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Most Ohio charter school sponsors rate ‘effective,’ but some say that’s not all good news

Nearly two-thirds of Ohio charter school sponsors were rated “effective” by the Ohio Department of Education for 2017-18, and those sponsors who were rated ineffective or poor now govern only a handful of schools.

Sponsors are the agencies that launch new charter schools and manage contracts, provide school oversight and technical assistance. The state’s annual evaluation system measures the sponsors on three things — the academic performance of their schools, compliance with laws, and adherence to best practices.

REPORT CARD: Charter scores rise, but grades still low

The 2017-18 evaluations, released last week, ranked no sponsors at the highest level of “exemplary,” but put 21 at the next rung of “effective” and 12 at “ineffective.” Only one sponsor, Marion City Schools, was ranked at the bottom level of “poor.” The overall number of sponsors has shrunk from 65 in 2016-17 to 34 last school year.

According to ODE’s directory of charter schools, the 21 sponsors rated effective for their work last year oversee 307 of the 320 charter schools (also called community schools) in the state this year. Four ineffective sponsors plus Marion City no longer sponsor any schools, and most of the other ineffective sponsors oversee one school.

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Chad Aldis, vice president of Ohio policy and advocacy for Fordham, an education think tank that sponsors 12 Ohio charter schools, said big sponsors have adjusted to the sponsor rating system. He said they are making tough decisions on changing school practices or whether to close a struggling schools.

RELATED: One charter school closes, another opens this fall

“The fact that very few schools are still represented by ineffective sponsors is a testament that the framework that’s been established by the state is having an impact,” Aldis said.

But some questioned the state ratings and the charter system in general. The Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, which sponsored the ECOT online charter school until it closed, was rated “effective” as a sponsor for the second year in a row and tied for the highest overall score in the state at nine points.

ECOT closed in January after ODE found it dramatically inflated enrollment numbers, leading to $60 million in over-funding. But for the second year in a row, ESC Lake Erie West was graded as “exemplary” in the area of “compliance with rules and laws.”

Bill Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, said the problem is with the charter system itself.

RELATED: ECOT case referred to prosecutor’s office

RELATED: Sponsor votes to close large ECOT charter school

“The superintendent of Lake Erie West is very competent and they have a knowledgeable attorney,” Phillis said. “But Ohio charter law is very flawed, so you can technically follow the law, but still have a very flawed program.”

Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said ESC Lake Erie West “took the necessary steps to suspend operations of the school” when ECOT’s financial condition deteriorated, and said ECOT’s impact on the evaluation is limited, as ESC Lake Erie West sponsors more than 50 schools statewide.

Aldis said Ohio has responded to the problems of 2015, when ODE hid poorly performing e-school scores in early sponsor ratings, and 2016, when the ECOT enrollment scandal broke. He credited legislators from both parties “for helping Ohio turn the corner on charter school quality … even as public perception lags.”

There are nine charter sponsors that oversee schools in the Dayton region. Six of them were rated effective and three ineffective.

RELATED: Dayton charter to stay open after closure threat

Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, which sponsors two of the local Horizon Science Academy schools, scored nine points, tied for the highest score in the state and one point shy of an exemplary rating. Matching that score was the ESC of Lake Erie West, which sponsors Emerson, Pathway and North Dayton Discovery sister schools, as well as three others locally.

Fairborn City Schools, which sponsors Fairborn Digital Academy, was the lowest-scoring sponsor tied to Dayton-area charter schools, earning four points and a rating of ineffective. Last year, Northmont and West Carrollton schools closed their similar digital academies after Ohio changed its charter school laws and policies.

“High-quality sponsors are the foundation for an effective community school system,” Paolo DeMaria, Ohio’s state superintendent, said in a statement. “The sponsor evaluations are an important piece of Ohio’s accountability system, driving continuous improvement and helping to ensure Ohio’s families have quality school choice options.”

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Sponsor ratings have improved year-over-year as the agencies adjusted to the system. Two years ago, only five of 65 sponsors were rated effective or better. Last year, 24 of 45 met that bar (53 percent), and this year it was 62 percent.

A majority of local charter schools are in Dayton, Trotwood and Jefferson Twp. and draw a large number of their students from those communities.

Three sponsors that have Dayton-area schools earned C’s for academic performance – the Fordham Foundation (which sponsors the DECA and Dayton Leadership Academy schools), along with Fairborn and Dayton Public Schools (which sponsors Dayton Business Technology High School). The rest of the local sponsors earned D’s for their academics.

All local sponsors were rated exemplary or effective for their compliance with laws. Sponsors were all over the map in their “best-practices” rating, from Fairborn City Schools, which was rated “significantly below standards” to Buckeye Hope and ESC of Lake Erie West, which were rated “exceeds standards.”

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