Ohio Policy

An article in yesterday's Columbus Dispatch delivered two important reminders regarding teacher performance-pay. First, even in cities that have experimented with it for several years (Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati) the results are incredibly difficult to measure. (Recall that even Texas, which has some of the oldest and most comprehensive performance pay plans, has mixed results.)??

Second ??? and most salient on everyone's minds ??? is the fact that performance-pay is very expensive. Districts relying on grant funding from programs like the national Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) or the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) eventually need to use their own funds to supplant grant money. The Dispatch provides an example:

The four Columbus schools that have been trying TAP the longest -- Easthaven and Parkmoor elementary schools, Champion Middle and South High -- are no longer funded by the grant, which means the district is picking up the tab. The grant for the four other schools -- Fifth Avenue and Lindbergh elementary schools, and Clinton and Starling middle schools -- will run out at the start of the next school year???. The district also must cut its budget by millions, a promise made by the school board in its 2008 levy campaign. There's no guarantee that TAP will continue.

With so many Ohio districts facing sizeable budget deficits (not to mention the tidal wave of costs resulting from Gov. Strickland's ???evidence-based??? mandates), maintaining ??? let alone expanding ??? performance-pay programs...

Ohio has joined 39 other states and the District of Columbia in submitting its Race to the Top grant application to the Feds. The Buckeye State is seeking $409 million for ???????radical change in a compressed time.??????? Whether or not Ohio's plan is bold enough, and competes well against other states, is now awaiting the determination of reviewers at the U.S. Department of Education.

But in Ohio, many policy wonks and journalists believe that politics will surely intrude in the USDOE's decision making. This despite that fact that Secretary Duncan and the department have repeatedly insisted that politics will play no role in determining which states receive RttT grants.

Skeptics in Ohio point to last week's election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts and the struggles facing Democrats across the country and argue political calculations will rear their head in RttT grant determinations. Consider that this weekend Ohio newspapers ran headlines like ???????Ohio voters lean GOP once again??????? and ???????Strickland trails Kasich in race for governor, poll shows.???????

Ohio' RttT application plays up big-time Gov. Strickland's recently passed education reform plan in House Bill 1. Specifically, the application argues ???????Governor Strickland has strongly committed himself to H.B. 1, the most significant and comprehensive education reform in Ohio for decades and the cornerstone of the strategy reflected in our RttT application.???????

There is little doubt that in his re-election campaign Gov. Strickland will point to his education...

Yesterday Terry responded on Flypaper to remarks made by the president of the Dayton Education Association (DEA) as to why the union turned down up to $5 million in federal Race to the Top money. (This, while the district faces a $5 million budget shortfall! Do the math.)

There is something specific about the DEA president's remarks worth addressing further. In response to a Dayton Daily News editorial arguing that the teachers union ???let kids down by saying no to millions,??? she said:

It is totally wrong, and indeed inappropriate, to claim that Dayton teachers do not care for their students.

Her evidence of Dayton teachers' commitment to children is that they spend, on average, ???$500 a year of their personal funds for materials and supplies for their classrooms.??? Whether or not teachers care about students is totally beside the point (although it's an oft cited defense any time teachers unions are the target of critique). And pointing to teachers' supply receipts doesn't refute the underlying reasons the DEA is being criticized: intentionally stifling reform, and rejecting much-needed funding for its students.

Not many people would doubt that Dayton teachers are committed to children. But this commitment (as evidenced by extraneous purchases, long hours, or any one of the countless sacrifices that teachers make for their kids) does not offset the need for serious evaluations to be sure that all teachers are doing what they were trained, recruited, and hired to...

Last week I, and others, took the Dayton Education Association to task for its decision to scuttle the district's participation in the state's Race to the Top application. To understand this criticism, consider that the union rejected RttT funds in the face of a $5 million budget shortfall caused by rising home foreclosures and delinquent property taxes.

Further, Dayton's school district has seen 10,000 students flee for charters and other places in the last decade (shrinking from 24,000 students to about 14,000 students) and enrollment in the DEA has dropped from 2,000 in 1998 to about 1,100 in 2008. During this time the union has steadfastly resisted any serious reform, despite real efforts by different superintendents and school boards over the last decade. Dayton is perennially ranked as one of the lowest performing districts in Ohio, battling the likes of Cleveland and Youngstown for the dubious distinction of worst in the Buckeye State.????

If any urban school district in America needs reform, it's Dayton, and the reforms embedded in RttT are steps in the right direction. When asked why the DEA rejected RttT funding, here is what the union president had to say:

How would you like your job to be based on criteria over which you had no control? Let's say you are an editorial writer for a city newspaper. How would it be for your evaluation to be based on how many ads your paper sold? Understand, you are not...

Last week, Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eugene Sanders unveiled a major plan to transform the district, Ohio's second-largest and one in dire need of fixing.???? The plan (see Eric's analysis here) aims to improve academic achievement by, among other things, right-sizing the district by closing 18 schools and laying off teachers, allowing high-quality charter operators to take over some buildings, increasing intra-district choice options, and reassigning teachers to schools based on their teaching interests and abilities.

Sanders has a tough road ahead of him to get these reforms implemented and at least two major obstacles to overcome.

Obstacle number one is money.???? The plan will cost $70 million over three years and Sanders is hoping for significant investment from the philanthropic community and Cleveland's share of Ohio's potential Race to the Top winnings to foot the bill.???? He'll also need a continued high level of state investment in the district.???? But Ohio's Race to the Top application isn't a sure-thing, the state faces a $5 billion-plus deficit when state budget talks resume this time next year, and as Governor Strickland's evidence-based funding model is phased in over the next decade, districts will have less and less say in how they actually spend state funding.

Obstacle number two is the adults who benefit from the school system.???? First, the teachers union.???? Its extensive, and incredibly detailed, collective bargaining agreement will require serious reworking in order for many of the plan's changes to...

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....

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

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...

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...

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...