Ohio Gadfly Daily

  1. In what is likely a first, a participant in one of Ohio’s new Standards Review Committees has given an interview to his local newspaper. He is a long-time science teacher in Mansfield, which is likely very good experience for evaluating science standards. But I honestly can’t decide whether he’s defining his mandate too broadly (he seems to be on a vendetta against Common Core, which has nothing to do with Ohio’s homegrown science standards) or too narrowly (“That will be my focus: What is best for the Mansfield community,” he says, as if he wasn’t on a statewide commission). But either way, if you think Ohio consists only of Mansfield and the “affluent suburbs of Columbus”, you might not be the best candidate for the job anyway. (Mansfield News Journal)
     
  2. It’s time for another round of the game I like to call “If This Were a Charter School, the Response Would Be...” An internal audit reveals that the phone system used to route incoming calls for transportation questions and issues in the Columbus City Schools is a giant steaming pile of fail on about every possible front. Message priority, call routing, hold times (“If the caller is
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  1. I complained last week that Ohio’s whiz-bang Straight-A Day – wherein recipients of innovation fund grants got to show off their tech success to legislators and the public – was covered in the Ohio press with a single boring AP piece that included no pictures at all. The folks at Getting Smart have a far more robust round up of the event with lots of cool project details. Nice to see this get coverage via a bigger platform, but seriously, does no one carry a camera anymore?  (Getting Smart)
     
  2. Evaluation of teachers and classroom practices can take place in lots of ways. Ohio has a new-ish formal process through OTES, but this story is about a “snapshot” style of classroom evaluation in Lorain – a sort of “walk-through diagnostic”. These have been conducted in Lorain middle and high schools for 10 years, says the district superintendent. They are best practices with which he says that principals can “take the pulse” of a classroom and give helpful feedback to both teachers and students to improve the learning environment for everyone. Lorain has been in academic distress and overseen by a distress commission since 2013. And all the adults
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Right on schedule, district officials, driven by self-interest, are airing their grievances over Governor Kasich’s school-funding proposal. Media outlets are encouraging the “winners and losers” storyline by showing funding increases and decreases for the districts in their areas.

As the policy debate on school funding gets heated—and leaves others “puzzled”—we offer three key points to help clear the air.

Point #1: The amount of overall public funding for districts is often very generous—which would be a surprise to many taxpayers.

To hear some groups tell it, public schools are grossly “underfunded.” But according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Ohio spent $13,063 per student in 2010–11—significantly more than the national average ($11,948 per student).[1] Some Ohio districts spend more than others, of course, reflecting differences in operating conditions, tax bases, and student needs. According to the Ohio Department of Education’s Cupp Report, Ohio school districts spent anywhere from just over $6,000 per student to $20,000 per student in 2012–13. These statistics include all three major streams of public funding for schools—local, state, and federal funds.

Interestingly, surveys find that the public routinely underestimates the amount spent on education. A...

With all the attention that’s focused on teachers, principals must feel like the neglected stepchild of education reform. Evaluations, tenure, and the lackluster performance of teacher prep programs are all hot reform topics, and there’s no shortage of books and articles that obsess over all things teacher-relate. But what about principals? School leaders are responsible for nearly everything that happens in a school—from creating a positive culture and tracking data to evaluating instruction and hiring (or sometimes firing) the teachers who most affect student outcomes.

Research points to the challenges of recruiting and selecting effective principals. Most principals are chosen from employees who already work for the district. This isn’t a problem per se, except that districts often do a poor job of building skills in and smoothing the transition for those they select. Add to that the other hallmarks of the job, such as high pressure and low compensation, and it’s easy to understand why it’s so hard to find great talent.

This bleak picture begs the question: Is anyone doing it right?

A recent piece in Education Week looks at KIPP's principal training, which boasts “real-world practice” for its participants. One...

Greg Harris

Greg Harris is Ohio state director for StudentsFirst.

Despite fierce efforts to derail the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System midway through its first year of implementation (the 2013–2014 academic year), it survived. Now the results are in, and preliminary analysis suggests that 90 percent of Ohio teachers fared well. More importantly, a cultural shift is underway that is pushing more principals to observe and interact with teachers—and placing far greater emphasis the impact of teachers on kids.

In December 2013, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed SB 229, which sought to exempt teachers rated in the top two categories (“Accomplished” or “Skilled”) from annual evaluations under the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). Proponents argued that by exempting the best teachers, schools could focus their energies on developing less effective teachers.

While the bill was reasonable on its face, a deeper look showed cause for concern. Historically, the vast majority of Ohio teachers had been rated in those top two tiers and would be exempted from evaluation if trends held. This promised a sharp reduction in annual OTES participation.

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NCTQ has been tracking the health of the nation’s teacher pension systems annually since 2008. It was a bad year to start—the Great Recession was heading for its nadir—but surely in 2014 things are starting to look up, right? Not so much, say the authors of the latest edition of Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions. In 2014, the overall debt load of teacher pension funds in the fifty states and the District of Columbia reached $499 billion (an increase of more than $100 billion in just the last two years). An average of seventy cents of every dollar contributed to the systems goes toward paying off the accumulated debt rather than paying into upcoming benefit needs. The folks at NCTQ, while not above some “sky-is-falling” rhetoric, report on the status of seven reforms that they believe would help to avert the pension disaster that has been looming for years, including full portability of plans, reasonable contribution rates for employers and teachers, and fair eligibility rules. The overall average state grade for teacher pension policy in 2014 is a lowly C-. Mountains of debt, overly long vesting periods, backloaded benefits, and lack of portability were the main sticking points...

Faced with enormous budgetary shortfalls, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) voted in May 2013 to close forty-seven schools, one of the largest waves of school closings in U.S. history. Shortly thereafter, CPS adopted a policy aimed at relocating more than ten thousand displaced students into higher-performing CPS schools for the 2013—14 school year. The district called the schools that absorbed displaced students “welcoming schools.” This policy was supported by research showing that students affected by closure benefit academically if they land in a better school. The welcoming schools were all higher-performing on CPS’s internal measures of performance; they also received additional resources to ease the influx of new students (e.g., student safety and instructional supports). But how did the policy play out? Did displaced students actually enroll in their assigned welcoming school? According to University of Chicago researchers, 66 percent of displaced students enrolled in their welcoming school in fall 2013. Meanwhile, 25 percent of displaced students attended other neighborhood-based CPS schools, while 4 percent attended a charter and 4 percent attended a magnet school. An analysis of student records indicates that distance from home, building safety concerns, and residential mobility were all significant reasons why students did not attend...

Cheers to Cardinal Schools in Geauga County. Experts in autism education have deemed the district an exemplar of best practices for inclusion and support. Their “model classrooms” were videotaped in action earlier this month, and the footage will be shared with educators across the state and the country. Of additional note: Cardinal is connected to two district merger proposals that would, if successful, bring their expertise directly to students with autism in three other county districts.

Jeers to the board, administration, and sponsor of Gateway Academy, a charter school in Franklin County. Last week, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost announced that the school’s financial records were “incomplete, unauditable and inexcusable.” Thankfully, annual audits of charter schools are mandated under law in Ohio, and sponsors are held accountable when those audits uncover a mire such as this.

Cheers to wider publicity for the EdChoice Scholarship voucher program, no matter how it happens. Dayton City Schools would rather hold students hostage than let thousands of eligible kids leave with a voucher due to the persistent poor performance of their schools. Fortunately for families, the Dayton Daily News covered the district’s determination in a lot of depth…including a full list of...

  1. Wow. Leave it to State Auditor Dave Yost to have his own incisive take on charter law reform. While the current media narrative is “sponsor-centric” reforms vs. “school-centric” reforms, let’s just say that Yost thinks that neither approach is 100 percent on the mark for him. His work auditing sponsors and investigating schools has led him to the central question of when a charter school is acting as a private organization vs. when they take on a governmental role in educating children. He’ll be advocating for Ohio to define the line between these functions, and he’s got a thing or two to say about monitoring/reporting attendance and online coursework. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. PARCC testing in Ohio is likely back on again today in most places as last week’s cold snap – which closed schools for days – ebbs a bit. This gave Toledo Blade columnist Marilou Johanek time to opine somewhat confoundingly on testing, largely from the perspective of her own son. She says he was an “overconfident” test taker in the days of OAAs but that he’s now one with the “stressed-out masses”. You might think that this is because he – and she – perceives
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  1. Editors in Canton agree with Chad today while opining on charter law reforms proposed by Governor Kasich. Well, they really just take one item from his recent House testimony with which they agree, while basically saying the proposals don’t go far enough to suit them. But we’ll take the media hit…and Chad will happily accept the editors’ agreement. Both happen so rarely. (Canton Repository)
     
  2. Meanwhile, editors in Cleveland opine on the governor’s proposed changes to charter school funding, agreeing with no one but themselves. CREDO’s report on charter school quality in Ohio – sponsored by Fordham – is name-checked and linked. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Well, PARCC testing in Ohio – and pretty much everything else – came to a screeching halt when Elsa worked her magic on us, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t Common Core news to talk about. What does it mean to align curriculum to a set of standards? How does that play out in a classroom/school/district? Journalist Chike Erokwu digs into those questions in this thoughtful piece. Spoiler alert: there is art and writing involved, group discussion, a teaching framework from a non-profit organization, and lots of direct input from teachers
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