Charter Evaluation Grade-Changing Causes Stir in Ohio


Several members of the Ohio State Board of Education have asked for an independent investigation of the Department of Education based on state Superintendent Richard A. Ross' alleged involvement in "faulty evaluations of sponsors of failing charter schools."

Catherine Candisky of The Columbus Dispatch writes that this comes after Ross told board members he would bring in outside educators to ensure sponsor evaluations are done properly. This also comes after state Auditor Dave Yost decided not to bring in a special investigations team to research the absence of some student performance information which seemed to be noncompliant with Ohio law.

Last month the agency's Director of School Choice, David Hansen, resigned after confessing that he had left off poor grades for online and dropout-recovery schools on evaluations of their charter school sponsors. Hansen's wife is former chief of staff and current campaign manager for Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, who is also running for president.

"Unfortunately, the proposal to bring in three outsiders to determine how the sponsor evaluation should be completed falls far short of what is required for the public to regain confidence in (the) Ohio Department of Education," the seven of the 19 board members wrote in a letter to Ross.

The members continued that although Hansen took the fall, Ross was his boss, which makes him a "prime suspect" in the event, by either mismanagement or deliberate instruction. Board members Michael Collins and Stephanie Dodd said Ross may be culpable, making it inappropriate for him to lead any sort of investigation. Michael Sponhour, an education department spokesman, wrote in a letter:

"Dr. Ross agrees that there are issues that need to be addressed with the system of sponsor evaluation. The evaluations were promptly retracted and we are working on a comprehensive plan to ensure that our evaluations are accurate and comply with the law. The State Auditor will also be looking at this matter as part of his regular review of our agency and we welcome his review. We look forward to working with the State Board to make sure these evaluations are sound. "

An at-large member of the board, appointed by the governor, said that Ross paid the price for someone going over his head.

Hansen confirmed that he left F grades for online and dropout-recovery schools off evaluations of charter school sponsors, saying he felt the bad grades would "mask" successes that had taken place elsewhere. Ann Sanner, writing for the Associated Press, reports that the evaluations have been retracted. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter this week from two board members who were part of writing it.

The letter continued: "If we are serious about our credibility, the board, not you, must engage an independent firm to investigate you and the Department of Education" in order to establish compliance with state and federal laws.

Gov. Kasich said the entire matter was just a political move. He also stated that it was his hope that all the facts would eventually come to light. But another question asked by the seven board members who wrote the letter was why a measure was signed into law by the governor in July that would allow the superintendent to appoint three of five members of a new academic distress commission for the district. They also wanted to know why this commission was directed to pick a CEO to run the schools.

In an op-ed piece for The Lakewood Observer, state Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) criticized the Department of Education's leadership for a "blatant disregard of transparency and accountability." She adds that Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) would like to see Ross relieved of his duties.

Discarding grades for failing charter schools is only the "tip of the iceberg," according to Rep. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo). Even if Ross was not in the middle of this latest event, Sen. Tom Sawyer (D-Akron) believes Ross no longer has the confidence of the people of Ohio and should be removed from his position.

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