Ohio Gadfly Daily

One could argue that 2011 has been the year of “digital learning”
across America but in fact digital learning has been big business in
Ohio for more than a decade. Lessons from that experience should inform
the Buckeye State’s approach to new digital learning opportunities that
are generating excitement and optimism.

In September, the White House announced its “Digital Promise” campaign, while a number of states have been embracing initiatives and campaigns in this realm, aided and encouraged by the Digital Learning Council, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and Fordham itself (via our “Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning” series.)

Ohio’s biennial budget launched the Digital Learning Task Force
charged with ensuring that the state’s “legislative environment is
conducive to and supportive of the educators and digital innovators at
the heart of this transformation.” There have been many conferences this
year on fresh digital-learning possibilities and prominent innovators
in this field – people like Sal Kahn, Tom Vander Ark, John Chubb, Rick
Hess, Susan Patrick, and John Danner—have been much in demand to offer
insights and share possibilities with Ohioans. 

Education visionary Paul Hill captured the opportunities when he wrote for Fordham:

Capacities like these open up vast possibilities for
improved instructional delivery. Students who do not want to attend
school can access entirely self-managed online learning. Self-managed
‘virtual’ schools can match a student’s interests, learning rate, and



Since their inception in 1997, charter schools have been at the
center of some of the most politically contentious debates about
education in Ohio. The past year offered yet another example of charter
school controversy, but this time with a twist. The 2010 elections were
very good for Buckeye State Republicans, with John Kasich winning the
governor’s race (replacing Ted Strickland who had been a charter adversary throughout his four-year term). Republicans also took control of the House while expanding their majority in the Senate.

Almost immediately GOP lawmakers set out to make the Buckeye State
more inviting to charter schools. Governor Kasich’s budget proposals in House Bill (HB) 153
offered a solid plan for not only increasing the number of charters in
Ohio but improving their quality. Crucial elements included encouraging
successful operators to clone good schools; leaning hard on authorizers
to fix or close failing schools and banning the replication of failure;
placing schools’ ostensibly independent governing boards in clear charge
of any outside organizations that they engaged to run their education
programs; creating professional and ethical norms for all parties;
insisting on transparency around academics, governance, and finances;
channeling fair funding into successful schools; and introducing best
practices and expert advice into every step of the process. This was a
vision that excited us and many others in Ohio and beyond because it

Matthew Kyle
is currently a policy and research intern with Fordham’s Columbus team.
He is working on his master’s degree in education at Antioch
University, after recently earning a bachelor’s in economics from The
Ohio State University.  In pursuit of his master’s degree, he has begun
student teaching and will be entering the field as a full-time
professional in 2012.

I still remember when I was 13 years old and began my first job
bailing hay for a local farmer.  I remember the heat, the dirt and the
sweat that went into that job; it was hard work–for some of us.  As much
as I remember the difficulties of that job, I remember some of my older
co-workers that had been working for this farmer for a couple of
summers sitting down watching a few of us younger kids do most of the
work.  To this day I remember the frustration I felt when I found that
not only were some of them getting paid as much as me, but many were
getting paid more simply because they had been there longer.

A week after Issue 2
was voted down, I’ve had some time to ponder the reasons why I
supported it in the first place, and they still hold true. Here are my

  • As an up-and-coming teacher I desperately want to work in a system
    that rewards me
  • ...

Ohio teachers and administrators work tirelessly to deliver an
excellent education to the state’s 1.8 million students, said State
Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner at the annual Ohio
School Boards Association’s  conference earlier this week.  So why are
fewer than one in three of Ohio’s fourth graders reading at a proficient
level (according to
the National Assessment of Educational Progress)? Worse, why are
achievement scores unimpressive among not only the Buckeye State’s urban districts, but even among wealthier suburban districts, especially in contrast to students internationally?

Heffner argued lackluster performance in K-12 isn’t a product of
laziness, ineffectiveness, or incompetence on the part of educators and
leaders. Rather it results from an outdated system that “traps them in
mediocrity,” and has everyone working to the lowest common denominator. 
But this wasn’t just a hollow declaration, or a convenient way for
Ohio’s school chief to shift blame away from demoralized educators and
cast it vaguely on “the system.”

Ohio’s educational framework quite literally is the problem.
Namely academic standards, expectations, accountability structures,
proficiency cut-offs, and the fact that the “system” shields us from
brutal realities rather than serving as a true yardstick of how our
schools and children are doing. According to Heffner, student
performance in Ohio is middling because academic expectations for
students are set too low. Ohio’s education system focuses on getting
students over a...

Guest Blogger

Ever wonder what happens to teachers who don't want to join the union? In her emotional testimony to the Ohio House's Commerce and Labor Committee on Senate Bill 5 this morning, teacher Carol Katter of Wapakoneta provided an answer.

Katter takes her faith (she's a Roman Catholic) seriously, and she has always been uncomfortable with the idea of paying dues to the OEA, as it and its parent organization, the NEA, often support pro-choice political candidates. From the moment she walked in the door at Wapakoneta City Schools she felt ?the stigma of being a union dissenter.? At the time, the union-management contract did not stipulate union membership for all teachers. Even so, Katter said she was ?ostracized? for not joining, and that union representatives continuously reminded her that ?we will be watching you [?] very closely.?

In 2005, however, the union re-negotiated its contract with the district, and the result was a provision requiring union membership for all teachers. Katter was disappointed and anticipated losing her job after she refused to fill out paperwork to join the union, but was surprised to learn that, against her will, a local union representative had obtained her Social Security number and birth date from the district's central office and filled out the paperwork for her. She objected to this back door procedure and promptly filed a request with the OEA for an exemption from union dues, based on her religious convictions.

A local council of OEA representatives convened for...

Guest Blogger

The Falcon 49 School District near Colorado Springs is implementing an innovative structure to their administrative system, according to this article in Education Week. ?You can read about it there, but the gist is that the district will be trying a very innovative new governance structure wherein the top four administrative officials (including superintendents) will have their contracts bought out, and the district will be divided into ?three zones.?? Each zone will consist of elementary and middle schools that feed into a high school and the head of each zone will be the principal of the high school. The zone-heads will lead all the schools in their zone, and will report to a CEO whose role deals strictly with academic issues across the zones.? Issues involving human resources, facilities, and transportation would be handled by the head of each zone, or under a newly established service operator position.?

Such changes would push decision-making processes and resources to the school level and reduce top-heavy administrative procedures (something that Fordham has called for in Ohio for years).?? The initiative is expected to better connect the community, parents and students to their schools.? Even more relevant (to Ohio especially) is that the move could save a lot ? a combined $2.96 million from not having to pay the salaries of the current four administrators.

According to Education Week, the proposal is currently in preliminary stages, and was designed to test the Innovation Schools Act which aims to reduce bureaucracy...

To improve student learning in Ohio, and in other states, we need to improve the quality of our teaching force. Statistics don’t lie when it comes to the impact of teachers on children’s learning. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has observed that “having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background.” Yet, according to a new report by the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and US News and World Report too many of our new teachers enter the classroom unprepared. 

Over a century ago, Abraham Flexner provided a withering critique of the nation’s medical schools, which led to a transformation of a sub-standard system of doctor preparation into preparation programs that would become models of quality for the rest of the world. NCTQ wants to do the same thing for teacher preparation that Flexner did for medical training back in 1910.

Toward that end, NCTQ and US News and World Report have issued their Teacher Prep Review. The Review provides data on the 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained new teachers. Forty-six institutions in Ohio were included in the Review. The findings are not good. In fact, NCTQ warns that the nation’s teacher prep programs “have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity.”

The urgency to improve teacher preparation has never...

Yesterday Ohio Education Matters (a subsidiary of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation) hosted a forum for Ohio superintendents and district leaders looking to save money. Figuring out ways to ?do more with less? in K-12 education is an urgent matter (especially follow this week's repeal of Issue 2), which is why Fordham has been prodding school districts for quite some time to think proactively on this issue.? (See a summary of our recent event, ?Working Smarter Together?; coverage of our ?doing more with less? events in education from this past spring; or highlights from last year's ?Stretching the School Dollar? event ? or that accompanying book.)

The event featured Fordham friend Rick Hess (director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute) as well as superintendents from districts across Ohio recognized by OEM's benchmarking study for exceptional cost-savings measures.

These on-the-ground ?efficiency experts? included superintendents from several schools districts including Canton City (Michele Evans); Perry Local in Stark County (John Richard); Sandy Valley (David Janofa); Western Reserve (Charles Swindler); and Salem City (Tom Bratten). Except for Canton City, the majority of examples of cost-savings and service-sharing came from districts that are fairly small.

It was apparent by the way superintendents in the audience were taking diligent notes that districts are really on the market for new ideas. Several good ideas emerged:

  • Per-pupil budgeting. Perhaps most encouraging is that districts are taking the advice laid out by Marguerite Roza in
  • ...

Ohio's electorate soundly rejected Issue 2 (the referendum on Senate Bill 5) on Tuesday. As almost everyone knows, that statute made significant changes to collective bargaining for public employees in the Buckeye State. The most controversial bits included changes to binding arbitration (to give management the right to impose its last best offer), a ban on strikes by public employees, and the elimination of seniority as the sole factor for determining who should be laid off when cutbacks are necessary.

Though teachers and their unions were most definitely included???both in Senate Bill 5 and in the frantic, well-funded ($30 million) effort to persuade voters to repudiate it???education-policy watchers outside Ohio may not appreciate the extent to which this was really a referendum on policemen, firemen, and other ???first responders??? in the public sector. They and their unions were covered by the measure, too, and played the lead role???and by far the most visible role???in the campaign to undo it. There is, in fact, every reason to believe that if the first responders hadn't been involved, Senate Bill 5 would have survived Election Day.

[pullquote]On the same ballot, Ohio voters repudiated Republican plans to restructure collective bargaining in the Buckeye State and the big plans of Beltway Democrats to reshape the nation's healthcare system.[/pullquote]At their raucous victory party on Tuesday night, union leaders said the vote should send a clear message to Governor Kasich and GOP legislative leaders. ???Their biggest mistake was to think they (Republicans) could come...

A new report from Tennessee's Higher Education Commission shows that Teach For America teachers outperformed traditionally trained teachers (regardless of experience level) in reading, science, and social studies. Tennessee's report card on teacher preparation (which results from a 2007 legislative mandate not unlike Ohio's new requirement to track the effectiveness of teacher preparation programs) examined 21 different programs, only five of which were ?alternative providers.? (Note, this isn't the first such analysis showing that TFA-prepared teachers outscore traditionally-trained peers.)

But the fact that TFA teachers outshined other teachers is actually the less interesting/relevant part of these data. As Education Week points out, there's some clear selection bias in what type of teacher trainee joins TFA versus a traditional program. TFA's pool includes ?only high-scoring college graduates? to begin with. More telling might be a study showing how average-scoring teacher candidates fared under TFA's training module or how traditional coursework offered by universities impacts TFA teachers' effectiveness ? or doesn't. Training between sites, even in the same state, varies quite a bit. For example, TFA teachers in Memphis don't have to take any university coursework while those in Nashville take courses through Lipscomb University; what impact, if any, do those formal courses have?

More important than the TFA-trained v. traditionally-trained teacher comparison is the fact that at a state level, Tennessee is collecting and publishing this data. Over time, this enables the public to glean information about how other (non-TFA) alternatively licensed...