Are Charter Schools a Good Choice for Students? Not in Ohio

We have heard a lot from Republicans and even some Democrats about how charter schools are a much-need alternative to our “failing” public schools. But that argument has been long on assumption and assertion and short on statistical support.

The group Innovation Ohio has recently taken a close look at the performance of charter schools in Ohio, and at least in our state, the results would very much support the notion that charter schools, especially corporate-operated charter schools, are an experiment that has failed dismally.

And that should not surprise anyone because the experiment has never really been primarily about education. The experiment has been about an ideology that fundamentally distrusts the public sector and has boundless faith in the private sector—that believes reflexively that privatized public institutions are preferable. The experiment has been about breaking the teachers’ unions, not because they protect “bad teachers” but because they don’t support politicians who demonize them as the source of all of the problems with our educational system. And the experiment has been about corporate profits and political influence more than it has been about raising student performance and test scores—even on the corporately generated standardized tests promoted by the same politicians most supportive of charter schools.

The same people who have been complaining about the money being “thrown away on public schools” have been all too willing to throw it away on charter schools. It’s not that charter schools are any better than public schools. It is simply that they are ideologically preferred over public schools.

The huge irony is, of course, that the very people who have complained about the “failed social engineering” inherent in progressive policies have been engaging in engaged in social engineering on a massive scale, and they are so sure that it will make things better that they simply won’t believe any of the mounting, concrete evidence that suggests otherwise.

Here are the highlights of what Innovation Ohio has found in its detailed study of the state’s charter schools:

“The flawed way in which charter schools are funded in Ohio will result in traditional school students receiving, on average, 6.6% less state funding this year (around $256 per pupil) than the state itself says they need.

“Well over half of all state money sent to charters goes to schools that perform worse than traditional public schools on one or both of the state’s two major performance measurements (the Report Card and the Performance Index).

“A number of high-performing suburban school districts are now among the biggest losers in per pupil funding.

“On average, Ohio charters spend about double (23.5% vs. 13%) on non-instructional administrative costs than traditional public schools.

“53% of children transferring into charter schools are leaving districts that perform better.

“In 384 out of Ohio’s 612 school districts, every dime ‘lost’ to charters went to schools whose overall performance was worse on the State Report Card.”

And these results have come after Governor Kasich has cut more than a half-billion dollars from the state allocations to public schools and has shifted much of that funding to charter schools.

Ironically, some of the charter schools are now arguing that they simply need more funding—an argument that has been derided by the Far Right when it has been made by public-school officials.

But if the charter schools do receive more money, where will it be going? I have seen another study that reported more specifically on administrative compensation in the charter schools in Ohio. Although the salaries of superintendents and other top administrators in the public schools have been a particular target of public skepticism, if not public ire, the administrators at charter schools are getting paid, on average, 260% more than their public-school counterparts, while teachers get paid 40% less.

That is the corporate model at work. And guess what? It turns out that underpaid teachers don’t do a better job teaching. There low wages and benefits make possible larger dividends for corporate shareholders, but they don’t make children read or do math any better. That the teachers are paid less simply means that, on average, they are very likely less experienced, less qualified, and less likely to engage in ongoing professional development.

Contrary to Far Right assertions that the private sector can do things much better than the public sector, the promotion of this kind of “innovation” is, at its core, actually the promotion of amateurism over professionalism.


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