Ohio Gadfly Daily

What do you get when a group of creative and motivated students are empowered to tell the story of their charter school using video and music? You get a movie-style trailer that illustrates not only what the school means to them, but also what it's taught them. Check out DECA Prep's "coming soon" video, created and produced by DECA students, as are all their video materials.

In a world where cynicism and defeatism can rain down from the grown ups to the young people - and expect more of this in Ohio and elsewhere when "Won't Back Down" pemieres later this month - this bit of real life from imaginative and empowered young people is worth celebrating.

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Special education in Ohio – like in other states – is a maze of complexity, highly bureaucratic and compliance driven, often a point of contention between educators and parents, frequently litigious, and the single fastest growing portion of spending on public education. It has become something of a sacred cow in education and has been largely impervious to change or improvement efforts. Worse, despite the spending children in special education programs are not making gains academically. 

By making some common-sense changes to policies and practices, Ohio could both improve special education services and save money.

Can special education be done better while controlling its growth? This is a question we’ve been asked over and over by school leaders and superintendents who struggle to serve all children well while dealing with tighter and tighter budgets. For answers, in partnership with the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, we turned to Nathan Levenson, one of the country’s leading thinkers on doing more with fewer resources in special education and who has done extensive work with local school districts here in the Buckeye State and across the country. The result is a thought-provoking policy paper, Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio.

Levenson explains that Ohio’s resources for special education - $7 billion spent annually – are “siloed” not only across the K-12 education landscape but also across a dozen or more state and county agencies. In fact, he reports that “less than 50 percent of funds that help provide children...

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Who pays for Cleveland students’ education? And who’s paying a greater portion of their education?

The chart below shows that the State of Ohio has contributed far and away the most to Cleveland students’ education. Over the past ten years, Cleveland Municipal School District has received somewhere between one-half and three-fourths of its revenue from the state. In fact, the share of state contributions grew unabated from 2002 to 2009: from 53 percent in 2002 up to 72 percent in 2009. In the past two fiscal years, the share of state contributions fell slightly off its ten-year high, so that in 2011 the state contributed 65 percent of the district’s total revenue.

Source: Ohio Auditor of State, Cleveland Municipal School District 2011 Comprehensive Financial Annual Report (see SR-10 & 11). Note: Calculations do not include miscellaneous income, donations, fees, and investment income (combined, they comprise less than 5 percent of the district’s revenue).

Ex-state congressman Stephen Dyer laments on his blog this week that the state of Ohio has not provided sufficient-enough funding for the students of Cleveland. He writes:

The reason I harp on state money, not total money, Terry (and fellow critics) is because it's the state, not the local residents, which bears the Constitutional duty to fund education. Our local taxpayers have been overly responsible for this cost for too long.

Unless Mr. Dyer proposes an entirely-state-funded public education system...

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Diane Ravitch posted a guest blog by Stephen Dyer earlier this week entitled “The Good, Bad and Ugly in the Cleveland Plan.” Dyer, former chair of the K-12 education finance subcommittee in the Ohio House, was tossed out by Akron-area voters in 2010 after two terms. His major claim to fame during his time in office was helping to pass Governor Strickland’s ill-fated Evidence Based Model (EBM) of school funding. The EBM promised billions in new school spending over ten years, but it was absolutely mute about where all this new revenue would come from. Columbus Dispatch columnist Joe Hallet wrote of the EBM plan in 2010

But Ohioans don't live in Fantasy Land; only 6 percent of them believe Strickland kept his promise, according to this month's Dispatch Poll. The model is not funded and, under Strickland's plan, it won't be until at least 2019. If it were funded, the state would pay out about $10 billion to school districts in the current fiscal year; instead, it is spending $6.5 billion, and $457 million of that is one-time federal stimulus money.

The EBM was such a cruel hoax that when current Governor Kasich and the General Assembly killed it in 2011 there was almost no opposition to its demise. 

This history is important because Ravitch asked Dyer to write about the Cleveland School Reform plan (for a non-partisan review of the reform plan check out this analysis by KidsOhio.org), and he yet again makes claims about...

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This week, Ohio’s State Board of Education voted unanimously to delay the release of annual school performance report cards as state officials investigate allegations of data-tampering. It came to light this summer that some Ohio school districts (Auditor of State Dave Yost is working to determine just how many) retroactively un-enrolled and re-enrolled truant or low-performing students in order to break the students’ enrollment records with the district. Those students’ test scores and attendance records would then not count toward the district’s overall report card rating because the students hadn’t been continuously enrolled from October to spring testing. (To be clear, there is no evidence yet that data-tampering was taking place in all, or even most, of the state’s 600-plus districts.)

The state board’s decision to delay the release of school report cards was the right one.

The state board’s decision was the right one. They simply cannot make public extensive data about school performance unless they have faith in the accuracy of that information. However, the decision has widespread ramifications for Ohio’s districts, schools, and students. There are a number of policy provisions triggered by the annual report cards and the test data they are based on that will now be put on hold while the state awaits Auditor Yost’s findings.

Five major accountability policies are affected:

  • Which schools are subject to mandatory turnaround: Public schools are ranked annually based on student achievement on state tests. Schools that land in the bottom five percent
  • ...
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Harder tests are coming to the Buckeye State.

Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Ohio will replace its current K-12 academic standards in math and English language arts, along with the aligned standardized tests, with the Common Core academic standards and their aligned tests. In Ohio, these exams will be the PARCC exams.

The Common Core standards will differ significantly from Ohio’s current academic standards in content, emphases, and cognitive demand.[1] These standards promise greater rigor in what students are expected to learn and how their learning is applied; therefore, we can also expect that the Common Core’s aligned assessments—again, the PARCC exams—will be more difficult.

How much harder should we expect the PARCC exams to be? Take a look for yourself.

Figure 1 shows two sample questions from Ohio’s current seventh-grade math exam. (The Ohio Department of Education provides practice tests, which are accessible via the source link below the figure.) The questions are relatively simple: the first question tests whether a student understands ratios; the second question tests whether a student understands a basic algebraic equation. Although I wouldn’t suggest that the questions are necessarily “easy” (it took me a few minutes to calculate the answers), they are straightforward—and are basically one-dimensional (testing one concept at a time).

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Students entering third grade a year from now will be allowed to advance to fourth grade only if they achieve a minimum score on Ohio’s third-grade reading assessment. The third-grade reading guarantee applies to all public schools—including charter schools—and seeks to ensure that all students are prepared for the academic challenges of fourth grade and beyond. Reading is the foundation for all learning, and research shows that not learning to read well in the early grades impacts students in later years. The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that students who aren’t proficient in reading by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than students who can read at grade level.

Research shows that not learning to read well in the early grades impacts students in later years.

Other states have enacted third-reading guarantees, Florida being the most notable example. The Sunshine State has had a guarantee in place for a decade, and the research on its impact is positive. In a study released earlier this year the Manhattan Institute’s Marcus Winters found that the benefits of Florida’s remediation were still apparent and substantial through seventh grade (which was as far as the data could be tracked). A new Brooking Institute paper by Harvard’s Martin West confirms these findings and shows that retaining students in the third grade who aren’t proficient in reading has long-term benefits for the students and little in terms of downsides.

Ohio’s new law has ample critics,...

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The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has a long history in Dayton – our roots in the city date back to the founding of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 1959. Today’s Dayton Daily News includes an interview with our Ohio Vice President Terry Ryan about Fordham’s work in the Gem City and the pressing education issues facing Dayton and the state. We are pleased to share this interview below with our Gadfly audience.

Q: Describe the Fordham Institute and your mission.

A: Thomas B. Fordham was a Dayton industrialist who died in 1944. His widow, Thelma Fordham Pruett, established the Ford-ham Foundation in his memory in 1959, and after she died in 1995, the modern foundation was launched by renowned educator Chester E. (“Checker”) Finn Jr. in 1997. Fordham’s mission is to improve primary and secondary education in Ohio and nationally. The institute is the sister organization of the foundation, and today we regard Ford-ham as a statewide education reform and advocacy group with one foot firmly planted in Dayton, which is also a key part of our “grounding in reality” that is crucial to our work statewide and nationally.

Q: What are some of the problems and challenges in education that the Institute is trying to address?

A: We work on a whole range of issues in public education. Just in the last few weeks, we’ve shared reports and organized public forums on issues ranging from the challenges of implementing new academic standards in mathematics and reading – the Common...

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Almost anyone in the field of education can tell you improving the quality of life for children is a multi-faceted endeavor. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book is testament to that fact. It explores four dimensions of child well-being at the national and state level: economic, education, health, and family and community. This year’s data book methodology expands last year’s, and divides it into the four dimensions to allow a closer look at education and family and community factors.

In the aftermath of “the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression,” the authors provide some interesting discoveries about our nation’s children. Overall national trends suggest that despite the impact of difficult economic times on children in the United States, things are slowly improving. Both child health and education have seen overall improvement. For child health, the number of children without health insurance has decreased by 20%. In education, areas such as 4th and 8th grade proficiency and on-time high school graduation have improved in recent years at the national level. 

Expectedly, economic well-being decreased for children after the recession, but initiatives like Race to the Top’s (RTTT) Early Learning Challenge and local programs that support children are attempting to curb the damage in my opinion. Specifically, Ohio’s $70 million RTTT initiative focuses primarily on kindergarten readiness and high quality, accountable programming. The Data Book ranked Ohio 18 of 50 states in its education factors; an encouraging point for our recent wave of policy changes. However,...

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America’s states, cities and schools are hurting big time financially. This is not news but the fact that the bad news keeps coming especially hurts.  For example, just released unemployment numbers show an increase to 8.3 percent as American households lost 195,000 jobs. The underemployment rate – which includes those who are underemployed or who are working part time rose to 15 percent. This economic pain has struck education hard, leaving public school budgets strapped for cash and making business-as-usual more and more difficult. Districts around the country are now starting to take some drastic, and sometimes controversial, actions.

Highland Parks Public Schools, a small district in Michigan that is one the state’s lowest-performers, is on the verge of financial collapse. It made news last week when officials there announced plans to outsource its schools to a private for-profit charter school operator. The district handed over operations to The Leona Group which runs 54 schools in five states; 22 of its schools are in Michigan. The Leona Group will now oversee decisions around the hiring of staff, school curriculum and instruction, as well as school facility and maintenance issues.

What led up to such drastic action and are more districts right behind Highland Parks Public Schools? A perfect storm of low enrollment, poor fiscal management, and some of the worst academic results in the state prompted Highland Parks Public Schools to take bold action. Since 2006 district enrollment has dropped by 58 percent, with only 989 students...

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