Ohio Gadfly Daily

In 2009, 135 Ohio high schools were identified as “dropout factories” – schools that fail to graduate more than 60 percent of their students on time. Further, despite an increase in the state’s overall graduation rate, Ohio saw a greater increase in the number of dropout factories than any other state from 2002 to 2009 (jumping from 75 to 135). These troubling findings come from the annual Building a Grad Nation report, issued this week by Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

New York and Tennessee lead the nation in their overall increase in graduate rates, which have jumped 13 and 18 percentage points respectively from 2002 to 2009. (Ohio’s rate increased 2.1 points in that time.) Nationally, the number of dropout factories has declined by 457 since 2002 (to 1,550 such schools today). Texas leads the nation in moving schools off the list, with 122 fewer dropout factories in 2009 than 2002.  Another seven states moved more than twenty schools off the list.

But back to Ohio… what schools are the Buckeye State’s dropout factories? The report doesn’t list them, but using publicly available graduation rate data we can get an idea of what buildings they are and where they are located.

In 2009-10, 805 Ohio public high schools received a graduation rate calculation from the state. (Ohio, like many states, provided two graduation rates for that year: a state-calculated rate and a federally...

Cities and states across the country are in direct competition for education talent (teachers, school leaders, and key administrators) and great charter school models and operators. This struggle for talent and expertise is especially acute in the country’s mid-section.

We see it up close and personal in Ohio in our work with local school districts and as a charter school authorizer. There isn’t a week that goes by that we aren’t asked for names or contacts of potential school leaders, curriculum directors, or even teachers who are an expert in a foreign language, special education, or other high-demand subject. Great charter school models, especially those with an interest in trying to turn around long-suffering district schools, are also highly sought after and wooed.

MindTrust in Indianapolis is arguably the Gold Standard for groups in the country that are expert, strategic, and successful at recruiting talent to launch schools, work in schools, or serve needy students and families in different ways. But others are also doing great work, including New Schools for New Orleans, Charter School Partners in Minneapolis, 4.0 Schools in Louisiana, and Lead Public Schoolsin Tennessee.

Ohio’s efforts pale in comparison and scale to other states.

Ohio has made some gains in recent years in the competition for talent and the recruitment of successful charter school models to the state—for example: Teach For America (placing corps members in Ohio for the first time in 2012), KIPP, SEED Academy (planning to open...

The major tenets of Governor Kasich's "mid-biennium budget bill" were unveiled yesterday. There has been much speculation that November's sound defeat of S.B. 5 by Ohio voters would cause Republicans to shy away from thorny or controversial measures, like streamlining state and local government and enacting additional reforms to education. A quick review of the budget plan shows that isn't the case.

Among the governor’s K-12 education proposals are:

  • a strengthened third-grade reading guarantee—while Ohio has had a version of this guarantee on the books for years, it has been decried as an “unfunded mandate” by local districts and largely gone unenforced;
  • performance standards for drop-out recovery charter schools—these schools have been excepted from Ohio’s charter school academic death penalty and other accountability measures since their inception more than a decade ago;
  • a more straightforward, A-F school-rating system—the new system would be easier to understand and more accurately reflect schools’ true performance;
  • adjustments to teacher evaluation and testing requirements—while the evaluation requirements put in place through the budget bill last summer are well-intentioned, they need tweaking to be more meaningful and workable at the local level; and
  • passage of Mayor Frank Jackson's reform plan for Cleveland's schools—the city’s schools are suffering mightily, both academically and financially; Mayor Jackson’s plan—which carries the support of the district superintendent and business community—would put the district on the path toward academic improvement and fiscal stability.

Governor Kasich still has yet to tackle a few areas of education policy that need attention...

Pop quiz: Which school district is farthest ahead in designing and implementing a workable teacher evaluation system?  Washington, DC, with its IMPACT system? Denver, Colorado, with PRO-COMP? You’re getting warmer…

The correct answer, according to a brand-new paper from the Fordham Institute, is very likely the Harrison (CO) School District. Harrison is a high-poverty district of about 10,000 students near Colorado Springs. It has confronted the triple challenge of determining what elements are most valuable in a teacher’s overall performance (including but not limited to student growth on standardized tests), applying that determination to the district’s own teachers (all of them!), and then reshaping the teacher-salary system (with the teacher union’s assent!) to reward strong performance. Excellent teachers earn substantially more—and do so earlier in their careers—than their less effective peers.

Under the Harrison Plan, salaries for all teachers depend not on paper credentials or years spent in the classroom, but on what actually happens in their classrooms. “Step increases” based on longevity were eliminated, as were cost of living raises. And professional development is tailored by evaluations to help teacher improve. Harrison’s evaluation process is divided into two parts, with “performance” and “achievement” each representing 50 percent of the overall score.

Performance is gauged via multiple observations of the teacher-in-action over the course of the school year. Some of these are conducted by the principal, other parts by a committee of external district evaluators from other schools within Harrison. According to the report’s author, Harrison Superintendent Mike...

This guest blog post is from Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst and a former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and Eric Lerum,
StudentsFirst's Vice President for National Policy. In this post they
analyze a Colorado school district's innovative approach to teacher
compensation, profiled in Fordham's latest report, "Teacher Compensation Based on Effectiveness: The Harrison (CO) School District's Pay-for-Performance Plan."

had the pleasure of working with teachers and a principal from Harrison, Colorado
late last year. We assisted the New Jersey State Superintendent in organizing
roundtables across the state on the proposed teacher evaluation system under
development. The Harrison folks were
passionate about their work and their success in elevating the teaching
profession there. It was incredibly powerful to listen to these veteran
educators talk about how they felt that their evaluation system treated them as
professionals and how they relied on it as a tool to help them and their
colleagues improve. The principal described the increased, targeted development
she could provide to staff and how the system enabled her to build a team
solely focused on raising their students’ achievement.

strikes me most about the Harrison model and why I think it’s so significant is
that it dispels so many of the myths we hear about why a reform like...

Yesterday we wrote
about Ohio’s recent waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education for
relief from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind act and the proposed revamping
of the state’s reporting system for schools and districts. We also warned that
many parents, teachers, and students would be shocked by the results and that
there would be a push to water down the new system, insisting that it is unfair
and not accurate.

As we predicted, there have been several articles describing
the coming changes and what they mean for districts across the state. The Columbus
today quoted the superintendent of Bexley City Schools, a suburb
of Columbus, as saying, “I don’t know how a high-performing district like ours
and many others gets a B?” “It might be a way of communicating in the simplest
way but you miss a whole lot.” Bexley, currently rated Excellent with Distinction,
would fall to a B under the new system. 
Superintendents of currently high-performing districts in Montgomery
County will also see
a decline in their academic rating under the new system. Of the 28
districts in Montgomery that received a rating of Excellent with Distinction or Excellent on
the last report card, only three (Oakwood, Miami East, and Mason) would receive
an A with the new system.

We expected to see district leaders, teachers, and parents

Congratulations to KIPP: Central Ohio Executive Director
Hannah Powell (who was the school leader for the past several years) and the entire
staff at KIPP:
Journey Academy
for the school’s EPIC Silver Gain Award from New Leaders
for New Schools.

(Effective Practice Incentive Community
) award recognizes schools that make
substantial gains in student academic growth. In partnership with Mathematica Policy Research, student
test data are analyzed, and schools with the highest gains are selected as
winners. To be eligible for an EPIC award, schools must have student populations
of at least 30 percent eligible free and reduced-price lunch (over 90 percent
of KIPP Journey students are considered economically disadvantaged) , submit three
years of state test score data for all students, and be willing to share their
effective practices with NLNS EPIC partners. As part of the award, KIPP:
Journey Academy will receive approximately $50,000 to be distributed among its

Of the 179 charter schools from 24 states and the District
of Columbia that participated, only 14 winners
were selected, and KIPP: Journey Academy was the only school in Ohio - and the
only KIPP school nationally- to receive an award.

On behalf of the school, Ms. Powell said, “We are thrilled
and honored that KIPP: Journey received this award. This award recognizes the
dedication of our teachers and staff as they...

In Ohio’s
recent waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education for relief from
the most onerous portions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act the Buckeye State proposes the creation of a
revamped and significantly improved reporting system for school and district

Ohio’s current rating system uses vanilla
terms for rating schools and districts like “Excellent with Distinction,”
“Continuous Improvement,” and “Academic Emergency.” Worse, the state’s rating
system provides inflated grades for performance. For example, in classic Lake Wobegon fashion, 57 percent of Ohio’s school districts were rated as
“Excellent with Distinction” or “Excellent” (the best possible ratings) in
2011. Conversely, not one of the state’s 609 rated school districts was rated
“Academic Emergency” (the lowest possible rating).  

Ohio’s new system would incorporate an A-F
letter grade system, and grades would be based on a basket of performance
metrics ranging from number of academic standards met or surpassed to
value-added gains to progress in closing achievement and graduation gaps. Under
the proposed new system – which has to be approved by the U.S. Department of
Education and put into Ohio
law – districts and schools will be provided with an overall grade and separate
grades in the categories of: 1) student performance, 2) school performance, 3)
gap closing and 4) student progress (see details here). 

The proposed changes
would not only be easier for...

In 2006 I visited the headquarters of Teach For America in
New York City with Fordham’s Checker Finn and the head of the Columbus-based
KidsOhio Mark Real for a meeting with KIPP CEO Richard Barth.  At the time, KIPP and Teach for America
were sharing office space in Manhattan and we met with Barth to try and
convince him that Columbus was a good place for KIPP expansion, which
ultimately happened in 2008.

Finally, Ohio is worthy of a red pin on the TFA map.

While waiting for the meeting to start we sat in the lobby
of the TFA office where there hung a large map of the United States with a red pin
in every state where TFA corp members were teaching. Ohio stood out like a sore
thumb because it was surrounded by states with red pins. When we met with Barth
he told us bluntly, “if you want KIPP to be successful in Ohio and grow, we
need TFA there.” TFA serves as the talent pipeline for KIPP teachers and school
leaders, as well as the pipeline for numerous other high quality charter school
programs, education reform organizations, and increasingly reform-minded school
districts and states.


Fordham has worked in Dayton – as a funder, charter-school
authorizer, and charter-school advocate – to push for the creation and growth
of high quality charter schools since 1998. Over the last decade one of the
highest performing charter school clusters in the city has been the Richard
Allen (RA) Schools (RA has three schools in Dayton that serve about 800
children). Over the years I’ve spent time with the leaders of Richard Allen,
visited their schools, and even helped judge their annual debate competition.
In short, I have always been impressed by both the educators and the students
I’ve met and worked with from the RA schools and believe the schools delivered
quality education to students.

It is because of these personal connections to the schools
over the years that I found the recent “Special
Audit of the Richard Allen Academy Schools
” such painful and disturbing reading.
The Special Audit provided a litany of “missing money, missing records and
self-dealing” that has led to $929,850 in findings for recovery. The audit
describes a situation where public dollars were used without any basic accountability
or transparency. It reads as if the schools’ leadership considered the schools
a private operation free of any responsibility for how the state dollars were
spent. There also seemed little understanding as to whom the public resources
were meant to support.