Ohio Gadfly Daily

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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  1. Fantastic story from The Atlantic today on the newest Cristo Rey High School, which started its second year in Columbus in September in a newly-renovated historic building downtown. Very nice profile here, especially if you’re not familiar with the innovative Cristo Rey model. (The Atlantic)
     
  2. Speaking of schools getting it right, here’s a nice profile of Mansfield schools’ Spanish immersion program. It’s so popular that it is attracting students – and funding – from outside the district. The story is great, the online comments are less so. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  3. The Reynoldsburg strike is already ancient history for us outsiders after just a week, but there are at least two more districts in Ohio whose teachers are working without contracts and in which negotiations are – thankfully – ongoing. Some good progress, it seems, in Lexington schools yesterday. Earlier stories, searchable from the News Journal’s website, indicate that one of the biggest sticking points here is the district’s current teacher evaluation processes. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  4. We mentioned earlier this week that it is the season for districts’ 5-year budget forecasts. Mentor City Schools got downright philosophical in their budget presentation: “You can only save a dollar once. Once we cut an expense, we will figure out a way to do without ... but once you have done that you can’t do it again.” There is also an update on the district’s use of their Straight A Fund grant. Hint: MacBooks are involved. (Willoughby
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  1. As with many others across Ohio, the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce staunchly backs Common Core. They held an event yesterday focusing on “the business case for the Common Core” to explain, again, why. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  2. Speaking of Common Core, here’s an interesting look at changes in teacher training programs in Ohio in the wake of adoption of Ohio’s New Learning Standards four years ago. (StateImpact Ohio)
     
  3. The PD takes on the question of whether there is too much testing in schools these days, checking in with the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools for their take. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. Well that’s a turn up for the books. Board members at an Imagine charter school in Columbus agree with their detractors that their lease deal is a drag on the budget and have asked their landlord for a fix. Interesting. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  5. I’m sure the terms “territory transfer” and “abolish the district” are required legal-ese in Ohio’s Byzantine system for school district mergers, but they seem to be unnecessary tripping points for folks in the proposed merger of the Cardinal and Ledgemont districts. The respective superintendents are supportive of the merger for a number of reasons, but they seem to be facing a tough sell. We’ve been following this story for almost a year now, and it will probably go on quite a bit longer, although the results of a levy request
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  1. You would think that interest in the 2013-14 school report cards would be waning by now, a few weeks after publication, and you’d be right. The PD, fresh from breaking the news that things actually are improving measurably in Cleveland schools, is already turning its attention to next year’s report cards, noting that the introduction of PARCC exams may delay results by months…a lot of them. Part of the anticipated delay is that state education officials want to wait to see how kids did on the tests before determining new cut scores, and therefore the report card results for test scores. Luckily, Fordham’s Aaron Churchill was there to set the record straight: most schools should brace for some lower-than-average performance. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. This is the story of John Carter, 24, of West Carrollton, a man who not only beat the odds to simply survive but also took good advantage of all the assistance and opportunities available to him to thrive. There are a lot of players in his story, including his family, a local church, a charter school, and Sinclair Community College. But the story, and the success he is making of his life against some long odds, is entirely his. Congratulations, Mr. Carter. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  3. Last night’s “Evening with Teachers” edition of Ohio’s Common Core repeal hearings was a bit of a fizzle. In the end, not many teachers opposed to Common Core got to speak, at least one who did had been
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  1. The latest legislative assault against Common Core in Ohio is rumbling back to life this evening with what is supposed to be testimony from teachers who support repeal of the Common Core. Ahead of this testimony, the Chillicothe Gazette looked at some specific math problems aligned to Common Core and solicited responses on them from teachers and professors on both sides of the issue. Some good stuff here…much of which will not be part of tonight’s hearing. (Chillicothe Gazette)
     
  2. Discussion of yesterday’s story about the facilities funding set up of Imagine charter schools continues in the expected corners today. The Blade’s piece is typical of them all, with the blasting and the demanding. (Toledo Blade)
     
  3. Springfield City Schools approved a one-to-one technology plan for students in grades three through twelve. But those new laptops and software packages have to be teacher-tested first. This is a story about that. Apparently, there was “a lot of oohing and ahhing going on” during the training sessions last week. (Springfield News-Sun)
     
  4. It is that time of year again: school district treasurers releasing their five-year funding forecasts. Canton City Schools continues to lose students – EdChoice vouchers are the main cited culprit – although the number of exiting students seems to be smaller than in the past. Interestingly, the district foresees the end of state “funding guarantees” in the near future and is attempting to adjust their budgeting accordingly. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  5. Speaking of school budgets,
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  1. We’re back after a short break, and there’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get right to it. The board chair of Fordham-sponsored Dayton Leadership Academy penned a guest column in the Dayton Daily News last Friday, highlighting signs of success for DLA students buried deep in this year’s report card data. Nice. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  2. Fordham’s Chad Aldis is quoted in a story from yesterday’s Dispatch, looking at the lease deals under which Imagine charter schools occupy the buildings in which they operate. There’s probably some more info required to make sense out of these numbers. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. I don’t want to argue causation, but just as soon as Gadfly Bites took its hiatus, a breakthrough occurred and the Reynoldsburg teachers strike ended. (ThisWeek News/Reynoldsburg News)
     
  4. The Big D took a look at the details of the new contract in Reynoldsburg – as far as they were known at the time – and tried to parse what this will mean for teachers (and students) for the next three years. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  5. There are still a few issues to work out in Reynoldsburg as teachers return to the classroom. Today’s article addresses the issue of when and how much teachers will be paid for days worked just before and just after the strike. Hint: it’s complicated. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  6. One concern that came to the fore before the end of the strike was that of student grades for the
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