Ohio Gadfly Daily

I am not a fan of sports, despite the best efforts of my father, my friends, and my work colleagues; nor am I a watcher of House of Cards, despite a love of deep and twisty TV generally; nor have I gotten into the reality TV show genre, despite watching hours of commercials for them all over the years.

But, thanks to my work here at the Fordham Institute, I have come upon a real life story that has elements of all these genres and just in time for March Madness it has come down to the wire.

Note: I am indebted to journalists Mark Reiter and Ignazio Messina of the Toledo Blade for diligently following this story and allowing me to vicariously “ride along”.

Horizon Science Academy in Toledo is a K-8 charter school in the downtown area that has been in business since 2011. It has 270 students enrolled this school year and received a D for performance index and an A for overall value-add last year (check out their full report card here). In late 2013, the operators were looking to expand and found a ready-built new home – the building currently occupied by the Toledo area YMCA (gym, services, offices). A deal was struck between the two parties, contracts signed, and then attention turned toward obtaining the required special use permit to allow a school to operate in the building.

The first part of that process required approval from the Toledo Plan Commission,...

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Ron F. Adler

Since 1998, thousands of parents have chosen to enroll their children in Ohio's public charter schools. Today, nearly 120,000 students are being educated in one of Ohio's more than 400 public charter schools. Cleveland (29%), Dayton (28%), and Toledo (27%) all landed in the top ten school districts with the highest percentage of charter school students, according to a recent analysis by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  

For the past few months, legislators and leaders within the charter school movement have observed, with considerable concern, a handful of start-up charter schools that abruptly closed after less than a year of operation.  Missteps by a few sponsors who allowed the opening of these untested charter schools signal the need for some sponsors to do a better job of vetting.  Even with thorough vetting, new and tighter controls should also be considered when a first time, inexperienced operator decides to open a charter school.

However, even though changes should be considered, Ohio must never turn its back on new start-up charter schools.  Many of Ohio's strongest achieving charter schools were born from community inspiration and with sponsors listening to the many calls from parents.  Most of these new charter schools filled voids that existed within the traditional educational system, sometimes for decades. 

Make no mistake, the vast majority of sponsors...

I had the good fortune of attending the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) conference last week. AEFP attracts some of the nation’s finest researchers along with a small smattering of policymakers and advocates. Cutting-edge research on topics ranging from parents and school choice, adequacy in school funding, and value-added accountability were presented, and the working papers are online and well worth perusing.

The conference was a veritable buffet of dialogue on education research and policy, and the following are the three main ideas I took away:

  • First, there is a growing stable of researchers who are willing to tackle challenging but pressing policy issues. A few of the more ambitious projects came from graduate-student researchers who are making valiant efforts to answer thorny and (perhaps) impossible research questions. Some of the interesting studies included preliminary work on a return-on-public-investment model for charter schools, whether “adequacy and equity” court cases have contributed to achievement gains, and whether value-added models of teacher effectiveness have “floor” and “ceiling” effects (i.e., bias VAM estimates of teachers with many low- or high-achieving students). It’s evident that the education-research community is moving in the right direction by making concerted efforts to answer questions that matter for sound policy and practice.  
  • Second, to cease testing and data collection would cripple promising research avenues. There is growing concern about testing and data collection among education policymakers and the public. The backlash is understandable. But make no mistake: if states backtrack on testing
  • ...
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In Ohio’s education circles, much attention of late has been focused on the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, A-to-F school grades, and Ohio’s New Learning Standards (which include the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts). Ohio’s upcoming shift from the Ohio Achievement Assessments (grades 3–8) and Ohio Graduation Test (grade 10) to what’s being referred to as Ohio’s Next Generation of Assessments has, for the most part, flown under the radar.

Ohio’s new state assessments will likely be used for the 2014–15 school year and were developed in order to align with the learning standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010. The assessments will be in math, English language arts, science, and social studies (new for Ohio) and will be administered online—although a paper-and-pencil version will be available the first year. In the primary grades (K–8), students will be tested in math and English language arts in grades 3–8 (as they are now), in science in grades 5 and 8 (as they are now), and in social studies in grades 4 and 6. As for high school, the state will administer end-of-course exams in physical science; biology; Algebras I and II and geometry (or integrated Mathematics 1, 2, and 3); English language arts 1, 2, and 3; American history; and American government.

The Ohio Department of Education will develop the science and social-studies tests, and the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is slated to create the...

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Ohio’s charter-school enrollments have been climbing steadily during the past decade. Currently, approximately 120,000 students in Ohio attend a charter school, compared to 34,000 kids in charters just ten years ago (in the 2002–03 school year).

In recent years, however, e-schools have been the primary driver of charter growth. (E-schools are considered “charter schools” under state law.) Consider Chart 1, which shows the eight-year enrollment trend for students who attend a “start-up” charter school.[1] From 2005–06 to 2012–13, the percentage increase in e-school enrollment (up 99 percent) easily surpasses that of brick-and-mortar charters (up 44 percent). As a result, e-school enrollment has increased as a percentage of overall start-up charter-school enrollments: in 2006, e-schools accounted for 28 percent; in 2013, they accounted for 35 percent. The rise in e-school enrollment has occurred despite a statewide moratorium on new e-schools from 2005 to 2013.

Chart 1: Both e-school and brick-and-mortar charters have grown, with e-schools growing more quickly – Student enrollment in e-school and brick-and-mortar start-up charter schools, 2005–06 to 2012–13

Source: Ohio Department of Education

The explosive expansion of e-schools leaves me with a number of questions. Are e-schools high-quality education options? (The value-added scores of e-schools are abysmal, leaving doubts in my mind about their effectiveness.) Who is regulating, monitoring, managing, and governing these schools? (Try and find either the management team or the board of directors of ECOT on their website.) Why are

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Ohio’s urban policymakers are searching for ways to (a) improve their students’ achievement and college-going rates, (b) boost enrollment in their schools, and (c) increase city population—or at least keep people from fleeing. Making progress toward this trifecta of goals is tough-sledding. We at Fordham have documented the struggles of Ohio’s urban schools in our annual report-card analysis, and have observed the massive declines in school enrollment in the state’s “Big 8” urban areas.

A recent Education Next article looks at one college-scholarship program in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a city the size of Canton and with very similar demographics. Established in 2005, these privately funded scholarships allow Kalamazoo’s high-school graduates to attend a Michigan public college or university. The scholarship is worth between 65 to 100 percent of tuition, and scholarship-bearing students are required to maintain a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) while in college.

This aid not only supports college enrollment, but it also is designed to reverse Kalamazoo’s flagging K-12 enrollment and to give the city’s current grade-school students another reason to succeed in their studies. After all, why bother with “college readiness” if it’s unaffordable?

A research study of the program found promising results after its third year (2008). The city’s district enrollment increased, overall and also across both White and African American student groups. Moreover, they found a significant increase in African American students’ GPA and a significant decrease in the number of days suspended for African American and for all students.

The early...

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The goal is innovation and excellence in education, the preferred avenues are digital-learning approaches in any of various forms, and the work is geared toward removing barriers to these approaches: that is the background of Digital Learning Now’s 2013 report card, released last week. The report card measures and grades K–12 education policies in each of the nation’s fifty states against the ten elements that they determined were important to ensure high-quality digital learning (among them embracing new education models, utilizing technology to expand personalized learning, and eliminating barriers to blended learning). The top states this year were Utah and Florida, the only two to get as high as an A–. Ten states were in the B range, and the rest were C+ and below. So, how’d Ohio do? Overall, we scrounged up a D, as did Hawaii and Alaska. We were higher than Pennsylvania and Kentucky but far below Indiana and Michigan. Ohio’s bright spot was in the area of “quality instruction,” for which we received a B+, but that still left us in the middle of the pack, our overall grade pulled down by lack of appropriate funding and less-than-open access to bring that quality instruction equitably across the state. However, Ohio was singled out for a “high note” to end the year: the first round of Straight-A Fund awards in December.

Source: Digital Learning Now, 2013 Digital Learning Report Card (Excellence in Education, March, 2014)...

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In recent years, pre-Kindergarten has become a rather popular idea among policymakers and the public. The latest cases in point include the Columbus mayor’s announcement of a new $5 million initiative to provide quality pre-K. Meanwhile, just last week, Cleveland-area entities announced a massive $35 million, two-year plan to expand access to quality pre-K. Yet, as Ohio’s policymakers enthusiastically tout pre-K, they should understand that it isn’t necessarily an educational slam dunk. Consider Grover “Russ” Whitehurst’s excellent summary of the research.[1] Whitehurst analyzes thirteen pre-K studies from the 1960s to the present, grading the quality of the research and reporting the impact of the program. Whitehurst begins with a look at two widely cited studies from the 1960s and 1970s, Perry Preschool and Abecedarian, both of which found positive, long-term impacts for participants. So far so good, but Whitehurst reminds us that Perry and Abecedarian studies were evaluations of small single-site programs. (Perry, for example, had just fifty-eight participants.) This limits the ability to infer that large-scale pre-K programs would confer similar benefits. As he moves into studies from recent years, Whitehurst reports less positive findings on large-scale pre-K programs. In his view, the two strongest pre-K studies have been the Head Start and the Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K program evaluations. The Head Start evaluation found no effect of pre-K, while in Tennessee there was evidence of slightly negative effects on child outcomes. To conclude, Whitehurst writes, “[The] best available evidence raises serious doubts...

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Breakthrough Schools’ head honcho Alan Rosskamm testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in Washington, D.C. last week. The hearing was titled “Raising the Bar: The Role of Charter Schools in K–12 Education,” and Rosskamm knows a thing or two about doing just that.

  • Ahead of the testimony, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) released a statement lauding Rosskamm and the Breakthrough teachers for their work in providing high-quality education for their students.
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer also previewed Rosskamm’s testimony ahead of time, noting the strength of the partnership between Breakthrough and Cleveland Metropolitan School District, which has—to the benefit of students and families—helped to break down the long-standing barriers between charters and district schools.

Vocational education is also in the news:

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Duplication is not always a good thing. Think about it, most of us don’t carry two cell phones. In a world with limited pants-pocket space, two phones would be senseless, right? Ohio’s school report cards have two essentially-the-same achievement components, both of which receive an A-F letter grade. It’s time to toss one of them for parsimony’s sake.

The first, the indicators-met component, is determined by whether 75 percent of a school’s test-takers reach proficiency on the state’s twenty-four assessments (85 percent for eleventh grade). The second, the performance-index component (PI), is a composite score weighted by the proportion of test-takers who attain each of the state’s five achievement levels.

Though the two indicators differ slightly, they produce very similar results for any given school. In other words, if a school gets a low PI letter grade, it is nearly assured that it will receive a low indicators-met grade. The same is true in the reverse—high PI schools will likely get a high indicators-met grade. Here’s the evidence.

Table 1 shows the letter grades of Ohio’s 3,089 schools by indicators met and PI. As you can tell, the grades correspond closely. For example, 99 percent of schools that received an A for indicators met received either an A or B on PI. One-hundred percent of schools that received a B on indicators met received a B or C on PI. Well over one-thousand schools received an A/B grade combination. There are very few schools that received mixed, high-low ratings:...

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