Ohio Gadfly Daily

  1. In case you missed it yesterday, HB 2 – the standalone charter law reform bill in the House – received a couple of amendments. Here are two reports on that, both from yesterday afternoon and both quoting Chad.  In the Columbus Dispatch piece, Chad finds the watering-down of anti-sponsor-hopping language to be “a head-scratcher”. In the WKSU-FM radio piece, he opines in more detail, noting that unchecked sponsor-hopping can lead to something of a race to the bottom in terms of school quality.
     
  2. The Plain Dealer looked more closely at what’s NOT in HB 2 as it headed for a committee vote today: specifically, a provision to require wide open books for private entities running schools. In-depth piece on the issue from the perspective of one of the bill’s co-sponsor and the usual “sunshine advocates”. Not a word from charter school advocates in there though. Perhaps they were busy. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 3/24/15)
     
  3. As we have noted more than once, charter law reform is on the minds of many across Ohio. Case in point, editors at the Findlay Courier who opined yesterday on the vital need for charter reform. And they only have one small district-run (and apparently successful) online charter in the town and not another one for 40 miles in any direction! (Findlay Courier, 3/24/15)
     
  4. As also noted previously, charter law reform efforts are coming from everywhere in state government. Much of the attention now is focused on HB 2 –
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Since its birth in 1990, Teach For America (TFA) has been one of the most scrutinized education reform programs on record. Not without reason: TFA takes a bold, innovative approach to teacher selection and preparation. Instead of having aspiring teachers slog through the conventional education school coursework before setting foot in a classroom, TFA recruits young people from selective universities, provides a five-week training program, and places them in high-need schools, including in Northeast and Southwest Ohio. The research evidence on TFA teachers’ impact has been mainly positive—particularly in math in the higher grades. But somewhat less known is the impact of TFA in the earlier grades. This study analyzes TFA teachers’ effectiveness in grades PK–5, employing “gold standard,” random-assignment methodology. Researchers randomly assigned 2,153 students to 156 teachers—sixty-six TFA and ninety comparison teachers—in thirty-six high-poverty schools, most of which were located in the urban South. The study compares students’ reading and math outcomes from the 2012–13 school year along the Woodcock-Johnson III achievement test for grades PK–2 and state tests for grades 3–5. The main finding: Across grades PK–5, no differences in average math and reading outcomes were detected between students taught by a TFA versus non-TFA instructor. In other words, elementary TFA teachers were just as effective as their traditionally trained counterparts, who had an average of about fourteen years of classroom experience. But when the researchers broke down the research results, they discovered that PK–2 TFA instructors had a positive impact on...

The National Conference of State Legislatures has put together a nice primer on accountability for private school choice programs. Twenty-three states, one Colorado school district, and the District of Columbia presently have such programs, including “traditional” tuition vouchers, education savings accounts, scholarship tax credits, and personal tax credits or deductions. Accountability requirements for schools participating in such programs vary. Most states require: 1) a measure of school quality (whether via student assessment data or outside accreditation), 2) determination of financial strength and sustainability, and 3) meeting minimum seat-time requirements. Once private schools are permitted to accept voucher students and public dollars begins to flow, the gamut of accountability measures—and the consequences of failing to meet them—broadens. Programs can differ by testing requirements for students (same-state assessments as their public school peers or tests of their own choosing), how and to whom test results are reported, whether outside accreditation can substitute for testing, and the level and timing of sanctions related to low performance. NCSL’s report provides an overview of the varying ways these accountability measures function in Louisiana, Indiana, and Wisconsin. While Ohio is not spotlighted, it could have been. Ohio law has some meaningful accountability built into its private school choice programs. For example, in the EdChoice and Cleveland Scholarships, the state requires private schools taking voucher students to have completed the state’s rigorous chartering process and requires voucher students to take the state assessment. Those test results are reported at a school level, but private schools do not...

Discussion of charter schools is everywhere in the Ohio news. Everyone has an angle, including a few unexpected ones:

  • The Ohio Federation of Teachers is actively trying to unionize a number of charters around the state. They are having some success, like at Franklinton Preparatory Academy in Columbus. But don’t misunderstand the effort. “Although we believe that all teachers should have the right to organize,” clarifies OFT President Melissa Cropper in the Akron Beacon-Journal, “we don’t feel right organizing teachers in a school we are trying to shut down.”
  • The Ohio Newspaper Association is using charter schools as a springboard to push its open-records “sunshine disinfectant” agenda anew.
  • Journalists in Columbus and Toledo are questioning the appropriate amount for a charter school to spend on advertising. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), a statewide online charter, spends somewhere around 2 percent of its budget (over $2 million) on advertising to recruit students.
  • State Auditor Dave Yost seems to find the in-depth charter school debate a useful one for focusing attention on the challenges of public/private hybrid entities—a particular bane for auditors, to be sure—of which charters are just one example.
  • In Akron City Schools, the loss of students (and money) to online charter schools has hit so hard that they have decided to start up a new e-school program of their own, effective immediately. Its stated intention: bringing into the district elementary students who are enrolled in charters or homeschooled and retaining
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Lots to cover since our last publication date, so let’s get to it.

  1. In case you missed it last week, the Ohio Department of Education released its first report on charter school sponsors rankings in the state last week, focusing on the two entities that earned “exemplary” ratings. Those were The Ohio Council of Community Schools and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. Kudos to OCCS and to our Dayton staff for this achievement. We know it is hard but important work they do every day. Coverage of the announcement was perhaps a bit more subdued than you might think – it was covered in a Columbus Dispatch blog on 3/19 and in Gongwer Ohio on 3/20. I wonder if the announcements of lower rankings will get more coverage? NOTE: The Gongwer piece also mentions CREDO’s latest report on charter school performance and includes a quote from our own Aaron Churchill.
     
  2. Gongwer also covered education-related testimony on the state budget bill (HB 64) last week. Lots of topics covered, including charter law reform. Chad’s testimony is highlighted, but mostly on topics other than charter law reform. Like I said, lots going on around here these days! (Gongwer Ohio, 3/18/15)
     
  3. An in-depth story on charter law reform efforts afoot in the legislature – including quotes from Chad and a recognition of DECA and DECA Prep in Dayton as the awesome schools that they are. (Dayton Daily News, 3/22/15)
     
  4. On to other topics. Former Ohio Governor
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NOTE: Below is the text of a press release issued by Fordham today.

The Ohio Department of Education has awarded the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s sponsorship operation a rating of “Exemplary,” the state’s highest mark, for our work sponsoring charter schools.

On a zero-to-100 scale, our scores are as follows:

  • Quality Practices: 97.4
  • Student Academic Outcomes: 100
  • Compliance: 100
  • Overall Score: 99.1

“This recognition would not be possible without the hard work of the schools with whom we work,” said Kathryn Mullen Upton, Vice President for Sponsorship and Dayton Initiatives “We look forward to continuing to improve our efforts to positively impact outcomes for the children in the schools that we serve.”

The Department evaluates sponsors in three critical areas: quality practices, student academic outcomes, and compliance. Quality practices includes all areas of a sponsor’s day-to-day work: review of proposed school applications, contracts, monitoring and oversight, renewal, school closure, technical assistance, and agency commitment. Student academic outcomes are evaluated based on learning gains made by students at different levels of proficiency. Compliance focuses on the extent to which a sponsor monitors the health and safety of children and staff. More information about the Quality Sponsor Practices Review is available here.

“We’re thrilled to have earned an exemplary rating,” said Michael J. Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. “More importantly,...

Boarding schools are often associated with the rich and the privileged; as such, they are seen as an out-of-reach option for low-income families searching for high-quality education. But in a world of ever-increasing school choice, must boarding schools remain out-of-reach? Do tuition-free boarding schools that serve primarily academically struggling, low-income children exist?

The answer is yes, they do—but they’re extremely rare. A 2003 study from the University of Chicago interviewed policy experts, educators, child welfare and youth development professionals, and parents of children who attend boarding schools designed for students with social and economic disadvantages. The study concludes that “urban or community boarding schools represent a promising idea that deserves serious consideration.” Yet the authors are careful to point out that many people harbor concerns “about the meaning of out-of-home settings used primarily by low-income or minority children.” They cite America’s troubling legacy of using boarding schools for shameful reasons can lead to understandable suspicions about residential education models for low-income, high-need youth.

However, there are examples of places where the residential education model is already in place and working—and where families are thrilled with the results. In 2009, New York Times Magazine looked at the nation's first college-prep, tuition-free boarding school: the SEED school of Washington DC (also examined in the University of Chicago report). Run by the SEED Foundation, SEED DC is one three high-performing, college-preparatory public boarding schools that serve students from traditionally underserved communities. According to the foundation, approximately 98...

Thank you Chairman Cupp, Ranking Member Phillips and members of the House Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education for giving me the opportunity to present testimony on House Bill 64. My name is Chad Aldis, and I am the Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

In general, we are supportive of most of Governor Kasich’s proposed education changes. Some of the provisions that we believe are critically important include:

  • Taking tangible steps to reduce the amount of standardized/state testing without weakening our state accountability system
  • Providing regulatory relief to schools
  • Moving toward reducing the impact of caps and guarantees in the state funding formula, as they distort the needs of districts and build funding inefficiencies into the system
  • Opening the door (and providing funding) for schools to experiment with competency-based/mastery learning
  • Strengthening the EdChoice voucher program
  • Improving Ohio’s charter school sector

To expound a little bit on the charter reforms: Fordham has spent a significant amount of time over the past year looking at Ohio’s charter school sector and has sponsored national experts to study the state’s charter schools. With that research in mind, we believe that some of the provisions proposed by Governor Kasich are critically important, and we encourage the House to include the following:

  • Requiring all charter sponsors to be approved by the Ohio Department of Education
  • Improving the ability of ODE to take action against low-performing sponsors
  • Allowing ODE to factor school quality into the equation when deciding
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A torrent of complaints has been levelled against testing in recent months. Some of the criticism is associated with the PARCC exams, Ohio’s new English and math assessments for grades 3–8 and high school. The grumbling over testing isn’t a brand new phenomenon. In fact, it’s worth noting that in 2004, Ohioans were grousing about the OGTs! In the face of the latest iteration of the testing backlash, we should remember why standardized tests are essential. The key reasons, as I see them, are objectivity, comparability, and accountability.

Reason 1: Objectivity

At their core, standardized exams are designed to be objective measures. They assess students based on a similar set of questions, are given under nearly identical testing conditions, and are graded by a machine or blind reviewer. They are intended to provide an accurate, unfiltered measure of what a student knows.

Now, some have argued that teachers’ grades are sufficient. But the reality is that teacher grading practices can be wildly uneven across schools—and even within them. For instance, one math teacher might be an extraordinarily lenient grader, while another might be brutally hard: Getting an A means something very different. Teacher grading can be subjective in other ways, including favoritism towards certain students, and it can find its basis in non-achievement factors like classroom behavior, participation, or attendance.

But when students take a standardized exam, a much clearer view of academic mastery emerges. So while standardized exams are not intended to (and should not) replace...

  1. While we rarely say “no thanks” to a media hit here at Fordham, sometimes we do worry about getting swept into stories by association with the topic. To wit: Fordham is namechecked and our two commissioned reports on charter school performance from December are referenced in this Dispatch piece first published Tuesday morning. It is about the Center for Education Reform’s new study of laws and policies in the 42 states (and the District of Columbia) that allow charter schools. Now Ohio’s grade of “C” stinks, no question, but the original version of this piece erroneously gave Ohio’s rank as 28 out of 43. The entire story – including Fordham’s namecheck – proceeded from this rank. Only, it’s wrong. Ohio’s rank was actually 14 out of 43. Still a “C”, still stinky, but an entirely different conversation should have arisen out of a top-15 finish, especially in regard to what is currently happening in every part of state government in Ohio to fix some long-standing problems. The same likely cannot be said of many other states. (Columbus Dispatch, 3/17/15)
     
  2. Speaking of that work to reform Ohio’s charter school law – it continues apace. HB 2 – the standalone bill on this topic – had an omnibus amendment added to it yesterday as promised by its sponsor last week, improving an already-good bill. Chad is quoted saying that very thing in this Dispatch piece. (Columbus Dispatch, 3/17/15)
     
  3. The PD’s take on the HB 2 amendment focuses
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