Cap Harms School Reform Ranking
Special Report - September 1, 2010
A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Charlotte a B grade and ranked it sixth in an evaluation of 30 major U.S. cities’ environments “for school reform to flourish.” According to an August 24 press release, the report, America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents, evaluated cities reform-friendliness in six areas, including:
- Access to a steady flow of talented individuals
- A pipeline of readily accessible funding from public and private source
- A thriving charter-school market
- Attention to quality-control metrics that guide and regulate entrepreneurial ventures
- Openness to nontraditional providers and reforms at the district level
- Similar openness at the municipal level
Cities generally scored highest on funding and municipal environment. In general, they “fared poorly on the strength of their human-capital pipelines, and worse still on their district environment.” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) scored first on its district environment, explained by the report as “a district that is both open to nontraditional reforms and has the organizational capacity to deal with them in a speedy and profession manner.” A profile of Charlotte’s performance stated, “district leadership deserves credit for communicating a sense of urgency about reform, and rewarding smart problem-solvers rather than time-servers. CMS leaders also make bold decisions on potentially controversial reforms.” Additionally, “Charlotte has a well-run countywide school system with lots of middle-class support, and a labor environment conducive to reform.” However, the report found “North Carolina does not have a reform-oriented state-level education advocacy organization to partner with city leaders.”
Charlotte also scored very well on human capital“a ready flow of talented individuals, whether to staff their own operations or to fill the district’s classrooms.” Interestingly, Charlotte’s lowest scores came on municipal environmentthe broader community’s openness and eagerness for nontraditional education providersand financial capital“a pipeline of flexible funding from private and/or public sources [that] is vital for nonprofit organizations trying to break into a new market or scale up their operations.” The Children’s Scholarship Fund Charlotte offers tuition assistance to nearly 400 low-income families each year, who want to send their children to private or parochial school in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. According to the report’s city profile for Charlotte, “CMS leadership is disciplined and proactive in seeking financial support for” education reform efforts. Yet it does not have a coherent vision for spending its dollars; and despite the positive influence of private sector dollars, CMS per-pupil funding is none too generous.”
The report’s authors noted that “Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is at the forefront of reform in North Carolina, but the district is held back by state-level restrictions such as a too-tight charter cap.” According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Office of Charter Schools, there are 11 charter schools in Mecklenburg County with seven of those in the city of Charlotte. Although a low stakeholder response rate prevented the authors from being able to calculate a charter environment ranking, they did state, “The charter environment in Charlotte is poorly supported at the state level. North Carolina maintains a restrictive charter law, including a tight cap on the number of schools, inadequate charter funding, and insufficient attention to authorizer quality and practice.”
Charlotte joined eight other reform-friendly citiesNew Orleans, Washington, D.C., New York City, Denver, Jacksonville, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth. Detroit was the only city to earn an F, although four cities had insufficient data to be graded. Nine cities earned Bs, 11 earned Cs, and five earned Ds.
The report encouraged community leaders “to think very differently than in the past” by recognizing that “monopolies and top-down reforms by themselves only get you so far. Competition is healthy for the public sector and so is innovation. There’s a nimbleness and creativity to nongovernmental providers.” Competition and innovation are not enough, though. Also essential to entrepreneurial education reform are “quality teachers, rigorous academic standards, rich curricula, vibrant school choice, capable school leaders, date-based decision-making, astute governance, rational finances,” and much more. The report points to “America’s most promising education hotspots” as a blend of “sound ‘top-down’ policies with environments that welcome entrepreneurial activity and private initiative.” Successful “superintendents, chancellors, mayors, and other community leaders encourage and facilitate this blending because they understand that it works better than government alone, even though opening the door and ushering nontraditional folks through it causes dismay in the usual places.”
Charter School Checkmate - FNC Summer 2010
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