Ohio Gadfly Daily

Ohio's airwaves have been abuzz with commercials for and against Issue 2 (the referendum for Senate Bill 5). For those not living in the Buckeye State, SB 5 is the state's highly contentious public sector reform law. According to Ohio's Secretary of State, opponents of the law have raised almost $24 million to shoot it down, while supporters have mustered about $6 million to save it. The Ohio Education Association and the National Education Association together have contributed $4.75 million to repeal the law.??

Despite the heavy spending by the teacher unions most of the anti-Issue 2 commercials have featured first responders, and one of the most effective and widely used spokespeople for We Are Ohio ??? the coalition leading the fight ??? has been a Cincinnati firefighter warning Ohioans about the impact of the bill on the safety of firemen and police. The Columbus Dispatch reported, ???We Are Ohio's campaign has featured heavy doses of police and firefighters, with a sprinkling of nurses and teachers.???

In studying poll numbers around the reform measures in SB 5 that effect teachers it is not surprising that SB 5 opponents have focused their attention on public sector employees like first responders and not teachers. Based on both national and Ohio polls many of the reforms in SB5 that would impact teachers are supported by Ohioans and have been for years. The Fordham Institute, for example, polled Ohioans on education issues in 2005, 2007, and 2009 and in each...

Ohio needs an elementary school ???reading guarantee.??? This was one of several recommendations for improving student achievement in Ohio that were pitched last week by School Choice Ohio at its event highlighting the research of Matt Ladner (senior advisor of policy and research to the Foundation for Excellence in Education). Ladner noted that Florida has embraced a reading guarantee as a key to helping improve student achievement (see Jamie's blog for more about his research and SCO's policy recommendations).

Ladner attributed Florida's success to a set of reforms, one of which was the reading guarantee. In other words, Florida third-grade students cannot advance to fourth grade if they do not pass the state's third-grade reading assessment. The logic behind this policy is that if students aren't competent readers by fourth grade, they will struggle to comprehend tougher subject matter in late elementary and middle school and beyond, and will fall further behind academically. A report out last year from the Annie E. Casey Foundation supports this argument. It stated that while the failure to read is consistently linked to higher rates of dropping out of school, ???of the fourth graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test in 2009, 83 percent of children from low-income families???and 85 percent of low-income students who attend high-poverty schools???failed to reach the ???proficient' level in reading.???

Ohio should embrace Ladner's recommendation, and in fact we already have. We just haven't earnestly implemented it yet.


The State Board of Education has just eight weeks left to develop a model framework for teacher evaluations that will be used or adapted by over 1000 local education agencies (LEA) by July of 2013. (Ohio's biennial budget ? HB 153 ? stipulated that the Board come up with a model by December 31 of this year.)? Skeletal requirements are spelled out in state law. Evaluations must: include measures of student growth (50 percent); be based on multiple measures; rate teachers according to four tiers of effectiveness (accomplished, proficiency, developing, and ineffective); and inform other personnel decisions, particularly layoffs (strict seniority-based layoffs were struck from state law).

But what else will the model framework include, especially for that remaining - and some would argue more important - 50 percent of a teacher's rating? To what degree will districts and charter schools need to enact a replica of the state's forthcoming model, or something closely resembling it, instead of merely repackaging their current systems? And how will teacher evaluations impact other key personnel decisions, if at all? Despite the fact that legislation clearly spells out a handful of requirements surrounding Ohio's new teacher evaluations, the answers to these questions aren't as straightforward as one might think.

In Fordham's analysis of Ohio's education legislation from the first half of 2011 (primarily the biennial budget, HB 153), we observed that when it comes to teacher evaluations, ?the budget leaves many decisions to local districts.? Depending on whom you ask ?...

Ohio currently has a basket full of publicly funded, private-school voucher programs, making it unique in America's school choice landscape. Ohio has three separate programs for students in failing districts, students with autism, and students living in Cleveland. A voucher program for students with disabilities launches next year. Further, the EdChoice Scholarship program (which provides private school scholarships for students in failing public schools) was recently expanded to 30,000 scholarships statewide this school year and 60,000 next year.

A new choice bill is now being debated in the House that would vastly expand the number of students eligible to receive a voucher. HB 136 would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Scholarship (PACT) Program and give children who come from families with annual incomes of up to $62,000 a year a voucher worth up to $4,563. Furthermore, 25 percent of families in the state could be eligible for smaller vouchers awarded on a sliding scale for families with incomes up to $95,000. This expansive growth in school choice options via vouchers is contentious to say the least.

A myriad of opinions offering both support and opposition to the expansion of vouchers have been voiced over the past several months (see Terry's recent op-ed here); however, one criticism in particular warrants a response. An October 12 Columbus Dispatch editorial, ?Many Questions,? stated that ?advocates should be able to show that students who go to private schools using vouchers do better than their peers who...

Earlier this year I testified in both the Ohio Senate and the House in support of the education provisions embedded in the highly contentious Senate Bill 5. SB5, now known as Issue 2, is up for referendum next Tuesday and current polls show the bill will very likely be overturned. If that happens, it would be a shame because there are reforms in SB5 that education in Ohio needs to not only become more efficient and sustainable, but to become better for children.

As I shared in my legislative testimony, ???Nothing matters more to student learning than teacher quality. The fact is that highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced levels in a single year. The significant of this finding can't be understated.??? I went on to argue, ???Ohioans, for the most part, understand that strong teachers and good schools are a critical investment in our children's and our state's future. Consider that in 2010, the state invested more than $18.3 billion in K-12 public education ??? roughly $2,078 for every adult living in the Buckeye State. In fact, school funding in Ohio has steadily increased over the past three decades. Just since 1991, when the first DeRolph lawsuit was filed, per-pupil revenue for Ohio's public schools has risen 60 percent (even accounting for inflation.)???

This growth in spending saw the number of K-12 public employees statewide grow 35 percent (from about 181,000 to 245,250), while K-12 enrollment in the state actually declined...

Yesterday School Choice Ohio held a discussion led by Matt Ladner, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Educational Choice who's conducted a mountain of research on school choice programs nationally and in Ohio. His research on Florida is germane not just for Ohio but for any state wishing to emulate Florida's success in moving the student achievement needle for its low-income and minority students.

You can view the full document here (or skip ahead to Ohio-specific policy recommendations; again, they're useful for other states), but the gist is simple. And impressive.

Over the last decade, Florida has managed to eke out steady improvements to student achievement (measured by fourth-grade scores on the NAEP), specifically for students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, and for Hispanic and African American students. For example, Florida's FRPL-eligible fourth graders saw a 14 percent increase in scale scores on the NAEP (reading) from 1998 to 2009. In contrast, Ohio fourth graders saw a drop, then a slight increase, and then an evening out such that their scores have gone virtually unchanged in 11 years. (However, despite raw scale scores going up, it was unclear from Ladner's presentation where the proficiency cut-off was and whether/to what extent more at-risk students are reaching actual proficiency.?

Perhaps most impressive is that when you compare Florida's minority youngsters with students statewide (including high-income and white students) in other states, in several instances the former outscores the latter. Florida's African-American students scored...

The Columbus Dispatch ran competing op-eds by School Choice Ohio's (SCO) Chad Aldis and Fordham's Terry Ryan on the expansion of vouchers in the Buckeye State. Both Aldis and Ryan support the expansion of school choice programs in Ohio, but how the state should hold these new programs accountable for their academic performance and even whether it should do so is contentious.

Ohio's House Bill 136(Huffman) would create the Parental Choice and Taxpayer Saving Scholarship Program (PACT), a private school scholarship program open to all students statewide whose families meet a maximum income threshold, regardless of whether their home district is failing or not. PACT would award up to $4,563 per child to families with annual household incomes up to $65,000 for a family of four, and could affect every school district in the state. The breadth of this proposed voucher program as well as the fact that Ohio currently has three other voucher programs and a myriad of other school choice options such as charter and on-line schools, is turning the debate over HB 136 into somewhat of a school choice war.

SCO's Chad Aldis made the philosophical case for the expansion of vouchers when he penned that

?As parents, we want the best for our children, and we make choices every day to achieve that. We choose the food they eat, the doctors they see, the amount of television they watch. Our choices help shape the people they become. Yet, among the hundreds of


This week StateImpact Ohio is featuring a series on charter schools in Ohio that will address questions about charter school performance, management/governance, finances, and more. (Note, StateImpact is a ?reporting project of local public media and NPR? and exists in multiple states including Ohio.)

The first part in the series, ?Thirteen Years Into the Charter School Experiment,? provides a decent (if brief) overview of Ohio's charter history and landscape. The piece points out several benefits that charter schools have provided in the Buckeye State, namely parental empowerment, pressure on traditional public schools to get better, and freedom from ridiculous red tape stipulating things like the size of a school cafeteria.

At least one missing fact ? and the cause of a lot of misconception about charter schools ?draining? the public school system ? is worth highlighting, however. The piece begins by noting that ?Ohio is paying upwards of $500,000 to support these schools? but fails to point out that in the Buckeye State, charters schools are and historically have been severely underfunded compared to their district counterparts. For example, in FY 2010, each pupil in Columbus City Schools received $8,200 in local revenue. Meanwhile, charter schools in Columbus ? including two of our own - receive zero dollars in local funds, and the amount captured from the state, approximately $5300 per pupil, doesn't even come close to making up for this gap amount. (Never mind the money that public district schools receive on top of...

The Ohio Department of Education released performance rankings of all charter authorizers (aka ???sponsors???) this week, as part of the new requirement that those ranking in the bottom 20 percent of all authorizers cannot take on new schools for one year.

This is a provision Fordham fully supported and in fact helped craft, as a means to ensure better quality and accountability in the charter school sector. The rankings, found here, include 47 authorizers including us (our sister organization, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is an authorizer). On a list of 47 authorizers, we ranked 24th. Nine sponsors fell into the bottom 20 percent and cannot open new schools.

We've never shied away from the truth when it comes to our schools.?? Each year, we publish a comprehensive, public account of our schools' performance (our 2011 edition will be out next month and you can peruse past editions here).?? We've also been among the first to admit that the work is tough; that more school choice without parallel accountability measures is pointless (kids need better options ??? not just more of them); and that closing schools is an important part of quality authorizing. Historically we've accepted the challenge of closing troubled schools poor academic results.

But because these state rankings are new and high-profile, we wanted to take a moment to put them in context and reiterate our emphasis on continuous improvement for all of our schools.

It's important to note a...


The George W. Bush Presidential Center, located in Dallas, Texas recently released data on international student achievement in both reading and math, which you can peruse in an interactive tool, the Global Report Card. It compares 2007 math and reading achievement levels between districts across the nation and 25 developed nations. It should be noted that the tool does not adjust for differences in race, socioeconomic status, or other classifications.? However, the tool is still useful to get an idea of how the districts measure up against their future global competition.

In short, Ohio's major city school districts have quite an abysmal showing compared to their international counterparts.?

Among the eight districts Akron Public Schools had the best showing, ranking in the 28th percentile in Math and the 41st percentile in reading. As poor of a result as this may seem, Dayton Public Schools and Youngstown City Schools struggled even more by comparison.? Both Dayton and Youngstown ranked in the bottom 15 percent in math while ranking respectively in the 24th and 25th percentiles in reading.? Here is how Ohio's big eight fared in comparison to their international counterparts:

What is more concerning is that these numbers improve (significantly in math) when these districts are measured against just the rest of the United States, meaning the country as a whole is continuing to fall behind other developed nations. This is largely due to...