State launching new charter school evaluation system

Outgoing state schools superintendent Richard Ross said Tuesday that he will have a new charter school sponsor evaluation system that will grade charters on a 0-to-12 scale up and running before he leaves office Dec. 31.

Ross said at Tuesday’s state school board meeting that he will make slight tweaks based on feedback from the board, then quickly enact the plan.

Earlier this year, Ohio launched an evaluation system for charter sponsors, but scrapped it in July in the wake of a scandal. State Director of School Choice David Hansen improperly excluded certain schools from the evaluation process to make some charter sponsors look better. He resigned days later.

“We had a process that was started that was somewhat error-prone, and mistakes were made,” Ross said. “We’re looking at whether we can go back and apply this retroactively (for 2014-15), but that may not be fair to sponsors. We’re still looking at how to deal with 14-15 (evaluations), but this will move forward for 15-16.”

After the Hansen debacle, all sponsor evaluations were halted, and Ross appointed a three-person advisory panel to come up with recommendations for a new system. Attorney Mark Hatcher, CPA Phillip Dennison and Perrysburg schools superintendent Thomas Hosler worked with Ohio Department of Education staff to create the recommendations presented Tuesday.

Under that plan, charter sponsors will be graded in three areas — academic performance, compliance with laws and rules, and quality practice — each on a 0-4 scale. Those three scores would be combined, creating a 12-point maximum. Sponsors earning 10-12 points will be labeled “exemplary.” Those at 7-9 points will be effective, sponsors with 3-6 points will be graded ineffective, and those with 0-2 will be deemed poor.

Impact of ratings

ODE Senior Executive Director of Accountability Chris Woolard said a sponsor that receives a rating of poor even once will no longer be allowed to sponsor charter schools in Ohio. Sponsors that receive a rating of ineffective will receive a warning. If they receive that rating three years in a row, they also will be excluded from sponsoring charter schools.

Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio Policy at the Fordham Institute, which sponsors charter schools in Dayton, said Fordham agrees with many of the board’s recommendations. But he said the current scoring framework would make it highly unlikely that any sponsor would get more than a 2 out of 4 on academic performance.

“The legislature put in place incentives for exemplary sponsors in House Bill 2, but as drafted, we believe no sponsor could achieve exemplary status,” Aldis said. “If the highest rating is not achievable, then the incentive structure set up for sponsors simply won’t work.”

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, chair of the Senate Education Committee, called the panel’s work “a very strong set of recommendations” that align well with House Bill 2 on charter reform, and could be tweaked as more data comes in.

“It’s a great start out of the gate, and it will go a long way to make sure our sponsors are paying close attention to the quality of our schools,” Lehner said.

“Chad was probably right when he said it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to get ‘exemplary.’ But we’ve had a bad situation for a long time. They need to strive to get to exemplary, and maybe nobody will right out of the gate. But it’ll give them something to work for.”

A sponsor can be a nonprofit, a school district, ODE, or any of several other groups that authorize the opening of a charter school, establish goals and monitor finances and contract performance.

Report card influence

Other recommendations in the panel’s presentation were that the evaluation process must be transparent and focused on continuous improvement, that all evaluation steps “must be thoroughly reviewed by the ODE Data Governance Committee,” and that ODE can intervene if a sponsor fails to take action against school that is in violation of its contract.

The academic part of the sponsor review would be aligned to the existing state report card for charter schools. The sponsor’s grade would include regular charters, online schools and dropout recovery schools, but exclude schools open fewer than two years and specific schools that serve special needs students.

Each school’s impact on the sponsor report card would be weighted based on number of students enrolled.

Hatcher said the new system is thorough, but the state must be willing to provide enough resources for ODE to effectively implement it.

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