Ohio Gadfly Daily

Peet’s Coffee and Tea: We hardly knew you. According to the Columbus DispatchPeet’s coffee shop in downtown Columbus will close after less than a year of operation. (The shop is near where I work.) To quote the company’s spokesperson, the reason for closing the store is “to focus on our top-performing locations.”

If only Ohio’s policymakers, district leaders, and charter-school authorizers just as aggressively closed persistently underperforming schools, and instead directed resources to grow top-performing ones or those demonstrating promise, or to start new schools from scratch. (Of course, there has to be an orderly and responsible process to closing schools.) Rather, too many low-rated public schools, both district and charter, limp along year-after-year, depriving students of a great education on the taxpayers’ dime.

In the business realm, unprofitable entities are shuttered, sold off, or merged to allow the larger organization to thrive. Yet in public education it seems like bad schools are immortal—and that’s not good policy.

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  1. Chad appeared on All Sides with Ann Fisher yesterday morning – along with several other guests – talking about charter school oversight and accountability in Ohio in the wake of the allegations against Horizon/Concept schools in the state. The full audio is here. Chad comes in at about the 15 minute mark. (WOSU-FM, Columbus)
     
  2. The Dispatch lays out the state of play with regard to Common Core in the Ohio General Assembly. The state of play is “contentious”. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. Speaking of Common Core, my good friends at Lake Local Schools in Northwest Ohio followed up last month’s resolution against the “Common Core curriculum” [sic] with some predictable backpedaling at this month’s meeting. To wit: "[W]e did want to express our concerns and opposition to it," said the board prez. "This is the law. We would just like to get rid of it if we can." Sounds like it could be a letter to the editor, doesn’t it? But it seems that another reality of education reform also caught the board’s attention: the end of “Count Week” in Ohio and the instatement of daily student attendance counts and reporting for districts. Less “contentious” than Common Core, sure, but still worthy of a quotable quote: "It will be interesting to see how this year goes." Indeed. Luckily Lake had plenty of money to hire a staffer to do only that
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  1. I’m a bit late in highlighting this, but it’s worth noting that United Schools Network’s Joe Baszynski was named as one of the “40 Under 40” movers and shakers to watch in Columbus. Nice interview here. (Columbus Business First)
     
  2. Lots of heated rhetoric around the Horizon/Concept Schools investigation by the FBI. Here’s some actual news, detailing what evidence was sought and what was found by the FBI, all relating to the federal E-rate program. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. One of those companies connected to the FBI investigation of Concept’s E-rate program is based in Northeast Ohio. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. As predicted, not much will be done to crack down on the Kingdom of the Bus Drivers in Columbus. This is all acceptable behavior. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  5. Dual enrollment in both high school and community college in one Dayton-area suburb means two diplomas at once for these students, all for free. The sky is the limit for these two young people. Best wishes to them both! (Dayton Daily News)
     
  6. As noted a week or so ago, some districts are staffing up their assistant principal ranks because they feel their principals will not have enough time to properly evaluate all teachers next year as required by OTES. Mansfield City Schools did the same yesterday, approving up to 3 new assistant principals for evaluation duties (although one hopes there are other productive things they’ll be doing as well). Additionally, the board approved hiring another second
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“In those days…everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Words penned millennia ago couldn’t be more relevant today. In the education-policy world, I sense it in the growing antagonism toward external forms of accountability for schools’ (and their students’) performance. I get it: accountability regimes, particularly of the state-driven sort, can be perceived as harsh, punishing, and damaging to professionalism, local control, and school specialization. Others perceive standards and accountability as impinging upon individual liberties around parental control.

Yet looming behind this unrest is the specter of mediocrity and a lack of urgency among Ohio’s K–12 schools—an environment ultimately ill-suited for student success. The zeitgeist has worked its way into state law, as policymakers have begun to yield to the cries of those who would prefer to be judged by standards of their own preference or design—or none at all. As evidence, consider the proliferation of alternative accountability (and assessment) systems that are cropping up in state policy. Three examples come to mind.

Third-grade reading

Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee—a needed initiative to lift early literacy—has a loophole the size of Texas. Seemingly everyone in the state is aware that third graders are now required to pass the reading portion of the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) or else face grade retention. This is tough stuff on the surface—but wait. In a lesser-known provision, the state has also allowed schools to administer any one of three alternative reading assessments. If a student who has failed...

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The Hispanic population in the United States continues to grow, with Hispanics making up nearly 17 percent of the total population. This population is young (33 percent is of school age) and is changing the demographics of schools in many states, Ohio among them. From 2000–10, the Hispanic population in Ohio grew to approximately 350,000 individuals, representing 3 percent of the state’s total population. That’s obviously smaller than in, say, Texas, but the number is rising.

Unfortunately, Hispanic students in Ohio schools are struggling. On the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA), administered in May 2013, Hispanic children scored lower than the state average in both reading and mathematics at every grade level tested. Similarly, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2013, Hispanic students in Ohio scored, on average, seventeen points lower than their white peers in fourth-grade reading and fifteen points lower in fourth-grade math. Further, only 66 percent of Hispanic students in Ohio graduate from high school, compared to 80 percent for all students. These results indicate that the achievement gap remains wide in Ohio, and with the population of minority students growing , the education challenge is only going to intensify. Demographics ought not dictate destiny.

Which brings us to early literacy. Myriad reports have been conducted on the subject, including a recent study by...

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EDITOR’S NOTE: An edited version of this piece appeared as a letter to the editor in the Columbus Dispatch on Saturday, July 19, 2014.

School choice often engenders controversy. From districts arguing amongst themselves about the impact of open enrollment to charter schools and districts squabbling over funding and facilities, the Buckeye state—a national leader in providing education options to parents—is no stranger to the debates that arise about school choice.

In a July 8 editorial (“The law is the law”), the Columbus Dispatch called out two Ohio districts for allegedly circumventing public-records laws in order to prevent families from knowing about their school-choice options. The editorial drew attention to a current lawsuit brought by School Choice Ohio (SCO) against Cincinnati Public Schools and Springfield City Schools. Dispatch editors wrote, “Public schools understandably want to avoid this [losing students to private schools], but they should fight against it by making their schools safer and more effective—not by scheming to prevent families from knowing about their options. Scheming in defiance of state law would be even worse.”

That sums it up quite nicely. The legal and ethical implications of Cincinnati’s and Springfield’s actions are clear: hiding voucher eligibility from students and their families, many of whom are stuck in failing schools, isn’t just dishonest, unfair, and shameful—it’s also illegal. But the most compelling part of the Dispatch’s argument is that if public schools don’t want to lose students to other schools, they must...

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The latest report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) examines how cities with a significant amount of school choice can ensure that it works for more families. Starting with a case study of Detroit, a city where families have a plethora of school options but precious few that could be called high quality, the report paints a picture of the challenges faced by Motor City parents. Testing their observations from Detroit, CRPE expands its focus by surveying 4,000 public school parents in eight cities (including Cleveland). The survey shows that while families from all walks of life are now actively choosing their kids’ schools (55 percent), the majority of parents (61 percent) considered only one or two schools. One explanation might be the barriers parents face when choosing a school: 33 percent had difficulty understanding which schools their child was eligible to attend, 25 percent said they had difficulty getting information about schools, and 26 percent lacked convenient transportation. The report also found that, by and large, disadvantaged, less educated parents and parents of students with special needs are far more likely to experience difficulties in exercising choice. Finally, the report suggests that the fractured governance structure in place in many cities effectively means that no one is focused on overall school quality or removing the barriers faced by parents. Fixing the governance issues this report raises will require city and state-wide action to more efficiently align services and resources across district and charter boundaries—and that could prove...

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Elementary-school teachers might think twice before plastering their walls with paintings, posters, and pin-ups. This small-scale experiment found that Kindergarten students in a decorated classroom were more likely to be “off-task” and less likely to demonstrate learning. To conduct the study, researchers had twenty-four children participate in six science lessons: three of them were held in a decorated classroom and three in a largely undecorated (“sparse”) one. The decorated room had an assortment of posters, student artwork, and maps on the walls; meanwhile, the walls of the sparse room contained only materials directly related to the lesson. The study utilized video recordings to document on- and off-task behavior and pre- and post-tests, to measure learning. When it came to time on task, the children were off task 39 percent of the time while in the decorated classroom, versus 28 percent off task while in the undecorated one. (Students looking in the direction of the teacher or at the learning materials were deemed on task.) Meantime, children showed greater learning gains in the undecorated room. The average gain in tests scores—the difference between the pre- and post-test—was 33 percent in the sparse room, compared to 18 percent in the decorated one. The bottom line: students can become easily distracted. And this study, while small and for only one age group, suggests that teachers could at least clamp down on one source of distraction—classroom decor—to the benefit of student learning.

Source: Anna V. Fisher, Karrie E. Godwin, and Howard Seltman, “Visual...

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  1. Another development yesterday in the case of a Cincinnati-area charter school trying to find a new sponsor in order to stay open. ODE – ordered by one court to take over as sponsor – appealed and was granted a stay…for now. Story developing. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  2. Akron’s Firestone High School has had “a couple of stellar years” of performance by its students in International Baccalaureate exams and is seeking to bolster its IB participation by creating a middle school feeder system. Nice. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  3. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: good educators do not fear Common Core or the associated tests. Latest example: Amherst Schools. Says Michael Molnar, education services director in the district: “We will not teach to the test.” Additionally, he promised that educators won’t “kill and drill”. To the question of anticipating lower scores on harder PARCC tests, Molnar says, “I’m confident that we’ll continue to be excellent. No one can predict what our scores will look like when these tests come out.” Sounds just about right. (Amherst News Times)
     
  4. Stop the local budget-cutting madness! Save Safety Town! (Middletown Journal-News)
     
  5. Mansfield’s Spanish Immersion program is undergoing some growing pains – not only are local parents increasingly opting to send their children, but families from outside can access it via open enrollment as well. Some MSI parents say at least one additional teacher is needed, although the district says it doesn’t have the money right now. (Mansfield
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