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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dispatch's Unfortunate Defense of Failure

In today's Columbus Dispatch, its editorial writers stood up for failing charter schools, choosing instead to nitpick a website that has proven an invaluable resource to parents, policymakers and media alike.

Let me dispatch their claims summarily here:

  1. KnowYourCharter.com only compares school districts with charter schools, rather than school buildings with charter schools. Charter schools are considered school districts by the state for funding purposes -- at the insistence of charter schools. They are considered districts by the federal government for grant purposes. Some are many times larger than many of Ohio's school districts. They are funded by state money intended for school districts, not buildings. And we at KnowYourCharter.com have said that at some point we may add building-level data. But to act like comparing districts to charters is somehow indefensible is a joke. And the claim that KnowYourCharter.com is trying to hide poor performance in urban districts? On the KnowYourCharter.com site, 53% of urban district grades are Fs. Meanwhile, 44% of charter school grades are Fs. What are we hiding exactly? Oh yeah, it also shows that just under half of all kids in charters don't come from the urban districts. So maybe it's not fair to judge charter schools only against urban districts anymore?
  2. KnowYourCharter.com doesn't acknowledge that some charters have tough populations of children to educate. Yes it does. You just have to read and make a single mouse click. It displays what percentage of students are economically disadvantaged. It displays the demographic background of the students. It displays how long students are in the school. For dropout recovery schools, it does not display any grades because they are on a different accountability system and don't get report card grades, though prior to the new system they typically scored far worse than other schools. At some point, KnowYourCharter.com will probably show that the state thinks graduating 7.2% of kids in four years at these schools is perfectly acceptable. To say KnowYourCharter.com doesn't acknowledge the difficult populations is profoundly inaccurate.
  3. KnowYourCharter.com doesn't mention that Ohio's schools get local money. Every taxpayer in the state knows local districts get money. What the Dispatch fails to understand is that because the state gives more money to a child in a charter than that child would have received in the district, kids not in charters get substantially less state revenue than the state says they need to succeed -- a data point that had not been prominently displayed until KnowYourCharter.com came around (though we at Innovation Ohio had done several policy reports about this). But what bothers the Dispatch is not that kids in Columbus, even in the city's highest performing buildings, get $1,063 fewer state dollars every year because that district's charter deduction is so huge. What bothers them is we didn't mention that districts get local money too. Never mind that the local money has to be even greater than it needs to be because the district loses so much money to charters. 
  4. Performance Index means nothing. What matters is student growth. Okay. Let's say this again. First of all, the student growth data is exactly one mouse click away and is on the website. I know, some chore to get to, right? Second, the Performance Index Score is what determines whether a charter school can open in your district. If you're in the bottom 5% of the PI, a charter can open in your district. Yet the Dispatch says it's unreasonable to use PI to compare charter performance. And finally, the Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools uses the PI to determine its Charter School of the Year. But the Dispatch thinks it's unreasonable to use PI to grade charter schools. Why is the PI all right to use for high-performing charters, but not the low performers? 
What disturbs me most about the Dispatch editorial is that it ignored the biggest issue of all: the data. What matters is how we displayed it, not that it demonstrates how poor Ohio's charter school performance is. We displayed 26 different data points for comparison. How many more does the Dispatch need? Give me a break.

I can only conclude that the Dispatch did all these backflips to ignore the data that indicate kids in both charters and districts are being hurt by the current system because they don't like who did a website that, by their own admission, is "marvelously easy" and "couldn't be much more user-friendly."

Wow. Just. Wow.