The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) this week gave notice to four charter schools that it sponsors of its determination to cease school operations due to, among other things, a pattern of poor academic performance. While the schools’ governing boards have a short amount of time to appeal closure and provide a plan acceptable to ODE to remedy its concerns, it is unlikely that the four schools will reopen next school year. These are hard decisions with real impacts to the families and the communities served by these schools, but the department (and especially its Office of Quality School Choice) deserve plaudits for making tough calls and acting in the best interests of children and families whose schools are not providing the quality education that all of our students deserve.
While some may want to characterize this action under the popular “Wild Wild West” narrative and use it as a flail with which to attack charter schools writ large in Ohio, it is more accurately characterized as the latest in a very positive series of steps taken by the department to assert improved oversight over the charter school sector in the Buckeye State:
- In 2013, State Superintendent Richard Ross ordered the immediate closure of two schools in Columbus for egregious health and safety violations.
- Last year, the department took unprecedented steps to make sure that VLT Academy in Cincinnati closed permanently after being dropped by its sponsor without being able to change names and resume business as usual.
- And in April 2014, ODE warned three sponsors against opening new schools due to outstanding judgments against directors, problems with their application and review processes, and concerns about school “recycling”.
Governor Kasich has proposed a slate of charter law reforms – currently being debated in the state legislature – that would ensure the department can continue on its current path of providing high quality oversight and taking action when necessary. Consistent strong oversight, incentives for innovation and success, elimination of conflicts of interest, and stiffer penalties for poor performance are all desperately needed in Ohio. If enacted, these tools will give ODE’s promising oversight efforts a needed boost and help ensure that bad actors do not remain in the sector nor new ones set up shop.
While recent actions by the department should make it clear that the “Wild Wild West” era is over, those who persist in using the analogy should, at the very least, recognize that there’s a new sheriff in town.