Ohio Gadfly Daily

Recent blogs by William Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding (posted on Diane Ravitch’s website) and Join the Future highlight the academic woes of some of Ohio’s charter schools. Phillis writes: “The Department of Education’s ranking of schools and districts reveals that 83 out of the bottom 84 schools are charter schools.” Join the Future exclaims “Out of the bottom 200 districts, just 21 are traditional public schools, the remaining 179 are charter schools!”

Both authors make spurious comparisons that ought to be dismissed. Both make the mistake of comparing the performance index scores of charter schools to school districts. To compare charters to school districts fails to account for the disproportionate number of disadvantaged students that charters serve. In 2011-12, Ohio charter schools on average enrolled 79 percent economically disadvantaged (ED) and 61 percent African American students.[1] Meanwhile, the statewide average was 46 percent ED and 16 percent African American. So long as the “achievement gaps” persist between race and income groups, is it fair to compare charter school performance with all statewide school districts? And do statistics about the worst-performing charter schools, in comparison with school districts, tell us anything beyond the fact that many charters struggle to narrow achievement gaps?

Taking a building-level view, rather than comparing charter schools to school districts, is a better comparison of charter and district performance. For, at a building-level, we gain a clearer picture of how charter schools...

"If you're comfortable with mediocrity, fine." – Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush

Sharper words could not have been spoken in the face of torrential criticism against the Common Core nationally and here in Ohio. For those unaware, the Common Core are new, rigorous academic standards in English and math that Ohio and 44 other states have voluntarily adopted and are in the process of implementing. The data below suggest that the Buckeye State's K-12 education system, taken as a whole, is still mired in “mediocrity.” As such, these data should provide ample reason for Ohioans to back a full-throttled implementation of the Common Core.

ACT Scores

Ohio’s main college admissions exam is administered by the ACT, an organization that has established “College Readiness” benchmarks in the four subject areas it tests (English, reading, math, science). The benchmarks are tied to the probability a test taker will obtain a B or C in a corresponding freshman-level college course (50 percent chance of getting a B, or a 75 percent chance of getting a C). In 2013, 92,813 Ohio graduates took the ACT exam—and less than a third of them (31 percent) reached all four subject-matter benchmarks. Grads performed best in English (71 percent made the benchmark, or a score of 18). But, in the other three content areas, far fewer graduates made it. Barely half of Ohio’s graduates hit the reading benchmark (51 percent, score of 22), while less than half reached the math (49 percent, score of 22)...

ACT recently released individual state reports that reviewed student performance on the 2012-2013 ACT college readiness assessment. ACT introduced updates to the assessment last year explaining that, “tighter alignment was needed between ACT college readiness standards and the Common Core State Standards.” With the assessment’s alignment to the Common Core, Ohio received a clear look into the college readiness of its high school students. Ohio’s report reviews student achievement in each of the four content areas--English, reading, mathematics, and science--and overall performance on the ACT. In 2012-13, 92,813 Ohio students, or 72 percent of Ohio seniors, took the ACT exam. Ohio’s average composite score was 21.8, just higher than the national average of 20.9. Despite Ohio’s above-average performance, the report also found some concerning statistics. First, less than half of Ohio’s students met ACT’s benchmark for “college and career readiness” for math (49 percent met ACT’s benchmark) and for science (44 percent met the benchmark). A higher percentage of students, however, met the benchmarks in reading (51 percent) and in English (71 percent). More starkly, just 31 percent of high school students met ACT’s benchmark in all four subject areas. The report recommends that “all states—especially those that have adopted the Common Core State Standards—should be aligning college and career readiness standards to a rigorous core curriculum for all high school students whether they are bound for college or work.” With less than a third of Ohio graduates meeting all of ACT’s benchmarks for “college readiness,”...

OASBO’s recent analysis of school performance shouldn’t shock anyone. A school’s overall student achievement level, the Ohio Association of School Business Officers found, is linked to economic disadvantage. No kidding! One could practically uproot a forest printing the research that has shown the link between poverty and achievement.

But as we lament the generally low achievement results of Ohio’s neediest students, let’s not ignore the fact that there are schools that do fantastic work helping Ohio’s most disadvantaged students achieve at high levels and/or make large learning gains (aka, “progress”) over the course of the school year. (For a more extended discussion about the differences in “achievement” and “progress,” read our recent analysis of Ohio’s school Report Cards, Parsing Performance.)

Consider chart 1, which shows yet again the relationship between poverty and student achievement. The trend line through the scatter plot of points (each point represents a school building) slopes sharply downwards. This indicates that a school with a higher poverty rate is also more likely to exhibit lower achievement, as measured by Ohio’s “performance index”—a weighted composite score that accounts for all test scores from a school.

But look, however, at the far right portion of the plot. There is substantial variation in the performance index score of schools with 95 percent or above economically disadvantaged students.[1] Although a good many very high poverty schools fall well beneath the trend line (lower than approximately 80 PI), many other schools are well above it...

The Buckeye State’s new A-F report card is a wonderful opportunity for parents to gain a better appreciation of how their child’s school is doing, and to take action if necessary. This August, Ohio switched to a conventional A-F letter grading system to report (public) school and district performance. The A-F grades provide a clear and transparent way of reporting whether a school is academically strong, weak, or somewhere in between.

But with nine (!) indicators of school performance in play (and more to come), parents also need to know which of the letter grades are the most crucial to understand, and how they ought to interpret them. (Ohio will not issue an “overall” A-F letter grade to schools and districts until August 2015.)

So, how is a parent to understand the state’s new school report cards? To start, let’s begin with the two big questions that parents likely want to know about their child’s school (or potential school).

1.) Is the typical student in my child’s school achieving at a high-level?

2.) Is my child’s school helping students learn?

There are two key A-F letter grades that answer these questions.

To answer question one, parents should look towards a school’s performance index A-F rating. The performance index letter grade indicates how well a school’s students perform on Ohio’s standardized exams. Hence, this is the key gauge of raw student achievement within a school.

By looking at the performance index rating, parents can gain a sense of whether their child’s...

Earlier this month, Fordham released a brand-new report, What Parents Want, which looks at parent priorities and preferences in K–12 schools. We found that parents’ “must-haves” do not vary greatly, and that parents are more alike than they are different. (Chief among parents’ priorities: schools that have provide a strong core curriculum in reading and math and that emphasize science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.) But differences among parents also emerged, in six market-research “niches,” where parents prioritized individual school attributes or student goals that other parents viewed as less important.

So we know what all parents—and what parent “niches”—want in our schools. But do we have the schools that meet parents’ needs? Does Ohio’s supply of schools meet the demands of picky parents?

Not perfectly, of course. By all accounts, school, student, and parent don’t always mesh like a hand in glove. But, there is also evidence that public schools are increasingly designing curriculum and hiring staff to meet the demands of specific parental segments, while at the same time, holding to high academic standards. Looking across Ohio, we put together a short list of district and charter schools that, in some way or another, appear to cater these niches. (By no means is this an all-inclusive list; we surely left off many schools that exemplify the market niches.)

The following bullets describe parental niches that were identified in the survey, along with a few schools—all high schools—that we think meet the various niche markets. (See our...

Community and human service agency leaders gathered this morning in Columbus to discuss student mobility in Ohio’s schools (when students transfer schools for reasons other than customary promotion). Have A Heart Ohio (HAHO), a nonpartisan network of over 100 social service agencies and organizations, invited Aaron Churchill to present the results of Fordham’s groundbreaking Student Nomads: Mobility in Ohio’s Schools report and the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) president Melissa Cropper provided her perspective on the findings. Jon Honeck, the Edward D. and Dorothy E.  Lynde Fellow at the Center for Community Solutions and Co-Chair of HAHO, organized the meeting and introduced the discussion as “an opportunity for education and human services to have more dialogue.”

Aaron opened the meeting by giving a PowerPoint presentation (downloadable copy available here: Mobility Presentation 8.9.13.ppton the student mobility study. The research, which used Ohio Department of Education data from October 2009 to May 2011, was conducted by Community Research Partners and received funding support from the OFT. Aaron presented the research findings concerning the magnitude of mobility, the patterns of mobility, and the impact of mobility on student achievement. He concluded the presentation with a few implications of the study for policy and practice. These included policies that encourage summer moves, rather than within school-year moves (if a student must move),...

Summer vacation is over for many of Ohio’s students. As they head off to class, you may find yourself with some extra time to catch up on reading. Looking for suggestions? The Fordham staff is here to help you find some good reads.

Private Enterprise and Public Education: Strange Bedfellows or Natural Allies?

Angel Gonzalez

Everyone take a breath. For-profit providers in education have value.

Before we get squeamish about the potential “business takeover of our schools”, it may be a good idea to read this piece from the American Enterprise Institute. The article discusses the symbiosis that can exist between public schools and for-profit providers. In the report, the authors candidly discuss the role, as well as the pros and cons, of for-profit engagement in the education sector. On the one hand, Hess et al. argue that for-profit entities can be “exceedingly responsive to customer desires.” The authors argue that for-profits are motivated to attract the broadest base of public school “customers” using the most cost-effective methods. For-profits can also be driven to develop innovative education delivery programs to expand their consumer base and attract individuals with strong academic credentials. These innovations, in turn, can be adopted by public schools and refined to serve an even wider base of students. On the other hand, the authors find that for-profit customer responsiveness is a potential threat to delivering quality educational services. Hess et al. cite Abt Associates’ Todd Grindal who shares that many pre-K for-profit schools focus on...

You’ve seen the films—Waiting for “Superman”, The Lottery—you’ve heard the stories about parents anxiously filling out request forms months in advance in New York City or camping out for the “magnet school scramble” in Cincinnati. And you’ve even heard me talking about it on this very blog. Sometimes winning the lottery is the only thing you as a parent care about. That school is the best thing you can find for your child and there’s very little you yourself can do to access it aside from being lucky. If you don’t get in, do you have a Plan B and are you really willing to put yourselves through this again next year when the outcome could be the same?

Through luck and providence, we had a very good Plan B put together: another private school. More tuition, more religion, applying for the lottery again next year, another decision to be made for high school in just a couple of years. But it would work.

It turns out that several weeks after our first-round disappointment, more seats were opened in that popular “holy grail” school I told you about and one of my children won the second round lottery and got in.

Yep. Just one of the two.

We were then faced with several dilemmas: undoing Plan B for one, tackling the quick turnaround of admissions paperwork, figuring out how logistically to send our twins to two different schools in different parts of town—one Catholic and Montessori, the other...

City-County Council members in Indianapolis convened a panel of experts yesterday evening to discuss the impact of charter authorizers on school quality. The Council invited Fordham’s Terry Ryan, Mind Trust’s Dave Harris, radio personality Amos Brown, Indianapolis Public School Board member Caitlin Hannon, and National Association of Charter School Authorizer’s (NACSA) Amanda Fenton to share their advice and experience in charter authorizing. Currently, Indianapolis’ 31 charter schools are authorized by Ball State University, the newly formed Indiana Charter School Board, and the Indianapolis Mayor’s office. The discussion was intended to help city leaders understand what charter authorizers do, as well as the pros and cons of having multiple authorizers within one city or state.

The background to this meeting was the passage of House Bill 1002 in 2011, which has increased the number of authorizers in the Hoosier State. The legislation granted the Indiana Charter School Board and private universities the ability to become authorizers of schools, in the hope that it would broaden the amount of charter schools serving students. Dave Harris, however, argued that expanding the authorizer market was a “solution to a nonexistent problem” for Indiana. Harris, who helped create the Indianapolis mayor’s authorization office, stated that authorizers in Indianapolis have not reached capacity and that including more authorizers in the city would allow low-performing charters to “shop around” for an authorizer, in order to stay open.

Drawing on his experience here in the Buckeye State (Fordham authorizes 11 charters...

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