Ohio Gadfly Daily

It is the aim of the Common Core (see above) that all students will be college- or career-ready by the time they graduate from high school. One organization working to make this goal a reality in Fordham’s hometown of Dayton is Learn to Earn Dayton. Last week the Fordham Institute teamed up with Learn to Earn Dayton to host a community conversation, “What does the Common Core Mean for Dayton and its Human Capital Development Strategies?”

The event brought together leaders from the business and education community to discuss the future of Dayton and the potential impact the Common Core can have on the city. The event featured Stan Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction; Mike Cohen, president of Achieve; Ellen Belcher, author of our recent report on Common Core implementation; and David Ponitz, president emeritus of Sinclair Community College and chairman of the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.



 Stan Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction and Mike Cohen, president of Achieve

Superintendent Heffner explained that the Common Core standards will help Ohio move from the minimum toward a path that allows kids to be college and career ready. He acknowledged that the transition will be rough and that it will scare some people but in the end people will rise to the occasion, and kids will be asked to do more and better. Mike Cohen, one of the national leaders...


In a turn of events that reflects today’s economic and fiscal realities, the Reynoldsburg City Schools’ board of education approved an open enrollment policy last week. The decision is noteworthy as Reynoldsburg will become the first of Columbus’ suburban public districts to adopt an open enrollment policy.

Under Ohio’s open enrollment policy, public school districts can voluntarily admit students from other districts, at no cost to the student. Districts throughout the state have generally adopted open enrollment; nearly eighty percent of Ohio’s 664 public schools districts participate in open enrollment according to the Ohio Department of Education. However, few open enrollment districts are located near Ohio’s metropolitan areas, a fact shown in the chart below.

Figure: Number of districts adopting open enrollment by Ohio metro area, 2011-12

Source: Ohio Department of Education. Note: District count is based on the county in which the major city is located.

A district of nearly 6,000 students, Reynoldsburg City Schools serves the middle-class, eastern suburbs of Columbus. The district maintains an “excellent” rating from the state (its second-highest rating), and around eighty to ninety percent of its students reach proficiency in math and reading every year. Open enrollment risks these sterling academic marks. Due to Reynoldsburg’s proximity to Columbus City Schools, the district may absorb lower-caliber students from disadvantaged parts...


Fordham’s latest publication "Future Shock: Early Common Core Implementation Lessons from Ohio" reports Ohio’s progress in implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Fordham selected award-winning journalist Ellen Belcher to interview fifteen educators to elicit on-the-ground responses about how well the Common Core is being implemented. We encourage you to read the entire report, which can be downloaded here. But to whet your appetite, we provide here a short summary and a few quotes that illustrate the unifying themes of this report.

Adopted by the Buckeye State in 2010 and to be implemented starting in 2014-15, CCSS establishes a framework for what K-12 students across the country are expected to learn. For many students, CCSS will raise their standard of learning, and our interviewees universally champion these higher standards. The transition to the more demanding standards also concerns educators, who worry about anything from training teachers to online assessments to purchasing textbooks. Kimbre Lange, an Oakwood City Schools teacher, sums up educators’ optimism for the Core but peppered with caution: "We all get the big picture, but the devil is in the details."

Buy-In for the Core

Greater Depth in Core Standards

"The horror of having too much to teach is less (under the Common Core)." Steve Dackin, Reynoldsburg City Schools

"Teachers have confidence in the Core. They believe that less is more." Eric Gordon, Cleveland Metropolitan School District

"I’m very inspired. Finally we’re being allowed to do what we knew was right." Katie Hofmann, Cincinnati Public...


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...


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...

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. ...


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....


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...


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...


"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...