Ohio Gadfly Daily

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In March, Fordham's Ohio team released a report based on a survey of Ohio school district superintendents and other local education leaders. That report, Yearning to Break Free: Ohio Superintendents Speak, was reviewed by two University of Houston professors for the Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center. Steve Farkas ? veteran public opinion researcher, co-founder of the FDR Group, and author of the report ? penned the following rejoinder to that review.

The FDR Group's recent survey of Ohio's school district superintendents, Yearning to Break Free (online here), conducted on behalf of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, found these local education leaders eager to overhaul the collective bargaining process and to increase their authority over staff and money. ?Give us autonomy,? they said, ?and hold us accountable for getting results.? Easy to understand, right? Well, two unhappy University of Houston professors reviewing the study ?for the National Education Policy Center's ?Think Tank Review Project? had a lot of trouble comprehending it.

From the get-go in their review, the professors failed to realize that the study was giving voice to the opinions of these school leaders ? not our opinions as researchers or even Fordham's but those of Ohio superintendents. The professors say, ?the authors of the study recommend [emphasis added] that ?two promising ways to save districts money are to give superintendents greater control over combined state revenue streams and to mandate a statewide health insurance plan?'? But the report...

OhioFlypaper

Fordham's Vice President for Ohio Programs and Policy Terry Ryan testified to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee today about HB 153, the pending biennial budget bill.? You can read his full prepared remarks online here. In short, he ? and the Fordham Institute ? is supportive of much of the education reforms included in Governor Kasich inaugural budget.

Ryan stated:

In a brutal economic environment the Governor's budget properly focused on the dual goals of improving K-12 education in the Buckeye State while helping schools adjust to doing more with less. The budget pushes reforms that seek to free up school districts to in fact do more with less.

For example, Ryan testified:

Probably the most significant item in the budget that has the potential to lead to significant cost savings over the long haul is language that promotes the expansion of innovative and cost-conscious educational service centers (ESCs), while reducing their state subsidy. HB 153 sets the conditions for ESCs to compete in offering professional services statewide not only to school districts, charter and STEM schools, but to other political subdivisions such as municipalities, townships, counties, and other public entities. This should help expand successful educational service centers while also facilitating economies of scale and consolidation of services and service providers. Ohio has built up an overcapacity of government service providers and support agencies over the decades, and HB 153 sets the conditions for right-sizing both the education sector and local government.

Despite the good...

Today in the Columbus Dispatch is a must-read point-counterpoint set of op-eds about proposed changes to Ohio charter school law, including one by Fordham president and Ohio native Chester E. Finn, Jr.

The debate happening in the Buckeye State over the Ohio House's charter-related changes to the governor's budget, which would dramatically undermine accountability of charter schools as well as the separate groups that authorize and operate them, is an important one ? not just to Ohioans but to choice advocates nationally. As Checker argues, ?if the Ohio's House's version of the biennial budget makes its way into law, the state's mish-mash of a community-school? program will become a full-fledged contender for America's worst.? But with so many state capitols and legislatures run by charter-friendly Republicans, the debacle unfolding in Ohio should serve as a warning to other states, especially those with a smaller charter sector and less familiar with crafting policies and laws to ensure not only growth but smart growth and accountability.

The article by Tom Needles, lobbyist for the for-profit White Hat Management group and other charter groups, is misleading even in its title, ?Yes: Many states have similar laws that promote greater accountability? (this, in response to ?Are charter-school reforms on right track??). Needles goes on to lift only one significant change to Ohio law that would ?promote greater accountability?: allowing the Ohio Department of Education authorize (aka sponsor) charter schools. He's right that ?this governance model currently exists in one...

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An article in today's Akron Beacon Journal ?about school turnaround caught my eye. Butchels High School and Perkins Middle School both received the second lowest rating (Academic Watch) on last year's report card and as a result will merge into one school (Butchel- Perkins) in hopes of better performance ?starting in the fall of 2012. The schools have been trying to turn themselves around for some time, to no avail. The district has now stepped in with its own transformation plan, although it is unclear from the article whether the district is doing this in anticipation of the turnaround language in the budget(more on this in next week's Ohio Education Gadfly).

Here's what the schools' turnaround plan entails. First, all of the teachers at Butchels and Perkins will have to reapply for their jobs at the end of the year. Half of them will be brought back to teach in the new ?combined? school building, while the other half will be placed elsewhere in another district school. Secondly, Akron is hoping to allow the current principals to remain in the school. Third, when the new school opens in 2012 they will belong to a network of 62 New Tech High Schools across the country that focuses on problem solving and computer literacy. Each student will be given a laptop or tablet so they will be able to access the school's network at any time.

While the reform intentions here should be applauded the plan is problematic for...

Ohio is in the midst of some serious and much-needed education reform. Unfortunately, the good stuff is getting lost in the noise of high-profile political controversies around relatively marginal issues like charter schools. Consider that only four percent of the states children attend charter schools; yet the political debate for the last week in Columbus around school reform has been almost exclusively around charters.

We've been drawn into this and haven't been shy about commenting (see here, here and here), but it has been seriously frustrating to be in this debate. In fact, the House charter language was so one-sided and out of kilter that it should never have even made it out of the House. If it had been presented to some of the state's charter school leaders ahead of time ??? like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools ??? it would surely have been refined and improved upon before being put forth in the budget. Water under the bridge now, and hopefully the Senate will fix the mess passed their way.

Yet, despite the charter challenge, the House - building on some good stuff passed to them by the Governor - has gotten a lot right in the budget. First, considering the $8 billion budget deficit facing the state the House-passed the pain across school districts in what can only be described as fair and equitable. Poor districts and their students have not been hit as hard as wealthier districts, and for...

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The insanity of the charter school provisions inserted by the Ohio House of Representatives into Ohio's pending budget bill will come as no surprise to Flypaper readers after Terry's post last Friday. Here's another gem tucked into HB 153 by House Republicans (new language inserted by the House is underlined):

Sec.??3314.04. Except as otherwise specified in this chapter and in the contract between a community school and a sponsor entered into under section 3314.08 of the Revised Code, such school is exempt from all state laws and rules pertaining to schools, school districts, and boards of education, except those laws and rules that grant certain rights to parents. No community school shall be required to comply with any education laws or rules or other requirements that are not specified in this chapter or in the contract entered into under section 3314.08 of the Revised Code that otherwise would not apply to a chartered nonpublic school.

In short, this provision states that charter schools (they're officially called ???community schools??? in the Buckeye State) will not have to comply with any education laws or rules that exist outside of chapter 3314 of the Ohio Revised Code (Ohio's charter school law), unless those laws also apply to the state's private schools.

What does that mean in practice? Will charters now be exempt from the Ohio Achievement Assessments, the state's accountability system, basic teacher licensure rules, and rules governing things like student attendance?...

Late last week the Ohio House released its amendments to the governor's biennial budget bill (HB 153). While the changes related to charter schools are atrocious ? as Terry pointed out in courageous fashion (winning the support of Democratic bloggers and organizations who would never typically string ?Fordham? and ?agree? in the same sentence together) ? changes related to teacher personnel provisions are a huge improvement.

In the original version, teacher personnel reforms were headed in the right direction but the details were off. While the bill eliminated LIFO, streamlined teacher dismissal procedures, and tried to establish meaningful performance evaluations and merit pay, it also retained antiquated variables like level of license (heavily correlated with having a master's degree) and highly qualified status as measures of ?performance? that would have allowed districts to continue making personnel decisions using these proxies for seniority. Teacher reforms are much clearer in the House version.

The timeline for the state superintendent (yet to be selected) to determine a model framework for teacher evaluations creates a sense of urgency (December 31, 2011); districts would have until July 2012 to submit their own frameworks. ?Teacher evaluations will incorporate student growth (50 percent); use three year's worth of data when measuring a students' gains; and rate teachers according to four tiers ? highly effective, effective, needs improvement, and unsatisfactory.

More importantly, these new teacher evaluation ratings (which will be published in the aggregate by the state department...

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Budget language presented yesterday by the Ohio House, run by Republicans, risks making the Buckeye State the nation's laughing stock when it comes to charter school programs. During the early and mid-2000s Ohio was known as the Wild West of charter school programs because the state encouraged dozens of charter schools to spring up over night.

Ohio early on hewed to a laissez-faire approach to school growth and quality. As a result some of the people and organizations that launched schools were ill-prepared. Some had eccentric views of what a school should be. Some operators turned out to be more interested in personal enrichment than in delivering high-quality instruction to poor kids.

As a result, headlines such as ???Charters Fail to Deliver,??? ???State Audit Says Charter School Company Owes Thousands,??? and ???Wild Experiment??? were ubiquitous. Things were so bad that the then Republican State Auditor Jim Petro issued a report blasting the Ohio Department of Education for being such a weak and non-selective charter school authorizer. Less than a year later the Republican-controlled General Assembly had passed HB364 which required the Ohio Department of Education to get out of the business of sponsoring charter schools entirely.

This was the first effort at cleaning up Ohio's troubled charter school program and it would be followed up in subsequent years by further reforms to the program by Republicans that included the implementation of one of the nation's toughest automatic charter school closure laws.. As a result of seeking a...

Yesterday Gov. Kasich signed long-awaited legislation to enable Teach For America to have a home in the Buckeye State.?? Now that legislation is official ? and TFA can place teachers across all grades and subjects (the primary barrier for the last two decades) ? several important questions are cropping up. With which districts will TFA partner? How can it expect to place teachers as districts ? especially large urban ones like Cleveland that are likely TFA partners ? are laying off veterans? How can Ohio avoid headlines like this, and avoid tossing new corps members into a controversial thicket like what's happening in Kansas? (A friend emailed me right away to express excitement about the bill but as a traditionally trained teacher, this was her first question ? do you think TFAers should take jobs during layoffs? I had no good answer for her. I bet TFA will struggle with this one.)

Beyond the obvious questions about TFA's move onto Ohio soil, several other things stood out from the bill signing. First, despite wide-ranging support for the program, there's still a lot of opposition to the program and until teachers are working successfully in classrooms to bust some myths, I don't expect that to go away.? Second, it shouldn't be surprising but is interesting nonetheless how the governor took credit for bringing TFA here (he drew a direct line between mentioning TFA in his...

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This morning in Fordham's hometown of Dayton, four education leaders and advocates working for change in the city of Dayton spoke on a panel. Among those in the audience included district leaders, parochial and charter school principals, and legislators. The panel included Fordham's Terry Ryan, the Superintendent of Dayton Public Schools Lori Ward, President of Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School Dan Meixner, and Kevin Kelly, Dean of the School of Education and Allied Professions at the University of Dayton.

The panel spoke to the different challenges facing the Dayton community and the desperate need for education reform in the city. While the panelists disagreed about certain things there were two big areas of agreement that stood out.

The need for a supportive community

The moderator, Ellen Belcher from the Dayton Daily News, asked a question about what was needed of the Dayton community to foster reforms in education and move the city in the right direction. The panelists agreed that community support and involvement is crucial for education reform; however, they noted that it is extremely difficult to build in Dayton because of a variety of factors. They noted that obstacles, such as children coming to school hungry or who have even seen a parent been shot before their eyes, bring challenges to the classroom that are difficult to overcome. It is also no secret to anyone in the Dayton community...

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