Ohio Gadfly Daily

Class size is an incessant policy issue—something like a leaky faucet. The din of the class-size debate drips in the background while the thunderclaps roar (Common Core! Charters!). Many parents and teachers drone on about class-size reductions; fiscal hawks want class-size increases. Meanwhile, wonks have observed America’s shrinking teacher to pupil ratio, with trivial achievement gains to boot.

Education reformers—including Fordham (see our excellent, brand-new Right-sizing the Classroom study)—have urged commonsense policies that put a school’s best teachers in front of more students. Doing this may boost student achievement—perhaps, as we found in our study, more so in upper-grade levels than elementary. But oftentimes this means the scrapping maximum class size mandates etched into teacher contracts or state law, a difficult task. Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, articulates this position well, saying, “Ideally, schools would focus on increasing the number of students their best teachers have responsibility for.”

But it is MOOCs (“Massive Open Online Courses”) that have the potential to stretch the class-size debate the furthest. MOOCs could put the nation’s best teachers—not just a school’s best teachers—in front of more students. Presently, these online courses run the gamut, from an advanced high-school/freshman college course to advanced college-level courses. Professors from the nation’s top rated colleges and universities teach the courses. One can select from a smorgasbord of topics: Coursera and edX—the major players in the MOOC market—publicize, for instance, courses in Data Analysis (Johns Hopkins), Jazz Appreciation (University of Texas), and...

Two articles from the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Patrick O’Donnell last week focused on the classroom-level implementation of the Common Core, Ohio’s new learning standards. O’Donnell’s reports stand in the vein of other reports from across the nation about Common Core—for example, click on the following link for the Hechinger Report’s excellent series. The school visits were conducted at the Berea, Orange, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, and Bedford school districts, all located in the Cleveland area. It is evident from these reports that the Common Core standards are dramatically changing how instruction and learning happen in Ohio’s classrooms.

In the English classroom, teachers are now requiring students to cite evidence from the text, in order to support their conclusions. One educator remarked, “It’s not enough to just say what you think the theme [of a text] is. You need specific evidence.” Another educator compared this mode of instruction with past instructional practices: “Kids used to talk more about how they felt about the theme. . . .It was more about their feelings than the evidence.” Meanwhile, in the math classroom, teachers are creating lessons that have “real-world” twists to them, aimed at better ingraining mathematical concepts. According to one high school math teacher, under Ohio’s old standards, “You wouldn’t relate things to why you would ever need them. . . .Now the focus is much more with practical standards: Here is what actually translates to real life.”

The Common Core continues to draw fire. But these Common Core critics ought...

Do disadvantaged kids have equal access to great teaching? No. Given this, can a district policy that induces great teachers to transfer into distressed schools improve achievement? Yes. These are the findings of two new reports from Mathematica, released last week.

The first research study, “Access to Effective Teaching for Disadvantaged Students,” examined fourth through eighth grade test scores over three year spans across twenty-nine large school districts. Generally, the researchers found that low-income students experienced less effective teaching than their higher-income peers. The main culprit: the unequal distribution of effective teachers across school buildings within a district. In contrast, the analysts detected more equal access to effective teaching within a school building. Hence, there is little evidence to suggest that school-level principals systemically assign the least effective teachers to the most disadvantaged students.

The companion study, “Transfer Incentives for High-Performing Teachers,” examined whether inducing great educators, via monetary incentive, to teach in disadvantaged schools can lift achievement. To obtain evidence, the researchers created an experiment—the Talent Transfer Initiative (TTI)—which they conducted in ten school districts across seven states. The study first identified the districts’ highest-performing teachers (top 20 percent in value-added) who were not in schools with low-achieving and disadvantaged students. Then, these teachers were offered a $10,000 per-year bonus for two years to transfer into a distressed school within their district. The study found that the transfer incentive had a positive, significant impact on elementary students’ math and reading test scores. The estimated impact moved the typical pupil...

The U.S. Department of Education released the 2013 math and reading results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) last week. The assessments were administered to a nationally representative sample of 376,000 fourth and 341,000 eighth graders from all fifty states. (Check out a national perspective on the NAEP data.)

Here in Ohio, math and reading results for public school students in both grades were flat compared to 2011. Meanwhile, fewer than 50 percent of Ohio’s fourth and eighth graders met NAEP’s proficiency standard. The proficiency rates for Buckeye State students were as follows: 48 percent in fourth-grade math; 37 percent in fourth-grade reading; 41 percent in eighth-grade math; and 39 percent in eighth-grade reading. These underwhelming statistics aside, the state continued to post scores that surpassed the national average.

One can also slice the 2013 NAEP data in many ways—by racial group, by poverty status, by special education status, and more. One can even compare charter to non-charter students, which I do in the analysis below.

The figures below display the charter versus non-charter comparison of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL), the most utilized poverty metric available. This provides a fair—though still imperfect—comparison of similar students, since Ohio’s charters enroll a relatively high number of impoverished students.

The charts show the average scaled score estimates (scale is from zero to 500) for the two groups, along with the standard errors displayed as vertical lines. The standard error, in parentheses, is...

As the dust settles after the November 5th election in Columbus, it may be instructive to parse the 69 percent to 31 percent trouncing that Issue 50 (a combined 9.01-mil levy and bond issue) experienced.

The victors: No cheaters, no charters—no new taxes

If Winston Churchill was correct and “history is written by the victors,” then the takeaway is “no cheaters, no charters.” A group of this name was the most organized foe of the ballot issue. It opposed any measure that would “reward” a school board or district still mired in state and federal investigations of data rigging, and it opposed distributing local property tax dollars to charter schools of any type.

Were levy opponents correct? Did Columbus voters follow their lead and base their decisions on the ongoing investigations and inclusion of charter schools?

There is some evidence, but not much data, to suggest that this happened. First, the pro-levy campaign brought together a broad array of supporters who were able to raise and spend in excess of $2.3 million. Opponents were armed with their aforementioned mantra and a “staggering” $4,000. For the results to be that lopsided, the levy opponents’ message apparently resonated with Columbus voters with little more than a mantra to reinforce it.

In addition to defeating the levy, voters also replaced two of the three school board incumbents running for re-election. Given the success that incumbents typically enjoy, this points to some general dissatisfaction. That being said, the school board results do not...

Seriously?That’s what comes to mind after reading this piece in the Columbus Dispatch, which reports that a third school sponsored by the North Central Ohio Education Service Center (NCESC) has run into difficulties. The school seems to be having problems paying its bills, and the school leader has acknowledged that some staff walked off the job—not to mention that two NCESC-sponsored schools ceased operations in mid-October after State Superintendent Dick Ross stepped in because the schools failed to ensure a safe learning environment and to provide basic services for kids.

Every school encounters a few glitches here and there, especially if it’s new. But failing to pay the staff, teachers walking off the job, and vendors bailing because they aren’t being paid? These are not glitches, nor does this dysfunction seem to be confined to a single occurrence or school. According to the Dispatch, there are now—and it’s only October—three NCESC schools that have had difficulties well beyond your run-of-the-mill start-up issues. The entirety of the alleged situation is disconcerting at best.

For all of the charter schools and sponsors (i.e., authorizers) who are working to do it right, including Fordham, this ongoing circus tarnishes us all.

At the end of the November 5th Dispatch article, my first thought was, “How many more?” Would anyone be surprised if one of the four schools that, according to the Dispatch,...

The Common Core, Ohio’s new learning standards in English language arts and math, has been under fire. To the naysayers who are still fuming over the implementation of these standards, they might want to consider the drivel that the Common Core seeks to leave behind.

This 9th grade writing assignment appears on the West Virginia Department of Education’s website. (Note, the other samples aren’t much better!)

DIRECTIONS:  Read the passage and prompt and type a composition in the box below.

PASSAGE: Extreme Weather

Many areas have begun to experience extreme weather conditions throughout the year. The winter might be filled with many days of cold temperatures and massive amounts of snow, while the summer might have several days of 100-degree temperatures and little precipitation.

In the winter, many people want nothing more than to find some way of staying cozy and warm. In the summer, people want to try to get outside and find a way to avoid the sweltering temperatures and oppressive heat.

PROMPT: Choose one day, either in the winter or summer, in which you imagine such extreme weather. Write an essay in which you vividly describe this day. What sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures do you encounter on this day? How do you escape from the extreme weather of the day you chose?

Sigh. Ninth grade students ought to read richer texts than this morass of muck. “Cozy and warm”? Is this high-school-level language? “In the summer, people want to...

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released the math and reading results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The assessments were administered to a nationally representative sample of 376,000 4th graders and 341,000 8th graders from all 50 states. For a national perspective on the NAEP data, click here.

Here in Ohio, math and reading results for public school students in both grades were flat compared to 2011. Meanwhile, less than 50 percent of Ohio’s fourth and eighth graders meet NAEP’s proficiency standard. The proficiency rates for Buckeye State students are as follows: 48 percent in 4th grade math; 37 percent in 4th grade reading; 41 percent in 8th grade math; 39 percent in 8th grade reading. These underwhelming statistics aside, the state continues to post scores that surpass the national average.

One can also slice the 2013 NAEP data in many ways—by racial group, by poverty status, by special education status, and more. One can even compare charter to non-charter school students, which I do in this post.

The figures below display the charter versus non-charter comparison of students who are eligible for the Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) program, the most-utilized poverty metric available. This provides a fair comparison of similar students, since Ohio’s charters enroll a relatively high number of impoverished students.

The charts show the average scaled score estimates (scale is 0 to 500) for the two groups, along with the standard errors displayed as vertical lines. The standard error,...

Back in June, we discussed the leadership role that Ohio’s cities were attempting to take in important and overdue efforts to improve education for all students. Central to that discussion was the work in Columbus of Mayor Michael Coleman and the Columbus Education Commission. At that time, we called the story “still in progress” but pointed out that city-based reform of the type the commission envisioned in its final report was worthy of praise and support. Nothing has changed in the interim. The Columbus plan that voters will have the opportunity to fund tomorrow, in the form of a 9.01 mil bond and levy measure, still represents the most promising attempt to improve Columbus schools—dare we say—ever.

Fordham has been supportive of the reform effort and worked with the Mayor’s team and the commission as these reform initiatives were developed. Our former vice president, Terry Ryan, even testified before the commission to bring the best knowledge of charter school excellence to the commissioners through data, research, his own public testimony, and the testimony of CEE-Trust’s Ethan Gray. The commission adopted an ambitious goal to expand the number of high-quality school seats in the city so that all students can attend an A- or B-rated school by 2020. It is both admirable and achievable.

One of the most controversial components of the levy is the allocation of 1 mil to high performing charter schools in Columbus to support, expand, and replicate their schools. Unfortunately, Mayor Coleman went out...

Until last week, I thought that I was the poster child for school choice.

My parents chose to move our family from the city to the country in the 1970s, mainly for the schools, while my wife and I have chosen private schools of various types for our children for the last 10 years.

But last week I realized that my perspective was extremely skewed.

Gathered at an early Halloween party were two groups of parents – one from the neighborhood Catholic school that we had just left after four years, and one from our brand new, lottery-only STEM school that our children had been attending for about six weeks. As those two worlds connected in my living room, the stories told by the two groups of parents differed significantly.

Parents from the Catholic school did not speak of “choices.” It was simply expected that their children would go to this school through eighth grade and move on to the designated Diocesan high school after that. Most of those adults had made the same progression when they were students 25 years earlier and there were no other options to consider as far as they were concerned. Don’t get me wrong, any number of families struggled to afford even the low tuition there (lowest in the Columbus diocese), but there was very little “choice” involved. Just the sacrifice. Once made, nothing else entered into the equation.

That is not how we got there. For us, it...

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