Ohio Department of Education
January 2009

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has released its 2007-2008 Annual Report on Community Schools (see here). The report gives a rundown on the academic, financial, operational, and governance components of each of Ohio's charter schools, as well as information related to the schools' sponsors.

At the outset, ODE should be commended for enhancing the quality and content of the report over previous years. The 2007-2008 report includes information, by school, on demographics, academics, enrollment, and finances, as well as a nice legislative history on the evolution of the charter school program in Ohio. The report also includes information on the 73 active sponsors currently providing monitoring, oversight, and technical assistance to 323 charter schools throughout the state. There also are links to each sponsor's annual report-a document that all sponsors are required to submit to ODE annually.

While the ODE report continues to improve in quality and content, here are a few ideas that would strengthen future reports and bring additional transparency and accountability to Ohio's charter school program.

First, all sponsors should be subject to the department's sponsor evaluation. Currently, just 17 (those who hold sponsorship agreements with the Ohio Department of Education) of the 73 active sponsors are required to undergo the annual sponsor evaluation. In other words, 56 sponsors of Ohio charter schools do not have to have their monitoring, oversight, or technical assistance to charter schools evaluated by ODE. This transparency would level the playing field and inject some needed credibility into the work of sponsoring schools.

Second, expand the sponsor evaluation from just compliance to include sponsor best practices. Specifically, take authorizer best practices from around the country, apply them to Ohio, and incorporate them into the sponsor evaluation. (See, for example, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers' "Principles and Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing" and "Self-Evaluation Instruments" here.) These best practices need not necessarily be incorporated into a sponsor's final score on the evaluation but could be used for sponsors to earn a level of recognition or accreditation beyond the usual compliance scores of the sponsor evaluation.

Third, clarify the contents of sponsor annual reports. Specifically, define what "compliant," "partially compliant," and "overall compliant" mean as they relate to four categories (education, academic, finance, and governance) of a charter school's operations. Currently, sponsors, in their annual reports, are required to give schools one of these three ratings in each of the four categories just noted; however, definitions for both the ratings and categories do not exist in state law, nor are they defined by ODE. Rather, the definitions are left up to each of the 73 sponsors. Thus, while one sponsor might deem a school's financial status "compliant," that rating might be completely different if the school were under a different sponsor. Without uniformly defining these terms, sponsors' ratings of their schools mean little.

In sum, this is the most informative and interesting of the department's reports on Ohio's charter schools and sponsors to date. Take the time to check it out.

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