Ohio Policy

We look back at an important two weeks in Ohio charter school policy

This fall, the editorial boards of two of Ohio’s most widely read newspapers issued stinging missives urging legislators to make sweeping changes to the state’s charter school law. In September, the Plain Dealer opined that lawmakers should “work together on a bill to improve charter schools.” One month later, in light of revelations about a questionable charter-facilities deal, the Columbus Dispatch argued that charter reform “should address questionable lease deals along with other loopholes, conflicts and oversights in Ohio’s charter-school system.”

They’re absolutely right: 120,000 Buckeye charter students deserve to attend a school governed by a great charter law—a law that puts the interests of children first. But at the present time, Ohio’s charter law too often fails to protect these students’ best interests; instead, in too many ways, it protects powerful vested interests, smothers schools with red tape, starves even the best schools, and tolerates academic mediocrity.

Predictably, overall charter school performance in Ohio has been lackluster. In the two most extensive evaluations of Ohio charter performance in 2009 and 2014, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that Ohio charter school students, on average, make less academic progress than their district counterparts. The 2014 results, released last week, estimated that charter students received an equivalent of fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days of learning in math.

But fixing Ohio’s charter law is no easy task. The law itself is roughly 40,000 words and has been amended nineteen times since its enactment in 1997. It contains many peculiar exceptions, loopholes, and restrictions. Few would argue that the current law clearly expresses how the charter school system ought to function.

Policymakers must know exactly what needs to be repaired and how best to make the fix. To assist in this task, Fordham enlisted Bellwether Education Partners, one of the smartest education-consulting firms in the land. Their analyst (and Fordham fellow) Andy Smarick, who has worked on charter policy issues with the New Jersey Department of Education and the United States Department of Education, agreed to conduct a thorough review and analysis of Ohio charter law (along with two Bellwether colleagues). Their report, released on Monday, offers ten policy recommendations that, if implemented, will lead to stronger charter policy in Ohio. In our view, these recommendations pivot around three central objectives that policymakers must focus on in a charter-reform bill.

First, the state must better define governing relationships. Currently, Ohio charter law too vaguely delineates the powers and responsibilities of each actor in the charter-governing system. State policymakers need to remedy this by more clearly and explicitly establishing the governing relationships, starting with the powers and duties of the state board and the Ohio Department of Education. From there, policymakers must make clear the responsibilities of charter school authorizers, governing boards, and management companies—and to whom (and how) each entity is held accountable.

State policymakers must also work to purge conflicts of interest. Authorities should not tolerate permissive laws that allow adults to make dishonest gain at the expense of students’ best interests. For example, a charter authorizer—the entity that regulates a charter school—is allowed to sell services to its schools. This bizarre arrangement creates an obvious disincentive for an authorizer to hold its school accountable, especially if closure becomes necessary. Ohio charter school law also strongly protects management companies, even if they fail to deliver a quality education. Because of a loophole in law, charter school boards have little leverage to terminate a management contract. One national policy analyst gave this particular provision “the award for the most breathtaking abuse in the nation.”

Finally, charter schools need help to compete. At present, state policy treats Ohio charters as second-class public schools. They receive less overall taxpayer funding, garner scant facilities support, and are often at the mercy of traditional districts when it comes to student transportation. Taken together, state policy places charters on an uneven playing field with their district counterparts. While a few Ohio charters are producing exemplary results through smarts and raw determination, their outcomes are the exception rather than the rule. For too long, policymakers have unfairly asked charters to make educational bricks without straw, and now is the time to remedy charter-funding inequities.

In 2006 Fordham, along with two national charter organizations, published seventeen recommendations for Ohio charter-policy reform in a report titled Turning the Corner to Quality: Policy Guidelines for Strengthening Ohio’s Charter Schools. Some of its suggestions have been adopted, including fairer school accountability that includes student-growth measures and a rigorous evaluation system for charter school authorizers. Yet other recommendations have fallen on deaf ears.

Eight years later, the Ohio policy community is poised yet again to tackle charter school reform. Fordham’s latest report, The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations to Improve Ohio’s Charter Sector, builds on the policy foundations laid in 2006, considers the latest developments in Ohio charter policy, and reflects some of the very best thinking nationally concerning charter school policy. Wise policymakers—those who care deeply about the twin principles of good governance and robust competition in our public institutions—will carefully consider its lessons in the coming days.

photo credit: OZinOH via Flickr

It’s been a busy month in the world of Ohio charter schools.

First, on December 9, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a report on Charter School Performance in Ohio, supported by Fordham-Ohio. Using test data from 2007–08 through 2012–13, CREDO concluded that Buckeye charters produce mediocre results that haven’t improved much in recent years. In fact, the low academic performance of Ohio charter students is estimated to be the equivalent of fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days in math each year compared to traditional district students. Our summary of the findings spelled out the good news and the bad, but more importantly focused on the direction that Ohio’s charter sector needs to take in order to improve. We weren’t the only ones to take this tack.  

The Plain Dealer published two pieces on the CREDO report; the first largely focused on the “big picture” data points as noted above. In the second piece, education reporter Patrick O’Donnell noted that the "grim" results underscore an immediate need to improve charter quality. But he also pointed out that, unlike other areas of the state, Cleveland charters showed positive results—the equivalent of fourteen additional days of learning in both reading and math. The Plain Dealer also noted that CREDO’s research shows equivalent percentages of special education students and English language learners in charters and traditional districts—an important rebuke to charter critics’ claim that the percentage of such students is markedly lower in charters than in district schools.  

Gongwer Ohio, a Statehouse news organization, indicated that CREDO’s work may be “the most comprehensive study of Ohio’s charter schools to date.” They drew attention to CREDO’s findings for low-income, black charter students, who—compared to their peers in traditional public schools—receive an additional twenty-two days of learning in math and twenty-nine additional days of learning in reading. Gongwer quoted several education advocates, including Greg Harris of StudentsFirst, who acknowledged that while his team was “pleased that low-income black students across Ohio and Cleveland students attending charters are outperforming their traditional school peers in math and reading,” they were also concerned that “most charter school students in the state remain behind their peers in traditional schools.”

The Columbus Dispatch also highlighted the finding that Ohio charter schools are narrowing the learning gap. However, the Dispatch quoted CREDO’s Macke Raymond, who noted that “it’s a very modest pace of change” that “needs to accelerate.” Dr. Raymond emphasized this point to a crowd of more than 150 when she presented her findings at the City Club of Cleveland on December 9. Her work was also covered on Cleveland Public Radio's IdeaStream, which emphasized that lax rules for sponsors have contributed to Ohio’s low performance. Dr. Raymond said that “high performing states have really been very deeply attentive to their authorizers and how they perform. They hold their authorizers accountable.”  

That was the perfect set-up for another Fordham-sponsored report on charter quality. On December 16, Andy Smarick and his colleagues at Bellwether Education Partners released The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations for Ohio's Charter School Sector. The report offers ten policy recommendations which, if implemented, will lead to a stronger charter movement.

At an event at the Athletic Club of Columbus, over sixty-five attendees listened to Smarick present his findings. Afterwards, a panel of Ohio-based charter school experts including President and CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools Dr. Darlene Chambers, Senate Education Chair Peggy Lehner, House Education Vice Chair Andrew Brenner, and the United Schools Network’s Chief Learning Officer John Dues discussed the report. Senator Lehner pointed out that the CREDO report and Bellwether’s recommendations came “from two organizations who are very well known for being supportive of the charter school movement. When our friends are saying things like this, we need to take note and not dismiss it.” Representative Brenner said that advocates and legislators should “continue to look at additional reforms in education in general that has more of the money follow[ing] the student.”  

This led the state’s papers to editorialize in favor of reform. The Columbus Dispatch took the position that state law holds back charter schools. They focused on charter school sponsors and their misaligned incentives, quoting State Auditor Dave Yost, who observed that the “report does a good job of pointing out where Ohio’s governance of community schools doesn’t work.” The Dispatch also quoted Rob Nichols, spokesman for Governor John Kasich. “The governor strongly supports school choice and wants to see higher standards and greater accountability for all schools, whether they be public or charter,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Plain Dealer emphasized Smarick's "two pronged strategy" for improving charters: more oversight and more resources. Comments from John Dues of the United Schools Network during the panel give on-the-ground credence to the need for more resources. “We’re all about providing high quality education for kids,” said Dues. “Most of the kids that we serve are students of color that are economically disadvantaged. And when you throw on top of that our schools are being funded at such a lower rate, it just seems like we’re kind of harkening back to separate and unequal schools.” The Plain Dealer also quoted Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, who was adamant in urging “Governor Kasich and Ohio legislators to move these recommendations into law in 2015.”

We’re adamant about that, too, and we are pleased that this opening salvo garnered the attention of Governor Kasich, who opined, “We’re going to fix the lack of regulation on charter schools.” 

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released the latest in its School Survey Series—this installment features data compiled on Ohio’s private schools. Because private schools are less regulated than public schools, there’s a dearth of information available. What does exist is largely demographic in nature or the result of surveys voluntarily completed by school leaders. The Friedman report uses a combination of data from the U.S. Department of Education (survey) and the Ohio Department of Education (demographic), most of it presented in terms of percentages. While there are some differences between the two sets of numbers, no matter how you slice it, the numbers of private schools and students have declined over the years. The annual federal surveys show average enrollment in private schools was 245 students in 2011–12, down from a peak of 272 students in the 1995–96 school year. And the demographic makeup of private schools is shifting as well. From 2005–06 to 2011–12, the number of black private school students increased by 3 percent, while their share of the public school population moved downward—likely a result of the state’s myriad voucher initiatives. In 2014–15, nearly half of Ohio’s private schools are registered to accept students in the largest voucher program, the EdChoice Scholarship. However, many of those schools report to ODE that they are not operating at full capacity, and author Andrew Catt’s analysis of the self-reported numbers suggests that as many as 36,794 currently open seats could theoretically be filled with scholarship students. If filled, this would triple the number of vouchers in use and nearly reach the statutory cap of 60,000. Finding students to fill those seats is harder than it appears, especially since Ohio’s income-based EdChoice program is being phased in only a grade at a time. All in all, this snapshot of Ohio’s private school sector is good information for the media, advocates, and policymakers to have as they contemplate changes to the state’s private school and voucher laws.

SOURCE: Andrew D. Catt, “Exploring Ohio’s Private Education Sector,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (December 2014).

The 2014 version of the State Teacher Policy Yearbook from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) focuses heavily on the “critical issue” of teacher preparation. And in the glare of that spotlight, NCTQ finds that, while the average state grade for teacher preparation policies has improved from a D in 2011 to a C in 2014, there is still far more work to be done to ensure that new teachers are prepared to help students meet the demands of college and career-ready standards. Three states—Florida, Indiana, and Rhode Island—are ahead of the pack and earned grades of B+. Two states (Alaska and Montana) earned dismal F grades. Ohio falls into the middle of the pack with a grade of C, but this “average” grade hides several troubling truths about Ohio’s teacher preparation practices. For example, in Ohio, only fourth- and fifth-grade elementary teachers are required to pass adequately rigorous content tests. In fact, the Buckeye State is one of only four states in the nation that doesn’t require all elementary teachers to pass a content test prior to licensure. Ohio’s middle school teacher preparation policy is better, since teachers must pass an appropriate content test in every core subject they are licensed to teach. The same is true at the high school level, but the tests have significant loopholes for science and social studies teacher candidates. These candidates, who often specialize in certain disciplines (think chemistry vs. biology; American history vs. world history), are permitted to take content tests (labeled as “integrated”) which combine two or more disciplines, thereby offering a watered-down indication of their mastery of highly specialized content. The preparation and licensure of special education teachers is equally troubling. Ohio offers only a single K–12 special education certification, which fails to differentiate between the specific subject, grade-level, or pedagogical knowledge required to meet the needs of students with disabilities anywhere along the K–12 spectrum. Worse still, Ohio does not require a minimum GPA for admission into teacher prep programs, nor does it require a test to measure the academic proficiency of teacher candidates prior to their acceptance into a program. Furthermore, while Ohio collects student achievement data, ties it back to the teacher’s teacher-education program, and makes that data publicly available online, there are no minimum standards set for performance—in other words, no real accountability if a teacher-education program isn’t effective in preparing high-quality teachers. While Ohioans could take heart in the Buckeye state’s overall improvement since 2011 (an embarrassing D+ has improved to a C), it’s time for Ohio policymakers to buckle down and get serious about improving the quality of our education schools.

Source: “2014 State Teacher Policy Yearbook.” National Council on Teacher Quality, (December 2014). 

  • Cheers to proper investigative journalism. By which I mean journalists digging deep to investigate a question to which they don’t have an answer at the start. Alison Matas and Kelli Young of the Canton Repository did just that to produce a story on the most private of private schools in Ohio. These entities – prosaically dubbed nonpublic, non-tax-supported schools – are not well-known to the general public, and the reporters did a fantastic job of finding, interviewing, and interpreting the comments of the leaders of the ultimate opt-out “schools” operating in Stark County. Their follow-up piece looking at graduates of this type of school was equally well researched and presented.
  • Jeers to the charter school founder facing legal action in Ohio who is trying again after four unsuccessful attempts to launch a charter school in his Pennsylvania hometown. Here’s hoping he gets skunked again AND gets some just desserts in Ohio to boot.
  • Cheers to everyone girding to fight against America’s “math phobia”. Two veteran math teachers in Northeast Ohio are tired of hearing that “some children just aren't able to really understand math,” an attitude reinforced daily by adults who should know better. Fearing math and not knowing how to do it are two different things. That they are using Common Core math standards to address the issue is really just icing on the cake.
  • Jeers to entrenched interests intent on stonewalling new education ideas into oblivion. The idea of a four-district consolidated high school—with an early-college component—is drawing statements of concern from board members in all four Geauga County districts, an area of the state where a number of small districts fight for survival due to population shifts and economic circumstances. It is probably not surprising that these traditionalists are unwilling to look beyond their own borders for help (two of the districts involved have already seen an innovative merger proposal wither to nothing simply out of fear of change), but it’s disappointing that an innovative plan such as this, which is already a success elsewhere in the state, could fizzle before it even gets full consideration.
  • Cheers (and Can I have another, please?) to Ohio’s education innovation grants. Two rounds of Straight-A Grant funding have shown success in creating consortia of schools (district, charter, STEM, early-college, and vocational schools) dedicated to pursuing “sustainable, innovative, local ideas [that] will help transform and modernize Ohio's education system.” The Ohio Department of Education last week requested another round of funding for such grants in their budget request for the next two years.

It’s been a busy month in the world of Ohio charter schools.

First, on December 9, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a report on Charter School Performance in Ohio, supported by Fordham-Ohio. Using test data from 2007–08 through 2012–13, CREDO concluded that Buckeye charters produce mediocre results that haven’t improved much in recent years. In fact, the low academic performance of Ohio charter students is estimated to be the equivalent of fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days in math each year compared to traditional district students. Our summary of the findings spelled out the good news and the bad, but more importantly focused on the direction that Ohio’s charter sector needs to take in order to improve. We weren’t the only ones to take this tack.  

The Plain Dealer published two pieces on the CREDO report; the first largely focused on the “big picture” data points as noted above. In the second piece, education reporter Patrick O’Donnell noted that the "grim" results underscore an immediate need to improve charter quality. But he also pointed out that, unlike other areas of the state, Cleveland charters showed positive...

Juliet Squire

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form at Bellwether Education Partners' Ahead of the Herd blog.

We recently offered ten policy recommendations to address the discouraging performance of Ohio’s charter school sector. We think the building blocks of our recommendations (e.g., strengthening the autonomy/accountability bargain, improving authorizing, creating smart incentives) are relevant to all states, and we suspect the specifics of some recommendations might fit the bill in some states.

But our report was written in response to conditions in Ohio. Several provisions in the Buckeye State’s law are unusual, and after more than fifteen years of charter experience, Ohio can now see the long-term consequences of many of its policy decisions.

For instance, the legislature tasked the Ohio Department of Education with crafting an authorizer-ranking system that will help the state restrict low-quality authorizers’ ability to oversee charters. We believe this accountability boost (importantly, without any new burdens on schools) is necessary in Ohio because the state has so many authorizers, some of which oversee large numbers of persistently low-performing schools. In states with fewer authorizers, stronger authorizing practices, and/or stronger charter school performance, this novel policy is far less critical.

Similarly,...

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in slightly different form at the Chartering Quality blog.

Back in 2006, NACSA, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute issued Turning the Corner to Quality, a tough report on Ohio’s charter sector whose message was summed up in its first major recommendation: “Clean House.”  There were too many failing charters, oversight had gone from bad to worse after the legislature removed chartering authority from the state education department, and the state’s charter cap was effectively shutting out strong operators.

In the intervening eight years, a lot of good things have happened, including successful charter ventures like Cleveland’s Breakthrough Schools;  a default-closure law that has eliminated twenty-four low-performing charters; and most recently, a concerted effort by the state agency’s Quality School Choice office, led by former NACSA staffer David Hansen, to bring accountability to the state’s multitudinous authorizers.

Yet the muck persists. Last week, CREDO at Stanford reported that on the whole, students in Ohio’s charters are getting fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and thirty-six fewer days in math than their counterparts in district-run schools.  There are some bright spots. Cleveland charters outperform...

This fall, the editorial boards of two of Ohio’s most widely read newspapers issued stinging missives urging legislators to make sweeping changes to the state’s charter school law. In September, the Plain Dealer opined that lawmakers should “work together on a bill to improve charter schools.” One month later, in light of revelations about a questionable charter-facilities deal, the Columbus Dispatch argued that charter reform “should address questionable lease deals along with other loopholes, conflicts and oversights in Ohio’s charter-school system.”

They’re absolutely right: 120,000 Buckeye charter students deserve to attend a school governed by a great charter law—a law that puts the interests of children first. But at the present time, Ohio’s charter law too often fails to protect these students’ best interests; instead, in too many ways, it protects powerful vested interests, smothers schools with red tape, starves even the best schools, and tolerates academic mediocrity.

Predictably, overall charter school performance in Ohio has been lackluster. In the two most extensive evaluations of Ohio charter performance in 2009 and 2014, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education...

NOTE: On December 16, 2014, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute published a report researched and written by Bellwether Education Partners with the aim of providing a strong roadmap to guide charter school advocates and policymakers in Ohio when moving forward with a broad rewrite of the state's charter school law. This is the Foreword to that report. The full report can be found here.

This fall, the editorial boards of two Ohio newspapers issued stinging missives urging legislators to make sweeping changes to the state’s charter-school law. In September, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer opined that lawmakers should “work together on a bill to improve charter schools.” One month later, in light of revelations about a questionable charter-facilities deal, the Columbus Dispatch argued that charter reform “should address lease deals along with other loopholes, conflicts and oversights in Ohio’s charter-school system.”

They’re absolutely right: 120,000 Buckeye charter students deserve to attend a school governed by a great charter law—a law that puts the interests of children first. But at the present time, Ohio’s charter law too often fails to protect these students’ best interests; instead, in too...

Over 120,000 charter students in Ohio deserve the opportunity to receive an excellent education. But far too often, Ohio charters have produced mediocre results. In the most extensive evaluation of Ohio charters to date, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) recently found that Ohio charter-school students, on average, make less academic progress than their district counterparts.

Part of the problem has been Ohio’s incoherent charter-school law—a law that has too often failed to put students’ best interests first. Instead, in too many ways, it has protected powerful vested interests, smothered schools with red tape, starved even the best schools, and tolerated academic mediocrity.

But fixing Ohio’s charter law is no easy task. The law itself is roughly 40,000 words and has been amended nineteen times since its enactment in 1997. It contains many peculiar exceptions, loopholes, and restrictions.

Policymakers must know exactly what needs to be repaired and how best to make the fix. Authored by Bellwether Education Partners, a national education-consulting group, this report offers ten policy recommendations that, if implemented, will lead to stronger charter...

Charter schools are quickly becoming a defining feature of Ohio’s public-education landscape, educating over 120,000 children statewide. The “theory of action” behind charters is fairly simple. Empower parents with choice, give schools greater freedom, and hold schools accountable to a contract—and higher student achievement, more innovation, and stronger parental engagement will follow.

But how does theory stack up against reality? Are Ohio charters actually producing better results than their district counterparts? One way to answer this question is by analyzing student achievement data, and since 1999, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has been the nation’s foremost independent evaluator of charter-school performance.  

In the most comprehensive analysis of Ohio charter school performance to date, CREDO looks at student test-result data from 2007-08 to 2012-13 to evaluate the academic impact of Ohio charters. 

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If you have questions about the book, please email Aaron Churchill.

Charter schools are quickly becoming a defining feature of Ohio’s public-education landscape, educating over 120,000 children statewide. Also known as “community schools” in Ohio, charter schools have several distinctive characteristics: They are schools of choice, they operate independently of traditional districts (and some state regulation), and they are held contractually accountable for their results by a charter school authorizer.

The “theory of action” behind charters is fairly simple. Empower parents with choice, give schools greater freedom, and hold schools accountable to a contract—and higher student achievement, more innovation, and stronger parental engagement will follow.

But how does theory stack up against reality? Are Ohio charters actually producing better results than their district counterparts? One way to answer this question is by analyzing student achievement data, and since 1999, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has been the nation’s foremost independent evaluator of charter school performance. 

Today, CREDO published a report on the academic performance of Ohio charter schools. It found that Buckeye charters, taken as a whole, continue to produce mediocre results. With state test scores in math and reading from the 2007–08 to 2012–13 school years used as the outcome measure, the study found that,...

Sadly, a change recommended by the Ohio House Education Committee in House Bill 343 that would have eliminated the minimum teacher-salary schedule from state law was removed by the Rules Committee before the legislation reached the full house. The law entrenches the archaic principle that teacher pay should be based on seniority and degrees earned, and most districts’ collective-bargaining agreements still conform to the traditional salary schedule. For instance, each district in Montgomery County, except for one, had a seniority and degrees-earned salary schedule.[1]

There are several good reasons to do away with the traditional salary schedule.  These reasons include: (1) It wrongly assumes that longevity is related to productivity; (2) it falsely assumes that a masters’ degree correlates to productivity; (3) it does not reward teachers who are demonstrably more effective; and (4) it does not differentiate teacher pay based on the conditions of the wider labor market.

Given Ohio policymakers’ reticence to ditch the salary schedule, it’s worth discussing again (see here and here for prior commentary) why the rigid salary schedule shackles schools. In particular, I’d like to deal with the fourth reason mentioned above....

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