Ohio Gadfly Daily

There has been a lot of controversy in Ohio in recent weeks around House-proposed legislative changes to the state's charter law that would decimate an already weak charter school accountability system (see here, here, and here). Fordham has not been shy about commenting publicly on what's wrong with the House language, nor have we shied away from arguing for stronger charter accountability and transparency. Those who know us understand our advocacy for strong charter accountability provisions are not new.

In fact, we have been a strong voice for charter school quality for more than a decade and played a critical role in the production of Turning the Corner to Quality: Policy Guidelines for Strengthening Ohio's Charter Schools. This report, released collaboratively with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter Schools Authorizers in October 2006, recommended a ???housecleaning??? to close down Ohio's poorest performing schools. Partly in response, the General Assembly passed a law in December 2006 to force failing schools to improve or face automatic closure.

Because we have been such outspoken and visible critics of the recent House language, many who disagree with us are raising questions publicly and behind the scenes about our motivations. Some have accused Fordham???in its advocating for a statewide authorizing entity that would merge the portfolios of existing sponsors, including Fordham???of trying to give birth to a ???super- sponsor??? in order to orchestrate some form of a charter school power grab. Still...

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Potentially drastic changes to teacher personnel policy in Ohio have been at the heart of heated debates for the last five or six months, precipitated by provisions in controversial SB 5, Ohio's collective bargaining law, as well as about-to-be-passed state biennial budget HB 153. Either set of provisions would change the way teachers are evaluated, rewarded, retained, dismissed, developed, and placed (though Fordham strongly prefers the language in HB 153).?

Among the myriad ways these policies would change the face of teaching and learning, however, ?merit pay? seems to be the maelstrom?toward which the majority of coverage and attention has been pulled. (For a quick experiment, google ?merit pay and Ohio? and ?teacher evaluations and Ohio? and see how many more recent hits the former returns.)

The House's teacher provisions (fingers crossed that that it will get re-inserted during conference committee) would get rid of seniority-based layoffs, develop a rigorous and sophisticated rating system for teachers, undo forced placement of ineffective teachers, use student test scores in evaluations, and effectively get rid of tenure (among other things). And yet the media seems to have a fixation on ?merit pay,? dwindling the entire teacher policy debate down to this one issue, or conflating ?merit pay? with other ? arguably more critical ? teacher policy reforms.

Even worse is that those who oppose merit pay can drum up legitimate points against it ? the research showing that merit pay improves student achievement is weak; Ohio...

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OhioFlypaper

Guest blogger Nikki Baszynski reflects on the eighth-grade graduation ceremony at Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA), a Fordham-authorized middle school serving students in grades six through eight (the vast majority of whom are economically disadvantaged). CCA recently won the Gold Star EPIC award from New Leaders for New Schools for its extraordinary student achievement gains, placing it among only four schools nationally to win the honor. In short, its eighth-grade graduates are among the best prepared incoming high schoolers in the city of Columbus, if not the whole state. Nikki was a founding teacher at the school, is a Teach For America alumna, and is now pursuing her juris doctorate at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

As we waited for the elevator, I looked to my left and saw a sign above the drinking fountain declaring, ?Whites Only.? Two Columbus Collegiate Academy graduates ? one black, one Hispanic ? noted the sign, too, and continued to read the commentary below it. The remaining portion of the sign explained the historic division of the races, recognized the efforts made to close that gap, and then ultimately welcomed all who read the sign to drink freely from the water fountain. As we finished reading, the elevator doors opened and we rode to the third floor of the King Arts Complex.

The King Arts Complex of Columbus, Ohio, is devoted to increasing awareness of the...

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Last evening, the Ohio Senate passed its version of the state's next operating budget, which would reward exceptional charter schools with low-cost facilities.?? Specifically:

  • Districts would be required to offer up unused space to charter schools for lease if the space goes unused by the district for two years,
  • When multiple charter schools express interest in the space, the district would have to lease it to the highest-performing school among the mix, and
  • If the leasing charter school is in the top 50% of all schools statewide, based on its ???performance index score??? ??? a measure of academic achievement ??? the district would lease the space for $1 per year.

Gene Harris, superintendent of Columbus City Schools, Ohio's largest district and one with a history of blocking charter schools from its unused facilities, is opposed to the change. Her reasons include that charters might not have sufficient funds to maintain a facility and that it prevents the district from leasing to other ???important??? organizations. I admit that these aren't invalid concerns.?? But I can't help but see this as yet another instance where anti-charter sentiment among the education establishment is so ingrained that districts don't recognize those pro-charter policies that they should be supporting.

For starters, this provision is fiscally smart for districts. If a district must maintain unused facilities regardless, why not lease to a charter school that will pick up those costs??? Further, this provision requires districts to lease, not sell, the space...

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In his weekly TIME column, Andy Rotherham pens a piece, ?Are These End Times for Charter Schools??, that begs further discussion. (Although how much cooler would it have been if the column came out on May 21?)

Despite reasons for optimism about charter growth ? there are now over 5,000 charters serving more than a million kids (and many states, facing pressure from Race to the Top and/or GOP leaders, will stimulate more growth as they lift charter caps) ? Rotherham points out what we here in Ohio have been noting for nearly a decade:

Charter schools range in quality from among the absolute best public schools in the country to among the absolute worst. That variance in quality is proving a political Achilles heel for charter schools and is fueling a serious backlash.

He goes on to outline places where charter schools are victim to strong opposition from teachers unions (New York City ? the teachers union and NAACP filed a lawsuit to curb charter growth; Rhode Island ? one mayor is facing an uphill battle to bring one of the best CMOs in, Achievement First). It's reminiscent of the scene in The Lottery where Eva Moscowitz of Harlem Village Academy is verbally assaulted by parents trying to thwart the growth of her charter school (the very parents and families whose kids could benefit most from school choice).

And then comes the flipside of the coin ? how to make sure charter growth and...

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Like many states, Ohio is struggling with how best to evaluate teachers and how to use those evaluations to inform personnel decisions (like remuneration, tenure, professional development, and ? when district budgets or enrollment levels leave no other choice ?layoffs). (Read today's Ohio Education Gadfly for more background on the Buckeye State's current legislative battle over teacher evaluations.)

Last week we released a video, What Ohio can learn from DC's teacher evaluations, featuring interviews with teachers evaluated under the DC IMPACT system. The teachers we interviewed ? which include science teachers, an elementary math coach, a fourth-grade teacher (of all subjects), a special ed middle school teacher, an art teacher, and a master educator (who conducts the observations on behalf of DCPS) ? shared what it's like to be evaluated via five observations each year and have part of their performance linked to student test scores.?

Today we released two more videos, wherein teachers evaluated under DC's IMPACT system address common fears and myths about rigorous evaluations.

Part 1

Part 2

Even prior to Ohio's legislative battle over teacher evaluations, myths and fears expressed by educators and policymakers about teacher evaluations have been rampant here. Opponents of overhauling teacher evaluation systems argue they're inherently unfair, arbitrary, prone...

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Consistency in public policy is hard to come by. Special interests, ideology, and ignorance of issues (manipulated by lobbyists and other interested parties) all collide and compete for life in the cosmic swirl of the legislative process. There is a distinct lack of consistency around education policy in the competing budgets drafted by the Ohio House and Senate that could be remedied if each body could focus its proposals around issues of performance.

In its version of the state budget (HB 153), the Ohio House put forth legislative language on teacher effectiveness that is some of the most progressive in the country. It would connect measures of pupil academic growth to teachers and further connect teacher effectiveness to key personnel decisions. Teachers would be rated, in part, on the academic performance of their students over time, and they would receive ratings according to four tiers ??? highly effective, effective, needs improvement, and unsatisfactory.

With a fair and rigorous system that measures gradations of teacher effectiveness using state assessment data, expert and peer evaluations, building- and district-level performance metrics, and even student evaluations, school systems can make smarter personnel decisions. They can reward their ablest instructors and put them in the classrooms where they are most needed, target support for teachers who warrant it and weed out those who are not a good fit for the profession. Layoffs can be based on performance instead of solely on seniority. These improvements would upgrade teacher effectiveness over time as they focus...

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The Ohio Senate just released its version of the state's biennial budget. The Senate deserves much credit for the plethora of charter school provisions it deleted from the Houses' version (which as you probably know by now, Fordham and many others across the state opposed).

But even the removal of provisions that would have dramatically weakened charter quality and accountability can't make up for the fact that the Senate removed all of the excellent teacher personnel language in HB 153.

Fordham's Terry Ryan testified yesterday afternoon to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee to express our collective disappointment and implore lawmakers to prioritize policies to improve teacher effectiveness. ?

He described what's at stake by removing this language:

For as long as anyone can remember, in Ohio as in the rest of America, a public-school teacher's effectiveness and performance in the classroom have had little to no impact on decisions about whether she is retained by her district or laid off, how she is compensated or assigned to a district's schools, or how her professional development is crafted. Instead, all of these critical decisions are made on the basis of quality-blind state policies, like the notorious ?last-in, first-out? mandate governing lay-offs, and tenure rules that allow teachers to have job protection for life and ?bump? less senior teachers when jockeying for positions. Effective teachers are forced to go simply because they have not taught as long as others, regardless of how successful

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Like many states, Ohio is trying to figure out the best way to improve its teacher evaluation system as well as teacher personnel policies linked to them (like how best to remunerate teachers, grant them tenure, connect them with professional development, and ? when district budgets or enrollment levels leave no other choice - determine layoffs). Many states and districts already have dramatically overhauled these policies, while others are in the midst of intense debates over whether tying student growth to teacher evaluations is fair, whether states should mandate policies or leave it up to districts, what should constitute ?multiple measures? in an evaluation, and much more.

In Ohio, Fordham has witnessed this debate firsthand. Just yesterday, Terry testified to the Ohio Senate Finance Committee, imploring them to restore the excellent teacher personnel provisions passed by the House that would have overhauled tenure and pay, ended LIFO and forced placement of teachers rated ineffective, and more. A similar op-ed also ran in today's Columbus Dispatch. If the Senate does not change course, all of those provisions will be removed and Ohio will be mired in antiquated teacher personnel rules and procedures (some of which have been around since 1941).

Even prior to this particular legislative battle, however, Fordham Ohio had been hearing lots of myths and fears expressed by educators and policymakers alike. Opponents of overhauling teacher...

Joanne Jacobs Diana Senechal (guest-blogging for Joanne Jacobs*) had an unusual blog post this morning, calling out two other blogs (GothamSchools and one by Ed Week's Sarah Sparks) for sloppy reporting ? or more specifically, sloppy titling. She writes:

I was a bit puzzled when I read the GothamSchools ?remainder?: ?Researchers in Houston are asking whether students can give teachers post-traumatic stress.? Post-traumatic stress? Is the study investigating whether teachers have bouts of depression, nightmares, etc. after they have stopped teaching?

I followed the link to the Edweek blog by Sarah Sparks, which bears the headline, ?Can a Class of 7th Graders Give Teachers Post-traumatic Stress?? But the article itself made it seem as though this were a study of teacher stress, not post-traumatic stress. (Sometimes the headlines are written by someone other than the blog's author.)

Indeed the study ? while potentially interesting ? has nothing to do with?post-traumatic stress?(it just so happens that the researcher conducting it has a background in researching trauma and PTSD). This mis-characterization of mental illness, and about teachers nonetheless, is frustrating in several other ways.

First, it completely misconstrues an actual medical definition. According to the DSM-4 PTSD occurs only after one's life ? or that of someone they love ? is threatened by serious injury or death. If one is aware of the true definition, then the headline leads you to believe that this particular class of seventh graders must...

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