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November 02, 2009
Earlier this month, Policy Matters Ohio released a short report examining how some charter schools evade Ohio’s academic accountability sanctions. Ohio has an academic “death penalty” for charter schools – if a school performs too poorly for too long, the state mandates its closure. The law is heralded as the toughest of its kind in the nation.
Since the law took effect in 2008, twenty charter schools have been subject to automatic closure. Yet, as Avoiding Accountability: How charter operators evade Ohio’s automatic closure law reveals, eight of these schools closed only on paper and soon after merged with other schools or reopened under new names, retaining the same physical address, much of the same staff, and the same operator. Two of the schools were closed for one year before reopening; six closed in May or June, at the end of a school year, and reopened in time for the start of the following school year. The report details the cases of each school’s “closure” and rebirth and provides information about their sponsors, operators, and academic performance.
Charter schools avoiding accountability is absolutely not okay, and Policy Matters is right to shed light on the issue. Many of the report’s recommendations are on the mark, and mirror recommendations Fordham (both as a policy advocate and authorizer of charter schools) has made over the years:
These are admirable goals for continuing to shore up the quality of Ohio’s charter schools, and Policy Matters’ report illustrates that well. However, the report’s authors overplay the impact of the issue, condemning charters altogether because of these bad apples.
Specifically, there are three key pieces of information that would help round out and balance the report:
Academic accountability is an important issue for all public schools, charter and district alike. Policy Matters deserves credit for highlighting a loophole in the state’s accountability system, and likewise is correct to recommend smart changes to state law. However it is not accurate to allege that Ohio is not “serious about quality in the charter sector.” Ohio’s automatic closure law – even with its “loopholes” – remains the toughest in the country, and over the past four years state leaders have worked to increase oversight and accountability of charters.