Ohio Gadfly Daily

From left: Greg Harris, Robert Kilo, Judy Hennessey and Terry Ryan

A coalition that included high performing charter schools from Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee’s Education Subcommittee on May 7th. Following introductions from Fordham’s Terry Ryan, Dayton Early College Academy’s Superintendent Judy Hennessey began to speak in front of the Subcommittee only to be interrupted by Committee Chair Senator Randy Gardner, “Senator [Peggy] Lehner has just commented you lead one of the best schools in the country.”

Jokingly Judy Hennessey nodded and said, “Now we are striving for world class.”

The coalition of high performing charter schools included school leaders and policy advocates from KIPP Central Ohio, United Students Network, Breakthrough Schools, Dayton Early College Academy, and Students First Ohio who gathered to urge Senators to enact policies that would help facilitate the growth of high performing charter schools in the state. Among the policies discussed, the coalition asked the subcommittee to consider the reinstatement of funding for the Straight-A Fund (from $150 million to $300 million), increasing the per pupil facilities funding to charter schools (from a proposed $100 to $300 a student), and strengthening accountability for the state’s lowest performing charters. 

Introduced by Governor Kasich at the outset of the budget cycle in February, the Straight-A Fund would support the growth and replication of innovations in the school system. The coalition wholly supported the implementation...

As the charter movement enters its third decade, it is imperative that policymakers and legislators understand the perspective of those schools that have succeeded in providing their students with a quality education. The charter sector in Ohio is often seen by those outside as a monolith – for better or worse – but Fordham has long known that there are both high-flyers and underachievers. As an organization that focuses on the availability of quality education for Ohio’s children, Fordham feels it is imperative that the lessons of the high-performing charter schools be known above and beyond the “charter sector” as a whole.

As a step in accomplishing this goal, Fordham’s own Terry Ryan has helped form a coalition of high performing charter schools to testify in front of the Senate Finance Committee’s Education Subcommittee. The schools in which these leaders work represent some of the best public schools that Ohio has to offer. While each leader is advocating for their school and telling the story of what success looks like in their cities, they also provide overarching policy recommendations that could help forward the expansion and replication of successful charters including:

  • Supporting the implementation of the Straight-A-Fund
  • Increasing the per pupil facilities funding to charter schools
  • Implementing tougher laws that would lead to the closure of failing charter schools

Below you will find links to the testimonies this coalition have turned in to the Subcommittee.

Andrew Boy, Founder & Executive Director at United Schools Network (USN)

School Profile: ...

The quality of teacher professional development (PD) can be described as abysmal at worst and dubious at best. Linda Darling-Hammond remarks that “American teachers say that much of the professional development available to them is not useful.” Stephen Sawchuk of Education Week writes that “perhaps no other aspect of the teacher-quality system in the United States suffers from an identity crisis as severe as that of professional development.”

The research bears out the wary comments above. Two recent PD studies, conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), found no effect in student achievement when teachers participate in PD. The first, a middle school math study, administered two years of PD to 92 teachers, and found no effect on teachers’ knowledge or student achievement. The second, an elementary reading study, administered PD to 270 teachers for one year. The study found no effect on student achievement, either at the end of the year-long PD program or the year after.

So, PD is ineffective. What, then, of the cost?

The cost of PD has ballooned in the past two decades, such that today, Ohio spends upwards of $400 million per year on PD. The chart below shows the average per-pupil PD expenditure for Ohio’s traditional public schools—the black dashed line—and the average expenditures for three groups of schools. (There’s considerable variation in districts’ PD expenditures—major urban districts spend the most; rural districts the least).[1] To get a taste of the variation, I display three groups:...

The last couple of weeks have witnessed unremitting and well-coordinated attacks on the Common Core academic standards. States from New Jersey to Michigan to Ohio to Alabama have all been targeted by “a grassroots rebellion” against the Common Core. This rebellion has the backing and encouragement of national pundits such as Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Phyllis Schlafly. It also seems to have considerable cash behind it (though nobody will say from where). The Fordham Institute team has been drawn into the national fray, and in recent weeks we’ve been drawn into the battle in our home state of Ohio. Just yesterday, we had a long conversation/debate with a group that included individuals from Citizens for Objective Public Education (a Phyllis Schlafly inspired group), Tea Party groups, Religious Right groups and hard core local-control groups that believe standards, curriculum and assessments should be set by only your own town’s board of education..

These critics contend, inter alia, that the Common Core:

  • is a national curriculum (critics of the Common Core confuse standards with curriculum);
  • is a takeover of education by the federal government and the beginning of the end of state/local control;
  • requires the mandatory collection of intrusive personal data about kids (including possible retina scans);
  • de-emphasizes handwriting skills;
  • favors “repair manuals” over classic literature; and
  • isn’t nearly as rigorous as current state standards.

Every single one of which assertions is flat wrong. To read more about these debates see here, here and here.

The most peculiar...

Redefining the School District in TennesseeIs it time for Ohio and other states to take bolder steps toward turning around our most troubled schools and districts? There are a growing number of states that say yes, and they are leading the way in launching “recovery school districts.” The oldest and best known of these efforts is the Louisiana Recovery School District, but other states are embracing the idea: Tennessee, Michigan, and (most recently) Virginia.

Recovery school districts, simply put, are state-created entities that take responsibility for running—and turning around—individual schools that have languished academically for years while under district control. Fordham, as part of its series on school-governance alternatives and reforms, is issuing a three-part series focused on recovery school districts. The first report is on the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD), which was seeded as part of Tennessee’s winning Race to the Top (RttT) application in January 2010.

Nelson Smith, former head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and long-time school-reform leader, was the perfect person to report on the history, challenges, and early successes of the Tennessee ASD. According to Smith, Tennessee’s RttT application committed the state to turning around the “bottom 5 percent” of schools, and Tennessee allocated $22 million of its $500 million RttT award to launching the Achievement School District. Support for this effort was bipartisan, and strong leadership has...

My colleague, Adam Emerson, recently penned a piece on rethinking charter school governance; specifically, how charter school governing entities (i.e., school boards) are structured and the pros and cons associated with different arrangements. It is a good piece, but I would argue that structure means nothing without capacity.

We have an internal saying within our charter school authorizing operation: “As the board goes, so goes the school.”

More often than not this proves to be the case, which is why board capacity – and by that I mean the collective strength of the school’s board to govern a fiscally, organizationally and academically healthy school that is achieving its goals for students - is critical.

Have a high performing charter school? Chances are it’s got a savvy board whose membership consists of mission-aligned individuals with diverse professional expertise and experience that is leveraged to advance a strategic and defined vision, and achieve a specific set of goals.

As the board goes, so goes the school

School not doing so well? Probably the issues start and end with the board, and will fester as long as the board lets them.

Adam touches on this issue by pointing out that education management companies and other service providers sometimes control charter school boards (as opposed to the board controlling the vendor). He’s absolutely right; this happens and it shouldn’t. However, to place the blame squarely on the vendors who contractually formalize (sometimes egregious) arrangements advantageous to the vendor with charter school governing boards...

Ohio’s bright-eyed freshmen aren’t ready for college coursework. That’s the story from the Ohio Board of Regents, which reports that 40 percent of Ohio’s college freshman take remedial (high-school level) coursework in either math or English. Moreover, 14 percent of incoming freshman are required by their college to take both a remedial math and English class.

These are staggering numbers, with massive implications for students and taxpayers. For students who take a remedial course, Complete College America found that only 35 percent graduate in six years. This compares to 56 percent of all students. Similarly, the Ohio State University found that students who took remedial coursework graduated at a rate 30 points lower than their non-remedial peers. With these dismal results in mind, remedial coursework largely wastes the $130 million per year Ohio spends to support remedial education.

The chart below takes a closer look at the remediation rates for incoming freshman who attend an Ohio public college or university, by the public high school from which they graduated. The performance index generally indicates the quality of the high school. The chart shows three things:

  • As expected, higher-performing schools tend to have lower remediation rates;
  • A small portion of Ohio high schools have remarkably high remediation rates—above 70 and 80 percent—and four schools break the 90 percent mark;
  • A modest-sized section of high-performing high schools also have high remediation rates. This is unexpected—and indicates that remediation is a problem for students who graduated some of the
  • ...

Since 1986, over 557 school districts throughout Ohio have taken advantage of a very generous program, courtesy of taxpayers, that allows school districts to pay for capital improvements done to their facilities.  According to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, this program has funded over 952 projects, involving over 6,089 buildings, at a cost of over $1.25 billion, while saving taxpayers over $115 million.  However, this privilege is open to district schools and their buildings only, and denied to charter schools. 

The program, formally known as the Ohio School Facilities Commission Energy Conservation Program or the House Bill 264 Program, enables school districts to make energy-related improvements to district buildings that in theory would generate enough energy savings to eventually pay off the improvement bond from which the capital originated from its issuance, along with the cost of financing.  The cost savings over 15 years for energy, operational, and maintenance must equal or exceed the cost of implementing the measures.  The program allows energy-related improvements, as opposed to merely repairs.  This may seem like semantics until the discussion turns on how exactly projects are paid for. 

In Ohio, tax levies are typically raised in order to fund capital projects, including improvements to school buildings.  Ohio law requires that such levies must be submitted to the voters of the school district for approval.  Under HB 264, however, school districts can bypass this process of accountability by invoking the desired project as a qualified, energy-related, permanent improvement.

Once could argue that HB...

The last few weeks in Ohio have seen a torrent of anti-Common Core literature, comments, blogs, and letters aimed at lawmakers and state board of education members. Much of this chatter has been perpetrated by two organizations with a lot to say and claims to make. See here and here. Such critics and criticisms need a response, and in the following we provide rebuttals to four widely circulated fabrications about the Common Core.

It is well known that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been a long-time champion of high academic standards and aligned assessments. We are also supporters of the Common Core standards in English language arts and mathematics, mainly because they are superior to what Ohio and most other states currently have in place for their schools.

There is no doubt that the Common Core and the PARCC assessments aligned to them will face challenges in the coming months and years ( e.g. preparing all teachers, getting the necessary technology in place, developing pacing guides). But, despite the challenges superintendents, school principals, and teachers are remarkably supportive of the Common Core in Ohio and across the country. For example, Fordham recently surveyed Ohio’s superintendents (344 of the state’s 614 superintendents – a 56 percent response rate), and discovered that 81 percent of the respondents believe that five years from now the Common Core standards “will be widely and routinely in use in Ohio.” Only one in ten say it “will have faded away by then.”...

 

 

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting today that Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools will be discontinuing their experiment with charter school creation at the end of this school year. The school of 110 students in grades 9-12 will be absorbed into the district. The main reason cited: once start-up funds ran out ($450,000 from the federal government’s Public Charter School Program), Gahanna Community School’s board and staff were unable to maintain operations with the fractional per-pupil funding provided monthly by the state to all charter schools. Upper Arlington closed a charter school for similar reasons last year.

While it is tempting for me to snark about “unscrupulous charter operators” (believe me, I wrote that blog post and it was really funny) and to rage that the federal government should get its start-up money back from Gahanna-Jefferson and Upper Arlington too, I think it is more important to talk about the object lesson that this situation presents.

The fiscal picture painted by the board and staff of GSC is the daily reality of almost all charter schools across the state: once the start-up funds are spent, the per pupil funding provided for school operations by the state – with no local funds and no facility dollars – is at least a third less than what is available to even the poorest of public districts in Ohio. Gahanna cites the savings that will be had by not having to pay $85,000 for filing separate state data and paying for separate financial...

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