Ohio Gadfly Daily

David Osborne is one of America’s best thinkers on matters of government and governance and his expertise is on display with his latest paper, “Improving Charter School Accountability: The Challenge of Closing Failing Schools.” Cogently and concisely getting at the big issues facing the charter sector as it enters its third decade of educating children, this paper is an invaluable resource to those dedicated to improving the performance of the nation’s 5,500-plus charter schools.

Osborne shows clearly that, despite the various warts and problems facing charters (and his paper deals with many of them), they “do outperform traditional public schools, while receiving almost 20 percent less money per student on average.”

But, Osborne argues, the nation’s charter school sector must do better—and can if it focuses squarely on two main things:

  • Replicating the most successful school models, and
  • Closing the worst charter schools.

“Improving Charter School Accountability” tackles the second issue head-on by focusing on authorizer quality, the single biggest driver of charter school quality. Osborne writes, “Today, it is time to open a third frontier: authorizer quality. The key to quality in the charter sector is quality authorizing.” When I read this sentence I wanted to jump out of my chair and do a quick dance around my desk. Fordham has been arguing—with our friends at organizations like the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Charter Alliance—this case since...

In Ohio’s NCLB waiver, the state proposes a new accountability measure—the gap closure indicator—which would hold schools accountable for narrowing achievement gaps. Referring to the well-known disparity in Black/Hispanic and White/Asian test scores, the gap closure indicator would measure how well students from different racial groups perform on its standardized tests.[1] In a data simulation of how Ohio schools would fare under this new accountability measure, the Ohio Department of Education found that 890, or one-quarter of schools, would receive a 100 percent rating.

In a blog earlier this month, we wondered aloud about whether these extremely high ratings (100 percent) for so many schools accurately reflect how well these schools narrow racial achievement gaps. We posed the question: Could some of these schools have an all- or mostly-White student population—with simply no achievement gap to close in the first place? It’s conceivable that, without multiple racial subgroups, all-White schools could receive a 100 percent rating with little or no effort, so long as its White students perform well.

To answer this question, we dig deeper into the racial composition of these 100-percent-rated schools.  Using a random number generator, we randomly sampled 89 of the 890 Ohio schools that received a 100 percent rating for gap closure. When we examined these schools’ racial composition, here’s what we found:

Figure 1: Average racial composition of 100 percent-rated gap closure schools

(Source: Ohio Department of Education simulated data and authors' calculations)


When Fordham-sponsored KIPP: Journey Academy first opened in fall 2008, community leaders and school faculty knew it would not be an easy task to get the inaugural class of “Kippsters” on the road to college. A majority of these students hailed from disadvantaged homes and previously attended low-performing schools where hard work and perseverance were far from the norm.  Their state tests results were poor and some of their parents even had a hard time believing that their children could ever succeed.

The odds were against these students, but failure was never an option for the teachers and staff at KIPP. When the inaugural class of fifth graders walked through the door only 33 percent of them passed the state reading test. Fast forward to 2011 and after just two years at KIPP 73 percent of those same students passed the seventh-grade reading test-- a gain of 40 percentage points.  After many years of hard work and going out into the community to personally invite families and parents to enroll their students in KIPP, the school’s staff and board of directors watched the first class of eighth graders graduate from KIPP earlier this month.

Sixty-four eighth graders graduated from KIPP and will matriculate to some of the area’s best high schools. Come this fall students will begin their next step toward college when the begin at high- performing schools such as Columbus Alternative, St. Charles Preparatory School, Metro High School, and Columbus School for the Girls. Congratulations to these...

The Fordham Foundation has authorized (aka sponsored) charter schools in Ohio since 2005 and currently oversees eight schools (three more will join our portfolio this fall).  As the 2011-12 school year ends, we want to highlight the unique events and successes that happened in our schools this year.

Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA)
Last summer, CCA moved from space that it shared with a Weinland Park area church since the school opened in 2008 to a new location on Main Street, in the near eastside of Columbus.  In terms of student achievement, 40 students were “NWEA all-stars” – meeting ambitious academic growth targets set for them in both reading and math. Sixth graders also participated in “Run the City,” a day-long project where they dealt with the ins and outs of running a city, including banking, marketing, and advertising. Students also got a glimpse of college life with full-day visits to the Ohio State University, Ohio Dominican University, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Denison University. CCA leadership recently launched a new charter management organization, the United Schools Network, which will open a second middle school, Columbus Collegiate Academy-West, this August.

KIPP: Journey Academy
KIPP received excellent news this spring when the school was awarded the prestigious New Leaders for New Schools EPIC Award for outstanding academic growth. KIPP: Journey Academy was the only school in Ohio and the only KIPP school nationwide to receive the award. The inaugural class of “KIPPsters” graduated from the middle school this year...

If all goes as planned, Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris will have a levy on city voters' ballots in November. She has presented a levy proposal to a citizen advisory committee, who is currently reviewing her proposal. According to Columbus Dispatch reports, the levy could increase taxes on residential property owners by up to an additional 15.56 mills. This would translate to an additional $545 tax per every $100,000 of a home’s market value. (The details of her proposal are not posted on the Columbus City Schools’ website.) If the advisory committee recommends the levy and voters approve the tax, Harris’ tax increase will hit the wallets of property owners starting in 2013.

To educate Columbus’ citizens who may soon decide on whether to raise taxes, KidsOhio recently issued an excellent fact sheet about the district. In particular, they do well in comparing the district‘s student achievement and finances for three school years: 2003-04, 2007-08, and 2010-11. Some facts to consider from their report include: The district

  • lost 12,000 or 19 percent of its students, from 2004 to 2011
  • cut 1,670 jobs or 19 percent of its labor force, from 2004 to 2012
  • spent $15,000 per pupil in 2010-11, the third highest per pupil expenditure in Franklin County
  • “passed through” $97 million to charters in 2012, an increase from $64 million in 2008
  • projects a $71 million shortfall in its cash position by FY 2015, despite having a $112 million cash surplus balance in FY 2012.


Columbus City Schools are on the path to putting a property-tax levy on the November ballot (though it’s not a done deal; a citizen’s advisory committee will make its recommendation regarding a levy to district leaders next week and an official decision will follow). District officials say they need $355 million to maintain current programs, and to fund new initiatives, through the 2016-17 school year. Superintendent Gene Harris has indicated that the increase is needed, in part, because the district’s students are increasingly challenged – more kids are living in poverty, learning English, and disabled than in the past. Kids are also moving more frequently within, and to and from, the district.

Aside from a few big-ticket items (like sharing local tax dollars via grants with high-performing charter schools, increasing reading intervention in fourth and fifth grades, and purchasing new school buses), the district hasn’t detailed if, and how, it might alter its overall spending patterns if the levy passes. In the meantime, we can look at how the district is spending money today versus a few years back, for clues.

Charts 1 and 2 show per-pupil spending for Columbus’s elementary and middle schools against the percent of students in each school who were economically disadvantaged for the 2005-06 and 2010-11 – the most recent year for which data are available—school years (2005-06 dollars are adjusted for inflation to reflect 2011 values).[1]


Source: Ohio Department...

The infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud is an apt analogy for the history of district-charter school relations in Ohio. Neither side has much liked the other over the years, but it appears that the animosity and acrimony of the recent past is fading. Evidence for a new period of cooperative charter-district relations comes from several remarkable developments.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson shepherded through the Ohio General Assembly legislation that would, among a whole host of innovative reforms, provide high-performing charter schools in Cleveland with local levy dollars to support their day-to-day operations. Building on the momentum coming out of Cleveland, Columbus Superintendent Gene Harris put forth a plan that would share local property-tax money with some of that city’s high-flying charters in the form of grants to enable those schools to help boost the performance of low-performing district schools.

There are other Buckeye State examples. Reynoldsburg City School District has quietly built a portfolio of school options for its residents over the past decade. Now it is opening those options to students from other districts who might want to attend a Reynoldsburg school through its new open enrollment policy. Further, a group of school districts (including Columbus, Reynoldsburg, and the Dayton Public Schools), educational service centers (including the ESC of Central Ohio and the Montgomery County ESC), and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation have been working over the last two years to build a shared charter school authorizing effort. While legislative language supporting this work has been scuttled twice in...

Nuggets of wisdom are often found in unexpected places. I’ve found wisdom—not in columns of the Acropolis, in the stones of Sinai, or in the lecture halls of the Sorbonne. No, instead it’s hidden in the recesses of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

The age-old debate about what kids should be reading attracted my attention this week. As my colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee observed last week, two camps seem to have emerged in the “what kids should read” debate: those who want more literary fiction in the classroom and those who want more informational non-fiction.

But should what kids read supersede the question of why kids read? ODE’s English language arts’ 11th and 12thgrade model curricula elegantly answers this question:

“They [students] must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high-quality, challenging texts and develop the skill, concentration and stamina [emphasis in original] to read these texts independently and proficiently.”[1]

Notice that ODE doesn’t prescribe book lists or even specific genres to read—there’s no specification of what kids read—so long as the texts are of “high-quality.”[2] Even more importantly, notice the statement’s purpose clause: “to develop the skill, concentration, and stamina” of the student.

The purpose clause in ODE’s statement on reading has significance for why we teach reading, and secondarily, has implications for how we teach reading.

Let me illustrate with an anecdote. I was recently surprised to learn that the med school entrance exam is...

Education and politics go hand and glove. When it comes to education the question isn’t just whether or not a policy is right or smart, but whether it can politically fly. The debates swirling around Senate Bill 316 – part of Governor Kasich’s mid-biennium budget review – is an interesting case study in that it seeks bold policy change but collides with political calculations and complications.

In late March, Governor Kasich introduced his education proposals and major components included:

  • A greatly strengthened third-grade reading guarantee—Ohio has had a version of this guarantee on the books for years, but it has gone largely unenforced;[1]
  • An A-F school-rating system that more accurately reflects schools’ true performance and is more straight-forward than the current one (“continuous improvement”, etc.);
  • Increased charter-school accountability, including for drop-out recovery schools, which have been outside the state accountability system for more than a decade, and changes to how sponsors are ranked;
  • Increased reporting and tracking of student data, including tracking public preschool students through K-12, and reporting the performance of graduates of the state’s teacher preparation programs;
  • Required development of digital and blended learning policies at the state level;
  • Increased accountability for publicly-funded preschool and child-care programs; and
  • Necessary tweaks to the teacher-evaluation legislation passed last year, and various other small clean-ups to state education law.

After the painful referendum defeat borne by the governor and his fellow Republicans per Senate Bill 5 – the collective bargaining reform bill – in November 2011, reformers were pleasantly...

In addition to the policy and advocacy work that we do at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, our sister organization the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation sponsors eight charter schools in Ohio. In August Fordham will sponsor three new start-ups (one each in Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland). Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) opened in 2008, and it has now launched the newly-formed United Schools Network, a nonprofit charter management organization (CMO). United Schools Network will consolidate the operations of CCA and launch the new 6-8 Columbus Collegiate Academy- West Campus.

To learn more about all this we sat down with CCA founder Andrew Boy to hear first-hand what he hopes to achieve through the United Schools Network. 

Q. Why did you decide to form the United Schools Network (USN)?

A. While launching a high-performing, high-need, school in Columbus is challenging and satisfying, we want to do more. We recognize that we have a unique opportunity to do so. If CCA can create excellence in our flagship school, then there is no reason we cannot similarly create excellent schools in other areas of Columbus and in other parts of the Midwest. It is in pursuit of this goal that we have created an organization to support the growth and replication of schools based on the United Schools Network model. 

Q. What will be the main function of USN?

A.  A “home office,” which will house the Chief Executive and other key senior leaders of the organization, will centrally direct USN operations....