Ohio Gadfly Daily

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...

“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...

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...

  • 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

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...

Today marks the end of National School Choice Week. What started four years ago as a relatively small coalition of reform-minded organizations drawing attention to an issue they passionately supported has turned into a movement. Highlighted by a nationwide whistle-stop train tour, the most amazing part of the week is the thousands of events held all around the country by schools and organizations of all types. For at least one week, the focus shifts from the usual argument of public vs. private and lands squarely where it belongs—on empowering parents and their children with high quality educational options.

In honor of National School Choice Week, we want to take a break from our role as a Gadfly where we too often have to point out situations where quality is lacking. We’d like to recognize some Ohio charter schools that during 2012-13 achieved at a very high level. These schools made a difference in the lives of the students they served.

Given our consistent stance for high standards in all areas, it probably won’t surprise you that the bar to earn our recognition is quite high. To make the list, a charter school must be in the top 10 percent of all schools in the state on either the performance index measuring overall academic achievement or the value added measure that tracks learning gains.

We are proud to recognize and honor these twenty-five schools that have achieved a top ten rating.

Some of you may be...

Ohio slipped one spot in National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ (NAPCS) annual ranking of charter-school laws compared to last year. For the 2014 edition, Ohio ranked 28th out of 43 states and the District of Columbia, lagging well behind national leaders such as Minnesota, Indiana, and Louisiana (ranked first to third, respectively). NAPCS ranks each jurisdiction’s charter law based on twenty components of its model law. These components include inter alia the strength of accountability measures, the transparency of the charter application and renewal processes, and equitable access to operational and facilities funding.

Among the twenty components, Ohio received a best-in-class ranking on just two: “A variety of public charter schools allowed” and “Multiple authorizers available.” (And indeed, Ohio allows seemingly anyone who wants to open one to do so.) Meanwhile, even as the state has a dynamic and wide-open charter-school marketplace, its accountability measures fall short. The state received lackluster marks on its accountability and transparency policies. And, the nail in the proverbial coffin: The state’s funding provisions for charter schools still remain inequitable. On average, Ohio charters receive roughly $2,000 per pupil less than district schools, driven largely by their inability to access local revenue.

NAPCS reported a few incremental improvements in Ohio’s charter-school law over the past year. Such improvements include a $100 per-pupil facilities-funding grant to physical charter schools, a provision that passed in the 2013 state budget bill. This, combined with a number of other small changes, improved Ohio’s score...

With all the controversy regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), it’s easy to forget that there is another piece to the puzzle: the new standards are surely important and an improvement for most states, but in addition to strong state standards, the assessments aligned to the standards need to be of high quality if the standards are to achieve their aim of graduating students ready for college or a career. This fact sheet from Education First provides state policymakers and education advocates with a wealth of information on the tests being developed by the two leading test consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, as well as the competing test offered by ACT Aspire. The first half of the primer uses a combination of maps, tables, and infographics to systematically present the similarities and differences between the assessments. The compilation of this information into a single, easily readable document should prove to be a valuable resource to anyone looking to learn more about the next generation of assessments being adopted alongside the CCSS. The rest of the document explores a variety of topics, including what constitutes a high quality assessment; how assessment items on each test vary (with examples); the use of assessments for college readiness, admissions, and placement; and factors to consider when evaluating an assessment. Overall, the information in this primer nicely frames the testing options and allows state leaders to move around the assessment...

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