Ohio Gadfly Daily

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...

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,...

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.
  • Provide Comparable Resources for All
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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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The sleepy issue of gifted education is poised to become a front-burner issue in 2014. The State Board of Education will soon rewrite Ohio’s operating standards, the controversial rules on how schools identify and serve gifted students. The state will release a second year of value-added data for gifted students, which indicate a school’s effect on these students’ learning gains. Columbus City Schools recently moved to seek approval from the state that would allow five of its high schools to adopt selective-admissions policies, based in part on gifted status. Finally, the time may be ripe for policymakers to create a statewide selective-admissions school for gifted students, as Illinois and Mississippi have done.

As gifted-education policies garner more attention, policymakers may want to know what data are available on gifted education in Ohio and what the data say (hint: they’re perplexing). Below are three points on Ohio’s gifted-education data.

1.) Gifted services data appear to be inconsistently reported by schools.

Ohio collects and reports two key data elements regarding gifted students: First, the state reports the number of students who are identified as gifted. Second, it reports the number of identified students who receive gifted services. The enrollment statistics for both gifted identification and services are reported at the school and district level. Schools are not required by law to serve their gifted students, only to identify them. Administrative code requires schools to report these data and submit an annual report, and it also requires an audit...

The time for standing by and hoping that Ohio’s lowest-performing charter schools will improve on their own is over. As a strong supporter of charter schools, my resolution this year is to seize the promise of change that accompanies a new year and resolutely champion the effort to improve the quality of the charter sector.

While I am committed to raising the performance of our state’s charter schools, I also know that undertaking such an effort sans allies likely leads to failure. But timing is everything—and luckily, I believe that now is the right time for all of Ohio’s charter advocates to take up the fight for quality charter schools.

The problem

Charter schools have been operating in Ohio for well over a decade, and their performance can be most accurately described as mixed. There have been some resounding successes, such as the Breakthrough Network in Cleveland, Columbus Preparatory Academy, and Columbus Collegiate Academy. These schools, and dozens other like them, highlight the great potential of charter schools to change the educational trajectory of our most at-risk students. Yet there are other charter schools that have struggled mightily, as documented by a series of newspaper stories and editorials. In our most recent review of Ohio charter schools’ performance, we found that urban charters performed at the same low levels as district schools—which simply isn’t good enough.

The challenges in Ohio’s charter sector have garnered national attention, as well. The Center for Education Reform aptly...

We know that student mobility negatively impacts achievement and increases the likelihood of dropping out, not to mention the spillover effects on non-movers in high-churn schools. But can schools really do anything to curtail mobility among students? This study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Rice University, seeks to answer that question by randomly assigning an intervention designed to build relationships among families and between families and school personnel. Parents are recruited into a program comprising eight weeks of gatherings after school that last two to three hours, followed by two years of monthly parent-led meetings where parents, students, and school staff have meals together, play bonding games, and engage in other family rituals. Fifty-two elementary schools in Phoenix and San Antonio—all with high proportions of Hispanic and poor children—were randomly assigned to the treatment, with half receiving the intervention and half serving as the control group. Data were collected during the students’ first- through third-grade years. In the treatment schools, 73 percent of families attended at least one gathering and half attended multiple sessions. Of those who attended at all, a third completed the full program. Analysts found that on average, attending a school with the intervention did not reduce mobility. However, there were subgroup differences; specifically, black students in the control schools were more likely to move overall, but the intervention reduced their likelihood of moving by 29 percent in intervention schools—and that percentage rose for students whose families completed the entire program. Survey...

Nationally, dropout rates have consistently declined over the past twenty years. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s estimates, 12.1 percent of seventeen- to twenty-four-year-olds had dropped out of school in 1990, while in 2010 just 7.4 percent had dropped out. This is a demonstrably positive trend in American education. However, as this report documents, not all is well in schools’ efforts to get all their students to graduation. The researchers from the newly formed Ohio Education Research Center find that some of Ohio’s schools have massive dropout-rate problems. Using student-level data collected by the state Department of Education from 2006 to 2010, the analysts report dropout counts and rates for Ohio’s high schools, both district and charter. While the report is chock-full of data, the pieces that are most jaw dropping relate to Ohio’s virtual and “dropout-recovery” schools. For example, in 2009–10, Virtual High School, operated by Cincinnati Public Schools, had a 93 percent dropout rate (196 dropouts over the school year, relative to a baseline high school enrollment of 211) and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) had a dropout rate of 53 percent (2,908 dropouts relative to an enrollment of 5,468). The dropout rates for Ohio’s brick-and-mortar dropout recovery schools were worse, some greater than 200 percent, meaning that these schools had more than twice the number of dropouts than their baseline enrollment. These appalling statistics should call into question the efficacy of Ohio’s virtual and dropout-recovery-school programs. Still, these statistics could be more...

Join us on Thursday, January 30, 2014, at the Athletic Club of Columbus for the release of our revealing, in-depth look at five private schools across Ohio that accept voucher students and what that has meant for parents, students, administrators, and school culture.

Find more information by clicking here.

  • One needs a score card to keep track of the rapid changes in the state school board’s membership. On the heels of the recent departures of Angela Thi Bennett (off to work for a charter school) and Bryan Williams (booted due to ethics issues), Jeffrey Mims—the elected board member from the Dayton area—has resigned to take the position of Dayton city commissioner. Just today, the governor’s office announced that Rebecca Vazquez-Skillings has been appointed to fill the Bennett’s seat. One down, three to go.
  • In a strongly worded editorial, the Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register (in Eastern Ohio) urges the state board of education to enforce the state’s new Third Grade Reading Guarantee law, even under pressure to weaken its provisions. Governor Kasich, the editorial board argues, should appoint members to the state board who will ensure that the Guarantee is carried out. In short, we couldn’t agree more.
  • Cross-cultural education comes to Akron: LeBron James’s alma mater, St. Vincent–St. Mary High School near Akron, offers Chinese students the opportunity to participate in an extended exchange program. According to the Akron Beacon-Journal, the exchange students live with host families for a year and enroll in the school. Hu Jin, a junior exchange student, expressed her taste for American education over Chinese education, remarking, “I don’t like Chinese education. There is so much homework and no time for activities. Here, I can try some new things.”
  • The black-white achievement gap is the topic
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