According to a new report, charter schools don't produce substantially different academic results than their district peers. A longitudinal study conducted by RAND used student-level data to examine charter schools in Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia, Denver, Milwaukee, and the states of Ohio, Texas and Florida (see here). It found that charter schools do not have an effect, good or bad, on the achievement of students in nearby district schools. The study also confirms that charter schools do not "skim the cream" when it comes to recruiting students-children enrolling in charter schools have similar academic achievement levels as those attending district schools, except in Ohio and Texas, where students entering charter schools are substantially behind the achievement levels of their district peers.

The report, Charter Schools in Eight States: Effects on Achievement, Attainment, Integration, and Competition, offers two major concerns about the Buckeye State's charter schools. First, that the state's virtual schools lag far behind both district schools and brick-and-mortar charter schools in terms of student performance, and second, that the performance levels of charter schools in Ohio vary to a much greater degree than other sites.

The report's authors present two theories for why charter school performance varies so widely in Ohio: 1) The state has an unusually diverse group of authorizers (sponsors) and the quality of those authorizers varies greatly, and 2) Ohio's charter schools operate on significantly less funding than their district peers. The report suggests holding authorizers and schools more accountable for results, including closing low-performing charter schools, echoing testimony earlier this week by Fordham's Terry Ryan before the Ohio House Finance & Appropriations Primary and Secondary Education subcommittee. Ryan shared with the committee Fordham's suggestions for improving the governor's education reform plan, including provisions related to charter schools (see here).

Fordham supports the governor's proposal that all charter school sponsors be under the oversight of the State Board of Education if at the same time a bipartisan Community School Quality Advisory Council is created and empowered to deal with charter school quality issues and subsequent policy matters related to school and sponsor quality on an ongoing basis. Members of the Community School Quality Advisory Council should be named by the state superintendent of instruction and the chancellor of higher education. This body would serve as an oversight and advisory body to the Ohio Department of Education.

Fordham further recommends that lawmakers ratchet up the state's "academic death penalty" for charter schools and fund all public schools, including charter schools, equally. Then, the state can focus resolutely on performance of charters by letting the closure law work to eliminate poor charter schools.

Specifically, Fordham proposes that the state should automatically close charter schools that:

  • have been in operation for at least three years; and
  • have been rated academic watch or academic emergency on the state's report card for two of the last three years; and
  • have not seen students perform "at expectations" or above on the state's value-added rating system in both reading and math in the last two years.

Under the current charter closure law, two schools were identified to be closed based on their August 2008 report card issued by the state education department. If Fordham's recommendation had been in place then and if drop-out recovery schools were not exempted from the law, 62 charter schools would be closing their doors at the end of this school year-roughly 20 percent of the charter sector.

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