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A survey of Ohio's best charter schools shows quality in adversity
Charter supporters say they want to improve the system by weeding out the bad ones

Andy Chow
A new survey that draws lessons from the state's best charter schools looks at the quality, accountability and growth of charters in Ohio.
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With Ohio’s failing charter schools getting most of the attention, the state’s more successful charter schools say they’re struggling to attract quality teachers. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports.

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Leaders of successful charter schools overwhelmingly say they want failing charters to shut down. That’s one response from a new survey which polled top-performing charter schools, including David Taylor’s Dayton Early College Academy

“I think you’ll hear us yelling that from the mountaintops," says Taylor, "I mean there’s no one who’s more of an opponent of bad charter schools than people who are running successful charter schools.” 

The study involved more than 65 charter school administrators from schools that got a C or higher on their state report cards. The results also showed that 80 percent want to grow and add more schools to their ranks – but only if they are high performing.

But they say there are barriers that stand in their way, such as a lack of funding and the struggle to attract quality teachers. 

Taylor’s school system is K-12 and serves more than 1,000 students. According to Taylor, out of every dollar that follows a student from a traditional public school to a charter school, only 60 cents goes towards that child’s education. 

“The vast majority of kids that come are being under served because we don’t have the funding that we should. So I think that there should be a call for some way to sort of rectify on this funding,” says Taylor. 

Charters struggle to attract good teachers
The issue of charter school funding has been cast back into the spotlight with both traditional public school administrators and charter school advocates calling for a change. The most commonly suggested solution is to fund the charters directly, rather than siphon the dollars from a traditional school district’s pot after a student leaves for a charter. 

And as for the problem of staffing charter schools -- 85 percent of the charter school leaders say they struggle to find good teachers. Ann Duffett is with the Farkas Duffett Research Group, which conducted the survey of the charter-school leaders. 

“We heard them say, I think about 52 percent said, that it’s always going to be hard to find teachers because of the lower salaries that charter schools offer and a lot fewer said that it’s a problem they can overcome,” says Duffett.

Taylor recognizes the challenge of finding teachers along, with Hannah Powell of KIPP schools. KIPP is in Columbus and serves about 800 students. Right now they have a kindergarten through second-grade school and a fifth- through eighth-grade school. But their plan is to become a pre-K-12 school by the end of the decade. 

Powell says attracting successful teachers is about getting them to join in on something special. 

“I think the ability to build a school, literally to create a system of schools, is really kind of, in some ways, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." says Powell, "So I think that we’re finding people that are really drawn to that.” 

Weeding out the bad charters
Andrew Boy with the Columbus-area’s United Schools Network agrees that swaying teachers means selling a philosophy. 

“'This is who we are, this is what we do, do you believe in it?’ And if we can get to the ‘yes’ and ‘we can believe’ and have the trust that we’ve got the person who believes in what we do, I think then we talk about how we’re going to develop you. Then we talk about how we’re going to support you in a classroom,” says Boy. 

There were different kinds of school leaders in the downtown Columbus meeting room as the results of the survey were announced -- including what might seem like an unlikely face, a traditional public school board member. 

Charlie Wilson is with the Worthington school board. He says the two sides should try to find a way to work together and communicate to serve in the student’s best interest. 

“I wish that all of us were committed to doing everything we can to improve our schools. Especially when we’re talking about taxpayer dollars being involved and we’re talking about children’s lives being involved," says Wilson. "I think it’s so critical that we do all we can to maximize a child’s potential.” 

Powell, with KIPP schools, agrees. “There’s a ton to learn so if we keep kind of isolated ourselves and putting ourselves in these silos we’re gonna end up not being able to accomplish what we need to do.” 

Supporters of charter schools have long said that they need to have fewer rules and regulations than traditional public schools so they can operate with more flexibility and be more experimental. But the survey also found that most administrators would be for more regulation and oversight if that resulted in weeding out the bad charter schools in Ohio.

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