Ohio Gadfly Daily

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 the cost-reduction criteria. (You can read applications online here.) Although well-intended, this provision created two problems:

First, applicants clearly struggled to quantify the cost reductions attributable to their project proposals. In some of the applications, the proposals made half-baked or underwhelming cost-reduction claims. For example, some described how a...

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 score (student growth over time). One school, Columbus Preparatory Academy, was rated in the top ten percent in both categories. An asterisk next to a school name indicates that the charter school made our top-quality charters list in 2012–13 (fourteen of the twenty-two schools are second-time recipients).

Table:...

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 test scores—even when those schools are easier to access than in a typical district system. But this is not entirely bad news; it is important, useful, and potentially game-changing for choice advocates.  The New Orleans study shows that a number of non-academic considerations (bus transportation, afterschool care, etc.) were not...

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, as you might expect from a school board president. But what message does it send when the leader of one of only two districts under the control of a state Academic Distress Commission demeans charter school quality (and families who choose...

  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 whom the exercise rests. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  4. The Enquirer took a look at the EdChoice Scholarship program over the weekend. Probably not in honor of the start of National School Choice Week (despite what they say), seeing as how they chose to trot out the old saw that the
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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 in at least two pieces covering the Auditor’s report. First up, the Blade noted – probably sadly – that the Toledo charter schools visited by the auditor “fared well” upon review. What does that mean? In fact 3 of the 4 area charter schools visited by the Auditor’s staff
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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 a merger of the two districts would look like in practice and the pros and cons as revealed in a recent financial report on the process as proposed. As we reporter earlier, the financials appear to be entirely positive, and the feared downsides are more along the line of the
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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 that started out non-union to unionize. But efforts have been underway in Cleveland to do just that. Well, I say “efforts”, but what started out as fairly straightforward organizing devolved into legal wrangling. But the legal wrangling appears to be on hold for now as negotiations between union and
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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 that their leadership is clear-eyed and properly focused. Best of luck to them. (Lancaster Eagle Gazette)
     
  3. As we noted last week, the new list of EdChoice-eligible district schools was released by ODE. The bottom line is that more schools (and likely more students) are eligible than last year due
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  1. The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission and its various committees have quietly continued their work through the election season and into the new year. The committee working on K-12 education met this week and heard yet more testimony on that old bugbear phrase “thorough and efficient”. On the upside, most everyone involved believes that they’ve heard more than enough testimony on the issue. On the downside, the committee chair is not sure a consensus has emerged among the members: elimination, replacement, redefinition, additional language. All are still on the table, but hopefully we’re a step closer to a vote. (Gongwer Ohio)
     
  2. As you may have heard, state superintendent Richard Ross released ODE’s report on the state of standardized testing in Ohio yesterday. In it we learn that the anecdotal stories of “test mania” that made headlines during legislative testimony last year are largely unsubstantiated by facts. However, there is a lot of good information in the report, as well as actionable recommendations from Ross about ways to cut testing and test-prep time…if that’s what the right folks decide to do. What will come of this report is yet to be seen – administrative rules, legislation, guidance to schools, more study. All are possible. It probably depends on who actually takes up the recommendations and decides to run – thoughtfully – with them. And to whom they run. Hopefully it won’t come down to whomever shouts the loudest. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Mansfield City Schools was placed under fiscal
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