Ohio Policy

A firestorm has erupted in Ohio on a proposed state board of education administrative rule. The headline on Diane Ravitch’s blog cries, “Ohio Alert! State Board of Education Will Vote on Whether to Eliminate Arts, P.E., Librarians, Nurses at Elementary Schools.” The headline, though sensational, is flat wrong and misleading.

Let’s set the facts straight. The Ohio state board of education is proposing to eliminate the staffing-ratio mandates for non-classroom-teaching staff. (These include counselors, gym teachers, elementary art and music teachers, etc.) The board, then, is not pronouncing a death-sentence on music or art. Local schools may hire as many non-classroom-teaching personnel as they see fit. Rather the proposal aims to give districts more flexibility over how they staff their schools.

Here is the rule in question, as presently written [OAC 3301-35-05 (A)(4)].

A minimum of five full-time equivalent educational service personnel shall be employed district-wide for each one thousand students in the regular student population as defined in section 3317.023 of the Revised Code. Educational service personnel shall be assigned to at least five of the eight following areas: counselor, library media specialist, school nurse, visiting teacher, social worker and elementary art, music and physical education....

Over the last five years, prodded by the feds, states have adopted teacher evaluation systems. According to a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, forty-one states, including Ohio, now require evaluations that include objective measures of student achievement. These aren’t the meat-axe assessments of yesteryear, though. These next-generation teacher evaluations combine classroom observations using new prescriptive protocols with quantitative evidence of learning gains on state tests (or another form of assessment) to determine each teacher’s effectiveness.

The national focus on teacher evaluations raises a couple of questions. First, why have states chosen to focus on teacher evaluations (i.e. what’s the problem that policymakers are trying to solve)? Second, are the new evaluations proving effective in solving the problem?

Let’s start with the why. Recall all the evidence that the single most important in-school factor for student achievement is teacher quality. If we know that good teachers make a difference, it's not surprising that we've focused on evaluating them. Such evaluations hold the potential to identify great teachers whom we can reward, retain, and/or hold up as models, struggling or developing teachers whom we can help to improve, and ineffective teachers who should be removed from...

The information yielded by standardized tests—and the analyses based on test results, like value-added—should form the basis for tough decisions regarding which schools (charter and district) or entire school systems require intervention. Parents need information about school quality, and taxpayers ought to know whether their resources are being put to good use. But at the same time, parents and policymakers alike have valid concerns about “overtesting” students, and how high-stakes tests change how schools behave.

Over the past decade, Ohio has tested social studies and science unevenly, and will continue to do so under the new assessment program set to begin in spring 2015. Under the old system, the state administered science tests in just grades 5 and 8, while math and English language arts (ELA) were assessed in all grades 3–8. Social studies was tested for just three years (2006–07 to 2008–09) in grades 5 and 8, but it was “suspended” effective fall 2009. The new state testing program continues science assessments in grades 5 and 8 and resurrects social studies testing in grades 4 and 6.

Should Ohio test in science and social studies, in addition to ELA and math assessments? And if...

The facility arrangements of one Ohio charter school recently came under fire in a Columbus Dispatch exposé. An investigation discovered that roughly half of the school’s budget was dedicated to rental payments, potentially shortchanging teaching and learning. But this episode isn’t an isolated case; many Buckeye charters have struggled to secure adequate facilities. How can Ohio policymakers and school leaders better ensure that charters have the facilities they need at a reasonable cost? First, they should consult this new report from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which contains a wealth of information on charter-school facilities funding from both private and public sources. The report includes descriptions of the key nonprofits in charter-facilities financing, including the Charter School Growth Fund, Capital Impact Partners, Low Income Investment Fund, and LISC. These nonprofits—twenty in all—have provided an impressive $2 billion in direct financing for charter facilities (e.g., loans and grants). When it comes to state support for charter facilities, Ohio has been woefully stingy. The state provided, for the first time in 2013, per-pupil funding to support the facility costs of brick-and-mortar charters (up to $100 per-pupil). But other jurisdictions are far less tightfisted. For example,...

KidsOhio.org, a highly respected education-policy group based in Columbus, released a fact sheet today on the schools that are eligible for a “parent trigger” intervention. Twenty schools in Columbus City School District have been identified, on the basis of falling within the bottom 5 percent in the state in student achievement for three consecutive years. In layman’s terms, these schools have enormous and persistent struggles with low student achievement.

The parent-trigger law, only applicable to Columbus district schools, permits four different interventions—from charter-school conversion to contracting with non-district entities to operate the school. The trigger is contingent on 50 percent of the school’s parents or guardians petitioning the school board for the change. As my colleague has pointed out, several issues muddy our judgment on whether parents and policymakers should actually use a trigger-based intervention.

But regardless of whether or not the parent-trigger is used, this group of schools—especially those with lower value-added scores—need to improve significantly. So one of the interesting things on the fact sheet was the hyperlinks to each school’s “improvement plan.”

But these “plans” can only be described as anywhere from meager to pathetic. Here is one example, from Mifflin Middle...

Ohio is moving to new standardized tests, the PARCC assessments, which are set to commence in spring 2015. These new and vastly different tests pose big challenges. For one, unlike the paper-and-pencil exams of the past, the PARCC is designed for online administration, leading to obvious questions about schools’ technical readiness to administer the exams.[1] In addition, as Cleveland’s Plain Dealer reported recently, PARCC test results may be released later than usual in 2015—likely delaying the release of school report cards. At the same time, no one knows exactly where PARCC will set its cut-scores for “proficiency” and other achievement levels.[2] Finally, expect political blowback, too, when lower test scores are reported under PARCC, perhaps even stronger than the ongoing skirmishes around Ohio’s new learning standards.

Despite these complications, Ohioans should give PARCC a chance. Ohio needs a higher-quality state assessment to replace its mostly rinky-dink tests of yesteryear. Take a look at PARCC’s test-item prototypes; they ask students to demonstrate solid analytical skills based on what they know in math and English language arts. The upshot: PARCC’s more-sophisticated approach to assessment could put an end to...

In his recent State of the Schools speech, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon referred to a 2013 column in the Plain Dealer comparing him to the ancient Greek king Sisyphus. As every school kid used to know, Sisyphus rolled a boulder up a mountain each day, only to watch it roll back down. He was doomed to spend the rest of eternity repeating this pointless task as a punishment for his greed and deceit—a kind of Greek myth Groundhog Day

The comparison of Gordon and Sisyphus is unfair. The punishment of Sisyphus, at its heart, is one constructed to impose hopelessness and despair. There is certainly much work to be done in Cleveland, but as we at Fordham have pointed out before (see here) there are also reasons to be hopeful about Cleveland’s progress. There is no room for Sisyphus in the fight to improve Ohio schools.

That being said, the English teacher in me appreciates the allusion. It even got me thinking about other ancient figures who might better symbolize the Buckeye state’s struggle to give its kids the best education—an education that all students deserve, but far too few receive. There’s the...

On September 19, teachers in the Columbus suburb of Reynoldsburg went out on strike for the first time since 1978. They started the school year without a contract in place, and neither two-party negotiations nor third-party mediation led to a breakthrough.

The initial contract offer from the district included a couple of notions that were thought by outside commentators to be problematic, including performance-based pay for teachers and the elimination of health care coverage in favor of a cash payment that teachers could use to buy their own coverage. As divisive as those issues could have been, they were actually pretty well hammered out before the walkout. The sticking point turned out to be a hard cap on class sizes.

With little movement on either side on this issue—and after dueling unfair labor practice charges were filed—the strike began. Day One was rough, but by the end of the first full week the feared “spillover” effects of the strike were not seen at Friday night’s big football game. But those Day One stories moved one district parent to sue to close the schools for the duration of the strike, citing...

Last week, the Ohio Education Research Center (OERC) hosted a terrific conference at Ohio State University which brought together the state’s education research and practitioner communities. The focus of the one-day conference was teacher quality—why it matters, and how Ohio’s teacher-quality initiatives are playing out in the field.

In his keynote address, Eric Hanushek of Stanford University set the table, zeroing in on the economic value of a high-quality teacher. He showed that students who are fortunate enough to have high-quality teachers are more likely to have higher lifetime earnings than those less fortunate. The implication was easily understood: It cannot be left to chance as to whether students get a high-quality educator.

But here’s the rub: Less clear is what policies help to ensure that every Buckeye student is taught by a great teacher from Kindergarten through high-school graduation. Hanushek pointed out that several variables commonly used to measure teacher quality—including Master’s degrees, experience after a few years of teaching, and participation in professional-development programs—only weakly correlate to actual effectiveness.

A panel discussion wrestled with the ambiguity and complexity involved in raising teacher quality. (The slide decks are available here.) The panel, moderated by Rebecca Watts...

Next-generation learning models—“technology-enabled” education, if you will—are designed to personalize education in any way necessary to help students at all performance levels meet and exceed goals. As with any innovation introduced into American education, next-generation models have met resistance and in many cases have been either halted altogether or subsumed into the by-the-book system. In their new issue brief, Public Impact’s Shonaka Ellison and Gillian Locke argue that charter schools are the ideal place for next-generation learning models. Charter-school autonomies, inherent in their DNA, provide the best platform for tech-driven innovations like ability grouping, mastery-based promotion, student-paced learning, separation of administrative and instructional duties for teachers, and online learning. The researchers show these practices are carried out in various combinations at a number of charter schools around the country. No mention is made in the brief about solely online schooling, whose model would seem to be synonymous with much of the innovation described here but whose results have too often fallen short of expectations. In fact, having a building in which to attend school seems to be an unstated requirement for creating the type of next-generation models the authors examine. And while Khan Academy and ASSISTments can extend the school...

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