Ohio Gadfly Daily

If you could redesign a city’s education system from scratch, what would it look like? In New Orleans, a terrible tragedy created the need to do just that. Today, education in the city bears very little resemblance to what existed ten years ago. School types, locations, information systems, and application processes are now almost entirely market-driven to give parents the information they need and the schools they want. The unprecedented landscape change in New Orleans has also given rise to a unique opportunity to study school choice in “revealed preferences”: what schools parents actually choose, and not just what they claim to want in a survey, when they must make a choice. The new report from Education Research Alliance for New Orleans compares choice data from immediately pre-Katrina with data collected two different years post-Katrina, as additional information and options settled into place over time. First the good news: After Katrina, the lowest-income families had greater access to schools with high test scores, average test scores increased across all students in the city, and even school bus transportation systems expanded (there’s no choice if you can’t get there). However, very-low-income families were less likely to choose schools with high test scores—even when those schools are easier to access than in a typical district system. But this is not entirely bad news; it is important, useful, and potentially game-changing for choice advocates.  The New Orleans study shows that a number of non-academic considerations (bus transportation, afterschool care, etc.) were not...

Cheers to State Auditor Dave Yost. Ohio’s Auditor last week released the results of unannounced visits his staff made to thirty charter schools back in October looking to compare reported student enrollment numbers with actual on-site counts. Nearly a quarter of schools showed “unusually high” discrepancies between the two numbers. Some will cry “witch hunt,” but this is really just one more bit of evidence that it’s time to review and revamp (as necessary) Ohio’s charter school laws.

Cheers to Ohio Representative Bill Hayes. In his first interview upon taking the chairmanship of the House Education Committee, Hayes was asked about the prospect of more Common Core repeal efforts in the General Assembly. His response was a study in open-minded fairness on an issue where lightning bolts and flames are expected. He expressed interest in hearing from both sides on the issue, while not equivocating on his position as “a supporter of local control for school districts.”

Jeers to Lorain City Schools’ new Board President Tony DiMacchia. Mr. DiMacchia is a proud native of Lorain and a cheerleader for his district, as you might expect from a school board president. But what message does it send when the leader of one of only two districts under the control of a state Academic Distress Commission demeans charter school quality (and families who choose...

  1. Sorry to have missed this on Friday, but the Cincinnati Enquirer covered the State Auditor’s report on charter school attendance, including a reaction from our own Chad Aldis…and a thoroughly predictable headline. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. Editors in Columbus put the charter attendance report in a bit of perspective this weekend while opining on all of the other big-ticket items they feel the state legislature needs to tackle in regard to education this session. Fordham’s recent reports proposing changes to charter law are referenced. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. You can tell a lot by a newspaper headline. This fascinating piece on school funding in Ohio comes with a giant caveat right in the headline. The Ohio Education Policy Institute plays a game of “what if” with property tax millage in districts across the state, determining that there are a number of affluent districts who could show more “effort” in funding themselves. What’s the caveat? These affluent individuals already pay a ton in state income tax which goes to districts not their own. It’s a different way of looking at school funding that will not likely be shared by many other folks. Most especially not by those affluent folks upon whom the exercise rests. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  4. The Enquirer took a look at the EdChoice Scholarship program over the weekend. Probably not in honor of the start of National School Choice Week (despite what they say), seeing as how they chose to trot out the old saw that the
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  1. In case you missed it, State Auditor Dave Yost yesterday released the results of unannounced visits his staff made to 30 charter schools across the state back in October, looking to compare reported student enrollment numbers with actual on-site counts. Nearly a quarter of schools showed “unusually high” discrepancies between the two numbers. The coverage was predictably screechy and lacking in nuance. Here are three pieces that at least include a response from Fordham’s own Chad Aldis: Gongwer Ohio; WKSU-FM, Kent (along with some other affiliated public radio outlets). The piece from WCBE-FM in Columbus incorporates part of the KSU audio but has a few more reaction quotes.
     
  2. Here is some print coverage of the Auditor’s report, without Chad’s comment, and with varying levels of nuance…and some screeching. These pieces in the Columbus Dispatch , the Dayton Daily News , and the Cleveland Plain Dealer are typical.
     
  3. Less typical was the Beacon Journal, whose headline alone should win some prize (hopefully that isn’t really a thing) for packing in fact, insinuation, and bias while remaining journalistically correct, if a little clunky. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  4. However, some nuances did get through in at least two pieces covering the Auditor’s report. First up, the Blade noted – probably sadly – that the Toledo charter schools visited by the auditor “fared well” upon review. What does that mean? In fact 3 of the 4 area charter schools visited by the Auditor’s staff
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  1. There are currently two school districts in Ohio which receive state oversight via Academic Distress Commissions. There soon may be two more. Review teams assembled by the Ohio Department of Education will be conducting in-depth site visits in both Dayton and Trotwood schools over the next few weeks due to their persistent positions at the bottom of the performance index rankings. Says ODE: The review will “compare district operations to established best practices,” with the goal being “to improve student achievement across the board”. There are of course a couple of ways to look at this: open arms (an opportunity to “help us to strengthen our shortcomings,” according to Dayton’s board president) or circled wagons (“I look forward to the recommendations, if they are situationally relevant and not based on a one-size-fits-all mentality,” according to Trotwood’s superintendent). Should be an interesting report coming up this spring. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  2. It seems that arms are perhaps opening a little wider in Geauga County, where the Berkshire/Ledgemont merger discussions have picked up again at the first board meeting of the year. In fact, it was a joint meeting of the two districts’ boards, almost exclusively to talk about what a merger of the two districts would look like in practice and the pros and cons as revealed in a recent financial report on the process as proposed. As we reporter earlier, the financials appear to be entirely positive, and the feared downsides are more along the line of the
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  1. This could get messy. Field Local Schools has voted to non-renew the charter school they have sponsored for the last five years. And kick them out of their building for good measure. Depending on how you look at it, the reason is that the predicted financial help to the district failed to materialize (shades of Upper Arlington, Gahanna, and others) or that Falcon Academy for the Arts simply became too successful a competitor. A quick look at the stats says that Falcon is at least as good overall as the district schools and, as the article points out, better in some cases. The kids, teachers, and board prez sure seem to think so. Story developing, as they say. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  2. Sticking with the Beacon Journal for a moment, the editorial staff opined today on the state superintendent’s report on standardized testing in Ohio. I don’t like to opine myself upon other folks’ opining, but I will just say “be careful what you opine for”. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  3. While it is not unprecedented for a charter school in Ohio to have all union teachers (see Falcon Academy, above), it is pretty groundbreaking for a charter school that started out non-union to unionize. But efforts have been underway in Cleveland to do just that. Well, I say “efforts”, but what started out as fairly straightforward organizing devolved into legal wrangling. But the legal wrangling appears to be on hold for now as negotiations between union and
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  1. Answer eliminator function. Highlighting tool. Line-reader option to read passages one line at a time. Answer review buttons. Cross-page navigation. Everything but the “phone a friend” lifeline. Are we talking about the latest electronic game? No; it’s the online PARCC exams being administered for real for the first time in Ohio soon. Sounds fantastic. Not only that, but this year schools have the option of going all-electronic, all-pencil, or a split among their tests. It is fascinating to note which districts took which option. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. Walnut Township Schools in Fairfield County is facing the possibility of fiscal emergency status, despite being the 42nd-richest district in the state (out of 600+). What’s the issue? Some fancy lakefront property in an otherwise rural district and a series of failed levies. This is not a unique situation across Ohio, but what is different in this story is the nuanced discussion of how state and local funding combine to fund districts in Ohio. It is a nuance largely lost in most newspaper stories about school funding, replaced by unsupportable claims of charter and voucher poaching of “our money”. Some hard decisions ahead in Walnut Township, for sure, but it seems that their leadership is clear-eyed and properly focused. Best of luck to them. (Lancaster Eagle Gazette)
     
  3. As we noted last week, the new list of EdChoice-eligible district schools was released by ODE. The bottom line is that more schools (and likely more students) are eligible than last year due
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  1. The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission and its various committees have quietly continued their work through the election season and into the new year. The committee working on K-12 education met this week and heard yet more testimony on that old bugbear phrase “thorough and efficient”. On the upside, most everyone involved believes that they’ve heard more than enough testimony on the issue. On the downside, the committee chair is not sure a consensus has emerged among the members: elimination, replacement, redefinition, additional language. All are still on the table, but hopefully we’re a step closer to a vote. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. As you may have heard, state superintendent Richard Ross released ODE’s report on the state of standardized testing in Ohio yesterday. In it we learn that the anecdotal stories of “test mania” that made headlines during legislative testimony last year are largely unsubstantiated by facts. However, there is a lot of good information in the report, as well as actionable recommendations from Ross about ways to cut testing and test-prep time…if that’s what the right folks decide to do. What will come of this report is yet to be seen – administrative rules, legislation, guidance to schools, more study. All are possible. It probably depends on who actually takes up the recommendations and decides to run – thoughtfully – with them. And to whom they run. Hopefully it won’t come down to whomever shouts the loudest. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Mansfield City Schools was placed under fiscal
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  1. Anyone who’s read my Ohio Gadfly pieces knows that I’m an advocate of “blowing up” entrenched ways of doing business, especially if done for the betterment of students. It’s nice to see that the venerable – and super-entrenched – Catholic education system may be looking to do just that. St. Francis de Sales High School in Toledo is not only adding middle school grades to its structure next year, but is also creating a pathway for those new middle schoolers to earn HS credit while still in middle school. Love it. One also assumes that St. Francis, being a school that accepts EdChoice vouchers, will also be able to accept voucher students in those lower grades as well. Fanastic! (Toledo Blade)
     
  2. And, just in case you missed it because it hasn’t been touted in the press yet, the new list of EdChoice-eligible district schools (those are the ones that have been ranked lowest of the low statewide for two of the last three years) is out. That means another group of 80,000 or more students who are attending persistently-failing schools who are eligible for tuition vouchers to a participating private school of their choice. Lots of familiar names on that list, and some newbies. Application window opens in less than two weeks. (Ohio Department of Education)
     
  3. What do the parents of Tipp City children want in their schools? Good teachers, according to the results of a recent parent survey. And it seems they are willing
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Ohio’s Quality Counts Rating – Poverty Gap Change

In Monday’s post, we examined the achievement gains Ohio has made on the NAEP exams from 2003 to 2013. Needless to say, Ohio’s gains were not all that impressive. In this post, I look at how Ohio fares along the “poverty-gap closing” measure used in EdWeek’s Quality Counts report. (This metric is the difference in NAEP achievement between low- and high-income students—and how that gap has changed over time.) The achievement gap between poor and well-off children is substantial across the entire nation, Ohio included, and thus minimizing the differences in achievement levels is a worthwhile policy objective (preferably, by lifting the achievement of poor students, not through reductions in wealthy-students’ performance). The chart below displays the “poverty gap” trend in Ohio, along with several other states: four other Midwestern states, the four most-populous states, and the national average. Among these states, Ohio had the largest increase in the achievement gap; its gap grew 3.3 points from 2003 to 2013. The state also ranked near the bottom nationally on this indicator—38th in the nation, taken as an average of its math and reading ranks. Meanwhile, New York was the U.S. leader in achievement-gap closing during this time period, shearing off 5.2 points in its gap between low- and high-income students. Ohio has a growing achievement gap between its poor and wealthy students, and in fact, one of the worst achievement-gap trends in the nation.

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