Ohio Gadfly Daily

  1. At the end of the last House Rules Committee hearing on Common Core repeal, the chair halted testimony late in the evening saying that the next witness (a supporter of the bill) was so important that more committee members should be here to hear her. Well, the heck with that. Supposedly, there’s going to be a Rules Committee hearing tomorrow with no further testimony and a possible vote on the bill. Why the change of tack? The chair now double-negatively says, “I'm not sure that at this point that we haven't heard what everybody possibly has to say." And the bill’s co-sponsor says, "I was ready to vote it out a while ago.” Hmmmm... We shall see. Link (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. Back in the real world, the state superintendent has approved an updated academic recovery plan for Youngstown City Schools, which gives more authority to the academic distress commission over the school board. It also limits the number of school board meetings to two per month. How’s that for intestinal fortitude? Oh, and it also sets some very concrete goals for both the short- and the long-term to improve the district’s academic performance. Not exactly the state takeover the Vindy’s editors were asking for a few months ago, but they’ve got to be pretty OK with this as a compromise.  (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  3. Our friends at Learn to Earn Dayton are helping to spearhead a new push to get high school seniors into and through college.
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Over the last five years, prodded by the feds, states have adopted teacher evaluation systems. According to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, forty-one states, including Ohio, now require evaluations that include objective measures of student achievement. These aren’t the meat-axe assessments of yesteryear, though. These next-generation teacher evaluations combine classroom observations using new prescriptive protocols with quantitative evidence of learning gains on state tests (or another form of assessment) to determine each teacher’s effectiveness.

The national focus on teacher evaluations raises a couple of questions. First, why have states chosen to focus on teacher evaluations (i.e. what’s the problem that policymakers are trying to solve)? Second, are the new evaluations proving effective in solving the problem?

Let’s start with the why. Recall all the evidence that the single most important in-school factor for student achievement is teacher quality. If we know that good teachers make a difference, it's not surprising that we've focused on evaluating them. Such evaluations hold the potential to identify great teachers whom we can reward, retain, and/or hold up as models, struggling or developing teachers whom we can help to improve, and ineffective teachers who should be removed from the classroom. In other words, evaluations are intended to boost the effectiveness of teachers whom our children learn from.

That’s really only part of the answer, though. Even before there was a law mandating it, principals have long conducted teacher evaluations. Yet those traditional evaluations, typically based solely upon classroom...

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In January, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education (ED) issued a joint “Dear Colleague” letter to K–12 schools. The letter calls into question whether minority children are punished more harshly than white children for the same infractions. The letter notes that schools could be guilty of discrimination in one of two ways: If a student is treated differently because of his or her race, or if a neutral policy has a “disparate impact.”

While the first method of determining discrimination is clear and fair, the second method is far more open to interpretation.  The letter explains that “examples of policies that can raise disparate impact concerns include policies that impose mandatory suspension, expulsion, or citation upon any student who commits a specified offense.” What the departments are suggesting here is that zero-tolerance policies, which impose a specific penalty for a specific offense, could have a disparate impact on minority students and may be discriminatory.

The disparate impact analysis forces the DOJ and ED into the murky water of differentiating between strict enforcement of zero-tolerance policies that are necessary to meeting educational goals and selective enforcement of policies that aren’t. Take, for example, what’s happening in Akron Public Schools (APS). The Akron Beacon Journal recently discovered that students in APS who commit egregious acts (like assaulting a teacher or bringing a weapon to school) have historically been immediately transferred to a different school—a...

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The information yielded by standardized tests—and the analyses based on test results, like value-added—should form the basis for tough decisions regarding which schools (charter and district) or entire school systems require intervention. Parents need information about school quality, and taxpayers ought to know whether their resources are being put to good use. But at the same time, parents and policymakers alike have valid concerns about “overtesting” students, and how high-stakes tests change how schools behave.

Over the past decade, Ohio has tested social studies and science unevenly, and will continue to do so under the new assessment program set to begin in spring 2015. Under the old system, the state administered science tests in just grades 5 and 8, while math and English language arts (ELA) were assessed in all grades 3–8. Social studies was tested for just three years (2006–07 to 2008–09) in grades 5 and 8, but it was “suspended” effective fall 2009. The new state testing program continues science assessments in grades 5 and 8 and resurrects social studies testing in grades 4 and 6.

Should Ohio test in science and social studies, in addition to ELA and math assessments? And if so, how often? With that in mind, let’s look at the case to test and not to test in social studies and science—and then consider some policy options. 

The case against testing in social studies and science

The case against social studies and science rests on this premise: The incremental...

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The Carnegie Science Center recently published a multi-faceted look at STEM education in a seventeen-county area encompassing parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. The impetus of the study was a perceived "STEM gap"—employers in the region report having difficulty finding individuals with the requisite technical skills to fill vacant positions. Campos Research Strategy conducted in-depth interviews with educators and business leaders, surveyed nearly 1000 parents of school-age children in the region, held “family dialogues,” and conducted an online survey of one hundred middle and high school students. Efforts were made to balance participants among the counties and between rural and urban areas. Despite high hopes for STEM education among business, industry, and education leaders, the study found that parents’ and students’ awareness and understanding of what STEM is and how it might benefit them or their children is low. Awareness of STEM seems highest in urban areas in the region, but parents’ interest in STEM-related fields for their children is lowest in those same places. A majority of parents participating in the study indicated that their underlying attitudes toward education and careers aligned with many STEM fundamentals, but the typical language of STEM education and careers did not resonate with them. Anecdotes given by educators indicate that adults who had never participated in “engaging, hands-on activities” during their K–12 schooling were mistrustful of such education methods—seen as key components of the type of STEM education most needed in the area—and were a barrier to participation in them for...

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The facility arrangements of one Ohio charter school recently came under fire in a Columbus Dispatch exposé. An investigation discovered that roughly half of the school’s budget was dedicated to rental payments, potentially shortchanging teaching and learning. But this episode isn’t an isolated case; many Buckeye charters have struggled to secure adequate facilities. How can Ohio policymakers and school leaders better ensure that charters have the facilities they need at a reasonable cost? First, they should consult this new report from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which contains a wealth of information on charter-school facilities funding from both private and public sources. The report includes descriptions of the key nonprofits in charter-facilities financing, including the Charter School Growth Fund, Capital Impact Partners, Low Income Investment Fund, and LISC. These nonprofits—twenty in all—have provided an impressive $2 billion in direct financing for charter facilities (e.g., loans and grants). When it comes to state support for charter facilities, Ohio has been woefully stingy. The state provided, for the first time in 2013, per-pupil funding to support the facility costs of brick-and-mortar charters (up to $100 per-pupil). But other jurisdictions are far less tightfisted. For example, Washington, D.C., Arizona, and Minnesota provide more than $1,000 per-pupil for facilities; four other states provide between $250 and $1,000 per pupil. To make matters worse, Ohio has not appropriated any funds to support its charter school loan program and provides no charter-facilities grants. Again, other jurisdictions do much...

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  • Cheers to the team at KIPP Columbus, whose brand-new school building hosted an open house on October 26. The incredible school building, beautiful wooded grounds in the heart of the city, and motivated staff combine to create a learning environment unparalleled in Columbus. Check out the pictures at the link above and go visit if you can. Great stuff.
  • Jeers to those in the Monroe Local School district—board members and citizens alike—who have spent years blocking a local church group from buying a mothballed high school. Their boundless ire has now attracted the attention of an outside organization objecting to the latest offer on church-state grounds. The delayed sale has already cost the district money it can’t afford to waste with the potential for much more if a court case ensues. What was already a giant mess threatens to turn into a proper train wreck for no good reason, to the further detriment of students.
  • Cheers to the staff of School Choice Ohio, who recently unveiled a nifty online voucher-eligibility tool to give families some initial information about whether their child can participate in one of Ohio’s programs. Voucher-eligibility rules are fairly opaque for many parents, with lot of variables involved (income, assigned school, school attending, future-year assignments, etc.).  The new SCO tool is a great way for parents to get a head start on figuring out their options.
  • Jeers to the board members of West Geauga Schools, who voted to start the shutdown of open
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  1. One year ago, a teacher testified in front of the House Education Committee – at length and near tears – about his opposition to Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee during a Common Core repeal hearing. The committee chair listened politely and then noted to the witness that TGRG had nothing to do with Common Core. The teacher responded, “Well, I kind of lump all those things together.” Fast forward to November 2014 and a new kind of lumping is going on: Common Core and overall “test-mania”. Here is a report on how some teachers and administrators in Columbus’ suburbs feel about overtesting – not just the new PARCC exams, but every bit of testing they are being asked to do. I personally would urge caution in this lumping because the baby is still in the bath. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. Back in the real world, editors in Columbus opined in praise of KIPP Columbus over the weekend. New school building means new opportunities for more students. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. Speaking of charter schools, Canton College Prep School added three grade levels and doubled its student population in its second year, necessitating a move to a new and larger location, which is to take place in January. Try as they might to find a negative angle – including the mentioned of the entirely unrelated charter school which closed in the new location last year – the Rep couldn’t help but paint a pretty attractive picture of this scrappy and
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  1. The board of education of Monroe Local Schools is set to vote Monday on whether or not to sell their long-mothballed high school to a local church. Ahead of that vote, district lawyers assured the board that they would prevail in any church-state court case that might arise, and two more possible buyers have (sort of) emerged. (Middletown Journal-News)
     
  2. The long-simmering efforts to merge the Cardinal and Ledgemont school districts in Geauga County will probably take a decisive turn next week. Despite the assistance of the General Assembly and the governor to smooth the process, despite this week’s report from the County Auditor on the fiscal benefits of a merger, despite the urging of both districts’ superintendents, it will come down to next week’s levy votes in Ledgemont. If one or both fail, it’s hard to see how a merger won’t be absolutely necessary. (Willoughby News-Herald)
     
  3. Two Kent State University professors are leading a project called Making Mathematics Mobile, to develop a website to assist K-12 teachers in locating helpful mobile tools for teaching and learning mathematics, especially those that are properly Common Core-aligned. Call it the Good Mathkeeping Seal of Approval. (Kentwired)
     
  4. A group of Cleveland preschoolers, hanging out at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yesterday, were part of the Guinness Book of World Records-certified largest vocabulary lesson ever. Over 1000 students nationwide participated simultaneously, learning the words "magnificent," "patience," "stripes" and "wilderness" through the story "Mr Tiger Goes Wild".
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Not sure if it’s the impending arrival of Halloween or of next week’s election that is curtailing the education news stories (two very different versions of trick or treat there), but for whatever reason, there’s not much to report on today. But let’s make the most out of what we have, shall we?

  1. First up, Sports. LeBron James is interviewed about his foundation and specifically its Wheels for Education program which aims to “rescue” and “save” (I love sports rhetoric) Akron kids “when they need it most”. Some evidence is presented that the two-year-old program is already helping to improve reading scores among participants. And LeBron himself is confident that if the program proves to be sustainable, it can be expanded beyond Akron City Schools. Sounds fantastic. Now, who is this guy again? (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Next up, Reality Television. Specifically, the “teen mom” genre gets an important twist. We first brought you this story at the end of last school year: Katie Nethers went to West Virginia to get her GED when she learned that Ohio law required a superintendent sign off on GEDs for people under the age of 19 and her district’s supe wouldn’t sign. But rather than stopping there, she campaigned and testified to change that sign-off requirement (and the minimum age for a GED as well). The changes were signed into law and went into effect in September. Ms. Nethers is pleased. There is obviously some concern that making it easier
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