A frank look at Fordham's ranking among Ohio authorizers

The Ohio Department of Education
recently released performance rankings of all charter
authorizers (aka “sponsors”), as part of the new requirement that those ranking
in the bottom 20 percent of all authorizers cannot take on new schools for one
year.

This is a provision we at Fordham fully
supported and in fact helped craft, as a means to ensure better quality and
accountability in the charter school sector. The rankings, found here, include 47 authorizers including us
(our sister organization, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is an authorizer).
On a list of 47 authorizers, we ranked 24th. Nine sponsors fell into the bottom
20 percent and cannot open new schools.

We’ve never shied away from the truth
when it comes to our schools.  Each year, we publish a comprehensive,
public account of our schools’ performance (our 2011 edition will be out next
month and you can peruse past editions here).  We’ve also been among the first to admit that the work is tough; that more
school choice without parallel accountability measures is pointless (kids need better
options – not just more of them); and that closing schools is an
important part of quality authorizing. Historically we’ve accepted the
challenge of closing troubled schools poor academic results.

But because these state rankings are
new and high-profile, we wanted to take a moment to put them in context and
reiterate our emphasis on continuous improvement for all of our schools.

It’s important to note a handful of
facts about the rankings shared by ODE:

  • The rankings are based on a sponsors’ schools’
    Performance Index scores, which account for absolute achievement
    (proficiency) of students for a single year.  PI scores do not include
    value-added growth or consider performance gains over time.
  • The performance of drop-out recovery schools, which are
    among the lowest performing charters in the state, do not factor into any
    authorizer’s PI score for ranking purposes (Fordham sponsors none of these
    schools).
  • Likewise, the 26 authorizers who only sponsor drop-out recovery schools or schools serving
    special needs populations aren’t included in the ranking at all.
  • An authorizer’s PI score is based on how its portfolio
    of schools performed, on average. In our instance, our largest
    school (500 kids) also happens to be our weakest performing academically,
    while our top-performing school is one of our smallest.

That said, while our weakest school
pulled down that average, we’re happy to report that it also improved this
year, moving up from Academic Emergency to Continuous Improvement. And while we
are not in the business of authorizing so as to only take on the highest
performing schools, it’s also worth nothing that the school is among the better
education options for students in its city.  

A little history here is useful.
Fordham’s sponsorship portfolio has evolved considerably since we started in
2005. We began sponsorship in July of that year with a total of ten schools
(all in the Dayton-Cincinnati area) that collectively served about 2,700
students, and all but three of these schools we inherited from the Ohio
Department of Education as they were forced out of sponsorship by state law.
For the most part, these schools were troubled academically with five being
rated Academic Emergency, one Continuous Improvement and one Excellent (three
new start-up schools were unrated). Over the last six years we’ve had six
schools leave our portfolio either through closure or by jumping to other
sponsors, we’ve opened one new school to see it close after a year, and we’ve
birthed two new schools. Two established schools voluntarily joined our
portfolio this year. We currently sponsor only four of the ten schools that
originally signed with Fordham in 2005. This year, Fordham-sponsored schools
serve approximately 2,500 children; three schools carry an Effective (B)
rating, four schools have a Continuous Improvement (C) rating, and one is rated
Academic Watch (D).

Fordham-sponsored schools have made
progress. This is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the
educators, school board members, and students in each building. But, more work
remains to be done. We know it and we won’t hide from the challenge, but more
importantly the teachers, school leaders, and board members working in the
schools we sponsor are committed to making a difference in the lives of
children who need it and they are making progress. We are honored to be their
allies in this struggle.   

A version of this
piece
originally appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. 
Matt DiCarlo at Shanker Blog posted
a
response
taking issue with Ohio’s
Performance Index score calculation.

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