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Fordham Institute Gives Charter School Reform Legislation A Qualified Thumbs Up

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A conservative research groups lauds Ohio's Charter School Reform Legislation if implemented properly.

A comprehensive reform to the way charter schools are policed is on its way to the governor's desk for his final approval.  Ohio lawmakers passed what was heralded by supporters as a sweeping charter reform legislation.

The Fordham Institute in Ohio is a supporter of Charter schools but has been a critic of the way some charters operate and perform.

The Institute's Chad Aldis says if implemented properly this measure could go a long way to turn Ohio Charter schools from a loser to a leader.

"I think that's what we all want to see, but I think it's going to take a few years to go from being someone who's behind the curve to someone who's trailblazing and setting the standards," Aldis said.

Chad Aldis of the Fordham Institute says academic standards for Ohio's charter schools need to improve and  poor-performing schools in Ohio need to close.

Chad Aldis: Sweeping is exactly the right word. This is actually for Ohio this is landmark reform legislation. Ohio's charter school sector has struggled for some time. It's been certainly got lots of negative press and publicity. As a result of some of the schools underperforming and some of the mismanagement that's occurred. And this charts a new course that should improve Ohio's charter schools sector significantly.

Marilyn Smith: Not too long ago State Auditor Dave Yost described charter schools in Ohio as broken. Are they fixed now?

CA: I don't think you fix things with one piece of legislation. I think this creates the infrastructure that makes that thing them possible and even likely. But I think one of the problems you have is. This is a good strong law. But it needs to be implemented well. So that implementation of course will rely on the work at the Department of Education.

It's going to also rely on sponsors who are charged statutorily with overseeing charter schools and deciding which ones continue to operate, which ones close, which ones grow and replicate. Sponsors have an important role in that and charter school governing boards. The independent bodies that operate charter schools need to make sure they're exercising their oversight properly and giving the direction to the school leaders. And if all of those things happen I think this bill creates the structure and environment where those things can indeed be successful and Ohio charter school students should benefit.

MS: Students in charter schools have been described as underperforming when compared to kids in public school. Has there been attention paid to that is their way to make sure that they're performing as well if not better?

CA: Yeah you know this legislation, it sort of reconfigures the incentive system. So that quality does matter a lot more. The governor proposed when he first talked about this past winter about reforming charter schools. He talked about giving benefits to exemplary, the very highest quality sponsors and a good portion of becoming an exemplary sponsor is based on academic performance of the schools in your portfolio. So by doing that there will be a heightened sense of student achievement mattering which I think over the long term will really make a difference.

MS: The federal government recently awarded Ohio a $71 million grant to create more charter schools is this the best time to do that?

CA: Actually I think this is a fantastic time to do that and it's kind of counter to what a lot of public opinion has been on the issue. But the reason is what this allows the state to do is to create a rigorous application process for these funds. And mind you if they don't do that this will be a failure. I'm confident though that those are part of the grant terms. And the state will put together a rigorous application process.

What that will require charter schools who are competing for these dollars, what it will require them to do is do some of the things that are really going to be necessary for their success. Things like creating a business model. Doing a strong market analysis to see what they need is where they're proposing to to create a new charter school. Making sure they have a strong board of directors that they can provide the adequate leadership necessary for a school to be successful.

MS: Given all of the criticism and this legislation that's designed to now reform the charter system. Is there the potentially are for Ohio to become a leader in this area?

CA: You know I think that's what we all want to see. But I think it's going to take a few years to go from you know being someone who's behind the curve to someone who's trailblazing and setting the standards. So that should be Ohio's goal and if this legislation is faithfully implemented, if the department uses the federal charter school start- up funds as a lever to drive quality, if some of the city based groups that are working to improve the school options in their community also use this as as a lever and a tool. We could be seeing in the next five, six, seven years a tremendously improved charter school sector.

MS: Chad Aldis of the Fordham Institute thanks so much.

CA: Thank you very much, have a good day.