Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What You Were Reading in 2017

From a groundbreaking report on school districts’ financial struggles to a just-in-time brief on a new “third way” educational model, here are our top five publications of the year (plus our most popular blog posts).

Better Together: Ensuring Quality District Schools in Times of Charter Growth and Declining Enrollment

Based on a convening of education leaders and school finance experts in Houston earlier this year, this report drew positive responses from both the district and charter sectors and topped our 2017 list. CRPE Director Robin Lake reflected on the report’s significance: “The high readership of this paper shows that people were hungry for balanced and evidence-based analysis of the role charters play in districts' financial crises, which is really a looming crisis that no one had addressed head on. In areas where the district is imploding financially, charters are often blamed and suffer from the political backlash, whether deserved or not. This is a complicated topic and people seemed to appreciate that we treated it fairly and with appropriate nuance while not shying away from the bottom line: Charters are usually not the cause of district financial problems, but they should be part of the solution.”

Bridging the District-Charter Divide to Help More Students Succeed

Sarah Yatsko, one of this report's authors, describes its history: “This report was written in response to the growing need we saw for practical guidance on how to time and execute collaboration to minimize fanning the political flames and maximize on results that make a difference for children. In 2010, when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made its first investments to encourage collaboration between school districts and charter schools, we knew very little about how the efforts would pan out. After dozens of city visits and hundreds of interviews, CRPE researchers learned how some education leaders were able to forge alliances across the longstanding divide that separated them. They also tracked the early understanding across the country that collaboration between districts and charter schools is not something a select group of cities are encouraged to do as a nicety—but rather as an absolute necessity in an age of shrinking resources. It is deeply gratifying to know that this information is helping so many leaders and policymakers learn from the successes and failures of others.”

Partnership Schools: New Governance Models for Creating Quality School Options in Districts

This brief has garnered widespread attention and prompted questions from district and charter leaders across the country. “Partnership schools are something that people are hearing about, but they don’t have a frame of reference,” said Christine Campbell. “Our brief gives examples from all over the map, showing the array of partnerships that have arisen and offering firsthand knowledge about the pros and cons from the people doing the work.” Coauthor Sean Gill said, "There have always been innovation-minded folks in districts and equity-minded folks in the charter school world; we've often studied cooperation between these groups. Exploring the idea of deeper, more formal partnerships to create schools in neighborhoods that are overlooked, I think, resonates with them in new ways." Campbell added that the timing was right for presenting a new solution: “People are tired of the conflict in their cities, and partnership schools provide a third way to get at the best of both district schools and charter schools.”

Stepping Up: How Are American Cities Delivering on the Promise of Public School Choice?

CRPE released this 18-city analysis at a highly attended event last month at the Brookings Institution. Christine Campbell said, “I think this report resonated with people because it brought together citywide data on outcomes and the perspectives of district, charter, and community leaders in 18 cities. That combination gave us a bird’s-eye view on key issues that all cities are struggling with while helping us identify some cities’ really great, innovative work that is a start at solving these problems.” Coauthor Georgia Heyward emphasized the need for city leaders to keep working on solutions: “Stepping Up cuts through the rhetoric about whether school choice is a good idea. Choice does exist, and city leaders—civic, nonprofit, district, and charter—need to push forward together so today's urban education systems work for all families. Our report provides clear guidance about which sticking points remain and how cities can address them.”

Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities

This 2015 report examined how schools in 50 American cities were performing overall for students of low-income households and for students of color. Two years later, it continues to have strong readership. Michael DeArmond said part of the report's appeal is that it offered “a holistic picture of schools citywide, rather than the more typical view that considers only a city's largest school district or its charter sector in isolation.” Coauthor Betheny Gross added: “Measuring Up showed the view of public schools that parents see by unapologetically asserting that the public school system includes all of the city's public schools no matter who runs them. It provided very practical and easy-to-interpret measures of meaningful output. It wasn't just about test scores but looked at the gatekeepers to advancement for students: suspension and expulsion rates, course taking, SAT/ACT taking, and graduation rates.”

And don't miss the most-read posts of the year on The Lens:

1. "Six Unifying Education Policy Ideas for 2017," Robin Lake

2. "Notes From the Field Series," Betheny Gross, Michael DeArmond, Robin Lake, and Colleen McCann

3. "Is Charter School Growth Flat-Lining?" Robin Lake

4. "Necessity, Not Nicety: What We've Learned About District-Charter Alliances," Robin Lake

5. "Good Government Is Not Good Enough When Managing Choice in the Real World," Michael DeArmond

Fri, 11/16/2018

Paul Hill responds to a commentary by Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris on school choice, charter schools, and the portfolio strategy.

Tue, 11/13/2018

Sivan Tuchman and Travis Pillow share findings from a new analysis of student access to out-of-school learning opportunities in Denver.

Thu, 11/08/2018

Robin Lake introduces a set of essays intended to spur discussion about how public education can adapt to a rapidly changing world.