Ohio Gadfly Daily

To improve student learning in Ohio, and in other states, we need to improve the quality of our teaching force. Statistics don’t lie when it comes to the impact of teachers on children’s learning. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has observed that “having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background.” Yet, according to a new report by the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and US News and World Report too many of our new teachers enter the classroom unprepared. 

Over a century ago, Abraham Flexner provided a withering critique of the nation’s medical schools, which led to a transformation of a sub-standard system of doctor preparation into preparation programs that would become models of quality for the rest of the world. NCTQ wants to do the same thing for teacher preparation that Flexner did for medical training back in 1910.

Toward that end, NCTQ and US News and World Report have issued their Teacher Prep Review. The Review provides data on the 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained new teachers. Forty-six institutions in Ohio were included in the Review. The findings are not good. In fact, NCTQ warns that the nation’s teacher prep programs “have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity.”

The urgency to improve teacher preparation has never...

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Yesterday Ohio Education Matters (a subsidiary of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation) hosted a forum for Ohio superintendents and district leaders looking to save money. Figuring out ways to ?do more with less? in K-12 education is an urgent matter (especially follow this week's repeal of Issue 2), which is why Fordham has been prodding school districts for quite some time to think proactively on this issue.? (See a summary of our recent event, ?Working Smarter Together?; coverage of our ?doing more with less? events in education from this past spring; or highlights from last year's ?Stretching the School Dollar? event ? or that accompanying book.)

The event featured Fordham friend Rick Hess (director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute) as well as superintendents from districts across Ohio recognized by OEM's benchmarking study for exceptional cost-savings measures.

These on-the-ground ?efficiency experts? included superintendents from several schools districts including Canton City (Michele Evans); Perry Local in Stark County (John Richard); Sandy Valley (David Janofa); Western Reserve (Charles Swindler); and Salem City (Tom Bratten). Except for Canton City, the majority of examples of cost-savings and service-sharing came from districts that are fairly small.

It was apparent by the way superintendents in the audience were taking diligent notes that districts are really on the market for new ideas. Several good ideas emerged:

  • Per-pupil budgeting. Perhaps most encouraging is that districts are taking the advice laid out by Marguerite Roza in
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Ohio's electorate soundly rejected Issue 2 (the referendum on Senate Bill 5) on Tuesday. As almost everyone knows, that statute made significant changes to collective bargaining for public employees in the Buckeye State. The most controversial bits included changes to binding arbitration (to give management the right to impose its last best offer), a ban on strikes by public employees, and the elimination of seniority as the sole factor for determining who should be laid off when cutbacks are necessary.

Though teachers and their unions were most definitely included???both in Senate Bill 5 and in the frantic, well-funded ($30 million) effort to persuade voters to repudiate it???education-policy watchers outside Ohio may not appreciate the extent to which this was really a referendum on policemen, firemen, and other ???first responders??? in the public sector. They and their unions were covered by the measure, too, and played the lead role???and by far the most visible role???in the campaign to undo it. There is, in fact, every reason to believe that if the first responders hadn't been involved, Senate Bill 5 would have survived Election Day.

[pullquote]On the same ballot, Ohio voters repudiated Republican plans to restructure collective bargaining in the Buckeye State and the big plans of Beltway Democrats to reshape the nation's healthcare system.[/pullquote]At their raucous victory party on Tuesday night, union leaders said the vote should send a clear message to Governor Kasich and GOP legislative leaders. ???Their biggest mistake was to think they (Republicans) could come...

It is never easy to challenge your own friends and colleagues. But Thomas Lasley, the former dean of education at the University of Dayton, does just that in his hard hitting piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education ??? ???Why do Teacher-Education Programs Fear a New Rating System???? I've worked with Dean Lasley for nearly a decade in Dayton and during that time we've argued over many issues around education reform in our community and state, but even in disagreement I came to appreciate that he always had the interest of kids foremost in his mind.??

Lasley is on the side of children and improving education when he defends the efforts of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) to rate the nation's teacher preparation programs. NCTQ wants to ensure that our nation's teachers are well-trained, and as teachers are the single most important in-school factor for student learning it seems a matter of common sense to try and rate the performance of the programs responsible for preparing future educators.??

But, the education school community is opposed to rankings for their performance and have attacked the NCTQ effort to rate the more than 1,000 teacher-preparation programs across the country. Lasley calls out the education schools in his Chronicle piece and warns, ???the ???circle the wagons' defensive strategy of the card-carrying teacher-education monopoly is impeding further progress toward quality. This is neither in the best interest of teacher-preparation institutions nor, most important, of students in elementary and...

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A new report from Tennessee's Higher Education Commission shows that Teach For America teachers outperformed traditionally trained teachers (regardless of experience level) in reading, science, and social studies. Tennessee's report card on teacher preparation (which results from a 2007 legislative mandate not unlike Ohio's new requirement to track the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs) examined 21 different programs, only five of which were ?alternative providers.? (Note, this isn't the first such analysis showing that TFA-prepared teachers outscore traditionally-trained peers.)

But the fact that TFA teachers outshined other teachers is actually the less interesting/relevant part of these data. As Education Week points out, there's some clear selection bias in what type of teacher trainee joins TFA versus a traditional program. TFA's pool includes ?only high-scoring college graduates? to begin with. More telling might be a study showing how average-scoring teacher candidates fared under TFA's training module or how traditional coursework offered by universities impacts TFA teachers' effectiveness ? or doesn't. Training between sites, even in the same state, varies quite a bit. For example, TFA teachers in Memphis don't have to take any university coursework while those in Nashville take courses through Lipscomb University; what impact, if any, do those formal courses have?

More important than the TFA-trained v. traditionally-trained teacher comparison is the fact that at a state level, Tennessee is collecting and publishing this data. Over time, this enables the public to glean information about how other (non-TFA) alternatively licensed...

Ohio's airwaves have been abuzz with commercials for and against Issue 2 (the referendum for Senate Bill 5). For those not living in the Buckeye State, SB 5 is the state's highly contentious public sector reform law. According to Ohio's Secretary of State, opponents of the law have raised almost $24 million to shoot it down, while supporters have mustered about $6 million to save it. The Ohio Education Association and the National Education Association together have contributed $4.75 million to repeal the law.??

Despite the heavy spending by the teacher unions most of the anti-Issue 2 commercials have featured first responders, and one of the most effective and widely used spokespeople for We Are Ohio ??? the coalition leading the fight ??? has been a Cincinnati firefighter warning Ohioans about the impact of the bill on the safety of firemen and police. The Columbus Dispatch reported, ???We Are Ohio's campaign has featured heavy doses of police and firefighters, with a sprinkling of nurses and teachers.???

In studying poll numbers around the reform measures in SB 5 that effect teachers it is not surprising that SB 5 opponents have focused their attention on public sector employees like first responders and not teachers. Based on both national and Ohio polls many of the reforms in SB5 that would impact teachers are supported by Ohioans and have been for years. The Fordham Institute, for example, polled Ohioans on education issues in 2005, 2007, and 2009 and in each...

Earlier this year I testified in both the Ohio Senate and the House in support of the education provisions embedded in the highly contentious Senate Bill 5. SB5, now known as Issue 2, is up for referendum next Tuesday and current polls show the bill will very likely be overturned. If that happens, it would be a shame because there are reforms in SB5 that education in Ohio needs to not only become more efficient and sustainable, but to become better for children.

As I shared in my legislative testimony, ???Nothing matters more to student learning than teacher quality. The fact is that highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced levels in a single year. The significant of this finding can't be understated.??? I went on to argue, ???Ohioans, for the most part, understand that strong teachers and good schools are a critical investment in our children's and our state's future. Consider that in 2010, the state invested more than $18.3 billion in K-12 public education ??? roughly $2,078 for every adult living in the Buckeye State. In fact, school funding in Ohio has steadily increased over the past three decades. Just since 1991, when the first DeRolph lawsuit was filed, per-pupil revenue for Ohio's public schools has risen 60 percent (even accounting for inflation.)???

This growth in spending saw the number of K-12 public employees statewide grow 35 percent (from about 181,000 to 245,250), while K-12 enrollment in the state actually declined...

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Ohio needs an elementary school ???reading guarantee.??? This was one of several recommendations for improving student achievement in Ohio that were pitched last week by School Choice Ohio at its event highlighting the research of Matt Ladner (senior advisor of policy and research to the Foundation for Excellence in Education). Ladner noted that Florida has embraced a reading guarantee as a key to helping improve student achievement (see Jamie's blog for more about his research and SCO's policy recommendations).

Ladner attributed Florida's success to a set of reforms, one of which was the reading guarantee. In other words, Florida third-grade students cannot advance to fourth grade if they do not pass the state's third-grade reading assessment. The logic behind this policy is that if students aren't competent readers by fourth grade, they will struggle to comprehend tougher subject matter in late elementary and middle school and beyond, and will fall further behind academically. A report out last year from the Annie E. Casey Foundation supports this argument. It stated that while the failure to read is consistently linked to higher rates of dropping out of school, ???of the fourth graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test in 2009, 83 percent of children from low-income families???and 85 percent of low-income students who attend high-poverty schools???failed to reach the ???proficient' level in reading.???

Ohio should embrace Ladner's recommendation, and in fact we already have. We just haven't earnestly implemented it yet.

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The State Board of Education has just eight weeks left to develop a model framework for teacher evaluations that will be used or adapted by over 1000 local education agencies (LEA) by July of 2013. (Ohio's biennial budget ? HB 153 ? stipulated that the Board come up with a model by December 31 of this year.)? Skeletal requirements are spelled out in state law. Evaluations must: include measures of student growth (50 percent); be based on multiple measures; rate teachers according to four tiers of effectiveness (accomplished, proficiency, developing, and ineffective); and inform other personnel decisions, particularly layoffs (strict seniority-based layoffs were struck from state law).

But what else will the model framework include, especially for that remaining - and some would argue more important - 50 percent of a teacher's rating? To what degree will districts and charter schools need to enact a replica of the state's forthcoming model, or something closely resembling it, instead of merely repackaging their current systems? And how will teacher evaluations impact other key personnel decisions, if at all? Despite the fact that legislation clearly spells out a handful of requirements surrounding Ohio's new teacher evaluations, the answers to these questions aren't as straightforward as one might think.

In Fordham's analysis of Ohio's education legislation from the first half of 2011 (primarily the biennial budget, HB 153), we observed that when it comes to teacher evaluations, ?the budget leaves many decisions to local districts.? Depending on whom you ask ?...

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Ohio currently has a basket full of publicly funded, private-school voucher programs, making it unique in America's school choice landscape. Ohio has three separate programs for students in failing districts, students with autism, and students living in Cleveland. A voucher program for students with disabilities launches next year. Further, the EdChoice Scholarship program (which provides private school scholarships for students in failing public schools) was recently expanded to 30,000 scholarships statewide this school year and 60,000 next year.

A new choice bill is now being debated in the House that would vastly expand the number of students eligible to receive a voucher. HB 136 would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Scholarship (PACT) Program and give children who come from families with annual incomes of up to $62,000 a year a voucher worth up to $4,563. Furthermore, 25 percent of families in the state could be eligible for smaller vouchers awarded on a sliding scale for families with incomes up to $95,000. This expansive growth in school choice options via vouchers is contentious to say the least.

A myriad of opinions offering both support and opposition to the expansion of vouchers have been voiced over the past several months (see Terry's recent op-ed here); however, one criticism in particular warrants a response. An October 12 Columbus Dispatch editorial, ?Many Questions,? stated that ?advocates should be able to show that students who go to private schools using vouchers do better than their peers who...

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