Online charter schools are big business in Ohio, 25 schools last year enrolling 40,000 students, second highest in the nation, and taking in more than $250 million in taxpayers’ money. The two largest e-schools are larger than all but 12 public school districts. What is the state getting for its money? Online charter schools have a dismal academic record overall, 42 percent getting the equivalent of a D or an F on the state report card, almost four times the rate for all Ohio schools.
Sadly, as reported on Saturday by Doug Livingston, the Beacon Journal education writer, the rules written by the legislature for how online charter school applicants are scored give preference to existing schools. The large, for-profit companies that dominate how online education is provided in the state get big points for their past experience, even if it is academically questionable.
In recent months, the three winners to run new online schools (from among seven applicants) were all for-profit educational companies, the state scoring system even rejecting a proposal from the state Department of Education, the proposed charter to be opened in conjunction with a veteran Cincinnati educator with a strong record of public school administration. As Livingston put it, the education department “flunked itself.”
As Ohio begins to change the way teachers are evaluated, measuring how much students learn, the results then factored into decisions on pay, promotions and tenure, the scoring system put in place to evaluate e-school applicants serves as a striking contrast. Rather than a system that locks in an unacceptable status quo, new and promising applicants should be encouraged by including a far broader range of experience in education.
More competition not only promises to improve academic performance but also get a better handle on costs. While the largest for-profit education companies in Ohio are getting almost $6,800 per pupil, administrators for a publicly run online schools say it really takes $3,600. With state government dominated by Republican advocates of free-market solutions, a system that promotes vigorous competition among charter school applicants should be an easy call.