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OHIO: After report cards, confusion about charter schools’ fates

charter-school-qualityCharter school critics and supporters alike agree the tough new Ohio report cards are a step in the right direction to raise the bar on charter school quality in the state.

Except nobody’s really sure what that will look like.

It’s not clear, for example, whether it will be easier or harder for failing charter schools to stay open. That’s because the academic measures and the state’s closure laws have changed. Schools that might have been closed this year because of academic performance may get a temporary pass.

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Meanwhile, the charter schools that serve dropouts – there are six in Southwest Ohio – are judged differently than traditional public and other charter schools. They will have their own report cards with different standards, including up to eight-year graduation rates. Eventually, for the first time in their history, they’ll also have their own closure rules. But the jury is still out whether the new rules go far enough, and if they will help or hurt those schools and the students they serve.

“If you close out a school like ours, where will they go?” asked Ramone Davenport, principal of Dohn Community High School, a dropout recovery school in East Walnut Hills. He questions how well the new dropout report cards will measure schools like his.

“We may have a class of 20 students and 17 are reading at a third grade level. The only way (to measure these schools) is someone comes to see what’s actually going on at the school, not just look at the test scores,” he said.

He also worries about the ramifications of closure.

“If you close us, you’ll increase the crime rate, increase the number of dropouts. It will be a disaster.”

For now, the only certainty about the new rules is that they’re confusing everyone.

“It’s murky for the schools, murky for the teachers, murky for the parents,” said Ron Adler, president of the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education. “School goes on, kids will still be educated. (Schools are) teaching at the same level, but some of the rules have changed.”

Charter Schools Can Close If They Cannot Meet Standards

Charter schools are public schools run by independent organizations. There are more than 300 statewide serving about 20,000 students. Southwest Ohio is home to about three dozen charter schools. Kentucky law does not yet allow charter schools, although some legislators have recently reopened the conversation.

The impact of the new report card on charter schools is important because of the academic concerns surrounding these schools.

Although some charter schools are high-performing academically, as a group most are no better, and often worse, than their traditional public school counterparts.

Charter school critics hope the new measures will raise the bar and put the bad schools out of business.

Ohio is among the few states that actually have charter school closure laws. If charter schools fail to meet certain academic standards for multiple years, they must close.

But locally such closures are rare. It’s far more common for a charter school to close for financial reasons than academics. Of the 147 closures over the years, 30 were due to academics. Only one in Southwest Ohio has ever been ordered closed for academic reasons.

The new report card replaces the previous labels, which range from “Excellent with Distinction” to “Academic Emergency,” with grades of A through F. The new letter grades are given in nine different categories. And they don’t correlate with the old ratings.

That adds confusion when it comes to closures.

Previously, if a charter school were rated in Academic Emergency, the worst category on the previous Ohio Report Card, for two of the past three years, it would have to close.

But now there is no Academic Emergency status.

For three local charter schools, this would have been the deciding year on whether they would have to close. But since the report card changed, their fate is unclear. The ODE is re-evaluating the schools, officials said last week. It will have an updated list in September of which schools must close.

Charter school organizations that have pressed for more stringent closure laws say it’s unclear whether the new rules will accomplish that, or whether it will give some schools a pass.

“It’s difficult to tell if it’s going to have an impact,” said Steve Dyer, an education policy fellow for Innovation Ohio, a Columbus-based education policy group that is often critical of charter schools.

He said it may take a while to iron out the new rules.

“I think it’s a very movable target but (the report cards are) getting to a level of sophistication that’s moving in the right direction. Student achievement is a difficult thing to measure and the more intricate the measure, the more accurate.”

“We’ll have to see how it shakes out,” said Kathryn Mullen Upton, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, “but I think it’ll be about the same.”

Dropout recovery schools – there are 85 statewide – have been exempt from closure rules. If they fail on the new report cards, they will now have to close starting in the 2016-17 school year.

Schools that specialize in serving students with disabilities – there are 35 statewide – are also exempt from closure rules.

Source: Cincinnati.com – by Jessica Brown

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This entry was posted on August 27, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Ohio.

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