The latest reports from the Ohio Departmrnt of Education show that charter schools do no better–and often considerably worse–than public schools. Many are operated for-profit, but don’t admit it when they use public funds to market their wares.

Here is a report from Bill Phillis, who worked in the Ohio Department of Education. He offers an article by Denis Smith, who was responsible for monitoring charter schools until his retirement.

Here is the article by Denis Smith:

Former DOE consultant in charter school office writes about charter schools

Charters merit more scrutiny

Saturday September 14, 2013 7:16 AM

On Sept. 1, The Dispatch published “Charter schools’ failed promise,” a front-page story about the academic performance of Ohio’s public schools of choice. The story examined the results for these schools in the new state reporting system, and readers discovered that, on the whole, charter schools not only are no better than the traditional public schools they compete with, but often are far worse.

As informative as this story was, however, it failed to inform the public about the larger issues surrounding charter schools. These issues involve accountability and transparency, and they raise concerns as to whether these publicly funded and privately operated schools fully serve the public interest.

As a former public-school administrator who served four years in the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Community Schools, I can address some of these issues.

The great majority of charter schools are managed by for-profit chains such as White Hat Management, K12, Imagine, Constellation, Mosaica and other entities. Ads for many of these schools this past summer included descriptors such as tuition-free and hands-on. However, the phrase charter school did not appear in any of the ads I viewed.

This lack of transparency did not serve the public.

In another example, Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, is featured in commercials touting the benefits of ECOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. In Hanna’s ad, the school is described as “Ohio’s online K-12 public school,” but again, there is no mention of the fact that it is a for-profit charter school.

The endorsement raises a question: Was Hanna compensated by ECOT – a public charter school – to serve as a paid spokesman? If that is the case, shouldn’t the commercial contain a disclaimer, particularly when public funds might be involved? Unfortunately for the taxpayers, there is no specific requirement in state law that directs ECOT or any other charter school to disclose such information, including how much they spend for marketing, administrative or other costs that otherwise are hidden in school-management company budgets. Nor is there any requirement that the board members of these schools represent parents.

A look at most charter schools will find that their unelected governing boards are populated by the management company that operates them or by friends of the school developer. And the problem is the same: Are the board members accountable to the public – the taxpayer – or the corporate interests that put them there?

A final issue lies with the overall rationale for the schools. In Ohio, public charter schools are exempt from approximately 200 sections of law – free from scrutiny in such areas as professional qualifications needed to head such schools, administrative salaries as a percentage of the budget, property management for furniture and equipment purchased with public funds, and the total percentage of school funds going into instruction.
Recently, for example, one management company insisted that the school’s furniture and equipment was its property and not that of the school. State law should be more explicit that anything tangible purchased with public funds remains public property upon dissolution of any school.

But we’ve only scratched the surface here.

In testimony before the Ohio Senate Education Finance Subcommittee in May, I made this statement:
“Unfortunately for the students enrolled, there have been all too many cases of theft, misappropriation of funds, overpayment to vendors, nepotism in the employment of siblings, spouses and children, excessively high administrative salaries against the number of enrolled students and comparative budget size.”

Based upon all of these considerations, I would encourage future Dispatch reporting to go beyond the current state report card and fixation on data-rigging and explore the areas of charter-school governance and unelected and unaccountable boards that supposedly monitor a school’s management and performance.

After all, we’ve paid for these schools, and we need to know how they’re doing in more than A-F terms.


Denis Smith is a former curriculum director in the Westerville school district and retired staff consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Community Schools. A former middle school principal, he is also a Fulbright Fellow and his cohort was one of the first to study in the People’s Republic of China after the normalization of diplomatic relations with that country.

It should be noted that Smith’s original article, as submitted to the Dispatch, included, “According to Bush Administration Assistant Secretary of Education, Dr. Diane Ravitch, ‘The scandals in public schools pale in comparison to the charter school scandals. The public sector is regulated; the private sector is deregulated.'”

William Phillis
Ohio E & A