Ohio Gadfly Daily

Governor Kasich is set to sign legislation that will extend the life of the state’s five public pension systems, including the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS). The legislative fix includes what the Cleveland Plain Dealer refers to as a “combination of raised retirement eligibility ages, raised employee contribution rates, new guidelines for cost-of-living adjustments or a new formula to calculate benefits.”

In short, lawmakers have bought the current defined benefit pension systems some more life. But the STRS system, and this is true to varying degrees of the other retirement systems, is still burdened by fundamental flaws that will force quality educators to retire sooner than they want, and make teaching and educational leadership less competitive in attracting top talent over the long-haul.

The state’s action has undeniably extended the life of STRS. Consider that the legislation moves the unfunded liability facing STRS from “infinity” to 36 years. By law, state pensions must be able to cover their liabilities within a 30-year period, and 36 is certainly a lot closer to what the law demands than is infinity. So far so good, and considering that states like Illinois can’t even agree on how to make their current pension systems solvent this is something of a success. At least in Ohio taxpayers aren’t likely to face new taxes any time soon to pay for retirement promises made to public sector employees, and current educators can count on their pensions.

But, the changes to STRS and the state’s other retirement systems have...

Valentina is a legislative analyst for StudentsFirst, a bipartisan grassroots movement working to improve the nation’s schools. 

Every year, Ohio’s public schools are responsible for educating 1.8 million students. To ensure that all students are making learning gains and meeting academic expectations, the Buckeye State needs a system in place to hold schools and school districts accountable for student performance. The Ohio Department of Education is currently redesigning Ohio’s accountability system, and lawmakers have promised to put a new Report Card system into law by the end of December.

In its ongoing efforts to improve student achievement, the Ohio General Assembly can benefit by understanding A-F accountability reforms in other states. Whereas Ohio’s current school rating system uses ambiguous terms like “effective,” “academic watch,” and “continuous improvement” to report on school and district performance, other states are moving towards easier-to-understand, A-F summative ratings. We at StudentsFirst recommend that states issue annual letter grades for all schools and districts based on student achievement. Implementing a letter grading system holds schools and districts accountable for the results they produce, provides parents with understandable information about the schools their children attend, and encourages school improvement efforts.

Done well, A-F rating systems place the focus on students by underscoring student achievement. Because the criteria used to determine school grades are objective and results-focused, educators are held accountable for their students’ progress. Many states that employ A-F school grading systems include proficiency scores, learning gains, and progress toward closing the achievement gap. To further...

As local school districts prepare to implement the state’s new third-grade reading guarantee, many are bemoaning the increased costs associated with providing more reading assessments and interventions to struggling K-3 readers (as required by law) and retaining more kids. The Ohio School Boards Association called the new law, and specifically its reporting requirements, “an unfunded mandate.”

The legislature did dedicate $13 million in competitive funding to support the new mandate, and last week the State Board of Education mulled recommending $105 million to support the law in the Ohio Department of Education’s FY2014-15 budget request. But would more money make a difference? Let’s take a look at the relationship between funding and reading achievement in the past.

Ohio had a reading guarantee on the books more than a decade ago (it was watered down before taking effect). At that time, with a governor (Taft) who had taken on improving early literacy skills as a primary policy objective and with the state coffers flush, Ohio poured millions into literacy improvement programs and professional development for teachers (via programs like OhioReads, the State Institutes for Reading Instruction, adolescent literacy grants, and summer intervention programs – to say nothing of federally funded efforts like Reading First). Chart 1 shows state funding for literacy improvement initiatives and reading professional development, from FY2000-01 (Governor Taft’s first budget) to FY2012.

Chart 1: Dedicated state spending on literacy improvement initiatives and professional development, FY2000 to FY2012


A college political science professor of mine once used this analogy to understand politicians: “There are two types of politicians: the ‘show ponies’ and the ‘workhorses.’” The show ponies, he would say, are politicians who love—and seek—the limelight. They’re the Fox News politicians. The workhorses, in contrast, are the politicians who memorize an assembly’s rules and grind away at legislative writing.

The Windy City is the moment’s education show pony. The drama of Chicago’s teachers’ strike, chalk-full of a furious teacher’s union, the tough-talking mayor Rahm Emmanuel, and the veil of presidential politics have shone the spotlight on Chicago. For four days during the week of September 11 to 17 the strike made the front page of The New York Times. As theatrical show—yes, with some substance to boot—one cannot get much better than Chicago, September 2012.

The Windy City is the moment's education show pony, but the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead.

While the show’s been going on in Chicago, the workhorses of Ohio continue to plow ahead. In Dayton, education leaders are working toward higher quality charter schools, are implementing blended learning models into their classrooms, and are worrying about a fair and efficient school funding plan. In a Sunday news article, the Dayton Daily News highlighted the DECA charter schools, which includes a newly-opened elementary school (sponsored by Fordham) and a high school. DECA serves mostly economically-disadvantaged students from inner-city Dayton; yet, despite this challenge, the school received the state’s highest rating, “Excellent...

Economists talk about the crowd out effect most often in the context of private spending versus government spending. The theory is that, if the government spends more, then there’ll be less private-sector spending. Why? Assuming a constant supply of money, a greater slice of government spending means a smaller slice for the private sector.

Yet the crowd out effect isn’t limited to public versus private finance. It’s been examined in light of graduate school enrollment (does enrolling more international students crowd out native students?); the labor force (do overeducated workers crowd out jobs for low-skilled workers?); and even charitable donations (do government grants to nonprofits crowd out private donors?).

Crowding out can occur in K-12 education expenditures also, especially with respect to special education spending. Each additional dollar a district spends on special education may mean one less dollar for general education.

To examine at a glance whether special education is crowding out general education, I calculate the ratio of general education to special education spending for ten districts in Ohio. This ratio indicates how many general education dollars a district spends for every dollar of special education. I then compare the ratio of general education to special education for FY 2002 and FY 2011. A declining ratio provides evidence that special education may have crowded out general education, and vice-versa, an increasing ratio provides no evidence of crowd out.

The table below shows ten districts and their general education to special education spending ratio. The...

Ohio’s expanding attendance data scandal has the potential to match, if not exceed, the scale of recent test cheating scandals in big cities like Atlanta; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; New York; and Los Angeles. And the longer it lingers on, the more that innocent schools and educators suffer.

Ohio’s “attendancegate” began in June when the Columbus Dispatch reported that Columbus Public Schools’ staff had erased more than 2.8 million student-absence days from its attendance system dating back to the 2006-07 school year and instead marked those students as having withdrawn, then reenrolled, in the district. According to the Dispatch, key central office administrators were each responsible for tens of thousands of deletions. The changes would not only improve attendance records (one performance indicator on state report cards), but also could improve proficiency test scores. Only the test scores of those students who are continuously enrolled in a school from October until state tests are administered in the spring are included in the school's overall test scores and report card rating. For example, if a child moves among multiple schools during the year, his performance only "counts" at the state level, and does not apply to a particular school or district. Likewise, if school staff altered the attendance record of a child to make it appear as though the child briefly withdrew from the school, his performance wouldn't hurt the school's overall test-passage rates or attendance figures.

Less than a month after the story...

What do you get when a group of creative and motivated students are empowered to tell the story of their charter school using video and music? You get a movie-style trailer that illustrates not only what the school means to them, but also what it's taught them. Check out DECA Prep's "coming soon" video, created and produced by DECA students, as are all their video materials.

In a world where cynicism and defeatism can rain down from the grown ups to the young people - and expect more of this in Ohio and elsewhere when "Won't Back Down" pemieres later this month - this bit of real life from imaginative and empowered young people is worth celebrating.

Special education in Ohio – like in other states – is a maze of complexity, highly bureaucratic and compliance driven, often a point of contention between educators and parents, frequently litigious, and the single fastest growing portion of spending on public education. It has become something of a sacred cow in education and has been largely impervious to change or improvement efforts. Worse, despite the spending children in special education programs are not making gains academically. 

By making some common-sense changes to policies and practices, Ohio could both improve special education services and save money.

Can special education be done better while controlling its growth? This is a question we’ve been asked over and over by school leaders and superintendents who struggle to serve all children well while dealing with tighter and tighter budgets. For answers, in partnership with the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, we turned to Nathan Levenson, one of the country’s leading thinkers on doing more with fewer resources in special education and who has done extensive work with local school districts here in the Buckeye State and across the country. The result is a thought-provoking policy paper, Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio.

Levenson explains that Ohio’s resources for special education - $7 billion spent annually – are “siloed” not only across the K-12 education landscape but also across a dozen or more state and county agencies. In fact, he reports that “less than 50 percent of funds that help provide children...

Who pays for Cleveland students’ education? And who’s paying a greater portion of their education?

The chart below shows that the State of Ohio has contributed far and away the most to Cleveland students’ education. Over the past ten years, Cleveland Municipal School District has received somewhere between one-half and three-fourths of its revenue from the state. In fact, the share of state contributions grew unabated from 2002 to 2009: from 53 percent in 2002 up to 72 percent in 2009. In the past two fiscal years, the share of state contributions fell slightly off its ten-year high, so that in 2011 the state contributed 65 percent of the district’s total revenue.

Source: Ohio Auditor of State, Cleveland Municipal School District 2011 Comprehensive Financial Annual Report (see SR-10 & 11). Note: Calculations do not include miscellaneous income, donations, fees, and investment income (combined, they comprise less than 5 percent of the district’s revenue).

Ex-state congressman Stephen Dyer laments on his blog this week that the state of Ohio has not provided sufficient-enough funding for the students of Cleveland. He writes:

The reason I harp on state money, not total money, Terry (and fellow critics) is because it's the state, not the local residents, which bears the Constitutional duty to fund education. Our local taxpayers have been overly responsible for this cost for too long.

Unless Mr. Dyer proposes an entirely-state-funded public education system...

Diane Ravitch posted a guest blog by Stephen Dyer earlier this week entitled “The Good, Bad and Ugly in the Cleveland Plan.” Dyer, former chair of the K-12 education finance subcommittee in the Ohio House, was tossed out by Akron-area voters in 2010 after two terms. His major claim to fame during his time in office was helping to pass Governor Strickland’s ill-fated Evidence Based Model (EBM) of school funding. The EBM promised billions in new school spending over ten years, but it was absolutely mute about where all this new revenue would come from. Columbus Dispatch columnist Joe Hallet wrote of the EBM plan in 2010

But Ohioans don't live in Fantasy Land; only 6 percent of them believe Strickland kept his promise, according to this month's Dispatch Poll. The model is not funded and, under Strickland's plan, it won't be until at least 2019. If it were funded, the state would pay out about $10 billion to school districts in the current fiscal year; instead, it is spending $6.5 billion, and $457 million of that is one-time federal stimulus money.

The EBM was such a cruel hoax that when current Governor Kasich and the General Assembly killed it in 2011 there was almost no opposition to its demise. 

This history is important because Ravitch asked Dyer to write about the Cleveland School Reform plan (for a non-partisan review of the reform plan check out this analysis by KidsOhio.org), and he yet again makes claims about...