Why are we investing more in a failed experiment?

By Maureen Reedy, former teacher of the year and candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives.

History seems to be repeating itself in the Statehouse. Once again, legislators are poised to pass a state budget bill that continues to take billions of our tax dollars out of traditional public schools to fund for-profit charters that have produced dismal results after two decades of experimentation in our state.

“Let the money follow the child,” is a favorite phrase of Gov. John Kasich and his fellow charter-school fans to craft legislation that diverts more and more of our public funds to charter schools each year.

For two decades, the money has been following Ohio’s children out of the doors of our public schoolhouses and through the doors of charter schools. Despite losing over $6 billion to charters during the past 15 years, traditional public schools continue to vastly outperform their charter-school counterparts.

While 77 percent of Ohio’s public schools were successful last year (rated Excellent with Distinction, Achieving or Effective), only 23 percent of Ohio’s charters were successful (rated Effective or Achieving). So 77 percent of Ohio’s public schools are receiving A’s, B’s and C’s while 77 percent of Ohio’s charter schools are receiving D’s and F’s. And the bottom 111 performing schools last year? All were charter schools.

Graduation rates also should give our legislators reason to put the brakes on funneling dollars to charters: 81 percent of Ohio’s students graduate from their public high schools as compared to a 30 percent to 40 percent high-school graduation rate for charter-school students.

“Following the money” also leads us to family-run charter-school operations with hefty salaries and few education credentials, including multimillion-dollar salaries for the CEOs of Ohio’s two largest charter-school chains, David Brennan of White Hat Management Co. and William Lager of Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. Our tax dollars also are going to pay for advertising campaigns to recruit students to attend their underperforming charter schools.

Also perplexing are the two sets of rules that seem to exist for public schools and charter schools. Apparently, once public money goes into a charter-school operation, it ceases to be public and belongs to the charter-school corporation.

Brennan of White Hat has refused to open his books to the state auditor for the third consecutive year. We are still waiting to hear exactly what percentage of public tax money is being spent on instructional resources and supports for educating children verses top-level multimillion-dollar administrative salaries, advertising and recruitment efforts in the corporate headquarters of White Hat.

In addition, while Lager of ECOT receives millions of dollars for his annual salary from public funding, his private software company has enjoyed profits of over $10 million in just a single year selling products to his ECOT schools, paid for by our public tax dollars.

Charter schools also are permitted to close their doors and shut down operations when cited for multiple violations, only to re-open the next day under a different sponsor, in a different building under a different name and continue to receive our tax dollars.

As charters close, oftentimes at mid-year, hundreds of children are shuffled back to their public schools without adequate records and a significant loss of instructional time. Just as tragic is the students’ loss of community and social connections, which contributes to academic deficits and delays.

As a parent, taxpayer and 30-year public-school teacher, I have to ask: Why are legislators proposing a budget that does nothing to restore funding for our public schools, but instead increases funding to charter schools? Why are we continuing to invest billions in a failed experiment that weakens our stronger-performing traditional school system and risks the future of Ohio’s children?

Maureen Reedy, Ohio teacher running for office

Diane Ravitch, writing about 2002 teacher of the year and Ohio House candidate for distrcit 24, Maureen Reedy

Maureen Reedy

Maureen Reedy, a teacher in Ohio for 29 years, was Ohio teacher of the year in 2002. Now she is running for the Ohio House of Representatives.

She deserves the support of every taxpayer, parent, and citizen in Ohio.

She is angry at the waste of taxpayer dollars for bad, deregulated charter schools. Forget what you read in The Economist about the miracle of privately managed charters. As she points out below, half the charter schools in the state are in academic emergency or academic watch, compared with only one in 11 public schools.

She is especially outraged by the rapacious cyber charters. As she points out in this article, two of Ohio’s major charter sponsors have collected nearly a billion dollars of Ohio taxpayer dollars since 1999:

Charter schools are a poor investment of Ohio’s education dollars and have a worse track record than public schools in our state; there are twice as many failing charter schools as successful ones, and one in two charter schools is either in academic emergency or academic watch, compared with only one in 11 traditional public-school buildings. Five of seven of Ohio’s largest electronic-charter-school districts’ graduation rates are lower than the state’s worst public-school system’s graduation rate, and six of seven of the electronic charter schools districts are rated less than effective.

And finally, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow has failed in every identified state category for eight years, a worse track record than the Cleveland City School system, which is under threat of being shut down by the state. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow is run by unlicensed administrators. Lager, in addition to his $3 million salary, earned an additional $12 million funneled through his software company, which sells products to his charter-school corporation. Just how much does the average teacher in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow earn you may ask? Approximately $34,000 per year.

Why do the Governor and the Legislature look the other way? Why are they quadrupling the number of vouchers and reducing oversight of the state’s troubled charter schools?

That’s easy:

I am appalled at the direct pipeline funneling vital state dollars for our children’s education directly into the pockets of millionaires like David L. Brennan, chief executive officer of White Hat Management ($6 million yearly salary) and William Lager, CEO of the state’s ninth-largest school district, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow ($3 million yearly salary).

Let’s follow the money trail of political contributions by these two for-profit charter-school CEOs to high-ranking GOP legislators. In the past decade, Brennan and Lager have donated a combined $5 million to high-ranking GOP legislators, including Gov. John Kasich, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, House Speaker William G. Batchelder and Sen. Kevin Bacon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Insurance, Commerce and Labor.

Why isn’t the U.S. Department of Education blowing the whistle on these scandals?

Is education reform about improving education or about lining the pockets of campaign contributors?

Not a hard question in Ohio.

You can find out more about Maureen Reedy by visiting her website,

A different kind of investment

Education is often referred to as an investment in our future, and undoubtedly it is, as we prepare our young people to enter the workforce with creativity, energy and entrepreneurship. However, modest investment increases in public education also have an immediate, and direct, beneficial effect upon those making the investments.

A recent study by the Brooking's Institute revealed

An analysis of national and metropolitan data on public school populations and state standardized test scores for 84,077 schools in 2010 and 2011 reveals that:
Across the 100 largest metropolitan areas, housing costs an average of 2.4 times as much, or nearly $11,000 more per year, near a high-scoring public school than near a low scoring public school. This housing cost gap reflects that home values are $205,000 higher on average in the neighborhoods of high-scoring versus low-scoring schools. Near high-scoring schools, typical homes have 1.5 additional rooms and the share of housing units that are rented is roughly 30 percentage points lower than in neighborhoods near low-scoring schools.

This is clear evidence that investing a few hundred dollars per year to increase your local schools performance will have a dramatic effect on your home values - typically $11,000 per year, according to this study. The reason is no secret of course, people with school age children want to live in areas that have excellent schools, and are prepared to pay a premium for it. These results have been found to be true over and over. The St Louis Fed found

Traditional empirical models of the capitalization of education quality on house prices have established that the quality of primary school education is positively correlated with house prices. Recent capitalization studies have used various approaches to address concerns about omitted variable bias induced by failing to account for the correlation between school quality and unobserved neighborhood characteristics. Most of these variations on the traditional hedonic approach (including the boundary discontinuity regression) have assumed that the house price premium is constant because in all these models the contribution from school quality on house prices is constrained to be linear.

In this paper, we propose an alternative formulation that allows for nonlinear effects of school quality. We show that this formulation is preferred by the data over a baseline linear boundary fixed effects model and that the rate at which the house price premium rises increases over the range of school quality. In other words, the standard linear specification for test scores overestimates the premium at low levels of school quality and underestimates the premium at high levels of school quality.

In the St. Louis metropolitan area, houses associated with a school ranked at 1 SD below the mean are essentially priced on physical characteristics only. In contrast, houses associated with higher-quality schools command a much higher price premium.

Interestingly, and in contrast to many studies in the literature, the price premium remains substantially large, especially for houses associated with above-average schools. This is true even in our most conservative estimates, which complement the boundary discontinuity approach by explicitly controlling for neighborhood demographics. These estimates also reveal that the racial composition of neighborhoods is capitalized directly into house prices.

This then makes the move to downgrade Ohio's schools based on some new, arbitrary standard all the more baffling. Not only will this move potentially produce lower school ratings, it may also destroy tens of millions of dollars worth of housing value at a time when house prices are already under extreme stress and the economy struggling to improve.

Consider this then, when they vote one levies. A few hundred bucks could add thousands of dollars to the value of you home. One can only imagine the added wealth that could be created if the state lived up to its constitutional responsibilities and invested properly in public education too.

Accountability for vouchers

On the idea of vouchers in the new world of accountability

The rise of testing-based accountability measures immeasurably complicates this argument for vouchers. Under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, public schools have to demonstrate their performance on certain standardized measures in order to receive funding. Race to the Top further centralizes educational affairs by encouraging states to adopt a nationwide core curriculum and by emphasizing a testing-driven component for teacher evaluations. The argument on behalf of such measures is that public dollars demand proof that they will be spent in a valuable way, and standardized testing is, apparently, the best way to establish this value. (Yes, this argument may be flawed in many, many ways, but let us leave that to the side for the moment as well.) If one wants to establish a centralized, federally-run public school system, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top provide a sturdy foundation for that enterprise.

If, however, one wants to support a pluralist, voucher-driven kind education reform, this movement toward standards-based accountability could prove much more problematic. If the premise of this accountability is that public dollars require proof of effectiveness, what is the reason for demanding that a school run as a public institution (that is, a public school) should be held to any different standard than a school run as a private institution? Both would receive tax dollars from state and potentially local and federal governments: why should they be held to two different standards?
Once you've bought into the idea that standardized testing establishes a school's quality, it becomes harder to resist the idea that public money ought to go only to those private entities that have demonstrated their effectiveness in teaching. Moreover, these standards for accountability will, as both Louisiana and federal reforms demonstrate, tend to come from bureaucrats working in central government offices.

Under a universalized voucher program and homogenous standards system, the federal government, which would be the engine that de facto drives education policy under this "reformist" vision, would have increasing control over private schools. Why? Over a period of years, private schools would become increasingly dependent upon government tax dollars, and he who pays the piper picks the tune. Maybe not now, maybe not a few years from now, but eventually legislators and regulators could start placing further demands upon these newly dependent private schools. After all, if education is truly in a state of crisis, shouldn't government be demanding the best from schools in exchange for the taxpayer's hard-earned dollars?

In Ohio, much of this discussion has already begun to happen.

  • A 2009 newspaper report titled "Ohio voucher students must do better on tests "
  • But that doesn't mean these schools [voucher eecipients] — and their students — shouldn't be held accountable.

    That's needed more than ever after the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that voucher students performed poorly on state achievement tests.

    An analysis of about 2,900 students revealed that six in 10 did not pass math, science or social studies, four in 10 failed reading and three in 10 failed writing.

  • A 2010 article titled "Voucher students' test scores lag"
  • Several thousand Ohio students who used Education Choice scholarships to attend private schools are doing no better than students at the public schools they left behind, state test data show.

  • A 2011 report titled "Ohio Vouchers Fail to Raise Student Achievement"
  • The latest data from the Ohio Department of Education showed that students in the state’s voucher programs did not perform better academically than their peers in public schools. In fact, public school students outscored those in voucher schools in many cases.

  • And when voucher students were compared to the much maligned Cleveland Schools, this headline was produced "Cleveland students hold their own with voucher students on state tests"
  • The push is on to expand school voucher programs in Ohio, but new state data suggests that students who attend private schools with the help of taxpayer-funded vouchers don't necessarily fare better academically than the children they leave behind.

    Cleveland public school students often outperformed voucher students on 2009-10 state proficiency tests, according to data from the Ohio Department of Education.

As the article we opened with discusses, tax payers are unlikely to want to see their precious dollars fund private schools, in light of the overwhelming evidence that these private schools are producing results no better, and in many cases, a lot worse than their public school alternatives.

It would be reasonable to suggest that we ought to have accountability for private schools that receive tax dollars. If they cannot produce results as good as, or better, than their public school counterparts, they ought not to be able to continue to receive tax payer assistance.

If we are to continue to pursue a policy of choice, we have a duty to ensure those choices are of the highest possible quality available, and that goes for private schools too.