Here's Elliot's piece:
Reporting today’s story about the charter school cap and charter sponsors in Ohio, I learned a few things I didn’t know about our pioneering, year-old charter school authorizer law. Among them:
• Good charter schools outside Ohio can bring more charter schools to our state. OK, I followed the logic in Ohio’s new law that says a charter school management company that has a good performing school (rated in continuous improvement or better) can win permission to open a new school. So suppose a company has 20 schools in Ohio and two of them are scoring well, they can win permission from the state to open two more schools.
But here’s what I didn’t know. Suppose none of that company’s 20 Ohio schools are scoring high enough to earn it any new schools, but the same company operates two schools with a good state rating in Pennsylvania. Based on the performance of the out-of-state schools, the company could still earn the right to open two new schools in Ohio.
• There is confusion over whether the Ohio Department of Education has the right to monitor and review the performance of most of the state’s charter school sponsors. Language in House Bill 364, which last year created this new sponsoring arrangement, apparently was not clear in defining the education department as the overseer of sponsors who were already operating in the state.
The education department is so unsure, it asked the state board to send lawmakers a resolution urging them to create a legal fix to make this line of accountability clear. But as of right now, there technically is no accountability for most charter sponsors.
• A year into the new sponsor law, performance reviews for sponsors are just getting off the ground. Setting aside the question of the education department’s legal power to oversee sponsors for a moment, officials told me for the story they are just now devising a process to review sponsors.
The new sponsoring law places a great deal of responsibility on those sponsors. They are in charge of the day-to-day monitoring of the schools under their purview and the law makes it the sponsor’s call to decide when a school should be placed on probation, shut down or other action taken.
The education department says it is dead serious about holding sponsors accountable and will expect them to take corrective action with low scoring schools. This issue is absolutely crucial to the future of the charter school movement in Ohio. Bad charters make the case against them easier and dampens the charter school lobby’s clout with lawmakers.
• School districts can create “conversion” charter schools at will. Under conversion, a rarely used option, districts can take an existing school and allow it to operate independently under contract with the local school board. The school is still considered part of the district — for instance its test scores still count in the district’s averages.
The new Dayton Technology Design High School is a conversion school, although it’s an odd case in that there was really no existing school that was converted. It’s a new school completely, but it uses “existing resources” of the school district. Or at least that’s how it was explained to me.
Expect more districts to use the conversion charter option as No Child Left Behind sanctions favor creating more charters as a remedy for poor test performance. The conversion process is fairly painless and still allows the district a measure of control.