Earlier this week CREDO, the education research outfit at Stanford led by Macke Raymond, released another in its series of city, state, and national evaluations of charter school performance. This one was on Ohio (pdf). The studies are an amusing Rorsarch test for charter critics. The ones about places where charters are underperforming are widely cited and CREDO is presented as an august institution to be heeded in a Solomon-like fashion. When one comes out showing a city or state where charters are dramatically outpacing other schools it’s crickets or suddenly CREDO is another front group for “corporate reform.”
Actually, CREDO is none of those things but it’s a good research shop offering a great analytic view into how charters are playing out in different places. This week’s Ohio analysis, in broader context, offers some important lessons.
First, beware the ecological fallacy. Not every charter in Ohio is dreadful and there are some quite good ones. That said, overall the state is a charter debacle. If your only experience with charter schools was Ohio it would be understandable if you thought the entire idea was essentially flawed. Within Ohio there are cities doing a better or worse job. For instance Cleveland, the site of some interesting charter innovation, is an outlier high within in the state. Also pay attention to the different impact on different socioeconomic, racial, and ethic groups. Still, the overall story remains discouraging.
Second, this isn’t new. Ohio has been a laggard for some time and despite multiple evaluations pointing this out for more than a decade (Sara Mead and I included it in multi-state charter evaluation we led in the early part of the 2000s and things were not good then). More importantly, the state has missed numerous opportunities to improve its policies and by extension its charter operations. Policy mistakes in the early going of chartering were par for the course, that’s what innovation looks like. But Ohio has failed to learn from its own experience and the experience of other states that are higher performing. That’s inexcusable. The CREDO analysis says that more recent reform efforts are only, “dimly discernible” in the charter data. Bellwether is working with some charter leaders in Ohio on ways to use policy to accelerate the pace of improvement.