Ohio Gadfly Daily

Ohio is in the midst of a cosmic tussle around the future of its charter school program. Fordham's Checker Finn has been drawn into this in recent days (see here and here), and the New York Times even picked up on this yesterday with a great quote from Bill Sims of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The issue, in short, is whether for-profit charter operators should be allowed to operate free of any oversight beyond market forces. The proposed legislation from the Ohio House would neuter both non-profit governing boards and authorizers of their oversight responsibilities and authority, and give school operators carte blanche authority over virtually all school decisions. Let's be clear, we understand that oversight and accountability are things few people or organizations like if they can avoid them. Further, in Ohio charters have to pay their authorizers a fee of up to three percent of their per-pupil funding for this oversight, and that's money that could be spent on programs or in support of the bottom line.

But, consider the alternative. Let us imagine an Ohio without authorizers (aka sponsors in Ohio) or governing boards, which is what the House changes would allow. School operators would police themselves in key areas such as:

Test administration. Absent external oversight, operators would be solely responsible for administering and monitoring state tests. Should an allegation of testing impropriety arise (i.e., teachers cheated), the operator would be responsible for conducting an investigation into...


The status of the education of Hispanic students in the US is a hot topic of discussion. In this week's Ohio Education Gadfly, I reviewed a report from the Department of Education, Winning the Future: Improving Education for the Latino Community. The report described the recent rise in Hispanic population while highlighting the troubling status of education for them, including low participation in early education childhood programs and low graduation rates. Then today I read an article by Andy Rotherham that echoes a similar message of a rise in population, and a need for education reform for Hispanics. With all this recent talk I decided to dive into this topic a little bit and figure out what it means for our country and the State of Ohio.

Consider a few facts about the rise in the Hispanic population.

  • Between 2000-2010 the national Hispanic population grew by 15.2 million people ? accounting for over half of the overall population growth during that time period!
  • The Hispanic community is a young one with 17.1 million Hispanics under the age of 17
  • Hispanic students comprise 22 percent or one in five of all prek-12 students

The recent rise in the Hispanic population combined with their youthfulness makes them a vital component to the future success of our nation. However, educational achievement for Hispanic students is far from satisfactory. Rotherham states:

Only 17 percent of Hispanic 4th-graders score proficient or better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a

Guest Blogger

In March, Fordham's Ohio team released a report based on a survey of Ohio school district superintendents and other local education leaders. That report, Yearning to Break Free: Ohio Superintendents Speak, was reviewed by two University of Houston professors for the Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center. Steve Farkas ? veteran public opinion researcher, co-founder of the FDR Group, and author of the report ? penned the following rejoinder to that review.

The FDR Group's recent survey of Ohio's school district superintendents, Yearning to Break Free (online here), conducted on behalf of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, found these local education leaders eager to overhaul the collective bargaining process and to increase their authority over staff and money. ?Give us autonomy,? they said, ?and hold us accountable for getting results.? Easy to understand, right? Well, two unhappy University of Houston professors reviewing the study ?for the National Education Policy Center's ?Think Tank Review Project? had a lot of trouble comprehending it.

From the get-go in their review, the professors failed to realize that the study was giving voice to the opinions of these school leaders ? not our opinions as researchers or even Fordham's but those of Ohio superintendents. The professors say, ?the authors of the study recommend [emphasis added] that ?two promising ways to save districts money are to give superintendents greater control over combined state revenue streams and to mandate a statewide health insurance plan?'? But the report...


Fordham's Vice President for Ohio Programs and Policy Terry Ryan testified to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee today about HB 153, the pending biennial budget bill.? You can read his full prepared remarks online here. In short, he ? and the Fordham Institute ? is supportive of much of the education reforms included in Governor Kasich inaugural budget.

Ryan stated:

In a brutal economic environment the Governor's budget properly focused on the dual goals of improving K-12 education in the Buckeye State while helping schools adjust to doing more with less. The budget pushes reforms that seek to free up school districts to in fact do more with less.

For example, Ryan testified:

Probably the most significant item in the budget that has the potential to lead to significant cost savings over the long haul is language that promotes the expansion of innovative and cost-conscious educational service centers (ESCs), while reducing their state subsidy. HB 153 sets the conditions for ESCs to compete in offering professional services statewide not only to school districts, charter and STEM schools, but to other political subdivisions such as municipalities, townships, counties, and other public entities. This should help expand successful educational service centers while also facilitating economies of scale and consolidation of services and service providers. Ohio has built up an overcapacity of government service providers and support agencies over the decades, and HB 153 sets the conditions for right-sizing both the education sector and local government.

Despite the good...

Today in the Columbus Dispatch is a must-read point-counterpoint set of op-eds about proposed changes to Ohio charter school law, including one by Fordham president and Ohio native Chester E. Finn, Jr.

The debate happening in the Buckeye State over the Ohio House's charter-related changes to the governor's budget, which would dramatically undermine accountability of charter schools as well as the separate groups that authorize and operate them, is an important one ? not just to Ohioans but to choice advocates nationally. As Checker argues, ?if the Ohio's House's version of the biennial budget makes its way into law, the state's mish-mash of a community-school? program will become a full-fledged contender for America's worst.? But with so many state capitols and legislatures run by charter-friendly Republicans, the debacle unfolding in Ohio should serve as a warning to other states, especially those with a smaller charter sector and less familiar with crafting policies and laws to ensure not only growth but smart growth and accountability.

The article by Tom Needles, lobbyist for the for-profit White Hat Management group and other charter groups, is misleading even in its title, ?Yes: Many states have similar laws that promote greater accountability? (this, in response to ?Are charter-school reforms on right track??). Needles goes on to lift only one significant change to Ohio law that would ?promote greater accountability?: allowing the Ohio Department of Education authorize (aka sponsor) charter schools. He's right that ?this governance model currently exists in one...


Ohio is in the midst of some serious and much-needed education reform. Unfortunately, the good stuff is getting lost in the noise of high-profile political controversies around relatively marginal issues like charter schools. Consider that only four percent of the states children attend charter schools; yet the political debate for the last week in Columbus around school reform has been almost exclusively around charters.

We've been drawn into this and haven't been shy about commenting (see here, here and here), but it has been seriously frustrating to be in this debate. In fact, the House charter language was so one-sided and out of kilter that it should never have even made it out of the House. If it had been presented to some of the state's charter school leaders ahead of time ??? like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools ??? it would surely have been refined and improved upon before being put forth in the budget. Water under the bridge now, and hopefully the Senate will fix the mess passed their way.

Yet, despite the charter challenge, the House - building on some good stuff passed to them by the Governor - has gotten a lot right in the budget. First, considering the $8 billion budget deficit facing the state the House-passed the pain across school districts in what can only be described as fair and equitable. Poor districts and their students have not been hit as hard as wealthier districts, and for...


An article in today's Akron Beacon Journal ?about school turnaround caught my eye. Butchels High School and Perkins Middle School both received the second lowest rating (Academic Watch) on last year's report card and as a result will merge into one school (Butchel- Perkins) in hopes of better performance ?starting in the fall of 2012. The schools have been trying to turn themselves around for some time, to no avail. The district has now stepped in with its own transformation plan, although it is unclear from the article whether the district is doing this in anticipation of the turnaround language in the budget(more on this in next week's Ohio Education Gadfly).

Here's what the schools' turnaround plan entails. First, all of the teachers at Butchels and Perkins will have to reapply for their jobs at the end of the year. Half of them will be brought back to teach in the new ?combined? school building, while the other half will be placed elsewhere in another district school. Secondly, Akron is hoping to allow the current principals to remain in the school. Third, when the new school opens in 2012 they will belong to a network of 62 New Tech High Schools across the country that focuses on problem solving and computer literacy. Each student will be given a laptop or tablet so they will be able to access the school's network at any time.

While the reform intentions here should be applauded the plan is problematic for...

The insanity of the charter school provisions inserted by the Ohio House of Representatives into Ohio's pending budget bill will come as no surprise to Flypaper readers after Terry's post last Friday. Here's another gem tucked into HB 153 by House Republicans (new language inserted by the House is underlined):

Sec.??3314.04. Except as otherwise specified in this chapter and in the contract between a community school and a sponsor entered into under section 3314.08 of the Revised Code, such school is exempt from all state laws and rules pertaining to schools, school districts, and boards of education, except those laws and rules that grant certain rights to parents. No community school shall be required to comply with any education laws or rules or other requirements that are not specified in this chapter or in the contract entered into under section 3314.08 of the Revised Code that otherwise would not apply to a chartered nonpublic school.

In short, this provision states that charter schools (they're officially called ???community schools??? in the Buckeye State) will not have to comply with any education laws or rules that exist outside of chapter 3314 of the Ohio Revised Code (Ohio's charter school law), unless those laws also apply to the state's private schools.

What does that mean in practice? Will charters now be exempt from the Ohio Achievement Assessments, the state's accountability system, basic teacher licensure rules, and rules governing things like student attendance?...

Late last week the Ohio House released its amendments to the governor's biennial budget bill (HB 153). While the changes related to charter schools are atrocious ? as Terry pointed out in courageous fashion (winning the support of Democratic bloggers and organizations who would never typically string ?Fordham? and ?agree? in the same sentence together) ? changes related to teacher personnel provisions are a huge improvement.

In the original version, teacher personnel reforms were headed in the right direction but the details were off. While the bill eliminated LIFO, streamlined teacher dismissal procedures, and tried to establish meaningful performance evaluations and merit pay, it also retained antiquated variables like level of license (heavily correlated with having a master's degree) and highly qualified status as measures of ?performance? that would have allowed districts to continue making personnel decisions using these proxies for seniority. Teacher reforms are much clearer in the House version.

The timeline for the state superintendent (yet to be selected) to determine a model framework for teacher evaluations creates a sense of urgency (December 31, 2011); districts would have until July 2012 to submit their own frameworks. ?Teacher evaluations will incorporate student growth (50 percent); use three year's worth of data when measuring a students' gains; and rate teachers according to four tiers ? highly effective, effective, needs improvement, and unsatisfactory.

More importantly, these new teacher evaluation ratings (which will be published in the aggregate by the state department...


Budget language presented yesterday by the Ohio House, run by Republicans, risks making the Buckeye State the nation's laughing stock when it comes to charter school programs. During the early and mid-2000s Ohio was known as the Wild West of charter school programs because the state encouraged dozens of charter schools to spring up over night.

Ohio early on hewed to a laissez-faire approach to school growth and quality. As a result some of the people and organizations that launched schools were ill-prepared. Some had eccentric views of what a school should be. Some operators turned out to be more interested in personal enrichment than in delivering high-quality instruction to poor kids.

As a result, headlines such as ???Charters Fail to Deliver,??? ???State Audit Says Charter School Company Owes Thousands,??? and ???Wild Experiment??? were ubiquitous. Things were so bad that the then Republican State Auditor Jim Petro issued a report blasting the Ohio Department of Education for being such a weak and non-selective charter school authorizer. Less than a year later the Republican-controlled General Assembly had passed HB364 which required the Ohio Department of Education to get out of the business of sponsoring charter schools entirely.

This was the first effort at cleaning up Ohio's troubled charter school program and it would be followed up in subsequent years by further reforms to the program by Republicans that included the implementation of one of the nation's toughest automatic charter school closure laws.. As a result of seeking a...