The Economist calls out Ohio charters

Ohio charters are gaining an international reputation—but for all the wrong reasons. In articles over the weekend, The Economist chides Ohio charters for having “done badly” and operating without oversight in a “Wild West” environment. And these remarks are written in articles that praise charters schools.

With every financial scandal and every school closing due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny—as they should.

With a prominent global publication taking our charter schools to task, readers around the world—from New York City to London to Tokyo—now know what many of us locally know too well. Ohio’s charter sector has failed to deliver. Despite some exceptional schools (e.g., DECA in Dayton, Constellation Schools and Breakthrough in Cleveland, KIPP and Columbus Collegiate Academy in Columbus), charters in Ohio—as a group—have far too often disappointed students and parents who placed their hopes in these schools. With every financial scandal and every school closing due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny—as they should.

We’ve repeatedly recognized here, here, here, here, and here that Ohio’s charters have, as a whole, not delivered and need improvement. Other states do it better. We’ve argued in a 2006 report to lawmakers, in a 2010 book, in numerous op-eds, and in public testimony to lawmakers that Ohio’s charter sector needs reform through smarter accountability, consolidating the state’s 80-plus authorizers, and actively recruiting talent and successful school models to the Buckeye State. We’ve urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would close failing charters quickly and raise the standards for who can open schools in the first place. We’ve partnered with community leaders in Dayton, Columbus, and Sciotoville to open and run quality charter schools, but we readily admit there is more we can do as an authorizer and supporter of charter schools.

Though not a direct or substantiated attack on Ohio’s charters, The Economist’s oblique shot should be a wake-up call for Ohio’s charter schools. Charters are working better for students in other parts of the country, as The Economist reports. The problem in Ohio, however, isn’t with the charter school model itself; rather, it’s often the talent and even integrity of the people running the schools, the strength of the governing boards and authorizers overseeing the schools, and too-little appreciation by lawmakers that accountability for performance is just as important as choice itself.

Here’s to a brighter future for Ohio charters—and we at Fordham are committed to it. Days when Ohio isn’t cited internationally as the dregs of America’s charter schools. Days when charters have strong governing boards and authorizers. Days when sensible oversight and accountability for performance separate the charter chaff from the wheat. And days when charter students irrefutably succeed – in their classrooms, in their communities, and in life.

Aaron Churchill
Aaron Churchill is the Ohio Research Director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.