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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mass. Teaches Ohio How to Hold Charters Accountable

I was sent an interesting story from Massachusetts today that highlighted one of the major issues with how Ohio administers its charter school program. In the story, it is revealed that within 4 years of opening, Massachusetts' Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School has been put on probation for failing to meet state standards and not providing meaningful experiences for special education or English language learners. And it appears they were warned after three years to get their act together.

Seems that Massachusetts is following what the Stanford CREDO study found on charter school performance -- namely "WYSIWYG" -- what you see is what you get. Charters tend not to improve much when they're in place, and the best way to improve charter school performance, again according to CREDO, is eliminate as many poor performers as quickly as possible.

Why does this matter for Ohio? First of all, Greenfield is run by the infamous K-12, Inc., which runs the second-largest for-profit school in the country, the Ohio Virtual Academy (eclipsed in size by Ohio's own Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow). K-12, Inc. also opened up a new online school last year called the Insight School of Ohio.

See, here's the issue: Ohio's K-12 operation has had the exact same issues as its Massachusetts affiliate, yet has operated since the 2002-2003 school year unimpeded with little fear of closure any time soon. Oh, and did I mention that the NCAA won't accept OHVA diplomas? There's that too. At least the Massachusetts school didn't make that list.

OHVA received Fs on the last report card for the measures that determine whether the school is meeting state standards, student growth among special education students and whether achievement gaps exist between English language learners -- the very subjects that caused Massachusetts' concerns.

Ohio doesn't issue specific grades for how well schools serve the needs of English language learners. The only measure that includes performance gaps among English language learners is something called AMO, which measures performance gaps between demographics groups, English language learners, and special education kids, among others. On that, OHVA got an F.

So on all the measures that Massachusetts was concerned enough about to put the school on probation after 4 years, Ohio's operation gets to operate for three times that long without any similar concern.

Here's why: Contrary to the CREDO findings, Ohio gives way too many chances for charter schools to fail. First of all, schools in their first two years of operation don't have their report cards count for closure purposes. So that's two years of mulligans. Then they can fail for 2 out of 3 years, if they're serving grades lower than high school, and 3 out of 4 if they're serving high school kids. So that means they can stay open another 3-4 years. Then once they've been told they're closing, they can operate for one final year before being shut down. So that means they can operate (depending on which grade levels they serve) for as many as 7 years before actually closing. And don't talk to me about how loose the standards are for the state's worst performing charter schools -- dropout recovery schools.

I urge everyone to go to www.KnowYourCharter.com and check out OHVA's performance. Then realize that since the school opened in the 2002-2003 school year (including this school year), it will have collected $572.3 million from state taxpayers -- money that was meant to be spent in school districts. And OHVA received more state funding per pupil (without buildings, buses, lunch ladies, janitors, etc.) in the 2012-2013 school year than 563 of Ohio's 612 school districts.

Ohio needs to wake up.