Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Latest Real Clear Education Piece Hits on $71 million Federal Grant

I had another piece run in Real Clear Education yesterday talking about how at risk Ohio's $71 million federal charter school grant could be in because of the adults at the Ohio Department of Education trying to hide our charter school sector's poor performance. Here's the piece from the Real Clear Education website, which is a really good, comprehensive place to find education policy news from around the country.

Education Leaders’ Lies Could Hurt Kids – in Ohio and Across America

By Stephen Dyer
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, center, participates in a round table discussion on school choice with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, at Carpe Diem-Aiken, a tuition-free public charter school, Friday, May 16, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
RCEd Commentary
For several months now, many have lookedaskance at Ohio’s $71 million award last fall from the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter School Grant Program. After nearly two years of storiesreports and tales of Ohio’s struggling Charter School sector, it seemed counterintuitive for the federal government to give the state the largest chunk of a fund meant to grow high-quality charter schools. There just aren’t that many here.
Then we read the grant application the state sent into USDOE. And boy were there problems. The state claimed none of its charter schools were failing in the 2012-2013 school year, yet that year 41 percent of all charter school grades on the state report card were Fs. More than 60 percent were Ds and Fs. If Ohio should receive a grant, why not Massachusetts, which has what is widely regarded as thebest charter school sector in the country, not to mention that it’s facing a lawsuit seeking to lift the charter school cap in that state so more schools can open. That conundrum could be solved – at least partly – with some or all of the $71 million. It would seem that the charter school movement would be better served by investing in places where charters were effective, rather than Ohio where they are, on the whole, not.
So that didn’t make sense. The state claimed it had a tough automatic closure law, then made no mention that the law’s been suspended until at least the 2017-2018 school year and it hasn’tclosed but two dozen schools in 10 years. There were other problems with it, too, many of which have been outlined here and here.
The issues were troubling enough to the USDOE that they suspended payment of the $71 million and forced the state to respond to detailed questions about why certain things were said on the application that didn’t comport with fact.
Well, the Columbus Dispatch just acquired a new response sent from the Department to USDOE. In it, the Department admits it misled the feds on how many Ohio Charter Schools were failing. In the application, it claimed only six (out of more than 400 total) were failing in the 2013-2014 school year. Now, they admit that 57 were. Meanwhile, instead of 93 high-performing charters, there are 59.
However, even these data corrections come with caveats.
First, it doesn’t include online schools, which are among the worst-performing schools in the state and educate about 40,000 of the 120,000 students in Ohio charter schools. There are three online schools that would count as poor performing under the state’s definition, accounting for 17 percent of all Ohio charter school students. Not including online schools makes it seem that far fewer students are in poor performing Ohio charters than there actually are.
Second, it doesn’t include the 100 or so Dropout Recovery charter schools, which also are among the worst performing. Many don’t graduate even 10 percent of their students … in 8 years.
It is clear that David Hansen, who had to resign his post as Ohio’s head of the Office of Quality School Choice because he illegally scrubbed data to make charter school authorizers look better than they were, worked his magic again on this federal application. Hansen – whose wife is the campaign manager for the presidential campaign of Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who recently placed second in the New Hampshire Primary – was in charge of putting it together. Former State Supt. Richard Ross attested with his signature to the truth of all the information contained in the application, under penalty of law.
Will these acts of malfeasance cost the kids of Ohio $71 million and a chance to put some juice into the move toward quality school options here? I hope not. This money could really help bolster the few charters we have here that are fulfilling the idea’s promise and give momentum for the state’s newfound push for quality. And as I’ve said before in this space, if Ohio can get its act together on charter school quality, it would have tremendous national implications because it would prove that charters could work anywhere. But if the federal money was granted based on lies, should it still be granted now that the truth is slowly seeping from thebeleaguered department—that Ohio doesn’t have lots of high-performing charters in which to invest the federal money meant to expand their footprint?
Perhaps it should be sent to other states that didn’t mislead on their grant applications, as Ohio did.
If the money is taken off the table by the feds, there is no one to blame but the adults at the Ohio Department of Education who were so blinded by ideology they ignored the facts everyone else saw clear as day. This is a lesson for our country’s ideologues on all sides of the charter debate. We shouldn’t let our biases color the truth. If they do, kids in states that don’t cheat will suffer. And kids in states that do cheat will also suffer because their state’s inferior charter sector will expand at the expense of another state’s higher performing sector.
Either way this turns out, those adults who misled under oath to win federal money should be held to account for what they did to Ohio’s kids. For if they are able to escape consequence, what’s to stop future applicants from giving similarly evasive answers to USDOE, ultimately driving down the program’s effectiveness expanding high-quality charter schools? We must not forget that this money is our tax money. We should insist on absolute transparency not only in how it’s spent, but how it’s awarded.
We teach kids to not cheat. Our adults, it seems, need a refresher course.
Stephen Dyer – a lawyer – is the Education Policy Fellow at Innovation Ohio – a progressive Columbus, Ohio think tank. He served four years in the Ohio House, focusing on education policy and chairing an education subcommittee dealing with finance and reform. His work reforming the state’s education funding, human capital and accountability systems earned Ohio the Frank Newman Award for State Innovation from the Education Commission of the States in 2010, given annually to the country’s most “bold, courageous (and) bipartisan” education reform effort. Prior to that, he reported for nearly a decade on education and other issues with the Akron Beacon Journal


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