Ohio Gadfly Daily

Chances are, you’ve heard something in the past year about test mania. Everyone from superintendents to parents to retired educators has an opinion; even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested tests and test prep are dominating schools. Given all this attention, one might assume that students spend hundreds of hours each year taking tests—perhaps even more time than they spend actually learning. A recent report from Ohio Schools’ Superintendent Richard Ross paints a very different picture.

The report, required by state law, reveals that Ohio students spend, on average, almost twenty hours taking standardized tests during the school year. (This doesn’t include teacher-designed tests, but does include state tests.) Twenty hours is a good chunk of time, but when one considers that the school year in Ohio is about 1,080 hours total (it varies by district and grade level), that means testing only takes up about 2 percent of the year. (Report results show that students spend approximately fifteen additional hours practicing for tests, but this additional time only raises the total percentage to 3 percent).

Regardless of this small percentage, critics of standardized testing make some valid points. No one wants quality, in-depth learning...

In spring 2013, Ohio policymakers approved a two-year, $250 million investment aimed at spurring innovation in public schools. Known as the Straight A Fund, this competitive grant program has since catalyzed sixty new projects throughout the state, many of which are joint ventures between schools, vocational centers, ESCs, colleges, and businesses.

As a member of the grant advisory committee, I gained a firsthand view of the exciting projects happening around the state, everything from “fab labs” (a computer center outfitted with computer-aided drawing software and 3-D printers), outdoor greenhouses, and robotics workshops. Those who are interested in these projects should plan to attend this conference in Columbus on February 5.

In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers should continue to invest in innovation by reauthorizing the Straight A Fund. At the same time, the legislature should also consider a few alterations that could give an even stronger boost to the most innovative project ideas. The suggestions are as follows:

Remove the cost-reduction mandate.

A small provision in the Straight A legislation required grantees to show “verifiable, credible, and permanent” cost reductions that would result from the grant. As a result, applications were evaluated significantly on...

Today marks the start of National School Choice Week. Across the country, over 11,000 events will take place from the intimate (school open houses and homeschool how-to sessions) to the enormous (Capitol Rallies across the country); from our own gathering to online events. It is one week of the year during which the focus is on the benefits parents and children gain from having the opportunity to choose the school that best fits their needs.

School choice in Ohio comes in many forms, including public charter schools, private schools (and voucher programs that help needy students pay private tuition), open enrollment, STEM schools, vocational centers, post-secondary enrollment options, and home schooling. Among these choice options, charter schools have clearly become the most prominent feature of Ohio’s school-choice environment; they educate over 120,000 students, many of whom come from low-income families.

Given the high profile of charter schools, it is worth pausing on School Choice Week to honor the very best of Ohio’s charter schools. The table below is an honor roll of Ohio charter schools. It displays twenty-two charter schools that were ranked in the top ten percent in either the state’s performance-index score (student achievement) or value-added-index...

If you could redesign a city’s education system from scratch, what would it look like? In New Orleans, a terrible tragedy created the need to do just that. Today, education in the city bears very little resemblance to what existed ten years ago. School types, locations, information systems, and application processes are now almost entirely market-driven to give parents the information they need and the schools they want. The unprecedented landscape change in New Orleans has also given rise to a unique opportunity to study school choice in “revealed preferences”: what schools parents actually choose, and not just what they claim to want in a survey, when they must make a choice. The new report from Education Research Alliance for New Orleans compares choice data from immediately pre-Katrina with data collected two different years post-Katrina, as additional information and options settled into place over time. First the good news: After Katrina, the lowest-income families had greater access to schools with high test scores, average test scores increased across all students in the city, and even school bus transportation systems expanded (there’s no choice if you can’t get there). However, very-low-income families were less likely to choose schools with high...

Cheers to State Auditor Dave Yost. Ohio’s Auditor last week released the results of unannounced visits his staff made to thirty charter schools back in October looking to compare reported student enrollment numbers with actual on-site counts. Nearly a quarter of schools showed “unusually high” discrepancies between the two numbers. Some will cry “witch hunt,” but this is really just one more bit of evidence that it’s time to review and revamp (as necessary) Ohio’s charter school laws.

Cheers to Ohio Representative Bill Hayes. In his first interview upon taking the chairmanship of the House Education Committee, Hayes was asked about the prospect of more Common Core repeal efforts in the General Assembly. His response was a study in open-minded fairness on an issue where lightning bolts and flames are expected. He expressed interest in hearing from both sides on the issue, while not equivocating on his position as “a supporter of local control for school districts.”

Jeers to Lorain City Schools’ new Board President Tony DiMacchia. Mr. DiMacchia is a proud native of Lorain and a cheerleader for his district,...

  1. Sorry to have missed this on Friday, but the Cincinnati Enquirer covered the State Auditor’s report on charter school attendance, including a reaction from our own Chad Aldis…and a thoroughly predictable headline. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
  2. Editors in Columbus put the charter attendance report in a bit of perspective this weekend while opining on all of the other big-ticket items they feel the state legislature needs to tackle in regard to education this session. Fordham’s recent reports proposing changes to charter law are referenced. (Columbus Dispatch)
  3. You can tell a lot by a newspaper headline. This fascinating piece on school funding in Ohio comes with a giant caveat right in the headline. The Ohio Education Policy Institute plays a game of “what if” with property tax millage in districts across the state, determining that there are a number of affluent districts who could show more “effort” in funding themselves. What’s the caveat? These affluent individuals already pay a ton in state income tax which goes to districts not their own. It’s a different way of looking at school funding that will not likely be shared by many other folks. Most especially not by those affluent folks upon
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  1. In case you missed it, State Auditor Dave Yost yesterday released the results of unannounced visits his staff made to 30 charter schools across the state back in October, looking to compare reported student enrollment numbers with actual on-site counts. Nearly a quarter of schools showed “unusually high” discrepancies between the two numbers. The coverage was predictably screechy and lacking in nuance. Here are three pieces that at least include a response from Fordham’s own Chad Aldis: Gongwer Ohio; WKSU-FM, Kent (along with some other affiliated public radio outlets). The piece from WCBE-FM in Columbus incorporates part of the KSU audio but has a few more reaction quotes.
  2. Here is some print coverage of the Auditor’s report, without Chad’s comment, and with varying levels of nuance…and some screeching. These pieces in the Columbus Dispatch , the Dayton Daily News , and the Cleveland Plain Dealer are typical.
  3. Less typical was the Beacon Journal, whose headline alone should win some prize (hopefully that isn’t really a thing) for packing in fact, insinuation, and bias while remaining journalistically correct, if a little clunky. (Akron Beacon Journal)
  4. However, some nuances did get through
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  1. There are currently two school districts in Ohio which receive state oversight via Academic Distress Commissions. There soon may be two more. Review teams assembled by the Ohio Department of Education will be conducting in-depth site visits in both Dayton and Trotwood schools over the next few weeks due to their persistent positions at the bottom of the performance index rankings. Says ODE: The review will “compare district operations to established best practices,” with the goal being “to improve student achievement across the board”. There are of course a couple of ways to look at this: open arms (an opportunity to “help us to strengthen our shortcomings,” according to Dayton’s board president) or circled wagons (“I look forward to the recommendations, if they are situationally relevant and not based on a one-size-fits-all mentality,” according to Trotwood’s superintendent). Should be an interesting report coming up this spring. (Dayton Daily News)
  2. It seems that arms are perhaps opening a little wider in Geauga County, where the Berkshire/Ledgemont merger discussions have picked up again at the first board meeting of the year. In fact, it was a joint meeting of the two districts’ boards, almost exclusively to talk about what
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  1. This could get messy. Field Local Schools has voted to non-renew the charter school they have sponsored for the last five years. And kick them out of their building for good measure. Depending on how you look at it, the reason is that the predicted financial help to the district failed to materialize (shades of Upper Arlington, Gahanna, and others) or that Falcon Academy for the Arts simply became too successful a competitor. A quick look at the stats says that Falcon is at least as good overall as the district schools and, as the article points out, better in some cases. The kids, teachers, and board prez sure seem to think so. Story developing, as they say. (Akron Beacon Journal)
  2. Sticking with the Beacon Journal for a moment, the editorial staff opined today on the state superintendent’s report on standardized testing in Ohio. I don’t like to opine myself upon other folks’ opining, but I will just say “be careful what you opine for”. (Akron Beacon Journal)
  3. While it is not unprecedented for a charter school in Ohio to have all union teachers (see Falcon Academy, above), it is pretty groundbreaking for a charter school
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  1. Answer eliminator function. Highlighting tool. Line-reader option to read passages one line at a time. Answer review buttons. Cross-page navigation. Everything but the “phone a friend” lifeline. Are we talking about the latest electronic game? No; it’s the online PARCC exams being administered for real for the first time in Ohio soon. Sounds fantastic. Not only that, but this year schools have the option of going all-electronic, all-pencil, or a split among their tests. It is fascinating to note which districts took which option. (Columbus Dispatch)
  2. Walnut Township Schools in Fairfield County is facing the possibility of fiscal emergency status, despite being the 42nd-richest district in the state (out of 600+). What’s the issue? Some fancy lakefront property in an otherwise rural district and a series of failed levies. This is not a unique situation across Ohio, but what is different in this story is the nuanced discussion of how state and local funding combine to fund districts in Ohio. It is a nuance largely lost in most newspaper stories about school funding, replaced by unsupportable claims of charter and voucher poaching of “our money”. Some hard decisions ahead in Walnut Township, for sure, but it seems
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