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Published: Saturday, 12/8/2012

Making the grade

Charter schools promise to push traditional public schools to do better. They are designed to give parents a high-quality alternative to schools that are failing, or cannot provide needed classes or accommodate students with special needs or different learning styles.

This week, a national group that represents institutions — including local governments — that approve and oversee charter schools called for changes to weed out schools that don’t make the grade.

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That National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which represents groups that oversee more than half the nation’s charter schools, urged state legislatures to pass laws that would hold charter schools and their operators accountable for how well they teach students. The groups also proposed that states establish statewide authorizing offices as a way to improve standards.

Nationally, the rate of charter school closings more than doubled — 6.2 percent to 12.9 percent — between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. Stricter accountability is needed to hold all charters to the highest standards.

“We didn’t start the charter school movement in order to create more underperforming schools,” Greg Richmond, who heads the national group, said.

But too often, that’s what happened. The group says as many as 1,300 charter schools rank in the bottom 15 percent of all schools in their states based on performance. Instead of being a solution, they’ve added to the problem.

Last school year, more than 2 million students were enrolled in charter schools in the United States. More than 100,000 of them attended charters in Ohio — the fifth-largest charter school enrollment in the nation.

More than 8,200 Toledo children attend charter schools — one out of every four students. Yet their overall performance is no better than that of their counterparts in traditional schools.

Charter schools’ growth spurt may be over, at least in Ohio. National Public Radio reports that only about 2,000 students applied this year for 12,000 scholarships to go to Ohio schools that fit their special needs. Only 17,000 Ohio students applied for about 60,000 EdChoice vouchers to flee the state’s worst-performing schools.

Last month, Innovation Ohio reported that on Ohio’s annual report card grading local schools, charter schools were consistently outperformed by public schools. According to the liberal advocacy group, about three out of four charter schools would rank in the bottom 5 percent of school districts based on the state performance index.

Ohio’s current two-year budget — proposed by Gov. John Kasich and approved by the Republican-led General Assembly — slashed funds for public schools while it expanded charter schools. But it is clear that charter schools are no panacea.

State officials can best promote high-quality charter schools by refusing to tolerate schools that don’t meet their duties to their students. Charter school authorizers agree.

Done right, charter schools are part of the solution to improving public education in Ohio. But lawmakers should toss out the bad apples before they allow charters to expand.



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