Record year for Ohio charter school failures is unnerving proponents

By George Chidi
Sunday, January 12, 2014 22:17 EDT
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The charter school movement in Ohio has to contend with a rash of failing schools in Columbus. Of the 17 that failed last year — an unprecedented number, according to the Columbus Dispatch — nine only managed to remain open for a few months before failing, leaving students scrambling to find a new school.

Since 1997, 29 percent of Ohio’s charter schools have closed, the Dispatch reported. The median life of an Ohio charter school is four years.

A handful of large corporate charter school operators appear to be responsible for wide swaths of the problem. For example, The Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Boys and the Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Girls closed in October after inspectors at the schools discovered that students faced unsanitary conditions and poor management. Both schools were operated by the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center.

“Meals were not served at regular times and often were purchased at fast food restaurants,” Richard Ross, Ohio’s state school superintendent, noted in an announcement closing the schools. There are reports of several significant fights, thefts and property damage. … They did not ensure the safety of the students, they did not adequately feed the students, they did not accurately track the students and they were not educating the students well. It is unacceptable and intolerable that a sponsor and school would do such a poor job. It is an educational travesty.”

The North Central Ohio Educational Service Center also sponsored 21 other community schools in Ohio. In 2013, the firm attempted to open 16 community schools, including six schools that failed to open or closed within a few weeks of opening. Four more NCOESC schools should never have opened, according to Ross, as they were closed or not renewed by other sponsors. At least four schools are suffering from fiscal problems.

Several of the firm’s schools owe Ohio money for funding received based on inflated enrollment estimates, the release said.

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