Ohio Gadfly Daily

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Education in Ohio, as in most of the country, is coming to terms with a challenging ?new normal,? as Arne Duncan calls it?the prolonged period ahead when schools must produce better results with diminished resources. The Buckeye State faces a daunting budget shortfall over the next two years, the resolution of which will powerfully affect K-12 education, which now consumes about 40 percent of the state's money. And Ohio's situation is far from unique.

Yet schools?in Ohio and beyond?can produce better-educated students on leaner rations so long as their leaders are empowered to deploy the available resources in the most effective and efficient ways, unburdened by mandates, regulatory constraints, and dysfunctional contract clauses. That's the message that comes through loudest from a new survey of the state's school superintendents. And again there's no reason to believe that Ohio's situation is unique.

While governors and lawmakers are responsible for balancing state budgets, it is district and school leaders who must make their schools work on tighter resources while still boosting achievement and effectiveness. Over the past year, as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has organized various discussions, conferences, and symposia across Ohio on the big challenge of ?doing more with less? in K-12 education, we've been privy to innumerable comments?usually off the record?by superintendents and school leaders along the lines of, ?We could survive these cuts if we had real control over our budgets.? They called in...

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Innovation Ohio ? a newly birthed ?non partisan progressive think tank? (incidentally run a by former top aide to Governor Strickland, with research conducted by a former Democratic lawmaker who helped push through then-governor Strickland's ill-conceived school funding plan) ? just released its first research document, timed with heated protests over the state's collective bargaining reform bill (SB 5). But ?Ohio Teachers and Collective Bargaining: An Analysis? is not so much an ?analysis? as it is an amalgam of statistics from the national Bureau of Labor Statistics, wrought with faulty assumptions about the purpose of collective bargaining reform and an assortment of cardinal sins when it comes to basic statistics.

Where to begin? It's only eight pages long, but manages to mislead on a number of fronts.

For starters, the brief draws on two years' of data (2008 and 2009) showing the average annual wages for kindergarten, elementary, middle school, and high school teachers in Ohio. Comparing average wages for teachers between the two years, all four categories saw a drop from 2008 to 2009, with an average drop of 3.8 percent.

The average annual wage dropped from one year to the next. The brief builds on this trend ? an observable wage change from year to year?and calls it ?pay cuts? in the next paragraph, arguing ?only Utah and Michigan's teachers have seen larger pay cuts,? that the state was ?only one of six ? whose teachers saw salary cuts to all four...

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The Education Gadfly

Fordham's own Terry Ryan testified recently before the Ohio Senate Finance Committee on Ohio Senate Bill 5.

While Terry was in DC for a visit last week, we were able to talk to him about why he testified in favor of the bill, the atmosphere at the Ohio State House, and how the state is grappling with issues surrounding collective bargaining.

Anyone who's followed more than a few releases of NAEP scores recognizes the familiar feeling of disenchantment that accompanies it. Scores are low across subgroups? and criminally low for minority students and low-income kids; trends are flat, stagnant, stalled, barely budging; wide achievement gaps persist. And NAEP illustrates time and time again how proficiency rates according to states' own achievement tests tend to be higher and therefore misleading (check out Fordham's 2007 report, The Proficiency Illusion) ? all the more reason to be happy that Ohio and other states have signed onto Common Core standards in ELA and math.

According to recently released 2009 scores for the NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), Cleveland fourth and eighth graders performed just as abysmally in science as they did in reading and math. At least according to NAEP scores, one might say that Cleveland's closest cousin is Detroit (the only district whose students fared worse in science). The bad news takes a variety of forms:

  • Among the 17 participating districts in the NAEP TUDA, eight of them had students in both grades scoring lower than the large city average nationally. Cleveland earns that distinction.
  • In both fourth and eighth grades (according to average scale scores) Cleveland ranks at the very bottom, beating out only Detroit.
  • Scores for Cleveland eighth graders place them in the 21st percentile in science nationally; fourth graders are in the 16th percentile.
  • Not only do Clevelanders fail to reach science proficiency, but 70 percent
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Over the weekend the Dayton Daily News ran an article talking about Senate Bill 5. With a majority of the state's and local news outlets completely consumed by this debate this should come as no surprise. But the article took a slightly different spin on the topic: what happens to districts that don't currently have an alternative system to determine merit pay for their teachers (called for in SB 5)?

Take for example Kettering City Schools, a suburb of Dayton whose labor agreement states that teacher unions and school boards ?agree that negotiations are an effective and efficient method? to decide conditions of employment. ?If SB 5 passes it will force the district to evaluate teachers based on a combination of student growth and classroom observations.? The mere thought of having to do this has local education leaders in a ?frenzy.?? While Kettering City Schools does not currently have an effectiveness-based evaluation system in place it does not mean that they can't work toward creating one.

Skepticism or absence of a current evaluation system is not a valid excuse anymore. Districts and states across the country have made great progress in replacing antiquated evaluation systems with ones that actually measure and reward performance. Before Kettering City Schools throws up the white surrender flag they would do well to look at the way others have crafted and implemented such systems.

State such as Florida, Colorado, Tennessee, and Illinois have all signed pieces...

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???It should not be illegal for schools to try and keep great teachers during tough economic times.??? As commonsensical as this sounds, an important new policy brief from The New Teacher Project (TNTP) reports that 14 states actually have laws on the books that force quality-blind layoffs.

Ohio is one of these states and we've seen firsthand how damaging this law is and how damaging it will likely be in coming months as the state grapples with cutting $8 billion from its next biennial budget.

Because state law in Ohio, dating back to 1941, requires that the last teacher in be the first one out, younger and less-expensive teachers must depart during times of layoffs. We wrote about the madness of this law in 2007 when Dayton's ???Teacher of the Year??? was given the award with one hand and his layoff notice with the other. These sorts of quality blind layoffs now face districts across Ohio and other states as they face massive budget deficits.

The New Teacher Project reports that such archaic laws threaten 79,000 more teachers across the country who ???would lose their jobs if budget cuts forces districts nationwide to reduce salary expenditures by 5 percent through seniority-based layoffs rather than seniority-neutral layoffs.??? This means several thousand fewer teachers in Ohio being dismissed if there was a focus on teacher effectiveness rather than solely on seniority.

Senate Bill 5, currently being debated noisily across Ohio would require teacher layoffs...

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The Midwest is in turmoil over proposed changes to state laws that deal with collective-bargaining rights and pensions for public-sector employees, including teachers and other school personnel (as well as police officers, state employees, and more). Madison looks like Cairo, Indianapolis like Tunis, and Columbus like Bahrain, with thousands demonstrating, chanting slogans, and pressing their issues. (Fortunately, nobody has opened fire or dropped ???small bombs??? as in Tripoli.) Economics are driving this angst: How should these states deal with their wretched fiscal conditions and how should the pain be distributed?

To address these problems, Republican lawmakers and governors have proposed major changes to collective-bargaining laws and pension systems. In Ohio, Senate Bill 5 would continue to afford teachers the right to bargain collectively over wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. But the bill would also make profound alterations to the status quo, including: requiring all public-school employees to contribute at least 20 percent of the premiums for their health-insurance plan; removing from collective bargaining???and entrusting to management???such issues as class size and personnel placement; prohibiting continuing contracts and effectively abolishing tenure; removing seniority as the sole determinant for layoffs and requiring that teacher performance be the primary factor; and abolishing automatic step increases in salary.

Not surprisingly, these changes are being fiercely resisted by the Buckeye State's teachers, their unions, and their political allies. Battle lines are forming, and we at Fordham???as veteran advocates for ???smart cuts??? and ???stretching the school dollar??????have been drawn...

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Some major school choice initiatives are headed down the legislative pike, and, if enacted, they promise to help tens of thousands of Ohio kids who are low- and middle-income and who attend both public and private schools. Yesterday in a press conference, Ohio Representative Matt Huffman (R-Lima) unveiled a package of choice reforms that would ?change the system in a meaningful way for taxpayers and kids.? Huffman's plan, which will officially be introduced next week, includes:

  • Creation of a statewide, limitless voucher program. The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program would combine with the statewide EdChoice Scholarship program, and caps for both would be lifted.
  • Abandoning the ?failing school model? as a way to determine eligibility for vouchers; currently, EdChoice recipients must attend a public school that was deemed as failing for two of the last three consecutive years by the state to be eligible. The new voucher system would not ?divide communities? and make value judgments about school quality or pit schools against one another in a competitive fashion. Instead, eligibility would be income-based and would allow low- and middle-income families regardless of attendance area to receive a scholarship worth up to 80 percent of the state per-pupil funding amount ($5,783 currently).
  • A statewide scholarship for children with special needs. Currently, Ohio provides scholarships to students with autism but this program would enable all kids in grades K-12 with an IEP to be eligible.
  • Education ?savings accounts.? If a school's annual tuition is less than a student's scholarship amount, parents
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Yesterday Nick and I attended the Ohio Senate Insurance, Commerce, and Labor Committee hearing on SB 5, which would eliminate collective bargaining for state employees and greatly scale back union rights for local public sector employees.?

We arrived over at the Statehouse around noon, two and a half hours before the hearing was scheduled to start as we anticipated, rightly so, a packed house. We stationed ourselves in the hallway corner outside the hearing room (the doors were locked) with the plan of getting some work done on our laptops while we waited to go in. However, this plan soon changed when hundreds of union members and supporters converged on the Statehouse. After waiting for two and half hours, being physically pushed around and asked if I was a journalist ? or a member of the Tea Party (which is staging a demonstration in support of the bill tomorrow), trying to ignore supporters of the bill who were behaving like petulant five year olds, and seeing bomb sniffing dogs and not so happy State Highway Patrol officers roam about, we made it into the Senate hearing room.?

Needless to say SB 5 is controversial and contentious. Yesterday's testimony was for proponents of the bill (opponents of the bill will have a chance to testify tomorrow). This bill would impact all public employees, but most of yesterday's testimony came from the K-12 education sector.

District superintendents, local school board members, and representatives of the Ohio School Board...

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Alex Russo at This Week in Education is calling Teach For America's 20th summit celebration ?premature,? ?unwarranted,? and an ?expensive-seeming birthday part/slick celebration,? among other things. As a TFA alumna one who attended this ?revival? with a ?sense of accomplishment? that Russo calls ?immodest and premature ? reminding [him] of the kid who expects praise for doing his homework for a few days in a row or the football player who starts celebrating before he's reached the end zone? ?I'm inclined to feel defensive.

I'll admit some of his post is funny; I can be as self-deprecating as the next person and point out the quirks and oddities and intensity and weird inflection of TFAers -- the oversized teaching bags, hipness of how they dress, etc. (as one tweeter said, many female teachers can be identified by their ?flats? and ?mustard-colored sweaters?).?

But here's the thing about TFA teachers or alums. Being compared to kids who expect praise for doing homework isn't that insulting. Anyone who's been a teacher in a poor urban or rural classroom will be the very first to admit that celebrating the small successes, the day-to-day victories ? including cheering on a student for homework completion -- is what keeps you going. It's part of the formula for success. I don't care how arrogant or na?ve or stupid Russo thinks the TFA community looked/acted/came across this weekend. Perhaps to some, celebration ? especially when achievement gaps persist -- seems like a waste.? But...

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