Ohio Gadfly Daily

  1. After last week’s presentation by ODE to the current Youngstown Academic Distress Commission, more details are emerging on what the future CEO-led district might look like. The prime question in this piece is whether the elected school board will be retained and what it’s duties might be. (Youngstown Vindicator, 8/2/15)
  2. It is clear that folks in Lorain – the only other Ohio school district currently under the aegis of an old-style Academic Distress Commission – are looking warily at Youngstown for a glimpse of their possible future. This weird hybrid opinion piece/fact roundup is equal parts hope (“The district is pinning its hopes in Dr. Jeff Graham, who started Aug. 1 as the new Lorain City Schools superintendent.”) and propaganda (“We can’t think of anyone who would want to see Lorain Schools viewed in the same light as the struggling Youngstown City School District…”). But its authors are oddly optimistic about their own chances of avoiding state takeover (“We support any and all efforts to re-energize the struggling Lorain Schools.”) while simultaneously jumping the gun and erroneously reporting that Youngstown’s elected school board has already been disbanded. Almost as if the piece was written by a divided
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A recent study from the Education Trust called Funding Gaps 2015 illuminates the per-student funding disparities between affluent and poor districts. Findings show that, on average, more state and local tax dollars find their way to wealthier districts. For many, this overall trend is hardly surprising, but perhaps more interesting is where the trend is actually being reversed.

Authors Natasha Ushomirsky and David Williams examined the Census Bureau’s finance data, specifically focusing on each state’s state and local funding (excluding federal dollars). Nationally, the report concluded that districts with the highest poverty receive about 10 percent less in state and local funding (or about $1,200 less per student) than the wealthiest districts. Seventeen states, however, defied the national trend: Their highest-poverty districts receive at least 5 percent more than the lowest-poverty districts. According to the Education Trust’s analysis, Ohio was the national leader, boasting 22 percent more funding for its highest-poverty districts.

But when the authors accounted for the estimated 40 percent more funding needed to educate students in the highest-poverty districts—an estimate pulled from the Title I formula—the gap widens. When this is accounted for, the highest-poverty districts receive about $2,200 (or 18 percent) less per student than...

Today is the textbook definition of a “slow news day” here in Ohio, but maybe that will help us parse the few interesting stories we have a little more deeply. Of interesting note: all of today’s stories are about school choice, from very different perspectives.
  1. First up, we’re talking about an “oldie but goodie” in the school choice pantheon – vocational education – from the perspective of an avid purveyor of educational options. This is a guest column by the President/CEO of Great Oaks Career Campuses in Southwest Ohio, extolling the virtues of career tech education in the 21st century. This is not your father’s shop class, and the Pres seems a fine advocate for the benefits of CTE for Ohio students. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 7/29/15)
  2. Second is a relative newcomer to the school choice world – virtual schooling – from a perspective that one might call “opportunistic”, if one were feeling uncharitable. Garaway Schools in eastern Ohio has created a new virtual school in order to stem the flow of money/students from their district to online charter schools; oh, and to give students the flexibility they need to blah blah blah. It is about the district losing less
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  1. An excellent article from an unlikely source. Here’s a look at the status of Cleveland’s school turnaround plan from the perspective of a business publication. While the district CEO speaks the usual ed reform language of “let’s stop bickering over ‘turf’ and ‘ownership of kids’,” the business analysts cut through the rhetoric with this: There are over 2,750 students enrolled in mid-performing charter schools currently unaffiliated with the district. This is a “significant opportunity” for the district to align itself with some of the most promising schools, nudge them into the next category, and so move closer to the plan’s goal of tripling the number of kids in high-performing schools. The only question for them is how to seal the deal. (Crain’s Cleveland Business, 7/26/15)
  2. As if they have a recurring event on their Google calendar, editors in Cleveland once again opined in outrage that charter law reform remains stalled in the General Assembly. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 7/28/15)
  3. From outrage to barely contained glee: no new charter schools are slated to open in Toledo in the 2015-16 school year. And no, that’s not an op-ed. (Toledo Blade, 7/29/15)
  4. The current Academic Distress Commission in
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As ESEA reauthorization heads to conference committee, debate is certain to center on whether federal law should require states to intervene if certain subgroups are falling behind in otherwise satisfactory schools. Civil rights groups tend to favor mandatory intervention. Conservatives (and the teachers’ unions) want states to decide how to craft their school ratings systems, and when and how to take action if schools don’t measure up. The Obama administration is siding with the civil rights groups; a recent White House release, clearly timed to influence the ESEA debate, notes that we “know that disadvantaged students often fall behind in higher-performing schools.”

But in how many cases do otherwise adequate schools leave their neediest students behind? Are there enough schools of this variety to justify a federal mandate? Fortunately, we have data—and the data show this type of school to be virtually nonexistent.

In a recent post, I looked at school-level results from Fordham’s home state of Ohio. That analysis uncovered very few high-performing schools in which low-achieving students made weak gains. (“Low-achieving” is defined as the lowest-performing fifth of students statewide.) Just seven schools (in a universe of more than 2,300) clearly performed well as a whole while allowing their...

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) undoubtedly increased the federal footprint in education. As Congress debates how to rewrite the law, a new analysis from Bellwether Education Partners couldn’t be timelier.

The report starts with a look at the history of federal involvement in K–12 education and how NCLB tilted the balance of power toward Uncle Sam. Although NCLB started as a bipartisan bill with broad support, critics multiplied as the deadline for universal proficiency approached, interventions for low-performing schools mounted, and conditional waivers from the law were granted by the Department of Education. Among its shortfalls, NCLB included “over-prescriptive” provisions that mandate how a state education system should be run and a misguided one-size-fits-all approach.

But the law wasn’t all bad. Evidence suggests that NCLB’s accountability measures were effective in improving schools and student performance. These improvements were particularly evident among black and Hispanic students. The authors of this report applaud a requirement that states break down testing data into disadvantaged subgroups, thereby shining a light on students who are most at risk.

So how can policymakers keep the good (transparency and accountability) while ditching the bad (micromanagement)? The Bellwether analysts turn to the charter concept and argue...

On June 30, Governor John Kasich vetoed forty-four items in the budget  and signed the rest into law. Among the provisions that survived is an extension of “safe harbor” as Ohio continues its transition to new standards and assessments. Last year, lawmakers created this “safe harbor” policy for students, schools, and teachers; it pertains to certain test-based accountability provisions for 2014–15. With the 2015 budget bill, they’ve extended it by two more years (2015–16 and 2016–17).

The safe harbor provisions for students and teachers are pretty straightforward. For students, test scores from the 2014–15, 2015–16, or 2016–17 school years cannot be used “as a factor in any decision to promote or to deny the student promotion to a higher grade level or in any decision to grant course credit.” While not explicitly mentioned, this means that failed End of Course exams won’t equate to lost course credit or failure to graduate.  

For teachers, safe harbor means that the “value-added progress dimension rating” determined by state tests administered in 2014–15 and 2015–16 cannot be used for “assessing student academic growth” for teacher evaluations, or “when making decisions regarding the dismissal, retention, tenure, or compensation” of teachers. There is,...

Charter schools joined the usual suspects—tax reform, school funding, and Medicaid—as one of the most debated and well-publicized issues of this spring’s legislative session. If you’ve followed the issue, that probably doesn’t surprise you. After all, Governor Kasich, President Faber, and Speaker Rosenberger all announced their intentions early in the year to tackle charter school reform. The result was three strong pieces of legislation (House Bill 64, House Bill 2, and Senate Bill 148) that sought to improve the charter sector. When the legislature recessed for the summer, only HB 64, the state’s biennial budget bill, had passed. (HB 2 and SB 148 won’t be analyzed here, as they’re still pending in the legislature.)

When Governor Kasich’s team rolled out HB 64, it contained a host of charter school reforms. The focus was on strengthening the Ohio Department of Education’s ability to oversee charter school sponsors. It built on the department’s recently implemented sponsor evaluation system and instituted a series of sanctions and incentives for sponsors in an effort to drive improved student achievement at the school level. The proposal also included a series...

Trailing only Medicaid, school spending is the second-largest public expenditure in Ohio’s $65 billion annual budget. Over the next biennium, the state is slated to spend $12 billion per year on education (including $2 billion per year in federal funds administered by the state), on top of $8 billion per year raised via local property taxes. Altogether, annual education expenditures will clock in at around $11,000 per student.

The bulk of state education spending—$7.4 billion in fiscal year 2016 (FY 16) and $7.7 billion in fiscal year 2017 (FY 17)—is sent to districts via block grants, meaning that districts can allocate funds as they choose. The value of the block grant is determined by a funding formula. FY 16’s formula aid represents an increase of 4.9 percent relative to FY 15, and the amount in FY 17 adds another 4.2 percent on top of that. These are generous increases, especially since statewide enrollment is slightly declining; they also exceed the recent rate of inflation.

Without a doubt, Ohio taxpayers are making big financial contributions to education. But one of the perennial (and perplexing) questions is whether taxpayer dollars are being properly allocated. Oftentimes—and this spring was...

Nominally, private schools (or “chartered nonpublic schools,” as they are known in the Ohio Revised Code) operate with a minimal amount of state oversight. Practically, however, there is a long history of state involvement with them. In exchange for added oversight, private schools receive transportation services for students (or parents can receive payment in lieu of transportation) through the district in which they are located; they can also seek state reimbursement, also passing through the district, for costs like textbook purchasing and school administration. Since Ohio began voucher programs in 1996, the bond has become even stronger.

On June 30, 2015, Governor John Kasich signed into law the new biennial budget (House Bill 64), which included a number of provisions impacting private schools. Here is a review of the most significant provisions.

Auxiliary Services (AS) and Administrative Cost Reimbursement (ACR)

As boring as their names may sound, these budget line items are the primary mechanism by which the state and private schools interact. Chartered nonpublic schools can request and receive reimbursements for textbooks, diagnostic/therapeutic/remedial personnel services, and “educational equipment” through the AS process. Transportation services provided to private school students are also funded via the AS...