Ohio Gadfly Daily

Here in the policy world—as we prepare legislative testimony, author white papers, commission research studies, draft blog posts, prepare for meetings, and do additional, far more mundane work—we often say to ourselves, “Didn’t I just do this the other day?” Likely we mean, didn’t I just advocate for this the other month or year. We repeat, and repeat, and repeat, our messages. To observers, we might be a broken record. And we are—with good reason.

Consider this example from education policy: Ohio’s State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards in June 2010. Today, two-and-a-half years later, how many of those members still serve on the board? Five. Out of 19. What about the General Assembly? How many of those members were serving during Ohio’s eight-month debate over adopting the Common Core standards? Fifty-two percent (or 69 members).

Since the state adopted the Common Core standards, Fordham-Ohio has produced multiple reports on the topic, convened three major events about the standards, and written more than fifty articles on our blog and in our e-newsletter. (To say nothing of the numerous conversations we have with lawmakers, State Board of Education members, reporters, and business/education/community leaders.) This ongoing and, yes, repetitive work serves a purpose: to help new policymakers, education leaders, and the public engaged in and understanding of important issues facing our state’s schools. As policy advocates we have to keep this in mind, and learn to be okay with sounding like a broken record.

Thank you to my...

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My son is a student in the Columbus City School District. Thus, what transpires per education in Ohio’s largest district impacts me personally, not just professionally. Last evening I was pleased on both fronts by Mayor Michael Coleman’s State of the City address. It was his 14th such speech but it was a “first” in one regard: Coleman tackled the issue of improving public schools in his city head-on. This speech comes as the mayor’s education commission is meeting regularly to develop a plan to help right the city’s schools. (Terry and Ethan Gray from CEE-Trust presented to the committee just a few days ago). Terry's presentation can be viewed here and Ethan's can be viewed here.

The entire speech was promising and demonstrated the mayor’s strong intent to provide better education options to his city’s children. Perhaps most striking, though, was his unabashed support for good charter schools (which is rare from an Ohio Democrat—though we’ve seen tides shift among other urban Dems). Here is the charter school portion of the speech:

And finally: Every child deserves to go to a good school, and the schools that consistently fail our children must be replaced.

Unfortunately we don’t have enough good schools in Columbus. When you combine Columbus City Schools and charter schools, only five percent of schools earn an A rating. That means only 2,800 of 65,000 students go to excellent schools. Meanwhile, five times as many students attend failing...

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In a Senate hearing on February 20, the Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers presented progress the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has made in the past six months on various initiatives. In what he deemed a “crash course,” Sawyers shared the changes being made to the state and district report cards distributed to schools, assessments required for students, and evaluations given to teachers. The superintendent seemed optimistic about the changes related to the Common Core. Sawyers, moreover, paid special attention to the introduction of new Common Core learning standards which he believes will “put the art back into teaching.”

In response to No Child Left Behind, passed in 2001, ODE was required to write academic standards that required teachers to follow specific guidelines. Sawyers then compared the 2001 standards against the new Common Core standards.  

SOURCE: Michael Sawyers, “Education Reform Update: Presented to the Senate Education Committee,” PowerPoint presentation, February 20, 2013.

Sawyers explained that changing the language allows the Common Core standards to be “fewer, deeper, and clearer.” By wrapping these standards into clusters, teachers are able to creatively unpack what lessons they can teach their students, bucking the checklist of requirements that they had to consider before the Common Core. The new standards also ask the students to delve deeper into material, providing teachers the opportunity to create instruction that digs into the nuances of academic content.  

Currently, ODE is...

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Lima, Ohio, recently named the nation’s ninth saddest city, received some cheer earlier this week when Governor John Kasich strode into town for his annual state of the state address. Among the myriad of topics the governor touched upon was K-12 education reform, and the residents of Lima—and many more across the Buckeye State—should be heartened by the education reforms he proposes.

Among the boldest and most exciting reforms the governor proposes, is his overhaul of the state’s school funding formula. The funding proposal the governor has laid forth levels the playing field for all Ohio students. It ensures that youngsters who attend a public school system with less local wealth—measured by property value and income—receive more state aid. For example, according to the governor’s preliminary FY 2014 estimates, the property and income-rich Upper Arlington schools near Columbus would receive no state aid for its regular students. (It would receive aid for its special education, economically disadvantaged, gifted, and English language learner students.) The state assumes, correctly, that Upper Arlington’s local residents can and will raise sufficient revenue to educate their children. This is sensible public finance—furnishing limited state funds to Upper Arlington is like giving Donald Trump social security. They simply don’t need it.

Meanwhile, the governor’s proposal provides generous state aid to students who reside in poorer, hard-scrabble communities such as Lima. Lima doesn’t have five-bedroom homes that generate large amounts of school tax revenue, and additionally, its residents don't have surplus income lying around...

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On Monday CEE-Trust’s Ethan Gray and I provided ideas to the Columbus Education Commission on ways that city could improve its schools. The following provides more details for some of the recommendations offered at that time.

Terry Ryan and KidsOhio.com’s Mark Real join Columbus Education Commission members listening to CEE-Trust’s Ethan Gray present at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Branch on February 18, 2013.

Like much of urban America, Columbus urgently needs more high performing schools for its children, especially its poor and minority children. In 2011-12, nearly 30,000 (just under 50 percent) of all Columbus students attended failing schools (D or F on the state rating system). Within the Columbus City Schools, 60 of 117 buildings have been designated by the state as “persistently low-performing” – meaning they had been rated “academic emergency” or “academic watch” for at least two of the last three years. The city’s charter schools are equally troubled with 28 out of 59 being rated D or F by the state in 2012. In contrast, only 3,500 students attended schools with grades of A or A+.

Yet, turning around failed schools is nearly impossible, despite the best of intentions. Both charter and traditional district schools are stubbornly resistant to significant change—the kind that might actually make a difference, which generally entails replacing the entire staff and program. In Fordham’s 2010 report “Are...

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Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost today reported that nine school districts manipulated student attendance data, in order to improve their school performance results. The auditor’s seven-month, $443,000 investigation  found Campbell City, Canton City, Cincinnati City, Cleveland Municipal, Columbus City, Marion City, Northridge Local (Montgomery County), Toledo City, and Winton Woods City guilty of scrubbing data.

The investigation examined student records in 331 school buildings in 137 districts. The auditor’s investigation is complete for all districts except Columbus City Schools, which remains under an ongoing “special audit.” The investigation found iniquities ranging from intentional noncompliance with ODE reporting rules (Cincinnati City), retroactively withdrawing students (Columbus City), and jettisoning students to an online school without parental initiation or approval (Marion City).

In response to these findings, Yost presented thirteen recommendations for reforming Ohio’s system of reporting student enrollment. At his press conference this afternoon, the auditor focused sharply on his first recommendation: Reforming how traditional district’s report student enrollment.

Kids count every day, all year long

Under Ohio’s current law, district schools report their student enrollment once, during “count week” in October (see, October 2012 newsletter). This enrollment figure determines the district’s level of funding for the rest of the school year. Instead of a one-time count, the auditor recommended that traditional districts track student attendance in “more or less real time.” (Ohio requires charter schools to report student enrollment monthly.)

The auditor’s report explains how frequent attendance tracking would dis-incentivize improper enrollment practices:

If State funding is...
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In the early years of Ohio’s voucher programs, proponents of private school choice cautioned that schools wouldn’t participate if government asked too much of them in the way of regulations and accountability for student achievement. That was certainly a plausible theory at the time – after all, when the EdChoice Scholarship program launched in 2005, Ohio’s public schools were only just getting used to our increased battery of state tests. But evidence from a new report shows that the theory doesn’t hold true today, and that policymakers could pursue expanded accountability for private schools—especially when it comes to transparency about student achievement and progress.

The Fordham Institute’s national team commissioned David Stuit of Basis Policy Research and his colleague Sy Doan to examine closely thirteen existing voucher and tax credit scholarship programs and describe the nature and extent of their regulations as well as how many private schools participate in them (and how many do not). They also asked them to survey private schools in communities served by four of the country’s most prominent voucher programs (including EdChoice and the Cleveland Scholarship & Tutoring Program) to see how heavily regulations and program requirements weigh in schools’ decision whether to participate.

The result is the new Fordham report School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red HerringWhat does it tell us?

Specific to Ohio, Stuit and Doan determined that:

  • Ohio’s voucher programs have the second-most extensive testing-and-accountability requirements of all programs in the nation.
  • Considering a total of 10 factors, Ohio’s programs are the third-most
  • ...
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At last week’s "virtual town hall" meeting to unveil his school funding and reform plan, Governor Kasich asked me to share what I thought was most exciting about his plan. I almost jumped out of my chair with excitement, and responded: “The Straight A Innovation Fund is incredibly exciting…You're going to be freeing people up, and I think there's a lot of untapped energy out in the field that's waiting to, in effect, take charge and take control of the opportunities.”

It was hard to believe that an Ohio governor was actually proposing to create an innovation fund and that it would distribute real money: $100 million in FY2014 and $200 million in FY2015. The idea of an innovation fund for reform in Ohio is something the Fordham Institute, Ohio Grantmakers Forum (OGF),[1] and other reformers have been urging since at least 2008. For example, in the OGF report Beyond Tinkering: Creating Real Opportunities for Today’s Learners and for Generation of Ohioans to Come[2], issued in early 2009 and the result of months of input from philanthropy around the state, the first recommendation called for creating “Ohio Innovation Zones and an Incentive Fund.” Specifically, the report called for “an Incentive Fund to seed transformative educational innovation, support and scale up of successful educational enterprises, and build a strong culture to support these activities in local communities and throughout the state’s system of public education.”

Further, Beyond Tinkering argued that the purpose of the innovation fund should not be simply incenting new programs, but pushing reforms that ultimately lead to greater...

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SAGE Publishing’s recently released reference set  Debating Issues in American Education is a 10-volume deep dive into many of the most salient issues regarding the state of PreK-12 education in the United States today. A stellar roster of contributors appears in each issue, recruited by the editors for their knowledge and insight into the topics at hand.

The ten volumes are:

  • Alternative Schooling & School Choice
  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • Diversity in Schools
  • Religion in Schools
  • School Discipline & Safety
  • School Finance
  • School Governance
  • School Law
  • Standards & Accountability in Schools
  • Technology in Schools

Within each volume, a dozen or more specific questions are put forward and argued in point/counterpoint essays by contributing authors. The variety of approaches and areas of focus brought to the series by the wide array of authors is a particular strength of the set. I found myself wondering before I sat down to review a volume if interest could be sustained in the topic overall when there were literally hundreds of pages spent on what seems from the outside to be subtle variations in the questions being debated. I found on more than one occasion that what had been meant to be a review of the essays ended up being an in-depth reading of more than half the volume. It is also rewarding when discussion of one particularly important study or Supreme Court Case is echoed or reinforced in another essay by another contributor. There is a real sense that the...

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We don’t know the fine-grain details of Governor Kasich’s education plan yet, but the early indicators are promising. Many of the state’s district superintendents have reacted positively to the plan—though, without specifics, their comments remain guarded. The plan also earned praise from economist Eric Hanushek of Stanford University, who calls the governor’s plan “a significant improvement in the financing of Ohio schools.” Hanushek adds, saying that Kasich “has targeted extra funding toward achievement and has set the stage for unleashing local innovation to boost student outcomes."

A few of the promising elements that may have sparked the interest of Hanushek and others include targeted funding for innovation, a revamped funding formula, and expansions for quality school choice. Specifically, in his plan, the governor has proposed to:

  • Establish an innovation fund: Dubbed the “Straight A Fund,” this $300 million pot would provide competitive grants for one-time, innovation projects. As the Governor’s team presented it, these one-time projects may include, for example, retrofitting a school’s technology or establishing more efficient management systems.
  • Provide facilities funding for charter schools: Currently, charter schools don’t receive state dollars for facilities, meaning that charters have to pay for facilities out of their operating fund. The governor’s plan provides $100 per-pupil funding to charters for facilities, which would free charters to spend more on classroom instruction.  
  • Broaden voucher eligibility to more low-income families: Tuition vouchers to attend private schools are currently only available to students who would otherwise attend a persistently under-performing school. The
  • ...
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