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Ohio Needs to Tighten Charter School Oversight, Report Says

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Ohio's charter school law is long overdue for a rewrite, says a national education-consulting group.

In response to a recently released Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) study showing that Ohio charter school students on average learn less in a year than their district school peers, Bellwether Education released a set of 10 policy recommendations for the state. Specifically, the CREDO study found that charter school students in Ohio get 14 fewer days of instruction in reading and 43 fewer days of math instruction.

Many of the proposals outlined in the report from Bellwether Education focus on what the state can do to better regulate the groups overseeing and running charter schools. Among the recommendations:

  • Ban charter schools whose contracts are not renewed by their sponsor—called an authorizer in most states—from switching to another sponsor to stay open (this is typically called 'sponsor hopping' or 'authorizer shopping');
  • Make charter management organizations (many of which are for-profit in Ohio) more accountable through a report card system based on student performance;
  • Stop sponsors from selling services to their schools or using the fees they charge for anything other than oversight functions; and 
  • Require charter school board members to register as public officials and file conflict of interest statements.

The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools is backing the policy proposals: "We urge Governor Kasich and Ohio legislators to move these recommendations into law in 2015," its president, Nina Rees, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, comments made by the head of CREDO, Macke Raymond, about the study have been making the rounds, particularly among charter school skeptics. Speaking on the results of the study at an event in Cleveland last week, Raymond said that the competitive market idea doesn't appear to apply well to education. You can listen to what she said starting around the 50-minute mark, but I've also transcribed the section here: 

"What I think this says for the policy environment, is that a lot of these legislation, enabling charter schools, were drawn up at a time when people had really, really strong confidence in the power of markets. And I have to say this is one of the big insights for me because I actually am kind of a pro-market kind of girl, but it doesn't seem to work in a choice environment for education.

I've studied competitive markets for much of my career, that's my academic focus for my work, and it's the only industry-slash-sector where the market mechanism just doesn't work. I think it's not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed—frankly parents have not been really well-educated in mechanisms of choice—and I think that there's a lot of confusing information that they have to work with."

CREDO's work is considered by many on both sides of the school choice debate as the gold standard of charter school research. This particular report on Ohio was funded by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education reform think tank. Its sister organization, the Ohio-based Fordham Foundation, authorizes some charter schools in the state.

Raymond's remarks also dovetail with a recent survey of parents living in "high choice" cities by University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education, which found parents often don't have access to necessary information or supports to make sound decisions.

However, it also bears mentioning that the CREDO study was not all doom and gloom for the Ohio charter sector. Charters in Cleveland and Columbus, for example, showed strong performance among low-income black students.

You can see the full Bellwether Education report here, which was produced with help from the Fordham Institute, and you can dig into the CREDO study here.

Related: Survey Highlights Hurdles Parents Face in Making School Choices

Related: How to Close a Charter School: Advice From Three States

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