Trouble on the horizon

Charter schools require greater oversight; what are the Kasich administration and lawmakers waiting for?


STATE and federal officials are investigating an Illinois company that operates 19 charter schools in Ohio, including two in Toledo. No specific conclusions about Horizon Science Academy and Noble Academy schools can or should be drawn until these reviews are complete. But the allegations renew troubling questions about the inadequate regulation of Ohio charter schools in general by Gov. John Kasich’s administration and the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

At a State Board of Education meeting last week, former teachers at a Horizon school in Dayton accused administrators of pressuring teachers to change students’ standardized test sheets to make the school’s performance look better, and of scrubbing attendance data on chronically absent students. They alleged sexual misconduct by some students.

Horizon’s parent company, Concept Schools, was founded and is led by Turkish immigrants. Other critics contend that the company employs Turkish teachers who are not fluent in English or competent in the classroom.

A Concept Schools executive called the Dayton teachers’ charges “baseless,” but said the company has “every intention of cooperating with any external review.” A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education accused the teachers of staging a “choreographed political stunt.” But he said the department is examining the assertions and may expand its review to include all Concept Schools in Ohio.

The FBI and other federal agencies reportedly are looking into Concept Schools’ use of federal technology grants. Separately, State Auditor Dave Yost is investigating the company’s Ohio schools.

These reviews must be allowed to proceed. The demand by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ed FitzGerald that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross resign because of the charges seems at least premature.

What is not premature — what is long overdue — is the need for state government to set tougher standards of oversight and accountability for charter schools, which are public schools but are exempt from many of the state and union regulations that apply to traditional schools.

The state provides more than $900 million in annual aid to charter schools. The operators of several privately managed for-profit charter schools are major contributors to state GOP campaigns.

Too often, providers can receive a state charter before they recruit a supposedly independent sponsor and governing board. Sponsors, not the Education Department, have had principal responsibility for supervising charter schools. The potential for problems is obvious.

So is the fact that many Ohio charter schools perform no better, and often worse, than the traditional public schools with which they compete. Yet the state does not hold them to the same standards of quality, accountability, and openness.

The allegations about the Dayton charter school come at a time when Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant says he seeks to build closer ties between the city school district and several local charter schools. TPS could only benefit from closer collaboration with such schools as the Toledo School for the Arts and the Maritime Academy of Toledo; they are among the best schools, charter or traditional, not only in the city but also in the state.

Ohio has some excellent charter schools and some awful ones, and appropriate distinctions must be made between the two groups. Most Ohioans get that. When will the governor and lawmakers?