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Friday, August 21, 2015

Why the Delay in Rating Ohio Charter Sponsors?

Recently, there has been much made of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) rigging the state's charter school sponsor (authorizer in every other state) ratings. Those ratings are critical to any meaningful reform of Ohio's nationally ridiculed charter school system because all the reform efforts currently underway rely on forcing sponsors to do a better job of oversight, or else.

However, if ODE doesn't put together a reliable and accurate rating system, then much of the reform effort will be for naught. That's what makes what David Hansen -- the state's former charter school czar and husband of Gov. John Kasich's presidential campaign manager -- did so pernicious. By rigging the system to benefit poor performing, for-profit operators, he jeopardized the entire charter school reform effort, further cementing Ohio's place as the nation's charter school backwater.

After Hansen resigned, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross, withdrew the sponsor evaluations that had been done, and instead of including the scores from the poor performing schools Hansen had apparently illegally discounted, determined to re-invent the wheel. This week, he appointed a three-member panel to help guide the development of a charter sponsor evaluation system.

Here's the thing: The sponsor evaluation system was passed in late 2012. The first evaluations had to be completed by January 1. We're going on three years of development here. Why do we need another 6-12 months with this panel to develop an evaluation system -- a delay that could put off by another year, or even two, any meaningful reform. This would, of course, give big political contributors who run many of the failing schools two more years of collecting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

At, I put together three suggestions for sponsor evaluations.

  1. Take the GPA of all the schools under the sponsor's aegis based on the state report card
  2. Develop an index based on the percentage of students in schools sponsored by the agency who are in schools that receive a C or higher grade on four key report card measures
  3. Use the same overall grade formula that the department will be using for school districts on the new report card
All of these ideas I developed in the course of an afternoon. I'm not saying these are the only three ways of doing it, but ODE has had three years to do this. And they need more time? 

What the ratings systems I developed demonstrate pretty clearly is this: Ohio's charter school sponsors reflect the overall system -- there are a few quite high performing sponsors, but the overwhelming number of them are poor performing.

ODE needs to get this right. And they need to do it now. They've had three years. Our kids can't wait any longer while bumbling (or worse) bureaucrats delay the education reform Ohio's children desperately need.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Price of Ohio House sitting on Charter Reform? Max Donation from Nation's Largest For-Profit School

Just a few days after the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives declined to take up House Bill 2 (HB 2) -- the most significant charter school reform package since the program began -- the campaign committee meant to re-elect his members got a familiar, maximum level check from William Lager, who runs the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT).

Not to be undone, so did the Ohio Senate's campaign committee.

Both were for $18,798.51.

ECOT is the nation's largest for-profit K-12 school. It is also notoriously poor performing. On the state's 9 report card measures, it got Fs on all but one. And that one was a D. That's worse than any school district in the state, even Youngstown, which the state said late last month was in such bad academic distress that it needed to be taken over by the state.

It is indeed sobering to realize that every single dollar going to ECOT from Youngstown is going to a worse performing school.

Last year, the state of Ohio paid ECOT $104 million to educate the 15,088 students it received from Ohio's local public schools. That $6,921 per pupil is nearly $2,500 more than the average Ohio school district received last year from the state before charters, vouchers and open enrollment were deducted.

ECOT's per pupil state funding is larger than all but 52 of Ohio's 613 school districts. And this is for an electronic school without buildings, custodians, buses, heating, cooling, sports teams, etc. 

There was plenty of talk around the House Bill 2 vote that ECOT's lobbyists were all over the statehouse. Now we know why. The question now is this: Will the contributions keep House Bill 2 from moving this fall?

We'll see...

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ohio Charter School Sheriff Resigns. Now What?

Lost amid the noise this weekend about David Hansen resigning his post as chief overseer of Ohio charter schools is this fact: Ohio no longer has a chief official looking over its troubled charter schools.

Not only that, but the charter school sponsor ratings -- which Hansen had rigged to benefit big campaign donors -- have been rescinded by the state, with no apparently quick time table to replace them.

That means we have no charter school sponsor ratings, nor do we have anyone with the authority to go after poor performers, even the weak ones Hansen had selectively chosen to hammer.

So at the end of the day, Ohio's nationally mocked charter schools are, for the moment, enjoying less oversight than they've been receiving from the Ohio Department of Education, all while the public knows less about their primary overseers' performance.

This can't stand.

We need a new charter school sheriff that won't bend to political interests. And we need the sponsor evaluations of all sponsors re-done.

And we need them both before the new school year begins.

Otherwise, it's yet another set back for quality and another mile marker on our state's seemingly inevitable trek down the path of more failing charter schools.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ohio Charter School Sheriff All White Hat, No Cattle

Well, that was quick. Less than a week after telling the State School Board that he had broken the law when he didn't count Fs for online charter schools run by big Republican campaign donors, David Hansen -- the husband of Gov. John Kasich's new presidential campaign manager Beth Hansen -- has resigned as Ohio's top school choice official.

This also comes just about a month after the Fordham Institute wrote a very hopeful blog post praising the Ohio Department of Education's recent crack down on a few low-performing charter schools -- the culmination of what had been about a year of hopeful signs from the department, including Fordham's specific praising of Hansen's "more aggressive" crackdown approach. If I'm Fordham today, I'm feeling more than a little bit deceived. And pissed.

I was less enthusiastic than my friends at Fordham, but agreed with them that there were encouraging signs. I had noticed the department had started calling school choice "quality school choice" and had issued a few directives to charter school sponsors warning them to do a better job of monitoring their schools.

My enthusiasm was always tempered by the fact that Hansen and ODE were ignoring the big fish. And that was, unfortunately, Hansen's undoing. None of these crackdowns were against schools run by big Republican donors -- David Brennan of White Hat Management or Bill Lager of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- whose schools rate among the worst in the state and who educate about 20% of all Ohio charter school students.

Those two men have given more than $6 million to mostly Republican Ohio politicians since the program began and have collected more than $1.7 billion in state funds -- about 1 in every 4 charter dollars ever spent.

Instead, Hansen rigged the system -- apparently illegally -- to make their schools' poor scores not count against the sponsors that oversee them.

That also meant that sponsors wouldn't be motivated to improve these schools, even under a new charter reform bill, whose focus is on forcing sponsors to do a better job overseeing charters rather than directly closing the poor performers.

It is no accident that White Hat Management -- about the same time we found out the state wasn't counting certain schools' poor grades -- announced it was selling off its "highest" performing schools, whose still poor scores would be counted, and keeping its E-School and dropout recovery schools, whose worse scores wouldn't be counted.

As an aside, it will be interesting indeed if Hansen ends up working for White Hat, just like former Voinovich education czar Thomas Needles did.

This incident also points out another issue: Even if the new charter legislation passes eventually (a dubious proposition that this point), the fact that it grants so much discretion to ODE is quite problematic. It is now apparent that the gubernatorial takeover of the department -- a process started under Gov. George Voinovoich when school board members started being appointed rather than exclusively elected -- is now complete. The current state superintendent, Richard Ross, was Kasich's education czar, then moved on over to the department. Hansen had obvious close connections with the Kasich administration.

ODE is supposed to be an independent voice for Ohio's kids -- not a gubernatorial, or legislative  rubber stamp. It's time for the state school board to exercise its constitutional authority and start bringing at least some independence back to the agency so these kinds of politically motivated shenanigans don't happen again.

There are 123,000 charter school kids in Ohio who are, in the vast majority of cases, being poorly served by these schools -- even compared with the worst-performing local public schools.

The state needs a real watchdog for these kids, not a sheriff that's all white hat and no cattle.

Friday, July 17, 2015

New Ohio Charter School "Sheriff" Breaking the Law?

In yet another black eye for Ohio's struggling charter school sector, it appears that the man who is supposed to oversee charter schools arbitrarily -- and potentially illegally -- decided not to count the worst scores of the state's embarrassingly poor performing virtual schools when evaluating the state's sponsors (authorizers in all other states).

After the State School Board grilled David J. Hansen (who used to run the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Studies and is the husband of Presidential Candidate John Kasich's chief of staff) this week, the department announced earlier today it was retracting the evaluations.

Is it an accident that Hansen decided to exempt the worst scores of schools run by the state's largest political donors?

And how does this jibe with the reputation Hansen had been trying to burnish as the state's new Charter School Sheriff?

And should Kasich be concerned that someone so close to him might be getting into serious trouble just days before his big announcement?

As I've stated before in this space, Hansen's "crack down" had yet to impress me because it only impacted a few charters that didn't have many kids. When the state's largest charter school and nation's largest for-profit school -- the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- gets all Fs and a D on the state report card, yet Hansen doesn't scold them, but instead decides not to count that abysmal record (which is even worse than Youngstown City Schools -- the district that's in such bad shape that the state had to take them over in a back room, last-minute effort), it speaks louder to me than taking down a few tiny schools.

Hansen always was dealing with the charter sector's weaker sisters -- small sponsors and schools with no political clout -- a far cry from the huge clout carried by the for-profit operators.

This episode also speaks to the importance of public transparency and accountability. A publicly elected (and partially appointed) body demanded answers of public officials, who then had to answer them in public, revealing potentially illegal activity that even Ohio Auditor David Yost said bore an eerie resemblance to the data scrubbing scandal that threw Columbus City Schools into the frying pan a few years ago.

Because a public body did its job and held public officials accountable, this potentially illegal activity was uncovered. Remember that as the Youngstown City Schools are turned over to an unelected board and CEO. Who knows what the public will be able to find out there. I mean, Youngstown is not exactly known for being free of public corruption.

Once again, Ohio's charter school system and the state's woeful oversight of the sector are cause for national ridicule. At what point will Ohio's leaders say, "Enough is enough"? I'm so sick of having to write about this stuff. How many backward steps must we take before we'll take one forward?

It's time to fix this so we can move on to the serious work of making Ohio's public schools work for every child in every community. We need the meaningful charter school reform in House Bill 2, as well as better closure and funding mechanisms.

The first thing we have to do, though, is make sure no foxes guard our hen houses.

First things first.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Federal Data: Ohio Charter Schools Widen Ohio's Already Too Wide Achievement Gap

Recently, the White House put out a report outlining the country's student achievement gap, and the news wasn’t great for Ohio. 

We had the nation’s ninth largest reading gap between our highest and lowest performing schools, the second-largest math achievement gap, and the fourth largest graduation gap. While much of this difference can be explained by the high performance of our highest performing schools, the gap is and should be a serious concern for Ohio’s educators, parents and policy makers.

What the data show, however, is that far from being a solution to the achievement gap issue here, Ohio's charter schools are part of the problem.

I wrote about this issue at Innovation Ohio last night.

Here are what the data tell us:
  • Despite making up 8% of all Ohio school buildings, charters represent 13% of the worst-performing math buildings, 31% of the worst-performing reading buildings, and 78% of the buildings with the worst graduation rates.
  • Ohio’s achievement gap is 6% bigger in math, 8% bigger in reading and a whopping 23% bigger in graduation rates than they would be if the analysis included just local public schools.
  • And while the state’s achievement gap is still too large, in all three cases, eliminating charters from the calculation drops Ohio’s achievement gap ranking. Math drops from second to fourth greatest. Reading falls from ninth to 11th greatest. And the state’s graduation rate gap tumbles from fourth to 14th highest.
  • The achievement gap is greater in charter schools for math than it is in the local public schools
  • The charter school achievement gap is narrower in reading and graduation rates because charters’ highest performers are so low performing overall compared with local public schools. For example, the average graduation rate for the 19 highest-performing charters – defined as those that have greater than 60% graduation rates – is 65%. Those 19 charters represent 17% of eligible charters. The average rate for the highest performing local schools – 96% of which have graduation rates greater than the 60% threshold – is 91%.

There is work that needs done closing Ohio’s achievement gaps in all schools, no question. But what the federal data clearly show is that charter schools don’t provide an overall solution. In fact, they are part of the problem -- especially on graduation rates.

Folks in Youngstown and other places should take note of this federal data: Relying on charter schools to close achievement gaps in Ohio has not worked. In fact, it has led to greater gaps in student achievement overall. So before the new CEO in Youngstown decides to turn all of that city's schools into charters or something, here's hoping he or she looks at the evidence first and carefully considers district options.

As for the gaps themselves, much of Ohio’s gap problem is driven by our highest scoring local public buildings scoring so well. For example, while our lowest-performing math buildings score an average proficiency rate of 26% – the same as West Virginia – our remaining buildings score a 78% – the nation’s seventh-highest rate and far higher than West Virginia’s 47% – the nation’s fourth-worst showing. So while West Virginia’s gap seems to be much narrower, it’s because the state’s schools perform so much worse overall than Ohio’s do.

So, if there’s a silver lining to the achievement gap report it’s that 95% of our schools are doing a pretty good job. However, we must address the 5% that are struggling mightily by utilizing – and paying for – measures that research shows can help improve student achievement.

Here is how each type of school does in Ohio, with the White House figures reported on the top line. The numbers are percentages. In reading and math, it's measuring proficiency. In graduation, it's measuring the graduation rate.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Kasich Education Record: From 5th to 18th

In 2010, Ohio was riding high, from an education policy perspective. The state had just tightened its charter school closure standards and created a new funding formula that promised to make the system constitutional as part of a national award winning education reform overhaul.

And the culmination of this was a national ranking of 5th best education system in the country, as judged by Education Week's national Quality Counts report.

But things started changing when Gov. John Kasich took office. Most of those award-winning changes were wiped out. His own funding formula was trashed and dropped by his own party. Ohio's charter schools are now a national joke. And his efforts at local, urban reform are off to a dubious beginning.

The culmination of Kasich's work? The state is now ranked 18th in the country.

This is not the kind of education record I would want while running for President.