By Joseph Pratt
Many Ohio politicians and education officials have been focusing on charter schools in the recent year, looking at a possible reform in the evaluation process that handles these institutions. Most recently, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard A. Ross has named an impartial three-member panel to advise the department as it develops a new system for evaluating charter school authorizers.
“We are determined to put an accurate evaluation system in place,” Ross said. “Quality measurement is essential to ensuring that every child in Ohio benefits from an excellent education that prepares him or her for college or work.”
The three members of the panel are from northern Ohio and Columbus, and include Perrysburg Exempted Village Schools Superintendent Thomas Hosler, Packer Thomas Principal Phillip Dennison, and attorney Mark Hatcher. According to the ODE, the new advisors are all experienced in working with highly complex processes and their years of experience will guide the department’s development of a comprehensive sponsor evaluation system.
By law, the community school sponsors are evaluated in three areas, academic performance of students enrolled in community schools sponsored by the same entity; adherence to quality sponsoring practices by the department; and compliance with applicable laws and administrative rules.
“We are committed to producing an evaluation program that rates charter school authorizers fairly and fully complies with the law,” Ross said. “Because the legal requirements are complex and leave broad discretion to the department, we are bringing on board an independent advisory panel that can help us ensure we develop the very best system.”
Senator Sherrod Brown recently spoke on the same subject, calling for a reform to how charter schools are measured. Brown also recently penned the Charter School Accountability Act, which he said would increase the amount of accountability and transparency in Ohio’s charter schools.
Brown explained that Ohio is home to nearly 400 taxpayer-funded charter schools, in which teach 123,000 students. Brown referred Ohio to the “wild west” of charter schools, due to problems at many for-profit schools and the need for more transparency and accountability.
“These schools currently cost the state $1 billion under Governor John Kasich’s proposed budget,” Brown said. “We want to make sure these charter schools effectively educate students, but right now, they are not.”
Brown went on to explain that these school misspend public money four times the rate of other government funded agencies. He also claimed that students in these schools lose 43 days of math instruction and 14 days of reading instruction, compared to traditional public education.
Scioto County currently has three charter schools — two general schools in Sciotoville and the Southern Ohio Academy of New Boston. According to Portsmouth STEM, the school will be officially chartered in September, making it the fourth. While charter schools across the state are being questioned about their governance and quality of education, the issue hasn’t arose in the local community.
Sciotoville Community School’s Governing Board President Bill Shope is passionate about the topic and had a lot to say about the issue. With successful students and a staff that strives for visibility, the two Sciotoville schools have remained a model for other charter schools in Ohio. The schools have even assisted fellow local schools in the past, when they have made transitions in policy that were similar to Sciotoville’s.
“We’ve tried to separate ourselves from the for-profit charter schools since our inception 15 years ago,” Shope explained. “To me, that is where the problem lies. Every dime in our general fund goes to our kids; it doesn’t go to an out-of-state operator who is in it for profit.”
Shope believes the root of the problem lies in the for-profit businesses and operators that get involved.
“I am in agreement with some of the criticism surrounding charter schools,” Shope said. “Many are fly-by-night operators; for-profit sponsors are denigrating the reason charter schools have to exist in the first place.”
Shope said he is proud of the two schools and of everyone involved in making them what they are, despite ongoing criticism for charter schools.
“We are very proud of our students for some of the things they overcome to perform as well as they do,” Shope said. “There is always room for improvement in that performance and that is something we strive for every single day the doors are open. We have students ready to learn and a staff that is completely dedicated to that idea.”
Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.