By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Ohio's top educator isn't surprised by a new report that shows the state's charter schools are performing well behind their public school peers.
"To do school is hard," said Dr. Susan Tave Zelman, Ohio state superintendent. "A lot of these people running charter schools] are novices at it, and they also have some of the toughest kids.
"And we need to do a better job of making sure that they comply with state operations and make sure they administer their schools properly."
In the report
The 91-page report by the Legislative Office of Education Oversight found that pupils in Ohio's traditional public schools generally outperform those in charter schools, sometimes by wide margins.
The report examined the academic performance of nine of the first 15 charter schools in Ohio in the 1999-2000 school year.
The schools, including Eagle Heights Academy in Youngstown, opened in the 1998-99 school year -- the first year charter schools were allowed in Ohio.
Since then, the number of the privately operated, publicly funded schools has ballooned to 92, enrolling about 23,850 children, less than 2 percent of Ohio's 1.8 million public school pupils.
LOEO cautioned that the findings are preliminary and it's too early to draw definitive conclusions about the performance of charter schools.
Not meeting goals
The report says charter schools generally are not meeting academic goals in their operations contracts, not showing the rate of academic improvement required by the state and are scoring lower on proficiency tests than pupils in the traditional public school districts in which they are located.
"The results certainly are not impressive," said Zelman, who was in Youngstown on Friday to meet with Youngstown public school administrators, teachers and students.
Zelman and the education department have come under fire in recent weeks for a lack of supervision of charter schools.
A bill to revamp the state's charter school rules pending in the Senate would remove the education department as a sponsoring agency for the schools, something Zelman supports.
"We're too far [removed] to really monitor really successfully a whole bunch of these schools," Zelman said. "That really shouldn't be our role. Our role should be in policy development, in developing technical assistance and public accountability."
Some positive points
The LOEO report wasn't totally negative. Pupil attendance rates are generally higher in charter schools. A survey also revealed charter school parents are generally more satisfied than parents with children in traditional public schools.
The report shows that pupils at Eagle Heights Academy on Market Street in Youngstown perform below pupils in the city public schools. But it also shows that Eagle Heights was one of only two charter schools to exceed state-recommended improvement goals on the fourth-grade proficiency tests.