OEA, Former Charter Employee Call On Yost, State Board To Investigate Community School Chain
Volume #83, Report #121, Article #6--Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Senate Activity Report
A teachers union on Tuesday called on Auditor Dave Yost to investigate "unethical behavior" at a chain of charter schools that one former employee said he witnessed.
The Ohio Education Association's call for action follows a letter from one of its members to the Department of Education and State Board of Education expressing concern about charters under the Concept Schools name.
The auditor's office said it has yet to receive any correspondence from OEA but would review any request upon receipt.
Three Ohio schools were also part of a 19-school national raid by the FBI earlier this month, in which all schools were under the Concept name and associated with Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric exiled from Turkey and living in Pennsylvania.
Matt Blair sent a letter to ODE Monday that said while teaching at the Horizon Science Academy in Dayton he saw unhealthy and unsafe facilities, officials pulling at-risk students out of class during standardized testing, and "Turkish men who came in on a Saturday to darken 'in the answers for students who wrote too lightly' on standardized tests."
He had first raised concerns about the issues in a December 2013 article, which he said circulated in the ODE Office of Community Schools. He said ODE's response, however, was to ask the schools "softball" questions that persuaded them to respond in "positive" ways.
"The U.S. Departments of Labor and Education, the Federal Communications Commission, and the FBI all have discovered that Concept Schools operate fraudulently," Mr. Blair wrote in the letter. "Countless teachers, parents, and children have learned that many charter schools abandon children. Unfortunately, oversight officials and too many charter school operators fail to see the necessity of following good educational practices, let alone the law."
He asked members of the state board to look into whether the perceived cheating and other irregularities he witnessed were properly investigated and if they continue now. He also wants the board to determine who wrote the "softball" questions for the schools and to fix Ohio's charter oversight system to allow for an analysis of the deficiencies at such charter chains.
"ODE's apparent failure to conduct a thorough examination of the issues raised by Matt Blair does not inspire confidence in ODE's ability to oversee charter school operations," OEA President Becky Higgins said in a release. "It is for that reason that we urge Auditor Yost to act and to conduct a probe worthy of the serious questions that have been raised."
The Department of Education, however, said although Mr. Blair's letters to the state are recent, he speaks to things he witnessed seven years ago when he last worked for the schools. Mr. Blair had his contract non-renewed with the school.
Upon receiving his article in January, ODE's Office of Community Schools requested the school's sponsor - the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West - to investigate the accusations.
"In Ohio, according to statue, it is the responsibility of the sponsor to make sure a community school is meeting its obligations. The Department of Education can and does ask sponsors to investigate complaints," he said. "In this case, the responses did not substantiate the accusations made in Mr. Blair's article based on information he allegedly witnessed at least seven years earlier.
"Despite the allegations being vague and several years old, the department's office of Curriculum and Assessment is conducting a second review of the accusations."
The Horizon Science Academies have a mixed academic record on the last state report card. Of the 18 schools, four had As or Bs on their Performance Index Measure and 12 had Fs. Many of the schools with Ds on their PI had As for Value-Added, however. In all 11 schools had As or Bs on that measure.
Mr. Blair's complaint is not the first one to come forth about the Concept Schools. A former employee of the Horizon Science Academy Denison Middle School in Cleveland had earlier this year sent a letter to Auditor Yost asking him to investigate financial data, state testing information and other data related to the chain of schools.
Mary Addi said her husband was formerly a school employee and member of the Gulen organization that is an "integral part" of every Concept School.
"During the time of our employment, we were able to gather an extensive horde of evidence detailing many illegal activities being conducted in the Ohio Concept Schools," she wrote.
"Likewise, we uncovered evidence of financial misdealing, immigration fraud, discriminatory practices, and illegal board activities that were being perpetrated by sitting school board presidents and members."
Messages left with the Concept Schools central office in Chicago and Cincinnati/Dayton regional office were not returned by deadline.