Ohio Gadfly Daily

This guest blog post is from Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst and a former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and Eric Lerum,
StudentsFirst's Vice President for National Policy. In this post they
analyze a Colorado school district's innovative approach to teacher
compensation, profiled in Fordham's latest report, "Teacher Compensation Based on Effectiveness: The Harrison (CO) School District's Pay-for-Performance Plan."

StudentsFirst
had the pleasure of working with teachers and a principal from Harrison, Colorado
late last year. We assisted the New Jersey State Superintendent in organizing
roundtables across the state on the proposed teacher evaluation system under
development. The Harrison folks were
passionate about their work and their success in elevating the teaching
profession there. It was incredibly powerful to listen to these veteran
educators talk about how they felt that their evaluation system treated them as
professionals and how they relied on it as a tool to help them and their
colleagues improve. The principal described the increased, targeted development
she could provide to staff and how the system enabled her to build a team
solely focused on raising their students’ achievement.

What
strikes me most about the Harrison model and why I think it’s so significant is
that it dispels so many of the myths we hear about why a reform like...

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Yesterday we wrote
about Ohio’s recent waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education for
relief from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind act and the proposed revamping
of the state’s reporting system for schools and districts. We also warned that
many parents, teachers, and students would be shocked by the results and that
there would be a push to water down the new system, insisting that it is unfair
and not accurate.

As we predicted, there have been several articles describing
the coming changes and what they mean for districts across the state. The Columbus
Dispatch
today quoted the superintendent of Bexley City Schools, a suburb
of Columbus, as saying, “I don’t know how a high-performing district like ours
and many others gets a B?” “It might be a way of communicating in the simplest
way but you miss a whole lot.” Bexley, currently rated Excellent with Distinction,
would fall to a B under the new system. 
Superintendents of currently high-performing districts in Montgomery
County will also see
a decline in their academic rating under the new system. Of the 28
districts in Montgomery that received a rating of Excellent with Distinction or Excellent on
the last report card, only three (Oakwood, Miami East, and Mason) would receive
an A with the new system.

We expected to see district leaders, teachers, and parents
...

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Congratulations to KIPP: Central Ohio Executive Director
Hannah Powell (who was the school leader for the past several years) and the entire
staff at KIPP:
Journey Academy
for the school’s EPIC Silver Gain Award from New Leaders
for New Schools.

The EPIC
(Effective Practice Incentive Community
) award recognizes schools that make
substantial gains in student academic growth. In partnership with Mathematica Policy Research, student
test data are analyzed, and schools with the highest gains are selected as
winners. To be eligible for an EPIC award, schools must have student populations
of at least 30 percent eligible free and reduced-price lunch (over 90 percent
of KIPP Journey students are considered economically disadvantaged) , submit three
years of state test score data for all students, and be willing to share their
effective practices with NLNS EPIC partners. As part of the award, KIPP:
Journey Academy will receive approximately $50,000 to be distributed among its
staff.

Of the 179 charter schools from 24 states and the District
of Columbia that participated, only 14 winners
were selected, and KIPP: Journey Academy was the only school in Ohio - and the
only KIPP school nationally- to receive an award.

On behalf of the school, Ms. Powell said, “We are thrilled
and honored that KIPP: Journey received this award. This award recognizes the
dedication of our teachers and staff as they...

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In Ohio’s
recent waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education for relief from
the most onerous portions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act the Buckeye State proposes the creation of a
revamped and significantly improved reporting system for school and district
performance. 

Ohio’s current rating system uses vanilla
terms for rating schools and districts like “Excellent with Distinction,”
“Continuous Improvement,” and “Academic Emergency.” Worse, the state’s rating
system provides inflated grades for performance. For example, in classic Lake Wobegon fashion, 57 percent of Ohio’s school districts were rated as
“Excellent with Distinction” or “Excellent” (the best possible ratings) in
2011. Conversely, not one of the state’s 609 rated school districts was rated
“Academic Emergency” (the lowest possible rating).  

Ohio’s new system would incorporate an A-F
letter grade system, and grades would be based on a basket of performance
metrics ranging from number of academic standards met or surpassed to
value-added gains to progress in closing achievement and graduation gaps. Under
the proposed new system – which has to be approved by the U.S. Department of
Education and put into Ohio
law – districts and schools will be provided with an overall grade and separate
grades in the categories of: 1) student performance, 2) school performance, 3)
gap closing and 4) student progress (see details here). 

The proposed changes
would not only be easier for...

In 2006 I visited the headquarters of Teach For America in
New York City with Fordham’s Checker Finn and the head of the Columbus-based
KidsOhio Mark Real for a meeting with KIPP CEO Richard Barth.  At the time, KIPP and Teach for America
were sharing office space in Manhattan and we met with Barth to try and
convince him that Columbus was a good place for KIPP expansion, which
ultimately happened in 2008.

TFAOhio
Finally, Ohio is worthy of a red pin on the TFA map.

While waiting for the meeting to start we sat in the lobby
of the TFA office where there hung a large map of the United States with a red pin
in every state where TFA corp members were teaching. Ohio stood out like a sore
thumb because it was surrounded by states with red pins. When we met with Barth
he told us bluntly, “if you want KIPP to be successful in Ohio and grow, we
need TFA there.” TFA serves as the talent pipeline for KIPP teachers and school
leaders, as well as the pipeline for numerous other high quality charter school
programs, education reform organizations, and increasingly reform-minded school
districts and states.

Today,
Teach...

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Fordham has worked in Dayton – as a funder, charter-school
authorizer, and charter-school advocate – to push for the creation and growth
of high quality charter schools since 1998. Over the last decade one of the
highest performing charter school clusters in the city has been the Richard
Allen (RA) Schools (RA has three schools in Dayton that serve about 800
children). Over the years I’ve spent time with the leaders of Richard Allen,
visited their schools, and even helped judge their annual debate competition.
In short, I have always been impressed by both the educators and the students
I’ve met and worked with from the RA schools and believe the schools delivered
quality education to students.

It is because of these personal connections to the schools
over the years that I found the recent “Special
Audit of the Richard Allen Academy Schools
” such painful and disturbing reading.
The Special Audit provided a litany of “missing money, missing records and
self-dealing” that has led to $929,850 in findings for recovery. The audit
describes a situation where public dollars were used without any basic accountability
or transparency. It reads as if the schools’ leadership considered the schools
a private operation free of any responsibility for how the state dollars were
spent. There also seemed little understanding as to whom the public resources
were meant to support.

For...

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The
only issue more worrisome than the agonizingly slow improvement in the math
achievement of American students is what to do about it. Abandoned solutions to
this decades-old challenge litter the educational roadmap like so many wrecks. Remember
“New Math” in the 1960s?

The
experts aren’t necessarily running short of ideas, but, like many experiments
for improving education, new schemes often work best in small, intensive
classroom situations then fall apart when they leave the hothouse for
larger-scale application.

The
latest idea gaining traction is using computer video games to teach
mathematics. Educational technology companies are pushing specially developed
games. But popular and big-name gaming staples like “World of Warcraft” may be effective research
templates for teaching math concepts to elementary and secondary students. For
the ignorant, like me, this hugely popular computer video game is played online
and involves many players at once, with each player controlling a character
that explores the landscape, fights monsters, completes quests, and interacts with other players. Some
teachers have been experimenting with the game in math classes for the last
four or five years and there are websites designed to help teachers adapt the
game (see here).

Stanford
University mathematician Keith Devlin is a “World of Warcraft” believer. America
now has the know-how to develop computer games and puzzles to teach math, as
well as other subjects, he believes....

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My heart hurts for the community of Chardon, in northeast
Ohio. I know people who live there, and they are in deep shock and pain over
Monday’s shooting at Chardon High School. I send my deepest condolences to
everyone impacted by these events. As both a professional observer of Buckeye
State public education and as a mom, two things stand out from Monday’s
tragedy. First, there has been a tremendous
focus
here in Ohio
on anti-bullying
efforts. Many people initially assumed that bullying was the cause of Monday’s
shooting—an assumption that has been largely dispelled. The suspect told law
enforcement officials that he chose the victims randomly, and the prosecutor in
the case believes his story. We absolutely need to address bullying in (and out
of) school. But children, like all of us, can be deeply troubled and in need of
help, even when they are treated kindly by others. Second, it appears as if the
school, its staff, and its students did everything right when it came to
responding to the situation. It is a Fordham mantra that no school can be
everything to every student, but we all agree that all schools have a
major responsibility to keep students safe and sound when they are in their
charge. Emergency response drills and preparedness plans are important. Yes,
they take away from “time on task” and force us...

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Since
the birth of the No
Child Left Behind Act
more than a decade ago, state and
local education officials have not kept quiet their disdain for the federal
law. So when President Obama announced in September that his administration
would offer states freedom from components of the law it is no surprise that
states around the country jumped on the chance. Ten states (Colorado, Florida,
Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota,
and Oklahoma) have already been granted waivers from the Obama Administration
with the understanding that they must demonstrate how they will prepare
children for college and careers by setting new academic targets to improve
achievement among all students, reward high-performing schools, and help those
that are falling behind.

Ohio
is one of 26 states, along with the District of Columbia that applied for a
second-round waiver. If approved (and most observers believe it will be), what
will the waiver mean for the Buckeye State? What changes will it bring about in
the coming months and years? The chart below breaks down some of the biggest
changes and outlines what Ohio schools can expect to see under the plan. (See table below)

State
Superintendent Stan Heffner hopes that the proposed changes will result in more
students being prepared for either college or the workforce when they leave high
school and help end the academic disparity...

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Ohio’s charter school community has been split into two
camps since the inception of the state’s first charter law in 1997. The first
camp – I’ll call free-market purists – believes that charter schools should be afforded
the same rights as private schools and as such be given maximum freedom of
operations. The free-market purists argue that when it comes to charter schools
the role of the state is little more than to distribute public dollars for a
child’s education. As long as parents decide to send children to a school, no
more “accountability” is necessary for performance.

In short, if there is market demand for a school – and the
school is in compliance with basic regulations like fire and health and safety
codes – then no more evidence is needed to keep the state dollars flowing.
Free-market purists believe that school choice is an end in itself. If public
policy creates a marketplace of school options then issues of school quality
will work themselves out as parents will naturally seek quality and abandon
failure. Free-market purists believe school operators know best what families
and children need and that the state should have no say in matters of school “quality”
and academic performance.

The second camp of school-choice supporters – I’ll call
accountability hawks – believes that market demand for schools is important (no
child should be trapped in a...

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