By Doug Livingston
When the Ohio Department of Education implements its new grading standards for schools next year, traditional public schools may not be the ones to suffer the biggest shock.
Publicly funded, privately run charter schools will pretty much line the bottom of the tank.
The department recently ran simulations replacing today’s grading system, which ranges from “academic emergency” to “excellent with distinction,” with a new system of F through A. The grades take into account such things as student grades on tests, annual progress and graduation rates.
Among Ohio’s 612 public school districts, 60 percent would score an “A” on proficiency tests because their children would have at least a 75 percent pass rate. On the other hand, 72 percent of charter schools would receive an “F” for the same measure.
For graduation rates, only 7 percent of public school districts would receive an F, but 89 percent of the more than 300 charter schools would receive the state’s worst academic rating.
The projections were provided to an Ohio House committee as it considers testimony on the state budget bill. Gov. John Kasich proposes reducing the basic aid to public schools and providing new forms of aid to charter schools, which often are run by for-profit managers.
The academic performance projections are based on data from the 2011-12 school year, and the new grading system was mandated in House Bill 155, passed in 2012.
Scores will at some point play a role in funding. Those that perform well stand to receive more, and those performing poorly could lose state aid.
“First of all, it is important to remember that all schools should be accountable because schools are funded by the taxpayers and they deserve to know where their money is going,” said Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, a member of the Ohio House Education Committee.
Patterson acknowledged the problems facing charter schools.
“Quite frankly, I feel that charter schools must be held accountable.”
The new, more rigorous grading system is expected to have a negative impact on all schools — public and charters — but charters are expected to overwhelm the bottom.
Marianne Lombardo, vice president of research and accountability for the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, says the comparison isn’t fair.
“We’re trying to be transparent and tell the more contextual story,” Lombardo said. She asserts that charter schools cannot be compared to all public schools because one in three charter schools cater to special needs, impoverished or challenged children.
These children attend 35 charter schools that take autistic students. They also attend 85 drop-out recovery schools that give a second chance to kids who have turned away from education.
“I think if you take those out you’ll see a much different story.”
Lombardo also said the geographic location of charter schools affects their performance. Most are in urban areas, she said.
About half, or 56,987, of charter school students left one of Ohio’s eight largest urban school districts.
However, a Beacon Journal analysis shows that of 56,987 students who left a traditional public school for a charter, 82 percent of those students enrolled in a charter school that performed worse than the public school they left.
Still, Lombardo said that the 82 percent includes students in drop-out recovery programs where performance generally is lower.
“They can only operate in challenged school districts … They are located in areas where student achievement has not been at the same level as the average student statewide,” Lombardo said. “A more fair comparison is a charter [building] to a district [building],” and not charter schools to entire school districts.
Results still poor
The Ohio Department of Education did not provide building-by-building data, but most recent scores show that two in three charter schools scored in academic emergency or academic watch, but only two in 100 public school districts received one of the two lowest ratings.
She also said that “value added,” a measure of how much a child has improved, also should be considered.
There again, the current numbers aren’t in favor of charters. The department’s projections on value added measures show that, in comparison to traditional public schools, charter schools are twice as likely to receive a D or F on the new report cards.
Lombardo said more study is warranted, because students who attend charters tend to have a high mobility rate — meaning they are highly likely to move from one school to another.
“Does mobility and environmental factor — bullying, trauma, etc. — also impede growth?” she asked.