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Monday, April 24, 2017

Education Chairman Andrew Brenner Stands Up for Failing E-School Giant

House Education Committee Chairman Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, is at it again. This time, he's proposing a change to Ohio's charter school evaluation system that would primarily benefit the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), the nation's largest K-12 school and among the nation's worst performing.

He's doing this by proposing to lessen the impact the number of students at a charter school plays on the academic performance rating of a charter school sponsor. Sponsors are supposed to oversee Ohio's privately run, publicly funded charter schools.

Under the state's sponsor evaluation system, sponsors are rated either Exemplary, Effective, Ineffective or Poor based on three criteria: How their schools perform, how well the sponsor adheres to state regulations and how well they adhere to industry-created operating standards.

Under the academic rating, schools' performance is weighted by how many kids are in the school. So if a sponsor is responsible for 20 schools, but 90 percent of the students are in one of them, that one school's academic rating counts more than the other 19. Brenner's change would mean all 20 are counted the same, even if 90 percent of the students are in 1 school.

ECOT's current sponsor is the Education Service Center of Lake Erie West, which has an F in academic performance, driven in large part by ECOT's horrific academic performance. Lake Erie West risks its ability to sponsor future charters, or even its current portfolio, if it continues with these poor ratings. Which means it has an incentive to dump ECOT, even though the sponsor receives more than $3 million a year just from state mandated fees it receives from ECOT.

But Brenner's proposal would soften ECOT's impact on Lake Erie West and likely keep the sponsor from potentially dropping ECOT.

This is the kind of stuff that made Ohio the national laughingstock it has been for years on charter school oversight. Add to this provision the revelation late last week that Ohio will have to cough up $22 million of the nation's highest $71 million it received to promote charter schools in the state because there are only 5 of 65 sponsors that perform well enough to qualify, and you start seeing why we still have so far to go.

I agree that the sponsor evaluation system needs tweaked. There are 8 Ohio charter school sponsors with As in academics. None rate above ineffective on the overall rating. Why? Because the state took liberties with the law governing the rating system. Under Ohio Revised Code Section 3314.016(B)(6), "[t]he department annually shall rate all entities that sponsor community schools as either "exemplary," "effective," "ineffective," or "poor," based on the components prescribed by division (B) of this section, where each component is weighted equally . A separate rating shall be given by the department for each component of the evaluation system."

However, weighting each grade equally means if you get an A and two Fs, you get a B, or effective, rating. The Ohio Department of Education wrote a rule stating that if a sponsor received an F in any category, they couldn't be rated above ineffective, which weighs one are more than another in violation of the law. Not saying what ODE did wasn't admirable, but it was, likely, illegal.

I would like to see the academic portion counted more heavily than the bureaucratic provisions. Parents don't care if sponsors dot i's and cross t's; they care if they actually make sure their children are being educated.

But the last thing we need is stuff like Brenner's provision to once again carve out Ohio's worst-performing schools for special protections. That's what makes Ohio's charter school experience so ridiculed nationally.

Our state's kids and parents deserve better.

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