The Columbus Dispatch published a tough editorial calling on Governor Kasich and the Legislation to pass meaningful regulations for charter schools. It begins:
Ohioans who support school choice long have been frustrated by the dismal performance, overall, of the state’s charter schools.
A study released recently by one of the nation’s foremost scholars of charter schools shows just how dismal: Ohio charters not only perform worse than traditional public schools, but the gap is growing larger.
Fortunately, another, equally credible study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute explains why many of Ohio’s charter schools are weak and how to fix them. These studies should be required reading for every member of the next General Assembly.
Gov. John Kasich is paying attention; in an address on Thursday, he pledged to work with lawmakers next year to develop “tough regulations” for charter schools.
In the first study, the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO), of Stanford University, paired individual charter-school students with “virtual twins” — demographically similar students at a conventional public school from which the charter school draws.
In 2009, on average, Ohio charter-school students and those in traditional schools made about the same amount of progress in reading, but charter-school students ended up 43 “learning days” behind their virtual twins in math. Four years later, the picture was worse for charter schools: They remained about 43 days behind in math, and were 14 days behind in reading.
The poor performance is no mystery; it’s the result of a law that is indifferent to quality and encourages abuse.
Some flaws in the law may be honest mistakes. For example, many thought in 1997 that allowing a broad array of sponsors would allow the greatest amount of competition and thus the best choices. But it turns out that many of Ohio’s 67 authorizers lack either the expertise or the good faith to competently oversee schools.
In other areas, though, Ohio charter law is designed to favor for-profit school-operating companies over the interests of students. No mystery there, either; for-profit education companies are major campaign contributors.
One of the worst provisions allows sponsor/authorizers, the supposed watchdogs over charter schools, to sell services to those schools, thereby creating a strong incentive for them to keep a bad school open. Another, which strips charter-school boards of the power to fire unsatisfactory school operators, was called by one national policy analyst “the most breathtaking abuse in the nation.”
In my view, the Legislature should start by banning for-profit management of charters. Get the greed out of operating a school. Educators should be fairly compensated for their work, but no one should go to the bank with millions of dollars that are then used for campaign contributions to protect their fiefdom.