Sunday, September 1, 2013

Dispatch Brings the Wood

It's been a long time coming, but the Columbus Dispatch -- a newspaper that once infamously wrote how great it was that a couple Charter Schools were he highest rated schools in the state while ignoring that the bottom 113 were also Charters -- has finally come to the only logical conclusion about Ohio's Charter School experiment. It has failed.

In a story titled "Charter Schools Failed Promise", the Dispatch does its own analysis of data that has frankly been in front of them since Charters first opened two decades ago. But, to their credit, better late than never.

"Sixteen years later, charters statewide performed almost exactly the same on most measures of student achievement as the urban schools they were meant to reform, results released under a revamped Ohio report-card system show. And when it comes to graduating seniors after four years of high school, the Big 8 performed better ... But what started as an experiment in fixing urban education through free-market innovation is now a large part of the problem. Almost 84,000 Ohio students — 87 percent of the state’s charter-school students — attend a charter ranking D or F in meeting state performance standards."
The most important thing the Dispatch did is its own work. It didn't rely on the Fordham Institute, or Buckeye Institute, or the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools for their side, then turn to the teachers unions or education advocacy groups for their side. 

Instead, it looked at the data and reached its own conclusion. 

Bravo to Dispatch reporter Bill Bush. A reporter's job is to call balls and strikes. Too often, reporters are afraid to do that and let one side call ball and the other call strike. But Mr. Bush knows his strike zone. He also knows a down-the-middle fastball.

Do I wish he had mentioned that every non-Charter School kid in Columbus loses about 1 in 4 state dollars to Charter Schools because the state pays them so much more per pupil? Sure. Do I wish he had mentioned the incredible lobbying power Charters have exercised over the General Assembly for 16 years, which allowed Charters to run wild? Absolutely. Do I wish he had mentioned how Charter Schools are approaching $1 billion a year in cost, and all but one school district lost money to them last year? Certainly. Do I wish he had mentioned that the majority of students in Charter Schools do not come from Big 8 districts? Of course.

But I'll take it. 

Maybe this is another brick removed form the protective wall too many Ohio Charters have built up over the years, insulating their profits -- and them --  from scrutiny. What Ohio has done on Charter Schools is inexcusable. No state has so carelessly and shamelessly thrown so much money down such a deep rabbit hole. And the ones who have been hurt the most are children, both those in Charters receiving inferior educational experiences, and those not in Charters whose experiences have been lessened by the state's infatuation with these mostly failed sideshows.

Again, there are a few really, really good Charter Schools in this state -- schools that can make differences in children's lives and serve as models for improving education everywhere. But there are far too few given this state's enormous investment. The time has come to undo much of which has been wrought on our state. We need courage, strength and more reporters who aren't afraid to call a down-the-middle fastball a strike.

For all I wished was in Mr. Bush's story, ultimately, the most important thing he did put in at the end:

Meanwhile, the state’s charter-school rolls expanded again this year. Statewide, 52 charters are set to open, 17 of them in Columbus. The state approved three new Internet charters — where students work from home on computers — despite their persistently poor performance across the board.
Ohio's Quixotic hunt for windmill dragons has got to stop. And soon.