Ohio Gadfly Daily

Diane Ravitch's blog earlier this week on "Desperate Times in
Cleveland and Ohio" was troubling in how much it got wrong. Specifically, she
totally misconstrues what Mayor Frank Jackson's bold school reform plan is trying to do and who it is trying
to help. According to Diane's post, Jackson’s plan is nothing more than an
attack on hardworking teachers and an effort to enrich for-profit charter
school operators (namely the Akron-based, for-profit White Hat). This assertion
is simply wrong.

I live near
Dayton - another struggling former industrial power that is a shadow of its
former self - and spend a lot of time in Cleveland meeting and working with
some of that community's fantastic civic leaders, philanthropists, educators,
and business people who are trying desperately to save their city. There is no
doubt that Cleveland is hurting and it is bleeding families and children. The
city has 30,000 fewer children today than it did just a decade ago, and many of
the children left behind are struggling academically. In 2010-11, 56 percent of
students in Cleveland attended a school rated D or F by the state. This is
despite the fact the district spends a little more than $14,000 a pupil.

Cleveland is shrinking, its schools are facing a serious fiscal crisis. The
district faces at least a $64.9 million budget deficit in 2012-13, and...

Cleveland has taken
a significant step toward becoming one of the nation's school-reform leaders
with the introduction this week of Mayor Frank Jackson’s "Plan for
Transforming Schools.
" The plan builds on the experience of cities
like New Orleans, Indianapolis, and New York City and seeks a portfolio
approach to school management that includes:

increase the number of high-performing schools, both district and charter, while
closing failing schools;

enrollment in Cleveland’s existing high-performing district and public charter

in promising schools by giving their leaders additional resources, the freedom
to build high-performing teams, and the ability to make financial and
instructional decisions based on their students’ needs;

flexibility in the hiring, retention, and remuneration of teachers (this change
will require a change of state law); and

both district and public charter transformation schools through a set of
innovative legislative reforms and a levy request that would provide new
dollars for both district and effective charter schools.

In recent years
Cleveland has embraced a series of reforms - including a highly touted
transformation plan in early
put forth by then superintendent Eugene Sanders, and largely crafted
by current district head Eric Gordon - while the city has seen a steady growth
in both the number of charter schools and children receiving...

Bob Sommers, Ohio Governor Kasich’s “education czar” for the
past year officially stepped down from his position on January 31, and before leaving
he sat down with
Rick Hess
for an interview about some ed reform successes of the past year
as well as what still needs to be accomplished in Ohio. He is leaving his post to
return to the school-management business where he is forming a new company,
StudentmindED Schools.

In the interview Sommers notes that while 2011 was a big
year for education reform in the Buckeye State there is still work to be done,
namely the creation of a P-20 data system that will allow the state to collect
data on everything from Kindergarten readiness to employment rates of college
graduates. Sommers also says the state’s report card must be amended, “We have
a convoluted report card system that can label a school with a fifty percent
rate of failure as ‘honors with distinction.’ That just doesn’t work.”

Sommers likewise admitted to some mistakes that he and the
Administration made in the last year, including the failure to explain Issue 2
to the public, “We just didn’t do a good enough job of explaining to the public
the problem that we tried to solve. The public didn’t see the problem that we

Finally he discusses the status of Race to the Top
Implementation, key...

Lisa Duty

One could argue that 2011 was the
year of “digital learning” in Ohio and across the nation. 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 national groups like the Digital Learning Council and the
Foundation for Excellence in Education. Ohio’s biennial budget launched the
Ohio Digital Learning Task Force and charged it 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.”

Our two organizations –
KnowledgeWorks and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute – are committed to seeing
Ohio become a leader in the implementation of digital learning opportunities
for the state’s 1.8 million students. Ohio now stands at an important
crossroads and 2012 could be a pivotal year on whether we move forward in the
digital learning environment.

Our state has been a path-breaker
when it comes to availability of full-time e-school options that leverage
technology in learning. In fact, if all 33,000 children currently enrolled in
Ohio e-schools were in one school district they would comprise the state’s third-largest
district, just behind Columbus and Cleveland. Despite such numbers, Ohio has
yet to harness fully the potential of digital learning for all students. And,
given that digital learning can yield improvements in student achievement...

As you are likely well aware, we are in the midst of School
Choice Week, not only here in Ohio but nationwide. Numerous events have been
going on all throughout the Buckeye State to help commemorate.  One such event that I had the privilege to
attend was a luncheon, hosted on Tuesday by School
Choice Ohio
and Forum for Educational
Options at the Statehouse to celebrate the myriad of choice options
that youngsters have here . The event was a way to not only a way to talk about
school choice options, but also highlight a number of choice schools that are
doing great things in the type of education they are providing, whether that be
digital learning, special needs, or college prep.

The immense diversity in Ohio’s school landscape speaks to
the fact that one size fit all doesn’t always work for children and their
families. Ohio’s school choice options include the following:

  • Special Needs Schools
  • Distance Learning & E-schools
  • Dropout Recovery Schools
  • Career Preparatory Schools
  • Vouchers/Scholarships
  • English Language Learners Schools
  • College Preparatory Schools
  • STEM Schools
  • Home Education
  • Charter Schools
  • District Schools

School Choice Ohio also recognized schools and school
leaders that are thinking creatively about what it means to educate children
and as a result are achieving outstanding academic results in the face of many
adversities. One such school is located in Fordham’s hometown of Dayton,...

Governor John Kasich’s decision to take his second State of
the State address on the road has been big news in Ohio (see here).  More interesting than the history (Kasich is
the first governor to deliver the address outside of Columbus) is that he will
be delivering his speech at Steubenville’s high performing Wells Academy, which
has long been lauded by the Education Trust as a “Dispelling the
school. One hopes the choice of venue is matched by a focus on needed
reforms in education.

Governor Kasich and legislative Republicans delivered some
sizeable reforms in the state’s biennial budget last June. But there is much
left to be done. The most pressing issue facing the state is putting in place a
proper school funding plan. The biennial budget dismantled the state’s
ill-conceived move toward an evidence-based model of school funding and
promised a new funding formula before the next biennium. The governor and his
team need to deliver.

Fordham has long-advocated (with
many others
) for a move toward a weighted, student-based funding system
based on three key principles:

  • Full state funding (and, properly encouraged,
    local funding) follows the child to the school the he or she attends, including
    charter schools. (This could also be extended, voucher-like, to private schools
    willing to participate fully in the state’s academic accountability system.)
  • Per-pupil amounts vary according to children’s
  • ...

Is it time for urban school superintendents to move from
being Reformers to Relinquishers? Yes, is the compelling case that Neerav
Kingsland makes today over at Straight Up. Kingsland, chief
strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans, writes that reform-minded
superintendents should embrace the lessons from New Orleans, a key one being that
the academic achievement gains made in the Big Easy have not come from traditional
reforms and tweaks to the system. Rather, the changes in New Orleans are the
result of virtually replacing the traditional, centralized, bureaucratic system
of one-size-fits-all command and control with a system of independent
high-performing charter schools all held accountable by the center for their
academic performance.

In other words, Kingsland reasons, superintendents should
rid themselves of the notion that “current opinions on curriculum, teacher
evaluation, technology, or anything else will be the foundation for dramatic
gains in student achievement.”

Kingsland’s argument is a powerful one because it is based not
on philosophy or concepts, but on real academic gains made in a city that for
decades had some of the lowest performing schools in the country. “In the next
five years,” Kingsland writes, “New Orleans will likely be the first urban city
in the country (that I know of) to surpass its state average.” The Louisiana
Legislative Auditor backed up such optimism when it reported in 2011 that New

Ohio is unique
in its ability
to turn the best of charter school theory and practice on
its head. The most recent example comes from an Ohio school district that
set up
a charter school to offload test scores of low-performing students
while making money for the district. According to the Columbus Dispatch the London City School District “will collect 80
percent of the $1.9 million in state dollars the charter will draw this year as
payment for its services. It expects $700,000 of that to be profit.” The
treasurer for both the charter school and the district told the paper that “district
officials plan to continue the ‘revenue sharing’ method” despite the fact the
school received an academic rating of F on its 2010-11 report card.

Today the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released
its annual look at the state of charter schooling in the United States – Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look
at American Charter Schools in 2011
. The theme of this year’s report is
charter-district collaboration. For most of the 20-year history of charters in
America, relations between school districts and charter upstarts were frosty at
best and downright hostile at times. Or, as CRPE’s Robin Lake writes, “Districts
were known to call the local fire marshal to make sure new charter schools
could not get their fire permits approved in time to open...

Ohio has gotten a lot of feedback on our education system in
the past few weeks. On January 10, the U.S. Department of Education released a
progress report detailing the Buckeye state’s accomplishments and challenges
with Race to the Top funds. (Here
is Fordham’s take on the report.) On January 12, Education Week released the
national report card Quality Counts 2012: The Global Challenge –Education
in a Competitive World

Each year, Education Week chooses a theme that serves as the
underlying message of the report, this year’s being “American Education from a
Global Perspective.” The report “takes a critical look at the nation’s place
among the world’s public education systems, with an eye toward providing
policymakers with perspective on the extent to which high-profile international
assessments can provide valid comparisons and lessons.” States are graded on
the following 6 criteria:

1.       Chance for Success: Looks at the
broader educational environment: from family income and parent English
proficiency to adult educational attainment, and takes into account the
lingering effects of the ongoing recession.

Score: C+ (78.4)

Score: C+ (77.6)

2.       K-12 Achievement: Examines at school
achievement: 4th and 8th grade scores on math and English
tests, the influence of the poverty gap on test scores, and high school
graduation rates.

Score: C- (71.2)

Score: C- (69.7)

3.      ...

Ohio’s newspapers ran headlines today warning, “Money
crunch pushes Downtown roadwork way back
,” “Local
highway projects face delays
,” and “Last
phase of I-75/I-475 project stalls
.” The financial problems facing Ohio is
scaling back big time infrastructure projects that have been in planning for
years. According to the Columbus Dispatch
the Ohio Department of Transportation “proposes pushing back 34 projects that
had been planned to start by 2017 to dates as far off as 2036.”

Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation,
captured the problem when he told the Cincinnati

Unfortunately, this
is Ohio’s new reality. For too long, previous administrations have added more
and more to the list of projects knowing that there were more projects than
funds available. Their poor planning has put us in the position of making the
tough decisions and delivering the bad news to many communities throughout the
state that there is simply not enough money to fund their projects.

In reading about the woes facing Ohio’s highway improvement efforts
I couldn’t help but wonder if education in Ohio doesn’t face problems of
similar scale. Despite recent cuts at both the state and local levels in the
Buckeye State, have we made more promises than we can possibly meet? Ohio is in
the midst of totally revamping its academic standards as part of the Common