Ohio Gadfly Daily

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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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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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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Last month, we released a few impressive statistics concerning two high schools from our hometown of Dayton, Ohio.  (These schools are being featured in a forthcoming Fordham report profiling high performing urban high schools in Ohio, a follow up to a 2010 report on high-performing elementary schools.) Today we are highlighting two schools in Cleveland that will also be included in our report. And the timing is fitting as Mayor Frank Jackson’s Cleveland Plan has been introduced in both houses of the General Assembly - SB 325 and HB 506 – and is on tap for an expected supportive vote today from a panel of the State Board of Education.)  The proposal intends for Cleveland Metropolitan School District to transition to a portfolio strategy:

  • Increase the number of high-performing district and charter schools and close and replace failing schools
  • Focus district’s central office on key support and governance roles and transfer authority and resources to school
  • Create the Cleveland Transformation Alliance to ensure accountability for all public schools in the city
  • Invest and phase in high-leverage system reforms across all schools from preschool to college and career

Though the Cleveland Metropolitan School District is in dire need of the reforms proposed in the Plan, these two high-performing high schools, John Hay Early College High Schools and Cleveland School of the Arts High School, demonstrate that not everything in Cleveland is broken. The charts below compare John Hay’s and Cleveland School of the Arts’ tenth-grade students’ performance on the math section...

The EdChoice Scholarship Program (Ohio’s voucher program) was signed into law in 2005 under Governor Bob Taft. The program awards students vouchers based on the academic standing of their assigned district school. Up until last year students were eligible to apply for a voucher if they attended a school or were slated to attend a school that was rated Academic Watch or Academic Emergency for two of the last three years. Last year, under HB 153 this eligibility definition was expanded to not only include those schools rate Academic Watch or Academic Emergency for two of the last three years, but also schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of all public school buildings according to performance index. Students in grades K-8 are awarded $4,250 and students in grades 9-12 are awarded $5,000, or the tuition amount of the private school if it is less than the specified amount. The State of Ohio can provide up to 60,000 scholarships annually to eligible students to attend a private school of their choice (this number is up from an original 14,000 student cap).

Where are all these eligible schools located? And how many students do they serve? And will they change if the new A-F accountability system is put into place? These questions and more got us thinking at Fordham, here is what we discovered. 

Based on last school year’s academic results, for the coming 2012-2013 school year approximately 85,000 students attending 217 schools from 27 different districts are...

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Hugh Quill

Fewer state tax dollars for Ohio’s local governments and schools have public administrators talking, in the light of day no less, about mergers and shared services – topics long taboo in the Buckeye State’s public sector. Most public officials fear the former and suspect that the latter is just a catchy phrase that stands for comingling their funds for the benefit of others.

Elected officials can be forgiven for their reluctance to discuss mergers and service consolidations. They didn’t create this maze of public service delivery; and until stagnant population growth, aging Babyboomers, and weakening soft economy caught up with Ohio, the status quo seemed sustainable. Citizens also have misgivings about consolidation and sharing. They view merging their local governments as a potential loss of identity and fear their sense of community will be sacrificed in the process. In Ohio, all politics really are local, and local control has been a sacred cow.

The reality is that public institutions have long succeeded in gaining taxpayers’ approval to dig deeper in their wallets because citizens fear that doing otherwise will result in bad schools, crumbling infrastructure, community decay, and lower property values. Times have changed. The economy tanked in 2008 and is only slowly recovering, state government is cutting back on local funding, property values have fallen, and it is increasingly difficult to pass school levies and other local tax increases even in the high-wealth suburbs. Local officials – and citizens – are left contemplating significant service reductions, higher local...

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Our May 2010 report Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s high-performing, high-need urban schools profiled successful elementary schools that serve challenging populations. Due to the overwhelming positive response, we have commissioned a follow-up report that looks at high-performing urban high schools. Peter Meyer – journalist, author, and senior policy fellow at Fordham – has been traveling to the selected schools to chronicle what makes them work. (He wrote a bit about his experiences at these schools in January.)

We’ve been working to improve the education landscape in our hometown of Dayton for nearly twelve years. The work is never easy and often frustrating. We were disappointed two years ago not to be able to feature a Dayton elementary school in our report. Thus we are pleased to be featuring two outstanding high schools there in this edition: Dayton Early College Academy (a charter school) and Stivers Schools for the Arts (a district-operated magnet school).

The charts below compare DECA’s and Stivers’ tenth-grade students’ performance on the math section of last year’s Ohio Graduation Test to their peers in the Dayton Public School district. The OGT certainly isn’t known for its rigor and we don’t want to overstate a school’s excellence based on its performance on that test. But these results do make clear that DECA and Stivers are delivering their students to far higher levels of achievement than the district as a whole. We’re pleased by their successes and look forward to sharing more about these two...

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