Ohio Gadfly Daily

The headline in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch, “Union leader to be Coleman’s education czar,” certainly got my attention. I suspect I’m not alone.

Given Mayor’s Coleman’s relentless (and praiseworthy) push for education reform over the past 18 months, the appointment of a long-time teacher union official was almost shocking. Teacher unions, after all, have been the primary power brokers in the development of the education system that we are now struggling to reform.

So what’s the mayor thinking?

First, he’s obviously got to respond to the stunning levy defeat in November and the school system’s breathtaking cheating scandal. Choosing a respected educator is a smart way to build bridges and public support. 

Second, even in her official role as union president, Ms. Johnson has proven herself to be open to change. She appears to have played a significant role on the mayor’s education reform commission. For that, she deserves much credit. It would have been easy in those discussions for her to stymie any reform proposal that might negatively impact some of her members, but she didn’t. Instead, she helped the broad coalition of community stakeholders to reach a consensus. The result was a bold report that every commission member signed. It called for bold changes such as empowering school principals with the ability to choose the teachers assigned to their schools and evaluating teachers and principals based upon student success.

As the mayor’s agent in pushing...

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The nearly 330 students at KIPP Columbus (aka KIPP Journey Academy) currently learn in a former city school facility. The building itself leaves much to be desired, but KIPP Columbus has made it their dutiful home since the fall of 2008, KIPP’s first year of operation. Since that time, the board and KIPP team have been focused on doing what is best for their students by pushing them to work hard, focusing on results, and helping them climb the mountain to and through college. KIPP’s students come from traditionally underserved backgrounds with nearly 90 percent of the student population economically disadvantaged.

Our Ohio team had the good fortune of spending a morning at the construction site of the KIPP Columbus campus at the former Bridgeview Golf Course.  The new campus, roughly five miles north of its present location, is set to open this fall. (Fordham proudly sponsors KIPP.) We met with Hannah Powell, the executive director of KIPP Columbus, who gave us the scoop on the new school and a guided tour of the site. The campus will integrate safety, technology, and learning design with ample room for collaboration, small group activity and community spaces. Throughout the building, the natural landscape is emphasized, with plentiful open space and large windows that allow for natural lighting, and there are plans for using the surroundings for STEM- and environmental-focused education elements.

Things are moving fast. From the purchase of the property in summer of 2013 to a nearly round-the-clock construction site,...

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In the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, Bill Murray relived February 2nd day after day. The Ohio charter-school sector is experiencing its own Groundhog Day moment with every struggle seemingly like the one before—with no end in sight.

Last week, the Toledo Blade brought us news of another charter-school closing. Secor Gardens Academy, which first opened last fall, closed abruptly over the weekend of February 8, sending parents scrambling to find a place to send their children. Maddeningly, the North Central Ohio Education Service Center (NCOESC was characterized in the Blade as defending its own performance as the school’s sponsor.

Yes, this NCOESC is the same one that sponsored two schools infamously closed in October 2013 by State Superintendent Richard Ross for being “an educational travesty.” A couple schools it sponsored, including one with which another sponsor had cut ties due to low performance, closed in December. Meanwhile, the NCOESC has drawn attention for its practice of selling services to schools it sponsors. I’m not sure that this sponsor gets it—but luckily, others are starting to do so.

Fresh off of his comprehensive investigation of the data scandal in Columbus City Schools, Auditor of State Dave Yost announced last week that he plans to take a closer look at charter sponsors, including NCOESC. Yost’s plans currently call for auditing three sponsors (NCOESC, St. Aloysius Orphanage, and Warren County Educational Service...

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Well-meaning people can and do quibble over school-choice issues in our line of work. Sometimes the rhetoric becomes calcified and hardline ideological. But in my neighborhood in central Columbus, where a general dislike for “school choice” as a movement resonates, a small education marketplace has quietly sprung up just the same. And it’s all in the name of keeping young families from moving to the ’burbs.

Clintonville evolved in the early twentieth century along new streetcar lines heading north from downtown Columbus, but it has been politically and geographically part of the larger city for decades. Our neighborhood schools belong to the city district, and we have no autonomous government or ward representation on city council. We have what other neighborhoods here have, which is an Area Commission—elected members from various street-bound jurisdictions for whom we vote by paper ballot at the local barber shop or bank every couple of years. Area commissions exist to advise the Columbus City Council on matters pertaining to their neighborhoods but have no power of their own.

Clintonville is a proud collection of the weird and offbeat, and most of us like it that way. It isn’t flashy, but it feels like home.

For the ninth year in a row, the Clintonville Area Commission sponsored an “education fair,” which is designed to show off the schools that students in the area “traditionally” attend. They include traditional district schools, alternative district schools, charters, private schools (both secular and not), and a standalone...

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“If the state shackles them [school leaders] with rules and envelops them in mandates even as it cuts their budgets, achievement will inevitably head down, not up.” We penned this sentence three years ago in a report entitled Yearning to Break Free. Though Ohio’s economy—and school funding—is much improved compared to 2011, state lawmakers still haven’t loosened the ties that bind school leaders.

That is why the recent comments by Governor John Kasich grabbed my attention. At the Ohio Newspaper Association convention, Kasich told the audience, “We really need a flexible education system“ and “we need to bring about some deregulation.” Agreed, wholeheartedly— but what does a “flexible” public-school system look like? It hinges on the reform of three policies: licensure, the salary schedule, and collective bargaining. The points that follow outline these policies and where the state should go.

Give schools latitude in hiring

Ohio has raft of regulations related to teacher credentials. They can be found in state law (ORC 3319) and in administrative code (OAC 3301-23 and 3301-24). Generally speaking, the completion of a teacher-prep program and the passage of a standardized exam guarantee licensure. These have proven to be woefully mediocre requirements. Teacher-prep programs will admit practically anyone, regardless of academic accomplishment, and the quality of these programs is spotty at best. Meanwhile, the assessment requirement is worse—something of a joke—as virtually everyone passes it.[1]

Licensure does set a minimal threshold for entering teaching. It surely keeps...

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Political theorist Benjamin Barber is not the first person you would associate with education reform. He is a staunch advocate of democracy, democratic institutions, and “democratic patriotism,” and he is best known for a somewhat prescient 1992 book called Jihad vs. McWorld, which gained some clout following the 2001 terrorist attacks. In his 1994 book An Aristocracy of Everyone: The Politics of Education and the Future of America, he argues that the most critical outcome required of our education system is an appreciation of inclusive civic engagement—and that this outcome and excellence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, he warned of the “dumbing down” of American education at that time. In If Mayors Ruled the World, his latest book, Barber goes even further, calling out national governments of all stripes as gridlocked failures of representative governance. Instead, he argues that cities are the true and proper vehicles of citizenship and democracy…not to mention the only political entities capable of “taking out the trash” - by which he means literally getting the job done. Where does that leave education in the United States, traditionally the domain of the states? Barber cites all the various vehicles of education today—districts, charters, vouchers—and concludes, “In education, then…we need to seek partial solutions, relevant remedies, and best practices that are best because they are salient and pertinent to the specific challenges being addressed. That is in fact what cities do.” “Best practices,” he continues, “arise out of experimentation and action….Those are ‘best’ that work.” Sounds...

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  • Ohio is gearing up for the spring field testing of the state’s new assessments, the PARCC exams, which align with the Common Core. Not everyone is happy with the change; Representative Andrew Brenner has introduced a bill to delay the implementation of the new tests (set to be administered for real in Spring 2015). In a pointed rejoinder to Brenner’s bill, the Columbus Dispatch argued that the state mustn’t scuttle or delay the implementation of PARCC. We agree: full steam ahead!
  • From Lima, in Northwest Ohio, one reporter provides a profile of home-schooling life. Among the reasons the parents gave as to why they home school, they cite their faith, their frustration with the public schools, and the flexibility to choose their own curriculum. Some have suggested that home-schooled children are “denied the memories that come with the public-school experience.” To this, one mother replied, “[t]he only things she [my child] missed out on are the things you shouldn’t really be doing in high school.”
  • “Objective number one is that parents understand they have the right to choose, and this is a simple and powerful message,” said Alan Rosskamm of the Breakthrough charter network. He is describing Cleveland’s new website, which is designed to give parents information on all of their public-education options. Unfortunately, most charter schools have thus far failed to provide information for the website’s “brag sheet.” 

“Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than that of competition,” said Senator Henry Clay in 1832. We’ve all bitten from the competition apple, and it tastes pretty good. Today, we have scores of TV channels, hotels, restaurants, car dealerships, and grocery stores from which to choose: an incredible amount of choice, all driven by free-markets and competition.

Competition is one reason why I love Ohio’s inter-district open enrollment policy. It allows school districts to compete for students, largely irrespective of where the student lives. Under state law, a district may adopt a local board policy, whereby it can admit students from either anywhere in Ohio or only from an adjacent district. Over 400 districts in the state have adopted an open enrollment policy.

As we reported in October, the state’s open enrollment policy has been put under the microscope in a legally mandated task-force review. The task force’s documents are now posted online and the report with policy recommendations is available also. The following are what I take away from the task force’s documents and report.

  • The growth of open enrollment is remarkable.  In 2012-13, 71,827 students attended a district via open enrollment. This more than doubles the number of open-enrolled students compared to 2002-03 when just 33,395 kids participated.
  • Many suburban districts refuse to participate in open enrollment. The map of districts that have adopted an open enrollment policy is eye-opening. It shows that districts surrounding the
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  • The highly rated MC2STEM school in Cleveland received recognition in President Obama’s State of the Union address. Well, kind of—the school was featured as an exemplary school in the simultaneous webcast of the president’s address. Either way, kudos to an excellent school!
  • Ohio State University has hired Michael Drake as its fifteenth university president. Drake comes from the University of California–Irvine and is a medical doctor. First, OSU bags a high-profile Florida transplant, now Californian—must be the winter weather that attracts.
  • Editorials in the Toledo Blade and the Akron Beacon Journal argue that that the success of high-quality urban schools cannot be replicated at scale. The reason? Such schools tend to enroll students with fewer needs than their lower-performing counterparts. The editorials, however, draw the wrong conclusion. Rather than disparaging a city’s high-quality schools—and opining hopelessly about educating high-need students—the editorial boards should have instead argued for a more holistic definition of school quality.
  • Last week was national school-choice week, and Sarah Pechan Driver of School Choice Ohio talked with Fox 19 in Cincinnati what parents should think about when “school shopping” for their kids. Parents in the Queen City have many school options, including charter schools, district-run magnet schools, open enrollment, and private schools that take vouchers
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Auditor of State Dave Yost released the findings of a special audit of the Columbus City Schools’s 2010–11 records last Tuesday. The audit investigated whether the district manipulated student data—reported for accountability and funding purposes—and what they found was abhorrent. The district was woefully out of compliance, intentionally and deliberately falsifying records to its own advantage. The auditor has referred its findings to city, county, and federal prosecutors. The audit of Columbus City Schools is part of a larger investigation into districts that “scrubbed” student records, with Columbus’s long-simmering data scandal, which first broke in Summer 2012, being the most egregious case.

It is a sorrowful time for Columbus. Our take on the report’s findings and how the city can begin to recover follow below.

Chad Aldis: Glimmers of hope

The Columbus education-data scandal, brought to light by the crackerjack reporting of the Columbus Dispatch, has been unfolding for a year and a half. During that time, there have been hundreds (if not thousands) of column inches devoted to the sordid details—so much so that I expected State Auditor Yost’s report to be little more than a period at the end of a sentence. I was wrong.

Reading through the report and observing public reaction to its findings leaves me feeling angry, appalled, and disgusted.

I’m angry that this could happen. We rely on our schools to educate our students, to look out for their interests, and to prepare them for the future. We don’t expect...

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