Ohio charters told to improve performance while also doing a better job of sharing their successes

Thomas B. Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr. believes Ohio charter schools need to further boost academic performance and then do a much better job of telling the public about it.

The two items were on a “to-do” list that Finn ticked off in a speech Nov. 17 at the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools annual meeting in Columbus (read Finn’s prepared remarks here).

“Ohio has way too many mediocre or worse charter schools to good ones,” he said. Of the 244 charter schools rated by the state last year, 42 were judged “B” or better while 123 were rated “D” or “F.”

“Having that many low performers wouldn’t be such a problem if there were an equal number of truly strong schools,” Finn said. “It’s really difficult to say the state has a robust charter program, that it’s doing a good job of serving needy kids. Yes, it’s got some terrific schools, yet it’s really easy for critics to declare the program a failure.”

The poor-performers, Finn said, need to be closed or fixed. “Aggressively solving this problem is vital for the future of Ohio’s charter movement,” he said. Part of the fix may include finding new operators for struggling schools. Charter advocates should encourage the best operators and sponsors to take on more schools. Strong boards are also vital. “We need to recruit talented people to serve on boards and we should be developing a pipeline to recruit and train people for this role,” he said.

When they are successful, most charter schools are lousy at trumpeting their achievements. Schools need to reach out to traditional allies, charter parents need to contact lawmakers, and schools need to enlist the help of the broad coalition of pro-choice organizations to generate support among the public and in the Statehouse, he said.

“The state’s charters are not doing nearly as good a job reaching out as district superintendents and their allies,” Finn said. “Ohioans, including your legislators, know more about various charter blowups in the state rather than the really heartening stories. People don’t know nearly enough about the good schools.” This is especially troubling in a state with term-limits and a lot of turnover at the statehouse.

“The current governor and his team do not share the pro-charter attitudes of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan,” Finn noted. As an example of how shallow is the support for charters among state officials and policymakers, Finn pointed out that Ohio has been under-spending its federal allocation to help charter-school startups by millions of dollars. “It’s a vivid example of how little this state’s policymakers are letting national incentives and rewards influence their own actions with respect to the charter sector,” he said.

Read Finn’s prepared remarks here and watch a short video of the Q&A that followed his speech here.

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