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Monday, December 22, 2014

Is All This Charter Reform New? Not Really.

I'm not going to write much in this post. I just thought it would be helpful if I provided you a snippet from an Akron Beacon Journal editorial (titled "Broken Charter") from 12 years ago (December 5, 2002) about a charter bill then that basically says everything the Dispatch said this morning. I would link to it, but it's from the ABJ's paid archive.
"Charter schools will benefit from closer scrutiny. Ohio won't gain, though, by rapidly expanding the number of such schools."

Since the ABJ published its editorial, here are a few numbers, using the Dec. 5, 2002 editorial as a starting point:

  • $7.8 billion -- amount of state funding that has been diverted from traditional public schools to Ohio charters since
  • 165 -- Number of charter schools that have closed
  • 24 -- Number of charter schools that have closed under Ohio's closure law
  • 968,548 -- Cumulative number of Ohio children who have attended charter schools (through last school year)
  • 203 -- Number of overall F-equivalent grades charter schools received under old report card -- about 1 out of every 4 overall grades given during the period
  • 1228 -- Number of Fs charters have received the last two school years on the state's new report cards
  • 1131 -- Number of As Bs and Cs charters have received combined the last two school years on the state's new report cards

One wonders how much money and how many kids could have been saved if more people had heeded the ABJ's words in 2002.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Charter Day in Columbus

Today is one of those news days I loved as a reporter -- lots of news, and really important news at that.

First off, Bellwether Education Partners released a study funded by the Fordham Foundation, which to their great credit has funded two high-quality reports that have called out Ohio charter schools. The report gave 10 policy recommendations for fixing Ohio's broken charter school sector. Lots of good recommendations in there -- coming down hard on failing schools, operators and sponsors, focusing on quality rather than quantity of choices.

My only real beef with it was the suggestion that we need to put local money into charters too so that the "inequity" issue can be resolved, as well as some of the transportation and building funding issues. Including charter schools as part of the Ohio School Facilities Commission funding scheme has issues, like what's the local match? School districts have to come up with local money to fund part of the project. Would charters get their whole project paid for? The fairness of that, when districts (for whom the fund was originally developed during the DeRolph school funding case) had to match it seems a quagmire.

I understand the need to provide some building assistance, though, because without that, charter schools are forced to get in bed with big-time operators that are focused on profits, not kids.

I also struggle with the transportation issue. Charter school kids are transported by school districts at no cost to the charter. Some districts transport a lot of kids to charters. There may be a few charters that take kids from outside a district, so I can understand the need to maybe provide some transportation to them. But again, it's fraught with issues. What do you do, for instance, with open enrollment kids going between school districts whose parents do the driving? Again, there are equity issues galore.

Ultimately, it's awfully difficult to understand why we need to put more money into a sector that already gets almost $1 billion to educate 130,000 kids when folks on both sides of the issue now agree the sector doesn't work.

I would prefer to see the direct state funding of charters, coupled with rigorous quality controls and differentiated funding for excellence could be a way to fix this funding issue. Funding charters is a tough thing to do. But it can be done. And better than it is today. Especially with the state's expected budget surplus this next year.

I don't even mind the transportation or building recommendations nearly as much if I was assured as a taxpayer that it would actually go to successful charter schools, not schools that graduate 2 of 155 kids, as one Ohio charter school currently does.

About an hour later, we at www.KnowYourCharter.com put out a report that showed that 511 of Ohio's 613 school districts got less state funding per pupil last year than the minimum charter deduction required under state law. This means that local revenues have to subsidize these charter school payments.

And when you consider that brick and mortar charter schools spend more per pupil than school districts -- all revenues considered -- you start to see the issue with funding charters. Keystone Local Schools Superintendent Jay Arbaugh and Lorain County ESC Superintendent Greg Ring joined me at the news conference today.

They relayed the tale of how shocked their constituents are when they find out how charter school funding works in this state, and its adverse impact on the 90% of kids not in charter schools.

What we've seen the last week or so are reports that are pointing Ohio leaders in a direction to reform charter schools. I was encouraged to see state Rep. Andrew Brenner and state Sen. Peggy Lehner -- both Republicans -- remark after Bellwether's presentation that they will fight for these recommendations in the legislature.

But overcoming the millions of dollars contributed to Ohio politicians by adults that run poorer performing charter schools will be a monumental task.

For the first time in years, though, I'm optimistic it can happen.

Charter schools can work. They are neither the panacea nor devil's work folks claim. They're not working in Ohio. They can. But it will take education and leadership to overcome three decades of Ohio political habit on this issue.

So let's kick the habit.

Together.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

UPDATED Stanford CREDO Director: Free Market Doesn't Work in Education

This post has been updated to include Dr. Raymond's complete comment on the effect of markets in education. The quote was taken from the City Club's podcast, which hadn't been posted when this post was first written.

I was all prepared to summarize what Dr. Margaret Raymond had to say about Stanford's latest study from its Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO), which Raymond heads, at today's City Club of Cleveland event.

How only in Cleveland does it appear that Ohio's charter school sector is providing meaningful, positive benefits to kids. Or how CREDO's methodology works (averaging kids in traditional public school buildings and comparing these "virtual" kids' performance with real charter kids). Or how Ohio's charter school sector has been making very minimal improvements over the years. Or that the state's charter reform initiatives over the last few years haven't had much impact on charter school performance. Or that Cleveland charters are doing a good job educating poor, minority kids. Or that 93% of Ohio charter schools' proficiency scores are below the 50th percentile in the state. Or that 44% of charter school kids are seeing low growth and performance.

But then, in response to a question from the audience nearly at the end of the event, Dr. Raymond dropped this on the crowd: She said she's a "free market kinda girl", but after decades of looking at the nation's charter school sector, she has come to the conclusion that the "market mechanism just doesn't work" in education. Here;s the podcast from the City Club. Her market comments start at 50:18. Here is the remarkable commentary:

I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And (education) is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed… The policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. We need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools. But I also think we have to have some oversight of the overseers.

Considering that the pro-market reform Thomas B. Fordham Foundation paid for this study and Raymond works at the Hoover Institution at Stanford -- a free market bastion, I was frankly floored, as were most of the folks at my table.

For years, we've been told that the free market will help education improve. As long as parents can choose to send their kids to different schools, like cars or any other commodity, the best schools will draw kids and the worst will go away. The experience in Ohio is the opposite. The worst charter schools in Ohio are growing by leaps and bounds, while the small number of successful charter schools in Ohio have stayed, well, a small number of successful charter schools.

Raymond made the point too that parents are not informed enough to be true market consumers on education. Websites like Know Your Charter can help with that educational aspect of the parental choice, better arming parents with the necessary information to make a more informed decision. But to hear free market believers say that 20 years into the charter school experiment its foundational philosophy -- that the free market's invisible hand will drive educational improvement -- is not working? Well, I was stunned to hear that.

Raymond also made the point that the states that are seeing the best charter school performance are states whose charter school authorizers are focused on quality and have robust accountability measures -- in other words, well-regulated. Yesterday, when the CREDO report was released, it was discovered that if online and for-profit charter schools are taken out of the equation, Ohio charters don't perform all that bad. Problem is that more than 57% of Ohio charter school kids are in those schools. In fact, at Know Your Charter, we found that less than 10% of Ohio's charter school kids are in schools that score above the state average on the Performance Index Score or have an A or B in overall value added.

The point is that there are a few very high-performing charters in this state, like the Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland, or the Toledo School of the Arts, or Columbus Preparatory Academy. While these schools represent a smattering of Ohio's 400 plus charter schools, the state's failing charter schools are legion.

Here's another sort of bombshell from me, to counteract the free market one: I'm not convinced that the free market can't work for education.

But it can only do so if the public is fully informed, parents are armed with good information and make well-informed, thoughtful decisions while the state and its authorizing groups focus like a laser on quality, not quantity, of choice. The way Ohio's charter school laws are currently drafted does not allow that to happen. Sites like Know Your Charter can help, but the state needs to have a better mechanism in place to ensure that parents and kids can make truly informed and good decisions for their future.

It's not like buying a car where if you buy a lemon, you can just go try another one. It's a pain, but not the end of the world.

If parents choose a lemon of a charter school, their children may never recover.

That isn't a pain.

It's a tragedy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ohio CREDO study: Charters' Generally Negative Impact

The quadrennial CREDO study from Stanford has become a sort of gold standard for charter-public school comparisons. They use sophisticated statistical techniques to draw helpful comparisons between the two education sectors. And while they are only looking at reading and math test scores (which brings inherent limitations), the analysis is as clear-eyed as you'll get on this contentious issue.

Well, the Fordham Institute paid to have CREDO look at Ohio's charter school sector. And in its report released today, CREDO says about Ohio's charter sector what it's generally said during its quadrennial look -- it ain't good. Kudos must be given to Fordham for paying to have CREDO come into town. While we have differed on policy over the years, I do find Fordham to be among the more credible and sane voices on this issue in Ohio from the pro-charter side. They know there's a problem and want to fix it. And for that, they deserve credit.

Back to the study. Overall, kids in charters lose 36 days of math and 14 days of reading to their traditional public school counterparts. Of the 68 statistically significant differences CREDO found between charters and public schools, 56 showed a negative charter school impact, and 12 showed a positive one. 

There appeared to be a few positive impacts in middle schools and a couple other places. But, overall, the results were really not good.

Here are a few quotes: 

  • "... the better the student at the start of the year, the worse they are served in charter schools compared to what they would have learned" in a traditional public school.
  • "... recent efforts across Ohio to improve the quality of charter school performance are only dimly discernible in the analysis. Overall performance trends are marginally positive, but the gains that Ohio charter school students receive even in the most recent periods studied still lag the progress of their (Traditional Public School) peers. More work is needed to ensure that charter schools are serving their students well."
  • "Despite exemplars of strong results, over 40 percent of Ohio charter schools are in urgent need of improvement: they both post smaller student academic gains each year and their overall achievement levels are below the average for the state. If their current performance is permitted to continue, the students enrolled in these schools will fall even further behind over time. The long-term prospects for their students dim with every year they remain in these schools."

Over the next several days and weeks, many will parse out these results and focus on the few areas where Ohio charters seem to be doing particularly well or poorly (students in small towns lose almost an entire academic year of learning in a charter, for example). But I want everyone to remember that more than $900 million went to Ohio charters last school year. And about 1/2 of kids in charters do not come from Ohio's urban core. And that the average Ohio student loses more than $300 a year because the state removes so much to pay for charters.

And I want you to ask yourselves a simple question: Is this level of commitment worth it? For taxpayers and, most importantly, our kids both in charters and traditional public schools? 

It is time to fix this behemoth before it continues to harm both the students in Ohio's schools as well as the well-meaning dreams of education reformers.

How Common Core Can Work

As I've said in these pages before, I've got a serious love-hate relationship with Common Core. I like the standards, and see them as an improvement on previous ones. I like the tests because they try to test critical thinking and other learning that traditionally has not been tested.

But I hate that more and more time is devoted to testing each year because of these standards.

Yet here is the bottom line for me. This weekend, my family and I went out to get a Christmas Tree. We saw our own down (though I have graduated to a chain saw from a bow saw. It's an electric one, though, so I feel only slightly more manly). During the time we were prepping for the tree's extraction and arrival, my wife asked my fourth grader a bunch of obscure math questions -- non-even division, multiplication, etc. And my son ticked off the answers quickly and off the top of his head.

These weren't 2+2 questions. They were 52 divided by 6 types of questions. In other words, I would have been lost at his age because I didn't memorize those things. But the Common Core standards have him think about these problems in terms of places (10s, 100s, etc.), so he's able to do complex math in his head because he understands what's going on with the problem. It's not just there on a flash card or something.

A few weeks ago, our local school district held a forum about Common Core math. To be honest, I think the people there got really frustrated because they didn't understand why their kids were learning something in such a different way than they did. Hey, they're doing OK, right?

Well, now I know why. It's so my son isn't afraid of complex math in later grades, the way I was. Who knows. Maybe if I had a better understanding of math, I wouldn't have been intimidated by it my whole life?

But I want everyone to understand that if the Common Core standards have my son able to do complex math in his head at age 9, then they can't be all bad.

Whether every state should have the same standards, or we should test more an more frequently, or whether we should develop some more complex standards dealing with creativity, innovation and practicality are whole different policy discussions that we must have as a nation, state and community. But for what Common Core does cover, at least in my son's N=1 sample, seems to be doing him some good.

And for that, I'm proud to have voted for the thing when I did.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ohio Senate President Faber Lays Groundwork for Flat Education Funding Next Year

Last week, Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, the Ohio Senate President, said that he wanted to deregulate education, especially for high-performing schools. Here's what he said, according to the Gongwer report on his talk:

"Next year we're going to be looking at ways to set those high-performing school districts free of unnecessary bureaucratic regulation from Columbus, and it is going to be a challenge. But it is a challenge that I am confident we'll be successful on," Sen. Faber said.
While deregulation might be appropriate for the top third of Ohio's school districts, "we still have to remember the other two-thirds," he said. "And we have ideas there as well," he added.
Faber's play may have some merit from a policy perspective. Politically, it's a tell for next year: Get ready for flat funding or cuts. But in exchange for not raising a stink about the state's failure to live up to its constitutional obligations, we'll get rid of some unfunded mandates. How's that for a political trade off?

Let me deal first with the policy. During the House Bill 1 deliberations from 2009, then-State Superintendent of Public Instruction (and current U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education) Deb Delisle put forward a similar idea to Faber's.

As a refresher, the Evidence Based Model of school funding was based on several lines of research that indicated that the model's elements would positively impact student growth and achievement. While I eliminated any requirement that school districts follow the elements until they were fully funded (kind of the opposite of an unfunded mandate), Delisle came up with the idea that when the model was fully funded, districts and schools that demonstrated excellence would be given more latitude to comply with the model's elements. But if they were struggling, then the model would be more closely adhered to because the research upon which it was based suggested that these elements could actually help districts and schools find a way to improve student success across demographics.

What Faber's talking about is similar, but very different in one incredibly important way: the state currently doesn't have a formula that has any evidence behind it suggesting it could improve student achievement. The base funding amount is based on a calculation made in 2007 for a formula that no longer exists in law. So the deregulation he's talking about isn't about allowing successful schools a more diverse array of options to meet the state's regulatory scheme. It's about eliminating the scheme all together.

This is dangerous. And while Faber is fond of calling the current scheme "Soviet style" because the state sets policy (as the Ohio Constitution calls for because it's a good idea to have some uniformity of education across communities and regions, but that's another story), the fact is Ohio is a strong local control state. Each district negotiates its contracts with teachers and other educators. Each district determines its curriculum. Each district makes its own calls about field trips, grade and building-wide themes, projects, etc. So, in fact, in Ohio, local districts have a pretty wide array of options -- especially if they have money. And that's the problem here. Districts that have money have options. Ones that don't, well ... don't.

And thanks to Faber and friends, fewer districts have options because the state has cut money to school districts by $515 million over the last couple budgets. In addition, money lost to charters and vouchers have gone way up. So districts have significantly fewer options simply because Faber's colleagues won't fund education the way it needs to be funded.

Which is a nice segway into the real reason for Faber's newly found concern with deregulating education -- politics. For the last several years, the main complaints of the state's superintendents has focused on unfunded mandates and the fact that districts aren't on the same regulatory footing as charter schools. This argument is especially prevalent in wealthy, suburban schools that don't receive that much state aid anyway.

What Faber is counting on is the elimination of some unfunded mandates will buy silence from the Ohio education community when the General Assembly flat funds or cuts school funding (despite a budget surplus), barely does anything with charter schools, lets vouchers expand, or does anything else that could significantly hurt children in our state's public school districts.

What that silence will do, though, is hurt schools that depend more heavily on state aid -- namely poor districts. It won't matter that districts don't have to meet some regulation if they don't have enough money to buy books, go on field trips, or do much beyond keep on the lights and pay teachers $30,000 a year.

In addition, my guess is the top third performing districts, as Faber mentions in Gongwer, will be determined by Performance Index Score, which is how the state determines whether charter schools should open in districts to compete with these lower performing districts. The problem with that is Performance Index Score is nearly perfectly correlated with wealth. So without controlling for demographic variables that we know impact these proficiency scores, we'll essentially be letting wealthy school districts off the accountability hook and hammering districts who were unlucky enough to be serving our most at-need youth -- districts, it could be argued, that actually should be free to experiment more, not less.

What else we'll find is that some high-performing school districts may be underperforming their demographics, while low performers outperform them. Shouldn't we reward districts that are exceeding expectations, even if those expectations aren't as high as, say, Beachwood or Orange? And why should districts that have every demographic advantage be rewarded if they are failing to live up to the necessary standards? Maybe an urban district's 85 performance index score is more impressive than a suburban district's 103? Yet I doubt that Faber's idea will incorporate this level of nuance into the discussion.

We also know that children have many different kinds of intelligence and skill, yet we only test analytical right now -- the area in which poor kids struggle the most. Maybe some districts have kids that struggle on analytics, but they're off the charts on creativity and innovation. Shouldn't they be freed up to continue that work?

There is some merit to using the regulatory structure to encourage innovation and ideas in learning. And if Faber's talking about doing something like Delisle -- letting districts that perform well more options to meet regulatory requirements, then it's less problematic. However, simply eliminating that structure for the state's wealthiest school districts so you can justify the continued state failure to live up to its constitutional obligation to all of our children. Well, that is extremely cynical.

We're better than that, even if our political leaders sometimes stray. I hope our state's education leaders don't take this devil's bargain. Our kids need them to stay strong.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Vote: Last Night's Real Loser

Everyone around the Internet and blogosphere is doing the requisite naval gazing, election post mortum. But I have a different take. I wish to give the eulogy to the vote. Because that's really who lost last night. It wasn't a candidate. It wasn't an issue. It wasn't common core. It wasn't teachers unions. It wasn't Republicans. It wasn't Democrats. It was all of us. Because so few of us actually voted.

And when people don't vote, Republicans win. When lots of people vote, Democrats win. It's not really rocket science.

Yes, Republicans now dominate state government in Ohio to a degree never seen. But when only 40% of Ohioans vote in districts that are so gerrymandered that this result could have been easily predicted in 2011, does it really mean Ohioans love them some Republican? If I'm a Republican, sure I'm happy. But I'm also wary. Because I only won with 25% of the people who are eligible to vote.

So if I go too far with a "mandate", look out in 2016. Because far more people will be voting in a presidential year, which will favor Democrats. Remember in Barack Obama's two elections, 5.8 million Ohioans voted for him. In John Kasich's two elections, 3.8 million did.

If I'm a Democrat (after I'm done licking wounds), I look in the mirror. How can an operation that produced record turnout during two presidential cycles only get 40% -- a record low -- in this cycle? Sure, the top of the ticket didn't help. But let's face it, Ohioans just a couple years ago were ready to vote for a ham sandwich over Gov. John Kasich. And until Ed Fitzgerald's driver's license fracas, even Fitzgerald was leading in some polls.

Democrats, though, let the narrative become whether their candidate had a driver's license, not whether their candidate would cut $515 million from schools, create shadowy economic development groups with public money or act like a total jerk, calling police officers "idiots." John Kasich was hardly invincible, but hey, at least he had a driver's license, right? Ultimately, though, it was the failure to drive turnout that cost Democrats. Forty percent ain't gonna cut it. Not for a party that needs a diverse electorate to be successful.

It's days like this when I start wondering, "What if everyone voted?" Wouldn't the fringe elements be driven from both parties? Wouldn't it mean that both parties would have to work together? Wouldn't it mean that crazy bad ideas would never have the oxygen to breathe? Wouldn't it mean that the voice of the people, rather than the voices of less that a quarter of the people, would be heard?

I don't know. Seems to me like having everyone vote would result in better policy, better government, better politics, and a better, more unified country.

Until that happens, though, I think I'll just stick to hunting unicorns. Seems like I'll have a better chance of seeing one of those than a real exercise of the voting franchise.

And for that, I'm really sad.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Federal Board Rules OH Charter School Private Sector Employer

Some of you may be aware that the American Federation of Teachers is trying to organize teachers in Cleveland. The organizers are claiming the ICAN school it is trying to organize (University of Cleveland Preparatory School) pursued unfair labor practices. And on Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board agreed with the union when it filed a complaint against ICAN and set a Jan. 20, 2015 hearing on the matter.

But perhaps even more groundbreaking than even that complaint filing was this: In the 17-page complaint, the NLRB claimed that the charter schools run by ICAN were "employers" for the purposes of their jurisdiction. What's that mean? It means they are private employers, not public ones. Here is the definition of an employer under the National Labor Relations Act:
"The term "employer" includes any person acting as an agent of an employer, directly or indirectly, but shall not include the United States or any wholly owned Government corporation, or any Federal Reserve Bank, or any State or political subdivision thereof, or any person subject to the Railway Labor Act [45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.], as amended from time to time, or any labor organization (other than when acting as an employer), or anyone acting in the capacity of officer or agent of such labor organization."
So this means that Ohio charter schools are not considered public schools for labor relations purposes. This is a big deal because throughout the Ohio Revised Code, charter schools are called "public." And, in fact, Ohio law places them under the jurisdiction of the State Employee Relations Board, which handles disputes for public employees. But what the NLRB has done (as it did in Chicago) is determine that how the school operates should determine how it is classified, not what it's called in code. In legal parlance, they are de facto private schools, if not de jure private schools.

This raises all kinds of questions for Ohio's charter schools. If they're not public schools for labor relations purposes, what does that mean for the 14th Amendment, which applies to state actors? Does it mean they can escape from even more public scrutiny? And does it mean that they are not public schools, even though they repeatedly call themselves public (their lobbying groups, after all, are called the Ohio (and National) Alliance for Public Charter Schools)?

It's not immediately clear, but it is certain that these are real questions that now need answers. And to be fair, the schools may make incredible arguments in January and the NLRB may reverse its decision and kick the case down to SERB. But I wouldn't want to have to make that argument.

What I do know is this: the way Ohio's charter schools operate leads federal labor experts to view them as private, not public schools. This complaint filing should give charter school reformers guidance as to how to change charter school law in this state. Make charter school operations more like public schools in fact because it doesn't matter what you call it. What matters is how it actually operates.

After all, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, it's a duck.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dispatch's Unfortunate Defense of Failure

In today's Columbus Dispatch, its editorial writers stood up for failing charter schools, choosing instead to nitpick a website that has proven an invaluable resource to parents, policymakers and media alike.

Let me dispatch their claims summarily here:

  1. KnowYourCharter.com only compares school districts with charter schools, rather than school buildings with charter schools. Charter schools are considered school districts by the state for funding purposes -- at the insistence of charter schools. They are considered districts by the federal government for grant purposes. Some are many times larger than many of Ohio's school districts. They are funded by state money intended for school districts, not buildings. And we at KnowYourCharter.com have said that at some point we may add building-level data. But to act like comparing districts to charters is somehow indefensible is a joke. And the claim that KnowYourCharter.com is trying to hide poor performance in urban districts? On the KnowYourCharter.com site, 53% of urban district grades are Fs. Meanwhile, 44% of charter school grades are Fs. What are we hiding exactly? Oh yeah, it also shows that just under half of all kids in charters don't come from the urban districts. So maybe it's not fair to judge charter schools only against urban districts anymore?
  2. KnowYourCharter.com doesn't acknowledge that some charters have tough populations of children to educate. Yes it does. You just have to read and make a single mouse click. It displays what percentage of students are economically disadvantaged. It displays the demographic background of the students. It displays how long students are in the school. For dropout recovery schools, it does not display any grades because they are on a different accountability system and don't get report card grades, though prior to the new system they typically scored far worse than other schools. At some point, KnowYourCharter.com will probably show that the state thinks graduating 7.2% of kids in four years at these schools is perfectly acceptable. To say KnowYourCharter.com doesn't acknowledge the difficult populations is profoundly inaccurate.
  3. KnowYourCharter.com doesn't mention that Ohio's schools get local money. Every taxpayer in the state knows local districts get money. What the Dispatch fails to understand is that because the state gives more money to a child in a charter than that child would have received in the district, kids not in charters get substantially less state revenue than the state says they need to succeed -- a data point that had not been prominently displayed until KnowYourCharter.com came around (though we at Innovation Ohio had done several policy reports about this). But what bothers the Dispatch is not that kids in Columbus, even in the city's highest performing buildings, get $1,063 fewer state dollars every year because that district's charter deduction is so huge. What bothers them is we didn't mention that districts get local money too. Never mind that the local money has to be even greater than it needs to be because the district loses so much money to charters. 
  4. Performance Index means nothing. What matters is student growth. Okay. Let's say this again. First of all, the student growth data is exactly one mouse click away and is on the website. I know, some chore to get to, right? Second, the Performance Index Score is what determines whether a charter school can open in your district. If you're in the bottom 5% of the PI, a charter can open in your district. Yet the Dispatch says it's unreasonable to use PI to compare charter performance. And finally, the Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools uses the PI to determine its Charter School of the Year. But the Dispatch thinks it's unreasonable to use PI to grade charter schools. Why is the PI all right to use for high-performing charters, but not the low performers? 
What disturbs me most about the Dispatch editorial is that it ignored the biggest issue of all: the data. What matters is how we displayed it, not that it demonstrates how poor Ohio's charter school performance is. We displayed 26 different data points for comparison. How many more does the Dispatch need? Give me a break.

I can only conclude that the Dispatch did all these backflips to ignore the data that indicate kids in both charters and districts are being hurt by the current system because they don't like who did a website that, by their own admission, is "marvelously easy" and "couldn't be much more user-friendly."

Wow. Just. Wow.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mass. Teaches Ohio How to Hold Charters Accountable

I was sent an interesting story from Massachusetts today that highlighted one of the major issues with how Ohio administers its charter school program. In the story, it is revealed that within 4 years of opening, Massachusetts' Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School has been put on probation for failing to meet state standards and not providing meaningful experiences for special education or English language learners. And it appears they were warned after three years to get their act together.

Seems that Massachusetts is following what the Stanford CREDO study found on charter school performance -- namely "WYSIWYG" -- what you see is what you get. Charters tend not to improve much when they're in place, and the best way to improve charter school performance, again according to CREDO, is eliminate as many poor performers as quickly as possible.

Why does this matter for Ohio? First of all, Greenfield is run by the infamous K-12, Inc., which runs the second-largest for-profit school in the country, the Ohio Virtual Academy (eclipsed in size by Ohio's own Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow). K-12, Inc. also opened up a new online school last year called the Insight School of Ohio.

See, here's the issue: Ohio's K-12 operation has had the exact same issues as its Massachusetts affiliate, yet has operated since the 2002-2003 school year unimpeded with little fear of closure any time soon. Oh, and did I mention that the NCAA won't accept OHVA diplomas? There's that too. At least the Massachusetts school didn't make that list.

OHVA received Fs on the last report card for the measures that determine whether the school is meeting state standards, student growth among special education students and whether achievement gaps exist between English language learners -- the very subjects that caused Massachusetts' concerns.

Ohio doesn't issue specific grades for how well schools serve the needs of English language learners. The only measure that includes performance gaps among English language learners is something called AMO, which measures performance gaps between demographics groups, English language learners, and special education kids, among others. On that, OHVA got an F.

So on all the measures that Massachusetts was concerned enough about to put the school on probation after 4 years, Ohio's operation gets to operate for three times that long without any similar concern.

Here's why: Contrary to the CREDO findings, Ohio gives way too many chances for charter schools to fail. First of all, schools in their first two years of operation don't have their report cards count for closure purposes. So that's two years of mulligans. Then they can fail for 2 out of 3 years, if they're serving grades lower than high school, and 3 out of 4 if they're serving high school kids. So that means they can stay open another 3-4 years. Then once they've been told they're closing, they can operate for one final year before being shut down. So that means they can operate (depending on which grade levels they serve) for as many as 7 years before actually closing. And don't talk to me about how loose the standards are for the state's worst performing charter schools -- dropout recovery schools.

I urge everyone to go to www.KnowYourCharter.com and check out OHVA's performance. Then realize that since the school opened in the 2002-2003 school year (including this school year), it will have collected $572.3 million from state taxpayers -- money that was meant to be spent in school districts. And OHVA received more state funding per pupil (without buildings, buses, lunch ladies, janitors, etc.) in the 2012-2013 school year than 563 of Ohio's 612 school districts.

Ohio needs to wake up.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Imagine Schools to Teachers: "Let Them Eat Cake"

I'm rarely surprised anymore. That's one of age's few gifts. But today, I was just stunned by what the for-profit charter school operator Imagine Schools told one of their school boards yesterday. The board told Imagine that they would rather pay their teachers more money than the exorbitantly high rent they're paying Imagine for their building. The Imagine Schools spokesman said the board should think of other ways to "celebrate" the teachers "such as having cake for them at the next board meeting."

I'm sure the school's teachers will appreciate their sheet cake. The $26,929 those school's teachers make a year, by the way, is about $1,000 under the poverty line for a family of 5, and would qualify these teachers for welfare benefits in many cases. So I'm sure they will love their cake because it will help them pay the rent.

Or not.

Imagine Schools needs to brush up on French History. Telling people to eat cake rather than pay them hasn't worked out so well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Defense of Transparency

I certainly expected Ohio charter school advocates to say bad things about www.KnowYourCharter.com. I've been in the middle of these Ohio education wars for too long not to expect the attacks. It didn't surprise me to hear advocates claim that the thing was put out by a teacher's union. So of course it's an attack on charters! Right?

Well, not really. What it is is transparency. And transparency is not all together kind to Ohio's charter schools. There are 26 comparative measures on www.KnowYourCharter.com. How many are on the only similar site to it -- The Cleveland Transformation Alliance? That's right. Three. Three vs. 26. Yet to see the Cleveland Plain Dealer's news story about Know Your Charter, you would think the level of transparency was comparable. I've included the list of comparisons for you. Be the judge. Are these site's transparency even comparable?

Know Your Charter
Cleveland Transformation Alliance
Students
Achievement
Attendance Rate
Student Growth
FT Teachers
Graduation Rate
Student/Teacher Ratio
Avg. Teacher Experience
Teachers with Masters Degrees
Students in Poverty
Special Needs Students
Gifted Students
White Students
Non-White Students
% of Students at school less than 3 years
% of Expenditures spent in Classroom
% of Expenditures spent on Administration
State Funding Per Student
Performance Index Score
Performance Index Score Grade
Performance Indicators Met Grade
Overall Value Added Grade
Gifted Value Added Grade
Disabled Value Added Grade
Lowest 20% Value Added Grade
AMO Grade
3rd Grade Reading Guarantee Pass rate
# of Kids eligible for 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee

# of Kids who scored above the threshold

I told the PD reporter that Know Your Charter is very complementary with the Alliance's site. The more transparency, the merrier. But there is zero, and I mean zero competition between Know Your Charter and the Transformation Alliance. We weren't trying to undermine them at all. We were trying to add onto the work they've done in Cleveland so that parents can make more informed decisions about their children's educations, and the public can look behind the curtain.

Did we post every single data point on Know Your Charter? No. We did not. We didn't, for example, post graduation rates, even though that series would make charter schools look even more horrendous. Nor did we include the total expenditures in each sector, which would show that the average brick-and-mortar charter school actually spends more per pupil than the average Ohio school district. We didn't include building-level data, which would show how buildings in even the Big 8 urban districts outperform their charter counterparts, despite having significantly higher rates of poverty. And at some point, we will add additional data points.

But c'mon. There are 26 data points! How many more do you need to tell you there are serious issues in Ohio's charter school sector? 5? 50? 1,876,546,756? Because I've got news for you: None make Ohio charters look great. None. Some make them look not quite as bad. But let's face it, they're still really bad in the vast majority of cases. 

Look, I'm sorry that transparency makes charter schools look bad. I'm sorry for the taxpayers who have forked over $8 billion to these things since 1999. I'm sorry for the kids who aren't in charters and lose upwards of $1,000 a year in state funding because the state sees fit to fund these things at such a bloated level. But most of all, I'm sorry for the parents and children in charter schools who were sold a bill of goods that has, in the overwhelming majority of cases, turned out to be no more than snake oil.

Our state's leaders and the responsible members of the charter advocacy community need to admit there are major problems in Ohio's charter schools. Not every state's system is so messed up. We can learn from others. And we can also teach others how to do this better. And to their credit, some in the charter community have spoken up.

Charter schools are an important option for many parents. They are not the panacea for the struggles of public education, nor are they the death knell of public education. They can work. But in Ohio, they don't. And until those who believe strongest in charter schools' efficacy actually stand up and demand better, rather than slamming people who are trying to shine light on the problem because it scatters too many roaches, then I fear our taxpayers, parents, and most importantly, our kids will continue to drink snake oil, hoping for miracles.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why Do Charter School Advocates Make False Claims Easily Checked?

They're at it again. In a story contained in Gongwer (a paid site), Darlene Chambers, CEO and President of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools claimed that a fact on the new website http://KnowYourCharter.com (whose data I compiled) was wrong.
The charter advocacy group said, for example, the website says Stambaugh Charter Academy in Youngstown had "100% of students at school less than 3 years." The school's sponsor says the figure is not accurate.
"Stambaugh is a high quality school with a high student retention rate," Ms. Chambers said.
As a former reporter, I got that sinking feeling reporters always get when we find out something we print could be wrong. Then I checked it. Here's the actual data from the actual Ohio Department of Education spreadsheet:


As you can see, all children at Stambaugh were in the Charter less than 3 years, as reported to ODE -- the exact thing Know Your Charter reports. So the only specific criticism of the website offered by OAPCS is actually dead wrong.

I would hope that the OAPCS would be willing to issue a retraction of their statement to Gongwer. We need OAPCS to be forceful advocates for Charter School transparency and accountability, not complicit bystanders in their struggles.

Our kids deserve nothing less.

Know Your Charter

Today at Innovation Ohio, we launched a new online tool called http://knowyourcharter.com/. On it, you will be able to compare Charter and Traditional Public School data side-by-side. It essentially boils down 18 Ohio Department of Education spreadsheets into one, easy-to-use format, adding an additional layer of transparency to this $914 million education sector.

One thing that I think this site will do is keep people like me honest. For example, when Fordham published a report published yesterday in Hannah saying how Charter Schools outperform schools in Ohio's major urban centers on Value-Added Measures, you can look at their methodology and see how shaky it is.

  • They didn't include any Charters that were closed after the end of the year, even if it was for academic failure
  • They didn't include any virtual schools, even though the urban districts lose more than $55 million a year to virtual schools
  • They didn't include any special education schools, even though there's a specific value-added measure examining the academic growth of disabled kids
  • They didn't include any of the state's 90 dropout recovery Charter Schools, which in some cases graduate 2 of 155 kids
  • They didn't mention that about half of all the money going to Charter Schools does NOT come from the urban core districts, so why are we limiting the comparison to districts from which only about 1/2 of the kids in Charters come from?
Go to http://knowyourcharter.com/ and you can find out pretty quick just how meaningful these methodological issues are with Fordham's analysis. This isn't to pick on Fordham, but it's also to let you know you can use the site to double check what I do to.

It is true that transparency is the best disinfectant. So please, disinfect away!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ohio: Charters' 7.2% Grad Rate "Meets Standards". Really????

In the lame duck 2005-2006 legislative session, Ohio's legislature and historically unpopular Gov. Bob Taft exempted Ohio's Dropout Recovery Charter Schools from having to adhere to any new closure standards. In exchange, the State Board of Education had to develop operating standards for these schools by December 2007.

However, those standards were never adopted. Instead, Dropout Recovery Charter Schools operated without fear of closure, which made their operators -- including notorious political donor David Brennan's Life Skills Centers -- lots of money.

The state finally adopted Dropout Recovery standards a couple years ago. In exchange, these Charter Schools (now 90 strong) receive their own, much more lenient report card. This year was the first for Dropout Recovery Schools to have measurable data. And wow do these data raise serious questions about whether the state has any meaningful operating standards for these schools.

According to the Dropout Recovery report card, a 7.2% four-year graduation rate is designated "meets standards" (in which case, the Charter wouldn't close) while a 30% rate exceeds them. Wow. Really? 7.2%? 30%?

Sheesh but that's awful. Now, I understand that dropout recovery schools have a very challenging population of kids. I get it. But are we really going to say that spending $117.3 million on these 90 schools is a good use of taxpayer money? Dropout recovery is among the most important functions of our educational institutions. These are our most at-risk kids.

Yet the state says that if only 8 out of 111 eligible graduates graduate -- as is the case at Life Skills Center of Columbus North -- then the school has met the state's "rigorous" standards? Wow. Just. Wow.

The average graduation rate (dropout recovery schools are tracked for 4, 5, 6, and 7 years) is about 20-25% (take Life Skills out of the equation, and the rate jumps almost 5%). Shouldn't that be meeting standards? The highest 4-year graduation rate is 88.9% at Franklin Local Community School. I would think any rate over 50% would exceed standards, right? Wrong. It's 30%.

Life Skills Centers -- the largest single group of Dropout Recovery Charters -- are especially horrendous at graduating children, which I thought was the whole point of dropout recovery. They single handedly drag down the overall Dropout Recovery graduation rate by about 5% and represent 6 of the 11 Dropout Recovery schools that "Does Not Meet Standards" for four-year graduation rates in Ohio's eyes. But given that their operator, White Hat Management, is run by David Brennan, who has given $4 million to Ohio politicians, does it surprise you that these standards are so low?

And to add insult to injury, even the Life Skills Centers (whose diplomas at one time weren't accepted by the military) that graduate 2 out of 155 kids (yes, Life Skills of Northeast Ohio owns this shameful graduation rate) and fail to meet even these ridiculously low standards can stay open in perpetuity. How? By simply improving their graduation rate (and test scores) 10% a year for two consecutive years, thanks to Mr. Brennan's friends in the legislature and Governor's mansion.

So, let's do some math. The 2 out of 155 kids that graduate from Life Skills of Northeast Ohio is a 1.3% graduation rate. Improving by 10% a year for two years would put that rate at 1.573%. How many more kids is that? .43. That's right. If Life Skills of Northeast Ohio graduates the equivalent of .43 of a student more over the next not one, but two years, the school gets to stay open. That's right. He doesn't have to graduate even 1 more kid. They don't even have to improve to 7.2% and graduate 9 more kids to "Meet Standards." They just have to graduate a fraction of one more.

I wish I was joking.

Now, that, is a loophole. And that, my friends is what $4 million will buy you -- the right to run horrible schools and collect billions. Brennan has collected more than $1 billion in state revenue since Charters started in 1999 without ever testifying before the Ohio General Assembly. In fact, about 15 cents of every dollar spent on Ohio charters since 1999 ($7.4 billion total) has gone to Mr. Brennan. Let's see: turning $4 million into $1 billion.

Anyone want that return on investment? Tough to beat 25,000%.

Perhaps that's how Mr. Brennan can afford a $10 million Naples, Fla. home and guest home (the most expensive multi-million dollar property on Naples' ritzy Nelsons Walk, according to the Collier County Auditor's property appraisal office).

David Brennan's $10 million Naples property
Source: Collier County, Fla. Auditor

Don't forget that Gov. John Kasich's most recent budget gave the biggest per pupil increases to (wait for it) Life Skills Centers. Funny how that works, isn't it?

For our state's most at-risk kids, that's not funny. It's awful.

Dropout Recovery Charter Schools in Ohio are a mess. We know how to best prevent dropouts. Among those strategies -- early childhood education, family engagement teams (which Ohio paid for in the Evidence Based Model, but not anymore), and tutoring (also paid for in the Evidence-Based Model, but not anymore). Let's do what we know works.

Let's stop giving David Brennan $17.5 million, or more than $8,400 per pupil (a greater per pupil sum than the state gives to all but 3 public school districts, and more than double what the state spends -- $3,920 -- on average in all districts) to graduate 113 of the 1,496 kids in his care last year at all Life Skills Centers. Two of his schools aren't rated yet by the state, so the graduation rate is probably even worse than that.

By the way, that's a mighty lofty 7.6% graduation rate for Life Skills. That would "meet standards" in Ohio's eyes. I know. Horrific, right?

You, dear reader, know that I'm not one for eliminating Charters. I want great educational experiences for all kids, regardless of school type. But these Dropout Recovery "standards" are an embarrassment. All they do is hurt our most vulnerable children and let profiteers live lavishly.

What a travesty.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

StudentsFirst: Ohio's Charters Mostly "Stink", Should be Closed

StudentsFirst -- Michelle Rhee's education reform group -- had a rocky beginning here in Ohio. It got involved in lots of political races early and created enemies.

But over the last couple years, things have changed. Gone are the days of Rhee coming to town and hobnobbing with politicos. In fact, Rhee is gone as SF president, though she remains on its board.

StudentsFirst Ohio's Executive Director Greg Harris has made some pretty important statements. Last year, he said in the Akron Beacon Journal that "a lot of times it has to do not with how well your school is performing, but how well your lobbyist is paid."

To hear a pro-charter organization say we need to get politics out of the argument and implore the legislature to stop pouring more money into bad charters was unheard of before last year.

Harris was at it again this morning in the Columbus Dispatch. Here's what he said:

But the group will also warn parents against the slick advertising campaigns of bad charter operators. 
“We think a lot of them (charters) need to be closed, because they’re not doing a good job,” Harris said. “We think charters have a role in the education base, but we also think most of the charters in Ohio stink.” 
Now, StudentsFirst has been on the quality bandwagon for a while. But to hear that Ohio's charters have serious quality issues is unheard of from Ohio's charter school advocacy community, until now.

I know Harris a bit, having worked with him while he was at Knowledge Works and since. He's a good, sincere person who really does not like bad charters because he really believes in good ones. And while we differ on some major topics, on this we agree: Ohio's Charters mostly stink, and the bad ones need to be shut down.

I welcome Greg's courage to take on the Charter School Establishment in Ohio. His is a tougher road than mine. He's got a steep climb, but more of Ohio's policymakers need to listen to his voice, rather than bad charter operators' campaign cash.

And let's hope his and his group's leadership will inspire the more reasonable, and until now mostly silent, voices in the charter school movement who feel this way to join the chorus.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ohio Urban Districts Perform Better Than Charters

One of the quirks in Ohio's Charter School landscape is the fact that many of the state's highest performing Charter Schools, while physically located in the state's urban cores, take substantial numbers of kids from outside those urban cores. However, the urban cores are always compared with these schools.

A more apt comparison would seem to be between Charters that take all their kids from the urban core vs. urban core traditional buildings. What's amazing is this: Of the 300 Charter Schools graded on the State Report Card (not including the state's 100 or so dropout recovery schools), only 84 took 95% or more of their kids from the state's big 8 urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) during the 2012-2013 school year (the most recent data I have). None of those 84 buildings are located in Canton. Of the 248 Charter School buildings located in the counties of the Big 8 urbans, about 1/3 take 95% or more of their kids from the Big 8 urban districts.

Franklin County's a perfect example of this phenomenon. Of the 72 Charter Schools located there, only 12 took 95% or more of their kids from Columbus City Schools in the 2012-2013 school year.

Now, is it fair to compare the performance of Charter Schools that take significant portions of kids from outside the Big 8 with the performance of schools in the Big 8 that take nearly 100% of their kids from the Big 8? No.

So I looked at the performance of Charter Schools that took 95% or more of their kids from the Big 8 with the performance of Big 8 urban buildings, and what I found is this: Ohio's urban buildings (minus Canton because no Charters take 95% or more of their kids from there) outperform their Charter School counterparts, even though Charter Schools remove as much as $1,000 per child in state money (depending on the district) from every kid in a Big 8 urban building.
















Big 8 urbans outperform their Charter School counterparts on As and Bs and get smaller percentages of Ds and Fs. But perhaps the greatest disparity is in Performance Index Score -- the closest thing Ohio has to an overall school grade at this point.
















The average urban building PI score was 79.05. The average Charter PI score was 63.45. To give you a sense of scale on what a 15.6-point difference in PI scores means, Wyoming City received the highest PI score of any district last year -- a 113.013. There are 429 (of 613) school districts between Wyoming and the district that is a bigger than 15.6-point drop.

In other words, a 15.6-point difference is enormous.

Again, this is as close an apples-to-apples comparison as can be done. Where do Ohio's urban kids do better, in district buildings or Charters? The answer is pretty clear -- district buildings.

It should also be made clear that urban district performance isn't any great shakes (more than 40% of their scores are Fs and barely more than 20% are As and Bs, after all), but even that performance is better than Charters, and in the case of Performance Index, much better.

Can we have a discussion of quality charters? Please? Our kids need it.

Charters were supposed to improve performance. Instead, they're performing worse, even in the communities where they were supposed to have the most profound effects. Sixteen years and $7.4 billion into this experiment, shouldn't we be getting better results?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Report Card: Charter Value Added Grades Not Much Better

One of the only areas where Charter Schools have been able to make an argument for their success has been on value-added measures (VAM). VAM is, essentially, a growth measure. It measures actual student academic growth versus expected student growth. I've always had questions about how the expected growth is calculated, and Ohio's VAM formula is notoriously proprietary (so it can't be re-produced). But that's the idea.

I'm more intrigued by VAM at the macro, district level because its calculation breaks down as you drill into classrooms, and especially teachers. For example, there have been many incidents around the country where a VAM determined a teacher was the worst teacher in the district one year, then the best the next year -- and vice versa. But at the district level, VAM holds more promise, is less swayed by demographics than raw test scores, and is better philosophically. Though it still needs a lot of work.

Anyway, I broke down Ohio's report card, which was released yesterday, on the VAM categories the state measures. Then compared Charter-District performance. Specifically, the grades for overall value added, lowest 20% (how well do the lowest performers grow), and disabled all receive VAM scores. The state also does gifted VAM, but only a handful of Charters have enough gifted kids to qualify. So the comparison is pretty meaningless.

The results are below. As you can see, Charters do a little bit better than their raw scores would indicate. But it's still nothing to write home about.


















Districts still get higher percentages of As and Bs on all the value added categories. Meanwhile, Charters get higher percentages of Ds and Fs than districts do. So, on overall value added for example, a higher percentage of districts get As than Charters get As and Bs, even though the highest percentage of Charter As are in that category.

And even when Charters do get a higher percentage of As, as they do in the lowest 20% category, districts so outperform them on Bs that a higher percentage of districts still get As and Bs in that category. Meanwhile, Charters get higher percentages of Ds and Fs, even in this category.

Remember that every Ohio school district lost money and children to Charter Schools last year (only Ohio's tiny Lake Erie island districts did not). Even Charters in the urban core receive a significant number of kids from outside that urban core. The most famous example, perhaps, is the Columbus Preparatory Academy -- run by the for-profit Mosaica Education, Inc., which has among the highest performance index scores in the state. Yet about half the kids don't come from Columbus City Schools. So is it fair to judge Columbus based on this school's performance? Yet Columbus always is.

Overall, we know that about half of kids in Ohio Charter Schools do not come from the state's urban core districts -- the original site of Ohio's Charter School experiment. We spent $914 million on Charters last school year. And about all we can say positive is that in one value added category, they got 1% more As than districts. But we can also say that they fail at a significantly higher level in all these categories than the districts from which they receive their children and money.

And in perhaps the most bottom line measure there is -- graduation rates -- the difference is stunning:

















What these value-added data demonstrate for me is this: Ohio's Charter Schools perform marginally better overall on them than more traditional measures. But the question I ask is this: does this marginal improvement justify kids in Columbus losing $1,063 every year because the Charter School deduction is so huge? Or kids in Boardman losing $1 million? Or kids in Brooklyn losing more than 60% of their state revenue?

Yes, there are a small handful of Charter Schools that are doing the innovative things Charter Schools were originally intended to do. These tiny pockets of success could be achieved with far less damage to the remaining 90% of kids in Ohio's school districts, where, overall, they attend higher performing options. Instead, the 90% of kids in those districts lose about 7% of their state revenue because Ohio's General Assembly pays more than double the state money to Charter Schools as they do to the child's district of residence and have cared little about the performance of these schools.

Charter School proponents over the next few weeks will probably be able to drill down the VAM enough to show that schools in some area outperform Districts in an area on a measure or two. But should it be this hard to show Charter School success after $7.4 billion spent since 1998? It's not that hard in other states. But it is here in Ohio. The Stanford CREDO study found that Ohio's Charters are one of only 4 states to see their performance slip between 2009 and 2013, while the average Ohio Charter student loses a full marking period in math and 1/3 of one in reading to their public school counterparts.

Given the amount the state has poured into Charter Schools, which is now more than the state spends in a year on kids in school districts through the state's funding formula, you would think the evidence would be overwhelming that Charter Schools are superior. But instead, we have to spend weeks with algorithms and sophisticated statistical tests to find some permutation that shows Charters may be slightly better at one tiny thing the state measures. On all the big, obvious measures, Ohio's Charter Schools just don't cut it overall.

Charter School quality, not quantity must fuel this debate from now on. Whether a school succeeds should be paramount. Not whether it simply exists. We're beyond the point of asking whether we should have school choice. Fifteen years and $7.4 billion in, it's safe to say that choice is here to stay. Now we need to ask a very simple question: "What should those choice options look like?" and, more importantly, "Should they be any good?"