Ohio Policy

For millions of Americans, yesterday was tax day. One of the major uses of those tax dollars is K-12 public education; in fact, Ohio spends approximately $20 billion per year on its public schools. Those funds are generated through state income and sales taxes, local property taxes, and to a small extent, federal taxes.

On a per-pupil basis, that amount equals an outlay of $13,000 per child. Chart 1 shows that spending has risen from $10,682 to $13,063 from 2000 to 2011—an increase of 22 percent—after adjusting for inflation. The chart also shows that Ohio’s per-pupil expenditures are slightly above the national average, and that the state’s spending trend has generally mirrored the national average.

Despite the murmurs of inadequacy from a few interest groups, the fact of the matter is that Ohioans generously fund its public schools and the students who attend them. Given this, the state’s public schools need to be good stewards of those tax dollars by demonstrating that tax payers’ hard-earned dollars are working to lift student achievement.

Chart 1: Ohio’s per-pupil (K-12) spending on the rise and above the national average – expenditures per pupil, 1999-00 to 2010-11

Source: U.S. Department of Education Note: There were no data reported for 2000-01. Expenditures exclude debt service (both principal and interest payments), Title I expenditures, and a few other expenditure categories or sources of revenue (e.g., textbook revenues, tuition payments). The inflation adjustment is...

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The proposal of a few members of the state legislature to increase the transparency around charter schools is a fine idea. But their allegation that charters “waste” public funds—apparently without acknowledging the infirmity of Ohio’s urban districts—is shameful discourse that conceals the woeful facts about public schools in urban areas, where most charters reside.

Consider the Columbus Dispatch’s report of what two lawmakers had to say about charters.

The lawmakers say increased scrutiny of spending is needed because 87 percent of charters received a D or F on recent state report cards.

“These changes are urgently needed to ensure that our school children receive the education they deserve and that tax dollars are not wasted,” Schiavoni said.

Carney noted that after excluding dropout recovery and special-needs charter schools – which many agree should not be held to the same standard – nearly $500 million went to failing charters last year.

Granted, $500 million per year is a large amount of public funds and again, let me be clear, charter schools must show a return on that public investment. But why don’t we put this figure into perspective, in light of what we know about Ohio’s large urban districts?

The table below displays the performance index rating (student achievement), the value-added rating (a school or district’s contribution to learning), and the amount of state revenue provided for Ohio’s “Urban Eight” school districts. As you’ll note, state spending on Cleveland and Columbus school districts alone exceeds $500...

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School boards matter. Indeed, in Fordham’s new report Do School Boards Matter?  researchers found that knowledgeable, hard-working boards that prioritize student achievement govern higher-performing districts. Perhaps this is no surprise, particularly given the wide-ranging authority of boards. In Ohio, school boards’ statutory powers include prescribing curriculum, appointing a treasurer and superintendent, creating a school schedule, and entering into labor contracts with teachers. Meanwhile, we in Columbus have painfully observed what happens when a school board fails to exercise diligent oversight.

School boards, then, can be potent entities (or dismally impotent ones). But does anyone care about them?

To dig into this question, I look at the November 2013 school-board elections for Franklin County. The county has a nice mix of districts, including one big-city district (Columbus) and a number of both high- and low-wealth suburban districts. I look at three data points: The number of contested seats, voter turnout rates, and “undervotes” among those who actually went to the polls. This slice of data portrays a general air of apathy among the electorate toward school boards.

First, when it comes to competition for seats, many of the seats went uncontested. Remarkably, there were just seventy-two candidates vying for fifty board seats across Franklin County—less than two candidates per open seat. In fact, five of the seventeen school districts had entirely uncontested races (the number of candidates equaled the number of open seats). If you ran for office in those districts, you automatically...

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Life Skills Centers, a group of fifteen dropout-recovery charter schools operated by White Hat Management, is on the decline. Last year’s enrollment (school year 2012-13) was less than half that of 2006. The erosion of Life Skills Centers’ enrollment bucks the steadily rising trend in Ohio’s overall charter enrollment. And within dropout-recovery charters—a special subset of schools that enroll at-risk high-school students—Life Skills Centers’ enrollment losses have also been atypical. Excluding Life Skills, the state’s sixty or so dropout-recovery schools have experienced flat to increasing enrollment trends from 2006 to 2013 with the exception of 2012.[1]

Chart 1: Life Skills Center student enrollment, 2005-06 to 2012-13

Source: Ohio Department of Education Notes: The number of Life Skills Centers has remained constant—fifteen schools—throughout this period except for 2005-06 when there were fourteen schools. There are three former Life Skills Centers (then operated by White Hat) that changed management companies and school names effective July 2012. These schools are not included in the totals in chart 1 or table 1 for any years.

Perhaps the enrollment decline is no surprise, given the low performance of these schools. Table 1 shows the five-year cohort graduation rates for Life Skills Centers from 2009-10 to 2011-12. The graduation rates for their pupils are sometimes less than ten percent. The Life Skills Center in Dayton performs the highest among the group: 25 percent graduation rate in 2011-12; 22 percent in 2010-11....

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I had the good fortune of attending the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) conference last week. AEFP attracts some of the nation’s finest researchers along with a small smattering of policymakers and advocates. Cutting-edge research on topics ranging from parents and school choice, adequacy in school funding, and value-added accountability were presented, and the working papers are online and well worth perusing.

The conference was a veritable buffet of dialogue on education research and policy, and the following are the three main ideas I took away:

  • First, there is a growing stable of researchers who are willing to tackle challenging but pressing policy issues. A few of the more ambitious projects came from graduate-student researchers who are making valiant efforts to answer thorny and (perhaps) impossible research questions. Some of the interesting studies included preliminary work on a return-on-public-investment model for charter schools, whether “adequacy and equity” court cases have contributed to achievement gains, and whether value-added models of teacher effectiveness have “floor” and “ceiling” effects (i.e., bias VAM estimates of teachers with many low- or high-achieving students). It’s evident that the education-research community is moving in the right direction by making concerted efforts to answer questions that matter for sound policy and practice.  
  • Second, to cease testing and data collection would cripple promising research avenues. There is growing concern about testing and data collection among education policymakers and the public. The backlash is understandable. But make no mistake: if states backtrack on testing
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Duplication is not always a good thing. Think about it, most of us don’t carry two cell phones. In a world with limited pants-pocket space, two phones would be senseless, right? Ohio’s school report cards have two essentially-the-same achievement components, both of which receive an A-F letter grade. It’s time to toss one of them for parsimony’s sake.

The first, the indicators-met component, is determined by whether 75 percent of a school’s test-takers reach proficiency on the state’s twenty-four assessments (85 percent for eleventh grade). The second, the performance-index component (PI), is a composite score weighted by the proportion of test-takers who attain each of the state’s five achievement levels.

Though the two indicators differ slightly, they produce very similar results for any given school. In other words, if a school gets a low PI letter grade, it is nearly assured that it will receive a low indicators-met grade. The same is true in the reverse—high PI schools will likely get a high indicators-met grade. Here’s the evidence.

Table 1 shows the letter grades of Ohio’s 3,089 schools by indicators met and PI. As you can tell, the grades correspond closely. For example, 99 percent of schools that received an A for indicators met received either an A or B on PI. One-hundred percent of schools that received a B on indicators met received a B or C on PI. Well over one-thousand schools received an A/B grade combination. There are very few schools that received mixed, high-low ratings:...

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The weeping and gnashing of teeth from parents and community members who may be affected by the closure of seven Columbus City Schools is understandable. No one wants to lose institutions that are dear to the heart.

But I would ask this: Where was the outrage from parents and the community when these schools failed to deliver academic results? Why didn’t 700 people come out to the meetings when our own state department of education rated the schools as under-performing? Where were the protests; where were the posters; where were the demands?

For those who might be interested, here’s the dismal three-year performance record of the seven schools on the chopping block. Maybury is the only school in which the case could be made that it’s worth keeping open on the basis of academics.

Source: Ohio Department of Education Notes: In 2012-13, no school received an overall rating. For 2010-11 and 2011-12, “academic emergency” is equivalent to an “F”; “academic watch” is equivalent to a “D”; “continuous improvement” is equivalent to a “C”; “effective” is equivalent to a “B.” High schools do not receive a value-added rating, hence the N/A.

Look, we’ve heard the stories of urban schools where PTA and community meetings go empty. In fact, I’ve sat through a few of them. The disinterest in the school is pitiful. Meantime, it’s even more baffling to see that when a district announces closures, all the sudden people rally...

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Convention says that low-performing schools are mainly an inner-city problem. To a degree that is the case—urban public-school systems have long struggled to educate their students well. Cleveland’s public schools are something of a poster-child in this respect, and other urban schools systems in Ohio struggle just as mightily. Youngstown City Schools is in “academic distress,” and Columbus’ district had so many problems with academic performance that some of its employees “scrubbed” student records to make it appear better.

That being said, it’s inaccurate to say that weak schools exist only in urban areas. As the maps below demonstrate, inept schools aren’t just an urban problem.

The first map shows the geographic distribution of Ohio’s low-rated public schools (district and charter), along both the state’s achievement and value-added indicator of performance. Many, but not all, of these 218 schools are located in large urban areas (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo). Yet there are pockets of low-performing schools in other mid-sized towns including Warren (near Youngstown in Northeast Ohio), Lima (Northwest Ohio), and Lorain (west of Cleveland). There are even a few low-rated schools in rural areas.

Map 1: Ohio schools that received a D or F in performance index (achievement) and value-added (learning gains), 2012-13

Click on the map for an interactive view of the data. (The color of the points are related to the school's D/F rating.)

When we home in on the state’s value-added...

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Ohio is deeply mired in a dropout crisis, with more than 20,000 of its high-school students leaving school each year. A recent analysis found that 112,610 dropouts occurred between 2006 and 2010 in Ohio’s public-school system.

It is absolutely crucial that the Buckeye State address dropouts, with fury. Why? The dropout crisis is a massive waste of human potential and it will eventually strain the state’s public welfare systems. Several economists have examined the consequences of dropping out. Here’s what they’ve found:

  • Lost earnings for dropouts: Cecilia Rouse of Princeton University estimates that over a lifetime high school dropouts earn $260,000 less than those who graduate high school (but complete no further schooling);
  • Lost revenue for governments: Rouse also estimates a $60,000 per dropout loss in state and federal income taxes over a lifetime, compared to someone completing just a high-school diploma and;
  • Increased public expenditures: Jane Waldfogel and her colleagues at Columbia University estimate that America could save as much as $2 billion dollars per year if welfare recipients had graduated high school. Meanwhile, dropouts also have a higher likelihood of incarceration, needing public aid for healthcare, and engaging in criminal activity. These consequences of dropping out increase public expenditures—and increase taxes.  

There is no debate: The costs, both to a dropout and to society writ large, are enormous. What can Ohio policymakers do in response? To deal with the issue over the long-haul, Ohio should aggressively implement the...

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“Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than that of competition,” said Senator Henry Clay in 1832. We’ve all bitten from the competition apple, and it tastes pretty good. Today, we have scores of TV channels, hotels, restaurants, car dealerships, and grocery stores from which to choose: an incredible amount of choice, all driven by free-markets and competition.

Competition is one reason why I love Ohio’s inter-district open enrollment policy. It allows school districts to compete for students, largely irrespective of where the student lives. Under state law, a district may adopt a local board policy, whereby it can admit students from either anywhere in Ohio or only from an adjacent district. Over 400 districts in the state have adopted an open enrollment policy.

As we reported in October, the state’s open enrollment policy has been put under the microscope in a legally mandated task-force review. The task force’s documents are now posted online and the report with policy recommendations is available also. The following are what I take away from the task force’s documents and report.

  • The growth of open enrollment is remarkable.  In 2012-13, 71,827 students attended a district via open enrollment. This more than doubles the number of open-enrolled students compared to 2002-03 when just 33,395 kids participated.
  • Many suburban districts refuse to participate in open enrollment. The map of districts that have adopted an open enrollment policy is eye-opening. It shows that districts surrounding the
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