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The Year Ahead for School Choice and Its K-12 Impact

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As we welcome 2013, the prospects for parents' ability to invoke school choice are poised to further alter the landscape of K-12 education.

Education Week reporter Sean Cavanagh wrote a comprehensive review of the top 2012 developments in Choiceland for the Charters & Choice blog, then offered a series of predictions about which issues are likely to shape the future of choice.

Here, we bring you Cavanagh's insights about what he sees on the horizon for the year ahead:

Continued Growth. The number of charters continues to grow nationwide, and in at least one urban center, New Orleans, they've become the dominant school model. How will traditional public schools respond to this competition?

And Tensions.How will state and local authorizers charged with approving charters resolve lingering questions about their capacity to adequately regulate them, and provide funding for them? Those tensions emerged in very different contexts in Los Angeles, and New Hampshire, among other places.

Court Fights. Look for the legal punches and counterpunches to continue in states that adopt new voucher programs, and look for voucher supporters to craft laws aimed at hewing to the language of their individual states' constitutions.

Whither the Trigger? So far, debates over parent trigger laws in the states that have approved them have largely been intellectual exercises, partly because those policies are so new that struggling schools haven't yet faced sanctions that would allow a parent-directed takeover. As the laws mature, will more parents pursue the trigger option? Or will they be wary of the controversies that have engulfed trigger efforts in the California communities of Compton and Adelanto?

Vouchers Under Examination. Some large-scale voucher programs, such as Indiana's and Louisiana's, have included provisions that require students receiving private school scholarships to take part in state tests, a step opposed by some choice advocates who argue that it infringes on the domain of private schools. (Some voucher programs already require student participation in state or nationally normed referenced exams.) As more test results roll in, how will public and private schools' performance stack up? And will other states that approve new voucher models feel obligated to attach state testing mandates to them?

Early to College. A 2011 Indiana law allows students who finish high school early to use a portion of their per-pupil aid to attend public or private colleges. (Louisiana has approved a similar policy, which is subject to the above-referenced legal challenge.) Keep an eye on whether students flock to these programs, and whether they inspire other states to break down the barriers between K-12 and college funding streams.

Oversight. In some states, about one-fifth of all charters that open shut their doors. In other states, hardly any charters get shut down. A number of advocates and organizations, most notably the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, are calling for state and local officials to be given more responsibility for shutting down laggard charters, and more direction on when to do so. Some school-choice advocates have traditionally been wary of that kind of hard-line regulation, saying parents are the best judges of charters' quality. Who will state policymakers listen to?

Who Benefits? To what extent will the emergence of large-scale voucher programs in Indiana and Louisiana help Catholic schools and other private schools keep up enrollment and hold down costs? And will those laws not only help in-state private schools, but inspire out-of-state providers to pack up and move in, in the hope of attracting students whose tuitions are covered by taxpayers?

Lessons for Public Schools. Look for traditional public schools to become more discerning judges of the kinds of practices they consider adopting from charters—in scheduling, tutoring, technology, and other areas—as more-precise information rolls in about the benefits and costs associated with those changes.

Access and Equity. Questions about whether charters are serving sufficient numbers of students with special needs and other challenges surfaced last year (a federal report brought focus to the issue), and the issue shows no signs of fading away.

Cybers. There is a lot of interest in paving the way for the expansion of online or cyber charters in the states, and there's also considerable opposition in some quarters from those who say those schools haven't performed up to standards.

Cavanagh ends his series of predictions on this note: "Of course, part of the fun in making prognostications is the possibility you'll get it wrong. This much seems certain: expect a lot more news, and plenty of tumult, in the year to come."

What do you think is likely to happen in Choiceland?


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