What Does it Take?
Advocates Call for Reform on Ohio Charter Schools
Educators, students and advocates call for change following mounting of evidence of poor-performing schools
STATEHOUSE, Columbus – Educators, students and other advocates of a strong public school system took to the Ohio Statehouse steps today to ask our officeholders, “What does it take?”
In the past two months alone, there has been overwhelming evidence that charter schools operated by Concept Schools and affiliated with theGulen Movement have failed to provide a quality education to Ohio students and instead have been rampant with sexism, racism, mismanagement, test-tampering and other illegal activity.
The FBI last month raided 19 Gulen-affiliated schools in Ohio and two other states;former teachers at a Gulen school presented testimony to the Ohio State Board of Education highlighting instances of cheating, racism and sexism in the classroom. And the state’s top education official launched an apparent cover-up of test tampering and other irregularitieswitnessed by a teacher even earlier.
Today, only one school is being investigated by the Ohio Department of Educationbut the agency is seeking to punish the whistleblowers forreporting allegations to school administrators, not law enforcement.
“What Does it Take… to say enough,’’ asked Maureen Reedy, co-founder of Ohio Friends of Public Education and a past Teacher of the Year in Ohio. “Our state has been branded as the “Wild, Wild West of Charter Schools” by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.’’
She cited a Columbus Dispatch report showing that 87 percent of the nearly 100,000 students attending Ohio charters are in schools graded D or F by the state.
“This is a public outcry for legislative oversight,’’ she said.
Speakers at today’s rally highlighted their personal experiences with poor-performing charters and called on state leaders to enact comprehensive charter school accountability and transparency. They included:
Mary Addi, former Cleveland Gulen school employee who witnessed illegal activities, sexism and racism among charter school operators:
“Although, we respect all religious rights and cultural diversity,we Americans are not being conscientious stewards of our constitution or our tax dollars if we allow this network of charter schools to continue.”
Cierra Florence, former student of Dayton Horizon Science Academy who was taught by Melissa Randolph and others who provided testimony to the Ohio State Board of Education but nowface possible sanctions:
“Good teachers change lives. Miss Randolph and some of the other good teachers saved my life.’’ They took her in when she was 17, pregnant and homeless, and helped her graduate on time. “It is sad for the other students that these teachers left the school. It is even sadder that the Ohio Department of Education feels the need to try and punish these teachers for doing what’s right.”
Representative Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton), who sent a letter asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights, to investigate Ohio’s Gulen-affiliated schools:
“I am concerned that school administrators and state officials have ignored these complains for too long. They must not be ignored by those who protect our civil rights.”
Michelle VanVleet, former English teacher at Dayton Horizon Science Academy, provided a written statement:
“I read with great sadness that the Ohio Department of Education believes the problems they (the teachers) identified are unique to the Dayton school. They are not.’’ Earlier this year, the school’s own Dean of Students passed out a memo that confirmed much of the information the teachers provided to the state school board, but also reported “condoms in the hall’’ and sex in the in-school suspension room. “It is clear from news stories across the country, my dealings with the school and conversations with other teachers that the problems are more systemic.”
As the scandals mount, legislators are on recess and two charter school accountability bills have been have awaiting acting. Both are sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat from Boardman.
Senate Bill 190 is a comprehensive piece of legislation that requires charter schools to abide by many of the same accountability standards as traditional public districts.
Senate Bill 329 requires all charter school sponsors and operators to abide by audit and public records law just as traditional public districts do.
Reedy said recent comments by Senate Education Committee Chair Peggy Lehner, a Kettering Republican, give her new hope that reforms are likely. Lehner responded to the Gulen charter school Scandal with a pledge for a comprehensive review of charter school oversight, according to the Dayton Daily News.