Ohio Gadfly Daily

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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As a Steelers fan I don't often go searching for reasons to praise Cleveland, but when it comes to education reforms they've got most other Ohio cities beat, especially Columbus.

Not to force comparisons, but we've said before that Columbus should take a page from Cleveland's charter school playbook as that district has worked hard to share facilities with charters, learn from their successes, and invite new high-performing models to open there. (Meanwhile, Columbus has denied facilities to charters ? including a Fordham-authorized one?because, to state it simply, they're better at providing a quality education to low-income kids.)

Columbus should also borrow a page from Cleveland's school turnaround playbook. Last week Terry lifted up one of Columbus's biggest turnaround failures- Champion Middle School ? which also caught the attention of the New York Times.? Terry rightly cited the need for better school leadership, innovative principal training models, and the role of leadership as the lynchpin for addressing chronic school dysfunction.

This weekend, two of the state's biggest newspapers featured school turnaround efforts in their respective cities and the differences are telling.

From the Columbus Dispatch, one learns that Columbus City Schools has taken a ?hunker-down approach? with federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) dollars.? The SIG program in the Capital City is stunning in its level of mediocrity, specifically:

  • The district chose ?transformation,? the least rigorous turnaround model, for its schools.
  • It didn't hire ?outsiders or turnaround experts? and is instead relying on
  • ...
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Last night lawmakers in the Ohio House Education Committee heard testimony regarding House Bill 21 ?legislation that would, among other things, grant a professional educator license to Teach For America alums teaching in Ohio. For the second week in a row, the conversation steered into interesting territory about the merits of TFA (last week, Terry and two teachers from Fordham-authorized, high-performing charters testified on the bill's behalf). This week the bill was amended so that the provision would not only let alums get licensed here, but would also open up alternative licensure pathways so that the actual program could take root in Ohio, something which Fordham has been pushing for years. This piece of legislation would finally bring it to fruition.

As an alumna of the program and someone who's lived in other states and cities not only amenable to TFA but actually thrilled about it, these conversations among lawmakers continue to shock me. Many lawmakers admitted that prior to last week's testimony (during which bright alums like Abbey Kinson and Jenna Davis wowed them with stories of their kids achieving stellar academic results), they'd never heard of the program. Others illustrated glaring ? if accidental ? misperceptions about the program.

Ohio's battle to bring TFA here is a long one. Attempts to lock them out are probably not unlike what goes on in other states, though the fact that Ohio is one of just a handful of states without the program exemplifies the...

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Yesterday, Ohio State Senator Shannon Jones (R- Clearcreek Twp.) introduced Senate Bill 5, which would dramatically overhaul public collective bargaining in Ohio (which has been in place for roughly 28 years).? The bill would prohibit state employees from engaging in collective bargaining and make massive changes to local collective bargaining laws and local public union rights, impacting everyone from firefighters to nurses, prison guards to teachers. Those around Capitol Square oughtn't be surprised ? after all, as a candidate Governor John Kasich expressed his concerns with public-sector unions and famously vowed to ?break the back of organized labor in the schools.?

Speaking of education unions, here's a peek at what changes could be in store for teachers and school districts in the Buckeye State if the bill passed as-is:

  • Health insurance as a subject of collective bargaining would be prohibited; district management would choose health insurance offerings.
  • Districts and other public employers would be prohibited from paying more than 80% of health insurance cost for employees.
  • State law regarding leave time for teachers would be scrapped; instead, school boards would adopt leave polices describing how leave is accrued, how it can be used, and how it can be carried over or cashed out.
  • The step-and-lane salary schedule for teachers would go away, replaced with the requirement that ?each teacher shall be paid a salary based on merit.?
  • Teachers would be limited to one-year contracts.
  • School districts in a state of fiscal emergency could void collective bargaining agreements.
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In a New York Times article this week, Sam Dillon examined the Obama administration's $4 billion attempt to turn around the country's worst schools and highlighted Ohio's capital city's $20 million effort to remake seven of the city's most troubled schools. One school, Champion Middle School, has for decades been a poster child for failed schools and failed turnaround efforts.

As we noted late last year, the dysfunction at Champion is chronic. In 2001, only 23 percent of the school's sixth graders were proficient in reading. A decade later and after multiple turnaround efforts (including new principals and teachers over the years) the figure was just above 26 percent and math scores had actually slid from 33 percent proficient to just 23 percent proficient. These are bleak numbers indeed and they offer a fairly stark indictment of the whole turnaround enterprise.

Yet, as Dillon reported, ???because leading schools out of chronic failure is harder than managing a successful school ??? often requiring more creative problem-solving abilities and stronger leadership, among other skills ??? the supply of principals capable of doing the work is tiny.??? The nation's schools of education have not been generating the talent necessary for turning around the nation's most troubled schools, nor have they even been trying to. ???Only a tiny percentage (of the nation's 1,200 ed schools) really prepare leaders for school turnaround,??? said Arthur Levine, a former president of Teachers College at Columbia.

Ohio and other states need a new...

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