Ohio Gadfly Daily

“Autonomy, in exchange for accountability” has been the mantra of charter school theorists since before the first charter opened its doors in Minnesota in 1991. But, far too often over the last two decades this mantra has been more ideal than reality. Getting the balance right between autonomy and accountability has been so hard because there has been much confusion over the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the non-profit charter school governing boards, school operators, and authorizers in the autonomy/accountability deal.

Fordham’s new policy brief by Adam Emerson, “Governance in the Charter School Sector: Time for a Reboot,” tackles the governance issue head-on. One section in particular is especially interesting to me because of our role as a charter school authorizer in the Buckeye State. Ohio, and other states with strong charter school networks (both non-profit CMOs and for-profit EMOs), has struggled to balance the power and influence of school operators with that of their non-profit governing board. Too often boards are seen as little more than a necessary evil while operators run the show. It is not at all uncommon for charter school operators in Ohio to “hire” board members, and then use them as a rubber stamp for all school operations.  

As a state approved charter school authorizer in Ohio we have always held a different view. Our position has been that the non-profit governing boards are independent, and clearly in charge of, any outside organization that they engage to run their education programs. It has...

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Evaluating teachers to gauge their impact on student achievement is a necessary reform. For too long school districts have been unable to identify their high performers from their underachievers, and reward and support them accordingly. Few disagree that it is a good thing to know if teachers are having a positive impact on their students’ abilities to read, write, do mathematics, comprehend history, and acquire the other academic knowledge and skills young people need to be successful in life.

But, in Ohio – and probably in other states – the desire to evaluate teachers has likely gone too far when we try to hold Physical Ed teachers accountable for teaching students to meet state defined targets like:

*Consistently demonstrating correct skipping technique with a smooth and effortless rhythm;
*Demonstrates correct technique, the ball flies upward at approximately a 45-degree angle and over a distance of 30 feet or great;
*Consistently demonstrates good rhythm by following a sequence of dance steps in time and with music;
*Able to throw consistently a ball underhand with good accuracy and technique to a target (or person) with varying distances; or
*Able to strike consistently a ball with a paddle to a target area with accuracy and good technique.

The Ohio Department of Education has, as mandated by state law, put together a 165 page “Physical Education Evaluation System” that is now being used across the state to measure the effectiveness of PE teachers. The document not...

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Ohio’s urban school districts, like many others across the country, face a slow burning governance crisis. Elected school boards in cities like Columbus, Dayton and Youngstown are proving incapable of providing the leadership their cities, schools, families and children need to be successful. In Dayton, for example, long-time board member Yvonne Isaacs summed up the challenge when she told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2012, “There is really no continuity in terms of the vision and the direction of the district…I think what we have lost is the ability to collaborate and to set vision.” Youngstown’s dysfunction is legendary and it faces a state takeover.

But, no city in Ohio displays better the dysfunctionality of big city elected school boards than does Columbus. Columbus City Schools is a district in turmoil. Mayor Michael Coleman spelled out the challenges in a recent Columbus Dispatch op-ed thusly:

“The children of Columbus City Schools need our help. Forty-seven percent of kids enrolled in the district attend schools receiving a D or F grade by the Ohio Department of Education, while just 21 percent go to A or B schools. The district ranks near the very bottom statewide in terms of how much a student learns in a given year.

State and federal investigations into allegations of student-data manipulation hang like a black cloud over the district. The results threaten to further lower the academic-performance scores of our schools, and administrators could face indictment.

Our schools are at a crossroads. If...

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Richard (Dick) Ross was sworn into today by state board of education president Debe Terhar as Ohio’s 37th State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The ceremony took place at the Reynoldsburg City High School (just east of Columbus). Dr. Ross takes over the leadership reigns of the Ohio Department of Education after serving as Governor Kasich’s director of 21st Century Education for the last two years. While in the Governor’s office Ross helped to craft the state’s A-F report card, the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee, and the new school funding plan being debated in the legislature.

Ross is the fourth state superintendent in two years, and enters the department during a time of change, challenges and opportunity. Ohio is revamping its school funding system, implementing new academic standards through the Common Core in English Language Arts and Mathematics, new standards in science and social studies, and putting into place new assessments through PARCC. Ohio is also a school choice hotbed, and is expected to see continued growth in both charter school students and students receiving public vouchers to attend private schools. These programs are under much scrutiny and could use improvements to their accountability and oversight.

Much of the department’s senior leadership has turned over in recent years and a big part of Ross’ early efforts will need to be around building his senior leadership team. He is the man for the job as his entire professional career has been defined...

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The characteristics and number of students who take an exam—especially a voluntary one such as the AP exams—are surely important. This week’s blog How do Ohio’s AP scores stack up? showed that Indiana’s AP scores were noticeably below their Midwestern peers, including the Buckeye State. Ohio’s AP scores were, on average, quite competitive with its peer states and well above Indiana’s.

One plausible theory for Indiana’s dismal AP scores is that a greater proportion of its high school students take the AP exams. This may indicate that more lower-achieving students—students who are less likely to score well on AP exams—may be taking AP exams in Indiana compared to other Midwestern states.

To probe whether this theory holds water, I calculate the percentage of junior and seniors who take the AP exams for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The charts below show the percentage of juniors and seniors who took at least one AP exam in spring 2012. The table at the end of the post reports the number of public and nonpublic school students in each class as well as the number of test-takers.

Indiana and Illinois lead, Ohio lags – Percentage of juniors and seniors taking at least one AP exam, public and nonpublic students, selected states, 2011-12

Sources: Illinois State Board of Education; Indiana Department of Education; Michigan Department of Education, public and nonpublic enrollment;  Ohio Department of Education;...

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In Ohio, there were 368 charter schools open during the 2011-12 school year. Of these charter schools, there were 26 e-schools, 87 drop-out recovery schools, and 35 special education charter schools. And, there was one charter school dedicated to serving gifted students.

Menlo Park Academy, located in Southwest Cleveland, is the Buckeye State’s lone public charter school for the gifted. The school has consistently earned strong academic marks from the state, rated “Excellent” (A) for the past three school years. Menlo Park enrolls over 300 K-8 students, who come from forty plus school districts. The student body is nearly entirely White and Asian (over 90 percent).

Yesterday, at the invitation of school director Mrs. Paige Baublitz-Watkins, Checker Finn presented findings from Fordham’s 2011 study Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? and fielded questions about gifted education from a group of Menlo Park parents and educators. In the High Flyers report, Fordham found that nearly half of America’s top-shelf students “lose altitude”—failing to remain at or above the ninetieth percentile in test scores—from third to eighth grade.

From left to right: Assistant School Director Jim Kennedy, Board Member Michael Love, School Director Paige Baublitz-Watkins, Fordham President Checker Finn

Can opening more schools such as Menlo Park provide an antidote to the declining opportunities that Ohio’s gifted students have to reach their full potential? It very well could. But, of course, it will require...

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From left: Marty Bowe, Bill Hayes, Carol Lockhart, Ann Sheldon, Checker Finn and Jennifer Smith Richards

Why are so many gifted students in Ohio not receiving education services catered to their needs?  How can we support them to reach their full potential?  These were the questions asked at today’s Educating Our Brightest event, hosted by the Fordham Institute and the Ohio Association for Gifted Children.

Fordham's Checker Finn kicked off the event with a recap of the Institute’s studies of the impact of No Child Left Behind on gifted students (hint: it’s not good).  He then presented findings from his recent book, Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools (of which Ohio has four). He was quick to point out that these students don’t serve a different population of students than their peers, nor do their teachers necessarily have different or higher credentials.

After Checker’s presentation, a panel, moderated by the Columbus Dispatch’s Jennifer Smith Richards, talked about the state of gifted education in Ohio and how to improve it.  Here’s a recap of their comments:

Ann Sheldon, Executive Director, Ohio Association for Gifted Children:  Ann pointed out there has been a tremendous decline in gifted services in Ohio over the past decade.  Currently just 18 percent of gifted students received specialized gifted services in our state. Ohio needs more gifted-specific schools as part of the solution.

Carol Lockhart, Principal,...

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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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