In a scathing performance review of the management of Ohio's charter schools by the state Department of Education, state Auditor Jim Petro is calling on ODE to provide far more support to ensuring the success of the state's community schools. Petro is also asking the General Assembly to enact legislation that will mandate greater financial accountability of the community schools and remove many of the exemptions from state mandates the new schools were given when the charter school law was first passed. Both ODE and the legislature should heed the auditor's recommendations.
Petro describes the charter school movement as "a bold experiment that just might work" to provide new and innovative options for education in the state. But under current law and practice, Petro said, a successful outcome for many of the community schools -- as charter schools are known in Ohio -- isn't likely.
Among Petro's recommendations is that all charter schools be IRS 501(c)(3) charitable organizations that would have to follow the standards of the IRS code. Furthermore, management companies would not be permitted to serve on schools' boards and their financial arrangements with the schools would have to be transparent and publicly accessible.
Some hope, at last: Petro's involvement in the management and operations of the state's charter schools and his commitment to keeping watch over the progress he believes can be made is the first ray of light we've been able to glimpse in the dark clouds that have shrouded every aspect of charter schools in Ohio.
But while we're a lot more confident that Petro's influence will engender results in ensuring financial accountability and oversight of the experimental schools, we're a lot less sanguine about the academic future of the schools. Educational assessment was not part of the auditor's evaluation.
Given the continual poor performance by charter school students on the state's proficiency tests, we remain deeply concerned that the children in those schools are being seriously undereducated.
While charter school advocates insist that two, three or four years is too soon to evaluate educational attainment by pupils coming to charter schools from a disadvantaged environment, we must ask, "How long is it supposed to take?"
If a child has been in a school for four years and still cannot read at grade level or meet expectations for learning in science, citizenship, writing and mathematics, when is that learning going to happen? Where are the charter schools supposedly innovative teaching methods that were said to warrant student success? Where is the legislative demand that tax-supported schools freed from many of the requirements imposed on traditional public schools deliver promised results?
The future of thousands of children is at stake.