Ohio Gadfly Daily

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told the Columbus Dispatch back in 2007, about his city’s rapidly declining population, that, “Our problem is families with children. People are making their choices based on education, and if I am able to make our school district a district of choice where people want to put their children because of excellence, then I can guarantee you that our population reduction will come to a halt.” In the last decade Cleveland’s school age population has shrunk by 10,000 children, and those left behind are largely poor, minority, and struggling academically.  

It is in the hope of stemming the loss of families and children that the mayor has proposed his bold school reform plan that seeks to turn the city’s educational fortunes around. There are many worthy parts to his plan (see here for details), and one of the boldest sections calls for changes to how charter schools operate and are treated in Cleveland. First, high-performing charters would be welcomed as equals and even be offered a share of local tax-levy revenue. This arrangement would be the first of its kind in America and is truly path breaking. Second, the plan calls for a Transformation Alliance that would have the authority to veto proposed start-up charter schools that don’t meet yet-to-be-determined criteria for quality.  

While many in the state’s charter community support the overall direction of the mayor’s plan no one, including Fordham, likes the provision giving the Transformation Alliance (and its yet unidentified...

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"For too long we've been a compliance-driven bureaucracy when it comes to educating students with disabilities.  We have to expect the very best from our students—and tell the truth about student performance—so that we can give all students the supports and services they need." – U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, March 12, 2012

We agree, Mr. Secretary. Here in Ohio, we’ve spent lavishly on special education services. SPED expenditures have skyrocketed during the past decade increasing over $1 billion dollars, a 50 percent jump. In contrast, non-special-education spending increased only 17 percent during the same period.  Today, special education eats nearly 20 percent of the entire K-12 education spending pie, up five percentage points from a decade ago.

Is Ohio’s special education spending spree warranted? If special education students are achieving, then yes. Consider, therefore, the test performance data for fourth- and sixth-grade students with specific learning disabilities (the largest subgroup of special ed students):

Figure 1: Improving test scores for primary school, learning-disabled students (2001-02 to 2010-11)

Source: Ohio Department of Education

Clearly, on the up and up.

But consider now the tenth-grade performance of students with learning disabilities:

Figure 2: Declining test scores for secondary school, learning-disabled students (2001-02 to 2010-11)

Source: Ohio Department of Education

Not so great.

The rise in Ohio’s special education spending seems to have improved primary school SPED performance. Yet the declining high school data pose a sticky distributional question about special education spending: Are...

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When I read reports like that of my colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee’s “Is there anything ‘common’ left in Common Core” I’m reminded why I like spending time with real educators and teachers in Ohio. Kathleen’s post provides a brutally concise and accurate summary of the political fights now swirling around the Common Core academic standards. She offers a glimpse into what rabid critics on both the far Right and Left are saying about the effort. The various ravings are epitomized by Susan Ohanian (whoever that is) claim that “the reality is that if people who care about public education don't find a way to fight [the Common Core standards], public schools are dead—and so is democracy.”)

But, in the heartland the conversations are very different and far more practical. Out here the issues aren’t political. Rather the talk focuses on how can educators most effectively implement the Common Core standards to improve instruction for students. Fordham hired the former editorial page editor of the Dayton Daily News, Ellen Belcher, to interview 15 educators from across Ohio to learn about their hopes and concerns per early efforts to implement the Common Core in their districts and schools.

The report, Future Shock: Early Common Core Lessons from Ohio Implementers, will be released on May 18th but some of Belcher’s findings are worth reporting early because the concerns and thoughts of the educators are so starkly different to the toxicity swirling around the effort in places like Washington, DC. Here is a quick...

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There is little dispute that information about the academic gains students make (or don’t) is a valuable addition to pure student proficiency data. But there is little agreement about how best to calculate growth and how to use it to inform things like teacher evaluations and school rating systems. The latter was the focus of much testimony last week in the Senate education committee over Gov. Kasich’s plan to overhaul how Ohio’s districts are graded. Local educators believe the governor’s plan gives too little weight to academic progress (and too much to achievement). But the limits of our current value-added system seem to indicate that the governor’s formula is just right, for now.

Under Senate Bill 316, Ohio would move to an A to F school rating system with ratings calculated based on four factors: 1) student achievement on state tests and graduation rates, 2) a school performance index based on state test results, 3) student academic progress, and 4) the performance of student subgroups.

Matt Cohen, chief researcher for the state education department, testified that feedback from the field indicates they want growth (aka “value-added” in Ohio) to count more heavily than 25 percent. Bill Sims, CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, suggested that value-added data account for half of a school’s rating – or that ratings be “bumped up” one level if a school exceeds the state’s value-added expectations. Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris made a similar suggestion during her testimony.

But, considering...

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Among the suite of education proposals included in Governor Kasich’s “mid-biennium review” legislation is a transition from Ohio’s current, confusing, and complicated school-rating system to a more straightforward A to F one. Not only would the new system be easier for parents, educators, and the public to understand, it would also provide a more accurate assessment of how well schools and districts in the Buckeye State are educating students (which isn’t quite as well as many of them have been led to believe – see Bianca and Terry’s analysis, here). The proposed changes are a necessary step towards a more honest appraisal of how well prepared Buckeye State students are for the work and college. It also provides insights for what is necessary to increase preparedness for students moving forward.

But another change in the works, one not included in the governor’s bill (because it doesn’t require a change in law), is equally important when it comes to helping all players in the K-12 arena prepare for the higher expectations and rigor of the Common Core standards and the 21st-century global economy in which our students, as adults, will compete.

Early drafts of this year’s district- and building-level report cards were shared this week with the State Board of Education. The cover includes an “early warning system” alerting parents that higher standards and more rigorous assessments are just two school years away. Next to the school’s current percent of students proficient in reading and math is...

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Grade inflation is a way of life in American education, and campaigns to combat it face political pushback and a long, uphill battle to succeed.

Back in 2007, the Fordham Institute published “The Proficiency Illusion" that showed states were calibrating their tests to create “a false impression of success, especially in reading and especially in the early grades.” Further, public polling routinely shows that people think highly of their local schools (and their own children’s academic preparedness), but the data don’t back up such optimism.

There is considerable evidence that our schools aren’t performing as well as we’ve been led to believe: While two-thirds of Ohio’s school districts received a top rating last year of “Excellent” or “Excellent with Distinction” more than 40 percent of the state’s entering college freshmen had to take remedial courses in college. Still, efforts to raise expectations and confront the problem of grade inflation face stiff resistance. There has been tremendous blowback in the Buckeye State against proposed changes to the state’s accountability system that would see the percentage of top rated school districts in the state drop from 63 percent to just four percent. Under the new system, 74 percent of the state’s charter schools would get a D or F grade while 9 percent would get an A or B.

Higher ed appears equally plagued by an achievement illusion. The New York Times Education Life reported this past weekend that “about 75 percent of grades in master’s programs are A’s, 22...

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Troubled charter schools around the state have been in the news of late for misspending and misallocating taxpayer money. Take for instance a recent special audit of the Dayton-based Richard Allen charter schools that revealed over $900,000 in findings for recovery from school management and governing authority members. In northern Ohio three charter school treasurers are responsible for over $1 million in questionable spending of public dollars. Charter schools are not the only ones spending public dollars in questionable ways: The purchase of boxer shorts and golf course memberships recently showed up in audits of local governments.

In response to these financial improprieties State Auditor Dave Yost, along with Rep. Hagan (R-Alliance) and Sen. Schaffer (R-Lancaster), crafted the Fiscal Integrity Act. The proposed bill (yet to be formally introduced) would bolster accountability measures and education requirements for treasurers working in the public sector. The bill would impact district schools, community (aka charter) schools, and local governments.

Highlights of the proposed Fiscal Integrity Act
Education

  • All charter school treasurers would be required to be licensed in the same way that public school treasurers currently are. Community schools treasurers will now have to have a bachelor’s degree in a related business field and complete a 300 hour internship with a treasurer’s office in order to be licensed. Currently, charter school treasurers are only required to have 16 hours of accounting classes, 24 hours of classes in the first year on the job, and only 8 hours
  • ...
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Today we continue our analysis of the impact of Governor Kasich’s mid-biennium education policy proposals with a look at how it would change the state’s charter school academic death penalty.  (See our previous analyses of how schools would fare under the new A to F rating system and how that rating system could impact eligibility for the EdChoice Scholarship Program.)

Ohio has had an automatic charter school closure law on the books since late 2006. Currently the law states that a charter school (not including drop-out recovery schools or schools primarily serving students with disabilities) must shut its doors if it meets one of the following criteria:

  • The school doesn’t offer a grade lever higher than three and has been declared to be in state of academic emergency for three of the four most recent years;
  • The schools offers any of grade levels four to eight but does not offer a grade level higher than nine and has been in a state of academic emergency for two of the three most recent years and in at least two of the threeost recent years, the school showed less than one standard year of academic growth in either reading or math;
  • The school offers any of grade levels ten to twelve and has been in a state of academic emergency for three of the four most recent school years.

Under these stipulations, 20 schools have been subject to automatic closure.  If the current version of SB 316 were to...

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The income disparity between people with a bachelor’s degree versus those with only a high school diploma is increasing at a rapid rate. Thirty years ago, those with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of 40 percent more than those who only completed high school. Today, the earnings’ difference is about 80 percent. Many people – including educators, business leaders, and policy makers –have concluded that the solution is to push more students to obtain a college degree. In doing so, we now have a large chunk of high school graduates moving on to college despite not being “college ready” and needing noncredit-bearing, remedial courses during their freshman year. The report The Tipping Point in Developmental Education, released by the Ohio Board of Regents and McGraw-Hill Education, argues that secondary and post-secondary institutions can use technology to reduce these remediation rates.

The report explains that developmental courses, while well intentioned, are financially burdensome for both students and schools, with the added dimension of terrible passing and retention rates. (At community colleges, 75 percent of first-year students require developmental courses, yet 50 percent of first-year community college students don’t return for a second year.) In Ohio, of over 110,000 first-time students, 42 percent took a remedial course in their first year in 2010. Ohio spends $130 million a year on developmental education, and nationally, two-year institutions spend $1.4 billion a year.

The report argues that technology is a potential solution to make the transition from high school to college more efficient,...

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Fordham has served as an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio since mid-2005. Our schools have been mainly in Ohio’s urban core—including Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus—and the vast majority of their students have been poor and minority.

This year, we added two more schools to our sponsorship portfolio, both located in Scioto County near Ohio’s southern tip on the shores of the Ohio River, i.e., what most would term the Appalachian region of the Buckeye State. Families and children there face challenges as daunting as those in Ohio’s toughest urban neighborhoods. Scioto is one of the state’s poorest counties with an unemployment rate of 12.7 percent (the state average is 8.5 percent). It has also been ground zero for the state’s opiate epidemic: It has the third-highest overdose death rate of all eighty-eight counties in Ohio.

Together the Sciotoville Elementary School (Kindergarten through fourth grade) and Sciotoville Community School (fifth through twelfth grades) serve about 440 students. This represents about one in five children who attend a K-12 school in the local Portsmouth City School District (the home district for most Sciotoville students). The percentage of kids attending charters in that district matches the rate in Cincinnati.  

Sciotoville Community School became a charter in September 2001 when the district decided to close East High School. The master plan called for busing Sciotoville students to other buildings in Portsmouth, some of them more than an hour away. Rather than watch their school close and their kids be shuttled off to...

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