Ohio Gadfly Daily

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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Ohio’s teacher preparation programs, especially those run by public universities, select mediocre students. So say the data from the Ohio Board of Regents recent release of data on the performance of Ohio’s teacher preparation programs. This is the first publication of data on teacher preparation programs (or “ed schools”) that is required under House Bill 1 (2009).

Among the data released are admissions data, value-added scores of teachers who graduated, and teacher licensure exam scores. These data vastly improve the information we have about the quality of teacher preparation programs—and the students who attend them.

One indicator of the quality of the preparation program is the average ACT scores of admitted students. A higher average ACT score indicates greater selectivity and, most likely, higher program quality. The chart below ranks the average ACT scores of students who were admitted in fall 2012. I exclude three universities because they have less than ten students in their teacher preparation program. In addition, 16 universities didn’t report an average ACT score and one ACT score appears to be an error. These teacher preparation programs vary in size, enrolling anywhere between 13 and 1,687 students.

Source: Ohio Board of Regents. Note: Public institutions are colored in red; private institutions are colored in blue. The range of ACT scores is 1 (low) and 36 (high). The statewide average ACT composite score for students admitted into a teacher preparation program is 22.75....

Is there a special sauce that makes an urban high school great? This question and more were discussed at a community conversation on urban education at Dayton’s Stivers School for the Arts last night.

Some 150 or so Daytonians turned out to listen to the school leaders of Stivers and Dayton Early College Academy, who shared their thoughts on what makes their schools great. Both Stivers and Dayton Early College Academy were featured in Fordham’s Needles in a Haystack. Needles schools are high-minority, high-poverty urban public schools that produce uncommon results for their students. The Seedling Foundation helped to organize the event.

Needles panel discussion (from left to right): Dayton Public Schools superintendent Lori Ward, Erin Dooley and Liz Whipps of Stivers School for the Arts, Fordham's Checker Finn and Needles author Peter Meyer, Dave Taylor and Judy Hennessey of Dayton Early College Academy.

According to these school leaders, the recipe for a great urban school goes something like this:

3 cups of sense of purpose; 2 cups of enthusiasm; 1 cup of committed, talented teachers; 1 cup of high expectations; ½ cup of making learning “cool”; a dash of community support and a dash of parental engagement; and finally, a bowlful of “spit”—a “whatever it takes” attitude (in the words of Stivers principal Erin Dooley).

Yet this recipe isn’t mechanically identical for both schools. In fact, there are differences. Stivers, an arts magnet for...

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“Nobody is satisfied with the educational performance of Ohio’s poor, urban, and minority youngsters—or the schools that serve them.” This was how we opened our 2010 report Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s High-Performing, High-Need Urban Schools, which examined high-flying elementary schools.

That sentiment is just as true for the high schools we studied in 2012 as it was in 2010 for the grade schools we examined. Yet there are high schools in the BuckeyeState that buck the bleak trends facing too many of our urban students. Such schools show significant achievement for disadvantaged youngsters from depressed inner-city communities. 

Whereas the original version of Needles in a Haystack looked at eight exceptional elementary schools, this report examines six high schools that are making good on promises of academic excellence; specifically, schools that work for low-income and minority students. These high schools make serious efforts not to leave anyone behind. It’s a tall order, as too many urban schools—which we have come to know are those with high numbers of poor and minority students—leave too many children behind. For example: Ohio has 135 high schools that have been identified as “dropout factories”—schools that fail to graduate more than 60 percent of their students on time. They account for roughly 15 percent of the state’s high schools.

Needles schools make serious efforts not to leave anyone behind

All of our Needles high schools—two each in Cleveland, Dayton, and Columbus—have student bodies that are more than 60 percent economically disadvantaged....

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Some of Ohio’s largest school districts are embracing charter schools as part of their overall district reform strategies. Mayor Jackson’s education reform plan in Cleveland calls for tripling “the number of Cleveland students enrolled in high-performing district and charter schools from the approximately 11,000 students currently enrolled in these schools to approximately 33,000 by 2018-19.” In Columbus, Mayor Coleman’s “education commission” is exploring ways to encourage “the growth of high performing charter schools.” In Cincinnati the district recently announced a new partnership with the charter operator Carpe Diem (a high-performing blended-learning charter school model based in Arizona).

Fordham has long-advocated, along with groups like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for better cooperation and creative partnerships between school districts and quality charter schools. As far back as 2007, we argued for a “Portfolio Governance Approach to Meeting the Needs of All Dayton Children.”

Great school leaders are high in demand and portfolio districts compete aggressively for them

Unfortunately Dayton couldn’t run with the concept in 2007, but fast forward to 2013, and according to a new book by Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, and Betheny Gross entitled Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies for Managing Urban Schools, there are now close to 30 urban school districts across the country pursuing “the portfolio strategy.” According to Hill, Campbell and Gross leading portfolio districts “support existing schools that are succeeding with the children they serve, close unproductive schools, create new ones similar to schools that have already proven effective,...

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We know that our latest report doesn’t break new ground. There is national research going back decades on the keys to high-performing schools, and more recently there is Ohio-specific literature on the topic. We published a previous iteration of Needles in a Haystack in 2010, which looked at high-performing, high-need elementary and middles schools. Since 2002, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has identified “Schools of Promise” – high-poverty, high-achieving schools – and has published case studies of some of those schools along with Five Lessons Learned from Successful Schools. And late last year, Public Agenda – with funding from the Ohio Business Roundtable, The Ohio State University, and ODE – released Failure Is Not an Option: How Principals, Teachers, Students and Parents from Ohio’s High-Achieving, High-Poverty Schools Explain Their Success.

These studies all look at schools serving a large population of economically disadvantaged (ED) students, though the specific metrics vary. Our first Needles report focused on schools in which 75 percent or more of students were ED. ODE and Public Agenda use 40 percent as the threshold. Our new report adds greater precision in defining “high need,” applying additional metrics—three, in fact: 30 percent ED and/or 50 percent ED and/or 30 percent black. Likewise, the studies vary in how they define “high-performing.” Our new Needles report focuses on schools serving poor and black students well, zeroing in on the achievement rates of those subgroups. The other studies use overall achievement of the student body,...

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Ohio remains an education reform leader, yet still has a ways to go to lead the country in school reform efforts. That’s the conclusion from today’s StudentsFirst’s inaugural State Policy Report Card.

StudentsFirst, a national organization led by former D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee, rates how closely each states’ education policies align with broader education reform goals. This ambitious research project examines whether states’ policies embolden and encourage reform along three dimensions: Quality teaching, parental choice, and school finance. StudentsFirst, for example, looks at whether states have established policies requiring teacher evaluations, teacher tenure based on effectiveness, and clear accountability for school performance—including charter schools.

Deservedly so, Ohio receives high marks in its education reform policies relative other states. In fact, Florida and Louisiana were the only two states that received markedly higher grades in “ed-reformedness.” With a C minus letter grade, Ohio ranks tenth out of the 51 examined jurisdictions. Ohio scores especially high along the parental choice indicator—not surprising given the multitude of school choice options available to parents. These choices include the state’s 350 plus charters, and voucher programs for students in failing schools or parents of students who want to access a special education voucher. StudentsFirst also righty recognizes improvements in Ohio’s accountability laws, most recently through passage of House Bill 555. This legislation establishes a clear, A-F grading system for school accountability, and holds charter schools to a higher accountability standard.

A tough grader, StudentsFirst also indicates that Ohio—and other states—still have miles to...

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How much is too much when it comes to compensation of district superintendents and charter school administrators?

In the last couple of months I have been asked by reporters about the compensation being paid school administrators in Ohio. In late September, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a series of stories on what superintendents and treasurers in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky were making, while just this past weekend the Dayton Daily News ran a story on the overall compensation paid a charter school administrator and her family to run seven schools in Ohio and three in Florida. I’m also on the business advisory council to my local school district and one of the biggest issues they grapple with is compensation of top school administrators. This is a very sensitive issue politically, especially since the economic downturn of 2008.

My basic view on matters of compensation is pretty straightforward: Highly effective superintendents and charter school operators deserve to be paid well as they work long hours and deal with myriad and complicated human, fiscal, academic, and political issues. Their compensation should be transparent (no hidden benefits or perks); and there should be a marketplace for talent. Let school districts and charter school operators compete openly for talent, and from this competition the market should help set the bar for compensation.

But, when it comes to the compensation and salary of public school officials – be they district or charter – there is also a political dynamic at play that board...

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Yesterday, National Public Radio talked finance with kindergarten students from Village Preparatory School–Woodland Hills, a Fordham-sponsored charter school in Cleveland. Village Prep is one of nine schools in the Breakthrough Schools network of high-performing charter schools that serve students from Cleveland’s inner city.

When NPR asked these youngsters how they would spend $100, their replies ranged from Reese’s cups, to a car, to a toy for their dogs. The twist: These kids might really get $100—but not for candy.

If Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald succeeds, each of the county’s kindergarteners would receive a college savings account flush with $100. The plan, which is modeled after a similar program in San Francisco, is intended to inspire parents and children to take seriously the prospect of going to college.

We applaud efforts to promote the expectation that our youngest students will attend college, while simultaneously encouraging their parents to think about the economics of college early in their kids’ lives. County Executive FitzGerald’s plan is a very modest and entirely right step in this direction.

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Eric Hanushek, Marguerite Roza, and Frederick Hess provided Ohio’s lawmakers today with ideas for helping the Buckeye State retool its school funding system. StudentsFirst, an education reform organization, recruited these leading experts to Ohio and arranged meetings with both the House and the Senate finance committees. Ohio’s Governor John Kasich has promised to address school funding in his 2013 biennial budget proposal.

Hanushek, who testified in person (Hess and Roza joined by videoconference), led off the conversation with these lawmakers. He enumerated five principles of a strong school finance and accountability system. (These are described in more detail in his publication, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools.) These principles include:

1. Establishing a set of standards, assessments, and accountability for schools that are strong and transparent.

2. Empowering local districts to allocate funds in ways that meet the needs of their students. State lawmakers shouldn’t dictate, Hanushek insisted, how districts spend their funds.

3. Rewarding successful schools and not directing additional funds to failing schools. State lawmakers need to resist the impulse to distribute more funds to failing districts, as it may incentivize failure.

4. Providing funding for innovation and evaluation. The state should fund innovative educational practices and programs, but any innovative program funded by the state should also be rigorously evaluated. Importantly, Hanushek emphasized that evaluation of innovative programs needs to be done at the inception of the program, not after the program has been implemented.

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