Ohio Policy

Having spent four years working in New Jersey, I was happy to hear the announcement this week that New Jersey Governor-elect Christie selected a school choice advocate (Bret Schundler) to serve as state education commissioner.

I am no expert on New Jersey education or politics. My limited perception of Garden State education is shaped largely by my experience as a TFA teacher in Camden City elementary classrooms and in various tutoring sessions with high schoolers in Trenton. But one doesn't need expertise to realize that children in cities like Camden, Trenton, and Newark are grossly underserved by the public school system, or that spending more money (without more accountability, and major systemic changes to the way schools and districts run) won't necessarily improve outcomes.

New Jersey spends more than any other state on education per pupil yet has little to show for it in the way of student achievement. (To get a sense of the crisis, check out the trailer for The Cartel, a documentary by journalist Bob Bowden exposing the corruption and wasteful spending that makes New Jersey a poster child for what is wrong with public education [mismanagement, strong unions preventing reform, inexcusable achievement gaps despite constant spending increases]).

Bret Schundler is a supporter of charter schools, differentiated teacher pay, and tax credits to fund scholarships for K-12 private schools, reforms that the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) is sure to continue fighting tooth and nail....

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The annual ???????Quality Counts??????? report by Education Week, out today, ranks Ohio's education system as the 5th best in the nation. Some of their ratings are overly generous and it's easy to rank high among a low-to mediocre-performing pack, but all in all the Buckeye State should be proud of the improvements it's made to its public schools over the past 10 or 15 years. The report is based on the education provisions in place this school year, not the yet-to-be-implemented components of Governor Strickland's education reform plan, which makes me wonder, once again, why the governor felt compelled to completely overhaul an already decent school system (instead of following our advice to build on what was already in place)?

--Emmy Partin

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The Dayton Public Schools, in Fordham's hometown, rang out 2009 with an announcement that it faces a $5 million budget shortfall caused by rising home foreclosures and delinquent property taxes.

A mere two weeks later the head of the Dayton Education Association announced that she couldn't support the district's participation in the state's "Race to the Top" application. Her logic, "The requirements of the grant itself ask for too much???????.Too many strings."

Thus, the teachers union vetoed (as both the superintendent and the school board president supported Dayton's participation) the district's chances of garnering millions in federal dollars to help meet the educational needs of the very students those teachers are paid to educate, while also encouraging some needed reforms. Dayton is perennially one of the state's lowest performing school districts.

This is like a starving man refusing a steak because he is asked to cook it for himself.

To appreciate how truly bizarre this decision is, consider the following:

-The state's other big urban districts (and their teachers unions) supported Ohio's application. It is worth???? noting who joined Dayton in opting out ???????? Youngstown, the state's lowest academic performing district and the first one to be placed under the watch of the state's newly formed Academic Distress Commission.

-Both the head of the Ohio Education Association and the Ohio Federation of Teachers have been downright effusive in their support of the state's application for the money. "This is...

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After the release last month of The New Teacher Project's Cincinnati-focused human capital reform report (see Jamie's take here), both district and union leadership seemed genuinely intent on using their upcoming contract negotiations to work together toward improving the district's schools.???? Education-reform-wise, things seemed to be looking up in the Queen City, a place where I've long been optimistic about the potential for improving education, given the city's dynamic school choice market and the fact that the district is one of the few in the Buckeye State to actually shut down persistently failing schools. But now with district-union contract negotiations just around the corner, my optimism is waning.????

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Ben Fischer reports that in the first few months of the school year, the union filed 51 grievances against the district for low-level contract violations and asked the State Employee Relations Board to investigate an unfair labor practice charge related to the superintendent's plan for addressing persistently failing schools. The number of grievances isn't unusually high, but the unfair labor practice charge puts at risk the district's attempt to close and redesign its worst schools. If the district can't do that, and if the new collective bargaining agreement is more of the same-old, same-old and not informed much by TNTP's findings, Cincinnati's education reform efforts might be doomed to suffer the same fate as its beloved Bengals.????????

- Emmy Partin...

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The news coverage around Race to the Top and the efforts states are making to become more competitive seems to now dominate much of the conversation around education. With so many state leaders moving into action (or at least using aggressive reform rhetoric), Ohio is like the kid in show-and-tell who forgets to bring something cool and shows off a piece of pocket lint while classmates hold up crystal geodes, model airplanes, and Indian arrowheads.

Some states have already enacted sweeping RttT-inspired legislation that will undoubtedly win them points: California enacted a law giving parents more power to move their children out of poorly performing schools. Michigan's governor signed sweeping legislation that gives the state authority to shut poorly performing schools and evaluates (and dismisses) teachers partly on the basis of student test scores.??

Other states get kudos for trying: Alabama is trying to schedule a special legislative session to pass the state's first charter schools bill. Tennessee's governor is rallying support for a proposal to tie teacher tenure decisions to student performance. Education leaders in Rhode Island are calling for an overhaul of teacher recruitment and retention, and certification based on student test scores. Several other states (Florida, Minnesota, Louisiana) have bold plans for reform even without legislative or executive action. The list could continue, but you get the gist.

Meanwhile, Ohio lawmakers passed a provision giving the Department of Education and the chancellor authority to establish a...

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OhioFlypaper

Check out this special edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly, a look back at the decade's most significant education events in Ohio. 2010 bring new opportunities for K-12 education in Ohio, but let's not forget the impact of things like DeRolph, the Zelman voucher case, Strickland's "evidence-based" funding model, charter legislation, value-added measures, and more, and their potential to shape (for better or for worse) education reform in the Buckeye State in years to come.

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Yesterday, Ohio Auditor of State Mary Taylor released special audits as part of an investigation into Daniel Burns, a former district administrator at the Toledo and Cleveland school districts who is accused of stealing $820,000 from the two districts over the course of eight years.

Articles today from the Toledo Blade and Cleveland Plain Dealer reveal that Burns also:

???????Ordered background checks on private citizens who were critical of the district superintendent,

???????Used private investigators to tail district employees to find out how they spent their workdays and whether they were feeding "inside information" to school board members, and

???????Hired a security firm to do a "sweep" of the superintendent's office and car, likely looking for listening devices.

    Eugene Sanders, the superintendent of both districts during Burns' tenure, as well as spokespeople for each district say they had no knowledge of Burns' actions, and there is no evidence to the contrary. One can't help but wonder if there is a "Deep Throat" somewhere lurking in the shadows of Cleveland or Toledo waiting to tell all. If you are out there, Gadfly would love to hear from you.

    -Emmy Partin

    Photo courtesy of Itsjustanalias via Flickr...
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    In early December, the Ohio Education Association (OEA) told school districts to stay tuned for updates on the Race to the Top (RttT) grant program, promising to advise on "the value of supporting or not supporting" Ohio's application.?? Given the OEA's early concerns about RttT (particularly "over-reliance on student test score data") and their letter to Sen. Husted calling legislation to make Ohio more competitive "distracting" and "counterproductive", it seemed possible that local teacher unions (at the behest of the OEA) might try to thwart Ohio's chances of winning by encouraging districts to not participate.

    A state earns points in its application for garnering support from LEAs (45 points to be exact). Union buy-in counts towards a state's odds of winning as much as turning around low-performing schools and implementing data systems. Stephen Sawchuck on Teacher Beat has been wondering for a while (see here, here, and here) how the level of union support in various states would impact the RttT competition.??

    In Ohio, we don't have to wonder anymore. Last week the OEA posted two updates encouraging LEAs to carefully consider signing up, even promising that "some of Ohio's RttT grant will be used to support structural improvements to the system broadly" (a little misleading as to what RttT is about, if you ask me).?? OEA's attitude toward RttT seems far more acquiescent than it was several months ago (and worlds away from unions elsewhere) but the explanation...

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    OhioFlypaper

    This year, 18 urban school districts participated in the voluntary NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). Math results were released today, and student performance in Cleveland might be the only thing in that city more depressing than the Browns.??

    Whether you're wondering how Cleveland compares to its peer cities, or whether students have made academic improvements since TUDA was first administered in 2003 (as many cities' students have), the stats on both fronts are discouraging.

    Among the 10 cities that have participated in TUDA since 2003, Cleveland is the only district whose scores have not seen an increase in either fourth or eighth grade.?? Compared to the other 17 cities, Cleveland ranks second to last (next only to Detroit) in 4th grade, and fourth to last in 8th grade (behind Detroit, DC, and Milwaukee). While we've lamented before that Ohio's NAEP scores are low (45 and 36 percent of 4th and 8th graders scored proficient or above, respectively), Cleveland's scores are even more painful in comparison: only eight percent of both 4th and 8th graders in the city scored proficient or higher.

    Average scores for eighth-grade public school students in NAEP mathematics (five lowest scoring cities) - 2009

    Average scores for fourth-grade public school students in NAEP mathematics (five lowest scoring cities) - 2009

    Source: NAEP TUDA 2009 Math Results

    Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eugene Sanders is preparing to...

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    One of the great canards in public education is that no one should profit from the public schools. For example, cries of "corporate takeover of public schools" and "profits come before the needs of children" have been part of the anti-charter school rhetoric in Ohio and elsewhere since the first for-profit charters opened in the early 1990s.

    In 2007, for example, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Federation of Teachers called Ohio's charter schools a "franchise system of corporate-run schools." Ohio Governor Ted Strickland sought to outlaw all forms of "for-profit" charter operators in the Buckeye State in his budget proposals in both 2007 and 2009. In 2006, then gubernatorial candidate Strickland got great applause from the teacher unions and allies when he called charters "a rip-off." He even threw out the applause line that "There are people operating these schools getting rich and they're doing so on the backs of our children."

    Yet, despite such political rhetoric every penny spent on education profits someone - teachers, administrators, text book publishers, computer companies, food service providers, bus drivers, school consultants, et al. Some, however, profit far more than others.

    According to????a recent article in Education Week one of the organizations currently profiting nicely from public education is e-Luminate, a marketing and communications-consulting firm that was set up by Ken Kay. Ken Kay is the prophet of 21st Century Skills and according to Education Week his private consulting firm e-Luminate made...

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