Ohio Gadfly Daily

Like many states, Ohio has lately undertaken a slew of ambitious but much-needed K–12 education reforms. In the Buckeye State, these include ratcheting up academic-content standards (e.g., Ohio’s New Learning Standards, which includes the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts), bringing new assessments online, putting in place new accountability measures, and expanding and ensuring quality school choices for parents and students. Taken together, these changes are significantly changing the ecosystem of Ohio’s public schools.

The spring session of the Ohio General Assembly generated few significant new reforms. But lawmakers pulled off a mostly commendable nip-and-tuck job on those already adopted. They fine-tuned several big reform initiatives in ways that should help schools put them into practice. They also improved accountability for Ohio’s school-choice programs. The Mid-Biennium Review bills (House Bills 483 and 487) now await the signature of Governor Kasich. Here we discuss the most substantive policy issues (save for teacher evaluations, which are discussed in the following piece).

Pausing Accountability

The General Assembly reasserted Ohio’s commitment to the Common Core and to the PARCC assessments. But it prudently slowed things down a bit. To help schools adjust to these new and more-challenging expectations, the legislature provided a one-year “safe harbor” for districts and schools. For the 2014–15 school year, the first year that PARCC will be fully operational, the legislature exempts schools and districts from accountability sanctions such as automatic charter closure, state receivership (via the Academic Distress Commission), and...

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The Senate and House finally reached a compromise over changes to Ohio’s teacher-evaluation system (OTES), which, in its first year of statewide implementation, has drawn criticism from school leaders arising from what they say is its administrative burden. Some felt that, as a result of its classroom-observation mandates, principals may not have time to properly support any teacher, let alone those who struggle.

This journey began with a Senate bill passed back in December (Senate Bill 229), which continued with the House Education Committee proposing major changes—followed by weeks of debate on the competing versions. (A comparison of the two bills can be found here, and our analysis of the House bill is here.)

The compromise ended up in House Bill 362, which originally dealt with STEM-school matters. It now awaits Governor Kasich’s signature. Major changes include giving districts the option of changing the percentage of an evaluation tied to teacher performance and student growth from 50 percent to 42.5 percent each; providing districts with several different ways to make up the remaining 15 percent, including (but not limited to) student surveys; and allowing districts to be flexible with the observation frequency of top-rated teachers.

Everyone loves a happy ending. But as a former teacher, this bill leaves me with several lingering questions, as does OTES itself.

First, this has been the first year of OTES implementation for most Ohio districts. End-of-year test results won’t even be published until later this summer. So why were...

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Ohio’s new school-building and district report cards got a big thumbs up from both parent reviewers and wonky researchers in a new study from the Education Commission of the States. In fact, Ohio was the recipient of the highest praise in the study which looked at accountability efforts in all fifty states. Reviews cited breadth of measures, ease of interpretation, and easy accessibility, among other things. And that position stands to improve with expanded data elements planned for roll out in 2015. Just one question remains: if this is so awesome, why did only the Dayton Daily News cover this prestigious result?

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The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, in partnership with SRI International, has released a new report on blended learning that seems to indicate that, despite its many fans and rapid growth, kinks remain to get resolved if it’s to be transformative. Many software and online programs were found to be inadequate, glitchy, and poorly aligned to schools’ pace and sequence of instruction; insufficient bandwidth and hardware problems abounded; personalization of content to individual students was a problem for children on both the low and high ends of the ability spectrum; and multiple streams of data confounded teachers as to students’ understanding of material. The Ohio Gadfly fears that “user errors” of the types reported here could consign online teaching and learning to the category of something else to occupy students while the teachers grade papers. That would be a terrible...

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  1. A couple of last week’s topics have continued in dicussion through the weekend. First up, NCTQ’s report on teacher absences. The Enquirer published a commentary pinning at least one third of teacher absences reported in that survey on "state mandates" and the training time required for teachers. Common Core, new Kindergarten assessments, OTES, third grade reading, and a number of other buzzwords are also blamed. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. Next up, the Beacon Journal takes on the new “3 paths to graduation” set out by the education MBR; specifically, the path that gives $5 million to dropout recovery schools. There are tons of questions still to answer, but the ABJ seems staunchly opposed at this juncture. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  3. In other news, the only piece of Columbus’ failed reform levy from last fall to get a toehold into reality - $5 million for preschool programs – is moving forward already, but the preK plans appear to be baffling even folks on the inside. I have to ask: is this supposed to be education support or job support? And how on earth – and why on earth – is the program going to limit its support to folks who plan to send their kids to Columbus Public Schools? More may be known after this morning’s kickoff event. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  4. A commentary in the Enquirer brings back to our attention the proposed removal of the term "thorough and efficient" from the Ohio Constitution by a subcommittee of
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  1. Reporting continues across the state in regard to the K-12 education MBR bill and other education legislation moving through the General Assembly. The Vindy focuses its story on the creation of 3 paths to a diploma, emphasizing that legislative changes recognize one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to K-12. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  2. In the Dayton area, superintendents generally seem to like the new graduation options as well, although there are clearly a number of questions yet to be answered. The kid on the street appears to be split. (Dayton Daily News)
     
  3. StateImpact focuses on Ohio’s apparently staunch commitment to the Common Core. (StateImpact Ohio)
     
  4. Speaking of which, Rep. Gerald Stebelton is quoted in this public radio piece as saying, “As long as I’m the chairman of the House Education Committee, we're going to have Common Core.” But, of course, Stebelton is term-limited and will be out of office by the end of 2014. (WKSU Radio, Kent)
     
  5. And finally, the Dispatch reports on the legislation’s requirement that districts create parent panels to review/discuss/approve curriculum materials. The discussion in the online comments section is more substantive and interesting than usual.  (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  6. In other news, the PD took another look at NCTQ's teacher-absence report and this follow-up story suggests that CMSD’s large number of in-school-time training sessions could have led to a skewing of the number. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  7. As our last stop for the week, we look at
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The Ohio Gadfly is extremely excited to announce an addition to our Columbus office. Jessica Poiner, a former teacher, has joined our team as an education policy analyst. For an introduction, here’s Jessica in her own words:

My name is Jessica Poiner. I’m the middle child in a family of three daughters, born and raised in Akron, Ohio. Most of my growing up took place in the suburb of Stow, where I spent a lot of time (probably too much time, if my three knee surgeries are any indication) playing soccer and reading anything I could get my hands on.

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher explained a fun new class activity that functioned something like a board game. Every student had a game piece, and we earned chances to roll the dice on Fridays based on our behavior and quiz scores. I have no idea what my peers thought of the game, but I do remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to be a teacher so that I could design cool games for my students.

Fast-forward to May of 2011. I’ve just graduated from Baldwin-Wallace University with a degree in English. I’ve loaded my entire life into boxes and suitcases. My parents and I are driving twelve hours south to Memphis, Tennessee because I joined Teach For America. I’m going to be an English teacher in inner-city Memphis at one of the lowest-performing high schools in the state.

The next few years were life-altering....

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  1. As expected, the Plain Dealer waited a day before reporting on the education MBR. Their focus is on the changes to testing and graduation requirements, something with which we are all grappling. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. There was an anti-Common Core rally at the Statehouse yesterday. Perhaps you felt the thunderous presence of the mighty crowd. No? Me neither. Didn’t get much press coverage either, although a couple papers picked up a brief story via AP. The jist: a Common Core repeal bill is sitting in the House Education Committee; the sponsor and the ralliers want to get enough representatives to sign a petition to force it out and onto the House floor. For the second day in a row, I’m forced to type the words “there’s no way this will ever be a Schoolhouse Rock song”.  (Ravenna Record-Courier)
     
  3. The headline writer at the Enquirer has taken a chill-pill and returned to Jack Webb Mode (just the facts) for this story about a new charter school which will be operated by Norwood Schools starting next fall. It is a very small blended-learning model housed in a district classroom with flexible hours and pacing. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  4. It’s graduation time in Ohio, as we’ve noted. Interestingly, not a lot of charter school graduations have been covered in the papers around the state. Here is a very nice story about the graduation ceremony at Townsend Community School in Northern Ohio, a charter which sounds very much like the
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  1. The K-12 education MBR bill emerged from a conference committee yesterday, reconciling some thorny issues between House and Senate versions. Coverage varied around the state. In what reads more like a foaming-at-the-mouth editorial than impartial journalism, the Akron Beacon Journal focuses on a funding boost for dropout-recovery charter schools (or, as the ABJ puts it, “dropout producers”). The Columbus Dispatch focuses more dispassionately on the tweaks to teacher evaluations. Fascinating legislative process it seems, and clearly impervious to having a Schoolhouse Rock song made about it.
     
  2. Another item making statewide news today was NCTQ’s report on teacher absences, noting that Cleveland’s numbers are the worst of all 40 metro areas surveyed, and Columbus is second. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, as usual, digs deep to try and understand the numbers and to relate it to steps already being taken to address the situation, which has actually been on the union’s and CMSD’s radars since October. The Columbus Dispatch also talks to the local union boss about her members' attendance numbers – and she is interested to understand those numbers of course – without noting that said union boss has about 25 days left in the job before she becomes the mayor’s education czar.
     
  3. Who the heck cares if the Columbus School Board decides to get involved in detailed budgeting for the district (“Actually I’m quite pleased that they would take an interest,” said Superintendent Dan Good mildly)?! The point of including this story is
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The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released an alarming new report today on teacher absenteeism in America’s urban public schools. While teacher absences were unacceptably high across most of the school districts that NCTQ analyzed, Cleveland and Columbus public schools earned the unhappy distinction of having the most teacher absences of them all. NCTQ’s analysts used district-level data from 2012-13 to calculate the number of teacher absences in forty of the nation’s largest urban school systems. The results were, on the whole, woeful: teachers across these districts were absent, on average, eleven days during the school year. (The length of a school year is roughly 180 days.) NCTQ’s analysis excludes days missed due to major illness or maternity leave, and did include days missed for professional development.

Teacher absenteeism borders on a crisis in Cleveland and Columbus. Cleveland’s teachers missed an average of sixteen days while in Columbus, teachers missed fifteen days—good for the highest and second-highest absentee rates in this study. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati—the only other Ohio district that NCTQ analyzed for this study—teachers missed an average of twelve days of school. (In a separate study, NCTQ found that Dayton’s teachers were absent nearly fifteen days.) However, not all of a district’s teachers are shirking work: Many of these absences can be attributed to “chronically absent” teachers—those absent eighteen or more days. In Cleveland, the percentage of the “chronically absent” teachers was a staggering 34 percent (second-highest in this group of districts); in Columbus, the percentage...

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  1. The Cincinnati Enquirer has finally relented and covered School Choice Ohio's legal action against Cincinnati Public Schools in regard to student directory information. Sadly, the piece is a mess of misstated/omitted facts about EdChoice and includes some flawed conclusions because of it. Especially egregious is the omission of EdChoice eligibility for students in chronically underperforming schools regardless of income. The piece states, “A win by School Choice Ohio could lead to drastic enrollment drops at some schools.” Yes, indeed, if parents in perennially low-rated schools actually knew they had a private school option available to them and had someone to help them get more information, a number of them would likely leave. And that's a problem because why? (Cincinnati Enquirer)
  2. Teachers in Worthington City Schools have approved a new contract that contains some novel tweaks. The union’s leader trumpets a revised pay-for-experience schedule for veteran teachers entering the district, but as a Fordhamite I’ll highlight the clause which would deny a step increase to any teacher who receives a designation of “ineffective” on an evaluation. Which also begs a couple of questions in itself. (Columbus Dispatch)
  3. Summer school in Dayton Public Schools could be a bit crowded…for the first couple of weeks. Approximately 450 students had not yet scored proficient the third grade reading test prior to the May assessment and results for those children will not be known until a week or so into summer school, which all of those 450
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