Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Charter schools perform poorly on state proficiency tests



By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
AP Statehouse Correspondent

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — Critics say charter schools' poor performance on the March proficiency tests is evidence the schools aren't doing a good job.

        Only 6 percent of charter school fourth-graders passed all five tests, unchanged from last year, according to the Department of Education. Only 6 percent of sixth-graders passed all five tests, up from 4 percent last year.

        Among regular public schools, 43 percent of all fourth-and sixth-graders passed all five tests.

        “One would still expect them to show improvement; overall at least, they're not,” said Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, which has sued the state challenging the constitutionality of its charter school laws.

        “This ought to give legislators pause before expanding and deregulating this program further,” Mooney said.

        A bill before the Ohio Senate and already approved by the House would overhaul the state's charter school laws, including stripping the state of direct oversight over the schools.

        Supporters say many schools enroll children who weren't served by public schools and need more time to develop their programs.

        “In traditional school districts, building enrollment tend to be fairly stable, but in the case of charter schools, they're all start ups receiving new students, many of whom are older students who tend to be lower performing,” said Steve Ramsey, president of the Ohio Charter Schools Association. “There's a lot of ground to overcome.”

        Only 19 percent of charter school fourth-graders passed the reading portion of the test, compared with 64 percent of fourth-graders at regular public schools.

        Charter schools, called community schools in Ohio, were created by state law in 1997. Free from some state regulations, they receive basic per-pupil aid but no money for construction or renovation.

        Comparisons with last year's results for both charter and regular public school students are difficult because, for the first time this year, students had three chances to pass the fourth-grade reading test.

        Ohio has more than 90 charter schools enrolling 23,000 students. The state estimates it will pay them about $131 million this year.

        In Cleveland, 24 percent of Hope Academy Cathedral students passed the fourth-grade reading test, up from 8 percent last year. Only 14 percent passed all five tests in citizenship, mathematics, reading, science and writing.

        The students scored slightly better than fourth-graders enrolled in Cleveland city schools, only 22 percent of whom passed the reading test. Only 11 percent passed all five.

        Hope Academy Cathedral, operated by the Akron-based for profit White Hat Management, is one of a handful of original charter schools still operating.

        “Not only do I think we're starting to see some significant improvements, I think this is an indication, as students spend more time in our schools, where we're able to provide our academic program, we're seeing continuous improvement in those test scores,” said Mark Thimmig, president of White Hat Ventures, which operates the White Hat schools.

       



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