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Ohio Teachers' Union Launches Website Comparing Charter Schools and Districts

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By Karla Scoon Reid. Cross posted from the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.

A new website launched in Ohio this week has sparked a debate among charter proponents and detractors in the Buckeye State.

The Ohio Education Association teamed up with Innovation Ohio, a Columbus-based think tank, to develop the site, knowyourcharter.com. According to a press release announcing the site's launch on Tuesday, the teachers' union and Innovation Ohio developed the online tool to give parents, taxpayers and educators the ability to compare charter schools with traditional public school districts. Both the union and Innovation Ohio have been critical of the state's charter schools.

The news release stresses the need for increased transparency regarding the level of student achievement in Ohio's charter schools and the "financial impact charters are having on particular school districts."

"Before this website, it wasn't easy for parents to do a side-by-side comparison of their local public-school district and a charter school," Keary McCarthy, president of Innovation Ohio, told the Columbus Dispatch. "We believe it's critically important for data such as this to be readily available and easily accessible."

However, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based think tank and charter advocate, quickly dismissed the website's self-proclaimed goal of transparency. In an article released online Tuesday, Chad Aldis and Aaron Churchill wrote that the new website "misinforms" the public by failing to include district funding from property taxes; omitting growth scores to indicate student achievement; and comparing charter schools to entire districts rather than individual schools within the district. Aldis is vice president for Fordham's Ohio policy and advocacy, while Churchill is a researcher and data analyst for the institute.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Stephen Dyer, an education policy fellow with Innovation Ohio and a former Democratic state legislator, said knowyourcharter.com educates parents and taxpayers about the financial consequences suffered by traditional public schools when students enroll in charter schools. (Charter schools are public schools, by the way.) He also explained that comparisons between individual schools weren't made because: "Schools aren't state funded. Districts are."

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