July 18, 2015; Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)

The Plain Dealer (as seen on Cleveland.com) reported earlier this week on the resignation of David Hansen, the school choice director for the Ohio Department of Education. Hansen resigned on Saturday after “throwing failing grades for online schools out of key charter school evaluations.”

Hansen’s resignation comes just one month after an investigation by the Plain Dealer’s Patrick O’Donnell “found that the state isn’t counting the performance of online charter schools—one of the most-controversial and lowest-performing charter sectors—in the calculations in this first year of ratings. That means that many F-rated charter schools that serve thousands of students won’t be included when their oversight agencies are rated this year.”

According to O’Donnell:

“Members of the state school board and state Sen. Peggy Lehner said David Hansen, ODE’s school choice director, was required by state law to include online schools and dropout recovery schools in evaluations of charter school oversight agencies. But after questioning Hansen Tuesday, Lehner and the board confirmed a June 14th Plain Dealer report that he had left failing grades for those schools out of the evaluations.”

Hansen’s actions were particularly disturbing because they tainted the ratings not of individual charter school operators but of charter school sponsors, a new organizational layer created to improve charter oversight:

“Charter school sponsors, also called authorizers, [are] the agencies that help create and oversee charter schools[. They] are the cornerstone of Gov. John Kasich and the state’s roundabout plan to improve Ohio’s charter schools. Rather than having the state act as quality control officers for charter schools, the state wants the sponsors to do that work and hopes to create pressure on them through the ratings.”

Adding to the concern is the fact that programs of major contributors to the political interests of Ohio’s Governor Kasich were beneficiaries of Hansen’s actions. “The key beneficiary of the exclusion—so far—was the Ohio Council of Community Schools…which collects about $1.5 million” as the sponsor of an “online school run by White Hat Management. White Hat owner David Brennan is a major contributor to Republican candidates in Ohio.” Effective oversight of charter schools is challenging under the best of circumstances. It becomes more difficult when political interests mix with complex systems and for-profit motives.

Ohio’s charter school efforts have been plagued by scandal and reports of poor educational outcomes. A bipartisan effort to improve oversight of charters failed to pass before the state legislature adjourned.—Marty Levine