Ohio Gadfly Daily

Innovation: It’s an education reform cliché. But what is innovation, really?

Ask most people about innovation and they’ll probably talk about products—airplanes, laptops, smartphones. But innovation also refers to process. That’s what blended learning is for education. It turns the process of teaching upside down.

Today, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in partnership with Knowledge Works and Reynoldsburg School District, welcomed Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements, to Ohio. Founded in 2010, Education Elements is a California-based company that advises schools on how to adopt and implement blended learning models. Education Elements has assisted charters (KIPP Los Angeles), traditional public school districts (Houston Independent School District), and parochial schools (Mission Dolores Academy in San Francisco).

Anthony Kim, founder and CEO of Education Elements

Kim began the conversation with an audience that included superintendents, teachers, lawmakers, and state board members by describing his blended learning model. According to Kim, blended learning has three goals:

  • To differentiate teaching by breaking the classroom into smaller groups
  • To increase the collection and use of student achievement data to improve teaching
  • To create more efficient schools

How does blended learning achieve these goals?

First, blended learning can address some of the challenges of teaching students who read, write, and do math at different levels. Blended learning deploys a classroom rotation model: students are first broken into groups and then these groups rotate through different work stations throughout the school day.

Kim presented a three-station model, in...

Earlier this week I attended the GE Foundation's Summer Business and Education Summit in Orlando. Most of the two-day conversation among the 150 or so participants revolved around the Common Core and the implementation challenges this effort to reboot public education across 46 states is sure to face in the coming years. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush captured the scale of the challenge when he told the gathering on the first morning that states are heading for a “train wreck.” He noted that when the new standards and assessments come fully online in 2014-15 that many communities, schools and families are in for a rude awakening.

Governor Bush said that the more rigorous Common Core standards, if backed up by equally rigorous assessments, will show that only one in three children in America would qualify as college or career ready. Bush warned that such bluntness about the poor health of American education and student achievement will trigger serious political backtracking. He said, “My guess is there’s going to be a lot of people running for cover and they’re going to be running fast.”

But, as Governor Bush and other speakers during the two day conversation argued, running away from the Common Core would be a huge mistake and a serious step back for the country, its children, and its future. This, in fact, was the overwhelming feeling of the group of business leaders gathered in Orlando. A recurring message throughout the event was that states must move forward with the...

In 2011 the State Board of Education, prompted by a requirement in House Bill 153, developed a new framework for teacher evaluations, to be implemented by all districts starting with the 2013-14 school year. But the standards-based teacher evaluations are coming early to Ohio. The Marietta Times reported that some school districts in the Buckeye State will be piloting the new system during 2012-13. Frontier Local, Marietta City, and Wolf Creek districts will all be trying out the result of HB 153 (as will other districts around the state)—but not without some reservations (find detailed information on the Bill here).

While new policies can be exciting, school officials are finding them challenging to implement. HB 153 requires both principal and teacher evaluations. For the latter, at least 50 percent of a teacher’s rating must be dependent on student academic growth. The process also includes at least two observations and a conference before and after each observation for each evaluation. Superintendents have raised eyebrows at the estimated 15-20 hours per-teacher time commitment these rigorous evaluations may require. To meet these time requirements, Frontier Local School District’s Board of Education approved the transfer of a principal from one school to serve as part-time assistant principal at another.

Other Ohio districts can begin thinking creatively about these issues before they adopt this policy in 2013. For districts already short-staffed, it will take strategic planning to conduct these evaluations properly. However, contract language can have a significant impact on how time consuming...

As I reported last week, Ohio charter schools received a bad rap in recent articles by The Economist. After singing the praises of charters in some of America’s largest cities, The Economist went on to disparage Ohio’s charters, stating that they “have done badly.” I didn’t disagree with their appraisal.

Why the agreement? It’s because the standard matters.

So in Ohio, charters are "bad" compared to what standard? To answer, I take a slice of data from Cleveland to look at the performance of its charter schools relative two comparison groups. First, I compare how Cleveland’s charters stack up against Cleveland Municipal School District (the city’s traditional public school). Second, I compare Cleveland's charters against a broader set of public districts--all districts in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland Municipal, poorer inner-ring suburban districts, and some affluent suburban districts.

I use the fourth grade math proficiency rate—essentially, the proportion of students who “pass” Ohio’s annual standardized test in a given grade and subject—for the 2010-11 school year. And by using what’s called a “z-score” in statistics, I calculate how far each school's proficiency rate is above or below the average proficiency (pass) rate.[1] A school with a positive score has an above-average proficiency rate; vice-versa, a school with a negative score has a below-average rate.

Figure 1 shows how charters compare against their district peers. Each bar indicates a school: charters are shown in red and district schools in grey. The vertical axis indicates schools’...

Ohio charters are gaining an international reputation—but for all the wrong reasons. In articles over the weekend, The Economist chides Ohio charters for having “done badly” and operating without oversight in a “Wild West” environment. And these remarks are written in articles that praise charters schools.

With every financial scandal and every school closing due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny—as they should.

With a prominent global publication taking our charter schools to task, readers around the world—from New York City to London to Tokyo—now know what many of us locally know too well. Ohio’s charter sector has failed to deliver. Despite some exceptional schools (e.g., DECA in Dayton, Constellation Schools and Breakthrough in Cleveland, KIPP and Columbus Collegiate Academy in Columbus), charters in Ohio—as a group—have far too often disappointed students and parents who placed their hopes in these schools. With every financial scandal and every school closing due to academic failure, Ohio’s charters face greater and greater scrutiny—as they should.

We’ve repeatedly recognized here, here, here, here, and here that Ohio’s charters have, as a whole, not delivered and need improvement. Other states do it better. We’ve argued in a 2006 report to lawmakers, in a 2010 book, in numerous op-eds, and in public testimony to lawmakers that Ohio’s charter sector needs reform through smarter accountability, consolidating the state’s 80-plus authorizers, and actively recruiting talent and successful school models to the Buckeye State....

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.