Charter schools have been touted as the key method by which Ohio was going to improve public schooling in Ohio for over a decade.  Charters have long been given flexibility by the state to try innovative programs and have been frequently exempted from many of the same regulations that constrain traditional public schools.  Charter schools have also been promoted as providing competition to “failing” urban schools under the premise that the competition would cause both the charters and the districts to make dramatic improvements.

According to StateImpact Ohio, “Charter schools were supposed to offer students who weren’t succeeding in traditional public schools—either because of the school or the student—a good education. They were supposed to apply competitive principles to Ohio’s public school marketplace by encouraging traditional public schools to improve in order to retain students.”

After 15 years of charter school expansion, the new Ohio school report cards provide the strongest evidence yet that this method of using charter schools to supposedly reform education in our state is a complete failure.  The latest results from the state make it clear that the large urban districts are not dramatically improving and the charter schools that are supposed to be transforming educational practices while being given every advantage (including a greater amount of state funding) are doing no better.

As you might have heard, the State (as a result of Ohio’s legislators) released new school report cards this year that assign letter grades for Ohio’s public schools in up to 9 different categories.  While not all schools get letter grades in each category (i.e., elementary schools don’t receive grades for graduation rate or graduation tests), every school does contribute at least some grades to their overall district grade.  Now, instead of only comparing the low achievement scores of the charters with the urban school districts where they reside, we can now compare the combined letter grades of all of the charters with those of all of the individual schools in the large urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown) that have come under attack in recent years.  While Cleveland got their own mayoral takeover plan last year, Columbus has been soundly criticized this year, and just last week was vilified by its own mayor, Michael Coleman, in a “pro-levy” commercial and on the mayor’s “pro-levy” website.

These attacks on the large urban districts should be evidence that the overall performance of the districts is not acceptable to elected officials in the state and, for the most part, many of those living in the areas.  Additionally, the push by the legislature to increase the number of charter schools in these areas across the state makes it clear that the legislation is designed to improve educational options for the families living in the state’s urban areas.

However, if the achievement in these districts remains poor after hundreds of charter schools have opened (and closed) after the past fifteen years, then it is time to admit that charter schools are not working to turn around public education in Ohio and a new plan is required.

The following chart represents the combined letter grades of every school in the large urban districts as compared with the combined letter grades of the charter schools serving the “same” population.  This is possibly the best apples-to-apples comparison that we have ever had, thanks to the legislators wanting to supposedly increase accountability (for everyone but themselves).


Notice that the percentages are virtually identical for each letter grade, and are pretty poor overall.  If the urban schools are doing so poorly and in need of completely being overhauled, then where is the accountability for the charter school movement designed to reform public education?  Not only are the charters performing at the same level as the districts they pull their students from, they are doing so while taking a greater share of per pupil state funds away from the local schools.  Charter schools are the legislature’s primary effort at reforming Ohio’s schools, yet are apparently having no demonstrable impact despite that being the primary reason for their very existence.

There are some high-performing charter schools in Ohio, but there are some high-performing schools in the large urban districts, too.  The chart below shows the combined grades of the “Top 20%” of schools in each category using their performance index score (based on student achievement test scores) as the criteria for ranking them.


While the top charter schools hold an edge in the percentage of “A” grades, they also hold an edge in “F” grades and the middle grades are comparable.  There is little difference despite the fact that charters exist to provide a “better” alternative to the public districts and are supposed to be providing a model for reform.

Finally, the new report card has two different grades for graduation rates based on 4-year and 5-year cohorts of students.  Note that these reports do not include the rates for “dropout recovery” schools that are given their own unique report cards for the first time, so again we’re comparing only traditional high schools this year.  The table below shows the combined percentages for the grades given for graduation rate for all reporting charter schools and high schools in the urban districts.


While neither set of grades is particularly good, the urban districts display a noticeably higher percentage of passing grades than do the charters.  The differences between the percentages in this chart are the most significant that we’ve found, and isn’t graduating kids sort of a key indicator of successful schools?

Not shown in this chart, but an important fact nonetheless is the number of schools who received A’s for a graduation rate grade and the number of students served by those schools.  Four separate charter schools received an “A” in one of the two graduation categories (one school received two A’s) and those four schools have a total of 1,705 students enrolled (an average of 426 per building).  In the urban districts, a combined fourteen schools received at least one “A” (eight schools received two A’s) and those schools have a total of 8,264 students enrolled (an average of 590 per building).

Look, we’re not saying that the urban schools are knocking it out of the park – they wouldn’t be under attack so much by politicians if they were showing dramatic improvement.  But the reality is that the charter school experiment in Ohio has failed as a method of public school reform and it’s time to pull the plug.

Ohio’s children need a better plan than the one drawn up by our legislators and their donors.

  • Stephen Beard

    Education has become a morass in Ohio. Who knows — who can tell — which schools are “better” than others? I’ve always felt skeptical about the virtues of charter schools, or really any private school, with regard to student achievement. It is too easy to tart up private offerings, because politicians too often denigrate public offerings. These grades seem to show their all failing in one way or another, which is as it has always been in Ohio. Is this going to reduce support for private charters? Not if Republicans, true believers in the magic of the free market, have anything to say about it. Another reason to boot the party of Kasich from power.

  • Laura Best

    Thank you for showing us the apples to apples comparison. This is of no surprise to me. Charter schools are simply draining our tax dollars from the public schools, and many of these charter schools are run for profit. …signed an Ohio BAT.

  • Kelly Braun

    this was great news for us to hear…..and since this flyer was made…maybe two weeks back….numbers in both groups have grown….we have only been in the National arena for 8 weeks….with 26,000 and in OHIO BATS for going on 3 weeks and have 200….

  • Think.

    The GOP-controlled Ohio legislature is simply a puppet whose strings are yanked by the American Legislative Exchange Council. A top ALEC initiative is to privatize education through charters, vouchers, breaking teacher unions, increasing testing, discrediting public schools, and eroding local control. Republican legislators are mindlessly following the ALEC plan in Ohio, and for that, they have earned an “F.”
    Vote them OUT!

  • becca

    GREG – it is absolutely wonderful to see a column written by you. Your words of wisdom have been sorely missed! I hope that there is more to come!

  • Mario Gonzales

    Nobody should be shocked that charter schools do the same as any private business – spend as little as possible doing as little as possible to pocket as much profit as possible, and to be as un-accountable as possible.

    Public schools are for everyone, and charters are to suck money out of that. Simple as that.

  • gregmild

    Thank you.

  • 333SAL

    And all of this begs the question: “How many of these schools are actually teaching critical thinking skills?” I’m finding it hard to believe that a profit-based charter school, founded on corporate principles, has an investment in teaching students how to exercise their civic obligation and participate in a democratic society in an informed manner. Teaching students how to educate themselves on an ongoing basis as adults is crucial. Unlike the Greeks, who mandated democratic participation for at least their male citizens, we teach our young that educated civic participation is an option, not an obligation.

    Corporate principles thrive in a passive civic environment. Selling out to privatization of education will always involve a private agenda, despite their denials.

    Educating our young with regard to propaganda and mind manipulation techniques is our obligation. And it cannot be left to self-serving private interests.

  • Retrofuturistic

    As long as profit and indoctrination are involved (the two major goals of the Christian GOP), charters and vouchers will never work.

  • DJ H

    Meanwhile, Charters are handpicking their kids and kicking out all the Special Needs children. So they are actually performing A LOT worse than Public Schools.

  • Pat Duesenberry

    Not all charter schools are represented in your statement. I work for a charter school after working 7 years in the public school system and 26 years as a day care director. Your first mistake is to assume that all charter schools are in this for the money, our school is registered as a non profit school. We strive everyday to set the foundation of success possible for every child, many whom were rejected from the public school system. Our charter school accepts everyone also. So it is not as simple as you may think.

  • Pat Duesenberry

    I appreciate the comparison. But you are so wrong. I have worked in both systems and have an insiders view. Right now for every child we have enrolled, the public school system still receives over $2,000 per child for doing nothing for our children. This alone saves in the hiring of teachers, transportation, and teacher-student ratio. There are many other ways that charter schools save tax payer dollars.

  • Pat Duesenberry

    This is definitely not true. Any child who wants to attend our charter school is welcomed. We accommodate any child that wishes to enroll, we never turn anyone away! We have specialized teachers, speech, behavior specialists, etc.. So you my friend are ill informed!

  • stryx

    How do the kids get to your school?

  • stryx

    Your school is not all charter schools, just like told us above. Are there no charters that behave as DJ H described?

  • Your single school does not represent ALL charter schools, nor the majority.

  • Pat Duesenberry

    I am wrong the city schools actually gets $5,000 from the amount allotted to each student in Lorain City. The children whom live further than 2 miles are transferred by school bus/parents.

  • Pat Duesenberry

    And neither do the negative comments made by some of you represent all charter schools. Any type of school will have positive/negative results.

  • Tracy Yarbrough

    The first problem I see in this is “director of a daycare,” which means you have never really taught, and you are in administration. How do you really know what the kids need? You haven’t towed the line so to speak. Charters think anyone can administrate or teach, which is problem number one.

  • Tracy Yarbrough

    How do you pay for the building, electricity, teachers, custodians, etc. Now, as a taxpayer, I am paying for two sets of them. It is the new entitlement.

  • Tracy Yarbrough

    But they do as they are funneling money away from other forms of education at taxpayer expense. What is the name of your charter school, so we may know the paragon of which you speak? Let us validate your info and scores.

  • Tracy Yarbrough

    In Indiana, Mitch Daniels allowed quite a few of these charters to be set up in Indy, and they are Muslim charter schools. He also gave visas to Muslim teachers and had them imported here. The man that runs this chain across the U S is Gulen, BTW- Mitch Daniels’ family is from the Middle East. They changed the surname to sound more American. He was a Teapublican, education busting governor, so it isn’t just for Chrisitian schools.

  • Does your school’s principal (or CEO or whatever) make no more than the highest paid public school principal in your district? I’m curious.

  • “nothing for our children” is extremist nonsense.

  • Megan Pledger

    It’s easy enough to find on linkedin

  • heyhohio

    Who manages your charter? Charters hire management companies that profit off of each student’s funding.

  • heyhohio

    If Charters get caught “hand picking” students, they could get in trouble because they are a public school.

  • heyhohio

    Many charters that focus on behavior issues and special needs are blessings for many families. If you ever were a teacher in the public school with little resources to deal with such behavior issues, you would not complain about the charter that takes in these students. This goes for the credit recovery charters for at risk teens. As a public school supporter, you could complain about the charters taking the money, but if that teen was in your class or your child’s class and in between his jail times, you would love for a charter to take on that kid.

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