Ohio Gadfly Daily

Right on schedule, district officials, driven by self-interest, are airing their grievances over Governor Kasich’s school-funding proposal. Media outlets are encouraging the “winners and losers” storyline by showing funding increases and decreases for the districts in their areas.

As the policy debate on school funding gets heated—and leaves others “puzzled”—we offer three key points to help clear the air.

Point #1: The amount of overall public funding for districts is often very generous—which would be a surprise to many taxpayers.

To hear some groups tell it, public schools are grossly “underfunded.” But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Ohio spent $13,063 per student in 2010–11—significantly more than the national average ($11,948 per student).[1] Some Ohio districts spend more than others, of course, reflecting differences in operating conditions, tax bases, and student needs. According to the Ohio Department of Education’s Cupp Report, Ohio school districts spent anywhere from just over $6,000 per student to $20,000 per student in 2012–13. These statistics include all three major streams of public funding for schools—local, state, and federal funds.

Interestingly, surveys find that the public routinely underestimates the amount spent on education. A 2014 poll conducted by Education Next/PEPG asked respondents to estimate their district’s expenditures: On average, respondents guessed $6,490 per student; but in reality, their districts spent nearly twice as much. Accurate information about districts’ spending is paramount, and deliberate mis-reporting is utterly appalling. Ohioans are best served when...

With all the attention that’s focused on teachers, principals must feel like the neglected stepchild of education reform. Evaluations, tenure, and the lackluster performance of teacher prep programs are all hot reform topics, and there’s no shortage of books and articles that obsess over all things teacher-relate. But what about principals? School leaders are responsible for nearly everything that happens in a school—from creating a positive culture and tracking data to evaluating instruction and hiring (or sometimes firing) the teachers who most affect student outcomes.

Research points to the challenges of recruiting and selecting effective principals. Most principals are chosen from employees who already work for the district. This isn’t a problem per se, except that districts often do a poor job of building skills in and smoothing the transition for those they select. Add to that the other hallmarks of the job, such as high pressure and low compensation, and it’s easy to understand why it’s so hard to find great talent.

This bleak picture begs the question: Is anyone doing it right?

A recent piece in Education Week looks at KIPP's principal training, which boasts “real-world practice” for its participants. One of KIPP’s six programs, the Fisher Fellowship, is a yearlong residency that includes an intensive summer workshop, one-on-one coaching with experienced leaders, and the opportunity to spend a year visiting high-performing schools across the country. Fellows receive salaries and benefits, allowing them to focus their time and energy solely on...

Greg Harris

Greg Harris is Ohio state director for StudentsFirst.

Despite fierce efforts to derail the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System midway through its first year of implementation (the 2013–2014 academic year), it survived. Now the results are in, and preliminary analysis suggests that 90 percent of Ohio teachers fared well. More importantly, a cultural shift is underway that is pushing more principals to observe and interact with teachers—and placing far greater emphasis the impact of teachers on kids.

In December 2013, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed SB 229, which sought to exempt teachers rated in the top two categories (“Accomplished” or “Skilled”) from annual evaluations under the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). Proponents argued that by exempting the best teachers, schools could focus their energies on developing less effective teachers.

While the bill was reasonable on its face, a deeper look showed cause for concern. Historically, the vast majority of Ohio teachers had been rated in those top two tiers and would be exempted from evaluation if trends held. This promised a sharp reduction in annual OTES participation.

Such a reduction in participation would prove especially unfortunate in light of the fact that OTES represented the first time in Ohio history that teacher evaluation has been linked to student outcomes. Thus, a genuine effort to improve teacher quality in Ohio required the full participation of its...

NCTQ has been tracking the health of the nation’s teacher pension systems annually since 2008. It was a bad year to start—the Great Recession was heading for its nadir—but surely in 2014 things are starting to look up, right? Not so much, say the authors of the latest edition of Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions. In 2014, the overall debt load of teacher pension funds in the fifty states and the District of Columbia reached $499 billion (an increase of more than $100 billion in just the last two years). An average of seventy cents of every dollar contributed to the systems goes toward paying off the accumulated debt rather than paying into upcoming benefit needs. The folks at NCTQ, while not above some “sky-is-falling” rhetoric, report on the status of seven reforms that they believe would help to avert the pension disaster that has been looming for years, including full portability of plans, reasonable contribution rates for employers and teachers, and fair eligibility rules. The overall average state grade for teacher pension policy in 2014 is a lowly C-. Mountains of debt, overly long vesting periods, backloaded benefits, and lack of portability were the main sticking points this year. One state received an F (Mississippi); one an A (Alaska). The latter squarely hits five of the seven reforms, making a sustained effort to pay down its accrued pension debt after shutting down its previously mired defined benefit plan. The news in Ohio is mostly good. The...

Faced with enormous budgetary shortfalls, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) voted in May 2013 to close forty-seven schools, one of the largest waves of school closings in U.S. history. Shortly thereafter, CPS adopted a policy aimed at relocating more than ten thousand displaced students into higher-performing CPS schools for the 2013—14 school year. The district called the schools that absorbed displaced students “welcoming schools.” This policy was supported by research showing that students affected by closure benefit academically if they land in a better school. The welcoming schools were all higher-performing on CPS’s internal measures of performance; they also received additional resources to ease the influx of new students (e.g., student safety and instructional supports). But how did the policy play out? Did displaced students actually enroll in their assigned welcoming school? According to University of Chicago researchers, 66 percent of displaced students enrolled in their welcoming school in fall 2013. Meanwhile, 25 percent of displaced students attended other neighborhood-based CPS schools, while 4 percent attended a charter and 4 percent attended a magnet school. An analysis of student records indicates that distance from home, building safety concerns, and residential mobility were all significant reasons why students did not attend their welcoming school. (Parent interviews also highlighted some of the issues in choosing a post-closure school.) The study does not report the academic results for CPS students post-closure. (Stay tuned for a new Fordham report in March on how Ohio students fare after closure.) Overall, CPS crafted a reasonable though...

Cheers to Cardinal Schools in Geauga County. Experts in autism education have deemed the district an exemplar of best practices for inclusion and support. Their “model classrooms” were videotaped in action earlier this month, and the footage will be shared with educators across the state and the country. Of additional note: Cardinal is connected to two district merger proposals that would, if successful, bring their expertise directly to students with autism in three other county districts.

Jeers to the board, administration, and sponsor of Gateway Academy, a charter school in Franklin County. Last week, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost announced that the school’s financial records were “incomplete, unauditable and inexcusable.” Thankfully, annual audits of charter schools are mandated under law in Ohio, and sponsors are held accountable when those audits uncover a mire such as this.

Cheers to wider publicity for the EdChoice Scholarship voucher program, no matter how it happens. Dayton City Schools would rather hold students hostage than let thousands of eligible kids leave with a voucher due to the persistent poor performance of their schools. Fortunately for families, the Dayton Daily News covered the district’s determination in a lot of depth…including a full list of the eligible school buildings, information on the income-based voucher program, and a peek at the private schools accepting voucher students. Excellent publicity for EdChoice, we’d say.

Double cheers to new school models AND Ohio’s Straight-A Fund. While Geauga County dithers and debates over mergers (see above), a new STEM...

  1. Wow. Leave it to State Auditor Dave Yost to have his own incisive take on charter law reform. While the current media narrative is “sponsor-centric” reforms vs. “school-centric” reforms, let’s just say that Yost thinks that neither approach is 100 percent on the mark for him. His work auditing sponsors and investigating schools has led him to the central question of when a charter school is acting as a private organization vs. when they take on a governmental role in educating children. He’ll be advocating for Ohio to define the line between these functions, and he’s got a thing or two to say about monitoring/reporting attendance and online coursework. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. PARCC testing in Ohio is likely back on again today in most places as last week’s cold snap – which closed schools for days – ebbs a bit. This gave Toledo Blade columnist Marilou Johanek time to opine somewhat confoundingly on testing, largely from the perspective of her own son. She says he was an “overconfident” test taker in the days of OAAs but that he’s now one with the “stressed-out masses”. You might think that this is because he – and she – perceives the tests to be too hard. But you’d be wrong. She says it’s because “Suddenly, students…who have spent years habitually learning to regurgitate facts to pass tests, are being asked to think critically. They don’t even know what that means. They don’t get the question. Rote memorization is all they
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  1. Editors in Canton agree with Chad today while opining on charter law reforms proposed by Governor Kasich. Well, they really just take one item from his recent House testimony with which they agree, while basically saying the proposals don’t go far enough to suit them. But we’ll take the media hit…and Chad will happily accept the editors’ agreement. Both happen so rarely. (Canton Repository)
     
  2. Meanwhile, editors in Cleveland opine on the governor’s proposed changes to charter school funding, agreeing with no one but themselves. CREDO’s report on charter school quality in Ohio – sponsored by Fordham – is name-checked and linked. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Well, PARCC testing in Ohio – and pretty much everything else – came to a screeching halt when Elsa worked her magic on us, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t Common Core news to talk about. What does it mean to align curriculum to a set of standards? How does that play out in a classroom/school/district? Journalist Chike Erokwu digs into those questions in this thoughtful piece. Spoiler alert: there is art and writing involved, group discussion, a teaching framework from a non-profit organization, and lots of direct input from teachers and administration. The superintendent says the framework he and his staff have created “gives structure to the work that’s going on in the classroom (and) that’s a great thing.” Why yes it is, sir. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  4. Meanwhile, Governor Kasich has had a few more things to say
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  1. It’s been cold and snowy in central Ohio for the last few days, causing traffic slowdowns and other headaches. But what were some local charter school leaders doing in the pre-dawn hours yesterday morning? Not checking to see whether they should cancel school, but instead tearing across town in the snow to get to Columbus City Schools’ facilities office to be first in line to put bids on closed school buildings. While charters getting first crack at buying surplus buildings is a step up from previous years when they were routinely shut out of bidding, I don’t think that the Death Race-style crack-of-dawn jockeying was truly the intent of the state law passed last year that put charters first in line. On a personal note, I’m glad to see my old elementary school appears to be getting a new tenant: one of the highest-rated charters in the city. Congrats. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. In the midst of the aforementioned weather misery, this week has been showtime for the state’s new PARCC tests. How’s it going? The PD’s Patrick O’Donnell gives us the Northeast Ohio perspective in this piece. Approximately 100,000 students had at least started testing as of yesterday and the glitches reported to O’Donnell seem pretty low key to me. Remember Mentor Supe Matt Miller’s gloomy predictions in front of the Senate Education Committee last week? Now he says, “It's not widespread and it's not blocks of kids… It's more isolated incidents.” Today’s record deep freeze will likely be
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  1. Most of the discussion of the governor’s education funding proposals so far has focused on districts, the funding formula, and winners/losers. Now it’s time for media and pundits to take a look at what funding changes may be afoot for charter schools. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. Here’s more discussion of proposed charter funding changes…with charts. And something else to note: the PD is the only major daily in the state whose comments section is free and open to all. As I publish these clips, there are well over 300 comments on this story with no sign of slowing. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. If you can stand it, here is one more piece on charter school funding proposals. That story is packaged with another, which features the good folks at Innovation Ohio discussing charter law reforms in both the budget and other legislation currently in hearings in the General Assembly. Interestingly, while they seem supportive of the mainly “sponsor-centric” reforms on offer, they add highlight other changes they’d like to see, which are much more “school-centric”. To wit: “swifter closure of failing charters, transparency standards equal to district schools, and funding that does not punish districts.” Worth a read.  (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  4. Elsewhere in the General Assembly, SB 3, the so-called “education deregulation” bill is not generating a ton of interest. Its first big hearing yesterday garnered only one proponent and a gaggle of interested parties testifying together. Are stakeholders not interested in unfettering the high flyers or
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