Overhaul bill fixing Ohio’s charter schools

Overhaul bill fixing Ohio’s charter schools

(District of Columbia) The beleaguered charter school system in Ohio is showing signs of recovery one year after lawmakers adopted a sweeping set of reforms, according to new research.

Ohio, which first began authorizing charter schools in 1998, has drawn national attention for problem charters. A 2014 study from Stanford University concluded that charter school students in Ohio were weeks and months behind in reading and math compared to their peers in other states.

A 2015 state audit found that charter schools in Ohio misspent public money nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency–a total of nearly $30 million since 2001.

To address the issue, Gov. John Kasich and legislative leaders passed legislation that imposed new accountability measures, including more restrictive conflict of interest requirements and new demands for oversight by authorizing districts.

Now, one year later, researchers from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning think tank based in D.C. said there are signs that charters in Ohio are improving.

In 2016, for example, 21 charter schools closed–most of them because of low performance and because of the state’s tougher accountability rules. At the same time, just eight new charters were opened–suggesting that district sponsors are doing a better job of vetting new-applicants.

New ratings applied to the district sponsors also weeded some low-performers out of the system, Fordham said.

“Twenty-one out of sixty-five total sponsors received an overall Poor rating, while another thirty-nine were rated Ineffective, the second lowest rating,” the Fordham review said. “Sponsors rated Poor had their authorizing rights revoked, pending appeal, while Ineffective sponsors are now subject to a quality improvement plan overseen by the state and are prohibited from sponsoring new schools.”

The research team had several suggestions for the state moving forward, among them:

  • State policy makers should continue to refine the evaluations by putting greater emphasis on schools’ value-added ratings instead of relying as much on proficiency measures when calculating the  academic component of  a  sponsor’s evaluation.

“When sponsors authorize schools in low-income communities—and many do—their academic ratings are adversely and unfairly impacted when the focus is on measures correlated with pupil demographics and prior achievement,” Fordham said, noting that currently sponsors with high-poverty schools in their portfolio willfind it nearly impossible a top rating, discouraging others to take on disadvantaged communities.

  • Accelerate the growth of excellent schools. “Now that Ohio has a stronger accountability framework in place, policy makers and philanthropists shouldn’t shy away from investing in the replication of high-quality schools, or in promising schools starting from scratch,” Fordham said. “The combination of accountability and startup investment dollars (not to mention more equitable operational and facilities funding) would signal that the Buckeye State is a great place to grow and expand high-performing schools.”

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