Ohio Gadfly Daily

This week, Ohio’s State Board of Education voted unanimously to delay the release of annual school performance report cards as state officials investigate allegations of data-tampering. It came to light this summer that some Ohio school districts (Auditor of State Dave Yost is working to determine just how many) retroactively un-enrolled and re-enrolled truant or low-performing students in order to break the students’ enrollment records with the district. Those students’ test scores and attendance records would then not count toward the district’s overall report card rating because the students hadn’t been continuously enrolled from October to spring testing. (To be clear, there is no evidence yet that data-tampering was taking place in all, or even most, of the state’s 600-plus districts.)

The state board’s decision to delay the release of school report cards was the right one.

The state board’s decision was the right one. They simply cannot make public extensive data about school performance unless they have faith in the accuracy of that information. However, the decision has widespread ramifications for Ohio’s districts, schools, and students. There are a number of policy provisions triggered by the annual report cards and the test data they are based on that will now be put on hold while the state awaits Auditor Yost’s findings.

Five major accountability policies are affected:

  • Which schools are subject to mandatory turnaround: Public schools are ranked annually based on student achievement on state tests. Schools that land in the bottom five percent
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Harder tests are coming to the Buckeye State.

Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Ohio will replace its current K-12 academic standards in math and English language arts, along with the aligned standardized tests, with the Common Core academic standards and their aligned tests. In Ohio, these exams will be the PARCC exams.

The Common Core standards will differ significantly from Ohio’s current academic standards in content, emphases, and cognitive demand.[1] These standards promise greater rigor in what students are expected to learn and how their learning is applied; therefore, we can also expect that the Common Core’s aligned assessments—again, the PARCC exams—will be more difficult.

How much harder should we expect the PARCC exams to be? Take a look for yourself.

Figure 1 shows two sample questions from Ohio’s current seventh-grade math exam. (The Ohio Department of Education provides practice tests, which are accessible via the source link below the figure.) The questions are relatively simple: the first question tests whether a student understands ratios; the second question tests whether a student understands a basic algebraic equation. Although I wouldn’t suggest that the questions are necessarily “easy” (it took me a few minutes to calculate the answers), they are straightforward—and are basically one-dimensional (testing one concept at a time).

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Students entering third grade a year from now will be allowed to advance to fourth grade only if they achieve a minimum score on Ohio’s third-grade reading assessment. The third-grade reading guarantee applies to all public schools—including charter schools—and seeks to ensure that all students are prepared for the academic challenges of fourth grade and beyond. Reading is the foundation for all learning, and research shows that not learning to read well in the early grades impacts students in later years. The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that students who aren’t proficient in reading by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than students who can read at grade level.

Research shows that not learning to read well in the early grades impacts students in later years.

Other states have enacted third-reading guarantees, Florida being the most notable example. The Sunshine State has had a guarantee in place for a decade, and the research on its impact is positive. In a study released earlier this year the Manhattan Institute’s Marcus Winters found that the benefits of Florida’s remediation were still apparent and substantial through seventh grade (which was as far as the data could be tracked). A new Brooking Institute paper by Harvard’s Martin West confirms these findings and shows that retaining students in the third grade who aren’t proficient in reading has long-term benefits for the students and little in terms of downsides.

Ohio’s new law has ample critics,...

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The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has a long history in Dayton – our roots in the city date back to the founding of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 1959. Today’s Dayton Daily News includes an interview with our Ohio Vice President Terry Ryan about Fordham’s work in the Gem City and the pressing education issues facing Dayton and the state. We are pleased to share this interview below with our Gadfly audience.

Q: Describe the Fordham Institute and your mission.

A: Thomas B. Fordham was a Dayton industrialist who died in 1944. His widow, Thelma Fordham Pruett, established the Ford-ham Foundation in his memory in 1959, and after she died in 1995, the modern foundation was launched by renowned educator Chester E. (“Checker”) Finn Jr. in 1997. Fordham’s mission is to improve primary and secondary education in Ohio and nationally. The institute is the sister organization of the foundation, and today we regard Ford-ham as a statewide education reform and advocacy group with one foot firmly planted in Dayton, which is also a key part of our “grounding in reality” that is crucial to our work statewide and nationally.

Q: What are some of the problems and challenges in education that the Institute is trying to address?

A: We work on a whole range of issues in public education. Just in the last few weeks, we’ve shared reports and organized public forums on issues ranging from the challenges of implementing new academic standards in mathematics and reading – the Common...

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Almost anyone in the field of education can tell you improving the quality of life for children is a multi-faceted endeavor. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book is testament to that fact. It explores four dimensions of child well-being at the national and state level: economic, education, health, and family and community. This year’s data book methodology expands last year’s, and divides it into the four dimensions to allow a closer look at education and family and community factors.

In the aftermath of “the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression,” the authors provide some interesting discoveries about our nation’s children. Overall national trends suggest that despite the impact of difficult economic times on children in the United States, things are slowly improving. Both child health and education have seen overall improvement. For child health, the number of children without health insurance has decreased by 20%. In education, areas such as 4th and 8th grade proficiency and on-time high school graduation have improved in recent years at the national level. 

Expectedly, economic well-being decreased for children after the recession, but initiatives like Race to the Top’s (RTTT) Early Learning Challenge and local programs that support children are attempting to curb the damage in my opinion. Specifically, Ohio’s $70 million RTTT initiative focuses primarily on kindergarten readiness and high quality, accountable programming. The Data Book ranked Ohio 18 of 50 states in its education factors; an encouraging point for our recent wave of policy changes. However,...

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America’s states, cities and schools are hurting big time financially. This is not news but the fact that the bad news keeps coming especially hurts.  For example, just released unemployment numbers show an increase to 8.3 percent as American households lost 195,000 jobs. The underemployment rate – which includes those who are underemployed or who are working part time rose to 15 percent. This economic pain has struck education hard, leaving public school budgets strapped for cash and making business-as-usual more and more difficult. Districts around the country are now starting to take some drastic, and sometimes controversial, actions.

Highland Parks Public Schools, a small district in Michigan that is one the state’s lowest-performers, is on the verge of financial collapse. It made news last week when officials there announced plans to outsource its schools to a private for-profit charter school operator. The district handed over operations to The Leona Group which runs 54 schools in five states; 22 of its schools are in Michigan. The Leona Group will now oversee decisions around the hiring of staff, school curriculum and instruction, as well as school facility and maintenance issues.

What led up to such drastic action and are more districts right behind Highland Parks Public Schools? A perfect storm of low enrollment, poor fiscal management, and some of the worst academic results in the state prompted Highland Parks Public Schools to take bold action. Since 2006 district enrollment has dropped by 58 percent, with only 989 students...

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Rigorous academic standards and high-stakes accountability for schools and educators alike are important for school improvement efforts. The states where students have made the most significant academic gains over the last decade (for example, Massachusetts and Florida) have had high academic standards, assessments aligned to those standards – complete with high cut scores, and transparent systems for sharing school and student results through district and school “report cards.” The fact is standardized testing has proven to be the best, most objective tool for measuring both student and teacher success.

This is important to remember as Ohio deals with a widening scandal around allegations of “data fudging” and “manipulation of attendance records” to improve test scores and school report cards. Some Buckeye State educators and lawmakers have suggested that the underlying problem here is accountability, or that the state’s report card has taken on “way too much importance.” Accountability, however, is not the problem. The Columbus Dispatch editorial board got it exactly right when writing:

It’s true that the report card is short of perfect; it is an attempt to tell an extremely complex story – how effective a school district is, allowing for all of its advantages and disadvantages – in a few numbers and phrases. But even so, it is a valuable tool to ensure that educators strive for improvement. To back off now would be harmful.

In the short term, the state must investigate these allegations; and if school employees are found to have wrongly...

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Teacher talent is squarely at the frontier of education reform. This week, The New Teacher Project issued a report that scrutinized teacher retention practices, finding that many top-shelf teachers—especially those in poorer schools where the need for effective teachers is the greatest—leave to teach in better schools, or leave the profession altogether.

In 2010, McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, published a blistering report of America’s teaching profession. McKinsey found that, in comparison to countries with high-flying education systems, America has a woeful teacher workforce: too many American teachers come from the bottom of their graduating college class, while too few top-performing college students consider teaching—much less enter the profession.

With these teacher quality issues in mind, I wanted to see how future grad-school education students fared on their GREs, the grad-school admissions exam. Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers the GRE, and in its summary statistics report, ETS breaks down test results by the test-taker's intended major—with education as a possible selection.

How did America’s future educators fare? Consider figure 1 which compares the average GRE score by intended grad-school major across two exam sections: quantitative (math) and verbal. On the left, education majors rank dead last in average quantitative score, even behind mathematically-challenged English and philosophy majors (they’re part of the humanities category). On the right side of figure 1, we observe that education majors rank in a tie for third-to-last in verbal score, falling well behind their peers in the humanities and social sciences....

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Innovation: It’s an education reform cliché. But what is innovation, really?

Ask most people about innovation and they’ll probably talk about products—airplanes, laptops, smartphones. But innovation also refers to process. That’s what blended learning is for education. It turns the process of teaching upside down.

Today, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in partnership with Knowledge Works and Reynoldsburg School District, welcomed Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements, to Ohio. Founded in 2010, Education Elements is a California-based company that advises schools on how to adopt and implement blended learning models. Education Elements has assisted charters (KIPP Los Angeles), traditional public school districts (Houston Independent School District), and parochial schools (Mission Dolores Academy in San Francisco).

Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements

Kim began the conversation with an audience that included superintendents, teachers, lawmakers, and state board members by describing his blended learning model. According to Kim, blended learning has three goals:

  • To differentiate teaching by breaking the classroom into smaller groups
  • To increase the collection and use of student achievement data to improve teaching
  • To create more efficient schools

How does blended learning achieve these goals?

First, blended learning can address some of the challenges of teaching students who read, write, and do math at different levels. Blended learning deploys a classroom rotation model: students are first broken into groups and then these groups rotate through different work stations throughout the school day.

Kim presented a three-station model, in...

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Earlier this week I attended the GE Foundation's Summer Business and Education Summit in Orlando. Most of the two-day conversation among the 150 or so participants revolved around the Common Core and the implementation challenges this effort to reboot public education across 46 states is sure to face in the coming years. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush captured the scale of the challenge when he told the gathering on the first morning that states are heading for a “train wreck.” He noted that when the new standards and assessments come fully online in 2014-15 that many communities, schools and families are in for a rude awakening.

Governor Bush said that the more rigorous Common Core standards, if backed up by equally rigorous assessments, will show that only one in three children in America would qualify as college or career ready. Bush warned that such bluntness about the poor health of American education and student achievement will trigger serious political backtracking. He said, “My guess is there’s going to be a lot of people running for cover and they’re going to be running fast.”

But, as Governor Bush and other speakers during the two day conversation argued, running away from the Common Core would be a huge mistake and a serious step back for the country, its children, and its future. This, in fact, was the overwhelming feeling of the group of business leaders gathered in Orlando. A recurring message throughout the event was that states must move forward with the...

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