Dispatch finally reports on failing charters

The Columbus Dispatch took a brief break from its constant haranguing of Columbus City Schools to report on the terrible state of charter schools in the city. It took some haranguing of JTF and others to make this happen. On August 26th we wrote to the Dispatch education reporters via Twitter:

@jointhefutureOH: Isn't it about time the Dispatch starting reporting the poor quality of Columbus charters as vigorously as you do CCS? @jsmithrichards

We continued to press the Dispatch to report on the sorry state of charter schools in Columbus and around the state.

1/3 of cities students go to charters, paper of record needs to do a much better job of holding charters accountable too. @jsmithrichards

On Sunday, the Dispatch finally reported on the sorry state of charter schools with a piece titled "Charter schools’ failed promise"

But what started as an experiment in fixing urban education through free-market innovation is now a large part of the problem. Almost 84,000 Ohio students — 87 percent of the state’s charter-school students — attend a charter ranking D or F in meeting state performance standards.

“Measured up against the hype of the proponents early on, this adds to the accumulation of what has to be regarded, measured (through proficiency tests), as disappointing results,” said Jeffrey Henig, a Columbia University political-science and education professor who has studied the school-reform movement.

“There were proponents who believed there was a fundamental flaw in the public system that led them to be resistant to change,” Henig said. “Charters were going to unleash this energy and responsiveness, and they haven’t done that as a sector.”

The whole piece is worth a read. For the Dispatch to finally recognize that the charter school experiment has failed is a surprising but much overdue development.

However, as Steve Dyer notes, while the Dispatch highlights the poor charter performance on the new report cards, they failed to understand just how bad charters truly are

Are Charters really comparable to Big 8 urban buildings? The most basic question I could think to ask was, "How many kids from the Big 8 schools actually make up the populations of Big 8 Charters?"

Dyer goes on to demonstrate the charter schools in urban areas are not populated by just urban students, but also attract very large numbers of students from the suburbs. Students that data shows come from improved socioeconomic backgrounds.

For example, Columbus Preparatory Academy, which routinely ranks high on accountability measures, only took 49% of their children from Columbus City Schools. The school took about 42% from South-Western, another 5% from Hilliard and kids from Bexley, Dublin, Olentangy and Westerville. So is it fair to hold up Columbus Prep's performance and compare it with Columbus City's?

No, it is not. The problem goes even deeper than Dyer points out. Charter schools also screen students using a variety of techniques, many of which we documented here - How "top charters" screen students.

So when you put this all together you have

  • Charters that underperform traditional public schools in a head-to-head match up
  • Despite being able to pull in students from suburban districts where poverty is a lesser factor in learning
  • Despite attracting students with the most engaged parents
  • Despite being able to use many techniques to screen for students they believe might perform higher
  • Despite receiving more money per student from the state than traditional public schools

When you look at the full range of failure of charter schools, you can see that the urgent plan required in Columbus and Cleveland and across the entire state, is a plan to deal with the explosion of poor quality charter schools that are failing tens of thousands of students every year.

Welcome to the real conversation, Columbus Dispatch.