Charter schools (also known as community schools in Ohio) are publicly funded but operated independently from traditional school districts. As public schools, charters are similar to traditional district schools in many areas critical to the education of students. For instance, they are:
- open to any student up to age 21;
- not allowed to discriminate; and,
- required to abide by state and federal laws and regulations, in the areas of special education, fire/safety, public meetings/records laws, teacher licensure, academic testing, etc.
In Ohio, charter school start-ups are allowed to open in “challenged” school districts and in Lucas County (the original pilot region). Challenged districts include those among Ohio’s “Urban 8” (eight largest cities) or those that are underperforming according to Ohio’s annual report cards. Currently, there are over 400 charter schools in Ohio serving more than 120,000 students.
Charter schools are held accountable by the state of Ohio (and by their sponsors) for their performance. While they are exempt from some state regulations and collective bargaining agreements that may make it challenging for traditional district schools to innovate, they are held to high standards when it comes to performance and closure. Chronically underperforming charter schools may be ordered to close after just two years in Ohio.
In exchange for heightened accountability, charters may choose to innovate in ways that include:
- implementing a unique mission statement, focus, and/or curriculum and instruction (for example, focusing on environmental issues, fitness, etc.);
- lengthening the school day and/or school year;
- selecting, retaining and rewarding teachers in accordance with effectiveness in the classroom or demand (e.g., rewarding teachers in high-need subject areas); and,
- using technology to differentiate instruction.
Ohio has one of the largest populations of e-school, or virtual, charter school students. OCCS currently sponsors five statewide virtual charter schools and three blended learning academies which combine online coursework with learning in a brick-and-mortar school setting.