Ohio Gadfly Daily

  1. Apologies if I’ve clipped this before, but Fordham-sponsored KIPP Columbus is getting some national attention for winning a $3 million grant to build a science center on their new campus and to provide STEM training for area teachers. (THE Journal)
     
  2. As we noted yesterday, there was a student protest held ahead of a school board vote in West Geauga on the future of open enrollment in the district. None of the options the board was considering really showed much interest in the students currently attending the district on open enrollment, and the final vote – to allow those currently open enrolled to stay through graduation but to close grades K-5 to any future open enrollment – was really no exception. Earlier iterations of this tussle focused on money (e.g. district “guilt” over “stealing” money from its neighbors), but do note that the one public reason given this time was a parent’s concern over no longer getting “good kids” through open enrollment. Hope this vote shows those bad Kindergartners where they belong! Sad. (Willoughby News-Herald)
     
  3. We noted that Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in Columbus earlier this week. The Washington express continued as HUD Secretary Julian Castro popped into Cleveland yesterday to laud the district’s efforts to increase preschool access through the PRE4CLE program. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. The superintendent of Canal Winchester Schools in central Ohio told his board this week that the he believes the General Assembly should be “fighting a battle against
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  1. Arne Duncan was in Columbus yesterday. Before the main event, he answered a couple of quick questions on Common Core from Cleveland public media. (IdeaStream)
     
  2. The main purpose of Secretary Duncan’s visit was addressing the second Rural Education National Forum. Seems that the concerns of the group haven’t changed much since last year (lack of resources, high teacher turnover, insufficient access to technology, etc.) but through the work of the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative and the Straight-A Fund, some strides have been made. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. Newark is not exactly rural, but neither is it suburban. It is a small city with big-city issues, and it is one of many in Ohio. One out-of-the-box effort in Newark City Schools to serve students at risk of dropping out is the district-sponsored charter e-school Newark Digital Academy. NDA was one of four Charter School of the Year winners from the Oho Alliance of Public Charter Schools, based on some very good report card numbers last year. Nice. (Newark Advocate)
     
  4. We first told you this strange tale a few weeks ago: the School District who Wouldn’t Sell. Despite a solid offer, Monroe Schools’ board would not sell their mothballed high school to a local church. They instead opted for an auction…in which the church was the highest bidder. The results were nullified. This has gone on for several years. Now another offer from the church to buy the building, demo/renovate, and offer swing space to the district as
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  1. Our friends at School Choice Ohio have created a nifty voucher-eligibility tool that went live on their website last week. It’s a tough business because there are a lot of variables (income, assigned school, school attending, future year assignments, etc.) but it seems like a great way to give families some initial information about one of the least-understood and least-clear options potentially available. There are several items in the linked piece. The SCO story is toward the bottom. Worth a look. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. I was a bit premature in calling the PD’s “test mania” story finished last week. The final piece – talking to a couple of parents who’ve opted their children out of as much testing as possible – was published later in the day on Friday. Both of these folks have, I believe, testified against Common Core as well, mostly on testing concerns. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Speaking of continuing series, the Beacon Journal continued its look at disciplinary transfers in Akron schools, which we first noted on Friday. This time, a historical perspective. A contract change made in the wake of a teachers strike in 1989 allowed Akron teachers to sit in on student discipline panels. The result was almost-automatic transfers of any student who hurt or threatened a teacher. But that all changed beginning in March 2013. Transfers are down, but relations between the teachers union and district administration appear to have been harmed by the change. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  4. Speaking
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  1. Patrick O’Donnell concludes (?) his “test mania?” series with the national level view. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  2. Teacher value-add data was released by ODE yesterday, and promptly taken down because of a data glitch. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Doug Livingston takes a look at the numbers – and the processes – involved in transferring students for disciplinary reasons in Akron City Schools. Numbers were up last school year. There are some further questions that need to be asked here. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  4. What got the ABJ thinking about disciplinary transfers? Kenmore High School did. It seems that disciplinary transfers concentrated in Kenmore the last couple of years, leading to several high-profile incidents that tarnished the school’s reputation. Things are quieter this year so far, it seems, but the issue of “transfer students” still seems to be on everyone’s minds. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  5. Here’s one for my colleague Robert Pondiscio: The Cleveland Play House – in partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School district – received a $2 million federal grant for the CARE Program. It is intended to improve social emotional learning skills while increasing literacy learning among otherwise underserved students. The story notes that students will have access to high quality digital tools and training as well as Common Core standards based instruction. Thanks Common Core! (Examiner.com)
     
  6. Speaking of federal grants, afterschool programs in Youngstown are largely funded by such grants. There was a rally yesterday by students in support of
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KidsOhio.org, a highly respected education-policy group based in Columbus, released a fact sheet today on the schools that are eligible for a “parent trigger” intervention. Twenty schools in Columbus City School District have been identified, on the basis of falling within the bottom 5 percent in the state in student achievement for three consecutive years. In layman’s terms, these schools have enormous and persistent struggles with low student achievement.

The parent-trigger law, only applicable to Columbus district schools, permits four different interventions—from charter-school conversion to contracting with non-district entities to operate the school. The trigger is contingent on 50 percent of the school’s parents or guardians petitioning the school board for the change. As my colleague has pointed out, several issues muddy our judgment on whether parents and policymakers should actually use a trigger-based intervention.

But regardless of whether or not the parent-trigger is used, this group of schools—especially those with lower value-added scores—need to improve significantly. So one of the interesting things on the fact sheet was the hyperlinks to each school’s “improvement plan.”

But these “plans” can only be described as anywhere from meager to pathetic. Here is one example, from Mifflin Middle School’s improvement plan, rated D in performance index and F in value-added—a truly struggling school. (Note, I’ve looked at all twenty of the “improvement plans”; they all are generally of this quality—some slightly better, some worse.)

These are Mifflin’s “school goals”:

  • Focus on trust and communication, with an overarching commitment
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  1. Editors at the Dispatch weighed in on the KnowYourCharter website today. Every line is worth a read, but just a hint: they are not fans. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. As you may remember, Columbus City Schools is a pilot site for Ohio’s parent trigger law, and 20 schools in the district are, for the first time, eligible to be taken over/reorganized/reconstituted if a majority of parents want that to occur. Today, KidsOhio.org released an overview of all the schools on the list, noting that all have improvement plans already in place and that most have had new principals within the three-year time frame of the trigger review. Interesting. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  3. The PD’s “test mania” series continues, this time talking with teachers about their views. No spoilers from me. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. I applaud the PD for their extensive “test mania” series, but I have to ask if it was really necessary to use those thousands of words/pixels and all those column inches/bytes to keep on saying that everyone hates testing. Whether you agree with the sentiment or not, those last three words sum up the entire PD series. However, here’s the other side, as presented in a technical and – dare I say it – less picturesque way by a guest columnist in the Dayton Daily News today. Their guest is a veteran teacher who needs over 600 words to express not only why he finds testing valuable but also what he has personally done
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  1. The annual leadership conference for charter school authorizers is taking place this week. EdWeek’s Arianna Prothero is there and learned a lot about closing down poor performers from Fordham’s Chad Aldis and Kathryn Mullen Upton, among others. (EdWeek blog)
     
  2. "If I am elected it will be an indictment of Common Core and a call for local control." Why yes, there are races for State Board of Education seats coming up in two weeks. Why do you ask? (Cincinnati Enquirer)
     
  3. The good folks at StateImpact also have a full voters guide for the state board races. This link is to the intro piece. Links to all candidate statements received in the various races are available there. (StateImpact Ohio)
     
  4. The Beacon Journal is really only interested in one of those state board races – District 4. In what is probably a rare move, editors have made an endorsement in the race. (Akron Beacon Journal)
     
  5. Thanks Common Core. Due to the roll out of new Common Core-aligned tests in Ohio this year, Lorain City Schools’ new academic recovery plan must lack in specifics as far as growth targets go. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal)
     
  6. Raise your hand if you love modular classrooms. Anyone? Didn’t think so. The folks in several burgeoning Licking County school districts don’t like them either. (Newark Advocate)
     
  7. For those of you still struggling to digest the recent Rolling Stone profile on Lima, Ohio, here’s a little look at
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  1. The Ohio Department of Education has taken unprecedented steps to combat the “recycling” of closed charter schools, learning in the process, I think, of how many ways there have been to actually do it. One such school in Cincinnati needs a whole new set of board members – to be appointed by ODE – ASAP. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. As if yesterday’s “pig weighing”/ “test-mania” story wasn’t enough, the PD published another one later in the day. This one consists mainly of quotes from emails from local superintendents responding to the first piece. Spoiler alert: overtesting is “an abomination”. Who says journalism is dead? Not me. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Abomination or no, teachers are getting ready to “feed the pig” before they weigh it (to use the North Coast technical terms I learned this week), by which I mean they are prepping for the new PARCC exams. Case in point: Springfield Twp. teachers, who are schooling their students in online document submission and editing ahead of PARCC test administration. (Youngstown Vindicator)
     
  4. Must be the pigs. ODE has gotten wind of what they term “an uproar” on the topic of over testing of students. And so the department has submitted a request to the federal government to exempt certain advanced students from the "double testing" that would otherwise occur under NCLB requirements. I’m sure the request was worded a bit more technically, but in a nutshell: "So can the end-of-course exam in English be used as
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Ohio is moving to new standardized tests, the PARCC assessments, which are set to commence in spring 2015. These new and vastly different tests pose big challenges. For one, unlike the paper-and-pencil exams of the past, the PARCC is designed for online administration, leading to obvious questions about schools’ technical readiness to administer the exams.[1] In addition, as Cleveland’s Plain Dealer reported recently, PARCC test results may be released later than usual in 2015—likely delaying the release of school report cards. At the same time, no one knows exactly where PARCC will set its cut-scores for “proficiency” and other achievement levels.[2] Finally, expect political blowback, too, when lower test scores are reported under PARCC, perhaps even stronger than the ongoing skirmishes around Ohio’s new learning standards.

Despite these complications, Ohioans should give PARCC a chance. Ohio needs a higher-quality state assessment to replace its mostly rinky-dink tests of yesteryear. Take a look at PARCC’s test-item prototypes; they ask students to demonstrate solid analytical skills based on what they know in math and English language arts. The upshot: PARCC’s more-sophisticated approach to assessment could put an end to the “test-prep” instruction that has infiltrated too many American classrooms. As Laura Slover, CEO of PARCC, has argued:

The PARCC assessments mark the end of “test prep.” Good instruction will be the only way to truly prepare students for the assessments. Memorization, drill and test-taking strategies will no...

In his recent State of the Schools speech, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon referred to a 2013 column in the Plain Dealer comparing him to the ancient Greek king Sisyphus. As every school kid used to know, Sisyphus rolled a boulder up a mountain each day, only to watch it roll back down. He was doomed to spend the rest of eternity repeating this pointless task as a punishment for his greed and deceit—a kind of Greek myth Groundhog Day

The comparison of Gordon and Sisyphus is unfair. The punishment of Sisyphus, at its heart, is one constructed to impose hopelessness and despair. There is certainly much work to be done in Cleveland, but as we at Fordham have pointed out before (see here) there are also reasons to be hopeful about Cleveland’s progress. There is no room for Sisyphus in the fight to improve Ohio schools.

That being said, the English teacher in me appreciates the allusion. It even got me thinking about other ancient figures who might better symbolize the Buckeye state’s struggle to give its kids the best education—an education that all students deserve, but far too few receive. There’s the story of Orpheus, a legendary musician and the son of one of the infamous Muses, who stumbled upon his wife’s body soon after her death. Devastated, he played a song on his lyre that was so mournfully profound that Hades decided to allow Orpheus to take Eurydice from the underworld...

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