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Ohio Department of Education Investigating Out-Of-State Diploma Deals

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Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Deval Patrick / Flickr

For years some Ohio charter schools have funneled students who are unable to pass the Ohio Graduation Tests onto an easier track to graduation, one that allows them to earn a diploma from a private correspondence school based in Illinois and avoid Ohio graduation requirements.

Earlier this year, the state auditor found out that one central Ohio charter school was engaging in the practice. The Ohio Department of Education is now investigating that school.

StateImpact Ohio found at least two other schools that engage in similar practices. Until contacted by StateImpact, the department was unaware of those schools.

The state auditor notified the Ohio Department of Education in January that London Academy, a charter school overseen by the London school district, enrolled students who couldn't pass all five Ohio graduation exams in an Illinois-based school.

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The students would then earn their high school diplomas through correspondence courses from the state of Illinois.

London educators told us giving students another path -- albeit a less rigorous one --  to a high school diploma is better than having them drop out.

But it doesn't necessarily serve students well, said Terry Ryan of the Fordham Institute, an Ohio education policy think tank.

"It's certainly creative," he said, but "trying to find alternatives to passing the OGTs isn't going to offer those young people much opportunity in life."

The diploma in question comes from the American School, a correspondence school headquartered near Chicago.

The American School requires students to earn fewer credits than the state of Ohio. It also does not require students to pass state standardized tests to graduate.

The investigation comes as a surprise to some educators who say they've been offering correspondence-course diplomas for several years and state officials never expressed concern or said the practice wasn't allowed. Back in 2001, the Dayton Daily News even wrote about one program touted as a way to "entice dropouts to drop back into school."

But Ohio's graduation requirements have changed since then. And apparently so has the state's attitude.

"If a student is receiving funding from Ohio...then it would not be permissible to get a degree from Illinois," department spokesperson John Charlton said this week.

At least three Ohio schools enroll students in American School courses in order to earn diplomas from the school, American School spokesman Jeff Cox said. Some students at other schools also enroll in American School classes in order to make up for classes they failed, but still go on to earn an Ohio diploma.

London Academy enrolls about 10 students each year in the Illinois diploma track, former director Adelle Faulkner said.

Hamilton Alternative Academy, a Columbus charter school overseen by the Hamilton school district, offers the American School diploma track too, Cox said. The charter school's director, Allyson Price, did not return a call from StateImpact Ohio.

The A.B. Graham Academy, a charter school overseen by the Graham school district in western Ohio, has made Illinois diplomas available as an option.  A handful of students have taken them up on that option over the last eight years.

But it's not something the school encourages these days, said Director Scott Howell.

"We hold ourselves responsible for ensuring that these kids are ready to pass these minimum proficiency tests," the Ohio Graduation Tests, he said.

"The idea of funneling kids into these 18-credit hour diplomas is simply making it easier for kids to graduate."

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