Ohio’s charter schools, launched to provide a more flexible and effective alternative to traditional public schools, have consistently failed to deliver promised results. Unfortunately, a lack of oversight and accountability have allowed the publicly funded schools, many operated by for-profit management companies, to escape close scrutiny.
One area that deserves attention is dropout rates, as detailed in a series of stories this week. Reporting by Doug Livingston, the newspaper’s education writer, revealed that while dropout rates nationally are on the decline, Ohio’s are on the increase. It is clear from the numbers that the performance of charter schools are to blame for the disturbing trend.
Many charter schools, among them Akron-based White Hat Management’s Life Skills centers, target dropouts, who backgrounds and home lives often present considerable challenges. Yet even as charter schools received a boost in the most recent budget, evidence of their ability to turn lives around was lacking.
Traditional public schools enroll about 91 percent of all public-school students and report about 33 percent of Ohio’s dropouts. Charter schools, among them schools targeting dropouts, enroll about 7 percent of students yet account for 66 percent of dropouts. The innovations once promised by White Hat founder David Brennan and others are making things worse, not better.
John Kasich took notice of the consequences of the state’s high number of dropouts, some 1 million Ohio adults now lacking a high school diploma, a huge obstacle to success. The governor then correctly looked to community colleges and career technical schools, with solid track records, to tackle the problem, but White Hat has lobbied for a piece of the action for its dropout recovery programs and those run by other charter schools.
No question, Ohio needs to deal with the dropout problem, crucial to improving the work force. But giving charter schools any role in solving it would amount to rewarding failure.