Ohio Gadfly Daily

Today marks the end of National School Choice Week. What started four years ago as a relatively small coalition of reform-minded organizations drawing attention to an issue they passionately supported has turned into a movement. Highlighted by a nationwide whistle-stop train tour, the most amazing part of the week is the thousands of events held all around the country by schools and organizations of all types. For at least one week, the focus shifts from the usual argument of public vs. private and lands squarely where it belongs—on empowering parents and their children with high quality educational options.

In honor of National School Choice Week, we want to take a break from our role as a Gadfly where we too often have to point out situations where quality is lacking. We’d like to recognize some Ohio charter schools that during 2012-13 achieved at a very high level. These schools made a difference in the lives of the students they served.

Given our consistent stance for high standards in all areas, it probably won’t surprise you that the bar to earn our recognition is quite high. To make the list, a charter school must be in the top 10 percent of all schools in the state on either the performance index measuring overall academic achievement or the value added measure that tracks learning gains.

We are proud to recognize and honor these twenty-five schools that have achieved a top ten rating.

Some of you may be...

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Ohio slipped one spot in National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ (NAPCS) annual ranking of charter-school laws compared to last year. For the 2014 edition, Ohio ranked 28th out of 43 states and the District of Columbia, lagging well behind national leaders such as Minnesota, Indiana, and Louisiana (ranked first to third, respectively). NAPCS ranks each jurisdiction’s charter law based on twenty components of its model law. These components include inter alia the strength of accountability measures, the transparency of the charter application and renewal processes, and equitable access to operational and facilities funding.

Among the twenty components, Ohio received a best-in-class ranking on just two: “A variety of public charter schools allowed” and “Multiple authorizers available.” (And indeed, Ohio allows seemingly anyone who wants to open one to do so.) Meanwhile, even as the state has a dynamic and wide-open charter-school marketplace, its accountability measures fall short. The state received lackluster marks on its accountability and transparency policies. And, the nail in the proverbial coffin: The state’s funding provisions for charter schools still remain inequitable. On average, Ohio charters receive roughly $2,000 per pupil less than district schools, driven largely by their inability to access local revenue.

NAPCS reported a few incremental improvements in Ohio’s charter-school law over the past year. Such improvements include a $100 per-pupil facilities-funding grant to physical charter schools, a provision that passed in the 2013 state budget bill. This, combined with a number of other small changes, improved Ohio’s score...

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With all the controversy regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), it’s easy to forget that there is another piece to the puzzle: the new standards are surely important and an improvement for most states, but in addition to strong state standards, the assessments aligned to the standards need to be of high quality if the standards are to achieve their aim of graduating students ready for college or a career. This fact sheet from Education First provides state policymakers and education advocates with a wealth of information on the tests being developed by the two leading test consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, as well as the competing test offered by ACT Aspire. The first half of the primer uses a combination of maps, tables, and infographics to systematically present the similarities and differences between the assessments. The compilation of this information into a single, easily readable document should prove to be a valuable resource to anyone looking to learn more about the next generation of assessments being adopted alongside the CCSS. The rest of the document explores a variety of topics, including what constitutes a high quality assessment; how assessment items on each test vary (with examples); the use of assessments for college readiness, admissions, and placement; and factors to consider when evaluating an assessment. Overall, the information in this primer nicely frames the testing options and allows state leaders to move around the assessment...

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With great fanfare, the Dispatch’s recent bombshell article outed seventeen charter schools in the Columbus region that closed within the past year. The closures occurred for a variety of reasons, ranging from fiscal woes to unsanitary conditions. Spicy material, yes, but beyond the headline, the Dispatch published a no-less-important companion piece that outlined the role of charter-school authorizers (or “sponsors”), of which Fordham is one.

Few people probably know that authorizers exist, much less what they do. But authorizers are crucial cogs in the charter-school system, as they perform four major tasks: they (1) review applications for a new charter school; (2) establish a contract with a school to allow it to open; (3) ensure compliance; and (4) renew (or non-renew) a contract with the school. We at Fordham take our responsibilities as an authorizer seriously, and we support the principles of rigorous authorizing standards set forth by the National Association of Charter School Authorizing (NACSA). Many authorizers in Ohio do the same—though seemingly not all, as evidenced in the Dispatch’s article. As charter-school quality comes into greater focus for the Buckeye State, authorizers and their practices must come under the microscope. But first, here are a few things to know about authorizers in Ohio.

1.)   Ohio has a smorgasbord of charter authorizers

Sixty-eight entities currently authorize at least one of Ohio’s 393 charter schools. Such entities include the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), thirteen educational-service centers (ESCs),...

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  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District is in hot water after rehiring three retired district principals without a public hearing. Under state law, a hearing is required when a retiree is rehired into a public position. This they did, five months after giving them the gigs in error. Gadfly wonders if all this public hoop jumping couldn't be easily avoided though: Shouldn’t Ohio altogether cease the practice of “double dipping” (i.e., when public-sector “retirees” receive both a public pension and a public-employee salary)?
  • Fallout from the long-simmering data “scrubbing” scandal continues. Last week, the Ohio Department of Education referred seven school districts (Campbell, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Marion, Northridge, Toledo, and Winton Woods) to the Office of Professional Conduct to investigate whether individual staff members improperly withdrew students from the district’s attendance records. The shoe still remains to drop on Columbus City Schools.
  • Information, information, information: The Cleveland Transformation Alliance will soon launch a new website www.clevelandta.org that includes much-needed school information for parents. The site will have Cleveland schools’ performance index score and its value-added rating, along with space for community ratings and comments.  
  • The state’s new teacher evaluation system is creating headaches for school administrators. Newark City Schools’ (central Ohio) superintendent estimates that his district’s school administrators will spend some 2,500 hours this year on evaluations. Fortunately, there may be relief on the horizon as Senate Bill 229 (passed the Senate and awaits hearings in the House) would loosen some of the state
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As the debate over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) rages on in blogs and statehouses nationwide, educators are getting on with the business of putting the standards into practice. In these three issue briefs, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers direction to charter authorizers navigating the challenges posed by CCSS implementation. The first brief provides a simple introduction to CCSS and CCSS-aligned assessments, including a list of questions that authorizers can ask themselves to self-diagnose exactly how the Common Core will affect them—e.g., “How do my state’s implementation requirements apply to charter schools?” and “Does my state have a federal accountability waiver?” In the second brief, NACSA stresses the importance of maintaining charter schools’ autonomy during the transition to CCSS and the new assessments: The authors remind the authorizers that the Common Core are a set of learning standards, not a curriculum (“Although the framers have developed suggested reading lists, and some states have adopted them as menus for school districts’ convenience, the new standards do not dictate what textbooks or instructional methods schools must use”), and that schools should avail themselves of their freedom to use whatever materials will help their students reach the standard. The third (and most extensive) brief digs into maintaining accountability, warning authorizers that school performance may drop significantly with the new tests. NACSA offers a host of options from which to choose—such as rating schools using proficiency only, proficiency plus growth, and multiple indicators—but urges authorizers above all...

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The first thing that strikes you while reading Breaking the Cycle is an embodiment of the phrase “meeting students where they live.” Many of the life stories of students at Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) are told through the students’ own writings—school assignments that don’t run from or sugarcoat lives of poverty, deprivation, abuse, and hopelessness in all their varied ugliness. Dr. Judy Hennessey, superintendent and CEO of DECA, and her team instead turn those experiences into lessons in tenacity and motivation, with notable success. The realities of absent or neglectful parents are dealt with in the contracts signed by adults and students with the school—no parent, no problem—we’ll do all we can to help this child succeed. Any responsible adult (pastor, uncle, grandmother) who will commit to be a partner in and to be held accountable for that child’s success will do. The obstacles to academic achievement for poor urban youth are myriad, pervasive, and no secret to anyone. What makes DECA so special—as Dr. Diggs shows us through her research, spare and insightful prose, and heaping helpings of DECA students and staffers’ own thoughts and words—is that these obstacles can be addressed head on and torn down. The obstacles are replaced with high academic goals, a relentless focus on the future, and the message that students at DECA don’t need to lose the essence of who they are to emerge from their circumstances and succeed. Who they will become is not constrained by where they...

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Last week, the Fordham Institute released a report with recommendations on accountability in publicly funded private-school-choice programs. The furor it has incited among school-choice advocates around the country (here, here, and here) is palpable but not unexpected. Their concerns are many, but in a Flypaper piece, Mike Petrilli responds that the consequences of bad schools—bad schools of all types—are too real to ignore.

In Ohio, home to five private-school-choice programs (more voucher programs than any other state), the recommendations have not caused an uproar, perhaps because many of the report’s recommendations are already in law within Buckeye borders.

1.) Require that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) participate in state assessments.

While this is probably the most controversial recommendation, four out of five of Ohio’s programs (all but the Autism Scholarship) already mandate this by law. Ohio’s largest private voucher program, the EdChoice Scholarship, has required participants to take the state assessment from the time it was first proposed. Credit for including this provision goes to the foresight of key players at the time: Governor Bob Taft, House Speaker Jon Husted, and Senate President Bill Harris. With more than 31,000 students now using vouchers in Ohio and the numbers steadily growing every year, there’s no sign that it has had a negative impact on participation by either private schools or students or that it has warped the schools’ autonomy or mission.

2.) Mandate public disclosure of those assessment results,...

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Ohio earned a C- rating, placing the Buckeye State tenth in the nation in StudentsFirst’s second-annual “State Policy Report Card.” StudentsFirst is a national education-reform organization led by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. The highest-rated states were Louisiana and Florida, which both received a B- rating. For its policy report card, StudentsFirst bases a state's ratings on three reform “pillars”: Teacher quality, parental choice, and fiscal- and governance-related issues. Fairly high praise for the Buckeye State, but as the mediocre rating indicates, Ohio still has plenty of room to improve.

According to StudentsFirst, Ohio’s areas of strength include:

  • Increase Quality Choices (B) – Ohio’s expansive voucher programs and performance-based charter contracts are cited as strengths.
  • Empower Parents with Information (C+) – Ohio’s new A-F school report cards are given high marks.
  • Spend Taxpayers Resources Wisely to Improve Outcomes for Students (C+) –Ohio’s improvements in fiscal transparency are commended. One example StudentsFirst cites is recent legislation that requires the department of education to display the link between school spending and academic outcomes.

The weaknesses include:

  • Value Effective Teachers (F) – Ohio’s minimum salary schedule for teachers (based primarily on seniority and credits-earned) remains in law, and is a significant barrier for education reform. However, not all is bleak in this area, as the report card rightly notes: Districts that participated in the federal Race to the Top program are now required to adopt a performance-based compensation system.
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I am an American Girl Dad. No use hiding it, no reason to lie. A significant portion of my non-work life and my living room is occupied by AG.

My wife and I took our girls to the American Girl Place on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on Black Friday a couple of years. This past summer, I was the only solo dad standing in an enormous line at 7:00 on a steamy morning for the grand opening of AGP in Columbus. “Props to you,” all the eyes pointed at me seemed to be saying, “but you’re out of your mind mister.”

But, truly, I love American Girl. Mainly because of what it has meant to my daughters over the years.

  • I read all the Felicity Merriman (1774) books to them when they were little. When we finally made it to Williamsburg some years later, they remembered the stories and went to find the places we read about and were able to find their own way in to the living history being played out in front of them.
  • We learned a ton from the stories about Rebecca Rubin (1914) as a Russian immigrant in New York City. These characters and their well-researched fictional worlds are miles from my daughters’ life experience but the best part of a later visit to NYC was an unplanned side trip to the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. Not only were the familiar touchstones of Rebecca’s story there, but the Italian immigrant experience in that same
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