COLUMBUS, Ohio — The pandemic has disrupted the education of millions of students. Schools around the nation have been forced to close and students have struggled to stay on track via remote learning. Experts say the toll includes months of lost learning, with disadvantaged children bearing the brunt of the ill effects.
As education leaders seek, and implement, evidence-based strategies for responding to this enormous challenge, the expansion of high-quality public charter schools should rank high on the priority list. We have solid evidence that this works — such schools boost achievement and narrow gaps — not only in cities such as Boston, Houston, and Indianapolis, but also in Ohio. Here, too, charters accelerate the learning of low-income and minority students, putting them on firmer pathways to college and career.
That wasn’t always true. While the Buckeye State has long had some fantastic charter schools, for a time it also had some that weren’t cutting it. But recent policy reforms sought to bolster achievement in charter schools by increasing accountability for results. And they’re paying off.
A new analysis, commissioned by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and conducted by Ohio State University professor Stéphane Lavertu, shows that students who attend brick-and-mortar charters in Ohio make significant gains in math and English relative to virtually identical students attending district schools. What’s more, less advantaged students typically make the most progress. The average Black pupil, for instance, moves from the 25th to 40th percentile when they attend a brick-and-mortar charter from grades four through eight. The analysis also reveals collateral benefits from charters, such as better attendance and fewer discipline problems.
Dr. Lavertu’s study shows that Cleveland charters shine, producing notable academic gains for their students. To some, this will come as no surprise, as the city has long been home to many of Ohio’s finest charters. For the past decade, the Breakthrough Public Schools have provided excellent learning options for thousands of educationally needy youngsters. Through an innovative model, the Intergenerational Schools make intentional efforts to connect students with adult mentors. The Constellation Schools have offered quality options within the city boundaries and in surrounding communities such as Elyria, Lorain, and Parma. There’s even a Cleveland charter school, Menlo Park Academy, that is dedicated to serving gifted and talented students.
Policymakers should invest in charters such as these — creating more of them and expanding those that already exist — so that they can serve more children in need of an excellent education. At the state level, lawmakers should make permanent a recently enacted program that delivers an extra $1,750 per low-income pupil to high performing charters. These supplemental dollars help to narrow the sizable funding gaps between charters and districts, while also providing quality schools with the resources to expand. At the local level, community leaders could emulate Cleveland’s groundbreaking revenue-sharing agreement, which allows more than a dozen of that city’s charter schools to tap into local tax dollars that would otherwise be out of reach.
Like other states, Ohio has struggled to ensure that all of its children have equal opportunities to succeed in life, regardless of background. The gaps in those opportunities lead to disparities in outcomes, with the average low-income and minority student lagging behind her peers on key indicators of achievement and readiness for college and career. Tragically, these gaps are only likely to widen as a result of the pandemic. To speed the recovery, state and local leaders should embrace interventions and models that open quality opportunities and move the achievement needle. As research now indicates, expanding great charter schools is one of their best bets.
Aaron Churchill is the Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes educational excellence for every child. The Institute is affiliated with the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a charter school authorizer in Ohio.
Have something to say about this topic?
* Send a letter to the editor, which will be considered for print publication.
* Email general questions about our editorial board or comments or corrections on this opinion column to Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, at firstname.lastname@example.org.