Ohio Gadfly Daily

  1. It took a few days, but newspaper editors have finally started taking note of the state auditor’s report on charter school attendance. Check out opinion pieces from the Akron Beacon-Journal and the Columbus Dispatch.
     
  2. Academic Standards Review Committees were mandated in state law last year, with members appointed by the Senate, the House, and the Governor. The committees began work yesterday, and the Statehouse is still standing. However, it does appear that a couple of the members are under the mistaken idea they were appointed to the legislature of the state board of education. Weird. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  3. Administration of PARCC tests is to begin in earnest in Ohio soon. The Ohio Department of Education did a little rollout event yesterday. You can check out the dry – but informative – version of the story, focusing on the rollout event itself in Gongwer Ohio. Or you can go down to the district level – far less dry and with far more skeptical commentators – with the Dayton Daily News.
     
  4. So the state auditor releases a report on charter school attendance and the result is at least 10 stories across the state and the above-noted op-eds so far, all of them baying for immediate action to end the travesty. So, this story about a report on Lorain City Schools (who are already under the aegis of an Academic Distress Commission) should bring the house down right? A student allowed to sleep during class
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  1. In case you missed it: Governor Kasich said this about Common Core over the weekend: “It's local schools with local school boards and high standards. I don't know how anybody can disagree with that…” On national television. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. In honor of National School Choice Week, one Lima News editor opined strongly against the entrenched status quo of what he calls “government schools”. Not sure how one reconciles that attitude with a support for open enrollment or even charter schools, but it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. (Lima News)
     
  3. Speaking of “government schools”, the local chapter of the NAACP wants Youngstown’s district superintendent out, expressing no confidence in his ability to improve education in the district. Let’s remember that “the government” (i.e. – the Ohio Department of Education) has placed the district under the aegis of an Academic Distress Commission, a review of procedures found the school board micromanaging the district to a damaging degree, and the newspaper’s editorial board literally begged the governor to take over the district entirely. No wonder everyone’s open enrolling in Austintown. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  4. In other academic distress commission news, there appears to have been a Q&A between Lorain’s commissioners and district officials yesterday. The article reads like stream of consciousness reporting and is hard to garner much detail from. It is instructive as to what’s going on in schools and classrooms in the district, but probably not in the way that anyone involves thinks it is. Even when
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Chances are, you’ve heard something in the past year about test mania. Everyone from superintendents to parents to retired educators has an opinion; even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested tests and test prep are dominating schools. Given all this attention, one might assume that students spend hundreds of hours each year taking tests—perhaps even more time than they spend actually learning. A recent report from Ohio Schools’ Superintendent Richard Ross paints a very different picture.

The report, required by state law, reveals that Ohio students spend, on average, almost twenty hours taking standardized tests during the school year. (This doesn’t include teacher-designed tests, but does include state tests.) Twenty hours is a good chunk of time, but when one considers that the school year in Ohio is about 1,080 hours total (it varies by district and grade level), that means testing only takes up about 2 percent of the year. (Report results show that students spend approximately fifteen additional hours practicing for tests, but this additional time only raises the total percentage to 3 percent).

Regardless of this small percentage, critics of standardized testing make some valid points. No one wants quality, in-depth learning to be pushed aside for superficial test prep, and a strong accountability system doesn’t have to mean a test-saturated system. That’s why Superintendent Ross’s report is so beneficial: While it reinforces testing’s role in monitoring and improving student achievement, it also makes recommendations for limiting the time spent taking and...

In spring 2013, Ohio policymakers approved a two-year, $250 million investment aimed at spurring innovation in public schools. Known as the Straight A Fund, this competitive grant program has since catalyzed sixty new projects throughout the state, many of which are joint ventures between schools, vocational centers, ESCs, colleges, and businesses.

As a member of the grant advisory committee, I gained a firsthand view of the exciting projects happening around the state, everything from “fab labs” (a computer center outfitted with computer-aided drawing software and 3-D printers), outdoor greenhouses, and robotics workshops. Those who are interested in these projects should plan to attend this conference in Columbus on February 5.

In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers should continue to invest in innovation by reauthorizing the Straight A Fund. At the same time, the legislature should also consider a few alterations that could give an even stronger boost to the most innovative project ideas. The suggestions are as follows:

Remove the cost-reduction mandate.

A small provision in the Straight A legislation required grantees to show “verifiable, credible, and permanent” cost reductions that would result from the grant. As a result, applications were evaluated significantly on the cost-reduction criteria. (You can read applications online here.) Although well-intended, this provision created two problems:

First, applicants clearly struggled to quantify the cost reductions attributable to their project proposals. In some of the applications, the proposals made half-baked or underwhelming cost-reduction claims. For example, some described how a...

Today marks the start of National School Choice Week. Across the country, over 11,000 events will take place from the intimate (school open houses and homeschool how-to sessions) to the enormous (Capitol Rallies across the country); from our own gathering to online events. It is one week of the year during which the focus is on the benefits parents and children gain from having the opportunity to choose the school that best fits their needs.

School choice in Ohio comes in many forms, including public charter schools, private schools (and voucher programs that help needy students pay private tuition), open enrollment, STEM schools, vocational centers, post-secondary enrollment options, and home schooling. Among these choice options, charter schools have clearly become the most prominent feature of Ohio’s school-choice environment; they educate over 120,000 students, many of whom come from low-income families.

Given the high profile of charter schools, it is worth pausing on School Choice Week to honor the very best of Ohio’s charter schools. The table below is an honor roll of Ohio charter schools. It displays twenty-two charter schools that were ranked in the top ten percent in either the state’s performance-index score (student achievement) or value-added-index score (student growth over time). One school, Columbus Preparatory Academy, was rated in the top ten percent in both categories. An asterisk next to a school name indicates that the charter school made our top-quality charters list in 2012–13 (fourteen of the twenty-two schools are second-time recipients).

Table:...

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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