At the onset of the 2010-11 school year, 39 new charter schools opened their doors in the Buckeye State. These new schools bring the total number of charters in Ohio to just over 350.?? They collectively serve more than 100,000 students. No doubt some of these new schools are bringing quality education to children who need it and providing a strong return on investment for the state.?? But also among the new schools are seven operated by EdisonLearning and authorized by the Education Resource Consultants of Ohio (ERCO).
Fordham, a charter authorizer in Ohio, has long experience working with EdisonLearning. Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. helped launch Edison in the early 1990s, and Fordham has served as authorizer of the two Dayton schools operated by Edison since 2005. These two schools have been in operation for nearly a decade, and despite declining enrollment that resembles a ski slope (see below) have received more than $93.5 million in public funding. Yet after all that time and money, one school's academic performance is middling at best; the other has struggled mightily to deliver students to even basic levels of achievement.??
* The Performance Index score is a weighted average of a school's or district's students' performance on state exams across all tested grades and subjects.?? PI scores range from 0-120, with 100 being the state's goal for all schools and districts.
All of which led us to write, nearly a year ago:
We were??more than a wee bit??surprised to read in the paper that EdisonLearning was working with ERCO to launch eight new schools in 2010-11.
It's not that we don't think Edison should have the opportunity to open new schools in Ohio at some point, but based on the firm's mixed performance in Dayton, is it in the state's best interest to okay eight new schools this year? Have they earned the right, based on their performance in Ohio, to go from two schools (one decent and one failing) to 10? (In fairness, Edison runs some swell schools in other states, though nowhere is its track record perfect.) Has ERCO made a responsible decision as authorizer and has the state department made a responsible decision in allowing this?
These are tough questions, but just the sort??that need to be asked and answered if Ohio is??ever to get beyond its troubled and tempestuous charter history. Quality must accompany quantity ??? a lesson that is apparently still unlearned??by too many in the Buckeye State.
Seemingly, these tough questions were never asked. Before issuing the new schools' contracts, no one from ERCO, or for that matter the Ohio Department of Education, contacted us to ask about our experience with EdisonLearning and whether or not their supporting of the opening of new schools was a good bet. If they had, we would have raised some honest red flags. Of course, nothing in law required such an inquiry, but one would think it thoughtful due diligence to ask a current authorizer about an operator before issuing seven new contracts for new schools.
A recent change to state law ??? a change Fordham supports mightily ??? holds authorizers accountable for their schools' performance.?? Hopefully, it will result in authorizers raising tough questions before issuing new contracts, bring about honest conversations between authorizers about the quality of schools and operators, and finally help Ohio learn the charter quality lesson.