Ohio Gadfly Daily

The U.S. Department of Education released the 2013 math and reading results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) last week. The assessments were administered to a nationally representative sample of 376,000 fourth and 341,000 eighth graders from all fifty states. (Check out a national perspective on the NAEP data.)

Here in Ohio, math and reading results for public school students in both grades were flat compared to 2011. Meanwhile, fewer than 50 percent of Ohio’s fourth and eighth graders met NAEP’s proficiency standard. The proficiency rates for Buckeye State students were as follows: 48 percent in fourth-grade math; 37 percent in fourth-grade reading; 41 percent in eighth-grade math; and 39 percent in eighth-grade reading. These underwhelming statistics aside, the state continued to post scores that surpassed the national average.

One can also slice the 2013 NAEP data in many ways—by racial group, by poverty status, by special education status, and more. One can even compare charter to non-charter students, which I do in the analysis below.

The figures below display the charter versus non-charter comparison of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL), the most utilized poverty metric available. This provides a fair—though still imperfect—comparison of similar students, since Ohio’s charters enroll a relatively high number of impoverished students.

The charts show the average scaled score estimates (scale is from zero to 500) for the two groups, along with the standard errors displayed as vertical lines. The standard error, in parentheses, is...

As the dust settles after the November 5th election in Columbus, it may be instructive to parse the 69 percent to 31 percent trouncing that Issue 50 (a combined 9.01-mil levy and bond issue) experienced.

The victors: No cheaters, no charters—no new taxes

If Winston Churchill was correct and “history is written by the victors,” then the takeaway is “no cheaters, no charters.” A group of this name was the most organized foe of the ballot issue. It opposed any measure that would “reward” a school board or district still mired in state and federal investigations of data rigging, and it opposed distributing local property tax dollars to charter schools of any type.

Were levy opponents correct? Did Columbus voters follow their lead and base their decisions on the ongoing investigations and inclusion of charter schools?

There is some evidence, but not much data, to suggest that this happened. First, the pro-levy campaign brought together a broad array of supporters who were able to raise and spend in excess of $2.3 million. Opponents were armed with their aforementioned mantra and a “staggering” $4,000. For the results to be that lopsided, the levy opponents’ message apparently resonated with Columbus voters with little more than a mantra to reinforce it.

In addition to defeating the levy, voters also replaced two of the three school board incumbents running for re-election. Given the success that incumbents typically enjoy, this points to some general dissatisfaction. That being said, the school board results do not...

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Seriously?That’s what comes to mind after reading this piece in the Columbus Dispatch, which reports that a third school sponsored by the North Central Ohio Education Service Center (NCESC) has run into difficulties. The school seems to be having problems paying its bills, and the school leader has acknowledged that some staff walked off the job—not to mention that two NCESC-sponsored schools ceased operations in mid-October after State Superintendent Dick Ross stepped in because the schools failed to ensure a safe learning environment and to provide basic services for kids.

Every school encounters a few glitches here and there, especially if it’s new. But failing to pay the staff, teachers walking off the job, and vendors bailing because they aren’t being paid? These are not glitches, nor does this dysfunction seem to be confined to a single occurrence or school. According to the Dispatch, there are now—and it’s only October—three NCESC schools that have had difficulties well beyond your run-of-the-mill start-up issues. The entirety of the alleged situation is disconcerting at best.

For all of the charter schools and sponsors (i.e., authorizers) who are working to do it right, including Fordham, this ongoing circus tarnishes us all.

At the end of the November 5th Dispatch article, my first thought was, “How many more?” Would anyone be surprised if one of the four schools that, according to the Dispatch,...

The Common Core, Ohio’s new learning standards in English language arts and math, has been under fire. To the naysayers who are still fuming over the implementation of these standards, they might want to consider the drivel that the Common Core seeks to leave behind.

This 9th grade writing assignment appears on the West Virginia Department of Education’s website. (Note, the other samples aren’t much better!)

DIRECTIONS:  Read the passage and prompt and type a composition in the box below.

PASSAGE: Extreme Weather

Many areas have begun to experience extreme weather conditions throughout the year. The winter might be filled with many days of cold temperatures and massive amounts of snow, while the summer might have several days of 100-degree temperatures and little precipitation.

In the winter, many people want nothing more than to find some way of staying cozy and warm. In the summer, people want to try to get outside and find a way to avoid the sweltering temperatures and oppressive heat.

PROMPT: Choose one day, either in the winter or summer, in which you imagine such extreme weather. Write an essay in which you vividly describe this day. What sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures do you encounter on this day? How do you escape from the extreme weather of the day you chose?

Sigh. Ninth grade students ought to read richer texts than this morass of muck. “Cozy and warm”? Is this high-school-level language? “In the summer, people want to...

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released the math and reading results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The assessments were administered to a nationally representative sample of 376,000 4th graders and 341,000 8th graders from all 50 states. For a national perspective on the NAEP data, click here.

Here in Ohio, math and reading results for public school students in both grades were flat compared to 2011. Meanwhile, less than 50 percent of Ohio’s fourth and eighth graders meet NAEP’s proficiency standard. The proficiency rates for Buckeye State students are as follows: 48 percent in 4th grade math; 37 percent in 4th grade reading; 41 percent in 8th grade math; 39 percent in 8th grade reading. These underwhelming statistics aside, the state continues to post scores that surpass the national average.

One can also slice the 2013 NAEP data in many ways—by racial group, by poverty status, by special education status, and more. One can even compare charter to non-charter school students, which I do in this post.

The figures below display the charter versus non-charter comparison of students who are eligible for the Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) program, the most-utilized poverty metric available. This provides a fair comparison of similar students, since Ohio’s charters enroll a relatively high number of impoverished students.

The charts show the average scaled score estimates (scale is 0 to 500) for the two groups, along with the standard errors displayed as vertical lines. The standard error,...

Back in June, we discussed the leadership role that Ohio’s cities were attempting to take in important and overdue efforts to improve education for all students. Central to that discussion was the work in Columbus of Mayor Michael Coleman and the Columbus Education Commission. At that time, we called the story “still in progress” but pointed out that city-based reform of the type the commission envisioned in its final report was worthy of praise and support. Nothing has changed in the interim. The Columbus plan that voters will have the opportunity to fund tomorrow, in the form of a 9.01 mil bond and levy measure, still represents the most promising attempt to improve Columbus schools—dare we say—ever.

Fordham has been supportive of the reform effort and worked with the Mayor’s team and the commission as these reform initiatives were developed. Our former vice president, Terry Ryan, even testified before the commission to bring the best knowledge of charter school excellence to the commissioners through data, research, his own public testimony, and the testimony of CEE-Trust’s Ethan Gray. The commission adopted an ambitious goal to expand the number of high-quality school seats in the city so that all students can attend an A- or B-rated school by 2020. It is both admirable and achievable.

One of the most controversial components of the levy is the allocation of 1 mil to high performing charter schools in Columbus to support, expand, and replicate their schools. Unfortunately, Mayor Coleman went out...

Until last week, I thought that I was the poster child for school choice.

My parents chose to move our family from the city to the country in the 1970s, mainly for the schools, while my wife and I have chosen private schools of various types for our children for the last 10 years.

But last week I realized that my perspective was extremely skewed.

Gathered at an early Halloween party were two groups of parents – one from the neighborhood Catholic school that we had just left after four years, and one from our brand new, lottery-only STEM school that our children had been attending for about six weeks. As those two worlds connected in my living room, the stories told by the two groups of parents differed significantly.

Parents from the Catholic school did not speak of “choices.” It was simply expected that their children would go to this school through eighth grade and move on to the designated Diocesan high school after that. Most of those adults had made the same progression when they were students 25 years earlier and there were no other options to consider as far as they were concerned. Don’t get me wrong, any number of families struggled to afford even the low tuition there (lowest in the Columbus diocese), but there was very little “choice” involved. Just the sacrifice. Once made, nothing else entered into the equation.

That is not how we got there. For us, it...

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America’s early teenagers are adept at many things, but when it comes to math and science, they struggle—especially compared to their peers from industrialized Asian countries. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics finds that eighth-grade students from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore outright clobber U.S. eighth graders in math and science, as measured by the 2011 TIMMS exams (and to a larger extent in math). Nevertheless, American students outperform the international average, which includes a number of students from developing nations. Meanwhile, this report also cuts the U.S. data state by state. To do this, the researchers exploit states’ eighth-grade NAEP results to predict their TIMMS results.[1] The upshot: We can compare, for example, Ohio’s TIMMS results to thirty-eight other nations from around the globe. (Unfortunately, mainland China, India, France, and Germany did not participate in the 2011 TIMMS.) As with all U.S. states, Ohio’s students, on average, trail behind the “big four” East Asian countries referenced above in math and science. But Ohio does outperform the U.S. and international average. Massachusetts, the leading state in math and science, comes closest to these Asian countries in math, and it even slightly outperforms three of them in science. Well then, kudos to America’s—and Ohio’s—students for blowing away their peers from Morocco and Syria (as one would hope). But at the same time, shame on us all for allowing our students to dawdle behind the likes of Korea and Japan.



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Two months into the school year, teacher help is still wanted in Cleveland. According to a Cleveland Plain Dealer report, Cleveland Metropolitan School District is still attempting to fill eighty-four teacher vacancies, mainly in the areas of special education; English-language learning (ELL); and high school math, science, and English.

What a pity.

Eric Gordon, the district’s superintendent, told the newspaper that late retirements, a new teacher-hiring process, and enrollment uncertainty have all led to the staffing shortfall. There is no doubt that he’s right. But it also comes as no surprise that vacancies in these content areas are going unfilled, for it’s a well-known fact that schools face systemic shortfalls in qualified applicants for special education, math, and science. Here’s the evidence:

  • In a 2013 report, the Minnesota Department of Education found that nearly half of its schools (41 percent) said special-education vacancies are “very difficult” to fill. Over one-quarter of schools reported that chemistry and math vacancies (28 and 26 percent, respectively) are “very difficult” to fill. By comparison, only 2 percent of schools said elementary and social-studies teacher vacancies are “very difficult” to fill.
  • A 2008 study from the Wisconsin Department of Education found that there are a whopping sixty-seven applicants for every elementary teacher vacancy and sixty-five applicants for every social-studies vacancy. Meanwhile, there were only fifteen applicants per learning disability and chemistry vacancy and twenty-four applicants per math vacancy.
  • Back home in Ohio, 90 percent of Dayton Public Schools principals told NCTQ
  • ...
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Ohio has long struggled with the issues related to charter school quality. While policy improvements have been made in recent years, it is refreshing to see State Superintendent Dick Ross and his team walking the walk, when it comes to cracking down on poor charter-authorizing practices. One can read the details in a Columbus Dispatch piece that cites unacceptable conditions—including fights, spotty food service, inaccurate tracking of students, and failure to educate students—at two brand-new charter schools authorized by the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center.

Charter school authorizers, of which Fordham is one, play a critical yet largely unrecognized role in the life cycle of a charter school. For those unaware, authorizers (also called “sponsors”) are the entities responsible for reviewing new school applications; granting a charter (or not); monitoring the school’s educational, fiscal, governance, and operational health once the school is up and running; making charter-renewal decisions; and, when necessary, closing schools. In Ohio, a charter school authorizer may be a nonprofit organization (like Fordham), a traditional school district’s board of education, a state university, an educational service center, or the Ohio Department of Education.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) acknowledges that authorizing is complex work that requires specialized knowledge, skills, and commitment. Authorizing also requires adherence to professional standards; indeed, NACSA’s Principles & Standards are widely recognized in the field as the gold standard of charter school authorizing. Institutions that do authorizing well purposefully develop internal structures and devote human and...

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