By Michael D. Clark
Enquirer staff writer
More than half of Southwest Ohio's 22 charter schools were labeled in "academic emergency," according to the latest state report card.
Most local charter schools mirrored the statewide trend that had 31 percent designated "academic emergency," the lowest of the five state ratings compiled by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) for the 2003-04 school year.
But two local charter schools - W.E.B. Du Bois Academy and T.C.P. World Academy Elementary - improved to the second-highest rating of "effective" for the first time in their short history, joining only three other among Ohio's 148 charter schools to earn such a grade.
One Ohio charter school rated "excellent."
The most recent state rankings continue a trend of poor performance by the vast majority of charter schools. Nearly one-quarter - 24 percent - of charter schools did not report their data to the state. Of the schools statewide reporting their data, 29 percent earned a "continuous improvement" rating, while 11 percent were designated as under "academic watch."
Locally, 12 of Greater Cincinnati's 22 charter schools received an "academic emergency" rating while four did not report their data.
Gary Allen, president of the Ohio Education Association - the state's largest teachers union - said the low performance of charter schools in Ohio is more evidence that the state's experiment with such private schools is failing.
"Based of their results over the years I'd grade them an F. The ones that are willing to report their results are performing lower than our lowest-performing public schools," Allen said.
He described the state's charter schools, which are publicly funded, tuition-free schools operated by parents, nonprofit agencies, for-profit companies or community groups, as draining up to $400 million annually from Ohio's 614 public school districts.
"There are some isolated cases of success ... but how in the world can you justify draining money out of the public school systems into charter schools that have showed no real progress?" said Allen.
J.C. Benton, spokesman for the ODE, said state education officials are still evaluating statewide data on charter school performance but said there are small signs of improvement but not enough. Benton also cautioned that some comparisons between charter and public schools ratings can be problematic because charters have often specialized in academically troubled students since they were first allowed to operate in 1998.
"Many charter students are two or three grade-years behind and have not known success in traditional public schools," he said.
W.E.B. Du Bois Academy spokeswoman Reba Dysart said the West End charter school "has only been around for four years, but we've made tremendous progress in that time."
Karen French, superintendent of the T.C.P. World Academy Elementary in Pleasant Ridge, said she was "thrilled" with her school's first "effective" rating in its four-year history and credited an expanded summer school program, more computers and providing some class instruction on Saturdays.
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