Ohio Gadfly Daily

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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Yesterday School Choice Ohio held a discussion led by Matt Ladner, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice who's conducted a mountain of research on school choice programs nationally and in Ohio. His research on Florida is germane not just for Ohio but for any state wishing to emulate Florida's success in moving the student achievement needle for its low-income and minority students.

You can view the full document here (or skip ahead to Ohio-specific policy recommendations; again, they're useful for other states), but the gist is simple. And impressive.

Over the last decade, Florida has managed to eke out steady improvements to student achievement (measured by fourth-grade scores on the NAEP), specifically for students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, and for Hispanic and African American students. For example, Florida's FRPL-eligible fourth graders saw a 14 percent increase in scale scores on the NAEP (reading) from 1998 to 2009. In contrast, Ohio fourth graders saw a drop, then a slight increase, and then an evening out such that their scores have gone virtually unchanged in 11 years. (However, despite raw scale scores going up, it was unclear from Ladner's presentation where the proficiency cut-off was and whether/to what extent more at-risk students are reaching actual proficiency.?

Perhaps most impressive is that when you compare Florida's minority youngsters with students statewide (including high-income and white students) in other states, in several instances the former outscores the latter. Florida's African-American students scored...

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The Columbus Dispatch ran competing op-eds by School Choice Ohio's (SCO) Chad Aldis and Fordham's Terry Ryan on the expansion of vouchers in the Buckeye State. Both Aldis and Ryan support the expansion of school choice programs in Ohio, but how the state should hold these new programs accountable for their academic performance and even whether it should do so is contentious.

Ohio's House Bill 136(Huffman) would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Saving Scholarship Program (PACT), a private school scholarship program open to all students statewide whose families meet a maximum income threshold, regardless of whether their home district is failing or not. PACT would award up to $4,563 per child to families with annual household incomes up to $65,000 for a family of four, and could affect every school district in the state. The breadth of this proposed voucher program as well as the fact that Ohio currently has three other voucher programs and a myriad of other school choice options such as charter and on-line schools, is turning the debate over HB 136 into somewhat of a school choice war.

SCO's Chad Aldis made the philosophical case for the expansion of vouchers when he penned that

?As parents, we want the best for our children, and we make choices every day to achieve that. We choose the food they eat, the doctors they see, the amount of television they watch. Our choices help shape the people they become. Yet, among the hundreds of

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This week StateImpact Ohio is featuring a series on charter schools in Ohio that will address questions about charter school performance, management/governance, finances, and more. (Note, StateImpact is a ?reporting project of local public media and NPR? and exists in multiple states including Ohio.)

The first part in the series, ?Thirteen Years Into the Charter School Experiment,? provides a decent (if brief) overview of Ohio's charter history and landscape. The piece points out several benefits that charter schools have provided in the Buckeye State, namely parental empowerment, pressure on traditional public schools to get better, and freedom from ridiculous red tape stipulating things like the size of a school cafeteria.

At least one missing fact ? and the cause of a lot of misconception about charter schools ?draining? the public school system ? is worth highlighting, however. The piece begins by noting that ?Ohio is paying upwards of $500,000 to support these schools? but fails to point out that in the Buckeye State, charters schools are and historically have been severely underfunded compared to their district counterparts. For example, in FY 2010, each pupil in Columbus City Schools received $8,200 in local revenue. Meanwhile, charter schools in Columbus ? including two of our own - receive zero dollars in local funds, and the amount captured from the state, approximately $5300 per pupil, doesn't even come close to making up for this gap amount. (Never mind the money that public district schools receive on top of...

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OhioFlypaper

The George W. Bush Presidential Center, located in Dallas, Texas recently released data on international student achievement in both reading and math, which you can peruse in an interactive tool, the Global Report Card. It compares 2007 math and reading achievement levels between districts across the nation and 25 developed nations. It should be noted that the tool does not adjust for differences in race, socioeconomic status, or other classifications.? However, the tool is still useful to get an idea of how the districts measure up against their future global competition.

In short, Ohio's major city school districts have quite an abysmal showing compared to their international counterparts.?

Among the eight districts Akron Public Schools had the best showing, ranking in the 28th percentile in Math and the 41st percentile in reading. As poor of a result as this may seem, Dayton Public Schools and Youngstown City Schools struggled even more by comparison.? Both Dayton and Youngstown ranked in the bottom 15 percent in math while ranking respectively in the 24th and 25th percentiles in reading.? Here is how Ohio's big eight fared in comparison to their international counterparts:

What is more concerning is that these numbers improve (significantly in math) when these districts are measured against just the rest of the United States, meaning the country as a whole is continuing to fall behind other developed nations. This is largely due to...

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The Ohio Department of Education released performance rankings of all charter authorizers (aka ???sponsors???) this week, as part of the new requirement that those ranking in the bottom 20 percent of all authorizers cannot take on new schools for one year.

This is a provision Fordham fully supported and in fact helped craft, as a means to ensure better quality and accountability in the charter school sector. The rankings, found here, include 47 authorizers including us (our sister organization, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is an authorizer). On a list of 47 authorizers, we ranked 24th. Nine sponsors fell into the bottom 20 percent and cannot open new schools.

We've never shied away from the truth when it comes to our schools.?? Each year, we publish a comprehensive, public account of our schools' performance (our 2011 edition will be out next month and you can peruse past editions here).?? We've also been among the first to admit that the work is tough; that more school choice without parallel accountability measures is pointless (kids need better options ??? not just more of them); and that closing schools is an important part of quality authorizing. Historically we've accepted the challenge of closing troubled schools poor academic results.

But because these state rankings are new and high-profile, we wanted to take a moment to put them in context and reiterate our emphasis on continuous improvement for all of our schools.

It's important to note a...

Last week the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants totaling $25 million to charter school management organizations that have been successful at raising student achievement in extremely difficult conditions. Among?the winners included?Cleveland's Breakthrough Charter School Network, a successful network of schools in the Cleveland area.

This week the U.S. Department of Education and Arne Duncan announced a second round of awards totaling nearly $5 million. This round of grants went to 23 charter schools around the country that have demonstrated the ability to produce outstanding results. The grants are to be used to help these schools assist in their planning to expand and open new high quality charter schools. ?The grants will also provide the opportunity for three high -performing charters to partner with non-charter public schools to improve their academic performance and share effective practices.

Among the list of high-performing schools to receive this prestigious grant was Fordham-authorized Columbus Collegiate Academy. CCA received a grant totaling $600,000 for the next three years.? Over 94 percent of CCA students are?economically disadvantaged and since opening their doors in 2008, they have become the highest performing middle school in Columbus. The school's ability to continue to make tremendous student gains has caused it to rank among the best charter schools in the country. CCA is planning to use this grant money to open a new school and spread their successful practices in the near future. ?

Fordham's director of charter school sponsorship Kathryn Mullen Upton noted:

"We

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Today on the Learning Matters blog (an affiliate of PBS) check out a discussion on teacher training programs and teacher quality, featuring New?Leaders for New Schools'?Jon Schnur, Allan Odden, Public Impact's Julie Kowal and Sharon Kebschull Barrett, and yours truly (among many others).

My piece is below in full but be sure to check out the full discussion online and leave your own comments.

?Know it when you see it?? Hardly.

We can't improve the quality of our nation's educators or teacher training programs without a serious dialogue around what good teaching looks like, especially for the most at-risk students for whom excellent teaching is most vital. Further, policies must be structured in ways that tease out the attributes and skills of excellent educators and identify and develop these in less effective teachers.

In Ohio, we frequently hear that it's just not possible to do this fairly. But experiences from other states and districts prove otherwise. We interviewed teachers evaluated under the District of Columbia's IMPACT system ? which measures hallmarks of strong instruction like checking for understanding, engaging students, and delivering content clearly. Overwhelmingly DC teachers believed that it correctly identified high and low performers as well as identified tangible ways they could improve.

We heard a similar theme when we interviewed Mike Miles, superintendent of Colorado's Harrison School District 2. HSD2 measures teacher quality according to curricular alignment, classroom management, student engagement, and student growth, among many indicators....

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This week the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants totaling $25 million to charter school networks that have been extremely successful in raising student achievement. The grants went to nine different charter networks across the country, all of which serve mostly low-income students. Arne Duncan made it clear why these charter networks deserved to be recognized when he said:

Several high-quality charter schools across the country are making an amazing difference in our children's lives, especially when charters in inner-city communities are performing as well, if not better, than their counterparts in much wealthier suburbs.

One recipient of the grant money was Breakthrough Charter Schools from Cleveland, Ohio. Breakthrough serves more than 1,400 K-8 students across six schools, of which 95 percent are minority and 80 percent are considered low-income. Despite what some would call challenging conditions, Breakthrough has managed to outperform the city of Cleveland and state average on every single test in every single grade.

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Source: Breakthrough Charter Schools

This is quite the accomplishment and one that should be applauded. ?The U.S Department of Education awarded Breakthrough $3,488,060 to open eight new schools and expand three schools that they already have in Cleveland. One Breakthrough school in particular, Citizens Academy, was also recently recognized for their commitment to accelerating student growth and preparing their students for college. Citizens Academy was named a National Blue Ribbon Schools of 2011....

Voters in Ohio support restrictions on collective bargaining (60% support restrictions), and strong majorities (62%) oppose service cuts as a means of keeping public employees at current salary and benefit levels. ??These findings from Douglas E. Schoen ??? pollster for President Bill Clinton ??? should encourage supporters of Ohio's Senate Bill 5, which seeks to weaken the collective-bargaining power of about 360,000 public workers in the Buckeye State. But, the same poll also found that a majority of Ohioans oppose the specific collective bargaining changes in the bill. This conflict in attitudes suggests Ohio's voters are confused about the connection between changing collective bargaining rules and controlling public employees' costs and benefit packages.

Whatever the outcome of the November 8th referendum (and both sides are investing millions in television ads to sway voters to their side), Schoen's survey findings make clear Ohioans, and Americans more generally, are fed-up with how elected officials run their states, with the generosity of public sector employee wages and benefits, and with the overall fiscal health of their states.

Two-in-three American voters express frustration with the direction their state economies are moving and say their state is on the ???wrong track.??? A plurality (48%) blame their elect officials for their state budget problems, and a plurality (47%) say cutting government spending is the best way to address the problem facing states, while 31% would require public employees to contribute more towards their benefits. Just 13% of voters think the best way forward is...

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