Ohio Gadfly Daily

  1. Here’s a tale of two districts for you. High-flying Amherst Schools is pretty bent out of shape over the D grade they received in their very first K-3 Literacy Improvement Measure report. Meanwhile, Lorain Schools – currently being overseen by an Academic Distress Commission – is thrilled with their grade of C on the same measure. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal, 5/10/15)
     
  2. Just to up the ante, here’s a tale of THREE districts. A subdivision of 23 homes in central Ohio is geographically situated in Columbus, but due to fallout from the 1970s annexing boom around here, the school district assignment zone for them is not the local district but South-Western City Schools. There are 10 school age children currently in the neighborhood. None of them attend South-Western, but the district treasurer knows just how much property tax these houses generate for his district. That is, exactly how much property tax his district would lose if residents are successful in their efforts to get themselves rezoned for tony Upper Arlington City Schools. Which, one assumes, they WILL attend if they are successful. The residents appear to have the support of the State Board of Education in their efforts
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Recently I had the privilege of listening to practitioners from Ohio’s high-performing districts who shared how they’re achieving success. These districts are earning A grades on their state report cards in notoriously difficult areas such as closing achievement gaps, effectively serving gifted students and students with disabilities, and increasing student achievement across the board. 

The series of events was hosted by Battelle for Kids in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Education, and I was able to hear from five of the exemplary districts: Marysville, Orange City, Oak Hills Local, Solon City, and Mechanicsburg. Here are the important commonalities I found among the strategies discussed.

1. Plus time

This strategy goes by a different name depending on which district you visit: “no-new-instruction time,” “flex time,” “plus time,” and “support classes” were all terms I heard, but the basic idea was the same. Each of these high flyers altered their daily schedule so that students received around forty minutes a day of either enrichment or remediation. To be clear, this isn’t an additional class in which students learn new information; instead, this is a time for...

  1. Here’s a pretty up-to-date status report on standardized testing in Ohio. Sure, parts of the story are given “juice” by the use of some loaded terms (“controversial”, “scrap”, “confusing”, “a mess”), but let’s not quibble over questions of authorial intent. Let’s just be glad of all the attention being paid to testing. For the sake of student achievement, because that’s what all of the interview subjects have as their bottom line interest. Right? (Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/8/15)
     
  2. As if Patrick O’Donnell’s series on his visit to a Pearson testing facility in Westerville couldn’t get any more interesting, he concluded by answering some specific reader queries on the how’s and why’s of grading standardized tests without a computer. Honestly, the questions folks wanted answered were almost more interesting than the answers themselves. There’s so much to unpack in a question like “How many breaks are they given to get refreshed since each score means so much to each student?”. Still no answer to my puzzler: “What kinds of snacks are provided for said refreshment, since #brainfood?” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/9/15)
     
  3. Meanwhile, in the oldies-but-goodies department, editors in Columbus opined yesterday on the vital need for students to
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Much attention has been paid to why teachers quit. Statistics and studies get thrown around, and there are countless theories to explain the attrition rate. While recent reports indicate that the trend might not be as bad as we’ve thought, teacher attrition isn’t just about whole-population numbers—it’s about retaining the most effective teachers within those numbers. Indeed, a 2012 study from TNTP (formerly known as the New Teacher Project) notes that our failure to improve teacher retention is largely a matter of failing to retain the right teachers. A separate study suggests that retaining the best teachers is all about reducing barriers that make teachers feel powerless and isolated. The 2014 National Teacher of the Year recently pointed out that, among myriad other causes, lacking influence in their own schools and districts (let alone in state policy) is often at the root of teacher attrition.

Keeping high-performers in the classroom has long been a trouble spot for schools. “If you don’t offer leadership opportunities for teachers to excel in their profession, to grow, and still allow them to stay in the classroom,” says Ruthanne Buck, senior advisor to Secretary of...

  1. Our own Aaron Churchill was on the radio in Columbus yesterday, talking about our new report School Closures and Student Achievement. Big thanks to host Joel Riley for having us. (WTVN-AM, Columbus, 5/7/15)
     
  2. Blast from the past. Former Fordhamite Terry Ryan spoke to statewide public radio this week, discussing the history of charter schools in Ohio. With audio link in case you miss Terry’s dulcet tones. Nice. (StateImpact Ohio, 5/6/15)
     
  3. Fast-forward to today, when editors in Columbus opine (again) in favor of charter law reform in Ohio. Now. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/8/15)
     
  4. Reference is made in that Dispatch op-ed to bills being debated in the Ohio General Assembly on charter school law reform. No less than three bills contain vital elements of reform. On Wednesday, Bellwether Partners’ Andy Smarick testified before a Senate subcommittee on one of those bills. But, honestly, he could have been speaking of them all: “If they can implement the law well and hold their sponsors accountable, evidence from other states suggests this will put Ohio on the right track.” You can check out coverage of all the testimony from that session – which included not only Smarick but also representatives
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Editor's note: On May 6, Fordham contributor Andy Smarick delivered testimony before an Ohio education subcommittee on Senate Bill 148, a critical piece of legislation that would help clean up the state's troubled charter sector. With his permission, we're reproducing his remarks.

Thank you Chair Hite, Vice Chair Sawyer, and subcommittee members for allowing me to offer some thoughts on your ongoing efforts to improve charter schooling in Ohio. Congratulations and thank you for the important progress that’s reflected in the legislation being considered here today.

My name is Andy Smarick, and I’m a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization committed to improving K–12 schooling, especially for high-need students. I’ve worked on education policy for most of my career—at the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. House of Representatives, a state department of education, and a state legislature.

I’m also a strong advocate for high-quality charter schooling. I helped start a charter school for low-income students, I helped found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and I’ve written extensively about charter schooling, including a book on how—when done right—it can dramatically improve student results in cities.

I was a coauthor of the report published late...

  1. Here’s some of the most exciting news to hit Ohio in a while: the Cincinnati Accelerator project. That is, a public-private partnership meant to boost the number of high-quality schools open to Cincinnati's poorest students. Partners include the Cincinnati Business and Cincinnati Regional Business committees, and the Farmer Family, Haile U.S. Bank and KnowledgeWorks foundations. It also involves leaders from Cincinnati Public Schools, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and local charter schools. Whew! In five years, the goal is to double the number of seats available at high-performing schools in Cincinnati, from about 5,000 to 10,000. And in ten years, 20,000 high-quality seats. We wish them the very best in this endeavor, on behalf of children and families in Cincinnati. It is to be hoped that no further campouts will be required to access these seats. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/6/15)
     
  2. Anyone else interested in an update on the status of the so-called “education deregulation” bill currently being heard in the House Education Committee? Me too! And here it is. (Gongwer Ohio, 5/5/15)
     
  3. Since when does a local newspaper care about the minutiae involved in a charter school changing management companies? When the school is in Youngstown and
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The education components of Governor Kasich’s proposed budget—and the House's subsequent revisions—made a big splash in Ohio's news outlets. Much of the attention has been devoted to the House’s (unwise) moves to eliminate PARCC funding and their rewrite of Kasich’s funding formula changes. Amidst all this noise, however, are a few other education issues in the House’s revisions that have slipped by largely unnoticed. Let’s examine a few.

Nationally normed vs. criterion-referenced tests

As part of its attempt to get rid of PARCC, the House added text dictating that state assessments “shall be nationally normed, standardized assessments.” This is worrisome, as there is a big difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests.

A norm-referenced test determines scores by comparing a student’s performance to the entire pool of test takers. Each student’s test score is compared to other students in order to determine their percentile ranking in the distribution of test takers. Examples of norm-referenced tests are the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Stanford 10 exams. A criterion-referenced test, on the other hand, is scored on an absolute scale. Instead of being compared to other students, students are compared against a standard of achievement (i.e.,...

School closures should never be undertaken lightly, be they district or charter schools. Academic troubles, a fall in enrollment, economic problems, and a myriad of other issues can push the issue to the forefront. Under such times of duress, policymakers and education officials are forced to ask a difficult question: Does closing a school cause more harm than good, especially for students?

Report Co-Author, Stéphane Lavertu

Today, Fordham released a new study called School Closures and Student Achievement that seeks to answer this very question. At a breakfast event on April 28th that attracted around fifty Ohio education leaders, the report’s co-author, Dr. Stéphane Lavertu, presented a summary of the study’s findings. These findings showed that three years after closure, displaced students typically make significant academic gains.

After Dr. Lavertu’s presentation, Chad moderated a panel of policymakers and practitioners who discussed the findings and policy implications. The panel consisted of: the Honorable Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton; Tracie Craft, Deputy Director of Advocacy, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO); Stephanie Groce, former member Columbus City Schools Board of Education;...

  1. Editors in Columbus opined on Fordham’s new school closures report. The findings “make logical sense” and districts should “make a priority of explaining these findings to the public, whether or not a round of closings is imminent.” Nice. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/2/15)
     
  2. The president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership opined on efforts to strengthen charter school law in Ohio. The changes will result in “a profound improvement” for charter school students and families and he urges the legislature to fast track passage of the various bills before them. Nice. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/3/15)
     
  3. The Ohio Senate’s advisory panel on testing made its recommendations last week. In a nutshell: Testing only once per year (near the end of the year), shorter testing time overall, extended “safe harbor” timeframes for everyone involved, and prompt response from vendors to change/tweak the tests at state request (or risk being dumped). Check out initial coverage from the Cleveland Plain Dealer (4/30/15) and the Columbus Dispatch (4/30/15). More to come on this, I’m sure.
     
  4. The Ohio Department of Education last week gave a preview of the new reading proficiency grades that schools and districts around the state will receive
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