Ohio Gadfly Daily

Warnings have been issued. Schools, both district and charter, are scurrying to get prepared. This spring, Ohio’s third-grade students will take a reading assessment, and those students unable to achieve a minimum score will have one more chance to remediate and pass in the summer—or repeat third grade.

This policy, known in Ohio as the “third-grade reading guarantee,” was adopted in 2012 as a result of Senate Bill 316 and was expected to generate some controversy when implemented. That prospect for most, however, was little more than an expected storm on day ten of a ten-day weather forecast. It could be bad, but who knows! Maybe the storm would miss us.

In October, the state administered a reading assessment to third graders across the state. The results weren’t good, with more than one-third of students failing to reach the score necessary to advance to the fourth grade. The ten-day forecast grew into a storm “warning” overnight, but the correctness of the prediction is not a cause for celebration. As with most storms, it’s important to follow a few simple steps.

First, stay calm. There have been times when the reaction to a storm is almost as intense and...

“How did we ever lose our way on vocational education? Why did we put it down? Why did we not understand its value?” – Ohio Governor John Kasich, State of the State, February 24, 2014.

As Ohio’s governor rightly remarks, vocational education and the students who participate in it have been second-class citizens for too long. I know that from my own experience attending a Western Pennsylvania high school during the late 1990s, where—permit me to be blunt—our school’s “vo-tech kids” were generally put down, disparaged, and ostracized by other students.

Don’t just take my word for it, however. Surveys call attention to the negative perception of vocational education (a.k.a., “career-and-technical education” or CTE). A study in 2000 found that the “underlying theme” voiced by those in vocational education was the need to “change the perception that CTE offers an inferior curriculum, appropriate only for those students who cannot meet the demands of a college-preparatory program.” Similarly, research for the Nebraska Department of Education in 2010 concluded, “Substantial proportions of Nebraskans believe that CTE students are not respected as students who take more traditional academic courses.”

Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy casts...

Ohio has the third-largest number of students enrolled in virtual education in the country. And many of the purveyors of online education are, apparently, not producing strong results for their students. It seems imperative that parents, legislators, taxpayers, and virtual-schooling advocates take action to ensure accountability for these schools, which are now expanding again in Ohio after a moratorium borne out of previous quality concerns. Public Impact has published a new report suggesting that what is needed is not anything new or unusual in terms of accountability measures—in fact, the same sorts of accountability mechanisms and processes we insist upon for brick-and-mortar schools can easily be adapted to help assess virtual schools, as well. And it may even be easier with virtual schools, as electronic data is readily available and easily portable in most areas of measurement and reporting. Where it seems that accountability for virtual schools does break down is in their unique structure. For example, on the input side, many teacher-prep programs don’t deal with the needs of virtual education, yet teachers are licensed the same for online and brick-and-mortar schools. Fully online schools are uniquely unsuited to site visits, a staple element of best practice...

The weeping and gnashing of teeth from parents and community members who may be affected by the closure of seven Columbus City Schools is understandable. No one wants to lose institutions that are dear to the heart.

But I would ask this: Where was the outrage from parents and the community when these schools failed to deliver academic results? Why didn’t 700 people come out to the meetings when our own state department of education rated the schools as under-performing? Where were the protests; where were the posters; where were the demands?

For those who might be interested, here’s the dismal three-year performance record of the seven schools on the chopping block. Maybury is the only school in which the case could be made that it’s worth keeping open on the basis of academics.

Source: Ohio Department of Education Notes: In 2012-13, no school received an overall rating. For 2010-11 and 2011-12, “academic emergency” is equivalent to an “F”; “academic watch” is equivalent to a “D”; “continuous improvement” is equivalent to a “C”; “effective” is equivalent to a “B.” High schools do not receive a value-added rating, hence the N/A....

Convention says that low-performing schools are mainly an inner-city problem. To a degree that is the case—urban public-school systems have long struggled to educate their students well. Cleveland’s public schools are something of a poster-child in this respect, and other urban schools systems in Ohio struggle just as mightily. Youngstown City Schools is in “academic distress,” and Columbus’ district had so many problems with academic performance that some of its employees “scrubbed” student records to make it appear better.

That being said, it’s inaccurate to say that weak schools exist only in urban areas. As the maps below demonstrate, inept schools aren’t just an urban problem.

The first map shows the geographic distribution of Ohio’s low-rated public schools (district and charter), along both the state’s achievement and value-added indicator of performance. Many, but not all, of these 218 schools are located in large urban areas (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo). Yet there are pockets of low-performing schools in other mid-sized towns including Warren (near Youngstown in Northeast Ohio), Lima (Northwest Ohio), and Lorain (west of Cleveland). There are even a few low-rated schools in rural areas.

Map 1: Ohio schools that received a D or F in...

Ohio is deeply mired in a dropout crisis, with more than 20,000 of its high-school students leaving school each year. A recent analysis found that 112,610 dropouts occurred between 2006 and 2010 in Ohio’s public-school system.

It is absolutely crucial that the Buckeye State address dropouts, with fury. Why? The dropout crisis is a massive waste of human potential and it will eventually strain the state’s public welfare systems. Several economists have examined the consequences of dropping out. Here’s what they’ve found:

  • Lost earnings for dropouts: Cecilia Rouse of Princeton University estimates that over a lifetime high school dropouts earn $260,000 less than those who graduate high school (but complete no further schooling);
  • Lost revenue for governments: Rouse also estimates a $60,000 per dropout loss in state and federal income taxes over a lifetime, compared to someone completing just a high-school diploma and;
  • Increased public expenditures: Jane Waldfogel and her colleagues at Columbia University estimate that America could save as much as $2 billion dollars per year if welfare recipients had graduated high school. Meanwhile, dropouts also have a higher likelihood of incarceration, needing public aid for healthcare, and engaging in
  • ...

The headline in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch, “Union leader to be Coleman’s education czar,” certainly got my attention. I suspect I’m not alone.

Given Mayor’s Coleman’s relentless (and praiseworthy) push for education reform over the past 18 months, the appointment of a long-time teacher union official was almost shocking. Teacher unions, after all, have been the primary power brokers in the development of the education system that we are now struggling to reform.

So what’s the mayor thinking?

First, he’s obviously got to respond to the stunning levy defeat in November and the school system’s breathtaking cheating scandal. Choosing a respected educator is a smart way to build bridges and public support. 

Second, even in her official role as union president, Ms. Johnson has proven herself to be open to change. She appears to have played a significant role on the mayor’s education reform commission. For that, she deserves much credit. It would have been easy in those discussions for her to stymie any reform proposal that might negatively impact some of her members, but she didn’t. Instead, she helped the broad coalition of community stakeholders to reach...

The nearly 330 students at KIPP Columbus (aka KIPP Journey Academy) currently learn in a former city school facility. The building itself leaves much to be desired, but KIPP Columbus has made it their dutiful home since the fall of 2008, KIPP’s first year of operation. Since that time, the board and KIPP team have been focused on doing what is best for their students by pushing them to work hard, focusing on results, and helping them climb the mountain to and through college. KIPP’s students come from traditionally underserved backgrounds with nearly 90 percent of the student population economically disadvantaged.

Our Ohio team had the good fortune of spending a morning at the construction site of the KIPP Columbus campus at the former Bridgeview Golf Course.  The new campus, roughly five miles north of its present location, is set to open this fall. (Fordham proudly sponsors KIPP.) We met with Hannah Powell, the executive director of KIPP Columbus, who gave us the scoop on the new school and a guided tour of the site. The campus will integrate safety, technology, and learning design with ample room for collaboration, small group activity and community spaces. Throughout the building, the...

In the 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, Bill Murray relived February 2nd day after day. The Ohio charter-school sector is experiencing its own Groundhog Day moment with every struggle seemingly like the one before—with no end in sight.

Last week, the Toledo Blade brought us news of another charter-school closing. Secor Gardens Academy, which first opened last fall, closed abruptly over the weekend of February 8, sending parents scrambling to find a place to send their children. Maddeningly, the North Central Ohio Education Service Center (NCOESC was characterized in the Blade as defending its own performance as the school’s sponsor.

Yes, this NCOESC is the same one that sponsored two schools infamously closed in October 2013 by State Superintendent Richard Ross for being “an educational travesty.” A couple schools it sponsored, including one with which another sponsor had cut ties due to low performance, closed in December. Meanwhile, the NCOESC has drawn attention for its practice of selling services to schools it sponsors. I’m not sure that this sponsor gets it—but luckily, others are starting to do so.

Fresh off of his...

Well-meaning people can and do quibble over school-choice issues in our line of work. Sometimes the rhetoric becomes calcified and hardline ideological. But in my neighborhood in central Columbus, where a general dislike for “school choice” as a movement resonates, a small education marketplace has quietly sprung up just the same. And it’s all in the name of keeping young families from moving to the ’burbs.

Clintonville evolved in the early twentieth century along new streetcar lines heading north from downtown Columbus, but it has been politically and geographically part of the larger city for decades. Our neighborhood schools belong to the city district, and we have no autonomous government or ward representation on city council. We have what other neighborhoods here have, which is an Area Commission—elected members from various street-bound jurisdictions for whom we vote by paper ballot at the local barber shop or bank every couple of years. Area commissions exist to advise the Columbus City Council on matters pertaining to their neighborhoods but have no power of their own.

Clintonville is a proud collection of the weird and offbeat, and most of us like it that way. It isn’t flashy, but it feels like...