Ohio Gadfly Daily

In 2006 I visited the headquarters of Teach For America in
New York City with Fordham’s Checker Finn and the head of the Columbus-based
KidsOhio Mark Real for a meeting with KIPP CEO Richard Barth.  At the time, KIPP and Teach for America
were sharing office space in Manhattan and we met with Barth to try and
convince him that Columbus was a good place for KIPP expansion, which
ultimately happened in 2008.

Finally, Ohio is worthy of a red pin on the TFA map.

While waiting for the meeting to start we sat in the lobby
of the TFA office where there hung a large map of the United States with a red pin
in every state where TFA corp members were teaching. Ohio stood out like a sore
thumb because it was surrounded by states with red pins. When we met with Barth
he told us bluntly, “if you want KIPP to be successful in Ohio and grow, we
need TFA there.” TFA serves as the talent pipeline for KIPP teachers and school
leaders, as well as the pipeline for numerous other high quality charter school
programs, education reform organizations, and increasingly reform-minded school
districts and states.


Fordham has worked in Dayton – as a funder, charter-school
authorizer, and charter-school advocate – to push for the creation and growth
of high quality charter schools since 1998. Over the last decade one of the
highest performing charter school clusters in the city has been the Richard
Allen (RA) Schools (RA has three schools in Dayton that serve about 800
children). Over the years I’ve spent time with the leaders of Richard Allen,
visited their schools, and even helped judge their annual debate competition.
In short, I have always been impressed by both the educators and the students
I’ve met and worked with from the RA schools and believe the schools delivered
quality education to students.

It is because of these personal connections to the schools
over the years that I found the recent “Special
Audit of the Richard Allen Academy Schools
” such painful and disturbing reading.
The Special Audit provided a litany of “missing money, missing records and
self-dealing” that has led to $929,850 in findings for recovery. The audit
describes a situation where public dollars were used without any basic accountability
or transparency. It reads as if the schools’ leadership considered the schools
a private operation free of any responsibility for how the state dollars were
spent. There also seemed little understanding as to whom the public resources
were meant to support.


only issue more worrisome than the agonizingly slow improvement in the math
achievement of American students is what to do about it. Abandoned solutions to
this decades-old challenge litter the educational roadmap like so many wrecks. Remember
“New Math” in the 1960s?

experts aren’t necessarily running short of ideas, but, like many experiments
for improving education, new schemes often work best in small, intensive
classroom situations then fall apart when they leave the hothouse for
larger-scale application.

latest idea gaining traction is using computer video games to teach
mathematics. Educational technology companies are pushing specially developed
games. But popular and big-name gaming staples like “World of Warcraft” may be effective research
templates for teaching math concepts to elementary and secondary students. For
the ignorant, like me, this hugely popular computer video game is played online
and involves many players at once, with each player controlling a character
that explores the landscape, fights monsters, completes quests, and interacts with other players. Some
teachers have been experimenting with the game in math classes for the last
four or five years and there are websites designed to help teachers adapt the
game (see here).

University mathematician Keith Devlin is a “World of Warcraft” believer. America
now has the know-how to develop computer games and puzzles to teach math, as
well as other subjects, he believes....

My heart hurts for the community of Chardon, in northeast
Ohio. I know people who live there, and they are in deep shock and pain over
Monday’s shooting at Chardon High School. I send my deepest condolences to
everyone impacted by these events. As both a professional observer of Buckeye
State public education and as a mom, two things stand out from Monday’s
tragedy. First, there has been a tremendous
here in Ohio
on anti-bullying
efforts. Many people initially assumed that bullying was the cause of Monday’s
shooting—an assumption that has been largely dispelled. The suspect told law
enforcement officials that he chose the victims randomly, and the prosecutor in
the case believes his story. We absolutely need to address bullying in (and out
of) school. But children, like all of us, can be deeply troubled and in need of
help, even when they are treated kindly by others. Second, it appears as if the
school, its staff, and its students did everything right when it came to
responding to the situation. It is a Fordham mantra that no school can be
everything to every student, but we all agree that all schools have a
major responsibility to keep students safe and sound when they are in their
charge. Emergency response drills and preparedness plans are important. Yes,
they take away from “time on task” and force us...

the birth of the No
Child Left Behind Act
more than a decade ago, state and
local education officials have not kept quiet their disdain for the federal
law. So when President Obama announced in September that his administration
would offer states freedom from components of the law it is no surprise that
states around the country jumped on the chance. Ten states (Colorado, Florida,
Georgia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota,
and Oklahoma) have already been granted waivers from the Obama Administration
with the understanding that they must demonstrate how they will prepare
children for college and careers by setting new academic targets to improve
achievement among all students, reward high-performing schools, and help those
that are falling behind.

is one of 26 states, along with the District of Columbia that applied for a
second-round waiver. If approved (and most observers believe it will be), what
will the waiver mean for the Buckeye State? What changes will it bring about in
the coming months and years? The chart below breaks down some of the biggest
changes and outlines what Ohio schools can expect to see under the plan. (See table below)

Superintendent Stan Heffner hopes that the proposed changes will result in more
students being prepared for either college or the workforce when they leave high
school and help end the academic disparity...

Ohio’s charter school community has been split into two
camps since the inception of the state’s first charter law in 1997. The first
camp – I’ll call free-market purists – believes that charter schools should be afforded
the same rights as private schools and as such be given maximum freedom of
operations. The free-market purists argue that when it comes to charter schools
the role of the state is little more than to distribute public dollars for a
child’s education. As long as parents decide to send children to a school, no
more “accountability” is necessary for performance.

In short, if there is market demand for a school – and the
school is in compliance with basic regulations like fire and health and safety
codes – then no more evidence is needed to keep the state dollars flowing.
Free-market purists believe that school choice is an end in itself. If public
policy creates a marketplace of school options then issues of school quality
will work themselves out as parents will naturally seek quality and abandon
failure. Free-market purists believe school operators know best what families
and children need and that the state should have no say in matters of school “quality”
and academic performance.

The second camp of school-choice supporters – I’ll call
accountability hawks – believes that market demand for schools is important (no
child should be trapped in a...

White Hat
has been the Goliath of Ohio’s charter school operators
since its first schools opened in 1999. The company currently operates 33
schools in the Buckeye State. White Hat’s CEO David Brennan was a pioneer in Ohio’s
school-choice movement and his efforts in this realm have long faced criticism
– some deserved and some not. In recent years White Hat’s schools have faced a
series of legal and academic problems. Among them, the fact that none of White
Hat’s schools are rated above a C on the state report card, increased
competition resulting in lower enrollment, legal action brought against the
company by the governing boards of some of the schools it operates, and a
related fight over the disclosure of certain financial records.

These issues have made White Hat a fixture in the press, most
recently with a report that the Ohio Department of
Education (ODE) rejected four of six White Hat applications to the department
to authorize new schools that were slated to open in the fall of 2012. (ODE is
allowed to sponsor up to five new charter schools a year as part of a
compromise in the biennial budget that made the department a charter authorizer
almost a decade after being forced from that role by an earlier General

The rejection of the White Hat applications will come as a

In the ed reform world, we’re accustomed to
, and making, calls for students to spend more time in school --
especially those students who are lagging behind their peers academically. But
a bill pending in the Ohio General Assembly would make it possible for students
to spend far less time in school than they do now.

House Bill
, co-sponsored by Rep. Patmon (a Cleveland Democrat) and Rep. Hayes (a
Republican representing rural east-central Ohio), would change the definition
of a school year from 182 days (of roughly 5.5 hours in length) to 960 hours
for K-6 (excluding half-day kindergartners) and 1,050 for 7-12, define a school
week as five days in length, and eliminate calamity days.

The bill would also make true for Buckeye teachers the old
joke that “there are three good reasons to become a teacher: June, July, and
August” by prohibiting schools from operating between Memorial Day and Labor
Day and banning extracurricular activities over Labor Day weekend. Such
proposals are offered in the legislature here every year or two, pushed by the
state’s two large amusement parks and other summer
tourist destinations that want cheap, teenage labor available for the full summer,
not to mention more summer days when families can visit. (Rep. Hayes readily
admits he sponsored the bill in order to boost the state’s tourism industry.)

Much of the clamor...

A version of the
following post appeared in
Indianapolis Star.

Last month I led a delegation of education-reform advocates
from the Ohio cities of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton to spend a
day with leaders of The Mind Trust, an education reform nonprofit that is
paving the way for transformative change in K-12 education in Indianapolis. For
several years, Indianapolis has been leading the Midwest in education reform.
It started when former Mayor Bart Peterson launched the city’s award-winning
charter schools initiative.  It
accelerated with the launch of The Mind Trust that brought a concentration of
the nation’s best education entrepreneurs to the city and made Indianapolis the
envy of the region.

Most recently, Indianapolis is inspiring other Midwestern
cities to propose big ideas for driving systemic change in K-12 education. The
Mind Trust issued a report in December proposing bold reforms to the Indianapolis
Public Schools district. That plan, “Creating Opportunity Schools: A Bold Plan
to Transform Indianapolis Public Schools,” influenced a report Cleveland Mayor
Frank Jackson issued earlier this month offering prescriptions for how the city
can improve its K-12 system. Jackson’s plan, “Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming
Schools,” cites and draws from The Mind Trust’s report. Both plans seek to:

  • Give high-performing schools far more control
    over staffing, budgets, culture, curriculum, and services, in return for
    increased accountability for student performance;
  • Drive central-office spending down
  • ...

Yesterday the Fordham Institute, Ohio Grantmakers Forum, and Achieve hosted “Embracing
the Common Core: Helping Students Thrive”
in Columbus.  It was the first event of its kind in Ohio to
address head-on the implementation plans and challenges that accompany the
state’s transition to the Common Core academic standards and aligned

Nearly 400 people gathered to discuss why the Common Core
standards are necessary to improve educational outcomes in Ohio, as well as the
challenges and opportunities associated with the new standards. The opening
keynote speaker was State Superintendent Stan Heffner, who stressed that Ohio’s
current K-12 system isn’t working and is letting kids down and not preparing
them for the future. He went on to emphasize that the Common Core gives us the
opportunity to do better and we must capitalize on that. Cleveland Metropolitan
Schools CEO Eric Gordon and Reynoldsburg City Schools Superintendent Steve
Dackin shared how they have already begun to implement the Common Core
standards in their districts. Mike Cohen, president of Achieve, spoke to the
specifics of PARCC (the assessment consortia Ohio joined last fall) and warned
that the implementation of the new standards in ELA and math will not be easy
and that districts should start the implementation process now. State Board of
Education President Debe Terhar; Deb Tully of the Ohio Federation of Teachers;
Melissa Cardenas from the Ohio Board of...