Ohio Gadfly Daily

Olivia London

Last week, Terry and I wrote about Teach For America and its potential to improve inner-city public education in Ohio. We cite a couple examples of TFA alum who are transforming education in our nation's cities--and in the following article, we spotlight Sam Franklin, a TFA alum who is working to improve public education in Pittsburgh. As a graduate of Kenyon College, Franklin has ties to Ohio. We hope you'll be inspired by his story. - Aaron Churchill

This article originally appeared in Carnegie Mellon Today. It is reprinted with permission. 

Profound speech in hand, Samuel Franklin walked into his classroom of underprivileged sixth-graders for his first day in Teach for America. He planned to emphasize how they would team up to beat the odds, proving their critics wrong. But as the words came out of his mouth, he realized how silly he sounded. The students were waiting for him to start teaching.

Franklin, who had noticed inequalities in the public education system throughout his own time in school, had no doubt in his mind that he wanted to join Teach for America after finishing his undergraduate studies at Ohio’s Kenyon College. Teach for America recruits graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged public schools.

Franklin began his assignment in the Oakland, California school believing that with proper support and motivation, every student can succeed. His school’s student population was made up entirely of minority students from low-income families. After that first day, Franklin always went...

“Nothing lasting thrives in a hostile environment. Just as too many charter supporters are hung up on defending all charters all the time, their tireless opponents are bent on creating false distinctions and are constantly attacking them from every imaginable direction. Double standards and hypocrisy are in ample supply on both sides.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr., Terry Ryan and Michael Lafferty, Ohio Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the frontlines, 2010

The following quote summed up a key lesson learned from the charter school experience in Ohio over the first decade of its controversial life. Three years later, the lesson still rings true. And no doubt the long political struggle around charter schools has hurt the state’s overall charter school quality (great operators have far friendlier states to choose from), made it difficult for Ohio to improve its charter law (this struggle has been characterized by zero-sum battles at the state house), and retarded the power of charter schools to fulfill their potential (hard to thrive in hostile environments).

We’ve not shied away from taking on radicals on either side of the debate. Many in the charter community dislike us because we think accountability for school performance as measured by standardized tests is as important as school choice itself. Meanwhile those on other side don’t like us because we support school choice and indeed authorize 11 charters in Ohio.

We’ve not shied away from taking on radicals on either side of the debate.

In recent weeks, however, the anti-charter...

The West Carrollton school district, just southwest of Dayton, is the latest Ohio school district to pass an open enrollment policy allowing students from any district in the state to enroll in one of their schools. West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford told the Dayton Daily News that, “Our purpose is to be the school district of choice in Ohio. We want to give any student in the state the opportunity to experience the same great education that students currently living in the West Carrollton district are experiencing.” West Carrollton serves about 3,800 students, 58 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, and the district received an Effective (B) rating from the Ohio Department of Education in 2011-12.

Superintendent Clifford, Ohio’s 2013 superintendent of the year, acknowledged the decision to become an open enrollment district was driven by economics. “Our enrollment numbers right now are flat to slightly declining,” Clifford told the Dayton Daily News. District enrollment has declined about 13 percent since 1999 and Clifford argues, “In order to keep all of the great staff we have right now, we need to grow our student base. As we keep students, we can keep staff.” Each student that enrolls in West Carrollton from another district brings about $5,700 with him or her.

The Ohio Legislature approved an open enrollment policy in 1989, and under state law school boards are able to decide among three options:

  • Accept only students who are residents of the district;
  • Extend enrollment eligibility to students
  • ...

Under Ohio state law, public schools will be required to have a teacher evaluation system in place by July 2014. Half of the teacher evaluation formula is to be based on student learning growth on exams. For some subjects, this puts schools in awkward situation of having to evaluate for example, gym or art teachers—subjects that don’t have established exams and tests.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has published manuals for evaluating teachers of these hard-to-measure subjects. But, as Terry Ryan recently reported—some of these guidelines border on the absurd.

Even the august champion of teacher evaluations, Bill Gates, worried about “hastily contrived” teacher evaluations. He writes in the Washington Post:

Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure.

Mr. Gates reiterated his point by citing Ohio’s recent gym teacher evaluation manual as an example. Gates’ commentary provoked responses, from Anthony Cody in Education Week and Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.

Gates is right to point out the...

In Ohio, Fordham authorizes the state’s only KIPP school (KIPP Journey in Columbus). So we were excited to read Mathematica’s recent report KIPP Middle Schools: Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes. It  has garnered considerable media attention and commentary—from belief to skepticism—for its finding that KIPP schools significantly improve student outcomes. A large portion of the coverage and commentary has honed in on KIPP’s positive impacts on student achievement, with less attention paid to the Other Outcomes part of the report.

The other outcomes part of the report, however, deserves its share of attention—especially, the report’s analysis of what school-based factors explain KIPP’s success. This analysis is intended to pinpoint one, perhaps multiple, reasons why KIPP charter schools work for their students.

To answer why, the researchers link individual KIPP school’s impact estimates, which vary among the schools, with a set of 14 school-based explanatory factors. Here are some of the more interesting findings:

•Length of school day: Especially long school days are associated with lower student achievement. But, the KIPP schools with especially long school days also tend to spend more time in non-core subjects, which leads to point two—

•Instructional time: More time spent in the core subjects (math, language arts, science, and history) relates to higher math and reading scores. And conversely, more time in non-core subjects relates negatively to achievement scores. The upshot of this and the bullet above: A longer school day that’s loaded with non-core subject instruction...

Dublin City Schools does a small yet nice honor for its high-flying students. In the midst of balance sheets and income statements, Dublin City’s 2012 financial report  includes a page with the pictures of five students who achieved a perfect 36 out of 36 on their ACT exams. At the bottom of the page, underneath their pictures, was the short but sublime statement: “Less than five-tenth of one percent of the students taking the ACT nationwide will be able to accomplish what these Dublin Students have done.”

Though it’s a small honor—and yes, it’s buried on page 117 of a document that few people will lay eyes upon—Dublin City properly celebrates the hard work and smarts of these students. And, perhaps other schools could follow the lead of Dublin, and find ways to recognize the accomplishments of their high-achievers, even in official reports. For, it’s a powerful reminder to readers, amidst the tedium of governmental reporting, of the purpose of education in the first place—to give kids the opportunity to reach their full potential.   

Many school leaders and teachers in Ohio are facing the full implementation across all grade levels for the Common Core Curriculum in Ohio - English Language Arts and Literacy next year and in Mathematics the following year.  So, how have schools prepared and what are they doing to make the transition work?

As an authorizer of charter schools in diverse communities across Ohio, we want to hear from our school leaders – to inform and educate us on what is happening in their schools and in their classrooms in regard to the Common Core and PARCC assessments.  Over the next several weeks, we will be reporting back on the following questions:

1. What's your biggest worry? 

2. What do you need to put in place before this all starts?

3. Do you have all the technology needed for testing?

4. What skills do your teachers have that will make this easier?

5. What could ODE do to make sure things go as smoothly as possible?

6. What do you want your parents to know about CC?

We will be posing these questions to the following leaders in Fordham’s portfolio of sponsored schools:

1. Foresta Shope, principal of Sciotoville Elementary Academy

2. Dustin Wood, principal of KIPP:Journey Academy

3. Dr. TJ Wallace, Executive Director of Dayton Leadership Academies

4. Dr. Glenda Brown, superintendent of the Phoenix Community Learning Center

5. Chad Webb, head of school Village Preparatory Academy

6. John Dues, School Director of Columbus Collegiate Academy Main Street Campus


Enticing our top college graduates to teach in America’s classrooms is a serious challenge, bordering on an epidemic in some of our poorer communities and neighborhoods. According to the 2010 McKinsey reportAttracting and Retaining Top Talent in US Teaching,” just under one in four of our entering teachers come from the top third of their college class. For high-poverty schools even fewer entering teachers (a mere 14 percent) are top third talent.

In the Buckeye State, the Ohio Board of Regents’ data corroborate McKinsey’s finding that neither the best nor brightest are entering Ohio’s classrooms as teachers. According to the Regents, the average composite ACT of an incoming teacher-prep candidate was 22.75, below the average ACT score of the overall incoming freshman class for relatively selective universities. The middle 50 percent of incoming freshman to the Ohio State University, for example, had composite ACT scores between 26 and 30.  

What deters the best and brightest from entering (and staying) in our classrooms is, of course, a complicated issue with many hypotheses: low pay, stressful working conditions, rigid  certification requirements, lack of prestige, and archaic remuneration systems that fail to reward high-performing teachers and backloads benefits are all plausible explanations.

Since 1989 Teach For America (TFA) has worked to improve this bleak human capital situation, and has brought the nation’s top college graduates into a small, but increasing slice of America’s highest need classrooms. In 2012-13, more...

Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Ohio’s schools will fully implement the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC exams--online assessments aligned to the Common Core. As the Buckeye State draws nearer to lift off for these new academic standards and tests, school districts are ratcheting up their technological infrastructure and capacity.

Consider a few recent examples of how schools are improving their technological infrastructure in advance of the Common Core and the PARCC exams:

  • The Akron Beacon Journal reported that the Akron Public Schools recently approved $300,000 plus in spending to upgrade its computer software and Internet bandwidth. These improvements will ensure that its students are able to take the online PARCC exams.
  • Meanwhile on the other side of the Buckeye State, The Lima News reported that Delphos and Ottawa-Glandorf school districts, both located in rural Northwest Ohio, have purchased new computers to ensure that their students will be able to take the PARCC exams.
  • Finally, in rural Southeast Ohio, The Marietta Times reported that Morgan Local School District has been piloting Thinkgate. Teachers at Morgan Local will use this digital instructional system to provide real-time feedback to students about how well they are progressing toward meeting the learning expectations of the Common Core.  

In addition to these local efforts, the governor’s budget proposal (see page D-180) also takes steps to improve technology as schools transition to the Common Core and the PARCC exams. In the state’s student assessment line-item, the governor proposes...

“Autonomy, in exchange for accountability” has been the mantra of charter school theorists since before the first charter opened its doors in Minnesota in 1991. But, far too often over the last two decades this mantra has been more ideal than reality. Getting the balance right between autonomy and accountability has been so hard because there has been much confusion over the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the non-profit charter school governing boards, school operators, and authorizers in the autonomy/accountability deal.

Fordham’s new policy brief by Adam Emerson, “Governance in the Charter School Sector: Time for a Reboot,” tackles the governance issue head-on. One section in particular is especially interesting to me because of our role as a charter school authorizer in the Buckeye State. Ohio, and other states with strong charter school networks (both non-profit CMOs and for-profit EMOs), has struggled to balance the power and influence of school operators with that of their non-profit governing board. Too often boards are seen as little more than a necessary evil while operators run the show. It is not at all uncommon for charter school operators in Ohio to “hire” board members, and then use them as a rubber stamp for all school operations.  

As a state approved charter school authorizer in Ohio we have always held a different view. Our position has been that the non-profit governing boards are independent, and clearly in charge of, any outside organization that they engage to run their education programs. It has...