearne, this framework focuses on four equally weighted components: 1) charter school enrollment as a fraction of total public school enrollment; 2) accessibility to a charter school, as defined by the percentage of students in a zip code with a charter; and 3-4) charter students’ average learning gains in reading and math. A future iteration will add three more elements, including charter enrollment trends over time and low-income charter students’ learning gains in reading and math.
In terms of overall ranking, the top mark went to the District of Columbia, with that State up North coming in second, and Rhode Island third. Ohio ranked twentieth out of the thirty states in EFI’s ranking. Ohio’s charter sector fared better on the enrollment and accessibility metrics—tenth and fifteenth, respectively—but worse on academics (twentieth in reading and twenty-sixth in math). One big caveat, however. The EFI analysis relies oncharter evaluations published in 2013, and Ohio’s charter sector has over the past decade. The Buckeye State’s rank will almost surely rise once more recent data are used.
National data show where Ohio stands on enrollment losses, school funding
Dozens of news stories have covered public school enrollment declines for the 2020–21 school year. The slumping headcounts no doubt reflect the extraordinary circumstances of schooling during a pandemic. In, I looked at preliminary data from the Ohio Department of Education and found that traditional school districts’ enrollments fell 2.8 percent relative to the prior year. Online charter school enrollments spiked, up 45 percent, while brick-and-mortar charters’ headcounts were virtually unchanged.
In late June, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) released its first look at national enrollmentfrom the past year. Across the country, enrollment dipped by about in 2020–21, a loss of roughly 3 percent compared to the year prior with declines disproportionately in kindergarten. USED data show that Ohio’s public school enrollment declined by 2.63 percent, the twenty-eighth largest decline among U.S. states. Vermont and Mississippi posted the largest enrollment losses—more than 5 percent each—while the District of Columbia was the only jurisdiction to register an increase in headcounts, eking out a gain of 0.01 percent.
Last, sticking with news from our nation’s capital, USED also recently releasedfor the 2018–19 school year (federal statistics arrive later than Ohio’s). According to the report, Ohio continues to with the national spending averages. In FY 2019, Ohio spent $13,443 per pupil versus a national average of $13,187. In terms of ranking, Ohio came in twentieth place, ahead of neighboring states such as Indiana, Kentucky, and Michigan but trailing Pennsylvania. Those figures include only operational expenditures—things like salaries and benefits—and aren’t adjusted for cost-of-living differences across states. When capital outlay and debt service are included, Ohio’s K–12 spending rose to $15,396 per pupil versus a national average of $15,208.
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Good research and solid data should always inform our policy priorities and debates. As we think about what’s next for Ohio policy, these reports offer useful ideas and information. Expanding AP opportunities to more high-ability students should be higher on the policy agenda, as should the push to increase access to high-quality charter schools. Policymakers will need to keep a close eye on whether enrollment declines persist and, as school funding debates, understand the facts about Ohio’s K–12 expenditures. If you agree, please consider diving in—both to the closest pool, and to these reports.
After months of debate, theby Governor DeWine on July 1. is the new school funding formula and increased overall spending levels.
But there are also plenty of other changes that will have huge impacts. One is the removal of geographic restrictions on Ohio’s public charter schools. Under previous law, brand new charter schools could only open in districts that were identified by the state as “challenged.” There were for a district to earn that designation, including poor report card ratings. The recently passed budget, however, changed all that. Charter schools are now free to open anywhere in the state.
Eliminating these geographic boundaries is great news. It has the potential to give Ohio families access to more options. Traditionally, charter schools have been pitched as a way to give students who are stuck in low-performing schools the opportunity to enroll in a better one. And for many students, that’s certainly been the case. But choice isn’t just about escaping low-performing schools. There are also students who, despite attending a school that does well on state tests and other measures, need something more or something different. As the cliché goes, one size does not fit all. A single building can’t be everything to everyone, and it shouldn’t have to be.
Families deserve the opportunity to find a school that’s the best fit for their child, regardless of where they live. And that’s not just pie-in-the-sky, wishful thinking, either. It’s possible. In Arizona, charter schools have long been available to every family regardless of geography, including those who live in affluent, high-performing suburban districts. This open environment has fostered some of thecharter schools in the country, and has produced high levels of for both district and charter schools. By eliminating geographic boundaries for new charters, Ohio lawmakers have removed a critical barrier to access and have brought the state one step closer to models like Arizona.
By no longer linking the location of charter schools to the states’ accountability system, eliminating these geographic boundaries should also lower the temperature around accountability debates. Each year, the Ohio Department of Education releases a list that identifies which of the state’s 608 school districts are “challenged” and thus might face competition from charters. And each year, that list causes more and more controversy. Two years ago, poor value-added ratings made the list . Two hundred and eighteen districts—over one-third of the state’s traditional public districts—were labelled as challenged, and the presence of a few districts that were widely considered to be “good” sparked a litany of complaints.
It’s not hard to understand why this policy could cause issues. School districts don’t like being labeled as challenged. Charter schools, especially those with proven track records of improving student outcomes, are frustrated by arbitrary restrictions on where they can open schools. And linking the challenged designation to increased competition turns school choice into a punishment rather than the opportunity for families it was intended to be. Add to that the fact that charters were being funded via a that subtracted money from the total share of a district’s state aid, and it’s no surprise that Ohio’s education sector was rife with tension.
Now that charter location isn’t tied to state report card results—and now that charter schools are directly funded by the state—some of this tension should ease. It’s hard to argue, for example, that school choice is a “punishment” for districts when research shows that it , and when the existence of charters is no longer explicitly tied to district performance. Lawmakers recently made a similar move with when they divorced . Such changes are critical because they allow state report cards, , to be purely informational, and thus more politically sustainable.
Of course, that doesn’t mean anti-choice folks won’t find new complaints. For instance, now that charters can open anywhere, we’ll likely start hearing warnings about a massive influx of new charter schools that will “steal” students from traditional districts.
But that’s the wrong take. Kids aren’t objects to be stolen. If families choose to send their students to another school, that’s their right. And the only thing the budget changed is where new charter schools are permitted to open. The actual process of opening hasn’t changed at all. That means that new charter schools still need to find a sponsor, locate and furnish a facility (which is easier said than done, given ), hire staff, and purchase curricula and materials. That’s a lot of hoops that aren’t worth jumping through if there’s no demand from families. Just like their district counterparts, charters are funded on a per-pupil basis. That means new charter schools are only going to open in places where there’s likely to be demand.
Eliminating geographic boundaries is unlikely to lead to a sudden, dramatic increase in the number of charters. But over the long-haul, this change in policy could unlock quality public school options for more Ohio students. That’s a big win for school choice in Ohio and, most importantly, its families.
As supporters of school choice celebrate a remarkable season of legislative wins across the country, they can also add some research-based evidence to their grounds for satisfaction. A recent study by a trio of veteran school choice researchers shows once again that the competitive effects stirred by private school scholarship initiatives provide significant benefits even to students who do not utilize them. The researchers update a similar analysis showing strong positive effects from voucher programs for those students who remain in public schools even as those programs expand.
Voucher opponents often cite what they worry will be a highly disruptive mass exodus of students from public schools. In reality, however, participation in voucher programs typically remains low during the early years due to lack of publicity, public skepticism, a relatively limited number of participating private schools, restrictions on eligibility, caps on voucher amounts, etc. The Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship, the program examined here, illustrates such a growth trajectory. It spent $50 million to fund scholarships for 15,585 students statewide in its first year (2002–03) but notched lower participation and spending for the next three years. Numbers began to trend upward in 2006–07, when the income eligibility limit and then the scholarship maximum amount were raised. By 2016–2017, 3.75 percent of Florida’s total K–12 population participated in FTC compared to less than 0.5 percent a little over a decade earlier.
The fifteen-year timeline under study covers both the largest scale-up of any scholarship program in the country and the broadest longitudinal study yet possible. The analysts focus on competitive effects for students who remained in public schools. They utilize a merged dataset from multiple state agencies which includes test scores, absences, and suspension data for students in preschool through grade twelve, as well as measures of families’ socioeconomic status. They also developed and employ a measure of competitive pressure for public school students that takes into account the number and type of private schools nearby, the distance between public and private schools, and the number of seats in each private school. Finally, they include a coefficient for the number of houses of worship located near any given public school as a measure of community demand for religious education.
As with many previous voucher studies, the researchers found that expansion of FTC had a modest but statistically significant benefit for students attending public schools. These benefits included higher standardized test scores in both reading and math, as well as lower absenteeism and suspension rates. And the more competitive pressure there was—more private schools nearby, more FTC students in those schools, etc.—the stronger the positive competitive effects. In other words, the larger the private choice program became, the more public school students benefited. Students with lower family incomes and lower maternal education levels gained the most, but the gains for higher-SES students were still statistically significant. Robustness checks allowed the analysts to rule out alternative explanations related to the changing composition of students who remained in the public schools, changes in competition from charter and magnet schools, and effects on public-school resources resulting from a smaller student body.
The report notes two data limitations. Academic outcome measures are limited to state test results in grades three through eight, and students without Florida birth certificates were excluded due to the strictures of the merged dataset. While it would be nice to have a fuller picture, a study based on 1.2 million students seems plenty comprehensive. It’s also worth noting that the competitive pressure measures are based on data from 2000, the final year before FTC was announced. This makes sense from an analytical standpoint, as FTC likely altered the competitive landscape over the years as private schools moved, grew, or started up in response to eligibility and funding increases. While researchers are looking for a “pure” analysis of competition independent of what they term “strategic responses,” such as opening a new school or adding a grade level after a boost in voucher amounts is announced, those who really want to know what competition feels like on the ground might rather know where and how many private schools exist in any given year. Nevertheless, we seem to have passed the point of need for more evidence that private school choice is good for public schoolkids.
SOURCE: David N. Figlio, Cassandra Hart, M.D., and Krzysztof Karbownik, “Effects of Scaling Up Private School Choice Programs on Public School Students,” CESifo Network (May 2021).
Tackling Ohio’s toughest education challenges: Remove geographic restrictions on brick-and-mortar charter schools
Editor’s Note: As Ohioans await the start of the new governor’s term in January, and as state leaders look to build upon past education successes, we at the Fordham Institute are developing a set of policy proposals that we believe can lead to increased achievement and greater opportunities for Ohio students. This is the eighth in our series, under the umbrella of empowering Ohio’s families, and the first to be published following the election of Mike DeWine as Ohio’s. You can access all of the entries in the series to date .
Proposal: Remove the statutory provisions that confine startup brick-and-mortar charters to “challenged districts” (the Big Eight, Lucas County, and other low-performing districts). Currently, this policy allows charters to start up in just thirty-nine of Ohio’s 610 districts.
Background: Ohio has more than 300 public charter schools (a.k.a. “community schools”) that educate over 100,000 students. Though online (“virtual”) charters have received much attention of late—much of it deservedly critical—the vast majority of charters are traditional brick-and-mortar schools, almost all of which are located in the major cities and serve primarily disadvantaged children (see figure 3; charters are signified by orange dots). The last detailed evaluation of this sector shows that Ohio’s urban charters make positive impacts on student learning, especially among low-income, black pupils. Research in other cities, such as Boston and New York City, also finds that charters add months of student learning and help to narrow achievement gaps. Charters can also benefit middle-class families; in fact, suburban charters in Arizona dominate US News & World Report’s top ten “Best High Schools” in the nation. Despite charters’ success in serving students of all backgrounds, Ohio law continues to prohibit them from locating in most of the state’s communities. This leaves most families with public school alternatives that are primarily confined to online charters and interdistrict open enrollment. Through the federal Charter School Program, Ohio has millions in funding that could be used to kick-start successful new schools via planning and implementation grants.
Proposal rationale: Across the nation, charter schools offer families and students learning environments suited to their needs. Brick-and-mortar charters have been proven to work for Ohio’s most disadvantaged students, and in other states they also do a fine job of serving middle-class families seeking different educational approaches for their children. Removing the state’s geographic restrictions is a necessary first step that would permit new charter school formation in all regions of Ohio, including many areas with significant numbers of students in poverty.
Cost: No significant impact on the state budget.
Resources: The map of Ohio charter locations is taken from , a web page published by the Fordham institute in 2018. The most recent rigorous evaluation of Ohio’s charter sector is by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) in the 2014 report . For summaries of charter research nationally, see Patrick Denice’s report, , published by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (2014), and Brian Gill’s article “ ” in Education Next (2016). And for more on Arizona charters, see U.S. News’ “ ” and June Kronholz’s article “ ” in Education Next (2014). Information on challenged districts is at the ODE web page “ “; and for information about Ohio’s CSP grant, see the ODE web page “ .”