It's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly time at the charter schools corral. And David Brennan, famed industrialist and creator of the White Hat school management company, stars in all three roles. To charter supporters he's the hero, to the teachers unions he's the villain, and as for the ugly, well, keep reading. The showdown started when the Columbus Dispatch ran a series of articles about Brennan and his White Hat Life Skills schools, which serve students that the public school system left behind—high school drop-outs. The day after the Dispatch ran its front-page story on Brennan, the Ohio Federation of Teachers charged his schools company with not testing all of its students, and thereby seeking to cover up its (ugly) student achievement record. This seems a strange accusation to make as the schools under question were all rated in the state's lowest ranking—Academic Emergency. You'd think that if White Hat were going to cheat they'd at least seek a decent state rating. So what's going on? At least four possibilities (or some combination of the following) spring to mind:
- The schools are waiting for students (these are young people with reading levels far behind their age-level peers) to get to a point in their studies where they feel the students have a fighting chance to pass the graduate test before administering it to the students. Why test kids when you know they will fail (this is a question with which drop-out recovery schools, and some regular high schools, across the Buckeye State are grappling)?
- Drop-out students, or those on the verge of dropping out, are hard to test because they are mobile and may not show up on test day.
- The schools messed up some of the student data by coding names in wrongly, or by not coding in names at all.
- White Hat cares first about the money and less about ensuring complete compliance with testing, and morally they have persuaded themselves this is acceptable because the alternative for these kids is the streets.
Regardless of the reason, or reasons, for the data problems, this is just the most recent chapter of the fight. The sheer numbers in Ohio's charter posse—over 250 schools serving close to 70,000 students—now residing in Ohio will keep school choice opponents from running charters out of town any time soon.
"Self-appointed superintendent," by Joe Hallett, Columbus Dispatch October 23, 2005
"Union says few Brennan pupils tested," by Scott Stephens, Cleveland Plain Dealer October 25, 2005
"Teachers' union claims Toledo charter school withheld test," Toledo Blade, October 28, 2005
"Charter schools' test data lacking," by Doug Oplinger and Dennis J. Willard, Akron Beacon-Journal, October 28, 2005