Problems with Ohio’s Charter School Program Application to the U.S. Department of Education


On Page 5 of the application, Superintendent Richard Ross attested to the following:

“*By signing this application, I certify (1) to the statements contained in the list of certifications** and (2) that the statements herein are true, complete and accurate to the best of my knowledge. I also provide the required assurances** and agree to comply with any resulting terms if I accept an award. I am aware that any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or claims may subject me to criminal, civil, or administrative penalties. (U.S. Code, Title 218, Section 1001)”

However, throughout the application, there are misleading statements, and in a few cases information that could be seen as false. While the document was primarily prepared by disgraced former School Choice head David Hansen, it is Ross’ signature that sealed the deal. For this analysis, we look first at the false statements, then address the misleading ones.

What is abundantly clear is that Hansen is relying on the Authorizer Quality Performance Review – the thing he rigged – to get the grant. He mentions it on nearly every page of the application.

False Statements
  1. “This includes Ohio’s new law instituting a first in the nation, high stakes quality reviews of all state authorizers.”
    1. Hansen made this claim in the cover letter to the application and throughout the document. However, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan and Indiana all have sanctions for poor performing authorizers. While Ohio is one of the few states that has a regime in law, it is not the first, as Hansen claims. In fact, NACSA’s own documents show that in 2009, Minnesota adopted its new authorizer regime that included sanctions – well before Ohio’s 2012 law.
    2. Hansen seems to admit this on Page 24 when he writes that “Ohio is one of few states to conduct high-stakes quality reviews of authorizers.”
  2. “Today, Ohio’s charter schools are measured as “effective” or “ineffective” per the State’s grading system which, like the federal definition of high-quality schools, incorporates several measures of school success. An effective school is defined as a school where a year’s learning growth occurs annually, or, if students are behind a grade in proficiency, where more than a year’s learning growth occurs. Schools that do not achieve such growth are deemed “ineffective.”
    1. There is, in fact, no such “effective” or “ineffective” designation on Ohio’s report card for charter schools. Charter schools, like Ohio’s traditional public schools, receive A-F grades on 9 different measures, including the student growth measure, which Hansen also mentions here. There is no overall grade given yet, though the Ohio Department of Education will be issuing overall grades beginning with this past school year’s data. Effective and ineffective are simply not on the state report card, though Hansen uses these words. Prior to the A-F system, the report card did have an “Effective” rating, which was the equivalent of a B. But that system hasn’t been in place for several years.
    2. It appears Hansen made this false claim so that he could use the federal standard of high-performing and poor-performing schools – standards that are far more forgiving than if he had to tell the USDOE that more than 60% of charter school grades are D or F on the state report card, with more than 40% of them being Fs.
  3. “ODE evaluates authorizers annually on three components, one of which is quality practices (ORC 3314.016).”
    1. While state law requires ODE to do this, to date, the department hasn’t done this. In fact, House Bill 2 had to change this law to address the fact that Hansen so thoroughly broke it when he rigged the evaluations to benefit politically connected charter school operators.
    2. Within 2 days of the application being filed on July 16, Ross rescinded the evaluations Hansen had done of 7 of the state’s 65 authorizers (or sponsors). So, in fact, there are zero authorizer evaluations in force today, and Ross filed the USDOE application a few short days after the State Board of Education openly questioned Hansen’s methodology.
    3. One of the exemplars Hansen cites in the application is the Ohio Council of Community Schools – the very sponsor for whom Hansen rigged the accountability system to make look exemplary.
  4. “Closure laws differ slightly based on grade levels offered by a school, but essentially a school is forced to close under ORC 3314.35 when it has ratings of “D” or “F” in two of three consecutive years, and fails to meet expected value-added expected gains.”
    1. The Ohio Revised Code provides for closure of charter schools only if they receive Fs in 2 of 3 years for either proficiency or student growth. There is no sanction for getting Ds. Hansen makes this claim later on page 30 of the application.
  5. “An adequate and equitable level of funding for education through a combination of state and local funding sources (ORC Chapter 3317).”
    1. Hansen makes this claim, even though the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled 4 different times that the system is, in fact, inadequate and inequitable. It is demonstrable that the state-local share, which was the key to the Court ruling, has greatly expanded in recent years, in no small measure because of the way Ohio funds its charter schools
  6. “The Ohio Community Collaboration Model for School Improvement (OCCMSI) is an ODE led initiative that was created to provoke collaboration between charter schools and other public schools in an effort to enhance school quality and academic achievement for all students.”
    1. In fact, the OCCSMI had nothing to do with charter schools. According to its report, there were 6 pilot schools and 6 pilot districts studied during the mid-2000s – none of which were charter schools. In fact, it was all about initiating greater community engagement in the development of improved educational settings. It is striking that no mention of charters is made within the model’s dense logical flowchart.
    2. In fact, Ohio has traditionally had almost zero collaboration between charters and traditional schools. The first effort to bring collaboration was in 2010 with the Charter-Traditional school collaboration and cooperation subcommittee of the School Funding Advisory Council. The group produced recommendations that have yet to be implemented.
  7. Community Education Development Organizations, or “CEDOs, as previously noted, are located in Ohio’s major cities.”
    1. There is only 1 CEDO – the Cleveland Transformation Alliance.
  8. “Ohio’s charter schools are highly similar to the Ohio 8 school districts (the 8 largest urban districts in the state) in terms of student demographics (economically disadvantaged, special needs, percent minority).”
    1. In fact, the average Ohio charter school doesn’t have the same level of poverty as the average Ohio 8 district. The average economically disadvantaged rate is 82.2% in a charter school. The average rate in an Ohio 8 district school is 87.1%, or about 6% higher. Ohio’s urban districts have greater challenges than its charters, yet still outperform most of them, even in Youngstown. Akron, for example, has all of its buildings listed as economically disadvantaged. Only 37% of charters are listed as having greater than 95% poverty. Just over half of all Ohio 8 buildings have greater than 95% poverty.
    2. In addition, barely more than ½ of all charter school students come from the Ohio 8 anymore. Children from every Ohio district – including the state’s highest performing districts – went to charters last school year. This characterization of the demographic makeup of Ohio’s charters is demonstrably false.
  1. “Per the federal definition of “high-quality” and “poor-performing” schools, Ohio has 93 high-quality charters and 6 poor-performing.”
    1. This makes it seem that not many Ohio charters are poor performing, even though studyafter study after report after comment has indicated that Ohio has among the nation’s weakest performing charter school sectors. Worse, Hansen doesn’t reveal how he calculated these figures.
    2. Under the federal definition of a poor performing charter school, only those that have been opened for 3 or more years and score in the bottom 5% on proficiency can be considered – though even those can be rescued from the designation if they show enough student growth.
      1. To give you an idea of how much this definition narrows the scope of failure, out of the 400 charters in operation in the 2013-2014 school year, 321 had been open for 3 or more years. In addition, dropout recovery schools do not receive a proficiency test index score and can’t be compared with other schools. So that knocks the 321 charter figure down to about 230 charter schools. There are 3,276 public schools in Ohio (including charters) that receive performance index scores. The bottom 5 percent of those would be the bottom 163 school buildings. Of those, 43 – or about 19 percent of all eligible charters – score in the bottom 5% of Ohio school buildings. A stunning 71% of the eligible charters score in the bottom 20%. Hansen doesn’t show how he determined there are only 6 poor performers, so it’s next to impossible to replicate the calculation. But even using the generous federal definition, an extraordinarily disproportionate share of the worst performing schools in the state are charters. For example, while those 231 charters under consideration by the federal definition represent only 7% of all Ohio school buildings that receive performance index scores, they make up nearly triple that percentage of the bottom 5%.
  2. “Two of the authorizers evaluated to date have been assigned ratings of ineffective. Kids Count of Dayton has been placed on a one-year corrective action plan, during which it will have to demonstrate significant improvements in its practices or have its ability to authorize schools revoked by ODE. Portage County Educational Service Center also earned a rating of ineffective and has elected to surrender its authority to authorize schools.”
    1. By the time this application was filed, the state board of education had found that Hansen broke the law in making these evaluation determinations and within 2 days of the application being filed, Ross had rescinded the evaluations. Clearly, ODE is trying to make it appear that they have their house in order when, in fact, it was crumbling.
  3. “Figure 3 shows the percentage and number of poor-performing, general education charter schools in Ohio over the past five years per the USDOE’s definition. The number of poorly performing schools rose in 2013-2014, which is directly attributable to the increased rigor brought by adjusted measures in the accountability system.”
    1. The fact that the CREDO study on Ohio found that “over 40 percent of Ohio charter schools are in urgent need of improvement,” would seem to indicate that more than a half dozen (or zero in 2012-2013) charters are poor performing.
  4. “The closure of 78 schools since FY11, as shown in Figure 4, clearly shows that Ohio has been aggressive in reducing the number of poorly performing charter schools.”
    1. The vast majority of these closures were voluntary or by contract. ODE had very little to do with the closures. Yet by saying “Ohio” is aggressive, this suggests that ODE closed 78 schools. It did not. It is also curious it started with the years after FY11. Perhaps that’s because the two years prior to that there was a much more active ODE closure approach.