Last week, the Ohio Department of Education released school grades for the 2016-17 school year. These report cards offer Buckeye families, community members, and taxpayers an important annual review of the performance of the state’s 3,000 plus schools and 600 districts.

For many years, we at Fordham have kept a close eye on the performance of Ohio’s charter schools. We typically gauge their performance by comparing their results to district schools in the state’s “Big Eight” cities. We do this because most brick-and-mortar charters in Ohio are located in these districts (e.g., Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton).

In 2015-16, my analysis found some promising signs that the charter sector may be modestly outperforming Big Eight district schools on the state’s value-added measure, an indicator of schools’ impact on pupil growth over time.

How about this year? Let’s compare the A-F ratings that the state gives to schools on the two key report card ratings—the performance index (explained below, under Figure 1) and overall value added.

The first chart indicates that both charter and Big Eight district schools receive low ratings on the performance index. Roughly nine in ten schools in each sector receive Ds or Fs, a pattern that is nearly identical to the rating distribution from last year. In general, these results indicate that most students residing in Ohio’s urban communities have a long way to go, regardless of what schools they attend. (Of course, there are individual school exceptions across both sectors.)  

Figure 1: Distribution of A-F ratings on Ohio’s performance index, charter and district schools, 2016-17

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Note: The performance index is a weighted measure of student proficiency, with greater weight assigned to schools when students achieve at higher levels. For purposes of this analysis—and this figure—the number of Big Eight district schools is 409; the number of charter schools is 223. Included is any brick-and-mortar charter school located in the county in which the Big Eight district is located (the same applies to Figure 2).

As a more poverty-neutral indicator, value-added ratings offer a clearer look at whether students are making learning gains. That’s a better gauge of schools’ effectiveness, i.e. their contributions to student learning.

Here we see greater differentiation in the A-F ratings for both sectors, with more urban district and charter schools receiving both high and low grades. On value added, charters fare modestly better than Big Eight district schools (20 versus 13 percent rated an A). While both sectors still have too many low performers, fewer charters received Fs (45 percent versus 62 percent in the district sector). The slight charter advantage we saw last year appears to persist with a second year of value-added results now included.[1]

Figure 2: Distribution of A-F ratings on Ohio’s overall value added measure, charter and district, 2016-17

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Note: The 2016-17 ratings are based on a two-year average. The number of Big Eight district schools is 408 and the number of charter schools is 215.

* * *

Once again this year, Ohio’s school report cards show that too many low-income students struggle to meet state standards in key academic subjects. It is just as disconcerting that so many urban charter and district schools appear to have such a modest (or even negative) impact on student growth—schools with Cs, Ds, and Fs on value added. Thankfully, we do see pockets of excellence among the higher-poverty schools in the Big Eight—most clearly evident among those that produce As on value added, year after year. Many of these schools are run by traditional districts, while others are charters that deliver strong academic results for their students, often in the face of adversity. Regardless of “sector,” we should recognize, applaud, and reward the remarkable work these high-growth, high-poverty schools are doing.

[1] Last year, 22 percent of urban brick-and-mortar charters were rated an A versus 13 of urban district schools.


Aaron Churchill is the Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where he has worked since 2012. In this role, Aaron oversees a portfolio of research projects aimed at strengthening education policy in Ohio. He also writes regularly on Fordham’s blog, the Ohio Gadfly Daily, and contributes analytic support for…

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