Ohio Gadfly Daily

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.

5....

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Today the Ohio Senate Education Committee heard testimony and debated the merits of House Bill 555 (HB 555), legislation that would overhaul Ohio's school accountability system, if passed. The legislation has passed through the Ohio House of Representatives and is currently under review by the Senate. Revamping Ohio’s accountability system is required under Ohio's ESEA Flexibility request.

Most significantly, HB 555 proposes a change in how the Buckeye State rates schools' academic performance. Under current policy, Ohio's public school buildings and districts (charter and traditional) are given a rating from "Academic Emergency" to "Excellent with Distinction." HB 555 would do away with these designations and move to an A to F rating system. The new grading system would take effect beginning in the 2014-15 school year. In addition to this change, HB 555 would also revise the components and weights of a school's Report Card, enact an accountability framework for dropout recovery charter schools, and establish a rating system for charter school sponsors.

Fordham's vice president Terry Ryan testified in favor of HB 555, arguing that the legislation represents a step forward in Ohio's accountability system. You can read Terry's Senate testimony here, along with an analysis of how the implementation of the PARCC exams (tests aligned to the Common Core) may affect the state's and districts’ proficiency rates in 2014-15....

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The Buckeye Association of School Administrators has named Rusty Clifford of West Carrollton City Schools Ohio's Superintendent of the Year for 2013.

The Gadfly applauds this choice and salutes Superintendent Clifford's track record of success and excellence in West Carrollton.

As teacher, coach, principal and now Superintendent, Rusty Clifford embodies the highest ideals in education.

Congratulations!

Check out the announcement of Superintendent Clifford's honor in the Dayton Daily News.

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The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), a top-notch group of entities that are serious about sponsoring quality charter schools, issued a call this week for authorizers and state laws to be more proactive in closing failing schools and opening great new ones. They call it the One Million Lives campaign.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Number of Ohio charter schools in the lowest 15 percent of state performance.
Source: 2011-12 Ohio Report Card Results.

At the kickoff, NACSA President Greg Richmond said, “In some places, accountability unfortunately has been part of the charter model in name only. If charters are going to succeed in helping improve public education, accountability must go from being rhetoric to reality.” He then called for a policy agenda aimed at achieving both smarter growth and stronger accountability in these ways:

  • Establishing strong statewide authorizers that promote both high-quality growth and accountability,
  • Writing into law standards for authorizers that are based on NACSA’s excellent Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing,
  • Placing performance expectations for charter renewal into state law,
  • Empowering authorizers to close schools that fail to meet the expectations set in their charter contracts,
  • Holding authorizers accountable for the performance of their schools and their authorizing practices, and
  • Creating automatic school closure laws that make it impossible for education failure to persist forever.
  • ...
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There’s no question about it: Students are on the move in the Buckeye State. Fordham and Community Research Partners’ recent mobility study shows the near-ubiquity of student mobility in Ohio’s metro areas (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo).

But student mobility isn’t only occurring in urban schools; mobility happens frequently in rural schools also. (Our research examines mobility in schools across all of Ohio.)

A roundup of recent newspaper reports underscores the growing need to understand mobility in all areas of Ohio--rural districts included. In addition, these news articles also begin to answer the all-important questions of what’s causing mobility (or conversely, stability) in our schools, and what the effects of mobility are.

The Chillicothe Gazette examines some of the reasons why students move among schools in the rural, blue-collar counties surrounding Columbus. District administrators pointed to the lack of job opportunities in declining rural townships as the trigger for student mobility.

For example, the Crestline Exempted Village (Crawford County) superintendent attributed a large amount of its mobility to the loss of a General Motors plant in their area. A school official at Eastern Local (Pike County) pointed to another cause of mobility, in addition to economic decline: The large number of highly-mobile, foster students living in temporary homes in her district.

The Lima News, which covers several rural counties in northwestern Ohio, focused on student mobility via open enrollment at Perry Local School District (Allen County). Perry is the state’s largest recipient of open enrollees, as...

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Today, I happened upon a decades-old Rand Corporation report (McLaughlin and Berman, 1975) on the topic of educational change and school-level implementation. Of the many interesting and important tidbits of information in this report, I found this quote striking—and perhaps most relevant—for Common Core implementation:

“Indifferent and unreceptive environments were frequent in our sample of projects attempted in upper-level schools. . . . Change agent projects that included the higher grade levels experienced severe management and administrative problems as well as teacher resistance. For example, reading projects that spanned all grade levels consistently encountered resistance at the upper-level schools as they attempted to persuade science or history teachers to view themselves as teachers of reading.”

According to the Rand report, high schools exhibited more hostility to change than elementary schools, largely because of teacher resistence. High school teachers, the researchers found, "perceive themselves as having large intellectual and emotional investments in academic purity." As such, high school teachers, who often teach specialized subjects (i.e., biology or U.S. history), have less motivation to work outside their "solid subject" area, try "new ideas," and thus act as "change agents."

In 2014-15, Ohio will fully transition to the Common Core in math and English language arts for all grade levels, K-12. So, changing course from an all-grade-level implementation to a graduated implementation (elementaries first and high schools later) would be nearly impossible. The Rand findings, however, should raise awareness that high schools may strongly resist the Common Core. As a result, Common...

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