polling problems

National support for charter schools has dropped sharply in last year

PHOTO: Glenn Asakaw/Denver Post
A teacher at a KIPP charter school in Denver

Public support for charter schools has declined substantially in the last year, according to a national survey released Tuesday.

The survey, conducted by the school choice-friendly journal Education Next, found that slightly more Americans support charter schools, 39 percent, than oppose them, at 36 percent. But that marks a drop from 51 percent support just last year — one of the biggest changes in public opinion seen in the long-running survey, according to Harvard professor and the magazine’s editor-in-chief Marty West.

“The sharp drop in support for charter schools constitutes the major change in the school-choice battle over the course of the past year,” wrote West and others in an accompanying essay.  

Results from the annual survey, which polls a representative sample of American adults, come as charter schools have faced a number of recent setbacks.

The NAACP and National Education Association both recently codified positions designed to restrict the growth of charter schools. Last year, charter advocates suffered a high-profile defeat at the ballot box in Massachusetts, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure to lift the state cap on charter schools.

At the same time, Donald Trump, a charter school backer, was elected president, and his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has also been a strong supporter of the publicly funded but privately managed schools.

“The opinions about charter schools that matter most are the opinions of parents and students who have chosen charter schools,” said Nina Rees, the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in a statement. “This dip in broad public approval, as reported by Education Next, seems more reflective of the unique moment we’re in.”

But the poll finds little evidence that the fall in charter school support is related to Trump or DeVos.

For one thing, backing for private school choice programs — like vouchers or tax credit programs — generally held steady, even though the Trump administration has also praised that approach. Moreover, support for charter schools declined substantially this year among both Democrats and Republicans.

The survey also also informed one group of respondents that Trump supports charter schools and then asked their opinion; another set of people were not told Trump’s position.

Knowing Trump’s views actually led to a net increase in support for charters, with large bumps for Republicans and essentially no effect among Democrats.

It’s unclear, then, what accounts for the drop in support for charter schools. West suggested that increasingly pitched locally debates, like those in Massachusetts and elsewhere, may be part of the explanation.

And while charter school supporters might at least hope that support for charters is higher in states with a lot of them — the idea being that once voters get to know charters, they like them — there is no evidence for that, either.

In an analysis shared with Chalkbeat, West found no correlation between how many students attended a charter in a given state and support for charter schools. That mirrors the election results within Massachusetts, where the ballot initiative to lift the cap on charters lost across the state — even in cities like Boston, where many students attend charter schools.

word choice

A quietly edited report and dueling blog posts reveal a divide over the ‘portfolio model’

Diane Ravitch speaks at California State University Northridge. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

A report on school choice released last month offered this in a list of strategies for improving schools: “creating a portfolio approach that treats all types of schools equally.”

Today, that reference is gone from the report — a small edit that reveals notable disagreements among prominent names in education who often agree.

The report was issued by the Learning Policy Institute, an education think tank started by Linda Darling-Hammond, an influential Stanford professor. Then came a critique from Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education, a pro-public education group that opposes charter schools. And then came the edits to the original report, first noted by Burris and Ravitch.

At the center of the disagreement is the report’s use of the word “portfolio.” The portfolio model is a strategy offering parents the choice of different school types (typically including charter schools) and having a central body holding all schools accountable for results and manages certain functions like enrollment. And the Learning Policy Institute praises Denver, a district that has adopted it.

Denver’s collaboration agreement with its charter schools “drives equitable funding and access for all schools, and strives to replicate the most effective schools of all kinds,” the report says. The report also recommends putting the “focus on educational opportunities for children, not governance structures,” and notes that most school choice in the U.S. involves options within traditional districts.

Ravitch and Burris pushed back on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog. “School governance directly affects the rights and well-being of students,” they wrote, pointing to instances where charter schools have pushed out students with disabilities or shut down abruptly.

That criticism seems to have gotten through. Since the debate began, the Learning Policy Institute has edited its report to remove the term “portfolio” and changed other language. One recommendation — “focus on educational opportunities for children, not governance structures for adults” — became “focus on high-quality learning for children, not the preferences of adults.”

“The language change was made after some public feedback suggested that the use of the word ‘portfolio’ in the report was being misinterpreted,” Barbara McKenna, a spokesperson for the Learning Policy Institute, said in an email. “The report used the word ‘portfolio’ in one of the recommendations in the most straightforward sense of the term — an array of options.”

The report does not indicate that it has been updated since it was published late last month. McKenna said that’s because the revisions weren’t substantial.

Meanwhile, Darling-Hammond and co-authors have responded, and Ravitch and Burris offered an additional rejoinder.

Darling-Hammond said in an interview that she neither rejects nor wholly subscribes to the portfolio model. “Unplanned, uncoordinated, unmanaged choice has a lot of challenges and problems,” she said.

This debate comes as a new group, known as the City Fund, has raised at least $200 million in order to spread the portfolio model to dozens of U.S. cities. Whether the approach reliably improves academic outcomes remains up for debate.

public comment

What to expect from six hours of charter school hearings Wednesday night

PHOTO: Chicago Tribune

The public can weigh in on three new charters, 11 renewals and one potential revocation on Wednesday night during a marathon session of hearings at Chicago Public Schools headquarters on 42 W. Madison Street.

One school, the Near West Side campus of Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men High School, could lose its charter and be forced to close. Parents and families will have a chance to weigh in during a public comment section.

Urban Prep operates three campuses in Bronzeville, Englewood, and University Village. Only the latter, which reported 176 students this fall, is on the list to potentially shutter.

The first hearing, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., will be about new charters with proposals to open in the fall of 2019:

  • Intrinsic Charter School for a traditional citywide high school;
  • Project Simeon 2000 for a school that would serve at-risk students in middle grades in Englewood, where the district is planning a new $85 million high school to open in 2022;
  • Chicago Education Partnership to open a traditional K-8 school in Austin.

From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the district will hear public comment on renewal applications from 11 private operators as well as the proposal to revoke Urban Prep’s University Village campus. The charter and contracts under consideration for renewal are:

  • Noble Network of Charter Schools (whose founder Michael Milkie just resigned amid allegations of improper conduct with alumni)
  • Namaste Charter School
  • Kwame Nkrumah Academy Charter School
  • Horizon Science Academy Southwest Chicago Charter School (Chicago Lawn Charter School)
  • Great Lakes Academy Charter School
  • Foundations College Preparatory Charter School
  • Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA) Charter School
  • Hope Institute Learning Academy
  • Excel Academy of Southshore
  • Excel Academy Southwest
  • Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts)

Those interested in submitting comment may register in person before the meetings, send a fax to 773-553-1559, or email iandipublichearings@cps.edu.