Three major newspapers in Ohio have seconded the State Board of Education’s call for an investigation of grade-rigging of charter school data by state officials. They demand that the state open its records but the state has been stonewalling their requests.

Here is one from the Columbus Dispatch:

“If state Superintendent of Education Richard Ross is not covering up something embarrassing or illegal at the Ohio Department of Education, his recent actions aren’t helping his credibility.

“Ross, who formerly worked for Gov. John Kasich as head of the Office of 21st Century Education, has been dragging his feet for a month in honoring a request from several Ohio newspapers for documents that might shed light on why someone at the education department decided to omit the poor performance of online and dropout-recovery charter schools from the department’s evaluation of charter-school sponsors. The omission artificially inflated the rankings of at least one sponsor. Several charter-school sponsors have made large donations to Republican officeholders. These donations are routinely cited as a major reason why Ohio’s lawmakers have failed to reform Ohio’s abysmal charter-school system.

“David Hansen, former head of the education department’s office of school choice, was blamed for the data omission and resigned. Declaring that Hansen — who happens to be the husband of the woman who heads Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign — acted alone, Ross hoped the matter was closed and everyone would move on. But seven members of the State Board of Education instead called for an investigation of the matter.

“That call has gone unanswered. Even State Auditor Dave Yost, who was zealous in the investigation of performance-enhancing data-rigging at Columbus City Schools, is surprisingly incurious about the attempted data-rigging at the education department. He declared himself satisfied that the attempt was disclosed and corrected and that no financial harm had come to the state.

“Nothing to see here, move along, move along.

“Absent any official interest in investigating the matter, Ohio’s newspapers, including The Dispatch, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, the Akron Beacon Journal, The Cincinnati Enquirer and the Dayton Daily News all filed formal requests for records that might show whether Hansen truly acted alone.

“The papers have been waiting for weeks for the education department to comply with state open-records law. The education department says the process is taking so long because the emails are being vetted to ensure that no mistakes are made.”

Here is another, from the Akron Beacon-Journal:

“John Kasich subscribes to the theory of a rogue offender in the Ohio Department of Education. The governor deems “political” the calls to look deeper into David Hansen doctoring the grades of charter schools so they would remain in position to add students and thus collect additional state money.

“I mean, the guy’s gone. He’s gone,” the governor declared, as if Hansen admitting his deed and resigning as the head of the school choice and accountability office ends the matter. Legitimate questions remain. They start with whether other officials, in particular, Richard Ross, the state school superintendent, had anything to do with altering the grading system.

“Perhaps Hansen acted alone. Yet the way this governor and fellow Republicans in charge at the Statehouse have coddled many in the charter school industry, there is much room for skepticism about the claim. More, some state school board members see possible violations of the law, which requires the full inclusion of grades in evaluations.

“The job of investigating is ripe for the state inspector general. Unfortunately, in his case, politics do interfere, Randy Meyer closely aligned with Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. Seven members of the state school board (six Democrats and one Republican) rightly requested an independent investigation. They were rebuffed.

“Which leaves this and other newspapers to dig into what happened. That means, in large part, seeking and examining public records. The trouble is, as Doug Livingston, the Beacon Journal education writer, explained over the weekend, that process has encountered a lengthy delay. The Education Department has been slow in releasing related email messages and other documents.”

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer wrote a scathing editorial as well.

“The Ohio Department of Education needs to stop its inexcusable foot-dragging and turn over emails and other public documents requested by news outlets attempting to determine who was responsible for trying to omit from overall charter evaluations the poor grades of online charter and dropout-recovery schools.

“The scheme, which was first revealed by Plain Dealer Education Reporter Patrick O’Donnell, would, among other results, have helped the academic standing of charter school organizations in which some large GOP campaign donors have a financial stake.”

Thanks to Bill Phillis of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition for alerting me to this situation. If Kasich gets onto the GOP ticket, the national press will be digging along with the Ohio press, to see how much payola influenced the grade rigging.

Phillis writes:

“ODE is under a dark cloud, which is of its own creation. Never before, in its history dating back to 1956, has ODE been under such a veil of suspicion. ODE is hiding suspected misfeasance and malfeasance regarding its dealings with the charter school industry. Since the Governor’s office is now in charge of ODE, the probe should include that office.

“According to the ODE website, Frank Stoy is now director of the charter school office. It should be of interest that David Hansen, while heading up the charter school office, brought Mr. Stoy into ODE. Stoy had been associated with the Ohio Council of Community Schools, which as a result of data manipulation ended up as the top-rated charter school sponsor. Just a coincidence?

“An independent investigation, as called for by seven elected State Board of Education members, should reach all the way back to the beginning of the charter industry in 1999.”

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215