A frank look at Fordham's ranking among Ohio authorizers

The Ohio Department of Education released performance rankings of all charter authorizers (aka ???sponsors???) this week, as part of the new requirement that those ranking in the bottom 20 percent of all authorizers cannot take on new schools for one year.

This is a provision Fordham fully supported and in fact helped craft, as a means to ensure better quality and accountability in the charter school sector. The rankings, found here, include 47 authorizers including us (our sister organization, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is an authorizer). On a list of 47 authorizers, we ranked 24th. Nine sponsors fell into the bottom 20 percent and cannot open new schools.

We've never shied away from the truth when it comes to our schools.?? Each year, we publish a comprehensive, public account of our schools' performance (our 2011 edition will be out next month and you can peruse past editions here).?? We've also been among the first to admit that the work is tough; that more school choice without parallel accountability measures is pointless (kids need better options ??? not just more of them); and that closing schools is an important part of quality authorizing. Historically we've accepted the challenge of closing troubled schools poor academic results.

But because these state rankings are new and high-profile, we wanted to take a moment to put them in context and reiterate our emphasis on continuous improvement for all of our schools.

It's important to note a handful of facts about the rankings shared by the department of education:

  • PI score only accounts for absolute achievement (proficiency) of students for a single year.?? It does not include value-added growth or consider performance gains over time.
  • The performance of drop-out recovery schools, which are among the lowest performing charters in the state, do not factor into any authorizer's PI score (Fordham sponsors none of these schools).
  • Likewise, the 26 authorizers who only sponsor drop-out recovery schools or schools serving special needs populations aren't included in the ranking at all.
  • An authorizer's PI score is based on how its portfolio of schools performed, on average. In our instance, our largest school (500 kids) also happens to be our weakest performing academically, while our top-performing school is one of our smallest.

That said, while our weakest school pulled down that average, we're happy to report that it also improved this year, moving up from Academic Emergency to Continuous Improvement. And we are not in the business of authorizing so as to only take on the highest performing schools. ??

A little history here is useful. Fordham's sponsorship portfolio has evolved considerable since we started in 2005. When we began sponsorship in July of that year with a total of ten schools (all in the Dayton-Cincinnati area) that collectively served about 2,700 students, and all but three of these schools we inherited from the Ohio Department of Education as they were forced out of sponsorship by state law. For the most part, these schools were troubled academically with five being rated Academic Emergency, one being rated Continuous Improvement and one being rated Excellent (three new start-up schools were unrated). Over the last six years we've had six schools leave our portfolio either through closure or by jumping to other sponsors, we've opened one new school to see it close after a year, and we've birthed two new schools. Two established schools voluntarily joined our portfolio this year. We currently sponsor only four of the ten schools that originally signed with Fordham in 2005. This year, Fordham-sponsored schools serve approximately 2,500 children; three schools carry an Effective (B) rating, four schools have a Continuous Improvement (C) rating, and one is rated Academic Watch (D).

Fordham-sponsored schools have made progress. This is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the educators, school board members, and students in each building. But, more work remains to be done. We know it and we won't hide from the challenge, but more importantly the teachers, school leaders, and board members working in the schools we sponsor are committed to making a difference in the lives of children who need it and they are making progress. We are honored to be their allies in this struggle.?? ??

-Terry Ryan

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