Ohio Policy

Since 1986, over 557 school districts throughout Ohio have taken advantage of a very generous program, courtesy of taxpayers, that allows school districts to pay for capital improvements done to their facilities.  According to the Ohio School Facilities Commission, this program has funded over 952 projects, involving over 6,089 buildings, at a cost of over $1.25 billion, while saving taxpayers over $115 million.  However, this privilege is open to district schools and their buildings only, and denied to charter schools. 

The program, formally known as the Ohio School Facilities Commission Energy Conservation Program or the House Bill 264 Program, enables school districts to make energy-related improvements to district buildings that in theory would generate enough energy savings to eventually pay off the improvement bond from which the capital originated from its issuance, along with the cost of financing.  The cost savings over 15 years for energy, operational, and maintenance must equal or exceed the cost of implementing the measures.  The program allows energy-related improvements, as opposed to merely repairs.  This may seem like semantics until the discussion turns on how exactly projects are paid for. 

In Ohio, tax levies are typically raised in order to fund capital projects, including improvements to school buildings.  Ohio law requires that such levies must be submitted to the voters of the school district for approval.  Under HB 264, however, school districts can bypass this process of accountability by invoking the desired project as a qualified, energy-related, permanent improvement.

Once could argue that HB...

The last few weeks in Ohio have seen a torrent of anti-Common Core literature, comments, blogs, and letters aimed at lawmakers and state board of education members. Much of this chatter has been perpetrated by two organizations with a lot to say and claims to make. See here and here. Such critics and criticisms need a response, and in the following we provide rebuttals to four widely circulated fabrications about the Common Core.

It is well known that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been a long-time champion of high academic standards and aligned assessments. We are also supporters of the Common Core standards in English language arts and mathematics, mainly because they are superior to what Ohio and most other states currently have in place for their schools.

There is no doubt that the Common Core and the PARCC assessments aligned to them will face challenges in the coming months and years ( e.g. preparing all teachers, getting the necessary technology in place, developing pacing guides). But, despite the challenges superintendents, school principals, and teachers are remarkably supportive of the Common Core in Ohio and across the country. For example, Fordham recently surveyed Ohio’s superintendents (344 of the state’s 614 superintendents – a 56 percent response rate), and discovered that 81 percent of the respondents believe that five years from now the Common Core standards “will be widely and routinely in use in Ohio.” Only one in ten say it “will have faded away by then.”...

During construction of the continental railroads in the 1860s, workers dug from both ends to tunnel through the Rocky Mountains. When they met in the middle, the tunnel was finished and the trains could roll. This is how America became a great continental power. This image of the tunnel bored from two directions is an apt metaphor for what needs to happen with Governor Kasich’s biennial budget proposal (House Bill 59) and the very different plan emerging from the Ohio House this week.

Governor Kasich’s “Achievement Everywhere” plan has three main things going for it. First, it actually tries to target children and the schools they actually attend as the loci of public funding, as opposed to just spreading money across school districts. Traditionally, school funding has been about simply spreading the money around so far more districts feel like winners than losers. The House version does this by reducing the number of districts receiving no new money from nearly 400 to 175. But in doing so the House version loses some of the worthy Kasich reforms. 

Specifically, Kasich’s plan proposed reducing one-size fits all spending restrictions by removing a number of minimum operating standards.  This would free up educators but the House puts those standards back in place. They mandate practices like assignment of personnel and the use of specific instructional materials (especially odd considering the speed at which blended learning is spreading across the state). The House version also requires fixed staffing ratios...

John Dues

Aaron and I responded to recent anti-charter school pieces that have popped up in some of the state’s newspapers in Hard to Kill Charter School Canards. As follow up to this, we’d like to share the first part of a letter written by educator John Dues.  John is school director for Columbus Collegiate Academy in Columbus and he was inspired to respond to some of the (mis)information shared in a letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch by Maureen Reedy over the weekend. We are happy to share his thoughtful insights. -Terry Ryan

This letter is written in response to the Letter to the Editor you wrote that appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on Saturday, April 6, 2013. My sincere hope is that you read this letter with an open mind and seriously consider a viewpoint different from your own on the topic of charter schools.

I believe we could learn a lot from each other, and I would be more than willing to sit down over coffee to discuss the contents of this letter. I am also extending an open invitation to you to visit Columbus Collegiate Academy, a high-performing, high poverty charter school on the Near East Side of Columbus, where I serve as the School Director.

In 2005, after teaching fifth grade in Atlanta Public Schools and returning to Ohio to earn my Master of Education degree, I took a job with a charter school in Denver, Colorado. My mom, who worked as...

The West Carrollton school district, just southwest of Dayton, is the latest Ohio school district to pass an open enrollment policy allowing students from any district in the state to enroll in one of their schools. West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford told the Dayton Daily News that, “Our purpose is to be the school district of choice in Ohio. We want to give any student in the state the opportunity to experience the same great education that students currently living in the West Carrollton district are experiencing.” West Carrollton serves about 3,800 students, 58 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, and the district received an Effective (B) rating from the Ohio Department of Education in 2011-12.

Superintendent Clifford, Ohio’s 2013 superintendent of the year, acknowledged the decision to become an open enrollment district was driven by economics. “Our enrollment numbers right now are flat to slightly declining,” Clifford told the Dayton Daily News. District enrollment has declined about 13 percent since 1999 and Clifford argues, “In order to keep all of the great staff we have right now, we need to grow our student base. As we keep students, we can keep staff.” Each student that enrolls in West Carrollton from another district brings about $5,700 with him or her.

The Ohio Legislature approved an open enrollment policy in 1989, and under state law school boards are able to decide among three options:

  • Accept only students who are residents of the district;
  • Extend enrollment eligibility to students
  • ...
  • Cuyahoga County plans to begin the College Savings Account Program which will open a college-savings account, with $100, for every kindergarten student in the county.
  • An audit from a private consulting firm has made suggestions for Toledo Public Schools that would save them $100 million over five years.
  • The Ohio Department of Education released rankings for the state’s 832 traditional school districts and charter schools based on their value-added scores.
  • Catholic schools in Ohio are in the process of adjusting their lesson plans in response to the Common Core

Ohio’s public schools and parents will soon see a revamped local report card, starting in August 2015. The new Report Cards will display A-F ratings for all public school district and building (traditional and charter). The grading system will have six components: achievement, progress, gap closing, graduation rate, K-3 literacy, and prepared for success. The new rating system was enacted under House Bill 555, which was signed into law in December 2012.

The new grading system improves upon Ohio’s outgoing report card system in three substantial ways:

  • Greater rigor: Under Ohio’s current grading system 387 out of 610 school districts received an Excellent (A) or higher rating in 2011-12. The new grading system, however, will increase the definition of an A rated district. In the Ohio Department of Education’s simulation of districts’ 2015 report cards, 30 districts received an A for performance index (part of the achievement component) and 25 districts received an A for annual measurable objectives (part of the gap closing component).[1]
  • Increased transparency: Ohio’s new A-F rating system is more transparent and understandable for parents and the general public. Gone are the days when mediocre districts could hide behind Continuous Improvement (C), or the harmless “below” value-added rating. In are letter grades for each indicator, giving the public a clearer understanding of how well their district does in comparison to statewide performance benchmarks.
  • More inclusive view of school and student performance: Ohio’s current rating system is largely based on two indicators: performance index,
  • ...
“Nothing lasting thrives in a hostile environment. Just as too many charter supporters are hung up on defending all charters all the time, their tireless opponents are bent on creating false distinctions and are constantly attacking them from every imaginable direction. Double standards and hypocrisy are in ample supply on both sides.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr., Terry Ryan and Michael Lafferty, Ohio Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the frontlines, 2010

The following quote summed up a key lesson learned from the charter school experience in Ohio over the first decade of its controversial life. Three years later, the lesson still rings true. And no doubt the long political struggle around charter schools has hurt the state’s overall charter school quality (great operators have far friendlier states to choose from), made it difficult for Ohio to improve its charter law (this struggle has been characterized by zero-sum battles at the state house), and retarded the power of charter schools to fulfill their potential (hard to thrive in hostile environments).

We’ve not shied away from taking on radicals on either side of the debate. Many in the charter community dislike us because we think accountability for school performance as measured by standardized tests is as important as school choice itself. Meanwhile those on other side don’t like us because we support school choice and indeed authorize 11 charters in Ohio.

We’ve not shied away from taking on radicals on either side of the debate.

In recent weeks, however, the anti-charter...

The West Carrollton school district, just southwest of Dayton, is the latest Ohio school district to pass an open enrollment policy allowing students from any district in the state to enroll in one of their schools. West Carrollton Superintendent Rusty Clifford told the Dayton Daily News that, “Our purpose is to be the school district of choice in Ohio. We want to give any student in the state the opportunity to experience the same great education that students currently living in the West Carrollton district are experiencing.” West Carrollton serves about 3,800 students, 58 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged, and the district received an Effective (B) rating from the Ohio Department of Education in 2011-12.

Superintendent Clifford, Ohio’s 2013 superintendent of the year, acknowledged the decision to become an open enrollment district was driven by economics. “Our enrollment numbers right now are flat to slightly declining,” Clifford told the Dayton Daily News. District enrollment has declined about 13 percent since 1999 and Clifford argues, “In order to keep all of the great staff we have right now, we need to grow our student base. As we keep students, we can keep staff.” Each student that enrolls in West Carrollton from another district brings about $5,700 with him or her.

The Ohio Legislature approved an open enrollment policy in 1989, and under state law school boards are able to decide among three options:

  • Accept only students who are residents of the district;
  • Extend enrollment eligibility to students
  • ...

Under Ohio state law, public schools will be required to have a teacher evaluation system in place by July 2014. Half of the teacher evaluation formula is to be based on student learning growth on exams. For some subjects, this puts schools in awkward situation of having to evaluate for example, gym or art teachers—subjects that don’t have established exams and tests.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has published manuals for evaluating teachers of these hard-to-measure subjects. But, as Terry Ryan recently reported—some of these guidelines border on the absurd.

Even the august champion of teacher evaluations, Bill Gates, worried about “hastily contrived” teacher evaluations. He writes in the Washington Post:

Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure.

Mr. Gates reiterated his point by citing Ohio’s recent gym teacher evaluation manual as an example. Gates’ commentary provoked responses, from Anthony Cody in Education Week and Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.

Gates is right to point out the...

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