Ohio School Choice Leaves Behind Traditional Public Schools of Last Resort

Policy Matters Ohio has released Misleading Measurements: How Ohio School Ratings Foster False Comparisons, a new report on school ratings in Ohio’s large urban districts.  The report examines demographic characteristics of students in Ohio’s highest rated urban district public schools (often special or magnet schools) and highest ranked urban charters.

“Policy Matters compared demographics of the urban schools scoring highest on state measures with the districts in which they are located.  We found that the majority of the highest-rated schools served different populations from those districts, enrolling fewer children with disabilities, fewer poor students, and fewer minorities.”

Here are specifics:

  • Of 28 high-rated schools studied, 27 enroll a lower percent of students with disabilities than the school district where the school is situated.
  • While Ohio’s urban districts serve, on average, 86 percent of students in poverty, the higher rated district and charter schools average only 50 percent poor students.
  • Highly ranked schools, with one or two exceptions, serve significantly fewer black and Hispanic students and more white students.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the schools studied are selective.  Examples of screens include a minimum GPA, standardized test scores, auditions, interviews, or the requirement that students or parents sign contracts.
  • High scoring schools frequently cap their enrollment (which means they turn students away)  to keep class sizes small.  Some have early application deadlines that screen out late-comers.  Some do not replace students who drop out.
  • Many of the charters in particular  that are located in urban districts accept students from surrounding suburbs.

School choice programs where selective screens are permitted segregate children not only by race and economics but also by disabilities. If the selection process is quite complicated then the selective schools screen out children whose parents are less able to be savvy advocates.

Selective screens create yet another way to concentrate advantage in selective schools and concentrate need in traditional public schools that soon become schools of last resort for the children who appear less desirable.  This philosophy of education differs markedly from our traditional American belief in public schools called to serve all the children who come through the school house door.

The words of the Rev. Jesse Jackson once again describe what is happening: “There are those who would make the case for a race to the top for those who can run.  But lift from the bottom is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”

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