Ohio Gadfly Daily

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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Governor Kasich's budget plan for K-12 education is exciting and indeed long overdue. Especially important are education dollars following students, support for innovation, more and smarter (and more quality-conscious) school choices, and greater flexibility for districts and schools. The Governor's plan, as crafted, looks to empower the professionals closest to kids - teachers and building level administrators - to make decisions that are in their students' best interests academically, while also expanding the power of parents to decide what type of school works best for their children. The Governor's plan moves Ohio's schools, families and students away from the idea of education being a one-size-fits-all enterprise to something closer to customized schooling for every child.

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Growing quality charter schools requires strong charter school authorizers. That’s a key takeaway from Stanford University’s CREDO study, Charter School Growth and Replication, released yesterday. To assess charter school quality in 23 states (including Ohio) and the District of Columbia, CREDO examined over 2 million charter student records from 2005-06 to 2009-10.

A charter school authorizer, of which Fordham is one, has four primary responsibilities: (1) review charter applications, (2) contract with the charter school, (3) ensure compliance, and (4) renew or not renew the charter school’s contract based on school performance, especially academic performance. In each area of responsibility, except compliance, CREDO’s findings suggest that charter school authorizers must strengthen its practices to ensure a growing supply of high-quality charters. Three of CREDO’s findings, in particular, have relevance to charter authorizer practices.

First, CREDO found significant variation in the quality of charter school management networks, or CMOs (e.g., KIPP). Authorizers must be persnickety in the educational organizations with whom they contract—there are sour lemons as well as delicious apples in the CMO barrel. CREDO’s analysis discovered that the finest CMO networks (e.g. KIPP and Uncommon Schools) have large positive effects on students’ learning growth, while the lowest performing networks (e.g. White Hat and Responsive Education Solutions) have far less favorable effects on student learning.[1] They also noted that charters that were supported by the Charter School Growth Fund “had significantly higher learning gains than other CMOs or independent charters.”

Second, CREDO found that...

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Ohio’s charter law remains mediocre despite numerous reform efforts over the last decade. According to the latest “Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of the State Charter School Laws” produced by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) the Buckeye State’s charter school law ranks 27 out of 43 states and the District of Columbia.

NAPCS ranks state laws based on two primary factors: 1) the freedoms and flexibilities state laws provide charter operators; and 2) the quality of accountability provisions for both charter school operators and authorizers. There are 20 Essential Components of the NAPCS rankings and these range from freedoms such as “No Caps on Charters,” “Automatic Collective Bargaining Exemptions,” and “Equitable Operational Funding” to accountability measures such as “Authorizer and Overall Program Accountability” and “Clear Processes for Renewal, Nonrenewal and Revocation Decisions.”

Ohio has made some progress – and this is reflected in the NAPCS state rating of Ohio inching up from #28 last year to #27 this year. But, other states are making progress faster. Big charter states, those that have at least 4.5% of their students enrolled in public charter schools, that have made steady progress and improvements to their laws in recent years include number one ranked Minnesota (with 4.7% of students in charters), number four Colorado (with 9.8% of students in charters), number five Florida (with 6.8% of students in charters), number six Louisiana (with 6.4% of students in charters) and number seven California (with 6.7% of...

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Mark W. Sherman

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Special Ed Connection.

Charter school operators treasure their autonomy from the regular public school system. Thus, one might suppose that charter school officials in Ohio were glad that the state board of education's new policy on restraint and seclusion does not apply to them.

The policy was adopted January 15 by a vote of 12-4. An accompanying rule is now being reviewed by a legislative committee.

In fact, charter schools didn't ask to be exempted and were surprised the board left them out, according to Stephanie Klupinski, vice president for legislative and legal affairs at the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

"It's not entirely clear to me why charters were not included in the policy," she said. "It could be just an oversight."

Charter schools weren't looking for an out, agreed Terry Ryan, vice president for Ohio programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The institute is a supporter of the charter schools movement and a sponsor, i.e., authorizer, of several Ohio charters.

Adopting limits on the use of restraint and seclusion by districts "was the proper and appropriate move for the state board to make," Ryan said, and "as a matter of principle, it should extend to the charter schools."

Any such extension should take into account the particular needs of the charter school community, Ryan said.

For example, it is not clear how such a policy would work at a charter school...

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There is no harder job than running a successful school building for high-poverty students; nor a more important job. Yet, there are school leaders across the state and the nation who do it day-in and day-out, and too few get recognized for their great work. We are fortunate that some of these leaders work in the charter schools that Fordham sponsors and it is our privilege to tell a little bit of their stories and the impact they are having on students in Ohio. This Q&A with Judy Hennessey, the superintendent of Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) and DECA Prep, is the third of our seven-part series on school leadership. (Please see our previous Q&As with Dr. Glenda Brown and Andy Boy.) Hennessey leads two high-performing charter schools in Dayton, one a high school, the other an elementary school. Together, these schools serve over 600 inner-city students from Dayton. We featured DECA in our high school edition of Needles in a Haystack, released earlier this month.

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There isn’t much Judy Hennessey hasn’t done at Dayton Early College Academy or the newly created DECA Prep elementary school. She is the superintendent and CEO of the two schools, but, in addition, Hennessey currently is the acting principal at DECA Prep. There was no one to step in when the school’s first principal resigned for medical reasons.

On a recent weekend, Hennessey, 60, and husband Mark were at DECA Prep cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming because...

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Earlier this month, Policy Matters Ohio released a short report examining how some charter schools evade Ohio’s academic accountability sanctions.  Ohio has an academic “death penalty” for charter schools – if a school performs too poorly for too long, the state mandates its closure.  The law is heralded as the toughest of its kind in the nation.

Since the law took effect in 2008, twenty charter schools have been subject to automatic closure. Yet, as Avoiding Accountability: How charter operators evade Ohio’s automatic closure law reveals, eight of these schools closed only on paper and soon after merged with other schools or reopened under new names, retaining the same physical address, much of the same staff, and the same operator. Two of the schools were closed for one year before reopening; six closed in May or June, at the end of a school year, and reopened in time for the start of the following school year. The report details the cases of each school’s “closure” and rebirth and provides information about their sponsors, operators, and academic performance.

Charter schools avoiding accountability is absolutely not okay, and Policy Matters is right to shed light on the issue. Many of the report’s recommendations are on the mark, and mirror recommendations Fordham (both as a policy advocate and authorizer of charter schools) has made over the years:

  • The state should tighten closure laws so that sponsors, school boards, and operators cannot enter into new contracts to circumvent the law.
  • Sponsors
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