Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ohio Sponsorship Ratings: It Pays to be a Bureaucrat

The new Charter School Sponsor ratings are out, and there are a ton of poorly rated sponsors in Ohio -- a result nearly everyone foretold.

However, one of my concerns about the new system, which the historic House Bill 2 instituted, has come to fruition, though not as dramatically as I thought it might.

The new system called for sponsors to be graded in three, equally weighted areas: Adherence to quality practices, as outlined by industry standards, compliance with current law and rules, and academic performance. If they rated poorly, they wouldn't be allowed to sponsor schools anymore. If they were deemed "ineffective," they wouldn't be able to sponsor any new schools.

My concern had been that if the sponsor was great at dotting i's and crossing t's, they would be able to get away with lousy academic performance. If you get two As and an F, that's a B- average. So my concern was sponsors with poorly performing schools could remain as sponsors simply because they could jump through the other two bureaucratic hoops.

The new data indicate that is happening in some cases. And in others, sponsors with great academic performance are being deemed ineffective because they don't follow the bureaucratic process -- an equally concerning outcome in my view.

For example, the only 5 sponsors to receive an effective rating -- the highest given this year (there is an exemplary rating that no sponsor reached) -- all received Ds on their academic performance. But they made sure that they dotted their i's and crossed their t's. So they got the highest rating.

One of those -- St. Aloysius Orphanage -- has been banned from opening new schools in Cleveland because of their schools' awful academic track record there. It's not a good look for the state to say a sponsor is among the state's best while the state's second-largest district has banned it from operating. Again, if the academic portion were weighted 50% and the other two at 25% each, then that problem wouldn't be as great.

And on the other hand, there are 8 sponsors with As for academic rating -- 7 of these sponsors are school districts; one is an Educational Service Center. Yet all are rated as ineffective or poor, overall, because they aren't meeting the industry developed quality standards.

Does this system disproportionately harm school district sponsors? I think it's a question that needs asked. It certainly appears that charter sponsors aren't being rewarded enough for good academic performance -- which is, let's face it, the most important aspect of a sponsor's job -- or punished enough for poor academic performance.

But am I glad that sponsors are finally being rated? Yes. It's a positive step. But there are serious concerns with the current calculation that lead to incongruities that need addressed. I hope the state takes up these concerns and fixes them quickly.


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