Ohio Gadfly Daily

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Gov. John Kasich is slated to sign Ohio's biennial budget today (it's a 5,000 page document), legislation that not only appropriates funding for the Buckeye State until 2013 but that also includes hundreds of pages of education-policy changes?most of which will move Ohio forward in significant ways.

The ultimate success of the budget's education reforms will depend greatly on the quality of implementation by the State Board of Education, the new state superintendent, and his team at the Ohio Department of Education. This may sound obvious, but it's worth hammering home: The budget puts an enormous amount of responsibility and faith into the Department of Education (to sponsor new charter schools, a move we opposed during the debate), the State Board (to approve model frameworks for teacher evaluation), and already thinly-stretched staffers who are still deciphering what the budget provisions actually mean.??

Now that the legislative debate has ended, where does Ohio stand on the big education-policy issues of charter schools, teacher policy, and school accountability and improvement? And why will implementation be so crucial? Let's dig in.

Charters & Choice

Fordham is a long-time supporter of school choice and believes in the expansion of quality options for families. However, we made it clear in recent months that we opposed proposals in the House that would have severely undermined accountability and the quality of authorizers and charter schools. Thankfully, the most egregious House language offered by some for-profit school-management companies was stripped out in...

When I came on with Fordham it was in the summer of 2009, just after a notoriously difficult budget battle during which Fordham unsuccessfully fought against then Gov. Strickland's inputs-heavy ?evidence-based? model of school funding, though successfully fought against the Governor's and lawmakers' attempts to decimate charter schools (among lots of other battles).

This year was my first experience with the state budget process. As this year's debate comes to a conclusion (Gov. Kasich will likely sign HB 153 into law tomorrow) I feel like I've learned a lot about a lot, so here's an attempt to distill that down into some relevant (and not-that-relevant) observations.

  • You can't predict everything. Fordham was especially blindsided this year with the charter school language inserted by the Ohio House (most of which thankfully was removed in the final version). Arguing against ludicrous charter language that would severely undermine accountability and quality wasn't on our initial radar; in short, you can never know what political tactics are being used behind closed doors and the extent to which lobbyists will influence what gets to the table.
  • Ohio is somewhat unusual in the amount of substantive policy put into the biennial budget. Ohio's budget ? for the last several biennia at least ? is not just about appropriating funds for various programs and agencies but contains a semi-load of actual policy. That makes it extraordinarily difficult for lawmakers to understand the nuances of proposed changes (the final version is some 5,000 pages!), to be
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A legislative conference committee has reported out its version of Ohio's next operating budget.?? The Senate and House are expected to approve the committee's report today and tomorrow, with Governor Kasich signing it into law Thursday.??

Details are still emerging, but at first glance education reformers can declare at least a few victories from this battle, especially when it comes to issues of teacher effectiveness.?? Included in the budget are provisions requiring that:

-?????????????????? By 2013-14 all Ohio school districts must implement a rigorous, multiple-measure teacher evaluation system that is based 50 percent on student performance data;

-?????????????????? Schools participating in Race to the Top must develop a merit-pay system for teachers based in part on that evaluation (this is optional for non-participating districts);

-?????????????????? Seniority is no longer the primary determiner of teacher lay-offs in the Buckeye State and may only be used as a tie-breaker when all other factors are equal.

The conference committee reportedly upheld most of the Senate's smart charter-school provisions, lifted restrictions on the start-up of new charter schools, and expanded eligibility and availability of the EdChoice voucher program.?? The committee also added new education policy language, including a provision giving Cleveland mayor (who has control over that city's school district) the ability to revoke collective bargaining rights of employees in his district's conversion charter schools.

We'll be following the budget developments closely this week. Follow us here on Flypaper or Twitter (@OhioGadfly) for...

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There has been a lot of controversy in Ohio in recent weeks around House-proposed legislative changes to the state's charter law that would decimate an already weak charter school accountability system (see here, here, and here). Fordham has not been shy about commenting publicly on what's wrong with the House language, nor have we shied away from arguing for stronger charter accountability and transparency. Those who know us understand our advocacy for strong charter accountability provisions are not new.

In fact, we have been a strong voice for charter school quality for more than a decade and played a critical role in the production of Turning the Corner to Quality: Policy Guidelines for Strengthening Ohio's Charter Schools. This report, released collaboratively with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers in October 2006, recommended a ???housecleaning??? to close down Ohio's poorest performing schools. Partly in response, the General Assembly passed a law in December 2006 to force failing schools to improve or face automatic closure.

Because we have been such outspoken and visible critics of the recent House language, many who disagree with us are raising questions publicly and behind the scenes about our motivations. Some have accused Fordham???in its advocating for a statewide authorizing entity that would merge the portfolios of existing sponsors, including Fordham???of trying to give birth to a ???super- sponsor??? in order to orchestrate some form of a charter school power grab. Still...

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Potentially drastic changes to teacher personnel policy in Ohio have been at the heart of heated debates for the last five or six months, precipitated by provisions in controversial SB 5, Ohio's collective bargaining law, as well as about-to-be-passed state biennial budget HB 153. Either set of provisions would change the way teachers are evaluated, rewarded, retained, dismissed, developed, and placed (though Fordham strongly prefers the language in HB 153).?

Among the myriad ways these policies would change the face of teaching and learning, however, ?merit pay? seems to be the maelstrom?toward which the majority of coverage and attention has been pulled. (For a quick experiment, google ?merit pay and Ohio? and ?teacher evaluations and Ohio? and see how many more recent hits the former returns.)

The House's teacher provisions (fingers crossed that that it will get re-inserted during conference committee) would get rid of seniority-based layoffs, develop a rigorous and sophisticated rating system for teachers, undo forced placement of ineffective teachers, use student test scores in evaluations, and effectively get rid of tenure (among other things). And yet the media seems to have a fixation on ?merit pay,? dwindling the entire teacher policy debate down to this one issue, or conflating ?merit pay? with other ? arguably more critical ? teacher policy reforms.

Even worse is that those who oppose merit pay can drum up legitimate points against it ? the research showing that merit pay improves student achievement is weak; Ohio...

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OhioFlypaper

Guest blogger Nikki Baszynski reflects on the eighth-grade graduation ceremony at Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA), a Fordham-authorized middle school serving students in grades six through eight (the vast majority of whom are economically disadvantaged). CCA recently won the Gold Star EPIC award from New Leaders for New Schools for its extraordinary student achievement gains, placing it among only four schools nationally to win the honor. In short, its eighth-grade graduates are among the best prepared incoming high schoolers in the city of Columbus, if not the whole state. Nikki was a founding teacher at the school, is a Teach For America alumna, and is now pursuing her juris doctorate at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

As we waited for the elevator, I looked to my left and saw a sign above the drinking fountain declaring, ?Whites Only.? Two Columbus Collegiate Academy graduates ? one black, one Hispanic ? noted the sign, too, and continued to read the commentary below it. The remaining portion of the sign explained the historic division of the races, recognized the efforts made to close that gap, and then ultimately welcomed all who read the sign to drink freely from the water fountain. As we finished reading, the elevator doors opened and we rode to the third floor of the King Arts Complex.

The King Arts Complex of Columbus, Ohio, is devoted to increasing awareness of the...

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Last evening, the Ohio Senate passed its version of the state's next operating budget, which would reward exceptional charter schools with low-cost facilities.?? Specifically:

  • Districts would be required to offer up unused space to charter schools for lease if the space goes unused by the district for two years,
  • When multiple charter schools express interest in the space, the district would have to lease it to the highest-performing school among the mix, and
  • If the leasing charter school is in the top 50% of all schools statewide, based on its ???performance index score??? ??? a measure of academic achievement ??? the district would lease the space for $1 per year.

Gene Harris, superintendent of Columbus City Schools, Ohio's largest district and one with a history of blocking charter schools from its unused facilities, is opposed to the change. Her reasons include that charters might not have sufficient funds to maintain a facility and that it prevents the district from leasing to other ???important??? organizations. I admit that these aren't invalid concerns.?? But I can't help but see this as yet another instance where anti-charter sentiment among the education establishment is so ingrained that districts don't recognize those pro-charter policies that they should be supporting.

For starters, this provision is fiscally smart for districts. If a district must maintain unused facilities regardless, why not lease to a charter school that will pick up those costs??? Further, this provision requires districts to lease, not sell, the space...

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In his weekly TIME column, Andy Rotherham pens a piece, ?Are These End Times for Charter Schools??, that begs further discussion. (Although how much cooler would it have been if the column came out on May 21?)

Despite reasons for optimism about charter growth ? there are now over 5,000 charters serving more than a million kids (and many states, facing pressure from Race to the Top and/or GOP leaders, will stimulate more growth as they lift charter caps) ? Rotherham points out what we here in Ohio have been noting for nearly a decade:

Charter schools range in quality from among the absolute best public schools in the country to among the absolute worst. That variance in quality is proving a political Achilles heel for charter schools and is fueling a serious backlash.

He goes on to outline places where charter schools are victim to strong opposition from teachers unions (New York City ? the teachers union and NAACP filed a lawsuit to curb charter growth; Rhode Island ? one mayor is facing an uphill battle to bring one of the best CMOs in, Achievement First). It's reminiscent of the scene in The Lottery where Eva Moscowitz of Harlem Village Academy is verbally assaulted by parents trying to thwart the growth of her charter school (the very parents and families whose kids could benefit most from school choice).

And then comes the flipside of the coin ? how to make sure charter growth and...

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Like many states, Ohio is struggling with how best to evaluate teachers and how to use those evaluations to inform personnel decisions (like remuneration, tenure, professional development, and ? when district budgets or enrollment levels leave no other choice ?layoffs). (Read today's Ohio Education Gadfly for more background on the Buckeye State's current legislative battle over teacher evaluations.)

Last week we released a video, What Ohio can learn from DC's teacher evaluations, featuring interviews with teachers evaluated under the DC IMPACT system. The teachers we interviewed ? which include science teachers, an elementary math coach, a fourth-grade teacher (of all subjects), a special ed middle school teacher, an art teacher, and a master educator (who conducts the observations on behalf of DCPS) ? shared what it's like to be evaluated via five observations each year and have part of their performance linked to student test scores.?

Today we released two more videos, wherein teachers evaluated under DC's IMPACT system address common fears and myths about rigorous evaluations.

Part 1

Part 2

Even prior to Ohio's legislative battle over teacher evaluations, myths and fears expressed by educators and policymakers about teacher evaluations have been rampant here. Opponents of overhauling teacher evaluation systems argue they're inherently unfair, arbitrary, prone...

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Consistency in public policy is hard to come by. Special interests, ideology, and ignorance of issues (manipulated by lobbyists and other interested parties) all collide and compete for life in the cosmic swirl of the legislative process. There is a distinct lack of consistency around education policy in the competing budgets drafted by the Ohio House and Senate that could be remedied if each body could focus its proposals around issues of performance.

In its version of the state budget (HB 153), the Ohio House put forth legislative language on teacher effectiveness that is some of the most progressive in the country. It would connect measures of pupil academic growth to teachers and further connect teacher effectiveness to key personnel decisions. Teachers would be rated, in part, on the academic performance of their students over time, and they would receive ratings according to four tiers ??? highly effective, effective, needs improvement, and unsatisfactory.

With a fair and rigorous system that measures gradations of teacher effectiveness using state assessment data, expert and peer evaluations, building- and district-level performance metrics, and even student evaluations, school systems can make smarter personnel decisions. They can reward their ablest instructors and put them in the classrooms where they are most needed, target support for teachers who warrant it and weed out those who are not a good fit for the profession. Layoffs can be based on performance instead of solely on seniority. These improvements would upgrade teacher effectiveness over time as they focus...

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