Ohio Gadfly Daily

Across the nation, the monopoly of traditional school districts over public education is slowly eroding. Trust-busting policies like public charter schools and vouchers have given parents and students more options than ever before. But how vibrant are school marketplaces in America’s largest districts? Now in its fourth year, the Education Choice and Competition Index is one of the best examinations of educational markets, rating the hundred most populous districts along four key dimensions: (1) access to school options; (2) processes that align student preferences with schools (e.g., common applications, clear information on schools); (3) policies that favor the growth of popular schools, such as funds following students; and (4) subsidies for poor families. The top-rated district, you ask? The Recovery School District in New Orleans won top marks in 2014, as it has in the two prior years. New York City and Newark, New Jersey, are close behind the Big Easy. The study commends these cities for their ample supply of school options—and just as importantly, for policies that support quality choice. For instance, this trio of cities (along with Denver) has adopted an algorithm that optimally matches student preferences with school assignments. All impressive stuff from which Ohio’s cities can learn (only Columbus was ranked, and it received mediocre marks). In the Buckeye State, for example, local funds rarely follow students to their school of choice, and reliable information on school quality is all too scarce. Lastly, this Ohio-based Gadfly writer would be remiss to...

Inter-district open enrollment (OEI) is a little-discussed school choice option (and the oldest choice program in Ohio) whereby districts open their schools to students from outside their jurisdiction. Today, 81.5 percent of all school districts in the state offer some form of open enrollment, yet there has been little formal evaluation of such programs, especially in terms of student achievement. Ronald Iarussi, head of the Mahoning County Education Service Center, and Karen Larwin, a professor at Youngstown State University, looked at ten years of student-level data in Mahoning County districts that offer open enrollment and examined the achievement of students utilizing the option. This is particularly important because Mahoning County has the second-highest OEI utilization numbers in the state. Achievement was defined as standardized assessment scores on state exams (reading, math, science, social science, and writing) for grades 3–8 as well as high school. Three findings stand out: 1) Students who left their home district for open enrollment performed at similar levels as those remaining in the home district; 2) students who left their home district for open enrollment performed, on average, slightly above their peers in that new district, even if they arrived in their new district with lower scores to start with; 3)  and both of these effects were amplified for students who left the very lowest-performing district in the county (Youngstown City Schools). The implication here, articulated more in a recent TV interview with the authors, is that if students perform as well or...

Not much in the way of fireworks, but rather many points of agreement emerged during last week’s Education Speakers Series event on teacher evaluations. Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper and Students First Ohio’s State Policy Director Matt Verber began at the same point: teachers are the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. But when, how, and how much teachers should be evaluated were all matters of discussion. Both panelists felt there were questions to be resolved about the possible use of “shared attribution” for evaluating teachers. The question of whether student surveys should be used in evaluations generated no consensus. And the question of how evaluation data should be used – development vs. removal – proved a predictable bone of contention.

We appreciate the time and contribution of both our panelists in this important discussion, and thank our audience for their valuable questions and comments. If you missed the event, check out the full video:

 

And look for future events in our Education Speakers Series coming soon. Anything you want to see? Drop us a line: jmurray@edexcellence.net

Cheers to State Auditor Dave Yost, for going there. Charter law reform is a cause célèbre in Ohio. An influential report, a determined governor, and two bills being heard in House committees all feature excellent reform provisions, mostly in the “sponsor-centric” realm. But last week, Yost laid out some reform provisions that only an auditor would think of—things like accounting practice changes, attendance reporting changes, and defining the public/private divide inherent in many charter schools’ operations. These are all welcome additions to the ongoing debate from an arm of state government directly concerned with auditing charter schools.

Jeers to Mansfield City Schools, for nitpicking Yost and his team as they attempt to help the district avert fiscal disaster. Mansfield has been in fiscal emergency for over a year, and their finances are under the aegis of a state oversight committee. Yost’s team identified $4.7 million in annual savings opportunities. Instead of getting to work on implementing as many of those changes as possible, district administrators last week decided to pick holes in the methodology and timing of the report. Kind of like the teenager who swears “I’m going” just as Dad finally loses his cool. And the fiscal abyss is still out there.

Jeers to Shadyside Local Schools, for doing exactly the same thing as Mansfield. Although after eleven years in fiscal caution status, Shadyside is less a case of a petulant teen than of a failure to launch.

Cheers to Pickerington Schools Superintendent Valerie Browning-Thompson...

  1. Chad is quoted in the Columbus Dispatch’s big weekend gotcha story about the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), a statewide online charter school that spends somewhere around 2 percent of its budget on advertising. It is that advertising that is the sticking point here, with some odd comparisons made to Columbus City Schools’ designated “recruitment” spending. The full Dispatch story is here. The story also hit the AP wire in various non-Columbus-centric versions and so that same headline popped up in media outlets across the state. Some – like this one from the Toledo Blade – include some edited input from Chad. Other versions do not.
     
  2. Q: When do you know a teacher’s union actually approves of a charter school? A: When they actively try to unionize it. “We are careful about where we look to organize,” OFT President Melissa Cropper says. “Although we believe that all teachers should have the right to organize if they so desire, we don’t feel right in organizing teachers in a school we are trying to shut down.” There are a lot of interesting details in here – from teachers, the union, and school leaders. Worth a read. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  3. The ABJ piece above notes that teachers at Franklinton Preparatory Academy, a Columbus charter school actively organized by OFT, voted last week in favor of unionizing. The vote was 5-4 and will be contested, but if it goes through, FPA will be the first non-district-sponsored charter school
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  1. There was a full day of hearings on Governor Kasich’s proposed budget yesterday in the House Finance and Appropriations Committee’s Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee. Not sure if it was opponent testimony or just what they call “interested party” testimony, but everyone quoted in these two stories seemed pretty negative. First up, lots of union reps who a) didn’t like the funding formula changes proposed, and b) want many additional aspects of the bill (charter law reforms, increases in voucher amounts, testing changes, etc.) stripped out in favor of standalone legislation on these issues. You can read coverage of this testimony on Gongwer Ohio. On the topic of the funding formula, union friend Howard Fleeter did most of the talking. He’s not a fan. But neither he nor the other witnesses had much concrete to offer as an alternative. Said the subcommittee chair: “Every [potential formula] you look at has its own flaws.”  Coverage of Fleeter’s testimony is in the Columbus Dispatch.
     
  2. Speaking of Kasich, he was quoted on the record yesterday in regard to the tempest in a teacup that is parents opting their children out of standardized testing. What’s he got to say? Ohio is working on review of testing time via several mechanisms. “But I would encourage parents to let your kids be tested. I mean, I think it’s what you should be doing.” (Ideastream Public Media, Cleveland)

It seems there are only two education topics worth talking about in Ohio today. Good thing there are a number of perspectives on both.

  1. First up, charter law reform. So far, a standalone bill and the governor’s budget bill are being heard in their respective House committees and both contain excellent reform provisions, mostly in the “sponsor-centric” realm. A standalone Senate bill with other proposals will likely follow. But yesterday, as promised, State Auditor Dave Yost testified on the House bill and laid out some reform provisions that only an auditor would think of. Things like accounting practice changes, attendance reporting changes, defining the public/private divide inherent in many charter schools’ operations, and some interesting new ideas around truancy reporting. These are all welcome additions to the ongoing debate from a part of state government directly connected with oversight of charter schools, sponsors, boards, and school management organizations. You can read details of his proposals and testimony in the Columbus Dispatch, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dayton Daily News (including input from our own Aaron Churchill), and Gongwer Ohio, among other outlets.
     
  2. Hopefully our very knowledgeable auditor is exempt from the concerns raised in the guest column published in today’s DDN. In it, the president of the Ohio Alliance of Public Charter Schools opines that the lack of general knowledge of just what standards and accountability charter schools are held to currently should be dispelled before charter law reforms are pushed in those areas.
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  1. In case you missed it, Mike Petrilli was part of a panel in All Sides with Ann Fisher yesterday, talking about standardized testing in Ohio and parents who are opting their students out of said testing, especially in Columbus. As awesome as he was, Mike’s perspective is one that ed reformers and others know pretty well. I personally enjoyed listening to Columbus City Schools’ Machelle Kline. As executive director of accountability in the district, hers was a calm, informative and very welcome perspective that folks may not have heard before in the midst of other overheated rhetoric. Dr. Kline is a guest throughout the show; Mike comes in at about the 40 minute mark. (WOSU-FM, Columbus)
     
  2. We told you yesterday about a new study conducted in Mahoning County on the achievement of students opting for open enrollment to other districts nearby. The Akron Beacon Journal have read it and have taken the unusual step to do what appears to be a review of it, using their own previous look at Summit County’s open enrollment numbers as their basis. That piece, from last year, was primarily about the program’s funding mechanism and about racial disparities seen in utilization. Neither of these issues was addressed in the Mahoning report. That doesn’t stop the ABJ from defining open enrollment as a program “which allows mostly white and middle class families to send children to neighboring school districts.” Of course the ABJ knows that it allows anyone who wants to go to
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  1. If you can stand one more story from last week’s education writer’s conference in Colorado, I can. Fordham’s Mike Petrilli said, “Ohio needs a top-to-bottom overhaul of its charter school sector” during one of the final panels at the event. As noted in the article, the state budget and another House bill included dozens of provisions to do just that. The state auditor will be adding his valuable input on reforms tomorrow morning, and the Senate is poised to do the same soon. Sounds like progress. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. There are those who say that Mike’s comment is, shall we say, plain as the nose on one’s face. And since we’re going there, here’s another one: Columbus City Schools needs regular audits of many of its systems, processes, and departments. So opine the editors of the Columbus Dispatch today. They focus heavily on the example of the steaming pile of fail that is the district’s transportation department, as revealed last week in an internal auditor’s report. Small item not mentioned: actions needed to fix up this vital system may be budgeted for next year. Unless of course those rigorous audits unearth anything else that needs fixing even more urgently. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. In what might be called a case of “synergy”, two different newspapers are following the same story today: substitute teacher shortages in their areas. First up, Montgomery County. Journalist Jeremy Kelley talks mainly to suburban districts, all of which have been having trouble finding
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  1. Fordham’s own Aaron Churchill is quoted in this piece taking a good long look at online charter school ECOT. The headline probably says a lot about where the article intended to go from the outset: “turnover common at e-school.” That turnover is real, to be sure. The numbers don’t lie. But after reading the piece, I think that several someones at the Big D likely had their eyes opened a little about what really causes said turnover. As Aaron puts it: “The cost to make that transfer…is essentially zero.” As the ECOT rep puts it: “People [need] a short-term situation for a bullying situation, parents splitting, or they have a child… They have instability for that moment that doesn’t lend itself to a traditional school and how it’s structured.” And as a former ECOT student who didn’t complete a year in the school puts it: “It’s all you, pretty much…. You don’t really have a teacher standing over your shoulder telling you what to do, so I fell behind really fast. I think a lot of people are thinking it’s the easy way out. Honestly, that’s what I thought. But it really wasn’t.” Which of those statements makes you reevaluate what you think you know about online charters? (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. Aaron wasn’t the only Fordhamite in the Ohio papes this weekend. Mike Petrilli was bonding with education writers in Colorado this week, including the Beacon Journal’s Doug Livingston. Doug reported this weekend on
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