There is a rule about bad charter schools in Ohio: They can't stay open if they don't improve. There's also a confusing truth: Sometimes charters don't get better and they don't close.
There is a rule about bad charter schools in Ohio: They can’t stay open if they don’t improve.
There’s also a confusing truth: Sometimes charters don’t get better and they don’t close.
Some schools have avoided the state’s charter-closing laws after enrolling more students with disabilities, which exempted them. Others were closed by their sponsors for poor performance only to find a new sponsor. And recently, one charter operator whose school was shut down for bleak academic performance updated the building, staff and school board, and opened another school in the same spot under a new name.
Just as they do with traditional public schools, the new state report cards highlight the serious struggles of many of the charter schools statewide and in Franklin County. More than 1 in 4 charters statewide received mostly F grades. In Franklin County, about 23 percent of graded charter schools got mostly F’s.
A few of the long-struggling schools were “nonrenewed” over the summer by a sponsor, or overseer, for poor academic performance. But they shopped for a new sponsor and still are open.
“Is it going to get worse? I think it could,” said Dave Cash, who acts as a sponsor for St. Aloysius Orphanage and is president of Charter School Specialists in Pickerington. “As our expectations and accountability increase — and it is with the new report cards — people are going to look for an out. I’m all about treating the schools fairly, but if it doesn’t make any difference whether we nonrenewed them or not, then I have no value.”
Cash nonrenewed, or tried to end the operation of, Midnimo Cross Cultural Community School in North Linden at the end of the school year. The school of about 75 students met none of the state’s minimum testing standards on this year’s report cards, though it did earn a B for helping students cover more than a year’s worth of material during the school year.
Another sponsor, the North Central Ohio Education Service Center, picked it up. It’s open this school year.
Tom Shade, the service center’s assistant superintendent for community schools, said the group didn’t know until after it took on Midnimo that its previous sponsor had dropped it.
“One thing any good sponsor doesn’t want to do is help perpetuate what’s not working,” Shade said. But he said the service center is committed now to helping the school improve.
Cash’s group also declined to renew its sponsorship of Youngstown Academy of Excellence. The Ohio Department of Education, which recently began sponsoring charter schools, picked it up. It met no state standards last school year; fewer than 4 percent of its third-graders passed the math exam.
The tougher state law that shuts chronically bad charters has forced 23 to close statewide since it went into effect in 2009. But schools are much more likely to close because of low enrollment or other money problems. In total, 146 charters have closed since they first were allowed to open in 1997.
A school that lifts itself occasionally to a D grade gets a reprieve, which is one reason low-performing charter schools continue to operate, including in Franklin County.
What’s been called an academic crisis in Columbus City Schools exists in many of the area’s charter schools, too.The Columbus district, with support from Mayor Michael B. Coleman, is seeking a 9.01-mill levy this fall that would set aside 1 mill to expand the number of seats available in high-performing charter schools that serve Columbus kids.
Coleman said last week that the sharing plan would help starve the city’s worst charters. Parents will have better options, he said, and the city will market top schools while publicly decrying the bad ones.“We will be very aggressive in telling people (which schools) are the good schools and which are the bad ones,” Coleman said. “What we’re trying to do here locally is fix what the state won’t — and hasn’t — because these are our kids."
Academy of Columbus was closed by its board after showing poor results for nine years. But the operator that ran it, Imagine Schools, already has opened another elementary school in the same location. The building has been renovated, a new principal brought in and half the staff replaced, said Amy Buttke, who oversees Imagine Schools in the region. Curriculum has been revamped, too, she said.
It’s a fresh start and an entirely new school, Imagine Columbus Primary Academy, Buttke said.
Don Penson, the former school-board president there, said he hopes it does better for kids than the old one did.
“In terms of safeguarding the taxpayers’ money, we simply said it’s time for someone else to take an opportunity to educate those kids and families,” he said. “We weren’t doing it very well at Academy of Columbus.”