Ohio Gadfly Daily

Since its birth in 1997, Ohio’s charter school program has been on a bumpy ride. Overall sector quality has been mixed, and Ohio charters have been bogged down by controversy, some of it based on partisan politics. But a new day is dawning for the Buckeye State’s charter schools. State policymakers have begun to embrace charter governance reforms. Governor Kasich and the legislature—with support from both parties—have worked together to craft legislative proposals that, if enacted, would remedy Ohio’s broken charter school law and create new incentives aimed at expanding high-quality charters throughout the state. Presently, the Ohio Senate is considering the charter reform bills.

We at Fordham have voiced our loud and clear support for charter reform in Ohio. But we’re not the only voices seeking big changes. In addition to support from key policymakers, editorial boards, and business organizations, the leaders at some of the Buckeye State’s very finest charter schools have also taken a stand and are demanding change as well. At committee hearings in the Senate on May 6 and the House on March 11, legislators heard from three leaders of Ohio’s high-quality urban charters. Here are some highlights of...

In 2006, Ohio enacted one of the nation’s first “default closure” laws, which requires the lowest-performing charter schools to shut down whether their authorizers want them to or not. The law, still in effect today, has forced twenty-four charters to close. The criteria for automatic closure are well defined in law and are based on the state’s accountability system.

This new working paper, which complements our recent study on Ohio school closures, evaluates the effect of closures induced by the automatic closure law on student achievement. (By contrast, Fordham’s study examined both district and charter closures that occurred regardless of cause, be it financial, academic, or other.) To carry out this analysis, the researchers compared the outcomes of students attending charters that closed by default to those of pupils attending charters that just narrowly escaped the state’s chopping block. The sharp “cut point” for closure versus non-closure allowed the analysts to compare very similar students who attended similarly performing schools—thus approximating a “gold-standard” random experiment.

The key finding: Students displaced by an automatic closure made significant gains in math and reading after their schools closed, a result consistent with our broader study. Moreover, the analysts found that the academic...

When the Foundation for Excellence in Education released its first “Digital Learning Report Card” in 2011, the state-by-state outlook for ed-tech innovation was worrying. Twenty-one states received failing grades. Four years on, the picture looks very different. While there are still only two states—Florida and Utah—earning A grades, this year’s scorecard shows half of them with improved grades and just five (Connecticut, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Tennessee) with Fs. Barriers to digital learning are falling fast.

The report card grades states on ten “elements of high-quality digital learning,” including whether students can advance by demonstrating proficiency (not merely by warming classroom seats for enough months) and whether they have the ability to customize their education through digital providers. And of course, the funding and infrastructure must be in place to support digital learning. Broadly speaking, the report praises states for adopting policies that embrace new models and ways of thinking, and shames them if they don’t. States might get dinged, for example, if they restrict student eligibility for online courses (allowing kids only to take online versions of courses already offered in schools seems truly pointless). That said, some of the report’s criteria feel more like an ed-tech enthusiast’s...

Plain Dealer reporter Patrick O’Donnell was given access to a Pearson test-grading facility in suburban central Ohio recently and filed a series of reports from inside its walls. The tone of the pieces is reminiscent of that M*A*S*H episode when the newsreel reporter interviews the frontline medical staff. It is painstaking work in a high-pressure environment, but it is important and must be done with diligence and a touch of humor. Like the sign in the office says:

First up, O’Donnell runs us through the basics of the operation. Most graders tackle one question only, scoring the same one for hundreds of students in a shift; “anchor” examples show the basic form the correct answer should take; and there is selective double-checking of live scorers’ work.

Then there is a look at who has been hired to do the scoring work for Pearson this year. Some 72 percent of all their test graders nationwide have some teaching experience. And yes, some of them were hired via Craigslist.

Finally, while O’Donnell has a reputation as a thorough reporter on his own, he decides to open up the floor to Plain...

  1. Our own Aaron Churchill was on the radio this morning, discussing last week’s Achieve report on the gap between state proficiency scores and NAEP scores. Quick but interesting discussion. (WTVN-AM, Columbus, 5/18/15)
     
  2. The Beacon Journal started out taking a look at single-gender classrooms and schools in the Akron area. Along the way, issues such as pay gaps, involuntary teacher transfers, societal norms, class differences, and discipline statistics piled up in an overegged but still interesting piece. (Akron Beacon Journal, 5/16/15)
     
  3. We told you last week about a Franklin County neighborhood petitioning the state board of ed to be rezoned away from South-Western City Schools and into Upper Arlington Schools. Why are those Columbus households in South-Western to begin with? The infamous Win-Win agreement from the 1980s, by which the city of Columbus was allowed to continue to annex the hinterlands and grow but neighborhoods already in other districts prior to 1986 were not required to send their children to Columbus City Schools. In exchange, Columbus has gotten money from those districts every year. But a new effort by Dublin City Schools to end the decades-old agreement is gaining steam…and generating some heat. (Columbus Dispatch, 5/17/15)
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  1. We start today with coverage of Chad’s testimony before the Senate Finance Education Subcommittee earlier this week. In which he urged Senators considering the new state budget to not let “safe harbor” considerations for schools extend to an EdChoice Scholarship voucher eligibility freeze. He was not alone in these sentiments. (Gongwer Ohio, 5/14/15)
     
  2. Editors in Cleveland opined favorably on Fordham’s most recent report – School Closure and Student Achievement. This is especially important because folks in Cleveland know only too well the difficulties of closing schools for even the soundest of reasons. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/14/15)
     
  3. You probably couldn’t have missed it yesterday, but just in case you did, Achieve released a report looking at the gaps between state proficiency scores and NAEP results in all 50 states. Ohio fared poorly indeed, indicative of a shaky definition of “proficiency” in the Buckeye State. Chad said this loudly and clearly and was included in coverage of the report in the Columbus Dispatch (5/14/15), the Bucyrus Telegraph (5/15/15) and other Gannett outlets, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer (5/14/15).
     
  4. The Beacon Journal’s coverage of the Achieve report didn’t include Chad, but it did include
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Are states dutifully reporting the fraction of students who are on track for college or career? According to a new report from Achieve, a nonprofit organization that assists states in education reform efforts, the answer is no—and Ohio has been one of the worst offenders.

The report documents the discrepancies between proficiency rates on state tests versus the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). Achieve’s analysis finds that most states “continue to mislead the public on whether students are proficient” by reporting proficiency rates on state assessments that are significantly higher than those on NAEP. This is a serious problem since NAEP—commonly referred to as the Nation’s Report Card—has long been considered the gold standard of measuring student achievement and, more recently, college preparedness. As Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Chester Finn explained a few weeks ago, there’s now good evidence that NAEP’s proficiency level in reading is particularly predictive of whether students are ready to succeed in college without taking remedial courses.

Ohio’s longstanding definition of proficiency, on the other hand, is predictive of nothing, as far as we can tell. It certainly doesn’t indicate that a student is on track for college. But that’s surely what parents...

  1. Here’s a tale of two districts for you. High-flying Amherst Schools is pretty bent out of shape over the D grade they received in their very first K-3 Literacy Improvement Measure report. Meanwhile, Lorain Schools – currently being overseen by an Academic Distress Commission – is thrilled with their grade of C on the same measure. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal, 5/10/15)
     
  2. Just to up the ante, here’s a tale of THREE districts. A subdivision of 23 homes in central Ohio is geographically situated in Columbus, but due to fallout from the 1970s annexing boom around here, the school district assignment zone for them is not the local district but South-Western City Schools. There are 10 school age children currently in the neighborhood. None of them attend South-Western, but the district treasurer knows just how much property tax these houses generate for his district. That is, exactly how much property tax his district would lose if residents are successful in their efforts to get themselves rezoned for tony Upper Arlington City Schools. Which, one assumes, they WILL attend if they are successful. The residents appear to have the support of the State Board of Education in their efforts
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Recently I had the privilege of listening to practitioners from Ohio’s high-performing districts who shared how they’re achieving success. These districts are earning A grades on their state report cards in notoriously difficult areas such as closing achievement gaps, effectively serving gifted students and students with disabilities, and increasing student achievement across the board. 

The series of events was hosted by Battelle for Kids in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Education, and I was able to hear from five of the exemplary districts: Marysville, Orange City, Oak Hills Local, Solon City, and Mechanicsburg. Here are the important commonalities I found among the strategies discussed.

1. Plus time

This strategy goes by a different name depending on which district you visit: “no-new-instruction time,” “flex time,” “plus time,” and “support classes” were all terms I heard, but the basic idea was the same. Each of these high flyers altered their daily schedule so that students received around forty minutes a day of either enrichment or remediation. To be clear, this isn’t an additional class in which students learn new information; instead, this is a time for...

  1. Here’s a pretty up-to-date status report on standardized testing in Ohio. Sure, parts of the story are given “juice” by the use of some loaded terms (“controversial”, “scrap”, “confusing”, “a mess”), but let’s not quibble over questions of authorial intent. Let’s just be glad of all the attention being paid to testing. For the sake of student achievement, because that’s what all of the interview subjects have as their bottom line interest. Right? (Cincinnati Enquirer, 5/8/15)
     
  2. As if Patrick O’Donnell’s series on his visit to a Pearson testing facility in Westerville couldn’t get any more interesting, he concluded by answering some specific reader queries on the how’s and why’s of grading standardized tests without a computer. Honestly, the questions folks wanted answered were almost more interesting than the answers themselves. There’s so much to unpack in a question like “How many breaks are they given to get refreshed since each score means so much to each student?”. Still no answer to my puzzler: “What kinds of snacks are provided for said refreshment, since #brainfood?” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/9/15)
     
  3. Meanwhile, in the oldies-but-goodies department, editors in Columbus opined yesterday on the vital need for students to
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