Ohio Gadfly Daily

Fordham and Community Research Partners’ student mobility project, released last week, measures the frequency and describes the pattern of student movement in Ohio's schools. The mobility data, while dense, have practical and strategic uses for school-level and district-level practitioners.

Here’s one possible use.

Our research provides educators with information about student mobility networks. This information can help superintendents, principals, and teachers know which schools they are most connected to, by way of student moves.

At a school building level, network data can help educators identify which schools they need to work closely with—perhaps aligning curricular or instructional approaches or making sure their textbooks are the same. At a district-level, network data can help administrators plan facilities or personnel. For example, administrators may find highly-connected schools easier to consolidate, if facility costs are a concern. Similarly, to save on personnel costs, districts could share staff across highly-connected schools. Rather than having a school counselor for each school building, a single counselor may just as effectively serve multiple but highly-connected schools.

To illustrate what a student mobility network looks like (see, D. Kerbow, 1996), I use Bond Hill Elementary School as an example—for no reason other than for illustration. Bond Hill, enrollment 400, is part of Cincinnati Public Schools, 91 percent economically disadvantaged, and nearly 100 percent minority. The school received a C rating (Continuous Improvement) in 2010-11 and in 2011-12.

Bond Hill had an above average one-year churn rate in 2010-11 (32 percent) compared to Cincinnati Public Schools (on...


For several years, in our role as charter school authorizer, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has worked closely and collaboratively with the governing authority (Alliance Community Schools) of the Dayton View and Dayton Liberty charter schools to encourage better results. After more than a decade of working together, the governing board fired the school’s operator, Edison Learning, at the end of the 2011-12 school year. At the start of this school year the management responsibilities for both buildings were turned over to a veteran Dayton educator and his management team. 

Because we believe there are many lessons to be drawn from this experience, we engaged veteran journalist Ellen Belcher to tell the story of these two schools and ongoing efforts to improve the education they provide some of Dayton’s neediest children. Ellen is an award-winning journalist and former editorial page editor of the Dayton Daily News, where she frequently wrote about education issues including those around charter schools.

Our task to Ellen was straightforward – talk to the board members (current and former), administrators, teachers, and parents involved in the two schools and find out their stories. Why, in their words, haven’t the schools lived up to their promise? She also reached out to current and former officials from the schools’ former operator, Edison Learning, to get their perspectives on these issues, and she spoke with Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr. for his take as well. 

Ellen tackled the assignment with her usual curiosity, skepticism, and reporter’s acumen....

While the focus of Tuesday’s election was on the presidential race, many voters across the Buckeye State also gave a yea or nay for their school district’s levy proposal.  According to the Hannah Report, 192 district levies were on ballots this election day, and a little over half of them passed (55 percent). If your district asked for a renewal of a tax levy, it was more likely to pass (87 percent) compared to new levies, which passed at a 37 percent rate.

Despite these figures and the ever-tightening fiscal climate, Tuesday spelled victory for several districts asking for new levies. For example, Cleveland voters approved a $15 million levy. Cleveland Municipal will be able to reinstate regular school days and gym and music classes, which were previously cut. Akron City Schools also has cause for celebration with the support of its $7.9 million levy. To find out how your district’s levy did, see the Ohio School Boards Association’s webpage.

One in three Columbus students change schools each year. So, it’s little surprise that a group of nearly 100 of Columbus’ education and community leaders gathered to hear and discuss the groundbreaking research findings from Fordham and Community Research Partners’ (CRP) just-released Ohio Student Mobility Project.

In attendance this morning were senior staff members from Columbus City Schools, the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, The Ohio State University, Columbus’ largest charitable foundations, members of the press corps, and education policy and youth program organizations. The Columbus Foundation hosted the event.

Roberta Garber of CRP opened the event with an overview of the research findings for the Columbus metropolitan area. The findings were striking: There’s a lot of student movement—perhaps more than generally appreciated—occurring within school districts, between districts, and between charter schools and traditional districts. To measure student mobility in Columbus' schools and schools across Ohio, Garber reported that CRP analyzed approximately 6 million student records. The research found that some schools had churn rates upwards of 50 percent—a statistic that indicates a significant amount of mobility, by way of student admits or withdrawals.

After the presentation of the data, Mark Real of KidsOhio.org moderated a panel discussion to reflect on the research findings. The panel included Matt Cohen of the Department of Education, Nancy Van Meter of the American Federation of Teachers, Steve Dackin of Reynoldsburg School District, and Terry Ryan of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.


For our full report on student mobility, please visit http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/student-nomads-mobility-in-ohios-schools.html


Imagine for a moment you’re a school teacher. For the sake of argument, let’s say that you teach at Southmoor Middle School, located on the south side of Columbus.  To start your year, you have 25 of Columbus’ most eager, bright-eyed sixth graders in your classroom. Their enthusiasm is fresh like a new textbook and bubbles like a science fair volcano.

Fast forward to May and your classroom has changed considerably. During the school year (you have an average Southmoor classroom) five new students came to your class while eight students departed at some point for another school. For incoming students, you had to make mid-year assessments of those students’ learning levels and quickly integrate them into your lesson plans and classroom culture. You likely did all this without the assistance of a student record (as those can take months to find their way to you), while also maintaining the pace of learning for those students who have been with you all year.  Student mobility complicates things.

Pioneering Research

The nomadic-like nature of the Southmoor Middle School student body is not an outlier when it comes to student mobility. In fact, it’s one of many schools in Ohio—and across the nation—that copes with a revolving door of students—students who enter and leave a school during the year. 

Student mobility complicates things

Yet, despite the scale and scope of student mobility, the research on it is slim; as...

The Fordham Institute sends out hearty congratulations to Mayor Frank Jackson and his staff, Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon, the city’s business community, district supporters, teachers, students, and the voters of Cleveland on the passage of the district’s levy—a key component of the Plan for Transforming Schools. It was a hard-fought campaign that was successful in the end due to the day-to-day and door-to-door diligence of its supporters.

As Fordham’s Ohio VP Terry Ryan wrote on this very blog back in February, this effort to make Cleveland one of the nation's school-reform leaders – with its sights fixed firmly on finding, funding, and nurturing what works in education for the sake of the students themselves—is a significant step forward for all Cleveland families. And on this morning of November 7, implementation is now at hand.

All involved with that implementation must be mindful of what was promised and what must be delivered:

  • Increasing the number of high-performing schools, both district and charter, while closing failing schools;
  • Maximizing enrollment in Cleveland’s existing high-performing district and public charter schools;
  • Investing in promising schools by giving their leaders additional resources, the freedom to build high-performing teams, and the ability to make financial and instructional decisions based on their students’ needs;
  • Seeking (and finding) flexibility in the hiring, retention, and remuneration of teachers; and
  • Sustaining both district and public charter transformation schools.

We applaud the work done to create and to pass the plan and look...

My colleagues in Washington D.C. recently published a state-by-state analysis of teacher union strength in U.S. Their report is trenchant, timely, and relevant. Why? Because it shows the ongoing influence that teacher unions have on our schools--despite the fact that labor unions, overall, have declined in the U.S. (We ranked Ohio 12 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in teacher union strength.)

Digging in at a more local level, let’s consider the story of the City of Springfield, population 60,000, located an hour outside of Columbus. Springfield is a city in decline: Since 1960, Springfield has lost 25 percent of its population and its median household income is $34,000 per year, below the state average. The city is mostly White (75 percent). Springfield has 3 charter schools and 1 traditional school district.

Now, let’s consider three of Springfield’s schools: Springfield Academy of Excellence (SAE), a Fordham-sponsored charter school, Fulton Elementary School, and Perrin Woods Elementary School. Springfield City School District (a traditional public school) operates Fulton and Perrin Woods. I’ve selected these schools because of their similar demographics and academic performance (table 1).

Table 1: Demographic and academic performance data for selected Springfield school buildings, 2011-12.

Source: Ohio Department of Education, 2011-12 Preliminary Data

Pretty similar: SAE, Fulton, and Perrin Woods all have a majority Black and Hispanic students in their school. (These represent 3 of the 4 elementary schools in Springfield that have a...

Too many of our schools dramatically shortchange students by advancing them on to higher grades without the ability to read. Ohio lawmakers took action last year to finally curtail this practice. Sadly a group of misinformed people have announced their intention to undo this literacy improvement strategy before it has even had a chance to take effect. Ohio’s most disadvantaged children will suffer terrible harm if they succeed.

Every child has a window of opportunity in the critical early years. It’s not impossible to learn to read once aging out of this window any more than it is impossible for you to become fluent in a foreign language as an adult, but it becomes increasingly difficult as you get older.

For too long, and despite earlier efforts to provide a third-grade reading guarantee, the state’s children simply get passed on to the next grade. Each year, the curriculum becomes more challenging, but students lack the skills to rise with it. Children going through this cruel farce will describe themselves as bored, and they often become disruptive. They know they will never be going to college, and they inevitably start to wonder why they go to school at all.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released a study that tracked a cohort of students through their entire K-12 careers. The study found that 88 percent of 19-year-old dropouts had failed to score as proficient readers as third graders. Ohio schools don’t just suffer from a dropout problem;...

In May 1953, Edmund Hillary and his trusty sherpa Tenzing Norgay stood on the top of the world. They had conquered the impossible: climbing Mount Everest and all 29,000 feet of it. Later on Hillary would look back on his accomplishment with pride, saying that, by climbing Everest, "the unattainable had been attained."

Like Hillary and Norgay in the spring of 1953, Cleveland's schools face a long, uphill climb to reach the summit of educational excellence. Is the summit unattainable? It'll be hard at least. Consider Cleveland's 2010-11 academic performance data: Approximately one in two of Cleveland’s students failed their math exam and two in five failed their reading exam. More than 35,000 public school students, or 60 percent of all of Cleveland's public school students, attended a failing district or charter school.

Mount Everest: The mountain Cleveland's schools face

Source: Wikipedia

Despite the glum achievement results, there are a few rays of hope for Cleveland. The city has 16 district and charter school buildings rated A or A+ by the state. These include the high-flying John Hay high schools (part of Cleveland Municipal School District) and the Constellation group of charter schools. But high-quality schools are in short supply: In 2011-12, only 7 percent of Cleveland’s public school students attended one of these highly-rated district or charter school buildings.

The following report shows the data on...

Dayton has a long tradition of innovation (think airplanes, pull-tabs, electric starters, cash registers, and even teacher unions). Yet, as the innovations of one era slip into obsolescence in the next, it should come as no surprise that the Gem City has struggled economically in recent decades. The hope for Dayton’s revival comes from innovation. And this time the innovation is in education—how  we prepare people for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

By 2018, it is estimated that almost two-thirds of jobs in America will require at least a sub-baccalaureate credential. A sub-baccalaureate credential is a post-secondary credential that includes awards like certificates, associate degrees, state-issued education credentials, corporate certificates and badges among others. Dayton, according to a fantastic piece in the Lumina Foundation’s fall edition of Focus Magazine, is quickly becoming a national leader in preparing “sub-baccalaureate graduates.”

Dayton’s economic struggles peaked in 2009 and the scale of the pain was captured by The New York Times, which  reported that the area faced a vortex of “economic and social change.” The Times continued, reporting that  “the area’s job total has fallen 12 percent since 2000, while about half of its factory jobs – 38,000 out of 79,000 – have disappeared this decade. Not only have large G.M. and Delphi plants closed, but NCR, long the city’s corporate jewel, recently announced that it would move its headquarters to the Atlanta area.”

The jobs of Dayton's past: The National Cash Register assembly line