Ohio Gadfly Daily

KidsOhio.org, a highly respected education-policy group based in Columbus, released a fact sheet today on the schools that are eligible for a “parent trigger” intervention. Twenty schools in Columbus City School District have been identified, on the basis of falling within the bottom 5 percent in the state in student achievement for three consecutive years. In layman’s terms, these schools have enormous and persistent struggles with low student achievement.

The parent-trigger law, only applicable to Columbus district schools, permits four different interventions—from charter-school conversion to contracting with non-district entities to operate the school. The trigger is contingent on 50 percent of the school’s parents or guardians petitioning the school board for the change. As my colleague has pointed out, several issues muddy our judgment on whether parents and policymakers should actually use a trigger-based intervention.

But regardless of whether or not the parent-trigger is used, this group of schools—especially those with lower value-added scores—need to improve significantly. So one of the interesting things on the fact sheet was the hyperlinks to each school’s “improvement plan.”

But these “plans” can only be described as anywhere from meager to pathetic. Here is one example, from Mifflin Middle School’s improvement plan, rated D in performance index and F in value-added—a truly struggling school. (Note, I’ve looked at all twenty of the “improvement plans”; they all are generally of this quality—some slightly better, some worse.)

These are Mifflin’s “school goals”:

  • Focus on trust and communication, with an overarching commitment
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  1. Editors at the Dispatch weighed in on the KnowYourCharter website today. Every line is worth a read, but just a hint: they are not fans. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. As you may remember, Columbus City Schools is a pilot site for Ohio’s parent trigger law, and 20 schools in the district are, for the first time, eligible to be taken over/reorganized/reconstituted if a majority of parents want that to occur. Today, KidsOhio.org released an overview of all the schools on the list, noting that all have improvement plans already in place and that most have had new principals within the three-year time frame of the trigger review. Interesting. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. The PD’s “test mania” series continues, this time talking with teachers about their views. No spoilers from me. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. I applaud the PD for their extensive “test mania” series, but I have to ask if it was really necessary to use those thousands of words/pixels and all those column inches/bytes to keep on saying that everyone hates testing. Whether you agree with the sentiment or not, those last three words sum up the entire PD series. However, here’s the other side, as presented in a technical and – dare I say it – less picturesque way by a guest columnist in the Dayton Daily News today. Their guest is a veteran teacher who needs over 600 words to express not only why he finds testing valuable but also what he has personally done
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  1. The annual leadership conference for charter school authorizers is taking place this week. EdWeek’s Arianna Prothero is there and learned a lot about closing down poor performers from Fordham’s Chad Aldis and Kathryn Mullen Upton, among others. (EdWeek blog)
     
  2. "If I am elected it will be an indictment of Common Core and a call for local control." Why yes, there are races for State Board of Education seats coming up in two weeks. Why do you ask? (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  3. The good folks at StateImpact also have a full voters guide for the state board races. This link is to the intro piece. Links to all candidate statements received in the various races are available there. (StateImpact Ohio)
     
  4. The Beacon Journal is really only interested in one of those state board races – District 4. In what is probably a rare move, editors have made an endorsement in the race. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  5. Thanks Common Core. Due to the roll out of new Common Core-aligned tests in Ohio this year, Lorain City Schools’ new academic recovery plan must lack in specifics as far as growth targets go. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal)
     
  6. Raise your hand if you love modular classrooms. Anyone? Didn’t think so. The folks in several burgeoning Licking County school districts don’t like them either. (Newark Advocate)
     
  7. For those of you still struggling to digest the recent Rolling Stone profile on Lima, Ohio, here’s a little look at
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  1. The Ohio Department of Education has taken unprecedented steps to combat the “recycling” of closed charter schools, learning in the process, I think, of how many ways there have been to actually do it. One such school in Cincinnati needs a whole new set of board members – to be appointed by ODE – ASAP. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. As if yesterday’s “pig weighing”/ “test-mania” story wasn’t enough, the PD published another one later in the day. This one consists mainly of quotes from emails from local superintendents responding to the first piece. Spoiler alert: overtesting is “an abomination”. Who says journalism is dead? Not me. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Abomination or no, teachers are getting ready to “feed the pig” before they weigh it (to use the North Coast technical terms I learned this week), by which I mean they are prepping for the new PARCC exams. Case in point: Springfield Twp. teachers, who are schooling their students in online document submission and editing ahead of PARCC test administration. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  4. Must be the pigs. ODE has gotten wind of what they term “an uproar” on the topic of over testing of students. And so the department has submitted a request to the federal government to exempt certain advanced students from the "double testing" that would otherwise occur under NCLB requirements. I’m sure the request was worded a bit more technically, but in a nutshell: "So can the end-of-course exam in English be used as
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Ohio is moving to new standardized tests, the PARCC assessments, which are set to commence in spring 2015. These new and vastly different tests pose big challenges. For one, unlike the paper-and-pencil exams of the past, the PARCC is designed for online administration, leading to obvious questions about schools’ technical readiness to administer the exams.[1] In addition, as Cleveland’s Plain Dealer reported recently, PARCC test results may be released later than usual in 2015—likely delaying the release of school report cards. At the same time, no one knows exactly where PARCC will set its cut-scores for “proficiency” and other achievement levels.[2] Finally, expect political blowback, too, when lower test scores are reported under PARCC, perhaps even stronger than the ongoing skirmishes around Ohio’s new learning standards.

Despite these complications, Ohioans should give PARCC a chance. Ohio needs a higher-quality state assessment to replace its mostly rinky-dink tests of yesteryear. Take a look at PARCC’s test-item prototypes; they ask students to demonstrate solid analytical skills based on what they know in math and English language arts. The upshot: PARCC’s more-sophisticated approach to assessment could put an end to the “test-prep” instruction that has infiltrated too many American classrooms. As Laura Slover, CEO of PARCC, has argued:

The PARCC assessments mark the end of “test prep.” Good instruction will be the only way to truly prepare students for the assessments. Memorization, drill and test-taking strategies will no...

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In his recent State of the Schools speech, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon referred to a 2013 column in the Plain Dealer comparing him to the ancient Greek king Sisyphus. As every school kid used to know, Sisyphus rolled a boulder up a mountain each day, only to watch it roll back down. He was doomed to spend the rest of eternity repeating this pointless task as a punishment for his greed and deceit—a kind of Greek myth Groundhog Day

The comparison of Gordon and Sisyphus is unfair. The punishment of Sisyphus, at its heart, is one constructed to impose hopelessness and despair. There is certainly much work to be done in Cleveland, but as we at Fordham have pointed out before (see here) there are also reasons to be hopeful about Cleveland’s progress. There is no room for Sisyphus in the fight to improve Ohio schools.

That being said, the English teacher in me appreciates the allusion. It even got me thinking about other ancient figures who might better symbolize the Buckeye state’s struggle to give its kids the best education—an education that all students deserve, but far too few receive. There’s the story of Orpheus, a legendary musician and the son of one of the infamous Muses, who stumbled upon his wife’s body soon after her death. Devastated, he played a song on his lyre that was so mournfully profound that Hades decided to allow Orpheus to take Eurydice from the underworld...

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Polls of parental attitudes about education can give guidance to those of us researching, dissecting, and commenting on education issues—clueing us in on issues of concern and, more importantly, helping framing those issues in ways which resonate with the general public. Education Post, a newish education-based communications network whose mission is to “cut through the noise” and to foster “straight talk,” published just such a poll earlier this month. As similar efforts have shown, poll respondents (1,800 “school parents” nationwide) feel better about their own children’s education than they do about the “education system” at large. Eighty-four percent of parents were either “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their child’s school. But when asked about the education system broadly, 60 percent thought there were “some changes” that needed to be made, while 33 percent thought that the system needed a “complete overhaul.” A mere 3 percent of respondents thought that the system was “fine as is.” When asked about specific changes to improve “the system,” 88 percent supported “higher standards and a more challenging curriculum,” 78 percent supported “expanding the number of charter schools so parents have more options,” 93 percent supported “more accountability for teachers and principals,” and 84 percent supported “teacher evaluations that use test scores, classroom observations, and surveys from parents and students to help teachers improve.” In short, education reformers’ current interests are all namechecked and given support with the polling data. But this latest poll is no more likely to be reformers’ manna...

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Isabel Sawhill is the founder of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, an effort from which she draws much of the impetus for her latest book: Generation Unbound. She reviews decades of research and literature to support the notion that “traditional” patterns of education, marriage, and parenting—in that order—are a thing of the past, especially in the lives of low-income individuals. Delayed parenting—one of the pillars of the “success sequence” that some education pundits espouse—is largely nonexistent in impoverished communities, where we fervently believe education can do so much to help break the cycle of poverty. Sawhill notes that these are facts of modern life, like it or not (a traditionalist, she seems not to like them very much). Ideologues on the left argue for more social support for unmarried parents; those on the right for a return to traditional marriage. Sawhill posits a third way—foregrounding the various downsides of single parenthood, providing as much information about and access to long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) as possible, and even incentivizing their promotion and use. With this “split the difference” approach, sure to be controversial with many, she believes that many young people who would otherwise simply drift into parenthood instead become “planners” who are able to put their own education and stability first before bringing children into the equation. While Sawhill focuses mainly on economic and equity issues in her book, education is never far from the narrative, especially when the topic of young people in poor...

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On September 19, teachers in the Columbus suburb of Reynoldsburg went out on strike for the first time since 1978. They started the school year without a contract in place, and neither two-party negotiations nor third-party mediation led to a breakthrough.

The initial contract offer from the district included a couple of notions that were thought by outside commentators to be problematic, including performance-based pay for teachers and the elimination of health care coverage in favor of a cash payment that teachers could use to buy their own coverage. As divisive as those issues could have been, they were actually pretty well hammered out before the walkout. The sticking point turned out to be a hard cap on class sizes.

With little movement on either side on this issue—and after dueling unfair labor practice charges were filed—the strike began. Day One was rough, but by the end of the first full week the feared “spillover” effects of the strike were not seen at Friday night’s big football game. But those Day One stories moved one district parent to sue to close the schools for the duration of the strike, citing concerns for student safety.

However, the Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge receiving the expedited case had a trick up his sleeve. Rather than ruling immediately, he ordered all parties into mandatory mediation behind closed doors and under a gag order. So what was the trick? While the judge...

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  1. Fordham was name-checked as a “reputable” charter school sponsor as editors in Columbus opined on recent stories about the questionable lease deals enjoyed by some Imagine charter schools. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. The story here is likely to be “more charter school shenanigans” as far as charter detractors are concerned, but a few things about this story of a former school leader convicted of fiscal malfeasance stand out to me. First, questionable spending came to light via a tip to the state auditor’s office. This is typical of how these things go with district schools, ESCs, and even student booster clubs. The news is full of them. Second, the tip came in 2013 and was acted upon quickly and decisively. It is over in less than a year, with repayment of funds ordered. Far quicker and simpler than Columbus’ data scrubbing crimes and even some athletic booster misfeasance that has been floating around for two years or more. Third, and perhaps most important, the charter schools in question survived the removal of a leader (good riddance) and seem to be continuing to serve their students as well as or better than the neighborhood schools. Call it shenanigans if you must and call for an end to all charters, but I think this is actually a very positive story of how it should work in any public entity where misfeasance is found. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  3. Keeping with the theme of charter schools for a moment, here’s a story about
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