Ohio Gadfly readers won’t be surprised to know that we were thrilled to see Governor John Kasich strongly endorse charter school reforms that are similar to those we proposed in December—and have been seeking for years before that. We were particularly encouraged that governor wants to combine significantly stronger charter school oversight with greater funding for high-performing schools. His is exactly the right equation.
That’s because lax quality control and paltry funding are the underlying causes of Ohio’s relatively weak charter sector. Quality has lagged in large part because Ohio charter law too vaguely defines the powers and responsibilities of each actor in the charter-governing system. It also treats charters as second-class public schools. They receive less overall taxpayer funding and garner scant facilities support.
Kasich’s solution is to tie greater consequences and incentives to the state’s new Quality Sponsor Practices Review (QSPR). In particular, he would empower the Ohio Department of Education to shut down sponsors (i.e., authorizers) that receive low ratings on the QSPR; meanwhile, he would make charters overseen by high-ranking sponsors (yes, including Fordham) eligible for $25 million in additional facilities funding.
So what is the QSPR? Developed over several years, it is based on the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) Principles & Standards—widely considered the gold standard for authorizing practices. It has three components:
- Academic performance of a sponsor’s schools
- Compliance with applicable laws and rules
- Adherence to quality sponsoring practices prescribed by the department (and in line with NACSA’s principles)
The review consists of an introductory meeting with the sponsor evaluation team (a combination of Ohio Department of Education and external consultants), a site visit to the sponsor’s schools and an interview with school personnel, an extensive document submission, review of those submissions by the team, and an interview with the sponsor. Sponsors are then issued an overall rating—either Exemplary, Effective, Ineffective, or Emerging (which is only for new sponsors and only for the first two years).
The idea is to improve school quality by ensuring that only strong sponsors monitor and oversee charter schools. This is a smart move, and here’s why:
First, the QSPR, by design, sets a high bar for sponsor performance. It identifies in detail strong and weak sponsorship practices, which heretofore had not been done in Ohio. Combined with the governor’s proposal to introduce a fifth rating category, Poor, which would lead sponsors to immediately lose their ability to oversee schools, it will get the worst ones out of the business entirely—and quickly.
Second, because of increased transparency around sponsor practices (e.g., how we evaluate applicants, conduct site visits, analyze school finances, provide technical assistance, etc.), those who remain in the business will not only have incentive to improve but will also have a trove of data (overseen by the Ohio Department of Education) on which to base improvement. Those sponsors ranked Effective or Ineffective would know what they need to do to improve and would have access to the conduct and practices of those sponsors ranked Exemplary. For example, if Sponsor A is very good at financial oversight, they become a resource to the laggards.
Third, the overall quality of charter schools in the state will likely improve. Sponsors are the gatekeepers for new charter schools, the monitors of existing schools, and the decision-makers regarding probation, renewal, non-renewal, and closure. Part of the QSPR process focuses on six central sponsorship functions that are scrutinized by an evaluation team: organizational commitment and capacity, charter school application process and decision making, charter school performance contracting, school oversight and evaluation, charter school contract termination and renewal decision-making, and technical assistance. If implemented with fidelity, the QSPR will help boost sponsor capacity in these areas.
We know firsthand that the department’s new QSPR process is rigorous; we underwent the review during the latter half of 2014, submitting hundreds of documents that went back several years in order to demonstrate how we conduct our work. The evaluation team, which included a NACSA consultant, reviewed all our submissions, gathered additional information from our schools, and interviewed our staff and board members. The process took several months, and the outcome was a fair and transparent report about how we do the work of sponsoring our schools.
Implemented well and at scale, the QSPR process, along with thoughtful incentives and sanctions and high expectations, will change the landscape for the better. Kudos to the governor for realizing this and making sponsors (and the sponsor evaluation) a key underpinning of his reform strategy.