Friday, September 09, 2016

It's time for Ohio charter, traditional public schools to follow same standards

In 2015 following a series of scandals and reports, Ohio passed a law that revised how charter schools and their sponsors would be evaluated.

Toledo Public School's Pickett Academy
has been in academic emergency, or failing,
for more than a decade. Don't its 
students deserve something better?
The intent was to provide more accountability of the schools and the organizations (sometimes private for-profit companies) that sponsor them, especially in light of several reports that showed certain charter schools were performing worse than their traditional public school counterparts.

The effect of the legislation is that sponsors are being pushed to close non-achieving charter schools. Ohio charter schools - which are all public schools - educated just under 124,000 student in the 2014-15 school year.

According to information from the Ohio Department of Education, as reported by the Columbus Dispatch, as many as 19 charter schools closed this school year:

"Eleven were dropped by their sponsors for poor performance; the eight others closed voluntarily.
"Last year, 14 charter schools shut their doors. Three closed because of failing grades and six for financial reasons, according to state records. The reasons for the five other closings were unclear."
The new law was having the desired effect of shutting down poorly-performing schools.

According to a summary from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, public charter schools are automatically closed under the following conditions:

  • Schools serving no higher than grade three: For the 2013-14 school year, will be automatically closed if for two of the past three years has been in Academic Emergency OR has received an “F” in the Kindergarten through 3rd grade literacy measure.
  •  Schools serving any grade four through eight, but no grade above nine: For the 2013-14 school year, will be automatically closed if for two of the past three years was rated Academic Emergency AND showed less than one year of growth in either reading or math OR has received an “F” for the performance index score AND an “F” for the value added score.
  •  Schools offering any grade ten through twelve: For the 2013-14 school year, will be automatically closed if for two of the past three years has been in Academic Emergency OR has received an “F” for the performance index score and has not met the annual measurable objectives.
 No one really has any objection to these standards.

In fact, a stakeholder group, which includes representatives from the Ohio Association of Charter School Authorizers, the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Thomas B Fordham Foundation, welcomed that state's desire to implement a Sponsor Evaluation System and increase the accountability of charter school sponsors.

They recently released a list of specific recommendation they believe will help ODE "provide accurate and credible compliance ratings for sponsors in Ohio" by the law's October deadline.

So the state is well on its way to ensuring that all charter schools are held to high standards and are actually improving the performance of the students who attend them - and to increasing the accountability and transparency of the organizations that sponsor and authorize the schools.

But charters aren't the only low-performing schools in the state. Traditional public schools also have issues.

The questions now before Ohioans are these:

If we're going to close poorly-performing public charter schools based on their performance, are we going to close poorly-performing traditional public schools based on the same criteria?

If we're going to force sponsors to be accountable for the schools they authorize, are we going to hold public boards of education to the same standard of accountability for the schools they run?

Why are we establishing two sets of criteria for public schools based solely on their designation as either a charter or traditional school?

If we really want to ensure that all children have access to a quality education that fits their individual needs, shouldn't we hold all schools to the reasonable standards set for charters, especially considering the fact that many of the children most impacted by poorly-performing schools are stuck in them because of their zip code?

Look at Pickett Elementary School in the Toledo Public School District. If it were a charter school, it'd be closed by now.

Pickett's grades for the 2012-13 school year were a D in the Performance Index (overall results of students on state tests) and an F in Indicators Met (how many students measured proficient in reading and math for state tests).

For the 2013-14 school year, the school again scored a D on the Performance Index and an F on Indicators Met. Additionally, it scored Fs in two new categories:  Gap Closing - is every student succeeding regardless of income, race, ethnicity or disability; and K-3 Literacy - are more students learning to read in kindergarten through third grade.

The 2014-15 report card for the school was even worse:  An F on the Performance Index, an F on the Indicators Met, an F on Gap Closing, an F on K-3 Literacy and an F in the new category of Progress, which measures how much the student learns in a year (did they get a year's worth of growth).

Prior to 2012-13, schools had a different rating system.  Pickett has received the lowest designation of Academic Emergency since the 2003-04 school year.  In 2002-03, they were at Academic Watch. The most number of Indicators Met was two in 2005-06 and in no year did they attain the status of Adequate Yearly Progress.

Report cards prior to 2002-03 are not available on the state's website.

So why are 19 charter schools closing this year but Pickett, which has been failing for over a decade, is still "trying" to educate students?

Have any traditional schools in Ohio closed due to low-performance as is required of the charter schools?

Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Fordham Institute, says answering that question is tricky.

"The criteria isn't the same," Churchill explained. "It's hard to track (closures) back to performance. You'll see districts closing schools due to loss of enrollment or part of an overall financial plan. While low-performance ranking might be a factor in those policy decisions, it's not the primary one."

Churchill called the situation "disappointing."

"You have schools in the district sector that fail year after year and that's a problem," he said. "But Fordham did a study that showed in both districts and charters, when low-performing schools close the kids usually end up at better-performing schools and they actually do better."

Churchill said no one really wants to see a school all boarded up. "But if we're going to make student-centered decisions, there is evidence that (closing schools) helps kids in the long run," he added.

That study looked at school closures between 2006 and 2012 in the top eight urban areas in the state.

The study reveals that children displaced by closure make significant academic gains on state math and reading exams after their school closes. 
Three years after closure, the research found that displaced students overall made the following cumulative gains:
  • Students who had attended a closed district school gained forty-nine additional days of learning in reading and thirty-four additional days in math and;
  • Students who had attended a closed charter school gained forty-six additional days in math.
Further, the study reveals that students who attended a higher-quality school after closure made even greater progress. Three years after closure, displaced students who transferred to a higher-quality school made the following cumulative gains:
  • Students who had attended a closed district school gained sixty-nine additional days of learning in reading and sixty-three additional days in math and;
  • Students who had attended a closed charter school gained fifty-eight additional days of learning in reading and eighty-eight additional days in math.
So if kids are better off after a low-performing school is closed, why isn't Ohio applying the same criteria to traditional public schools as it does to charters?

According to ODE, 50 Ohio schools received an F on their actual 2014 Performance Index and 499 received a D. In the Toledo Public School District, there were no As, five Bs, 17 Cs and 27 Ds, including Pickett.

Unfortunately, the data shows that too many of the traditional schools get failing grades and, as Churchill said, "you can't just close all low-performing district schools because a child needs to have some school to attend."

Following multiple news reports in 2015 on everything from mismanagement of public funds at charter schools to bribery convictions for three charter school officials, Steven Dyer wrote at

Let's do what we can to fix this now. Forget politics. This is about saving kids. And we've got tens of thousands who need to be rescued from this system that has -- in the vast majority of cases -- lost its way amid profits and power.
While some Ohio charter critics may rejoice at this awful spate of stories for the sector, I ache for the kids and parents who this is hurting. They deserve better. And so do the taxpayers who are seeing nearly $1 billion of their state money and hundreds of millions of their local tax money go to pay for and subsidize these operations.
It's a tragedy. An entire generation of kids has now gone through this utterly broken system.  
I shudder to think of the consequences.
Multiple generations of kids have gone through failing and low-performing traditional district schools. It's a tragedy and everyone should shudder to think of the consequences.

Don't the nearly 1.75 million kids in traditional public schools deserve better as well?

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