Like much of Know Your Charter’s (KYC) charter school coverage, today’s report, “Belly Up: A Review of Federal Charter School Program Grants,” intentionally inflates the failures of Ohio’s charter sector, makes misleading performance comparisons, and falls short on providing comprehensive facts. The report reviews Ohio’s track record with the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant. Last year, Ohio was selected to win another CSP grant worth $71 million—money that is essential to help high-performing charter schools expand. The grant is currently on hold while federal officials review Ohio’s revised application, and its loss would deny Ohio’s high-quality charters much-needed resources.
“The CSP grant may represent the best way to improve Ohio’s charter sector, as it allows the state to replicate top performers and gives a competitive advantage to schools making a difference for students,” said Chad L. Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “We agree with Know Your Charter on at least one thing: federal grant dollars should be spent on replicating success. If we don’t—and that’s what will happen if Ohio loses the current grant—we can almost certainly count on Ohio’s charter sector being worse over the long haul.”
“Belly Up” is more of a belly flop in at least three ways.
It offers inflated estimates of “failure.” Know Your Charter considers a CSP-winning school a “failure” if it never opened or ultimately closed. Unfortunately, it omits the fact that over 40 percent of the CSP-winning schools that closed were district-sponsored schools that did so voluntarily. Several of these “failed” schools were sponsored by some of the state’s highest-achieving districts, including Upper Arlington, Gahanna, and New Albany. These district-run closures demonstrate that even with startup funds, opening a new school and sustaining it is difficult no matter whether a district or charter management organization is leading the effort.
It uses misleading comparisons. Like past KYC analyses, this report compares Ohio charter schools to districts statewide. Comparing the performance of charters located primarily in Ohio’s poorest urban communities with districts statewide (who serve a fundamentally different student demographic) yields an intentional apples to oranges comparison meant to cast charters in a negative light. In fact, when making an appropriate school-to-school comparison, our analyses have found that CSP-winners significantly outperformed non-winning charter schools on both performance index and value added measures.
It intentionally hides Ohio’s success stories. Know Your Charter cherry picks three Ohio management companies to profile whose schools have won CSP funds and have a rocky past. In doing so, the report intentionally brings attention to political lightning rods while ignoring the fact that the majority of CSP’s impact in Ohio has been positive. CSP was critical for starting, and growing, some of Ohio’s best charter schools: Breakthrough Schools, KIPP Columbus, The Graham Schools, Dayton Early College Academy, United Schools Network, Arts and College Preparatory (Columbus), Toledo School for the Arts, and many others.
“Everyone wants federal grant dollars to be well spent. Fortunately, recent changes to Ohio’s charter school law make that more likely than before.” Aldis added. “It will be incumbent upon the department of education to establish a rigorous grant application that awards funds only to those charter schools making the biggest difference for kids.”