Ohio Gadfly Daily

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...

Evaluating teachers to gauge their impact on student achievement is a necessary reform. For too long school districts have been unable to identify their high performers from their underachievers, and reward and support them accordingly. Few disagree that it is a good thing to know if teachers are having a positive impact on their students’ abilities to read, write, do mathematics, comprehend history, and acquire the other academic knowledge and skills young people need to be successful in life.

But, in Ohio – and probably in other states – the desire to evaluate teachers has likely gone too far when we try to hold Physical Ed teachers accountable for teaching students to meet state defined targets like:

*Consistently demonstrating correct skipping technique with a smooth and effortless rhythm;
*Demonstrates correct technique, the ball flies upward at approximately a 45-degree angle and over a distance of 30 feet or great;
*Consistently demonstrates good rhythm by following a sequence of dance steps in time and with music;
*Able to throw consistently a ball underhand with good accuracy and technique to a target (or person) with varying distances; or
*Able to strike consistently a ball with a paddle to a target area with accuracy and good technique.

The Ohio Department of Education has, as mandated by state law, put together a 165 page “Physical Education Evaluation System” that is now being used across the state to measure the effectiveness of PE teachers. The document not...

Ohio’s urban school districts, like many others across the country, face a slow burning governance crisis. Elected school boards in cities like Columbus, Dayton and Youngstown are proving incapable of providing the leadership their cities, schools, families and children need to be successful. In Dayton, for example, long-time board member Yvonne Isaacs summed up the challenge when she told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2012, “There is really no continuity in terms of the vision and the direction of the district…I think what we have lost is the ability to collaborate and to set vision.” Youngstown’s dysfunction is legendary and it faces a state takeover.

But, no city in Ohio displays better the dysfunctionality of big city elected school boards than does Columbus. Columbus City Schools is a district in turmoil. Mayor Michael Coleman spelled out the challenges in a recent Columbus Dispatch op-ed thusly:

“The children of Columbus City Schools need our help. Forty-seven percent of kids enrolled in the district attend schools receiving a D or F grade by the Ohio Department of Education, while just 21 percent go to A or B schools. The district ranks near the very bottom statewide in terms of how much a student learns in a given year.

State and federal investigations into allegations of student-data manipulation hang like a black cloud over the district. The results threaten to further lower the academic-performance scores of our schools, and administrators could face indictment.

Our schools are at a crossroads. If...

Richard (Dick) Ross was sworn into today by state board of education president Debe Terhar as Ohio’s 37th State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The ceremony took place at the Reynoldsburg City High School (just east of Columbus). Dr. Ross takes over the leadership reigns of the Ohio Department of Education after serving as Governor Kasich’s director of 21st Century Education for the last two years. While in the Governor’s office Ross helped to craft the state’s A-F report card, the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee, and the new school funding plan being debated in the legislature.

Ross is the fourth state superintendent in two years, and enters the department during a time of change, challenges and opportunity. Ohio is revamping its school funding system, implementing new academic standards through the Common Core in English Language Arts and Mathematics, new standards in science and social studies, and putting into place new assessments through PARCC. Ohio is also a school choice hotbed, and is expected to see continued growth in both charter school students and students receiving public vouchers to attend private schools. These programs are under much scrutiny and could use improvements to their accountability and oversight.

Much of the department’s senior leadership has turned over in recent years and a big part of Ross’ early efforts will need to be around building his senior leadership team. He is the man for the job as his entire professional career has been defined...