Ohio Gadfly Daily

Terry Ryan addresses a gathering of the Ohio League of Women Voters at the Riffe Center on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

Terry Ryan was a guest of the Ohio League of Women Voters today during their annual Statehouse Day, participating in a panel session on education funding in Ohio with Dr. William Phillis, Executive Director of The Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding.

A standing room only crowd of highly-engaged individuals from across Ohio listened to opening statements that looked back at least as much at the history of education funding in Ohio as they looked to the future of that funding, as proposed in the current state budget, HB 59. Dr. Phillis presented the history of changes in the organization and administration and funding of “the public common school” since 1821, raising alarms over loss of money from existing districts via charter schools and vouchers as well as alarms over the loss of local control of education and the loss of community when schooling is not held in common in a given area of the state. He previewed his public testimony for Wednesday by arguing forcefully for a legislative education commission – of the kind that existed in Ohio off and on from 1913 to the 1980s – to research and inform the General Assembly on matters of public education.

Terry took a similar historical view, but noting how very many...

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The Advanced Placement (AP) exams have become an iconic institution in American high school education. Administered by the College Board since 1955, the AP courses and accompanying exams have given precocious high-school students the opportunity to take college-level courses and earn college credit. In spring 2012, over 2 million students in the U.S. took at least one of the thirty-four exams offered by the College Board. In Ohio alone, over 53,000 high-school students took an AP exam in 2012, more than double the number of students in 2000 and nearly five times the number of students in 1990.

As a growing program, in Ohio and nationally, AP scores should provide an increasingly accurate picture of the college-readiness of high school students, while also providing a comparison to their peers in other states. So how are students in Ohio measuring up to their counterparts in other states?

Consider the chart below, which shows the 2012 average scores for AP Biology, U.S. History, Calculus AB, and English Literature. Of the AP exam offerings, these four exams are among the most popular exams—both nationally and within each of these states. The results for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and the United States are displayed. AP exams are scored on a scale of one to five, five being the highest score possible. A score of three or higher is generally considered sufficient to receive college credit (though, university policies on granting AP credit vary considerably).

Chart 1: Ohio’s AP scores mostly above...

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How could cities see their charter school sectors take off in quality, matching or besting the performance of their district schools, and the state? Public Impact researchers working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on a new study found that replacing low-performing charter schools while replicating high-performing ones could dramatically improve quality within just a few years. (For Fordham’s take on this, see the Ohio Gadfly Daily.)

Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality, with research by Lyria Boast, Gillian Locke, and Tom Koester, and foreword and Fordham analysis by Terry Ryan and Aaron Churchill, considered charter schools in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis—all of which have a decade-long history of charter schools and relatively large market shares of charter school students.

The study shows that the charter school sectors in five cities outperformed their home districts’ schools, which had similar levels of student poverty.

The study points the way to improving the quality of charter schools overall

But within each district, quality varied widely, from very high-performing charter schools to dismal ones.

The study also compared charter performance to average statewide performance—admittedly, a higher bar, as schools statewide had significantly lower levels of poverty than the charters (and their urban districts). Charters in all five cities trailed the state overall—often by a wide margin.

Clearly, something needs to change in cities’ stance toward both their lowest-performing and high-performing charters. And that’s where the study has good news, pointing the...

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The quality of charters schools is a topic often covered by the media, stemming from debates about the potential impact of charter schools on student achievement. Only a few groups, however, place an emphasis on ensuring the quality of authorizers who contract with charters and have the responsibility to oversee their academic and fiscal performance. One of these groups called the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) publishes an annual report that collects self-reported survey data from authorizers, which indicate the extent to which they comply with the “Index of Essential Practices.” The best practices represent policies that would allow an authorizer to successfully accomplish their roles as a facilitator and compliance officer.

Of the eleven Buckeye State authorizers whom NASCA surveyed (including Fordham), NACSA found that Ohio’s authorizers scored well according to the index. Authorizers met nine to eleven out of the twelve possible indicators of best practices. NACSA, however, did critique states like Ohio who have implemented laws that do not allow authorizers to institute policies from the index. For example, the current law for charter renewals in Ohio prevents authorizers from issuing new schools a contract longer than the length of the authorizer’s own contract with the Department of Education. This means that an authorizer with two years left in their contract has to review the standing of a new school within those two years. NACSA recommends that new charters should be given a review for renewal after five years. In this report, they also argue...

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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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