Since 1998, thousands of parents have chosen to enroll their children in Ohio's public charter schools. Today, nearly 120,000 students are being educated in one of Ohio's more than 400 public charter schools. Cleveland (29%), Dayton (28%), and Toledo (27%) all landed in the top ten school districts with the highest percentage of charter school students, according to a recent analysis by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
For the past few months, legislators and leaders within the charter school movement have observed, with considerable concern, a handful of start-up charter schools that abruptly closed after less than a year of operation. Missteps by a few sponsors who allowed the opening of these untested charter schools signal the need for some sponsors to do a better job of vetting. Even with thorough vetting, new and tighter controls should also be considered when a first time, inexperienced operator decides to open a charter school.
However, even though changes should be considered, Ohio must never turn its back on new start-up charter schools. Many of Ohio's strongest achieving charter schools were born from community inspiration and with sponsors listening to the many calls from parents. Most of these new charter schools filled voids that existed within the traditional educational system, sometimes for decades.
Make no mistake, the vast majority of sponsors and their charter schools have strong performance models, are highly regulated and meet state and federal regulations all while working to fill the needs of at-risk children. As long as families continue to search for better educational options for their children, the demand for quality charter schools will continue to grow.
For years, Ohio’s state leaders, including Governor John Kasich, House Speaker William Batchelder, and Senate President Keith Faber have demonstrated their support for quality education options for Ohio’s students. But, that political support can never be taken for granted and can easily erode if charter schools are not properly scrutinized and managed.
There is no perfect system in education, and certainly no ‘one size fits all’ approach meets the needs of each student. This simple truth underscores the importance of providing Ohio families with a broad range of quality education options for their children. Most charter schools embody an entrepreneurial spirit, working daily to create a quality educational experience for students while facing a significant amount of risk and without many of the safety-nets found in traditional top-heavy education.
Problems in public education are certainly not limited to issues with start-up charter schools. After more than a decade of charter schools operating in Ohio there still remains vast differences in which the state views 'public' district and 'public' charter schools. It's difficult to explain why policymakers entrust the educational future of 1.8 million students to Ohio's public schools, but create such vastly different standards in areas of funding, facility support and overall accountability for Ohio's public charter schools.
In recent months, Dr. Richard Ross, Superintendent of the Ohio Department of Education has suggested that it may be time to re-examine some of those differences in areas of accountability.
When legislators review the procedures for sponsors and new start-up charter schools, they should also examine the significant differences in the application of accountability to all public schools.
Ron F. Adler is President of the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education.