New Sponsor Measure Too Weak to Improve Ohio’s Charter Sector

October 4, 2011
   
Press release (PDF)

The Ohio Department of Education yesterday released a list of charter school sponsors that are ranked in the bottom 20 percent of all sponsors and are therefore not eligible to authorize new charter schools until their ranking improves. This new accountability measure was signed into law in June as part of Ohio’s biennial budget and takes effect immediately.

The stated intention of this law was to increase accountability in Ohio’s charter sector by barring sponsors with the poorest academic records from authorizing new schools. Unfortunately, the list released by ODE shows that charter accountability in Ohio remains much too weak and that policymakers need to do more to stop the spread of low-performing charters in our state.

Only nine of the 47 sponsors that are required to comply with the new law are now barred from approving new schools. Six of these sponsors are school districts, and only two oversee more than three schools; together the nine supervise only 28 schools. This means that the new law affects the sponsors of only 7.9 percent of the 354 charters currently listed on ODE’s website. By comparison, the state rated 43 percent of charters in Academic Watch or Academic Emergency for the 2010-11 school year. Larger sponsors, which oversee the vast majority of academically troubled charters, are unaffected because the scores of other, academically stronger charters they sponsor boost their Performance Index calculations above those of smaller sponsors.

“Because the new measure restricts only smaller sponsors, it will do little to improve the academic performance of charter schools,” said Piet van Lier, education researcher at Policy Matters Ohio. “A new approach is needed, one that creates a more meaningful requirement to ensure that all sponsors enforce strong academic standards.”

The new state law requires that ODE rank sponsors by a composite Performance Index of the schools they oversee. The Performance Index score is a numerical measure that assigns points to the achievement level of each student, as measured by the state’s standardized tests in grades 3 through 8, and the 10th-grade graduation test. The new ranking system does not apply to sponsors that only authorize dropout recovery or special education schools, and those types of charter schools do not count against sponsors ranked under this measure. A total of 222 charters were included in the sponsor ranking calculations released by ODE yesterday.

As Table 1 shows, the state now bars six school districts from authorizing new charters because of their low composite Performance Index scores. Two regional Educational Service Centers (ESCs) are on the list, while the only independent nonprofit ranked in the bottom 20 percent, Richland Academy, is also the largest to be barred by ODE; it currently sponsors 13 charters, seven of which are not dropout or special education schools and are included in the new ranking.

Two other school districts – Toledo City and Western Reserve Local – have been rated ineligible to sponsor new charters because they did not submit at least one document required by state law, according to the document released by ODE.

Even as the legislature missed a chance to boost academic performance of charters with this measure, the budget bill also weakened accountability for charter sponsors by:

• Raising caps on the number of charters any one sponsor can oversee, to 100 from 50, reversing course from previous law;

• Repealing the requirement that all sponsors have a representative located within 50 miles of each school they oversee; and,

• Authorizing ESCs to sponsor start-up charter schools in any school district designated as challenged by the state. ESCs are regional educational providers for schools and districts that serve one or more counties. They have a mixed record as sponsors; previously, they had been limited to overseeing charters within their service areas or contiguous counties.

With these changes in state law, sponsors that oversee the vast bulk of poorly performing charters are able to open more schools, and some that had been capped can now expand even further. The new law has restricted only the state’s small sponsors, most of which were unlikely to expand at all.

“There is a place for effective charter schools in Ohio, but continuing to allow the creation of new low-performing charters will do nothing to improve education opportunities for Ohio’s children,” said van Lier. “The release of this list of restricted sponsors confirms that policymakers have missed yet another opportunity to do right by Ohio’s school children.”

Press Release (PDF)
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