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The mainstream press in Ohio has turned critical of the low-performing, profitable, politically connected charter industry. Just read this blistering editorial in The Columbus Dispatch.
“If a charter school can’t perform better than a conventional public school, there is no point in having the charter school.
“After all, Ohio embarked on the charter-school experiment to see if there is a way to improve on the dismal results being achieved in many urban and poor school districts, not simply to replicate their failure. The idea was that if student outcomes improved in charter schools, then the schools would continue. But if charters failed to improve on the performance of conventional schools, they would be closed.
“Now, years after the experiment began, some schools are persistent failures, but instead of being shut down, they want to change the performance measuring stick so that they can remain in business.
“Defenders of conventional public schools long have maintained that failure isn’t the fault of the schools, but is the result of the socioeconomic circumstances of their students: Students who come from poverty, broken homes and associated forms of instability, are harder to teach.
“Now, some charter schools, which were created expressly to find ways to overcome these disadvantages, want to be excused for failure on the same grounds — saying their students are harder to teach. But if they’re doing no better than conventional public schools — and in some cases doing worse — there is no reason for the public to continue to fund them.
“But the straightforward experiment went off the rails when some clever operators figured out how to get rich by sponsoring charter schools. And to keep the gravy flowing, they began making major political contributions to the lawmakers who control the gravy.
“And that is why rumors have been flying around the Statehouse about proposals to weaken accountability standards for charter schools so that they can continue to receive millions of taxpayer dollars even as the students they are supposed to educate continue to fall behind. In many cases, particularly with online charter schools, it appears that many students don’t even participate in learning, but the school’s operators continue to be paid by the state as if these students are receiving an education.
“Charter-school lobbyists are waving their checkbooks and urging lawmakers to ease attendance-reporting rules and to continue to pay the schools even if students don’t log in to learn. They also want to absolve charter-school sponsors of responsibility for the performance of their schools, even though this is a key part of their role as sponsors. Lobbyists also want schools to be measured not by how much progress a student makes each year, but by whether the school performs more or less like other schools with similar student demographics. In other words, if a poorly performing school is doing no worse than other poorly performing, then it should get a pass. This is called the “similar students” measure.
“It is less than a year since the legislature passed House Bill 2, hailed as a giant step forward in holding charter schools accountable for their performance. Part of that bill called for the Ohio Department of education to analyze the “similar students” measure, with a report due by Dec. 1. Now some lawmakers are proposing to pass legislation adopting this approach before the education department has even issued its report. So much for sound public policy.
“Because of such nonsense, it’s important to remember why charters were instituted in the first place. It wasn’t to replicate failure and make excuses. And it wasn’t to make a handful of charter sponsors rich. It was to make students successful.”