This week, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) announced the latest round of ratings for Ohio charter school authorizers, also known as sponsors, in the state. The ratings take a close look at the academic quality of each authorizer’s portfolio of schools and are the first step towards identifying the state’s best authorizers and holding the weakest accountable.
It is gratifying to see progress by the ODE towards implementing a well-rounded accountability system that includes national authorizing standards and school quality measures. Many kudos are in order for the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, which earned an the highest “exemplary” ranking in this round, along with the Ohio Council of Community Schools (OCCS) and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, which earned “exemplary” rankings earlier this year.
The development and implementation of Ohio’s system demonstrates the state’s policy makers are willing to make politically difficult decisions to improve the quality of education within its charter sector.
And with charter bills currently lingering in the legislature, there will be many more difficult decisions ahead to ensure quality authorizing is a requirement of all authorizers, not just a point of pride for some.
While the current version of House Bill 2 (HB 2) contains some needed policies around transparency, it fails to address several accountability policies that will be essential for strengthening the state’s charter sector. We recommend:
- Creating a level playing field for authorizer accountability. Ohio’s charter sector is unique in that it has many authorizers—entities the state gives permission to open and monitor charter schools. However, while some of these authorizers have gone through an application process to earn this responsibility, some have not. Legislation should require all authorizers to go through a robust application so the state can screen for those with histories of opening and managing poor-performing schools, as well as subject them to the same accountability measures.
- Giving governing boards the authority they need to hold unsuccessful school management organizations to their promises. Under current law, a poorly-performing school management organization can circumvent any consequences for its performance enacted by the governing board by appealing to the school’s authorizer. Legislation should end this loophole and make it so governing boards—who are legally accountable for how a school performs—are able to take swift action against poor performance when they flag it.
- Reinstating authorizer shopping provisions that were in the original version of HB 2. With so many authorizers in Ohio, it is crucial that a charter school cannot remain open simply because it transfers from a strong authorizer to a weak one. Before being passed by the House, HB 2 was weakened by applying authorizer shopping protections only to schools that have had more than one authorizer in the past five years. The bill should be amended to reinstate that all “D” or “F” schools must have authorizer transfer requests approved by the Department of Education. Even better would be to adopt the language of current Senate Bill 148, which prohibits any “D” or “F” schools to switch authorizers.
Quality is not just an abstract concept. Quality is about making sure Ohio schoolchildren have the best choices we can muster. By creating accountability for every player in the charter sector, the legislature can create an environment where quality charter schools can thrive.