Some lawmakers and charter school operators say dropout recovery charter schools can’t be judged by the same standards other public schools are judged by.
Dropout recovery schools serve students who have dropped out of traditional public schools. They enroll students who are often behind their peers academically or who are also working or raising children or facing other challenges outside the classroom.
So for six years these schools — 74 of them today — can’t be closed for repeated poor academic performance. A 2006 state law exempts dropout recovery schools from the closure laws that apply to other charter schools.
“I think that the history of this is kindof long and sordid,” says Bill Sims, president of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools. ”There’s been this interest in creating these alternative standards and an alternative grading system for a long time now. And it’s like for one reason or another somebody always fumbles the ball.”
Until now. Legislation now heading to Gov. John Kasich’s desk changes things.
About These Schools
- Today, Ohio has 74 dropout recovery charter schools that are excused from closure for poor academic performance.
- Just over a third of them are sponsored by local school districts. The others are sponsored by nonprofits and county educational service centers.
- Last year, they enrolled about 14,000 students. That’s about 15 percent of all Ohio charter school students.
About Current State Law
- Existing law basically requires charter schools that have received Fs from the state for two of the last three years to close.
- About a third of existing dropout recovery schools got Fs from the state last year — But that’s under the grading system currently used to grade all public schools.
- Schools in which a majority of the enrolled students are children with disabilities receiving special education are also exempt from laws requiring low performing charter schools to close.
SB 316 says if the state legislature doesn’t create a new report card system for dropout recovery schools and rules for when they can be shut down by March 2013, those schools will automatically be subject to existing charter school laws. Then, the earliest a dropout recovery school could close would be June 2015, the Ohio Department of Education says.
But that’s unlikely to happen: House leaders have said they expect to take up report cards and closure rules for dropout recovery schools in the fall and create new rules just for dropout recovery schools. Just when those rules actually take effect depends on how the new laws are written.
Last year, we visited the Life Skills Center of Akron, a dropout recovery school operated by for-profit company White Hat Management. Many students there are over 18, and behind their peers in regular schools:
Students like 19-year-old Dante Mills work individually at computers. A tutor in the room provides support, but there’s no black board and no joint curriculum.
Mills sits at a computer with rap blaring into his ear buds. He’s reading about bio-science. When he’s done with the section, he takes a quiz online. If he passes, he can move on to the next question, and if he has any questions he can consult his teacher.
Mills hopes to graduate this winter.
His sister also went to Life Skills Akron. The school’s director, John Stack, says she failed math on the Ohio Graduation Test 13 times before transferring here. She failed again, but after one-on-one tutoring, she passed and graduated last year.
This month, the state Board of Education developed its recommendations for how dropout recovery schools should be judged. Those recommendations are based in part on a model the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools developed.
The OAPCS recommendations include things like judging schools on whether students graduated within as many as 8 years of starting high school. Other schools are judged on whether students graduate within 4 years.
Sims says the special exemption for dropout recovery schools was never meant to be permanent. But removing it and putting in place new rules for dropout recovery schools never reached the top of the to-do lists of enough people in power.
“You could say a fire has been lit by the governor’s office to get this done. But while he’s catalyzed this thing, there are legislative leaders that feel just as strongly as he does,” Sims says.
House Speaker Bill Batchelder even says he supports creating performance standards for dropout recovery schools and closing schools that don’t meet them.
“Absolutely,” he says. “You have to have good schools. The worst thing you could do would be to take kids who have already dropped out or been pushed out and take those kids and then put them in position where they can’t succeed.”