Ohio Gadfly Daily

Columbus City Schools are on the path to putting a property-tax levy on the November ballot (though it’s not a done deal; a citizen’s advisory committee will make its recommendation regarding a levy to district leaders next week and an official decision will follow). District officials say they need $355 million to maintain current programs, and to fund new initiatives, through the 2016-17 school year. Superintendent Gene Harris has indicated that the increase is needed, in part, because the district’s students are increasingly challenged – more kids are living in poverty, learning English, and disabled than in the past. Kids are also moving more frequently within, and to and from, the district.

Aside from a few big-ticket items (like sharing local tax dollars via grants with high-performing charter schools, increasing reading intervention in fourth and fifth grades, and purchasing new school buses), the district hasn’t detailed if, and how, it might alter its overall spending patterns if the levy passes. In the meantime, we can look at how the district is spending money today versus a few years back, for clues.

Charts 1 and 2 show per-pupil spending for Columbus’s elementary and middle schools against the percent of students in each school who were economically disadvantaged for the 2005-06 and 2010-11 – the most recent year for which data are available—school years (2005-06 dollars are adjusted for inflation to reflect 2011 values).[1]


Source: Ohio Department...

The infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud is an apt analogy for the history of district-charter school relations in Ohio. Neither side has much liked the other over the years, but it appears that the animosity and acrimony of the recent past is fading. Evidence for a new period of cooperative charter-district relations comes from several remarkable developments.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson shepherded through the Ohio General Assembly legislation that would, among a whole host of innovative reforms, provide high-performing charter schools in Cleveland with local levy dollars to support their day-to-day operations. Building on the momentum coming out of Cleveland, Columbus Superintendent Gene Harris put forth a plan that would share local property-tax money with some of that city’s high-flying charters in the form of grants to enable those schools to help boost the performance of low-performing district schools.

There are other Buckeye State examples. Reynoldsburg City School District has quietly built a portfolio of school options for its residents over the past decade. Now it is opening those options to students from other districts who might want to attend a Reynoldsburg school through its new open enrollment policy. Further, a group of school districts (including Columbus, Reynoldsburg, and the Dayton Public Schools), educational service centers (including the ESC of Central Ohio and the Montgomery County ESC), and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation have been working over the last two years to build a shared charter school authorizing effort. While legislative language supporting this work has been scuttled twice in...

Nuggets of wisdom are often found in unexpected places. I’ve found wisdom—not in columns of the Acropolis, in the stones of Sinai, or in the lecture halls of the Sorbonne. No, instead it’s hidden in the recesses of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).

The age-old debate about what kids should be reading attracted my attention this week. As my colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee observed last week, two camps seem to have emerged in the “what kids should read” debate: those who want more literary fiction in the classroom and those who want more informational non-fiction.

But should what kids read supersede the question of why kids read? ODE’s English language arts’ 11th and 12thgrade model curricula elegantly answers this question:

“They [students] must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high-quality, challenging texts and develop the skill, concentration and stamina [emphasis in original] to read these texts independently and proficiently.”[1]

Notice that ODE doesn’t prescribe book lists or even specific genres to read—there’s no specification of what kids read—so long as the texts are of “high-quality.”[2] Even more importantly, notice the statement’s purpose clause: “to develop the skill, concentration, and stamina” of the student.

The purpose clause in ODE’s statement on reading has significance for why we teach reading, and secondarily, has implications for how we teach reading.

Let me illustrate with an anecdote. I was recently surprised to learn that the med school entrance exam is...

Education and politics go hand and glove. When it comes to education the question isn’t just whether or not a policy is right or smart, but whether it can politically fly. The debates swirling around Senate Bill 316 – part of Governor Kasich’s mid-biennium budget review – is an interesting case study in that it seeks bold policy change but collides with political calculations and complications.

In late March, Governor Kasich introduced his education proposals and major components included:

  • A greatly strengthened third-grade reading guarantee—Ohio has had a version of this guarantee on the books for years, but it has gone largely unenforced;[1]
  • An A-F school-rating system that more accurately reflects schools’ true performance and is more straight-forward than the current one (“continuous improvement”, etc.);
  • Increased charter-school accountability, including for drop-out recovery schools, which have been outside the state accountability system for more than a decade, and changes to how sponsors are ranked;
  • Increased reporting and tracking of student data, including tracking public preschool students through K-12, and reporting the performance of graduates of the state’s teacher preparation programs;
  • Required development of digital and blended learning policies at the state level;
  • Increased accountability for publicly-funded preschool and child-care programs; and
  • Necessary tweaks to the teacher-evaluation legislation passed last year, and various other small clean-ups to state education law.

After the painful referendum defeat borne by the governor and his fellow Republicans per Senate Bill 5 – the collective bargaining reform bill – in November 2011, reformers were pleasantly...

In addition to the policy and advocacy work that we do at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, our sister organization the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation sponsors eight charter schools in Ohio. In August Fordham will sponsor three new start-ups (one each in Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland). Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) opened in 2008, and it has now launched the newly-formed United Schools Network, a nonprofit charter management organization (CMO). United Schools Network will consolidate the operations of CCA and launch the new 6-8 Columbus Collegiate Academy- West Campus.

To learn more about all this we sat down with CCA founder Andrew Boy to hear first-hand what he hopes to achieve through the United Schools Network. 

Q. Why did you decide to form the United Schools Network (USN)?

A. While launching a high-performing, high-need, school in Columbus is challenging and satisfying, we want to do more. We recognize that we have a unique opportunity to do so. If CCA can create excellence in our flagship school, then there is no reason we cannot similarly create excellent schools in other areas of Columbus and in other parts of the Midwest. It is in pursuit of this goal that we have created an organization to support the growth and replication of schools based on the United Schools Network model. 

Q. What will be the main function of USN?

A.  A “home office,” which will house the Chief Executive and other key senior leaders of the organization, will centrally direct USN operations....

For more than 20 years Teach for America has been working to help teach children in some of America’s toughest schools. Yet, this school year will be the first time TFA will have teachers in the Buckeye State. Last fall Governor Kasich signed legislation that paved the way for TFA to place 90 teachers in 14 schools in Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky over the next three years. Partner districts and schools include Cincinnati Public Schools, Covington Independent Public in northern Kentucky and Dayton-area charter schools (two sponsored by Fordham).

TFA officially launched in Southwest Ohio last week when over 30 corps members spent the week in Cincinnati and Dayton visiting schools and getting to know the communities they will be working with. Corps members had the opportunity to meet with parents, teachers, and school leaders from the neighborhoods where their students reside.

As part of their Dayton visit corps members met with area students and local high school and university educators. They also participated in a half-day discussion hosted by Ben Lindy (TFA Executive Director) that  took place at Dayton View Academy– one of the charter schools that corps member will be working in this fall. The meeting brought together well respected and knowledgeable members of the Dayton community for a discussion on Dayton’s history, education challenges the city faces, and how TFA can be a driving force in change that is so badly needed. Community leaders such as Dr. Tom Lasley, former Dean of Education at The University...

I’ve seen the future of blended learning and it is exciting. The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) organized visits to three cutting edge schools and Silicon Valley-based education entrepreneurs Junyo and Education Elements. The CEE-Trust contingent included 17 educators, new school developers and philanthropists from New Orleans, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Denver, Kansas City, Rochester, NY and Nashville.

The group visited the following charter schools:

  • Aspire Eres Academy in Oakland. Eres operator is Aspire Public Schools. Aspire is one of the nation’s top-performing charter school operators and serves about 12,000 K-12 students in 34 schools across California. Aspire Eres is Aspire’s first foray into blended learning. The Eres Academy serves about 220 students in grades K-8. The student population is 98 percent Hispanic, 97 percent free and reduced-price lunch and 60 percent English Language Learners.
  • Downtown College Prep (DCP) in San Jose. DCP opened its first building in 2000 and currently operates a high school and a middle school serving grades 6-7. The flagship high school serves about 400 students, while the DCP Alum Rock middle school is currently serving about 180 students. The middle school will serve grades 6-8 in 2012-13 and expects 300 students at full capacity. Students at DCP Alum Rock spend 90 minutes a day in a learning lab run by the school’s blended learning wizard Greg Klein. Klein and his team have developed a blended learning program that provides students with a variety of offerings including Khan Academy (math), Teen Biz/Achieve3000 (ELA), MangaHigh
  • ...

The U.S. Department of Education recently granted Ohio relief from No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) most awkward mandates. To receive this relief, Ohio was required to present a school accountability plan that would put its kids on a college- and career-ready path. Ohio’s NCLB waiver request proposes a revamped accountability system based on three indicators of school quality: (1) student achievement, (2) student growth, and (3) achievement gap closure. The three indicator scores (reported as percentages) are summed and averaged—each given equal weight—to determine a school’s overall performance.[1]

The proposed system’s third indicator, gap closure, is a newly-conceived measure of how well nationally-defined student subgroups (e.g., racial, economically disadvantaged, special education, English language learners) perform on standardized tests compared to a state-designated baseline test score—an annual measureable objective (AMO). Any school building with more than 30 students in a subgroup must report its subgroup scores.

To gauge how well schools would perform under the proposed accountability system, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) simulated schools’ performance using 2010-11 data. ODE’s simulated results, however, put into question the validity of the gap closure indicator, as currently designed.

The following charts show ODE’s simulated results. Consider the distribution of Ohio school buildings’ overall rating (Figure 1). The vertical axis indicates the number of school buildings that received a certain rating, and the horizontal axis shows the rating scale, which is expressed as a percentage. We observe that most school ratings fall within a relatively narrow band between 75 and 95...

It is the aim of the Common Core (see above) that all students will be college- or career-ready by the time they graduate from high school. One organization working to make this goal a reality in Fordham’s hometown of Dayton is Learn to Earn Dayton. Last week the Fordham Institute teamed up with Learn to Earn Dayton to host a community conversation, “What does the Common Core Mean for Dayton and its Human Capital Development Strategies?”

The event brought together leaders from the business and education community to discuss the future of Dayton and the potential impact the Common Core can have on the city. The event featured Stan Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction; Mike Cohen, president of Achieve; Ellen Belcher, author of our recent report on Common Core implementation; and David Ponitz, president emeritus of Sinclair Community College and chairman of the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.



 Stan Heffner, state superintendent of public instruction and Mike Cohen, president of Achieve

Superintendent Heffner explained that the Common Core standards will help Ohio move from the minimum toward a path that allows kids to be college and career ready. He acknowledged that the transition will be rough and that it will scare some people but in the end people will rise to the occasion, and kids will be asked to do more and better. Mike Cohen, one of the national leaders...

In a turn of events that reflects today’s economic and fiscal realities, the Reynoldsburg City Schools’ board of education approved an open enrollment policy last week. The decision is noteworthy as Reynoldsburg will become the first of Columbus’ suburban public districts to adopt an open enrollment policy.

Under Ohio’s open enrollment policy, public school districts can voluntarily admit students from other districts, at no cost to the student. Districts throughout the state have generally adopted open enrollment; nearly eighty percent of Ohio’s 664 public schools districts participate in open enrollment according to the Ohio Department of Education. However, few open enrollment districts are located near Ohio’s metropolitan areas, a fact shown in the chart below.

Figure: Number of districts adopting open enrollment by Ohio metro area, 2011-12

Source: Ohio Department of Education. Note: District count is based on the county in which the major city is located.

A district of nearly 6,000 students, Reynoldsburg City Schools serves the middle-class, eastern suburbs of Columbus. The district maintains an “excellent” rating from the state (its second-highest rating), and around eighty to ninety percent of its students reach proficiency in math and reading every year. Open enrollment risks these sterling academic marks. Due to Reynoldsburg’s proximity to Columbus City Schools, the district may absorb lower-caliber students from disadvantaged parts...