The current uproar about the actions of David Hansen, the former Ohio Department of Education executive director and “charter czar” who rigged sponsor evaluation scores to allow more favorable ratings for the most politically favored authorizers, brings to light a perfect storm of factors that should have made his actions predictable at the time of his appointment two years ago.
Hansen, the husband of Beth Hansen, Governor John Kasich’s chief-of-staff, was put in place by the governor’s team to head the Office of Quality School Choice. His background, as head of the right-wing Buckeye Institute, famous for maintaining a database detailing the salaries for thousands of public school teachers and devoid of salary information for CEOs of national for-profit charter school chains and other privatizers, is now being examined by charter watchdogs as they discover a series of conflicts-of-interest that raise basic questions about his actions.
Here are a few morsels:
“Hansen and ODE were ignoring the big fish,” Stephen Dyer observed. “And that was, unfortunately, Hansen’s undoing. None of these crackdowns were against schools run by big Republican donors — David Brennan of White Hat Management or Bill Lager of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — whose schools rate among the worst in the state and who educate about 20% of all Ohio charter school students.”
Plunderbund readers, in fact, were informed several days ago that Hansen is a serial data offender.
“This isn’t the first time Hansen has been caught altering charter school data to improve the image of these charter school operators. Hansen was President of the Buckeye Institute in 2009 when they put out a report on Ohio’s dropout recover schools. Similar to the current incident, Hansen’s group altered data to improve the apparent performance of the charter schools. The shady data changes resulted in “a dramatic overstatement of the graduation rates at the charters.” Many of the schools in the 2009 report were owned and operated by White Hat Management. Meanwhile, White Hat owner David Brennan was quietly contributing tens of thousands of dollars to the Buckeye Institute through his Brennan Family Foundation.”
Moral of the story: don’t bite the hand that feeds you – particularly from one job to the next. And if the numbers don’t come out right, make stuff up. Which is apparently what Hansen did.
But there is another dimension to this sad story of manipulating data to make your friends and patrons look good. That dimension is none other than the very nature of charterdom itself– the dark side, as it has been characterized – and the role played by the Ohio Department of Education in that murky environment.
About 10 years ago, I attended an ODE meeting whose purpose was to allow customers – mostly sponsor organizations – to provide feedback to the charter school office as it performed its work of monitoring the state’s charter schools and providing technical assistance to the authorizers, or sponsors, as they are called in Ohio. The process involved small groups of attendees who discussed their ideas, wrote their recommendations on large poster paper, and reported to the larger group.
Never shy in a situation like this, I offered my view as to what the main problem was with ODE and its charter school operation.
“The Ohio Department of Education and its charter school function has the same problem as the Federal Aviation Administration,” I explained to my group. “The FAA has a dual role of promoting the aviation industry as well as regulating it, and they are roles and functions in basic conflict. With ODE, promotion and regulation of charter schools are also in conflict with each other.”
Since I was not an ODE employee at that time, I do not know how the leadership reacted to what I was saying. But the Ohio legislature, in a highly questionable move, made the state education agency a charter school sponsor again in the fall of 2011, just after I retired. (Previous legislation withdrew ODE from being a sponsor for any schools in 2005 because many thought it was a conflict-of-interest for the state to sponsor as well as oversee its own authorized schools.)
Which brings us back to Hansen. In his biographical summary, he states that his purpose at ODE is to provide oversight for the “development of vibrant markets of school choice in Ohio.” Are we missing something here? How is it that a state education director sees his mission is to foster school privatization rather than to ensure compliance with law and regulation of nearly 400 privately operated, publicly funded schools that are consuming $1 billion in tax dollars taken from local school districts?
We’re back to that question that bothered me ten years ago. Is it a basic conflict-of-interest for a state agency to promote a parallel system of public education and develop vibrant markets for these schools, and in addition, have the capacity and credibility to provide needed oversight of these schools to ensure regulatory compliance?
David Hansen’s manifold conflicts-of-interest are now being documented. But it must also be understood that the state education agency has not addressed its own, systemic, institutional conflicts-of-interest. Water and oil, as well as promotion and regulation, don’t mix. Meanwhile, the legislature is out to lunch. And out of touch when it is needed to fix messes, particularly those it created.
With the charter school scandal growing at ODE, along with the role played by state superintendent Richard Ross in assisting the legislature to take over the Youngstown school district, absent knowledge of his role by the state board of education, it’s time for the public to demand action. We should not pay high-salaried people with public funds to seize and sell off public education to drooling privatizers ready to profit from our public schools.
We the people own these schools. It’s time to take them back.
Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office.
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