Ohio Gadfly Daily

Like Moses in the wilderness, state policymakers have to cope with incessant grumbling—in their case over standardized testing. Last year, Ohio legislators compromised on testing and accountability, including delaying the implementation of Ohio’s new school report cards, waiving the consequences for poor performance in the 2014–15 school year, ditching the Algebra II end-of-course exam, and tweaking the teacher evaluation system by allowing schools to reduce the weight of the test-based accountability measure.

As the new General Assembly gears up in 2015, lawmakers will face even greater pressure to water down testing and accountability. Already, two high-priority bills have been introduced with provisions that, if passed, would further weaken Ohio’s new testing and accountability framework. The first provision is a test-time cap; the second is a delay on the stakes associated with Ohio’s new high school tests. Both provisions, while politically popular and seemingly insignificant, are flawed and should be rejected.

Test-time caps

Senate Bill 3 is designed to identify areas ripe for deregulation in education—a needed and overdue endeavor. Some of the recommendations in the bill are sound, like eliminating the needless third-grade test given in the fall. But one recommendation is a hard cap...

The 2015 legislative session is gearing up, and Common Core will again feature prominently in the education agenda. Longtime Core opponent Representative Andy Thompson told the Plain Dealer to "count on" another repeal attempt, and new House education committee chair Bill Hayes has said that he expects Common Core to continue to be a source of debate. Hayes has acknowledged the importance of high standards and local control and has pledged to “have an open ear and give everyone a fair hearing.” While the prospect of even more testimony may leave many wary of another months-long circus, continued civil discourse—from both sides of an issue—is what makes our democracy work. (It’s also a Common Core standard, for the record.)

So before the debate begins anew, let’s revisit what we learned from the many hours of testimony, media coverage, and debate that occurred in 2014.

Lesson One: There is widespread support for Common Core

It’s no secret that Common Core support in Ohio has been diverse and widespread from the start. Various newspapers have spotlighted Ohioans who support Common Core. The business community has been a staunch supporter. The governor has...

New York City’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) has released an updated Schools Brief which makes a few important tweaks to an earlier analysis of attrition rates for charters and traditional public schools. The original study followed students from kindergarten through third grade, ending in 2012–13; the additional data is for 2013–14, when most of the students were in fourth grade. Two of the major findings in the original report have not changed significantly: 1) On average, charter school students remain at their schools at a higher rate than their traditional school counterparts (64 percent vs. 56 percent after four years); and 2) students at charters and traditional schools leave the New York City public school system at the same rate. The first finding is good news to charter school advocates in New York, since recent research suggests that student retention is one factor in overall charter improvement. But the second finding should worry public-education supporters and city officials alike. Between transient populations whose needs (both educational and otherwise) are not being met and families leaving the city’s public schools entirely for parts unknown, it is clear that many students are simply not staying in New York City...

Cheers to State Representatives Mike Dovilla and Kristina Roegner. They are the sponsors of House Bill 2, a high-priority bill introduced early in the 131st General Assembly that would remedy long-neglected deficiencies in Ohio’s charter school law, including in transparency, sponsor/school relationships, board roles, and accountability.

Cheers to Governor John Kasich, whose FY 2016–17 state budget also includes important charter school reforms, especially in the area of sponsor quality (which you can read about elsewhere in this issue of Ohio Gadfly). While there are incentives being proffered for achieving higher quality, it should not be overlooked just how much the bar is being raised in Ohio. If the governor is successful, sponsors and schools who fail to reach the mark will not just miss out on incentives; they will be out of the education business.

Jeers to the drawing of false battle lines. Walnut Township Schools in rural Fairfield County is heading for a fiscal abyss. They must cut nearly a million dollars from their budget by February 10 or risk being placed under fiscal emergency by the state. At an emergency board meeting on February 4, a budget-cutting plan was unanimously approved, which still...

  1. Editors in Akron opine on the district funding proposals in the governor’s budget. They seem cautiously optimistic. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  2. Patrick O’Donnell dives deep into proposed charter school reforms in both the governor’s budget and in HB 2. He and those he interviews seem to have concerns about what they see as a “sponsor-centric” approach to reform. It is a complex topic, as is clear by the length of the piece and the sheer number of voices included, and some details are missed. But overall, it’s a superior discussion at what will be an important issue in the early months of the 131st Ohio General Assembly. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Another hot topic in the realm of school choice is the EdChoice Scholarship Program. The application window is now open and tens of thousands of students across Ohio are eligible to leave their persistently-low-performing public schools to go to a private school of their choice with a voucher. Once they find the right fit, they can stay in their private school all the way through graduation, no matter if the performance of their assigned district school improves. It is likely this latter issue that has some folks
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  1. Giant geekout at the Ohio Statehouse yesterday – better known as Straight-A Innovation Day, where schools, consortia, and projects funded by the previous two rounds of state innovation grants were showcased. The AP story is a little dry, so if you’re looking for more juice, check out Twitter and search #StraightADay. My favorite was from a young lady who Tweeted: “You know it’s a good day when the governor compliments your robot.” Indeed. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  2. Speaking of technological geekouts, this story is about a student in Pennsylvania who is attending school from home via robot while his broken leg heals. It is clipped in an Ohio paper, however, and one local supe sounds pretty stoked by the idea. There IS another round of Straight A Funds called for in Governor Kasich’s new budget. Just sayin’. (Ashtabula Star Beacon)
     
  3. Speaking of the governor’s budget, that squawking he predicted over school district funding changes is continuing. Here are two pieces from Ohio’s largest cities. First up, a look at proposed changes for rural districts in greater central Ohio from the Columbus Dispatch. Some special attention is paid to Walnut Township Schools, whose dire fiscal situation has
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  1. Yesterday saw a Q&A between House Education Committee members and the sponsors of HB 2 (the charter law overhaul bill) as well as the start of committee hearings on HB 7 (the bill which would, among other things, give students a “safe harbor” from PARCC test results). Not much to say at this point on the testing bill – that will come – but it was interesting to hear how very open the sponsors of HB 2 were to lots of other recommendations to improve the charter sector over and above what’s already in the bill. Call us, members of the committee, we have some more recommendations. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. Editors in Cleveland opine on standardized testing in Ohio today. The specific issue of cutting testing time is not yet on the legislative radar, but the calls continue. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Editors in Cleveland also opined on the governor’s budget proposal this week, saying “there’s a lot to like” in it. Among the education provisions, charter law reforms get a thumbs-up from PD Tower while district funding reforms get a wait-and-see-but-we’re-inclined-to-be-bothered. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. One of the things the PD’s editors wanted to wait-and-see about
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  1. Editors in Cleveland opine on two current bills – HB 2 and the governor’s budget – which aim to reform Ohio’s charter school law. Good timing, as Gov. Kasich is in Cleveland today – at a Breakthrough-operated charter school – touting his plan. PD editorial on charter reform. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Speaking of the governor’s budget, while Kasich himself is on the road selling, his budget director is on the hot seat in the Ohio House, answering questions from legislators. Yesterday, it was detailed questions about K-12 education. This go-round was just about traditional district funding, although I’m sure the proposed changes to transportation funding will end up affecting charter and voucher students as well if enacted. Hopefully, for the better. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  3. Speaking of transportation, the results of a two-year study of school transportation in Stark County were released earlier this week. I am almost speechless at its findings (almost) but will say that only a study produced by this particular group of players could find savings by hiring a hoard of new employees across multiple districts. I wonder to whom the work will fall to organize the centralized driver training and mechanic facilities?
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So, it’s all about that budget today? No trouble.

  1. First up, the Beacon Journal. They equate the traditional district and charter school proposals in their headline, but definitely spend most of their column inches “spotlighting” those related to charter schools. How much so? So much that Chad is quoted and the Fordham-sponsored CREDO report on charter school quality in Ohio gets a name-check. Nice. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  2. Next, the Big D. They separate various budget strands in separate stories. Their K-12 education piece begins by noting, “more than half of Ohio school districts would see their state funding reduced” under the new budget. There is some mention of charter school oversight and funding changes along with some bullet points on the return of Straight A Grant funding and a proposed increase in EdChoice voucher amounts. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. In the Blade, they combine K-12 and higher ed coverage. Their K-12 section begins by noting, “Increased revenue would go to Ohio schools,” under the new budget, but that district-by-district changes depend on “multiple factors”. There is a tiny notation of charter school oversight and funding changes. (Toledo Blade)
     
  4. There really is just one “factor” that’s most
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Governor Kasich released his FY 16-17 biennial budget today. True to his word, Kasich featured charter school reforms prominently, with a focus on  improving sponsor quality, eliminating conflicts of interest, and addressing some of the funding inequities that plague charter schools.

“Governor Kasich has proposed some bold reforms that could significantly improve Ohio’s charter school sector,” said Chad L. Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “While facility funding and opening the door to sharing local dollars will dominate the headlines, it would be a mistake to overlook the innovative sponsor reforms being put forward.”

Sponsors are the entities in Ohio responsible for overseeing charter school performance. The budget would ensure that all sponsors are:

  • Subject to the state’s newly implemented sponsor evaluation system
  • Accountable to the department of education
  • Closed immediately for poor operation
  • Prohibited from selling services to schools that they sponsor, and
  • Incentivized for being a high quality authorizer.

“By ensuring proper oversight of Ohio charter school sponsors and aligning incentives with performance, Governor Kasich is placing Ohio’s charter sector on a new and better path.”

Kasich’s proposed reforms join those offered last week in House Bill

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