When an Ohio charter school consistently fails to meet academic standards, the state automatically shuts it down. It’s an aspect of Ohio law that’s touted as one of the toughest standards for charter schools in the nation, but a report from Policy Matters Ohio found some charter schools may be evading the rule altogether.
In Cincinnati, the W.E.B. DuBois Academy was put on the Ohio Department of Education’s (ODE) closure list in 2009. According to the Policy Matters report, the same school and some of the staff remain, but under a different name: Cincinnati Speech and Reading Intervention Center (CSR).
Before 2009, Dubois Academy was CSR's sister school. Dubois Academy focused on grades four to eight, and CSR took up kindergarten through third grade. But when Dubois Academy was asked to shut down, CSR suddenly decided to expand to teach kindergarten through eighth grade, and it conveniently moved to the Dubois Academy building in the process.
The report also found some staff remained at the former DuBois Academy facility. Out of eight teachers from Dubois Academy, three still work at CSR.
Still, the school did change its sponsor from Educational Resource Consultants of Ohio to Richland Academy — a sign of some institutional changes.
Before it was placed on ODE’s closure list, Dubois Academy gained three straight “Academic Emergency” ratings. Between 2007 and 2010, it received more than $3.6 million in state funds. In the preliminary 2011-2012 report card, CSR gained a rating of “Continuous Improvement” after receiving an “Academic Emergency” rating in the 2010-2011 report card.
The story of Dubois Academy and CSR is apparently being replicated around the state. Six other facilities reopened under new names shortly after state-mandated closure. Some schools, including the Eagle Heights Academy in Youngstown that reopened as Southside Academy, even kept the same sponsors.
An eighth school in Cleveland — Hope Academy Broadway — shut down one year before the state mandate kicked in, citing an inability to find a sponsor. A year later, it reopened under a new name — Broadway Academy. In the process, the school retained 11 Hope Academy Broadway staff members.
In a statement, Piet van Lier, the report’s co-author, called the loophole a “systemic flaw” that undermines Ohio’s education system: “Until Ohio strengthens its charter-closure law, the state will continue to fall short of the goal of improving public education for all Ohio’s children.”
The report suggests legislators revamp charter school closure laws and strengthen ODE’s oversight of charter schools. It also wants legislators to direct ODE to refuse the kind of expansions and mergers that keep closed facilities open and hold charter school companies more accountable.