Ohio Gadfly Daily

I had the good fortune to spend time last week with Stan Heffner, Ohio's new state superintendent of public instruction. I enjoyed the conversation mightily because it mostly focused on two things that don't usually get enough attention in education policy conversations ??? teaching and learning.

Specifically, Heffner shared with me his ideas and concerns for making sure Ohio's schools and teachers successfully implement and take ownership of the Common Core academic standards in English language arts and mathematics. (Ohio is one of 46 states that have adopted these common standards, which are slated to come online in 2014.)

The state will have to make some serious implementation decisions in the coming months and years around the Common Core, including which assessment consortium to join (right now, the Buckeye State has a foot in both the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) and how to adapt the state's accountability system to the new tests and tougher standards.

But where Heffner sees the most potential, both positive and negative, is around the practical implementation issues that will face schools and school districts. This is because, as a lifelong educator, he clearly understands that at the end of the day what matters most for public education is student learning and that teachers are key to facilitating it.

Heffner argued to me (and previously had written in a February 2011 paper for the Council of Chief...


By now I am sure that all of you have heard about the Save our Schools Rally that took place in Washington D.C. last weekend. The rally, organized by teachers, parents, and advocates called for an end to controversial education policies?and to ?put the public back in public schools.? The march lasted for four days with over 5,000 people in attendance. The event drew in big names such as Diane Ravitch, the financial support of the two largest unions, and even Matt Damon. While you most likely have seen the abundance of media coverage of Matt Damon's appearance at the event, see here, here, and here, you might have missed this little gem, an interview by reason.tv. The interview captured an amusing and ridiculous exchange between a reporter and a woman from Ohio who claims the government should spend a billion dollars per student. The exchange went like this:

Reporter: How much more would you like to see going to educate students?

Ohio woman: How much money do you think children are worth? There is no set price that can be set on a child's life and learning.

Reporter: So if you want the government to spend more, how much more do you want them to spend?

Ohio woman: A billion.

Reporter: A billion dollars per student?

Ohio woman: Sure, why not?!

You can watch the interview in its entirety here, pick up at the...


Today on the Ohio Education Association's blog is a post criticizing Gov. Kasich and his team (namely assistant education policy director Barb Mattei-Smith) for their process to come up with a new school funding formula.

Earlier this year, lawmakers scrapped former Gov. Strickland's school funding model ? which was inputs-heavy, overly prescriptive, and simply untenable. In Ohio's just-enacted FY 2012-13 budget, lawmakers installed a two-year ?bridge? funding formula, and Gov. Kasich has signaled his intention to craft a thorough school-funding overhaul by the year's end, hinting that dollars should follow students (weighted-student funding!).

The timeline for designing this new funding formula is an ambitious one, indeed. Barb Mattei-Smith, a veteran of state government and an Ohio school finance guru, has been holding meetings around the state to gather input, which is where the OEA finds greatest offense. Among the blog's complaints are:

The fact that she met stakeholder groups individually (gasp!): ?Mattei-Smith held meetings at locations around the state, but kept each stakeholder group separate from one another.?

A missed meeting: ?Unfortunately Mattei-Smith was a no-show for the last scheduled meeting with teacher (sic) because she went to the wrong room.? Heaven forbid the woman should go to the wrong location.

The fact that the governor's team is not posting meeting notes online. ?After all, all of Strickland's forums were aired live on local PBS stations.?

And ? this is the best one ? the fact that Mattei-Smith did not announce the meetings...


At the onset of the 2010-11 school year, 39 new charter schools opened their doors in the Buckeye State. These new schools bring the total number of charters in Ohio to just over 350.?? They collectively serve more than 100,000 students. No doubt some of these new schools are bringing quality education to children who need it and providing a strong return on investment for the state.?? But also among the new schools are seven operated by EdisonLearning and authorized by the Education Resource Consultants of Ohio (ERCO).

Fordham, a charter authorizer in Ohio, has long experience working with EdisonLearning. Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. helped launch Edison in the early 1990s, and Fordham has served as authorizer of the two Dayton schools operated by Edison since 2005. These two schools have been in operation for nearly a decade, and despite declining enrollment that resembles a ski slope (see below) have received more than $93.5 million in public funding. Yet after all that time and money, one school's academic performance is middling at best; the other has struggled mightily to deliver students to even basic levels of achievement.??


* The Performance Index score is a weighted average of a school's or district's students' performance on...


You've probably heard that NCTQ president Kate Walsh and new Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman testified in Congress this week on issues related to teacher quality. (Snippets of their testimonies burst into useful sound bites all over Twitter.) One of the most quotable, shared here by Huffington Post, came from Walsh when she said it's ?easier to get into an education school than it is to qualify to play college football.?

Ouch. (No offense to college athletes.) There's no question that the quality of education schools varies greatly. Even one of the more defendable components of traditional educator training, student teaching, has come under recent fire. That teacher preparation programs are often woefully inadequate seems to be a well-accepted fact among reformers and traditionalists alike. But how to change that seems is a bit more up for debate.

There are a bevy of policies that could improve teacher quality at different points during preparation: at the front (higher entrance standards), middle (harder coursework; teacher residencies happening earlier to weed out non-performers prior to their last semester of college), or tail ends of training (check out the extraordinarily intuitive exit requirement that New York's ?Relay? School of Ed is installing ? a teacher actually has to prove that students learn under her purview before graduating).

And then there are attempts to improve teacher quality once they're out in the field, such as Ohio's just-passed requirement that teachers in the lowest performing schools statewide...


Fordham's new paper authored by Rick Hess on ???Creating Healthy Policy for Digital Learning??? is critically important for those of us on the ground working as school administrators, school leaders, charter school authorizers and education policy makers. Rick has articulated the challenges, opportunities, and parameters for good public policy and practices that those of us in the field have been fumbling around for the last few years to come up with through common sense, intuition, trial and error, and luck.

As a charter authorizer, Fordham's experience with digital learning has been humbling and frustrating, in part because we have struggled ??? along with many others ??? to define success for the digital learning programs and policies we have supported. Rick acknowledges how hard all this is in his paper and our on-the-ground experience confirms his analysis.

We have had two direct experiences with trying to help birth quality digital learning opportunities for children in the Buckeye State through ???hybrid??? charter schools. The first was in 2007 when the two schools we authorize in Dayton piloted EdisonLearning's E2 education program. At the time Edison described the effort as a ???multi-million dollar R&D project to engineer whole school design.??? Key to the E2 design was ???a new realm of curricula that is as effective as it is efficient in meeting the individual learning needs of the next generation. Diverse software and web-based applications, like ALEKS, Achieve3000, and Rosetta Stone, expand access to information and offer effective one-on-one instruction...


I had the good fortune to start my day at the Omega Baptist Church in Dayton with a group of young scholars and their 20-something mentors who were leading Harambee. Harambee means ???pull together??? in Swahili. (See here for an explanation.) It was inspiring to see 60 young scholars getting ready for a day of learning, inspiration, and activities as part of the Children's Defense Fund's Freedom School.

I spoke with some of the scholars ??? ranging in ages from 5 to 13 ??? who came from across the Dayton area and its schools. Some were Dayton Public School students, some were from area charter schools, and others were from local parochial schools. All seemed to be enjoying this summer learning program, and the families involved felt fortunate to have their kids in the program. Two years ago there were more than 200 children in Freedom Schools summer program in Dayton, yet this year there were only 60 spots available because of state funding cuts and fewer philanthropic dollars.

The Freedom School is a 30-day program that runs over the summer from 8:00 AM to 3:30 PM. I asked one of the program leaders if they had data showing the impact of the program on academic achievement. She admitted this is something they wanted to try to measure, but simply didn't have the resources to do it this year. She also made clear that if the kids weren't in the Freedom School they'd most likely be...


Ohio lawmakers have introduced a bill aimed at stemming Ohio's brain drain and keeping college graduates in the state after they earn their degrees. The legislation would allow Ohio college graduates, whether or not they are an Ohio native, who obtain a job in the Buckeye State to have their earned income exempted from state income taxation for five years.??

The bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Cheryl Grossman, says 40 percent of Ohio's college graduates leave the state after graduation.?? That figure could be much higher, depending on the particular college and community.?? For example, a 2009 Fordham Institute survey of students at top Ohio colleges found that 58 percent of students planned to leave the state after graduation (a whopping 79 percent of out-of-state students said they intended to leave Ohio, and 51 percent of native Ohio students were set on departure).??

But that same survey also showed support for incentives like the one proposed in House Bill 258.?? When offered a menu of incentives designed to encourage young college graduates to stay in Ohio, respondents to our survey found ???A state income tax credit of up to $3,000 per year for 10 years for college graduates who stay in Ohio??? most appealing (65 percent).

The bill, which is currently pending in committee, has the support of the Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents Jim Petro. Petro cites (subscription required) the economic benefit of keeping graduates in the state:

It's a simple calculation. Right


Ohio's biennial budget put some significant education policy changes into effect this month, many of which we're still sifting through. See our previous analyses on how many students are newly eligible for a private school voucher (hint: not many), and how many teachers will be re-tested in subject-area knowledge (hint: quite a few).

When it comes to charter school start-ups, eligibility would expand (based on last year's data) to include 16 new school districts. This is up from 23 school districts, for an increase of 41 percent. Under previous law, a start-up (as opposed to converting an existing district school to a charter ? which can happen anywhere geographically in the state) could only open in a ?challenged? school districts. This was defined as any of Ohio's Big 8 districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, or Youngstown), a district rated D or F (see here for a list of such districts last year), or a school district in Lucas County that was part of the original charter school pilot area a decade ago (eight school districts in total, one of which is Toledo and already counted under the Big 8 list).

The budget added to the definition of challenged school districts any that rank in the bottom five percent of all districts statewide (according to Performance Index score), regardless of their grade (A-F). If you haven't noticed by now, there's an obvious affinity for ranking systems in this year's budget; various sanctions (and...

With Ohio's biennial budget (HB 153) now in effect, we're still wrapping our brains around all of the implications of various provisions (recall that there were several hundred pages of education policy changes in the legislation).

We've already analyzed the budget in broad brush strokes, and concluded that much will depend on the quality of implementation and leadership from the department of education, new state superintendent, and from districts themselves. Now we're getting down to a more granular level; to keep the painting metaphor alive, we're now breaking out the tools and working in small dabs to figure out precisely how Ohio's schools, educators, and students will be affected.

The budget increased the number of slots available for the EdChoice scholarship (from 15,000 to 30,000 this year and 60,000 next year and beyond). EdChoice is a voucher program that allots stipends of $4,250 for K-8 students and $5,000 for high school students to attend private schools of their choice. Access to vouchers has always been limited to students attending chronically failing schools, specifically students in district public schools rated D or F by the state for two or more of the last three consecutive years. This year, lawmakers broadened that eligibility to include not just D/F schools, but school buildings ranked in the bottom 10 percent of performance (according to Performance Index, an average of students' proficiency in tested grades and subjects) for two of three consecutive years.

But, according to available data (see the Ohio...