Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bizarro World: Ohio Wins Big USDOE Award for Charter School Oversight.

Every once in a while, I'm gobstopped. Really and truly. Yesterday was one of those times. That's when I found out that Ohio had received the nation's largest award from the U.S. Department of Education for Charter School oversight.

Considering that study after study after report after comment has indicated that Ohio has among the nation's weakest charter school oversight regimes, I was left scratching my head. According to the USDOE evaluation,
"Ohio has established high and exacting accountability expectations of authorizers (including evaluation against standards) and, inferentially, schools. This is critical to their plan and the priority of high quality authorizing permeates this and other sections of the application ... Overall, a very clear and carefully planned strategy."

More outrageous is the reviewers said there were "no weaknesses noted."


What about the Bellwether report from December that found:
"Part of the problem has been Ohio’s incoherent charter-school law—a law that has too often failed to put students’ best interests first. Instead, in too many ways, it has protected powerful vested interests, smothered schools with red tape, starved even the best schools, and tolerated academic mediocrity. But fixing Ohio’s charter law is no easy task. The law itself is roughly 40,000 words and has been amended nineteen times since its enactment in 1997. It contains many peculiar exceptions, loopholes, and restrictions."
Or what about the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who recently reiterated that Ohio's authorizer laws make Ohio the "Wild, Wild West" of charter school authorizing?

Or what about the comment made later in the reviewer comments that found that "The numbers [on authorizers] are very aggressive and not adequately informed by data, especially Past Performance."

I mean, WTF?

How about this little chestnut:

"There is insufficient data to determine the extent to which the academic achievement and academic attainment (including high school graduation rates and college and other postsecondary education enrollment rates) of charter school students equal or exceed the academic achievement and academic attainment of similar students in other public schools in the State over the past five years."

Here are the last 9 years of state report cards that allow the public to do that exact thing -- compare charters with local districts and schools. Or how about, which has compiled all that info into one site?

What are these reviewers talking about?

How about this:

"Included in the strategy is demonstrated evidence and willingness to close poor performing schools (p. 22)

According to ODE's own school closure data, only 24 charter schools have been closed under the state's closure law, which was passed in 2005. Of those, 17 were closed between FY2009 and FY2011. Only 7 have been closed under the statute since FY2011. The state has ordered that 56 charters close for several reasons since FY2000. However, only 18 of those happened since FY2011.

To give you an idea of scale, there have been 209 charters shut down since the program began. The state only had anything to do with 81 of those, or less than 40%, with only a handful in the last 5 years.

Where is this so-called willingness?

Try this nugget:

"There is an effort to aggressively replicate successful schools and models that serve at-risk students, primarily in the Ohio 8."

This would be news to the Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland, by the way, when according to emails recently released, the head of the Charter School division at ODE thought Breakthrough -- the state's highest performing charter group -- was ruining the Ohio charter school potential.

The Ohio 8 are the big urban districts in Ohio -- Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown.

I can only assume this is a reference to the so-called Youngstown plan, which will replace the elected school board with a CEO who could then turn all schools into charters. But Youngstown is not the area where the high performing charters reside.

Again, where is this aggressive effort to replicate charter groups like Breakthrough?

I'm not saying Ohio shouldn't take the money. My concern is whether Ohio sufficiently misled the USDOE about what's going on here and whether ODE, which is now without a charter school oversight head because the old one manipulated data, is going to ensure this funding goes to schools like Breakthrough and not the old, poor performing, politically connected charter operators.

You can't possibly read this story in the 74 -- Campbell Brown's education reform group -- and square it with the massive award Ohio received.

What's weirder? Try this. Macke Raymond -- the director of CREDO, which looks at charter school performance around the country -- this year told Ohio folks , "Be very glad you have Nevada, so you are not the worst."

Guess who also got a federal award this week? That's right. Nevada.

So the two worst performing charter states in the country got awards from the USDOE to increase the number of charter schools in those states.

How, exactly, does this improve the overall quality of the nation's charter schools?