Ohio Gadfly Daily

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released the math and reading results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The assessments were administered to a nationally representative sample of 376,000 4th graders and 341,000 8th graders from all 50 states. For a national perspective on the NAEP data, click here.

Here in Ohio, math and reading results for public school students in both grades were flat compared to 2011. Meanwhile, less than 50 percent of Ohio’s fourth and eighth graders meet NAEP’s proficiency standard. The proficiency rates for Buckeye State students are as follows: 48 percent in 4th grade math; 37 percent in 4th grade reading; 41 percent in 8th grade math; 39 percent in 8th grade reading. These underwhelming statistics aside, the state continues to post scores that surpass the national average.

One can also slice the 2013 NAEP data in many ways—by racial group, by poverty status, by special education status, and more. One can even compare charter to non-charter school students, which I do in this post.

The figures below display the charter versus non-charter comparison of students who are eligible for the Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) program, the most-utilized poverty metric available. This provides a fair comparison of similar students, since Ohio’s charters enroll a relatively high number of impoverished students.

The charts show the average scaled score estimates (scale is 0 to 500) for the two groups, along with the standard errors displayed as vertical lines. The standard error,...

Back in June, we discussed the leadership role that Ohio’s cities were attempting to take in important and overdue efforts to improve education for all students. Central to that discussion was the work in Columbus of Mayor Michael Coleman and the Columbus Education Commission. At that time, we called the story “still in progress” but pointed out that city-based reform of the type the commission envisioned in its final report was worthy of praise and support. Nothing has changed in the interim. The Columbus plan that voters will have the opportunity to fund tomorrow, in the form of a 9.01 mil bond and levy measure, still represents the most promising attempt to improve Columbus schools—dare we say—ever.

Fordham has been supportive of the reform effort and worked with the Mayor’s team and the commission as these reform initiatives were developed. Our former vice president, Terry Ryan, even testified before the commission to bring the best knowledge of charter school excellence to the commissioners through data, research, his own public testimony, and the testimony of CEE-Trust’s Ethan Gray. The commission adopted an ambitious goal to expand the number of high-quality school seats in the city so that all students can attend an A- or B-rated school by 2020. It is both admirable and achievable.

One of the most controversial components of the levy is the allocation of 1 mil to high performing charter schools in Columbus to support, expand, and replicate their schools. Unfortunately, Mayor Coleman went out...

Until last week, I thought that I was the poster child for school choice.

My parents chose to move our family from the city to the country in the 1970s, mainly for the schools, while my wife and I have chosen private schools of various types for our children for the last 10 years.

But last week I realized that my perspective was extremely skewed.

Gathered at an early Halloween party were two groups of parents – one from the neighborhood Catholic school that we had just left after four years, and one from our brand new, lottery-only STEM school that our children had been attending for about six weeks. As those two worlds connected in my living room, the stories told by the two groups of parents differed significantly.

Parents from the Catholic school did not speak of “choices.” It was simply expected that their children would go to this school through eighth grade and move on to the designated Diocesan high school after that. Most of those adults had made the same progression when they were students 25 years earlier and there were no other options to consider as far as they were concerned. Don’t get me wrong, any number of families struggled to afford even the low tuition there (lowest in the Columbus diocese), but there was very little “choice” involved. Just the sacrifice. Once made, nothing else entered into the equation.

That is not how we got there. For us, it...

America’s early teenagers are adept at many things, but when it comes to math and science, they struggle—especially compared to their peers from industrialized Asian countries. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics finds that eighth-grade students from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore outright clobber U.S. eighth graders in math and science, as measured by the 2011 TIMMS exams (and to a larger extent in math). Nevertheless, American students outperform the international average, which includes a number of students from developing nations. Meanwhile, this report also cuts the U.S. data state by state. To do this, the researchers exploit states’ eighth-grade NAEP results to predict their TIMMS results.[1] The upshot: We can compare, for example, Ohio’s TIMMS results to thirty-eight other nations from around the globe. (Unfortunately, mainland China, India, France, and Germany did not participate in the 2011 TIMMS.) As with all U.S. states, Ohio’s students, on average, trail behind the “big four” East Asian countries referenced above in math and science. But Ohio does outperform the U.S. and international average. Massachusetts, the leading state in math and science, comes closest to these Asian countries in math, and it even slightly outperforms three of them in science. Well then, kudos to America’s—and Ohio’s—students for blowing away their peers from Morocco and Syria (as one would hope). But at the same time, shame on us all for allowing our students to dawdle behind the likes of Korea and Japan.


Two months into the school year, teacher help is still wanted in Cleveland. According to a Cleveland Plain Dealer report, Cleveland Metropolitan School District is still attempting to fill eighty-four teacher vacancies, mainly in the areas of special education; English-language learning (ELL); and high school math, science, and English.

What a pity.

Eric Gordon, the district’s superintendent, told the newspaper that late retirements, a new teacher-hiring process, and enrollment uncertainty have all led to the staffing shortfall. There is no doubt that he’s right. But it also comes as no surprise that vacancies in these content areas are going unfilled, for it’s a well-known fact that schools face systemic shortfalls in qualified applicants for special education, math, and science. Here’s the evidence:

  • In a 2013 report, the Minnesota Department of Education found that nearly half of its schools (41 percent) said special-education vacancies are “very difficult” to fill. Over one-quarter of schools reported that chemistry and math vacancies (28 and 26 percent, respectively) are “very difficult” to fill. By comparison, only 2 percent of schools said elementary and social-studies teacher vacancies are “very difficult” to fill.
  • A 2008 study from the Wisconsin Department of Education found that there are a whopping sixty-seven applicants for every elementary teacher vacancy and sixty-five applicants for every social-studies vacancy. Meanwhile, there were only fifteen applicants per learning disability and chemistry vacancy and twenty-four applicants per math vacancy.
  • Back home in Ohio, 90 percent of Dayton Public Schools principals told NCTQ
  • ...

Ohio has long struggled with the issues related to charter school quality. While policy improvements have been made in recent years, it is refreshing to see State Superintendent Dick Ross and his team walking the walk, when it comes to cracking down on poor charter-authorizing practices. One can read the details in a Columbus Dispatch piece that cites unacceptable conditions—including fights, spotty food service, inaccurate tracking of students, and failure to educate students—at two brand-new charter schools authorized by the North Central Ohio Educational Service Center.

Charter school authorizers, of which Fordham is one, play a critical yet largely unrecognized role in the life cycle of a charter school. For those unaware, authorizers (also called “sponsors”) are the entities responsible for reviewing new school applications; granting a charter (or not); monitoring the school’s educational, fiscal, governance, and operational health once the school is up and running; making charter-renewal decisions; and, when necessary, closing schools. In Ohio, a charter school authorizer may be a nonprofit organization (like Fordham), a traditional school district’s board of education, a state university, an educational service center, or the Ohio Department of Education.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) acknowledges that authorizing is complex work that requires specialized knowledge, skills, and commitment. Authorizing also requires adherence to professional standards; indeed, NACSA’s Principles & Standards are widely recognized in the field as the gold standard of charter school authorizing. Institutions that do authorizing well purposefully develop internal structures and devote human and...

Quick! Name the Ohio school-choice program that has provided students the opportunity to attend a school not operated by their resident school district for the longest period of time. Charter schools? Nope, strike 1. The Cleveland voucher program? Try again, strike 2. Unless you guessed open enrollment, that’s strike 3. Before heading back to the dugout, read on to learn more about this established school-choice program.

Open enrollment, first approved by the legislature in 1989, allows school districts (if they choose) to admit students whose home district is not their own. Perhaps against conventional wisdom, it has become a popular policy for districts. We even analyzed the trend in an April 2013 Gadfly.

According to Ohio Department of Education records, over 80 percent of school districts in the state have opted to participate in some form of open enrollment. There are 432 districts that have opened their doors to students from any other district in the state, and another sixty-two districts have allowed students from adjacent districts to attend their schools.

This year's budget bill (HB 59) created a task force to study open enrollment. The task force is to "review and make recommendations regarding the process by which students may enroll in other school districts under open enrollment and the funding mechanisms associated with open enrollment deductions and credits.” The task force’s findings are to be presented to the Governor and legislature by the end of the year.

In a recent Columbus Dispatch article highlighting the...

“In the implementation stage, the project confronts the reality of its institutional setting.” – Paul Berman and Edward W. Pauly, RAND (1975)

In recent months, the Common Core has faced a cascade of criticism that has permeated into Ohio’s statehouse and media. But while the fight to preserve or rescind the Common Core has been waged in the public square, frontline educators are not resting on their laurels as politicos bicker. Rather, many educators are implementing these new, rigorous academic standards in English and math with all due haste.

To learn more about the school-level implementation of the Common Core, I recently caught up with John Dues, the School Director of Columbus Collegiate Academy-Main St. Campus (CCA). Dues is a Teach for America alum who is in his fifth year as CCA’s instructional leader. A grade 6-8 middle school, CCA is part of the Excellent School Network (ESN) and is a Fordham-sponsored charter school. A high-performing school located on the rough-and-tumble east side of the Columbus, it enrolls 235 students, of which 92 percent are economically disadvantaged and 91 percent are black or Hispanic.

During my visit with Dues, I asked a number of questions about his experience implementing the Common Core. What are the everyday realities of executing these new standards within his institutional context? Is it an uphill battle? Business as usual? A wholesale reboot of school and classroom practices? And what...

College isn’t likely to be in the cards for students from poor, rural communities. Furthermore, for rural kids who go to college, they are the least likely to persist, in comparison to their peers from more affluent and/or urban areas.

In a new report, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) slices the college-going and college-persistence rates of high school graduates (class of 2010) by the geography, income, and racial composition of their alma mater.[1] Based on these characteristics, NSC generated 6 categories of students: low income, high minority, urban; low income, low minority, urban; low income, rural; higher income, high minority urban; higher income, low minority urban; higher income, rural.  

Students from poor, rural schools have the lowest college-going and persistence rates among these 6 categories of students. Here are the alarming statistics:

  • College Going Rate: Just 50 percent of students from poor, rural schools enrolled in any type of college (2- or 4-year) immediately after high school. Their college-going rate is slightly lower than even that of graduates from poor, high-minority urban schools (53 percent).
  • 4-Year College Going Rate: Just 28 percent of them enrolled in a 4-year college immediately after high school. Their 4-year college going rate is again a slightly lower rate than for graduates of poor, high-minority urban schools (30 percent).
  • 1-Year College Persistence Rate: 79 percent of college-enrolled students from poor, rural high schools persisted into a second year of college. The 1-year college persistence rate for students from poor,
  • ...

Holding schools accountable for student growth in a rigorous manner that doesn’t systemically favor one school over another is a vital policy objective. To this end, the Buckeye State has implemented a sophisticated (though not easily understood) value-added model to rate schools by their impact on student growth over time, while ostensibly holding constant other factors that could impact growth.

In previous blog posts, I looked at the correlation between school-level “overall” value-added index scores and (1) the school’s proportion of economically disadvantaged students and (2) African American students. The correlations are low. Evidently, Ohio’s value-added model does not systemically favor high-wealth, largely white schools over poor, largely minority schools. High-poverty schools, for example, can earn high marks on value-added just the same as high-wealth schools. The school-level value-added results stand in contrast to the state’s raw student achievement component, which disadvantages schools with mostly needy students. 

In this post, I look at the changes that Ohio has made in its value-added system, and what the distribution of the state’s value-added output looks like across schools under these revisions.


This year Ohio made several changes to the state’s value-added system. Previously, Ohio reported a 1-year value-added index score for schools and districts. This lead to some head-scratching results (see our 2010 analysis of the year-to-year “yo-yo” effect). Evidently, to mitigate this problem, the state reported a 3-year composite average—2010-11 to 2012-13—for schools’ overall value-added scores. In addition, the state reported for the first time...