Ohio Gadfly Daily

Almost anyone in the field of education can tell you improving the quality of life for children is a multi-faceted endeavor. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual KIDS COUNT Data Book is testament to that fact. It explores four dimensions of child well-being at the national and state level: economic, education, health, and family and community. This year’s data book methodology expands last year’s, and divides it into the four dimensions to allow a closer look at education and family and community factors.

In the aftermath of “the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression,” the authors provide some interesting discoveries about our nation’s children. Overall national trends suggest that despite the impact of difficult economic times on children in the United States, things are slowly improving. Both child health and education have seen overall improvement. For child health, the number of children without health insurance has decreased by 20%. In education, areas such as 4th and 8th grade proficiency and on-time high school graduation have improved in recent years at the national level. 

Expectedly, economic well-being decreased for children after the recession, but initiatives like Race to the Top’s (RTTT) Early Learning Challenge and local programs that support children are attempting to curb the damage in my opinion. Specifically, Ohio’s $70 million RTTT initiative focuses primarily on kindergarten readiness and high quality, accountable programming. The Data Book ranked Ohio 18 of 50 states in its education factors; an encouraging point for our recent wave of policy changes. However,...

America’s states, cities and schools are hurting big time financially. This is not news but the fact that the bad news keeps coming especially hurts.  For example, just released unemployment numbers show an increase to 8.3 percent as American households lost 195,000 jobs. The underemployment rate – which includes those who are underemployed or who are working part time rose to 15 percent. This economic pain has struck education hard, leaving public school budgets strapped for cash and making business-as-usual more and more difficult. Districts around the country are now starting to take some drastic, and sometimes controversial, actions.

Highland Parks Public Schools, a small district in Michigan that is one the state’s lowest-performers, is on the verge of financial collapse. It made news last week when officials there announced plans to outsource its schools to a private for-profit charter school operator. The district handed over operations to The Leona Group which runs 54 schools in five states; 22 of its schools are in Michigan. The Leona Group will now oversee decisions around the hiring of staff, school curriculum and instruction, as well as school facility and maintenance issues.

What led up to such drastic action and are more districts right behind Highland Parks Public Schools? A perfect storm of low enrollment, poor fiscal management, and some of the worst academic results in the state prompted Highland Parks Public Schools to take bold action. Since 2006 district enrollment has dropped by 58 percent, with only 989 students...

Rigorous academic standards and high-stakes accountability for schools and educators alike are important for school improvement efforts. The states where students have made the most significant academic gains over the last decade (for example, Massachusetts and Florida) have had high academic standards, assessments aligned to those standards – complete with high cut scores, and transparent systems for sharing school and student results through district and school “report cards.” The fact is standardized testing has proven to be the best, most objective tool for measuring both student and teacher success.

This is important to remember as Ohio deals with a widening scandal around allegations of “data fudging” and “manipulation of attendance records” to improve test scores and school report cards. Some Buckeye State educators and lawmakers have suggested that the underlying problem here is accountability, or that the state’s report card has taken on “way too much importance.” Accountability, however, is not the problem. The Columbus Dispatch editorial board got it exactly right when writing:

It’s true that the report card is short of perfect; it is an attempt to tell an extremely complex story – how effective a school district is, allowing for all of its advantages and disadvantages – in a few numbers and phrases. But even so, it is a valuable tool to ensure that educators strive for improvement. To back off now would be harmful.

In the short term, the state must investigate these allegations; and if school employees are found to have wrongly...

Teacher talent is squarely at the frontier of education reform. This week, The New Teacher Project issued a report that scrutinized teacher retention practices, finding that many top-shelf teachers—especially those in poorer schools where the need for effective teachers is the greatest—leave to teach in better schools, or leave the profession altogether.

In 2010, McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, published a blistering report of America’s teaching profession. McKinsey found that, in comparison to countries with high-flying education systems, America has a woeful teacher workforce: too many American teachers come from the bottom of their graduating college class, while too few top-performing college students consider teaching—much less enter the profession.

With these teacher quality issues in mind, I wanted to see how future grad-school education students fared on their GREs, the grad-school admissions exam. Educational Testing Service (ETS) administers the GRE, and in its summary statistics report, ETS breaks down test results by the test-taker's intended major—with education as a possible selection.

How did America’s future educators fare? Consider figure 1 which compares the average GRE score by intended grad-school major across two exam sections: quantitative (math) and verbal. On the left, education majors rank dead last in average quantitative score, even behind mathematically-challenged English and philosophy majors (they’re part of the humanities category). On the right side of figure 1, we observe that education majors rank in a tie for third-to-last in verbal score, falling well behind their peers in the humanities and social sciences....

Innovation: It’s an education reform cliché. But what is innovation, really?

Ask most people about innovation and they’ll probably talk about products—airplanes, laptops, smartphones. But innovation also refers to process. That’s what blended learning is for education. It turns the process of teaching upside down.

Today, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in partnership with Knowledge Works and Reynoldsburg School District, welcomed Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements, to Ohio. Founded in 2010, Education Elements is a California-based company that advises schools on how to adopt and implement blended learning models. Education Elements has assisted charters (KIPP Los Angeles), traditional public school districts (Houston Independent School District), and parochial schools (Mission Dolores Academy in San Francisco).

Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements

Kim began the conversation with an audience that included superintendents, teachers, lawmakers, and state board members by describing his blended learning model. According to Kim, blended learning has three goals:

  • To differentiate teaching by breaking the classroom into smaller groups
  • To increase the collection and use of student achievement data to improve teaching
  • To create more efficient schools

How does blended learning achieve these goals?

First, blended learning can address some of the challenges of teaching students who read, write, and do math at different levels. Blended learning deploys a classroom rotation model: students are first broken into groups and then these groups rotate through different work stations throughout the school day.

Kim presented a three-station model, in...

Earlier this week I attended the GE Foundation's Summer Business and Education Summit in Orlando. Most of the two-day conversation among the 150 or so participants revolved around the Common Core and the implementation challenges this effort to reboot public education across 46 states is sure to face in the coming years. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush captured the scale of the challenge when he told the gathering on the first morning that states are heading for a “train wreck.” He noted that when the new standards and assessments come fully online in 2014-15 that many communities, schools and families are in for a rude awakening.

Governor Bush said that the more rigorous Common Core standards, if backed up by equally rigorous assessments, will show that only one in three children in America would qualify as college or career ready. Bush warned that such bluntness about the poor health of American education and student achievement will trigger serious political backtracking. He said, “My guess is there’s going to be a lot of people running for cover and they’re going to be running fast.”

But, as Governor Bush and other speakers during the two day conversation argued, running away from the Common Core would be a huge mistake and a serious step back for the country, its children, and its future. This, in fact, was the overwhelming feeling of the group of business leaders gathered in Orlando. A recurring message throughout the event was that states must move forward with the...

In 2011 the State Board of Education, prompted by a requirement in House Bill 153, developed a new framework for teacher evaluations, to be implemented by all districts starting with the 2013-14 school year. But the standards-based teacher evaluations are coming early to Ohio. The Marietta Times reported that some school districts in the Buckeye State will be piloting the new system during 2012-13. Frontier Local, Marietta City, and Wolf Creek districts will all be trying out the result of HB 153 (as will other districts around the state)—but not without some reservations (find detailed information on the Bill here).

While new policies can be exciting, school officials are finding them challenging to implement. HB 153 requires both principal and teacher evaluations. For the latter, at least 50 percent of a teacher’s rating must be dependent on student academic growth. The process also includes at least two observations and a conference before and after each observation for each evaluation. Superintendents have raised eyebrows at the estimated 15-20 hours per-teacher time commitment these rigorous evaluations may require. To meet these time requirements, Frontier Local School District’s Board of Education approved the transfer of a principal from one school to serve as part-time assistant principal at another.

Other Ohio districts can begin thinking creatively about these issues before they adopt this policy in 2013. For districts already short-staffed, it will take strategic planning to conduct these evaluations properly. However, contract language can have a significant impact on how time consuming...

As I reported last week, Ohio charter schools received a bad rap in recent articles by The Economist. After singing the praises of charters in some of America’s largest cities, The Economist went on to disparage Ohio’s charters, stating that they “have done badly.” I didn’t disagree with their appraisal.

Why the agreement? It’s because the standard matters.

So in Ohio, charters are "bad" compared to what standard? To answer, I take a slice of data from Cleveland to look at the performance of its charter schools relative two comparison groups. First, I compare how Cleveland’s charters stack up against Cleveland Municipal School District (the city’s traditional public school). Second, I compare Cleveland's charters against a broader set of public districts--all districts in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland Municipal, poorer inner-ring suburban districts, and some affluent suburban districts.

I use the fourth grade math proficiency rate—essentially, the proportion of students who “pass” Ohio’s annual standardized test in a given grade and subject—for the 2010-11 school year. And by using what’s called a “z-score” in statistics, I calculate how far each school's proficiency rate is above or below the average proficiency (pass) rate.[1] A school with a positive score has an above-average proficiency rate; vice-versa, a school with a negative score has a below-average rate.

Figure 1 shows how charters compare against their district peers. Each bar indicates a school: charters are shown in red and district schools in grey. The vertical axis indicates schools’...

Ohio charters are gaining an international reputation—but for all the wrong reasons. In articles over the weekend, The Economist chides Ohio charters for having “done badly” and operating without oversight in a “Wild West” environment. And these remarks are written in articles that praise charters schools.

With every financial scandal and every school closing due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny—as they should.

With a prominent global publication taking our charter schools to task, readers around the world—from New York City to London to Tokyo—now know what many of us locally know too well. Ohio’s charter sector has failed to deliver. Despite some exceptional schools (e.g., DECA in Dayton, Constellation Schools and Breakthrough in Cleveland, KIPP and Columbus Collegiate Academy in Columbus), charters in Ohio—as a group—have far too often disappointed students and parents who placed their hopes in these schools. With every financial scandal and every school closing due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny—as they should.

We’ve repeatedly recognized here, here, here, here, and here that Ohio’s charters have, as a whole, not delivered and need improvement. Other states do it better. We’ve argued in a 2006 report to lawmakers, in a 2010 book, in numerous op-eds, and in public testimony to lawmakers that Ohio’s charter sector needs reform through smarter accountability, consolidating the state’s 80-plus authorizers, and actively recruiting talent and successful school models to the Buckeye State....

David Osborne is one of America’s best thinkers on matters of government and governance and his expertise is on display with his latest paper, “Improving Charter School Accountability: The Challenge of Closing Failing Schools.” Cogently and concisely getting at the big issues facing the charter sector as it enters its third decade of educating children, this paper is an invaluable resource to those dedicated to improving the performance of the nation’s 5,500-plus charter schools.

Osborne shows clearly that, despite the various warts and problems facing charters (and his paper deals with many of them), they “do outperform traditional public schools, while receiving almost 20 percent less money per student on average.”

But, Osborne argues, the nation’s charter school sector must do better—and can if it focuses squarely on two main things:

  • Replicating the most successful school models, and
  • Closing the worst charter schools.

“Improving Charter School Accountability” tackles the second issue head-on by focusing on authorizer quality, the single biggest driver of charter school quality. Osborne writes, “Today, it is time to open a third frontier: authorizer quality. The key to quality in the charter sector is quality authorizing.” When I read this sentence I wanted to jump out of my chair and do a quick dance around my desk. Fordham has been arguing—with our friends at organizations like the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Charter Alliance—this case since...

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