Ohio Gadfly Daily

The era of the chalkboard is over. Laptops, SMART boards, Wikis, YouTube, and Gaming are in. Is this progress or just distraction? That was the topic of conversation among over 250 educators at Fordham’s “Digital Learning: The Future of Schooling?” event yesterday. (Please check out the video replay here.)

Ohio State Superintendent Stan Heffner opened the event by laying out the problematic mix of technology, education, and kids: “Kids spend their nights in high-tech bedrooms and spend their days in low-tech classrooms.” 

“Kids spend their nights in high-tech bedrooms and spend their days in low-tech classrooms."

The remainder of the conversation focused on how to harness kids’ aptitude in technology for effective educational practices.

Fordham – and our event partners, KnowledgeWorks and the Nord Family Foundation –assembled an elite group of digital learning experts and Ohio practitioners to explore best practices and policies. The event’s first panel consisted of four national experts (U.S. Department of Education’s Karen Cator, Public Impact’s Bryan Hassel, iNACOL’s Susan Patrick, and Getting Smart’s Tom Vander Ark), each of whom emphasized the promise and inevitability of digital learning in the classroom.

A few of their recommendations included:

  • Colleges of education should equip future teachers to leverage technology in their classrooms.
  • Schools should exploit technology to create a multi-faceted student assessment system rather than rely on a single-test assessment.
  • Schools should leverage technology to enable excellent teachers to reach more students through video-fed lessons.

The second panel included...

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Yesterday, Senate Bill 335, otherwise known as “The Cleveland Plan,” was under the microscope again. In an intense and passionate Senate hearing, Ohio lawmakers heard various perspectives on Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s plan to reform Cleveland schools. More than 100 advocates, both in support of and against the plan, packed the hearing room.

After the testimony of spokespeople from various activist groups and community-based organizations, Chairwoman Peggy Lehner finally allowed Cleveland’s children to speak. Arguing in favor of Mayor Jackson’s plan to reform their schools, these students offered compelling appeals for policy changes that would ensure high-quality teachers and enable high-quality schooling options.

David Boone Jr., a graduating senior from MC2 STEM High School, a science and math magnet school, described the impact that teachers have had on his education:

“I couldn’t form a complete sentence upon entering high school. But upon graduation, I will be the first student from my school to attend Harvard, because I had teachers who cared.”

Boone then spoke about his wish for change that would provide more Cleveland students with similar opportunities for success:

“My belief is that the current approach of doing nothing [emphasis his, in written testimony] is not helping. The Mayor has a new reform plan, and I urge you to give him a chance. Allow the state to focus more on students and provide us with higher-quality opportunities. We deserve it.”

Moreover, in a pointed remark, Boone stated that teacher hiring policies should be concerned first about students:

“Let’s make...
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Earlier this week U.S. News & World Report released the fourth edition of its Best High Schools rankings, highlighting some of the highest performing schools in the country. This year, the two best high schools from both Dayton and Columbus made the cut.  (And all four are profiled in our upcoming Needles in a Haystack Report.)

Receiving a Silver medal:

  • Columbus Alternative High School (reading proficiency: 89 percent, math proficiency: 88 percent),
  • Centennial High School (reading proficiency: 92 percent, math proficiency: 88 percent),
  • Stivers Schools of the Arts High School (reading proficiency: 90 percent, math proficiency: 86 percent)

Receiving a Bronze medal:

  • Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) (reading proficiency: 94 percent, math proficiency: 100 percent)

To come up with the list of the best high schools in the country, U.S. News & World Report analyzed 21,776 public high schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia.  Schools were evaluated by how well they serve all of their students using state proficiency tests as the benchmarks, as well as the degree to which the school prepared students for college- level work. Based on their performance for those measurements 4,877 of the highest performing schools were awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal.

In cities where quality, high-performing high schools are desperately needed, these four schools are doing a tremendous job educating their student population and continue to outperform not only other city schools, but suburban schools as well.

Congratulations to Columbus Alternative, Centennial, Stivers, and DECA on your awards. ...

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The Ohio Education Association (OEA) voted on Friday to launch an effort to recruit employees of Ohio’s 350-plus charter schools as union members. According to Ohio Department of Education data the state’s charters employ about 10,500 educators and 5,400 of these are classroom teachers. Currently there are no unionized start-up charter schools in Ohio, but there are some conversion district charter schools that have unionized teachers. Nationally, the Center on Reinventing Public Education reports that “about 12 percent of all charter schools have bargaining agreements.”

It is clear why the OEA and the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT) would want to recruit charter teachers to their ranks. Unions define success in large part by the number of members they have and how much they collect in membership dues. Members and money equal influence at the statehouse, and in recent years the OEA has been losing both to charter schools.  As far back at 2006, the OEA shared with its members a paper entitled “The Current State of Ohio’s Charter School Program.” In it they declared that “the charter school program in Ohio is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to ‘dismantle’ public education.” It noted that “charter schools have reduced union-represented bargaining unit positions…The total number of traditional public school personnel, excluding administrators, lost to charter schools is calculated to be (in 2004) 4,782.”

But, would unionized charter schools be good for students?

Successful charters work because they are flexible and constantly seek improvements to how they do things....

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Drop-out recovery charter schools annually serve about 20 percent of Ohio’s 100,000 charter students but have never been held accountable for the performance of their students. Ohio’s Senate Bill 316 (SB 316) would change this by requiring the creation and enforcement of standards for these schools. The legislation empowers Ohio’s Board of Education to set accountability standards but also leaves open what these standards will actually be.

As the House considers SB 316, lawmakers need to balance the demand for high standards for recovery charters with the unique student composition and testing challenges associated with these schools. Further, lawmakers should understand the benefit of drop-out recovery schools to the graduation rates of traditional public high schools.

First, by definition, drop-out recovery charters primarily serve dropouts or students at risk of dropping out. This fact alone requires a different perspective of what “student achievement” means—and the approaches required for student success. Because dropout recovery charters enroll mostly high-poverty and highly underperforming students, an apple-to-apples comparison of dropout recovery charter performance to traditional high school standards of success seems unreasonable.

Second, legislators should consider how dropout recovery charters actually benefit public school districts. They do this is in a couple ways: first, by enrolling students who would have otherwise dropped out of education completely, recovery charters improve public school district’s graduation rates. Consider, for example, Dayton Public School’s graduation rates during the 2000s in the chart below:

Source: Ohio Department of Education (official) and author's...

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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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