Ohio Gadfly Daily


After a several-month-long debate in the Buckeye State over teacher personnel policies, Ohio now stands at a crossroad. The biennial budget bill (HB 153) calls for the state to develop a model teacher evaluation framework by the end of this year and to adopt policies tying teacher evaluations to other key personnel decisions like dismissal, placement, tenure, and compensation. Likewise, school districts and charter schools must implement their own local evaluations, based on the state model, starting with the 2013-14 school year.

It's no surprise to anyone that a teacher's effectiveness has a tremendous impact on a child's learning and academic trajectory ? more so than any other in-school factor. The quality of the evaluation framework developed by the Ohio Department of Education - and the integrity with which districts and charters implement them and design other teacher personnel policies informed by them? has the potential to dramatically improve Ohio's teaching force and enhance student achievement.?

For this reason, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, along with the Nord Family Foundation and Ohio Grantmakers Forum, is convening two free, public events in northern Ohio around assuring highly effective teachers for all Ohio students. Mark your calendars for September 12 (Lorain County Community College, late afternoon) and 13 (downtown Cleveland, early morning). Additional details are forthcoming.

Featured speakers will include Mike Miles, superintendent of Harrison School District 2 in Colorado, a district on the cutting edge of teacher compensation reform, will share about the teacher effectiveness work his district...


In a surprise move, Ohio's State Board of Education today tapped Interim Superintendent Stan Heffner as the state's new schools chief.?? Heffner never actually applied for the job when it opened up last spring and instead announced he'd be leaving Ohio in August for a job with ETS.?? But at this morning's meeting, with their other top candidates seemingly dropping like flies, the board voted to offer him an interview.

While Heffner's appointment may be a surprise, it isn't a disappointment.?? He has experience at the local and state levels in Ohio (and in other states).?? Having served as associate superintendent of curriculum and assessment since 2004, he knows the Ohio Department of Education and its staff and operations well and is better-poised than perhaps any of the other candidates to hit the ground running when it comes to implementing the slew of important and tight-timelined new education policies passed in the state budget bill last month.

And speaking as someone who doesn't want to see academic accountability rolled back in the Buckeye State, I think he is an outstanding choice.?? He appreciates the value of having robust, accessible data about public schools and knows the importance of assessments and accountability in improving K-12 education. His work as Associate Superintendent helped make Ohio an early leader in the use of value-added data and other accountability metrics, and there is no reason to think he won't make Ohio a leader in other reform areas now as state superintendent.


Yesterday, two days before the state board of education was slated to announce Ohio's new state superintendent, a second of the three finalists for the job removed himself from consideration. And the word on the street is that he exited the race over money, something the board could have prevented.

Last month the board selected three finalists from forty applications: Steve Dackin, superintendent of Reynoldsburg (Ohio) City School District; Robert Schiller, education consultant & former Michigan and Illinois state superintendent; and Robert Sommers, Director of (Ohio) Governor's Office of 21st Century Education.

Sommers was an early favorite. He has experience in virtually every sector of the K-12 education system. Further, as Governor Kasich's point-person on education, who could be better to implement the governor's education policy reforms? As it turned out, Sommers was too close to the governor to serve as state superintendent, at least in the eyes of the Ohio Ethics Commission. The commission advised Sommers that if he became state superintendent, the state's ???revolving-door??? rules would prevent him from communicating with his former employer for one year. Being state superintendent is challenging enough, but to do it without regular access to the governor and his staff, who are driving much of the state's reform work? That's a recipe for impossibility. (Yes, Ohio's revolving-door rule is a bizarre one, at least when applied to cases of people moving jobs within state government; as Mike Petrilli commented to me, ???That's like saying Margaret Spellings couldn't have...

Today in his piece, ?Understanding upper-middle-class parents,? Mike asked one question in particular that stood out to me: Can affluent parents (who are satisfied with their own kids' schools) be energized to fight on behalf of school reform for the poor? He goes on:

[That] question, it seems to me, will soon be answered by Michelle Rhee's new endeavor, Students First. Rhee's potential donors and supporters surely include many well-educated, well-to-do parents; she is encouraging them to contribute money and time in order to fix the schools of other people's children, not their own. (Teach For America alumni?sensitized to the plight of inner-city education?will play a key role, I would bet.) The gambit is whether a ?social justice? pitch to fix urban education can resonate?and be sustained?with people with the resources to engage politically, but without a personal stake in the fight. Time will tell whether Rhee can pull it off. (Emphasis added.)

I've grappled with this question for a long time, not just when it comes to education reform but when it comes to improving urban communities generally. Mike is right that Teach For America, to some extent, has been able to accomplish just that ? engaging young people, the bulk of whom do not come from poor communities, to jump into the fight for educational equity. Here's where I think the discussion should dive deeper.

Whether Students First can effectively tap into this base and compel the middle-class to develop a stake in the fight...


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
  • ...

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...


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...


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...


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...