Ohio Gadfly Daily

Ohio’s charter school community has been split into two
camps since the inception of the state’s first charter law in 1997. The first
camp – I’ll call free-market purists – believes that charter schools should be afforded
the same rights as private schools and as such be given maximum freedom of
operations. The free-market purists argue that when it comes to charter schools
the role of the state is little more than to distribute public dollars for a
child’s education. As long as parents decide to send children to a school, no
more “accountability” is necessary for performance.

In short, if there is market demand for a school – and the
school is in compliance with basic regulations like fire and health and safety
codes – then no more evidence is needed to keep the state dollars flowing.
Free-market purists believe that school choice is an end in itself. If public
policy creates a marketplace of school options then issues of school quality
will work themselves out as parents will naturally seek quality and abandon
failure. Free-market purists believe school operators know best what families
and children need and that the state should have no say in matters of school “quality”
and academic performance.

The second camp of school-choice supporters – I’ll call
accountability hawks – believes that market demand for schools is important (no
child should be trapped in a...

White Hat
Management
has been the Goliath of Ohio’s charter school operators
since its first schools opened in 1999. The company currently operates 33
schools in the Buckeye State. White Hat’s CEO David Brennan was a pioneer in Ohio’s
school-choice movement and his efforts in this realm have long faced criticism
– some deserved and some not. In recent years White Hat’s schools have faced a
series of legal and academic problems. Among them, the fact that none of White
Hat’s schools are rated above a C on the state report card, increased
competition resulting in lower enrollment, legal action brought against the
company by the governing boards of some of the schools it operates, and a
related fight over the disclosure of certain financial records.

These issues have made White Hat a fixture in the press, most
recently with a report that the Ohio Department of
Education (ODE) rejected four of six White Hat applications to the department
to authorize new schools that were slated to open in the fall of 2012. (ODE is
allowed to sponsor up to five new charter schools a year as part of a
compromise in the biennial budget that made the department a charter authorizer
almost a decade after being forced from that role by an earlier General
Assembly.)

The rejection of the White Hat applications will come as a
surprise...

In the ed reform world, we’re accustomed to
hearing
, and making, calls for students to spend more time in school --
especially those students who are lagging behind their peers academically. But
a bill pending in the Ohio General Assembly would make it possible for students
to spend far less time in school than they do now.

House Bill
191
, co-sponsored by Rep. Patmon (a Cleveland Democrat) and Rep. Hayes (a
Republican representing rural east-central Ohio), would change the definition
of a school year from 182 days (of roughly 5.5 hours in length) to 960 hours
for K-6 (excluding half-day kindergartners) and 1,050 for 7-12, define a school
week as five days in length, and eliminate calamity days.

The bill would also make true for Buckeye teachers the old
joke that “there are three good reasons to become a teacher: June, July, and
August” by prohibiting schools from operating between Memorial Day and Labor
Day and banning extracurricular activities over Labor Day weekend. Such
proposals are offered in the legislature here every year or two, pushed by the
state’s two large amusement parks and other summer
tourist destinations that want cheap, teenage labor available for the full summer,
not to mention more summer days when families can visit. (Rep. Hayes readily
admits he sponsored the bill in order to boost the state’s tourism industry.)

Much of the clamor...

A version of the
following post appeared in
today's
Indianapolis Star.

Last month I led a delegation of education-reform advocates
from the Ohio cities of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton to spend a
day with leaders of The Mind Trust, an education reform nonprofit that is
paving the way for transformative change in K-12 education in Indianapolis. For
several years, Indianapolis has been leading the Midwest in education reform.
It started when former Mayor Bart Peterson launched the city’s award-winning
charter schools initiative.  It
accelerated with the launch of The Mind Trust that brought a concentration of
the nation’s best education entrepreneurs to the city and made Indianapolis the
envy of the region.

Most recently, Indianapolis is inspiring other Midwestern
cities to propose big ideas for driving systemic change in K-12 education. The
Mind Trust issued a report in December proposing bold reforms to the Indianapolis
Public Schools district. That plan, “Creating Opportunity Schools: A Bold Plan
to Transform Indianapolis Public Schools,” influenced a report Cleveland Mayor
Frank Jackson issued earlier this month offering prescriptions for how the city
can improve its K-12 system. Jackson’s plan, “Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming
Schools,” cites and draws from The Mind Trust’s report. Both plans seek to:

  • Give high-performing schools far more control
    over staffing, budgets, culture, curriculum, and services, in return for
    increased accountability for student performance;
  • Drive central-office spending down
  • ...

Yesterday the Fordham Institute, Ohio Grantmakers Forum, and Achieve hosted “Embracing
the Common Core: Helping Students Thrive”
in Columbus.  It was the first event of its kind in Ohio to
address head-on the implementation plans and challenges that accompany the
state’s transition to the Common Core academic standards and aligned
assessments.  

Nearly 400 people gathered to discuss why the Common Core
standards are necessary to improve educational outcomes in Ohio, as well as the
challenges and opportunities associated with the new standards. The opening
keynote speaker was State Superintendent Stan Heffner, who stressed that Ohio’s
current K-12 system isn’t working and is letting kids down and not preparing
them for the future. He went on to emphasize that the Common Core gives us the
opportunity to do better and we must capitalize on that. Cleveland Metropolitan
Schools CEO Eric Gordon and Reynoldsburg City Schools Superintendent Steve
Dackin shared how they have already begun to implement the Common Core
standards in their districts. Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, spoke to the
specifics of PARCC (the assessment consortia Ohio joined last fall) and warned
that the implementation of the new standards in ELA and math will not be easy
and that districts should start the implementation process now. State Board of
Education President Debe Terhar; Deb Tully of the Ohio Federation of Teachers;
Melissa Cardenas from the Ohio Board of...

Diane Ravitch's blog earlier this week on "Desperate Times in
Cleveland and Ohio" was troubling in how much it got wrong. Specifically, she
totally misconstrues what Mayor Frank Jackson's bold school reform plan is trying to do and who it is trying
to help. According to Diane's post, Jackson’s plan is nothing more than an
attack on hardworking teachers and an effort to enrich for-profit charter
school operators (namely the Akron-based, for-profit White Hat). This assertion
is simply wrong.

I live near
Dayton - another struggling former industrial power that is a shadow of its
former self - and spend a lot of time in Cleveland meeting and working with
some of that community's fantastic civic leaders, philanthropists, educators,
and business people who are trying desperately to save their city. There is no
doubt that Cleveland is hurting and it is bleeding families and children. The
city has 30,000 fewer children today than it did just a decade ago, and many of
the children left behind are struggling academically. In 2010-11, 56 percent of
students in Cleveland attended a school rated D or F by the state. This is
despite the fact the district spends a little more than $14,000 a pupil.

Because
Cleveland is shrinking, its schools are facing a serious fiscal crisis. The
district faces at least a $64.9 million budget deficit in 2012-13, and...

Cleveland has taken
a significant step toward becoming one of the nation's school-reform leaders
with the introduction this week of Mayor Frank Jackson’s "Plan for
Transforming Schools.
" The plan builds on the experience of cities
like New Orleans, Indianapolis, and New York City and seeks a portfolio
approach to school management that includes:

1)   
Significantly
increase the number of high-performing schools, both district and charter, while
closing failing schools;

2)   
Maximizing
enrollment in Cleveland’s existing high-performing district and public charter
schools;

3)   
Investing
in promising schools by giving their leaders additional resources, the freedom
to build high-performing teams, and the ability to make financial and
instructional decisions based on their students’ needs;

4)   
Seeking
flexibility in the hiring, retention, and remuneration of teachers (this change
will require a change of state law); and

5)   
Sustaining
both district and public charter transformation schools through a set of
innovative legislative reforms and a levy request that would provide new
dollars for both district and effective charter schools.

In recent years
Cleveland has embraced a series of reforms - including a highly touted
transformation plan in early
2010
put forth by then superintendent Eugene Sanders, and largely crafted
by current district head Eric Gordon - while the city has seen a steady growth
in both the number of charter schools and children receiving...

Bob Sommers, Ohio Governor Kasich’s “education czar” for the
past year officially stepped down from his position on January 31, and before leaving
he sat down with
Rick Hess
for an interview about some ed reform successes of the past year
as well as what still needs to be accomplished in Ohio. He is leaving his post to
return to the school-management business where he is forming a new company,
StudentmindED Schools.

In the interview Sommers notes that while 2011 was a big
year for education reform in the Buckeye State there is still work to be done,
namely the creation of a P-20 data system that will allow the state to collect
data on everything from Kindergarten readiness to employment rates of college
graduates. Sommers also says the state’s report card must be amended, “We have
a convoluted report card system that can label a school with a fifty percent
rate of failure as ‘honors with distinction.’ That just doesn’t work.”

Sommers likewise admitted to some mistakes that he and the
Administration made in the last year, including the failure to explain Issue 2
to the public, “We just didn’t do a good enough job of explaining to the public
the problem that we tried to solve. The public didn’t see the problem that we
saw.”

Finally he discusses the status of Race to the Top
Implementation, key...

Lisa Duty

One could argue that 2011 was the
year of “digital learning” in Ohio and across the nation. In September, the
White House announced its “Digital Promise” campaign, while a number of states
have been embracing initiatives and campaigns in this realm, aided and
encouraged by national groups like the Digital Learning Council and the
Foundation for Excellence in Education. Ohio’s biennial budget launched the
Ohio Digital Learning Task Force and charged it with ensuring that the state’s
“legislative environment is conducive to and supportive of the educators and
digital innovators at the heart of this transformation.”

Our two organizations –
KnowledgeWorks and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute – are committed to seeing
Ohio become a leader in the implementation of digital learning opportunities
for the state’s 1.8 million students. Ohio now stands at an important
crossroads and 2012 could be a pivotal year on whether we move forward in the
digital learning environment.

Our state has been a path-breaker
when it comes to availability of full-time e-school options that leverage
technology in learning. In fact, if all 33,000 children currently enrolled in
Ohio e-schools were in one school district they would comprise the state’s third-largest
district, just behind Columbus and Cleveland. Despite such numbers, Ohio has
yet to harness fully the potential of digital learning for all students. And,
given that digital learning can yield improvements in student achievement...

As you are likely well aware, we are in the midst of School
Choice Week, not only here in Ohio but nationwide. Numerous events have been
going on all throughout the Buckeye State to help commemorate.  One such event that I had the privilege to
attend was a luncheon, hosted on Tuesday by School
Choice Ohio
and Forum for Educational
Options at the Statehouse to celebrate the myriad of choice options
that youngsters have here . The event was a way to not only a way to talk about
school choice options, but also highlight a number of choice schools that are
doing great things in the type of education they are providing, whether that be
digital learning, special needs, or college prep.

The immense diversity in Ohio’s school landscape speaks to
the fact that one size fit all doesn’t always work for children and their
families. Ohio’s school choice options include the following:

  • Special Needs Schools
  • Distance Learning & E-schools
  • Dropout Recovery Schools
  • Career Preparatory Schools
  • Vouchers/Scholarships
  • English Language Learners Schools
  • College Preparatory Schools
  • STEM Schools
  • Home Education
  • Charter Schools
  • District Schools

School Choice Ohio also recognized schools and school
leaders that are thinking creatively about what it means to educate children
and as a result are achieving outstanding academic results in the face of many
adversities. One such school is located in Fordham’s hometown of Dayton,...

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