Ohio Gadfly Daily

In case you were hanging out beneath some stone-like material yesterday, you missed the fact that Ohio Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) introduced Senate Bill 148 yesterday (companion House version HB156 was also introduced). These bills represent the latest work toward charter school reform in Ohio. So far, the Governor, the House, and the State Auditor have all weighed in with significant reform plans to improve accountability, oversight, and – most importantly – quality of charter schools and sponsors.

Not to toot our own horn, but these efforts hit high-gear following publication of two Fordham-sponsored reports back in December. In case you were hanging out beneath said rock-like material back then as well (seriously, what are you up to?), you can check out those reports and more here.

Sen. Lehner’s bill is the culmination of many weeks of workgroup sessions with high-level stakeholders in the state and debate over active legislation in the House.

As with previous important stops along the “road to redemption” as we like to call it, media attention on these bills was quick and widespread. So, here’s a special edition of Gadfly Bites, biting into the various iterations of media coverage:

1.       Fordham participated in Sen. Lehner’s workgroup. We also released a statement discussing the merits of the new bill immediately following its introduction. Here are the pieces published so far which quote Chad and/or note Fordham’s work on charter reform:

a.      Gongwer. Link (Gongwer Ohio, 4/15/15)

b.      ...

  1. The State Board of Education approved a slate of rule changes on Monday, completing a routine process that all state agencies have to go through every five years. But of course, one of those rule changes – elimination of the so-called “5 of 8” staffing requirement for non-teaching staff levels in districts – garnered more than its fair share of attention. As part of the slate, the 5 of 8 requirement is now history. (Gongwer Ohio, 4/13/15)
     
  2. Speaking of the State Board, members were updated this week on three separate investigations into Concept-run charter schools in Dayton. Turns out that most of the accusations that made big headlines last summer cannot be substantiated by ODE, the police, or the county ESC. This is not the end of the story, obviously, and any criminal or ethical violations that occurred can and will be pursued to their logical ends, but this is hopefully a cautionary tale of what can happen when folks advertise for former school employees to dish dirt. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/15/15)
     
  3. Elsewhere in state government, the Ohio House of Representatives took the red pen to a number of Governor Kasich’s budget proposals, including education proposals. I imagine the school funding changes will get the most attention, at least at first. I couldn’t find a good school-funding-specific report, so here’s the Big D’s take on it. School funding changes are central to their story, and there’s a handy chart. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/15/15)
     
  4. Speaking of
  5. ...
  1. As you may know, Count Week is no more in Ohio’s school districts. No more Pizza Days or Pajama Days or Spirit Days in an effort to get as many kids as possible into the building to be counted for funding purposes. While districts must now count students every day and report to the department of education three times per year, the actual funding process based on these numbers can’t go into action until a year’s worth of counting has been done. Some Butler County districts seem concerned about how the numbers are going to shake out and have some choice words about how much ODE has bitten off (yes, testing is part of it too, as far as they are concerned). ODE’s guy, for his part, doesn’t sound very concerned about the process. We’ll see how it all shakes out. (Middletown Journal-News, 4/12/15)
     
  2. Speaking of testing in Ohio (seriously, when are we not?), the Plain Dealer ran a piece on the first data produced by State Senator Peggy Lehner’s Advisory Committee on Testing. These are the results of a survey of public school leaders (principals, teachers, superintendents) regarding their experiences with the first round of PARCC and AIR testing, most of which is now concluded in Ohio. Satisfaction with test implementation is low across the board. If anyone’s paying attention (the number of comments on the PD website are shockingly low for an education story), I daresay this information will be spun every which way: proof
  3. ...

In a 2011 Education Next article called “The Middle School Mess,” Peter Meyer equated middle school with bungee jumping: a place of academic and social freefall that loses kids the way the Bermuda triangle loses ships. Experts have long cited concerns about drops in students’ achievement, interest in school, and self-confidence when they arrive in middle school. Teachers have discussed why teaching middle school is different—and arguably harder—than teaching other grades. There’s even a book called Middle School Stinks

In an attempt to solve the middle school problem, many cities are transitioning to schools with wider grade spans. Instead of buildings for grades K–5, 6–8, and 9–12 (or any other combination that has a separate middle school), districts are housing students at levels ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade on one campus. To determine if a switch to K–8 grade span buildings is in the best interest of Ohio districts, I took a look at the research, benefits, and drawbacks surrounding the model.

Research

A 2009 study examined data from New York City to determine if student performance is affected by two measures: the grade spans of previously attended schools, and transitions between elementary and middle school buildings. New York City provided the perfect laboratory for such a study, since it houses a large number of elementary and middle schools with a wide variety of grade spans that are managed under the same educational policies. The study found that students attending K–8 schools earned significantly...

  1. Editors in Columbus opined today in favor of the Bright New Leaders for Ohio Schools program, aiming to recruit and train high-quality principals for the schools that need them the most. (Columbus Dispatch, 4/10/15)
     
  2. Union bus drivers in Dayton approved a 10-day strike notice yesterday. It took only 222 words before the mention of a threat to the lives of children was mentioned. Probably a new record. Seriously, though, a driver strike would not only affect Dayton City Schools students but also private school and charter school students in more than two dozen buildings, including Fordham-sponsored Dayton Leadership Academy. DLA principal T.J. Wallace lays out the real threat here: kids without options not being able to get to school. (Dayton Daily News, 4/10/15)
     
  3. Middletown schools underwent a performance audit recently, required due to low fund balances and concerns about the district’s financial health in the future. The State Auditor recommended some serious reductions in force, potentially saving the district more than $3 million per year. Cue the predictable cries of “old data” and “we’ve already made changes not accounted for here”. Good luck, Middletown. (Middletown Journal-News, 4/10/15)

In a previous post, I explained competency-based or “mastery” grading: a restructuring of the common grade system that compresses everything from course tests, homework, and class participation into a system that assesses students based entirely on whether or not they’ve mastered specific skills and concepts. (For a look at how mastery grading works in practice, check out how schools like Columbus’s Metro Early College School and Cleveland’s MC²STEM high school, and even suburban districts like Pickerington, make it work). In this piece, I’ll discuss some additional benefits and drawbacks of mastery grading.

Mastery grading is innovative in that students only move on to more complex concepts and skills once they mastered simpler ones. As a result, the failure to master on the first attempt isn’t “failure.” It’s a chance for students to receive additional instruction and support targeted at specific weak spots, work hard, master key concepts, and move on with a firm foundation in place.

For teachers, the possibility of meaningful achievement data that is disaggregated by child and skill and directly drives instruction should be drool-worthy. Imagine knowing at the beginning of the year—before ever giving a diagnostic assessment—what your new students have fully, partially, and not-yet mastered.

To be clear, implementing mastery grading effectively will take a shift in mindsets, habits, and practice, and it will increase the administrative burden at first. Teachers will have to be true masters of their content. They will also be called upon to plan even further in...

  1. The Innovative Learning Pilot program was created in the previous Ohio General Assembly session last year. The program involves the use of alternative standardized tests that schools develop on their own to match their educational programming. It is possible that the outcome of the pilot project could influence testing policies for all schools in the future. Yesterday, the list of “already-innovative” districts and independent STEM schools chosen to be part of the pilot program was announced. You can read a straight-up account from Gongwer Ohio (4/6/15). The coverage from the Columbus Dispatch (4/7/15) misses out on the provenance of the pilot project and indicates this is a brand new venture. But it does include a quote from Fordham’s own Chad Aldis, where he laments the “choose your own adventure” nature of this effort. Forget about space; standardized testing appears to be the final frontier these days.
     
  2. A bill was introduced in the Ohio House yesterday that would require all students to learn cursive writing between Kindergarten and fifth grade. NOTE: This would have been a funny clip if our CMS allowed a cursive font. But it doesn't, so it's not. (Dayton Daily News, 4/8/15)
     
  3. Montessori high schools are rare as hens’ teeth in Ohio. Oddly, Cleveland has one of them already – a pretty swanky private version. Ninety percent of Montessori schools in the US are private schools. So it is with some fanfare that the folks behind that high school announced this week that
  4. ...

Rick Hess opens his book, The Same Thing Over and Over, by asking readers to imagine the following scenario:

How would you respond if asked for a plan to transform America’s schools into a world-class, twenty-first century system?

Then imagine that there is one condition: you must retain the job descriptions, governance arrangements, management practices, compensation strategies, licensure requirements, and calendar of the existing system.

Hopefully, you would flee just as fast as you possibly could.

Red tape stifles innovation, dynamism, and entrepreneurship in public schooling, while creating a culture of risk aversion and defensiveness. These latter two are hardly the features of nimble organizations that can adapt to a changing world; rather, they are the marks of decaying institutions.

Here in Ohio, state leaders are taking note. On several occasions, both Governor John Kasich and Senate President Keith Faber have expressed their desire to “deregulate” public education. That is great news. Yet the task of deregulation is not a simple one. It requires carefully distinguishing the areas where the state has a valid regulatory role from those where it should defer to local, on-the-ground decision making.

The regulatory framework that we at Fordham have advocated is “tight-loose.” In a state policy context, this implies that the state, vis-à-vis districts, should be tight on districts’ results but loose on how they achieve them. In other words, Ohio policymakers should set rigorous academic goals for schools, assess whether they are meeting them, hold them accountable for results—and...

We recently looked at an analysis of New Orleans school leaders’ perceptions of competition and their responses to it. The top response was marketing—simply shouting louder to parents about a school’s existing programs, or adding bells and whistles. If schools are academically strong, this is probably fine. But if academically weak schools can pump up their enrollment (and their funding streams) by simply touting themselves to parents more effectively than competing schools, then the intended effect of competition—improved performance among all players in the market—will be blunted or absent all together.

In New Orleans, it appears that the more intense competition is perceived to be, the more likely schools are to improve academic quality as a means of differentiation. Is a similar thing happening in the Buckeye State? Here’s a look at some anecdotal evidence on quality-centered competition effects.

New school models

Large urban school districts in Ohio have long decried the students “stolen” from them by charter schools, and nothing rankles diehard traditionalists like online schools. So it was a little surprising to find that Akron City Schools’ proposed 2015–16 budget contains a huge technology component, including plans to start an in-house online charter school. This is being done in collaboration with Reynoldsburg City Schools, a district that knows a thing or two about innovation for improvement. Akron is aiming to recruit three hundred elementary students who are currently either home-schooled or attending a charter school, as well as forty in-district high school students...

Back in January, the Education Research Alliance (ERA) for New Orleans released a study looking at patterns of parental choice in the highly competitive education marketplace. That report showed non-academic considerations (bus transportation, sports, afterschool care) were often bigger factors than academic quality when parents choose a school. It also suggested strongly that it was possible for other players in the system (city officials, charter authorizers, the SEA) to assert the primacy of academic quality by a number of means (type and style of information available to parents, a central application system). A new report from ERA-New Orleans follows up on this by examining school-level responses to competition, using interview and survey data from thirty schools of all types across the city. Nearly all of the surveyed school leaders reported having at least one competitor for students, and most schools reported more than one response to that competition. The most commonly reported response, cited by twenty-five out of thirty schools, was marketing existing school offerings more broadly. Less common responses to competition included improving academic instruction and making operational changes like budget cuts so that the need to compete for more students (and money) is less pressing. These latter two adaptations are typically the ones that market-based education reformers expect to occur in the face of competition, yet just one-third of surveyed leaders said they responded in these ways. That low level of response in this hypercompetitive market should be worrying. While advertising is an obvious first response to...

Pages