Ohio Gadfly Daily

By July 1st, Ohio law will require public school districts (charter and district) to establish a teacher evaluation policy. The evaluation policy must conform to a framework that depends half on student growth on test scores and half on classroom observations.[1] Based on these measures, teachers will earn an overall rating: accomplished, proficient, developing, or ineffective.

In our recent survey of superintendents, Ohio’s teacher evaluation policy received mixed reviews. Nearly three out of four (73 percent) said that teacher evaluations would become accepted practice five years hence. And, 42 percent said that teacher evaluations would lead to “fundamental improvement” in the state’s K-12 school system. So, there’s modest optimism toward teacher evaluation.

But there’s undeniable angst about the policy details. Nearly all superintendents (93 percent) think that there will be lawsuits when personnel decisions are based on Ohio’s evaluation framework. And nearly all (86 percent) think that the classroom observation mandate will “put too much pressure on principals.” One superintendent said

“It will over-tax the principals and render them useless. They will need to spend so much time on evaluations, they will not have time for anything else.”

When one looks at the Ohio Department of Education’s website, one can see from whence this sentiment emerges. For example, the “teacher evaluation resource packet,” which operationalizes the classroom observation portion of the policy, clocks in at 22 pages. By simple extrapolation, this suggests a small mountain of paperwork for a principal who supervises 20 teachers.

Is there...

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It’s no secret that Dayton’s economy has taken its lumps and presently limps along. The chart below reveals this all the more clearly, by looking at per capita income trends--one indicator of economic health--for Dayton and four other Ohio metro areas.

Chart: Widening income gap between Dayton and other Ohio areas – Per capita income by metropolitan statistical area, 1995 to 2011

SOURCE: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland  NOTE: The percent differences, author's calculation, compare Dayton and Cleveland's incomes and are shown relative Dayton’s income for 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2011 (the last year of available data).

It’s striking to see that in 1995, Dayton’s per capita income was roughly on par with Akron, Cincinnati, and Columbus. (Cleveland is noticeably ahead of this group in 1995.) But during the late 1990s and early 2000s, a growing gap begins to emerge as Columbus and Cincinnati race ahead, even catching up to Cleveland’s per capita income level. Meanwhile, Dayton grows at a snail’s pace in comparison. As a result, the gap between Dayton and its peer cities develops into a small chasm, so much so that by 2011, Dayton’s per capita income was some $3,000 below Akron, Columbus, and Cincinnati, and $5,000—or 13 percent—below Cleveland.  

Terry’s blog post earlier this week spotlighted the bold, citywide education reforms in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus. One city was conspicuously absent: Fordham’s hometown of Dayton. Its absence doesn’t portend well for the...

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While there are still a couple of steps to go before it is law (everybody sing along), Ohio’s next biennial budget was voted out of the Senate Finance committee yesterday and heads now to the full Senate with nearly 1000 pages of amendments.

One of these amendments addresses an important provision which has not received much media attention, added in the House version of the budget: a change to the way students are counted in traditional and joint vocational school (JVS) districts. By now we have all heard from the Ohio Auditor of State about “count week” – that magical five days every October where districts pull out all the stops (Spirit Day! Pizza Day! Pajama Day!) to get as many of their kids as possible to show up to school…in order to maximize the money the state provides to districts based on average daily membership, or ADM. Doesn’t matter how many kids are there in November or March or May, districts receive the same amount of money throughout the year whether there are more or less students in the school than in “count week.”

The House version of the 2014-15 biennial budget calls for traditional and JVS districts to certify ADM during the first full school week of each month, and to receive funding based on those rolling counts. By calculating ADM in this way, it is almost certain that school attendance on a random day in March will generally be very different than on Spirit-Pizza-Pajama-Baby-Animal-Day in...

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Bianca Speranza

Last week I began my long awaited journey as a 2013 Teach for America Corp member in Southwest Ohio (SWO). Fellow corps members from all over the state, country, and even world convened in Cincinnati for a weeklong induction. The week served as an introduction into the region where we will be working for the next two years, as well as time for us to get to know each other and the motivation behind our reasons for wanting to join TFA.

We spent the week focusing on two major themes: heart and getting started. Heart: Who are the people we are working with, what are we trying to accomplish, and why does this work matter to us and to others? Over the course of five days we dove head first into the history of Cincinnati, Dayton, and Covington, discovering the people that make up these great cities and the unique challenges associated with each of them. The experiences ranged from visiting the Freedom Center to learn about the racial inequalities that have plagued Cincinnati for many years, as well as eating dinner in the home of a single-parent mother and hearing from her first hand what is important to her as a parent in Covington, KY. We also visited high-performing charter schools such as the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), hearing from their leaders, students, and teachers that the stale status quo of under achievement in a city can be just that and that there are ways to reach above...

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This week I am joining members of CEE-Trust for a conversation on some of the nation’s most promising city-based school reform efforts. CEE-Trust is a coalition of 33 reform organizations like MindTrust in Indianapolis, Mayor Karl Dean in Nashville, Charter School Partners in Minneapolis, New Schools for New Orleans, and the Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland. Fordham is a founding member, and this is one of my absolutely favorite groups to spend time with because the people involved are leading implementers and practitioners of school reform. They are all doers.

In years past I always left the CEE-Trust meetings wishing more were happening in Ohio’s cities. But, this year is different. Ohio’s big cities are rapidly becoming leaders in school reform. In fact, I’d argue there is no state with three major cities doing more than what is happening in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Consider the following.

Cleveland: In early 2012 Mayor Frank Jackson (who appoints the school board) unveiled his “Plan for Transforming Schools.” The Jackson Plan required changes to state law and in July 2012 Governor Kasich signed House Bill 525, which gave the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and its superintendent Eric Gordon new flexibilities to deal with the city’s long-suffering schools. Key elements of the plan included:

  • Keeping high-performing and specialized teachers during layoffs by making tenure and seniority only secondary factors in those personnel decisions.
  • Paying teachers on a “differentiated” salary schedule based on performance, special skills and duties, as opposed to years of
  • ...
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The number of high school graduates from Ohio’s charter schools has risen sharply in the past decade. In spring 2002, only 580 students graduated from a charter; in spring 2011 (the last year of available graduation data), 6,301 students graduated from a charter, only slightly below of graduates of Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus school districts combined. 

Where do charter school grads go upon graduation? Not likely to college. Only around 1 in 10 charter school graduates head directly into an Ohio public university or college (two- or four-year), according to the Ohio Board of Regents. Note: The Regents’ data do not account for high school graduates who attend an out-of-state, private, or for-profit college—thus, underreporting the number of college-bound grads.

For graduates of e-school charters, a measly 9 percent made the plunge into college, while for graduates of brick-and-mortar charters, it’s 11 percent. There is, however, considerable variation across the charters. As might be expected, Ohio’s few high-performing high school charters had a higher percentage of grads go off to college. For example, 48 percent of Dayton Early College Academy’s (DECA) and 50 percent of Toledo School for the Arts’ graduates enrolled directly into an Ohio college. On the flip side, only 8 percent of ECOT (the state’s largest e-school) graduates went to an Ohio college immediately after graduation, and 50 out of 115 charters had zero students.

The chart below shows that, compared to traditional districts, charter schools lag considerably behind in sending graduates directly into college. On average,...

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FOREWORD

Like a rose in an unkempt garden, Menlo Park Academy stands out among Ohio’s hodgepodge of charter schools. First and foremost, Menlo excels academically—it was one of 30 charters in Ohio that earned an “Excellent” (A) or above state academic rating in 2011-12. (This, out of 302 rated charter schools.) Second, Menlo, which enrolls 300 or so students, is a regional school, drawing K-8 students from 40 school districts in and beyond the Cleveland metro area. And, Menlo is Ohio’s only charter school dedicated to educating gifted students.

Menlo’s uniqueness, together with Fordham’s long-standing interest in gifted and talented students, quickly attracted our attention. We’ve visited the school on two occasions, once with Fordham’s president Checker Finn. During these visits we learned much from Menlo’s leaders, teachers, parents and students about how the school has grown, as well as its current and future challenges. These discussions whetted our appetite to dig deeper—to learn more about Menlo’s story, its people, and how it goes about educating gifted students. We asked Ellen Belcher, an award-winning journalist formerly of the Dayton Daily News, to report the Menlo Park story and what she uncovered made us even more excited about the work of Menlo. It also made us wonder why there aren’t more charter schools in Ohio committed to serving the needs of the state’s gifted and talented students.

Ohio law permits gifted-focused charter schools such as Menlo. Under Ohio Revised Code (ORC) §3314.06, charter schools can adopt a policy that...

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Blended learning: It’s the talk of the town and perceived favorably, but it hasn’t found widespread use…yet. Fordham’s May 2013 publication Half Empty Half Full: Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reform surveyed 344 of Ohio’s 614 district superintendents: 59 percent of superintendents thought that blended learning would lead to “fundamental improvement.” However, despite the vocal support for blended learning, few superintendents (a mere 5 percent) report that it has achieved “widespread” use in their school district. In fact, 31 percent of superintendents reported that blended learning was of “limited or no use” in their district.

(Blended learning refers to an instructional model that mixes virtual education with traditional face-to-face instruction. The model can vary depending on what instructional model the teacher chooses to implement. Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, identify four blended learning models.)  

Who are the most laggardly of the laggards in terms of using blended learning? It seems, as might be expected, that superintendents of rural districts are the most likely to report little to no use of blended learning. And, importantly, it’s not on account of attitudinal resistance to blended learning from these rural school leaders.

Chart 1 shows that rural superintendents view blended learning favorably—as favorably as their peers in larger, more urban districts. Sixty-one percent of rural superintendents view blended learning favorably, a percentage that mirrors that of urban (61 percent) and suburban superintendents (66 percent), and is considerably higher than small town superintendents (45 percent). 

Chart...

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Wayward Sons, a recent report published by the policy think tank the Third Way, finds that the average girl’s educational and career outcomes have improved over time, while boys tend to be faring worse. This widening “gender gap,” the report contends, suggests “reason for concern” and “bodes ill for the well-being of recent cohorts of U.S. males.”

Explaining why boys are struggling now more than in past decades is, of course, extremely complex. One line of inquiry might consider the changing schooling experiences of boys and girls: Could it be that boys are becoming increasingly harder to educate? Might schools tailor education in ways unsuitable for boys’ needs? Or is it a mix of both?

Fair questions—and using Ohio’s special education data, I look at whether there’s any evidence that (a) boys might be harder to educate than girls and (b) whether schools might respond to difficult-to-educate boys by referring them into special education.

The Ohio data is nothing short of remarkable: There are considerably more boys identified as disabled than girls. (The referral and identification process is a joint effort between the parent and the school.) Statewide, 166,690 boys (65 percent) and 88,539 girls (35 percent) were identified as disabled in 2011-12. This compares to a 51 percent male to 49 percent female ratio for all K-12 students—disabled and non-disabled together.

A similarly disproportionate number of boys populate the specific disabled categories. In fact, every single category except one (deaf-blindness) has more boys than girls....

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When Ohio Governor John Kasich released his “Achievement Everywhere” school funding plan in late February it was widely criticized for “stealing from the poor and giving to the rich.” Opponents of the governor’s plan noted “rich” suburban districts would see more state funding than poorer rural and urban districts. People wondered why the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, with a long history of poverty, would see no increase in state funding while Cleveland suburban districts like Euclid City would see a 21 percent increase in funding.

It didn’t seem to make sense, despite the arguments of the governor’s staff that Ohio’s demographics had changed considerably over the last decade (consider Cleveland had lost 30,000 students), and poverty was far more widely dispersed than most people thought. In response to the cries that the governor’s plan was unfair to rural and urban districts while a money grab for suburban districts the House rewrote the Kasich school funding plan to fund both rural and urban schools at higher amounts. This, it was argued, would be a fairer funding formula than what the Governor proposed and spreadsheets of the House plan did indeed show more rural and urban district benefiting from their plan than the governor's.

It is yet to be seen what the Senate is going to do per school funding, but one hopes that Senators are reading the new book from the Brookings Institution that reports “the suburban poverty rate in America has climbed by 64 percent over the...

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