Ohio’s charter schools ridiculed at national conference, even by national charter supporters
Children stands in line for a turn on a bounce house/obstacle course during the new Pearl Academy open house as a large banner encourages passers-by to sign up for classes Friday, June 21, 2013 in Lakewood. This is at the former Saints Cyril and Methodius school building. The open house was being hosted by White Hat Management, a company that operates lots of charter schools in Ohio.
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The Plain Dealer
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on March 02, 2015 at 12:23 PM, updated
DENVER, Colorado – Ohio, the charter school world is making fun of you.
Ohio’s $1 Billion charter school system was the butt of jokes at a conference for reporters on school choice in Denver late last week, as well as the target of sharp criticism of charter school failures across the state.
The shots came from expected critics like teachers unions, but also from pro-charter voices, as the state considers ways to improve how it handles charters.
Ohio has about 123,000 kids attending nearly 400 charter schools – public schools that receive state tax money, but which are privately run.
One after another, panelists at the conference organized by the national Education Writers Association targeted Ohio’s poor charter school performance statewide, Ohio’s for-profit charter operators and how many organizations we hand over charter oversight keys to as the sponsors, or authorizers, of schools.
“Be very glad that you have Nevada, so you are not the worst,” Stanford University researcher Margaret “Macke” Raymond said of Ohio.
Places like Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., she told reporters from across the country, have high standards for charter school performance.
“Then you have folks at the low end, of which Ohio is a strong case,” said Raymond, who released a report on Ohio’s charter performance in December.
Stanford’s Center for Research of Educational Outcomes (CREDO), found that students learn less in Ohio’s charter schools than in traditional districts – the equivalent of 36 days of learning in math and 14 days in reading.
The National Education Association’s David Welker, a member of NEA’s charter policy team, said Ohio’s system has been taken over by “grifters” and “cheats” – the for-profit companies that run many Ohio schools.
He was suspect about Ohio’s attempts to rein them in, saying, “the horse has left the barn.”
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a major national organization supporting the charter school movement, didn’t disagree.
“There are some operators who are exploiting things,” said Todd Ziebarth, a vice president of the Alliance.
He specifically named K12 Inc. and White Hat Management as major offenders. K12 is the nation’s largest provider of online charter schools and runs Ohio Virtual Academy, while White Hat is an Akron-based operator of many low-scoring charter schools that has regularly been a large donor to Republicans in Ohio.
As Ziebarth started naming White Hat and K12, panelist Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute jumped in to add The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) to the list. That online school is run by William Lager, another major donor to Ohio Republicans.
Just last month the Akron Beacon-Journal reported that former Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder formed a lobbying company that will have former House staffers lobby for ECOT.
“Mike could probably go down a list of Ohio operators,” Ziebarth said.
Petrilli nodded and added: “Ohio needs a top-to-bottom overhaul of its charter school sector.”
Fordham is both a charter supporter and critic. It sponsors, or authorizes, some charter in Ohio and promotes school choice efforts, while also wanting better quality. Fordham helped sponsor the CREDO study in Ohio, as well as another study suggesting ways to reform charter laws in Ohio.
Alex Medler of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers added his own criticisms of Ohio’s system, but far more subtle ones.
But Medler had already made his views on Ohio’s charter system clear a year ago, when he derided Ohio’s charter school free-for-all as “the Wild, Wild West” of charters.
Both Gov. John Kasich and Republicans in the Ohio House have made separate proposals to change the oversight and management of charter schools. A third proposal is coming soon from the Ohio Senate and State Auditor Dave Yost is expected to propose some additional changes this week.
Some of the suggested that Fordham seeks have been incorporated into House Bill 2 or Kasich’s charter reform plan.
While both proposals so far are receiving praise for taking on some important issues, some want them to go further.
For another account of the criticism at the conference in Denver, see this report from the Akron Beacon-Journal.
To follow education news from Cleveland and affecting all of Ohio, follow this reporter on Facebook as @PatrickODonnellReporter