Ohio Gadfly Daily

Charter schools are booming. From zero charter laws and zero schools two decades ago, there are now more than two million students enrolled in 5,600 charter schools in more than forty states plus the District of Columbia. In seven cities (New Orleans; Detroit; Washington, DC; Kansas City; Flint; Gary; and St. Louis), at least 30 percent of public school students are enrolled in charter schools; in another eighteen cities, including five in our home state of Ohio, charters serve at least 20 percent of the public school–attending kids. It is safe to say that charters are no longer a boutique reform.

Searching for Excellence

But for all of the progress on charter quantity, there’s been disappointingly little progress on charter quality. While there are hundreds of high-performing charter schools across the country serving some of the nation’s neediest students, there are an equal number of charters failing to deliver. It was in recognition of this mixed performance that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) launched its One Million Lives campaign in late 2012. (Fordham, a charter authorizer in the Buckeye State, is a proud NACSA member.)

In order to better understand charter school performance and how to improve it, we asked the crack research team at Public Impact to take a fresh look at the performance of charter schools in five U.S. cities—Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis—chosen...

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Governor Kasich’s budget plan, now being debated in the House, calls for expanding the state’s Educational Choice Scholarship program. This statewide voucher program is one of four public voucher programs currently available to parents and students in the Buckeye State. Together these programs allow about 22,500 students to use publicly funded vouchers to attend a private or parochial school of their choice. The governor’s proposal would provide, on a first come first serve basis, vouchers starting in 2013-14 for any kindergartner with a household income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level – about $46,000 a year for a family of four. Voucher amounts would be up to $4,250 a year, and participating schools could not charge tuition above this amount.

In 2014-15, voucher eligibility would extend to all students in grades K-3 in a school building that gets low marks in the early literacy measure on the state’s new report card. The funding for the voucher will not be deducted from a school district’s state aid, but rather be paid out directly by the state. Kasich’s budget allocates $8.5 million in fiscal year 2014 for 2,000 new vouchers and $17 million in 2015 for up to 4,000 new vouchers.

Despite the modest scale of this proposed growth, and the fact the state will cover the voucher amounts, district educators are up in arms about the expansion. Yellow Springs’ Superintendent Mario Basora captured the view of many district officials across the state when he told the Dayton Daily...

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Over the last decade the state of Ohio has invested over $10 billion in new school construction. Some of these school buildings opened in the mid-2000s, only to be shut down or repurposed just five or six years later. The Dayton Daily News reported in August 2011, for example, that “Trotwood-Madison is closing two elementary schools this fall. The Springfield City School District and Tecumseh Local schools are repurposing a new school building each because they didn’t have the students to fill them.”

This story of new public school buildings being built, and closed in just a few years, is important to understanding the logic behind Governor Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” school funding plan. His plan is remarkable because it actually tries to target children and their schools as the locus of public funding, as opposed to funding just school districts. The Kasich plan recognizes the fact that more and more of the state’s students attend schools other than their neighborhood district schools. As such, funding for their education should follow them to their respective school or educational program.

To understand what a shift in thinking this represents a little history is necessary. The public conversation around school funding in Ohio for decades has revolved around issues of “equity” and “adequacy;” between “rich” and “poor” school districts. The first “DeRolph” decision in 1997 by the Ohio Supreme Court, for example, ruled that school funding depended overmuch on local property taxes and thereby perpetuated unacceptable inequities across school districts. Since then, consecutive General Assemblies...

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Social-impact bonds (SIBs), or pay for success financing, are innovative financial arrangements
that could provide a cutting-edge way to fund experimentation and expanded opportunities in
public education.

SIBs are entirely contingent on the performance of the service provider and promise returns to
private investors only if performance objectives are met. They were first pioneered in England
in 2010. Today they are being used to achieve goals such as decreasing homelessness in
England and reducing recidivism at Rikers Island prison in New York. There is growing
interest in SIBs: According to The Economist, when Harvard University professor Jeffrey
Liebman, who assisted in the set-up of several American SIBs, invited other states and local
governments to apply for his help setting up their own, he received 28 applications.

Social-impact bonds have many designs, but have at least three fundamental, common
characteristics:
• A definable, verifiable outcome to be achieved by the social service provider, the
recipient of the funds;
• An initiating party, such as a government agency, that issues the bonds and is
responsible for making payments to the organization and investors; and
• Authority and discretion is granted to the service provider in how it goes about achieving
the desired goal.

So how might this unique funding model benefit education? Consider the hypothetical case of an
independent, education-focused organization—perhaps a foundation—that wants to help launch
more “early college” high schools in a state. That organization would work with a bond-issuing
entity, like state government, to develop a social-impact bond. Meanwhile,...

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Data – no, not the character from the hit television series Star Trek -- travels an amazing and mainly unknown journey through galaxies of complex IT systems that only perhaps Stephen Hawking can fully articulate.

As the newest member of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s sponsorship team in Dayton, Ohio, I have been inundated recently with compliance issues and database systems.  The database systems are intended to support timely and voluminous data-gathering and reporting between schools and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), and to make that data accessible to the public and researchers.  My most recent assimilation did not involve the Borg, but instead involved ODE’s Education Management Information System, or EMIS.

EMIS, established in 1989, is expansive to say the least. It is ODE’s main data collection source for primary and secondary education, including demographic, attendance, course information, financial data, and test results.  EMIS’ collected data falls into four general categories: district level, student, staff, and financial data.  A community school must timely enter and maintain all of this data into their computer, in goal of sharing it with ODE. In practice, however, this is not as simple as a school merely downloading its data directly into an ODE portal each month and calling it a victory.

All states have similar data systems nowadays, but Ohio’s is deficient among its peers in some regards. First, as Auditor Yost has highlighted, Ohio law prevents the state from having personally identifiable student data.  Instead both ODE and schools are dependent...

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Mathematica Policy Research last week released a major research report showing that students attending KIPP middle schools make substantial additional academic growth relative to peer students who attend other public schools.

Nationwide, the KIPP network of charters consists of 125 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia; of those, this report focused on 43 middle schools serving students in grades five through eight. The student population that participated in the study was 96 percent black or Hispanic; 83 percent qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. 

Mathematica found that after three years, KIPP schools produced an additional eleven months of learning growth in math and eight months in reading. The report also dispels the myth that KIPP schools’ positive effects on learning are a function of “teaching to the test”.  Mathematica examined test results from both state assessments and from the nationally norm-referenced test (Terra Nova), for which teachers and students do not prepare, and found consistently positive results for both exams.

Ohio currently has one KIPP school, KIPP: Journey Academy, which serves grades five through eight in Columbus, and is sponsored by Fordham. While Mathematica did not include KIPP: Journey in its study, we do know that state-reported data indicate that KIPP: Journey is effectively educating students. It was rated “Effective” (B) by the Ohio Department of Education in 2012 and had an “Above” rating along the value-added performance indicator. This, while serving 300 students, of which 91 percent were black and 100 percent were...

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Yesterday was the first day of public testimony on Governor Kasich’s budget proposal before the Ohio House Finance Primary and Secondary Education Committee. Terry submitted testimony on behalf of the Fordham Institute, as did Students First and others.  Following is a good recap from Gongwer News Service:

Terry Ryan, vice-president for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, offered support for the budget, saying the funding offered through the formula would outpace that of almost every other comparable state in FY 14. He also offered suggestions for use in the budget or as the subjects of future legislation.

Firstly, he said all dollars should follow students to the schools they actually attend, but funding is still stuck in categorical programs and flows to the district but not necessarily the building attended.

Mr. Ryan also called for annual academic return on investment reporting for all public schools, both districts and charters. "Just as some districts are more productive than others so are some schools and these should be acknowledged and better understood," he said.

More mandates related to regulations, laws and contract should be eliminated if they force funds to be spent in certain ways in all schools regardless of student characteristics. He said the flexibilities of the Cleveland Plan should be expanded to all districts.

Like the administration, Mr. Ryan said the state should move away from hold harmless provisions and guarantees "that provide funding to districts for phantom students."...

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Terry Ryan offered written testimony to the Ohio House Finance Primary and Secondary Education subcommittee today. Testifying in support of Governor Kasich’s Achievement Everywhere school reform plan, Terry outlined four reasons that the Buckeye State should support the Kasich plan (testimony can be downloaded here): Governor Kasich’s plan

  1. Calls for new investments in public schools. In fact, it seeks an increase in K-12 funding of nearly 10 percent over two years. This is generous in tough fiscal times.
  2. Recognizes the need for getting at, and reporting on, Academic Return on Investment (ROI).
  3. Promotes innovations and innovators through its Straight-A fund.
  4. Removes some of the shackles off educators. Specifically, under the proposed “Free to Advance” provisions some regulations will be lifted so districts and schools can make more effective use of state dollars.

In addition, Terry also offered five recommendations to improve the Kasich education plan:

  1. Get all dollars to follow kids to the schools they actually attend.
  2. Require annual Academic ROI reporting for all public school buildings in the state – district and charters. Just as some districts are more productive than others, so are some schools and these should be acknowledged and better understood.
  3. Further eliminate mandates – regulations, laws, contracts – that force funds to be spent in particular ways across all schools regardless of student characteristics.
  4. Rapidly move away from “hold harmless” provisions and guarantees that provide funding to districts for phantom students. An obvious downside to such policies is that they
  5. ...
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When then-Governor Ted Strickland issued his Evidence-Based Model (EBM) of school funding reform in 2009 we engaged Professor Paul Hill to provide an analysis of the proposals. We couldn’t think of anyone better to do the work than Professor Hill. His credentials are impeccable. He is founder and recently retired director of the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, and a former Senior Fellow at Brookings and RAND. Further, Professor Hill has roots in Ohio as a graduate of Ohio State University. He also has family in Dayton.
 
Professor Hill’s analysis of Strickland’s plan was largely informed by the research project he led, Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools. That six-year effort, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was the most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted. It concluded that America’s public-school finance systems are burdened by rules and narrow policies that hold local officials accountable for compliance but not for results. Facing the Future was the work of more than 40 economists, lawyers, financial specialists, and education policy makers. It included more than 30 separate studies, including in-depth looks at Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington.
 
Based on findings and recommendations from Facing the Future we asked Professor Hill to develop a “crosswalk” between the key findings of that seminal report and the policy recommendations in the Strickland’s Plan. Professor Hill’s analysis of Governor Strickland’s EBM was not kind. It stated bluntly, “Though Governor Ted...

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Dayton panelists from left: Bob Taft, Rusty Clifford and Lori Ward

The word churn is used within a variety of industries.  Just as customers leave businesses and migrate to competitors for other products or pricing options, students transfer between school districts and buildings. Churn is a reality within Ohio schools.  But what are the reasons for this cycle? School leaders, parents, community members and others gathered yesterday in Dayton and Cincinnati to discuss student churn, what it means for their schools and what might be done about it. A crowd of about 100 gathered for each event.

In November, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Columbus-based Community Research Partners (CRP), and nine other funders released a statewide study of student mobility in Ohio. This substantial report was the basis of the conversations hosted by Learn to Earn in Dayton and The Strive Partnership in Cincinnati. 

“Today’s event in Dayton was very eye opening,” said Chatoya Hayes, an audience member who joined the discussion from the United Way of the Greater Dayton Area.  “I think the issue of student mobility is directly altering student success and is a major factor not usually considered.”  Hayes said she found the comparisons between Dayton and other districts in Ohio to be especially beneficial to the thinking of audience members.  Churn within schools can be associated with a variety of factors, whether academic, family life, or housing situations. At...

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