Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ohio E-Schools: Ohio's Baddest Apples

Four years ago, I helped write an Innovation Ohio analysis of Ohio's E-Schools that was one of the first examinations of the statewide impact of those schools on Ohio's kids and districts. Needless to say, E-School performance was dreadful. The report kind of put IO on the map and was cited by many national outlets and in Diane Ravitch's most recent book.

Fresh off the revelations that the Ohio Virtual Academy -- the state and nation's second-largest for-profit school -- may have been fudging their enrollment data to get paid, I decided to take another look, this time with our partners at KnowYourCharter.com. The results are worse now.

Here are the highlights:

  • More than half of the money going from better performing Ohio school districts to worse performing charters goes to 6 statewide E-Schools
  • 98% of all the children attending charters that performed worse than their feeder districts on all the state’s report card measures went to the same six statewide Ohio E-Schools – at a cost of $72 million
  • Local Ohio taxpayers have had to subsidize $104 million of the cost of Ohio E-Schools because students in E-Schools receive so much more per pupil funding from the state than would their local public school.

What else is remarkable is that the school districts that have the most similar rates of poverty also outperform E-Schools. By a substantial margin. And E-Schools provide a substantial portion of the money and children lost to the worst performing charters in Ohio.

Charters would still be a problem in Ohio, and their performance would remain worse than districts overall. However, the gap would be narrowed.

The money is really what gets me. Charters get paid enough now to provide 15:1 student-teacher ratios, $2,000 laptops to every student and still clear about 35%. Instead, they only spend 17% of their funding on teachers. What else is there in an E-School, which has no buildings, janitors, lunch ladies, buses, etc.?

I commend Sens. Lehner and Sawyer for taking on E-Schools in their Senate Bill 148. It's a modest attempt, but given the fact that both Mssrs. Brennan (who runs OHDELA) and Lager (who runs ECOT) have contributed more to politicians over the last 16 years than any other individuals (while collecting about 1 in 4 charter dollars spent during that period), I admire the willingness to take on this issue.

I am also a realist. And as long as big campaign contributions are made, real reform will be a huge challenge. But here's hoping that this legislature is up to it. Our kids and taxpayers can't afford this anymore.