Ohio Gadfly Daily

This week StateImpact Ohio is featuring a series on charter schools in Ohio that will address questions about charter school performance, management/governance, finances, and more. (Note, StateImpact is a ?reporting project of local public media and NPR? and exists in multiple states including Ohio.)

The first part in the series, ?Thirteen Years Into the Charter School Experiment,? provides a decent (if brief) overview of Ohio's charter history and landscape. The piece points out several benefits that charter schools have provided in the Buckeye State, namely parental empowerment, pressure on traditional public schools to get better, and freedom from ridiculous red tape stipulating things like the size of a school cafeteria.

At least one missing fact ? and the cause of a lot of misconception about charter schools ?draining? the public school system ? is worth highlighting, however. The piece begins by noting that ?Ohio is paying upwards of $500,000 to support these schools? but fails to point out that in the Buckeye State, charters schools are and historically have been severely underfunded compared to their district counterparts. For example, in FY 2010, each pupil in Columbus City Schools received $8,200 in local revenue. Meanwhile, charter schools in Columbus ? including two of our own - receive zero dollars in local funds, and the amount captured from the state, approximately $5300 per pupil, doesn't even come close to making up for this gap amount. (Never mind the money that public district schools receive on top of...

The Ohio Department of Education released performance rankings of all charter authorizers (aka ???sponsors???) this week, as part of the new requirement that those ranking in the bottom 20 percent of all authorizers cannot take on new schools for one year.

This is a provision Fordham fully supported and in fact helped craft, as a means to ensure better quality and accountability in the charter school sector. The rankings, found here, include 47 authorizers including us (our sister organization, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is an authorizer). On a list of 47 authorizers, we ranked 24th. Nine sponsors fell into the bottom 20 percent and cannot open new schools.

We've never shied away from the truth when it comes to our schools.?? Each year, we publish a comprehensive, public account of our schools' performance (our 2011 edition will be out next month and you can peruse past editions here).?? We've also been among the first to admit that the work is tough; that more school choice without parallel accountability measures is pointless (kids need better options ??? not just more of them); and that closing schools is an important part of quality authorizing. Historically we've accepted the challenge of closing troubled schools poor academic results.

But because these state rankings are new and high-profile, we wanted to take a moment to put them in context and reiterate our emphasis on continuous improvement for all of our schools.

It's important to note a...


The George W. Bush Presidential Center, located in Dallas, Texas recently released data on international student achievement in both reading and math, which you can peruse in an interactive tool, the Global Report Card. It compares 2007 math and reading achievement levels between districts across the nation and 25 developed nations. It should be noted that the tool does not adjust for differences in race, socioeconomic status, or other classifications.? However, the tool is still useful to get an idea of how the districts measure up against their future global competition.

In short, Ohio's major city school districts have quite an abysmal showing compared to their international counterparts.?

Among the eight districts Akron Public Schools had the best showing, ranking in the 28th percentile in Math and the 41st percentile in reading. As poor of a result as this may seem, Dayton Public Schools and Youngstown City Schools struggled even more by comparison.? Both Dayton and Youngstown ranked in the bottom 15 percent in math while ranking respectively in the 24th and 25th percentiles in reading.? Here is how Ohio's big eight fared in comparison to their international counterparts:

What is more concerning is that these numbers improve (significantly in math) when these districts are measured against just the rest of the United States, meaning the country as a whole is continuing to fall behind other developed nations. This is largely due to...

Last week the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants totaling $25 million to charter school management organizations that have been successful at raising student achievement in extremely difficult conditions. Among?the winners included?Cleveland's Breakthrough Charter School Network, a successful network of schools in the Cleveland area.

This week the U.S. Department of Education and Arne Duncan announced a second round of awards totaling nearly $5 million. This round of grants went to 23 charter schools around the country that have demonstrated the ability to produce outstanding results. The grants are to be used to help these schools assist in their planning to expand and open new high quality charter schools. ?The grants will also provide the opportunity for three high -performing charters to partner with non-charter public schools to improve their academic performance and share effective practices.

Among the list of high-performing schools to receive this prestigious grant was Fordham-authorized Columbus Collegiate Academy. CCA received a grant totaling $600,000 for the next three years.? Over 94 percent of CCA students are?economically disadvantaged and since opening their doors in 2008, they have become the highest performing middle school in Columbus. The school's ability to continue to make tremendous student gains has caused it to rank among the best charter schools in the country. CCA is planning to use this grant money to open a new school and spread their successful practices in the near future. ?

Fordham's director of charter school sponsorship Kathryn Mullen Upton noted:



Today on the Learning Matters blog (an affiliate of PBS) check out a discussion on teacher training programs and teacher quality, featuring New?Leaders for New Schools'?Jon Schnur, Allan Odden, Public Impact's Julie Kowal and Sharon Kebschull Barrett, and yours truly (among many others).

My piece is below in full but be sure to check out the full discussion online and leave your own comments.

?Know it when you see it?? Hardly.

We can't improve the quality of our nation's educators or teacher training programs without a serious dialogue around what good teaching looks like, especially for the most at-risk students for whom excellent teaching is most vital. Further, policies must be structured in ways that tease out the attributes and skills of excellent educators and identify and develop these in less effective teachers.

In Ohio, we frequently hear that it's just not possible to do this fairly. But experiences from other states and districts prove otherwise. We interviewed teachers evaluated under the District of Columbia's IMPACT system ? which measures hallmarks of strong instruction like checking for understanding, engaging students, and delivering content clearly. Overwhelmingly DC teachers believed that it correctly identified high and low performers as well as identified tangible ways they could improve.

We heard a similar theme when we interviewed Mike Miles, superintendent of Colorado's Harrison School District 2. HSD2 measures teacher quality according to curricular alignment, classroom management, student engagement, and student growth, among many indicators....

This week the U.S. Department of Education awarded grants totaling $25 million to charter school networks that have been extremely successful in raising student achievement. The grants went to nine different charter networks across the country, all of which serve mostly low-income students. Arne Duncan made it clear why these charter networks deserved to be recognized when he said:

Several high-quality charter schools across the country are making an amazing difference in our children's lives, especially when charters in inner-city communities are performing as well, if not better, than their counterparts in much wealthier suburbs.

One recipient of the grant money was Breakthrough Charter Schools from Cleveland, Ohio. Breakthrough serves more than 1,400 K-8 students across six schools, of which 95 percent are minority and 80 percent are considered low-income. Despite what some would call challenging conditions, Breakthrough has managed to outperform the city of Cleveland and state average on every single test in every single grade.


Source: Breakthrough Charter Schools

This is quite the accomplishment and one that should be applauded. ?The U.S Department of Education awarded Breakthrough $3,488,060 to open eight new schools and expand three schools that they already have in Cleveland. One Breakthrough school in particular, Citizens Academy, was also recently recognized for their commitment to accelerating student growth and preparing their students for college. Citizens Academy was named a National Blue Ribbon Schools of 2011....

Voters in Ohio support restrictions on collective bargaining (60% support restrictions), and strong majorities (62%) oppose service cuts as a means of keeping public employees at current salary and benefit levels. ??These findings from Douglas E. Schoen ??? pollster for President Bill Clinton ??? should encourage supporters of Ohio's Senate Bill 5, which seeks to weaken the collective-bargaining power of about 360,000 public workers in the Buckeye State. But, the same poll also found that a majority of Ohioans oppose the specific collective bargaining changes in the bill. This conflict in attitudes suggests Ohio's voters are confused about the connection between changing collective bargaining rules and controlling public employees' costs and benefit packages.

Whatever the outcome of the November 8th referendum (and both sides are investing millions in television ads to sway voters to their side), Schoen's survey findings make clear Ohioans, and Americans more generally, are fed-up with how elected officials run their states, with the generosity of public sector employee wages and benefits, and with the overall fiscal health of their states.

Two-in-three American voters express frustration with the direction their state economies are moving and say their state is on the ???wrong track.??? A plurality (48%) blame their elect officials for their state budget problems, and a plurality (47%) say cutting government spending is the best way to address the problem facing states, while 31% would require public employees to contribute more towards their benefits. Just 13% of voters think the best way forward is...

AYP, or ?adequate yearly progress,? has become one of the most derided parts of the No Child Left Behind Act and the accountability requirements it set in motion for states. Simply put, a school makes AYP if it is progressing adequately enough toward meeting NCLB's goal of having 100 percent of children proficient in key tested subjects by 2014, and fails to meet AYP if it's not. States set annual targets and have different methods for calculating whether schools are meeting these targets; Ohio, for example, is one of nine states under the federal ?Growth Model Pilot Project? allowed to incorporate its growth model into AYP calculations.

But meeting AYP is like trying to ride an escalator that speeds up with each step you take. As schools progress toward 2014 more and more are labeled as failing, in part because states set low targets in earlier years and then increasingly steeper ones in the years leading up to 2014. Even those school serving kids well have an increasingly difficult time of getting every child to proficiency. On a national level, Secretary Duncan predicted earlier this year that as many as 80+ percent of schools could fail to meet AYP. On a school level, among those that are already very high performing, good schools may inadvertently be punished (anecdotally at least, Fordham knows this to be true).

This has become a common meme in education circles. And it's intuitive, like the law of marginal returns and the...

Continuing with our coverage of the 2010-11 report card data release, today we take a look at school performance and growth by subject and how it compares among charter and traditional district schools in Ohio's Big 8. The following charts compare the average performance of charter schools in the Big 8 to the average performance of traditional public schools. On the whole, the news for charter schools is encouraging; as a group, they outperformed traditional public schools in every state test except writing. To be sure, that comparison varies widely within each city.

Chart 1 takes a look at average proficiency rates in reading for charter and district schools. On average charter schools in the Big 8 outperformed their traditional school peers by 65 to 62 percent. Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton in particular had a higher percentage of their charter students outperforming district students. One of the most notable results comes from Fordham's hometown of Dayton where the pass rate for charter schools is 11 percentage points higher than the district's. The lowest performance in reading can be found in Canton where only 48 percent of their charter school students are proficient in reading, 27 percentage points away from the state average of 75 percent.?


Chart 2 looks at charter and district school performance in math for...

For the last two weeks the Fordham Ohio team has been highlighting achievement trends in the Buckeye State's ?Big 8? districts (eight largest) and charter schools. At the same time, Ohio newspapers also have been making charter/district comparisons in their news stories (e.g., "Charters Suffer By Comparison, Slowly Catching up with School Districts" by Hannah News Service).

But in most instances, these charter/district comparisons aren't very useful (or accurate) as charter schools ? located primarily in Ohio's urban centers or other challenged districts  serve a student population that is far more disadvantaged than the statewide average. In other words, how useful is it to know that only 21 percent of charters  achieved a ranking of Effective, Excellent or Excellent with Distinction compared to 93 percent of district schools, when wealthier schools comprise the vast majority of those in the latter category? Not very.

For this reason, in our yearly achievement analysis we look at charter schools and compare them to the Big 8 districts (not the state average). With the help of our friends at Public Impact, who did this year's analysis, we also weighted the analysis such that if in 2010-11, 30 percent of charter students were in third grade, then third graders in district schools would be counted as 30 percent of the district average. Similarly, if 30 percent of charter students were in Akron, then Akron city district students would be counted as 30 percent of the district average as well.

When done...