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Education department faces investigation after records are erased

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As students begin to settle into a new school year, educators, armed with fresh lesson plans, curriculum and standardized tests, are welcoming their students back to their respective schools. But one Ohio education official will not be joining them.

David Hansen, who was the school choice director for the Ohio Department of Education, resigned in July after it was discovered that he omitted failing grades from charter school evaluations. Some believe this indicates a larger problem with Ohio’s standards for charter schools.

“We have long suspected that there’s problems with charter school accountability,” said Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “When we saw that there had been some manipulation of data, we weren’t necessarily shocked, but we of course expected something to be done about it.”

After finding out about the omitted data and receiving Hansen’s resignation, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross named a three-member panel intended to help the Ohio Department of Education create a new evaluation system for authorizers of charter schools.

“Because the legal requirements are complex and leave broad discretion to the department, we are bringing onboard[sic] an independent advisory panel that can help us ensure we develop the very best system,” Ross said in an ODE press release.

The OFT, along with the Ohio Education Association, has requested an external investigation to hold Hansen and any others potentially involved responsible.

Cropper and OEA President Becky Higgins wrote a letter to Ohio State Board of Education President Thomas Gunlock, saying that while they appreciate Ross’s plan to fix problems with charter schools internally, they believe an external investigation is necessary.

“An investigation of what occurred at ODE in the manipulation of data for charter school sponsor ratings is critical to turning around the perception and reality of charter school performance in Ohio,” Cropper and Higgins wrote.

House Bill 2, which has been passed by the Ohio Senate, would change sections of the Ohio Revised Code dealing with charter schools to require stricter standards of sponsorship, measurements of academic performance, and other areas that Cropper believes are currently too loosely enforced.

Darold Johnson, director of legislative and political action for OFT, expects that the Senate version of the bill will either be approved or strengthened by the House by the end of September or beginning of October.

“We believe this is a bill that will at least be a good first step toward bringing more accountability to charter schools in the state of Ohio,” Cropper said.

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