Sunday, October 28, 2012

Charter schools don't pass the smell test

About two decades ago, someone came up with a great fix for public education, which everyone assumed was broken.

It was broken because, well, all one had to do was look at Ohio’s large urban school districts, which had lousy graduation rates, forced busing of students and a dysfunctional socio-economic culture that didn’t support learning in the traditional way.

So, the solution, said the politicians, was to give those public schools some competition. Why don’t we, they asked, allow charter schools to compete for the public funding that is attached to each child and follows that child all the way to high school graduation?

Voila! Charter schools were born in Ohio. And now we have about 400 of them, all competing for your tax dollars.

Now you might have noticed that the Ohio Department of Education’s 2011-12 report cards on school districts recently were released. Our public school districts throughout the Tuscarawas Valley did exceptionally well with a few even being awarded the “excellent with distinction” tag.

In other words, we have fine public schools in our midst. We just don’t appreciate them.
Newspapers throughout the state annually report on how their public school districts fared and for that aspect of the story they do a pretty good job. But they don’t tell you, for the most part, how the for-profit charter schools are doing.

A group of Lorain County school district superintendents wants to change that.

In an e-mail distributed to inboxes statewide, the superintendents pointed out that more than $600 million of Ohio taxpayers’ money has been allocated for the promotion of charter schools.

“That’s correct,” stated the memo. “Over $600 million to promote charter schools at the expense of public school districts.

“Since increased accountability on every level is demanded for public schools, it should be incumbent upon the current (Legislature) to demonstrate how that investment paid off.

“The worth of that investment can be debated ad nauseam in the polarized political environment we live in. Rather than debate it, maybe we should just look at the recently released data from this week.”

These are the numbers the Lorain County superintendents want you to have:

“Excellent with Distinction” – Public: 138 or 23 percent; charter: 4 or 1 percent;
“Excellent” – Public: 249 or 41 percent; charter: 26 or 7 percent;
“Effective” – Public: 172 or 28 percent; charter: 54 or 15 percent;
“Continuous Improvement” – Public: 38 or 6 percent; charter: 96 or 27 percent;
“Academic Watch” – Public: 11 or .01 percent; charter: 55 or 16 percent
“Academic Emergency” – Public: 2 or .003 percent; charter: 66 or 19 percent.

If the Lorain County superintendents seem to be a little angry, they have good reason. Every school district in the state is trying to do more with less. And then you have certain state legislators on the campaign trail, touting how they fixed the state’s budget deficit.

Want to know how they fixed it? On the backs of public schools, that’s how, all the while showing their love of charters.

“Why isn’t the media questioning the legislators who approved this investment in charter schools while at the same time siphoning dollars away from public districts?” asked the Lorain educators.

“The data compares apples to apples and it would seem that our communities’ much maligned public districts compare very favorably.  We are proponents of choice when it is in the best interest of students, but shouldn’t the choice be a good one?”

One media organization – StateImpact Ohio – should be exempt from the Lorain County superintendents’ ire.

StateImpact Ohio, according to its website (, is a collaboration among public radio stations WCPN, WKSU and WOSU and National Public Radio. Reporters Molly Bloom and Ida Lieszkovsky monitor the state of education in Ohio and report their findings along with vast amounts of data.
StateImpact Ohio has the report card data, including charter schools, in an easy-to-read format and assigns a letter grade based on the state grading system. And, yes, there are plenty of “F’s” for the charters.

Quaker Digital Academy, which is an online charter school operated by New Philadelphia City Schools, earned a “C” on its report card. Quaker Digital, which in 2011-12 had 490 students, was formed in an effort to recapture dollars attached to students who leave the district’s brick and mortar system.

And if I’m reading the data correctly, there’s profit in those students – maybe about $2,000 or more apiece after the charter subtracts the cost of teachers, computers and other overhead. What a racket.

Interestingly, StateImpact Ohio reports that only about one in 10 online charter school graduates continues his or her education. That compares to four in 10 graduating from the big urban districts – you know – the ones that are really broken. The Ohio Board of Regents tracks such data, said StateImpact Ohio.

Now the politicians are lining up on the side of a “blended” education, which includes online and bricks and mortar environments.

I personally think we’d be far better off if politicians kept their noses out of education.

Read more from Dick Farrell at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What about your thoughts on how the local races went? As in How Tusc went for Romney and the rest of the Local Republicans got swept.