Ohio Gadfly Daily

  1. While we rarely say “no thanks” to a media hit here at Fordham, sometimes we do worry about getting swept into stories by association with the topic. To wit: Fordham is namechecked and our two commissioned reports on charter school performance from December are referenced in this Dispatch piece first published Tuesday morning. It is about the Center for Education Reform’s new study of laws and policies in the 42 states (and the District of Columbia) that allow charter schools. Now Ohio’s grade of “C” stinks, no question, but the original version of this piece erroneously gave Ohio’s rank as 28 out of 43. The entire story – including Fordham’s namecheck – proceeded from this rank. Only, it’s wrong. Ohio’s rank was actually 14 out of 43. Still a “C”, still stinky, but an entirely different conversation should have arisen out of a top-15 finish, especially in regard to what is currently happening in every part of state government in Ohio to fix some long-standing problems. The same likely cannot be said of many other states. (Columbus Dispatch, 3/17/15)
     
  2. Speaking of that work to reform Ohio’s charter school law – it continues apace. HB 2 – the standalone bill on this topic – had an omnibus amendment added to it yesterday as promised by its sponsor last week, improving an already-good bill. Chad is quoted saying that very thing in this Dispatch piece. (Columbus Dispatch, 3/17/15)
     
  3. The PD’s take on the HB 2 amendment focuses
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  1. We told you last week of Akron City Schools’ new plan to start an online charter school – with the help of a county ESC and Reynoldsburg City Schools – as indicated in their new itemized budget. On Friday, the Beacon-Journal spilled more of the beans and gave us not only program details, but rationale from district officials. They are aiming to recruit “300 elementary students they’ve identified as living in Akron but either home-schooled or attending a charter school” and “40 Akron high school students who have fallen behind on graduation credits.” What could be a godsend for Akron parents and their kids – a real way to do school differently for children already looking for/needing something other than the status quo – is reduced to the usual charter/e-school bashing. Good luck everyone. (Akron Beacon-Journal, 3/13/15)
     
  2. Speaking of charter schools, editors in Toledo opined on charter reform efforts this weekend. I was kind of hoping the title of the editorial was a subtle Monty Python reference, but after reading it I don’t think so. While the editorial takes aim at charter, I can’t help but think many of the same arguments apply to district schools. Feel free to reword that first paragraph, replacing “charter schools” with “traditional district schools”, “Toledo School for the Arts” with “John Hay HS in Cleveland” or its ilk, and “operators” with “unions”. It still makes sense. Weird. (Toledo Blade, 3/14/15)

Ohio has been a hotbed of education reform in recent years, but two policy areas remain mostly virgin territory: teacher preparation and licensure. I tackled the former previously; now let’s examine three significant problems with Ohio’s approach to the latter.

1. Lack of content tests for early childhood licenses

According to NCTQ’s 2014 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, Ohio is one of only four states in the nation that doesn’t require all elementary teachers to pass a content test prior to licensure (see here for the Ohio details). A list of required assessments shows that early childhood (PK–3) teachers are only required to pass the Assessment of Professional Knowledge: Early Childhood (which tests pedagogical knowledge) and Early Childhood Education assessments. The second of these tests is intended to assess a candidate’s content mastery, but closer inspection reveals that the only core content with its own, separate part of the test is language and literacy development. Math, social studies, and science content are smaller parts of “Domain III” which itself only accounts for 36 percent of the test. This 36 percent is divided among music, drama, creative movement, dance, visual arts, health, safety, and physical activity in addition to science, math, and social studies. No one is going to argue that language and literacy aren’t important enough to have their own section, but aren’t science, math, and social studies important enough to be separate too?

To put it bluntly, Ohio has no way of knowing...

  1. A victory for the 164-years-and-counting status quo yesterday. The evergreen “thorough and efficient” clause in the state constitution was reenshrined by vote of a subcommittee charged with “modernizing” the education language therein. Supporters of the phrase, and all the freight with which they’ve laden it over the decades, are very happy that their ideologically hallowed (but practically hollow) language was saved from the red pen. (Columbus Dispatch, 3/13/15)
     
  2. Back in the real world, Van Buren School administrators and board members find themselves staring down the barrel of audit findings from the state – not just improper payments which must be repaid to the district, but structural and operational processes that seem to point to an “anything goes” mindset. When addressing the findings, officials call them “disagreements” with the auditor (we get lots of cashback from all those credit card purchases) or simply dispute them (it wasn’t beer, it was juice miscoded on the receipt). At minimum, they see the auditor’s report as a “teachable moment”. (Findlay Courier, 3/12/15)
     
  3. Speaking of the State Auditor (I know, I never get tired of hearing about that guy either!), Dave Yost yesterday announced what he’s calling a “Sunshine Audit” program in an effort to help resolve public records request disputes between citizens and government-funded entities in a quick and inexpensive way. Or else. What he’s setting up is twisty and interesting and worth a read, but I note particularly the quick kudos from the Ohio Newspaper Association in this
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Curator’s Note: Gadfly Bites will be off tomorrow, returning on March 13 to begin a new Monday, Wednesday, Friday publication schedule.

  1. Nicely-detailed discussion of various “safe harbor” provisions – those already in place, those currently being debated, and those still being drafted – for Ohio teachers in relation to students’ standardized test scores. Journalist Jeremy Kelley attended Fordham’s Speakers Series event on teacher evaluations and includes a number of comments from panelists Melissa Cropper (Ohio Federation of Teacherst) and Matt Verber (Students First Ohio) from that discussion in his piece. Thanks for coming, Jeremy. (Springfield News Sun)
     
  2. Kudos to Cleveland’s Breakthrough Schools for their recent award of a $1 million grant from the Haslam family’s 3 Foundation. "They're making great strides and they're making it quickly," said Dee Haslam in announcing the award. “We really like to help those organizations that are making a difference." Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Speaking of Breakthrough Schools, it was announced this week that Breakthrough and Cleveland Municipal School District have reached an agreement on new building leases for three charter schools in the network, including an extension of the first-of-its-kind-in-Ohio arrangement of a charter school sharing space with a district school. Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. Speaking of Cleveland charter school buildings, Menlo Park Academy – a charter school for gifted students – announced recently that it has acquired a huge new building on the west side of the city in which to move and expand. Some fascinating
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  1. More witnesses testified on HB 2 (the standalone charter law reform bill) yesterday. More witnesses, more charter reforms proposed. It’s a bandwagon! (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. But perhaps that bandwagon is getting a little overloaded? The Dispatch coverage of yesterday’s testimony leads with the detail that introduction of a substitute version of the bill – incorporating some amount of additional/replacement provisions based on testimony given so far – will be delayed 7 to 10 days from original plans. Sing along if you know the words: I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill…. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. One of witnesses whose testimony on HB 2 probably had the most impact (at least let’s hope so) was State Auditor Dave Yost. Today, Yost has a detailed, thoughtful, and important opinion column in the Dispatch. In it he amplifies – and simplifies – his recent detailed testimony, focusing on reforms that would improve the efficiency, transparency, and quality of most any public/private hybrid entity, of which charter schools are just one example. Fascinating. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  4. The K-12 education portion of the state budget bill also had a hearing yesterday. Among other provisions hearing testimony, a proposed increase to the EdChoice Scholarship voucher funding amount per pupil. All witnesses were pro-increase. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  5. Finally, here’s a look at Akron City Schools’ itemized budget for next school year. There is a lot of emphasis on technology, including proposed upgrades to wireless capacity, a one-to-one laptop program for students,
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It’s been a great year for the Buckeye State. LeBron is back—and the Cavs are rolling into the playoffs. The Ohio State University knocked off the Ducks in the national championship, the economy is heating up, and heck, state government actually has more than eighty-nine cents in its rainy day fund.

But if you’ve been following the education headlines, you might feel a little down. The fight over Common Core and assessments continues to be bruising. Legislators are seriously scrutinizing the state’s problematic charter school law. Various scandals continue to plague local schools, and we’re not that far removed from the meltdown in Columbus City Schools. To shake off the wintertime education blues, I offer my list of the top five most exciting things happening in Ohio education today.

1. Four for Four Schools

In 2013–14, forty Ohio schools made a clean sweep on the four value-added components of the state’s school report cards, receiving an A on each one. This is an impressive feat. These schools had to demonstrate significant contributions not only to overall student growth, but also for their special needs, gifted, and low-achieving students. (Starting two years ago, Ohio began to rate schools on an A–F scale based on the gains—or value added—of students in these three subgroups.) In fact, one could argue that “four for four” schools are best fulfilling the aspiration of “no child left behind.” So hats off to these forty schools (out of more than 1,400 eligible) for proving that...

As Ohio marches through testing season, concerns continue to surface over whether the state's New Learning Standards are in the best interests of Buckeye students. Though Ohioans are understandably focused on what these standards mean for their home, the relative success neighboring Kentucky is having with the standards might calm Ohio’s fears—and perhaps inspire it to make its implementation more effective.

In February 2010, Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards and incorporate them into the Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS). Common Core was widely seen as a huge step up for Kentucky—Fordham called Kentucky’s prior standards “among the worst in the country” and gave both the language arts and mathematics standards a D grade. Much like Ohio, Kentucky played a significant role in the drafting process for the Common Core. Teachers, the public, administrators, higher education officials, and the staff from three agencies (the Council on Postsecondary Education, the Education Professional Standards Board, and the Kentucky Department of Education) gave input and feedback on the standards.

The new standards were first taught in Kentucky schools in the 2011–12 school year. The state’s implementation of Common Core centered on leadership teams made up of content teachers from each grade level, special education teachers, instructional leaders, and administrators from all 173 school districts. Team members received in-depth training on the standards, and math and English teachers were charged with breaking down the standards into student learning targets....

Across the nation, the monopoly of traditional school districts over public education is slowly eroding. Trust-busting policies like public charter schools and vouchers have given parents and students more options than ever before. But how vibrant are school marketplaces in America’s largest districts? Now in its fourth year, the Education Choice and Competition Index is one of the best examinations of educational markets, rating the hundred most populous districts along four key dimensions: (1) access to school options; (2) processes that align student preferences with schools (e.g., common applications, clear information on schools); (3) policies that favor the growth of popular schools, such as funds following students; and (4) subsidies for poor families. The top-rated district, you ask? The Recovery School District in New Orleans won top marks in 2014, as it has in the two prior years. New York City and Newark, New Jersey, are close behind the Big Easy. The study commends these cities for their ample supply of school options—and just as importantly, for policies that support quality choice. For instance, this trio of cities (along with Denver) has adopted an algorithm that optimally matches student preferences with school assignments. All impressive stuff from which Ohio’s cities can learn (only Columbus was ranked, and it received mediocre marks). In the Buckeye State, for example, local funds rarely follow students to their school of choice, and reliable information on school quality is all too scarce. Lastly, this Ohio-based Gadfly writer would be remiss to...

Inter-district open enrollment (OEI) is a little-discussed school choice option (and the oldest choice program in Ohio) whereby districts open their schools to students from outside their jurisdiction. Today, 81.5 percent of all school districts in the state offer some form of open enrollment, yet there has been little formal evaluation of such programs, especially in terms of student achievement. Ronald Iarussi, head of the Mahoning County Education Service Center, and Karen Larwin, a professor at Youngstown State University, looked at ten years of student-level data in Mahoning County districts that offer open enrollment and examined the achievement of students utilizing the option. This is particularly important because Mahoning County has the second-highest OEI utilization numbers in the state. Achievement was defined as standardized assessment scores on state exams (reading, math, science, social science, and writing) for grades 3–8 as well as high school. Three findings stand out: 1) Students who left their home district for open enrollment performed at similar levels as those remaining in the home district; 2) students who left their home district for open enrollment performed, on average, slightly above their peers in that new district, even if they arrived in their new district with lower scores to start with; 3)  and both of these effects were amplified for students who left the very lowest-performing district in the county (Youngstown City Schools). The implication here, articulated more in a recent TV interview with the authors, is that if students perform as well or...

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