Ohio Policy

Ohio is on board with the NGA/CCSSO Common Core State Standards Initiative, ostensibly agreeing to adopt 85 percent of the standards that result from the effort.???? But in remarks to the Columbus Dispatch yesterday following our academic standards conference, a state education department staffer explained why that won't actually happen:

Along with 47 other states, Ohio has helped write a set of common standards that are research-based and benchmarked to top performing countries, and could be adopted anywhere in the nation. But the state won't use those, instead revamping its existing standards, Associate Superintendent Stan Heffner said.

The common standards won't be finalized until January and, by law, Ohio must adopt new ones for English, math, science and social studies by June 30. It's not enough time, Heffner said, and they'll be too different from the academic content the state currently believes is important.

What's the Buckeye State to do????? Should the state board of education risk non-compliance with state law and wait for the Common Core work to be finished????? Should state lawmakers revisit the law and extend the deadline for updating the standards????? Are other states in similar predicaments????? If so, what becomes of the Common Core Initiative?...

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An opinion piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal is encouragement to anyone who bemoans the tendency of teachers unions to thwart reform efforts.?? "How Teachers Unions Lost the Media" points out that teachers unions increasingly have been scrutinized by the press, even targeted by "liberal" papers like the New York Times. The evidence of this media shift lies not just in the name-calling ("indefensible," "barriers" etc.) of certain union practices??but in the fact that many outlets have stood up for controversial figures like Michelle Rhee and have profiled the successes our nation's most impressive charter school networks.

All of this is fantastic news for national reform efforts ??- ??not necessarily that teachers unions are portrayed as slow-moving, stale and/or self-interested - but that entrepreneurial leaders, charter groups, etc. are getting some spotlight and praise.

However, it's hard to stay elated here in Ohio. Not only are there relatively few such leaders and groups to spotlight, but most of our media (and the general public) are not so forward-thinking?? as to paint them in a positive light. Teachers unions in the Buckeye State are robust, and nestled comfortably in the pockets of most Democratic leaders (including the governor). We are the state whose attorney general sued to shut down charter schools ??and whose governor tried to kill off the charter sector in his first biennial budget, then attempted to cripple it in the next.

Achieving a real policy shift in the education reform debate...

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Ohio has been handed a bucket of lemons when it comes to the economy and its impact on the state's finances. But, state leaders have the opportunity to make lemonade if they work together around education in the coming weeks.

During the recent budget go-around the governor and House Democrats did all they could to strangle charter schools of funding. Senate Republicans rallied and managed to keep charter funding intact. As a result, the Buckeye State's 330 plus charter schools and their 85,000 students were set to receive the same basic level of funding as in past years.????

Then, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against the governor's plan to generate revenue from slot machines, blowing an $850 million hole in the state's budget. Without new revenues, education funding is on the chopping block. The state has warned schools that they face a 10 percent reduction this year and 15 percent next year. To avoid these cuts, Governor Strickland has proposed suspending a 4.2 percent income-tax cut that took effect at the start of the year.

Funding cuts of 10 to 15 percent would be catastrophic for urban school districts that receive more than half of their revenue from the state. In contrast, suburban schools receive closer to 20 percent of their funding from the state and the rest from local taxpayers so the state cuts won't be as painful for them. But, in this context, pain is a relative term.

For charters, however,...

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The Education Gadfly

Check out this week's Ohio Education Gadfly to read about our upcoming conference, "World-Class Standards in Ohio." We're excited to welcome an impressive lineup of education experts and state leaders, who will discuss Ohio-specific standards issues (timely, since the state is mandated to revise its academic standards by 2010) as well as examine high-performing states and the national ("common") standards movement. Terry is spot on when he says "Ohio, and indeed the country, is at a pivotal moment in the development of standards-based education."

Next, Jamie brings us an informative piece exploring education tax credits (and deductions) and their potential to raise (private) money for education in Ohio. Given Ohio's gaping budget hole, might Ohioans consider this vehicle for school choice?

Also featured in the Ohio Education Gadfly is a video by Mike and Eric in which Ohio Rep. Lynn Wachtmann discusses the current crisis facing Ohio's pension systems. Finally, it wraps up with Flypaper's Finest, and timely recommended readings from Eric, Kalli, and Emmy....

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Yesterday in his column, Jay Mathews asks a question that plagues many of us:

"How do parents evaluate the schools their children may attend and escape the heartbreak of buying a great house that turns out to be in the attendance zone of a flawed school?"

Mathews proceeds to list "10 Ways to Pick the Right School," - suggestions like do your research, visit the school, check performance data, etc. But at least one resident of Columbus, Ohio, has come up with his own solution to avoid putting his kids in low-performing schools-- buy a $1 million dollar home in the city, rent a small apartment in a neighboring excellent school district and send your kids there, then sue the school district and the state superintendent when they try to stop you.

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You probably remember the debate (over a year ago) between two competing education circles, the Broader, Bolder group and the Education Equality Project, as well as the mountains of press when Arne Duncan signed onto both of their manifestos. (Read Checker's comments and Diane Ravitch's response for a refresher on the crux of the debate. Heavy stuff.)

To those in the Education Equality camp, the Broader, Bolder's focus on the fact that "multitudes of children are growing up in circumstances that hinder their educational achievement," represented a distraction away from holding schools and teachers accountable. Their calls for a "broader partnership and a sturdier bridge across schools, public health, and social services" were, for many of us, just too broad (and expensive). In contrast, Education Equality's get-tough-on-schools mentality was more arguably more doable - focusing on reforms to improve schools, rather than attempting to combat poverty and social problems outside of the school system.

But how does one reconcile this divide when it comes to incidents of student violence?

Recently, a 15 year old girl from West Chester, Ohio was stabbed to death during a brawl outside her home, a reminder that violence doesn't??stop at the borders of America's inner cities. Last week, the NYTimes reported on a stabbing death of a boy at a South Florida High School. And the Chicago Public School's anti-violence plan, which got press late this summer, is back in the news...

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Eric Ulas

Inspired by the "Graph of the Week" offered up by our friends at the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio , we'll be rolling out regular graphics on Flypaper to illustrate interesting trends and facts about public education, especially as they relate to Fordham's home state of Ohio. Today's chart highlights the disparity in student achievement depending on what measure is being used and who is doing the reporting (for more, check out The Accountability Illusion ).

Grade Inflation - Ohio Achievement Test (OAT) vs. NAEP Results,

2007-2008

According to the Ohio Achievement Tests, 73 percent of Buckeye State eighth graders and 75 percent of fourth graders are proficient in math.?? But according to the "gold standard" National Assessment of Educational Progress, just 35 and 46 percent of students are proficient respectively.?? The same is true in reading.

The??disparity in this data??clearly??shows the??need for??better aligned assessment measures.

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Over the weekend, the Columbus Dispatch ran a story that represents the proverbial icing on the Ohio teacher pension cake (for metaphor accuracy, the State Teacher Retirement System (STRS) is not just any old baked good; it's a calorie-laden mammoth that has grown so large it will bust the windows out of its own bakery-this, while the rest of the town is starving...). "Retired, Rehired: School Employees Can Get Paid Twice" points out the ludicrous amount of money that over a thousand employees statewide are earning, by collecting ample pensions and then rejoining the labor force. For example, the Dispatch estimates that a 58 year old personnel director in South-Western schools was rehired at $107,000 a year (after retiring in 2003) while collecting about $86,000 in retirement. Consider other shocking statistics:

  • Last year, the STRS paid out more than $741 million in pensions to 15,857 faculty and staff still employed by school systems statewide;
  • Almost 1,100 employees received an average pension payment last school year of $67,100, while earning anywhere from $70,000 to over $100,000;
  • 299 of those were rehired at more than $100,000 a year, while collecting an average of $80,500 in pensions.

Last week in the????Ohio Education Gadfly, Mike and Terry blew the lid off STRS' attempt to get a bailout from tax payers.??

"Now taxpayers are about to be asked to bail out the STRS and protect its generous benefits and backfill market loses. The STRS,...

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Eric Ulas

The nation's economic woes are making life hard on state budget crafters around the country.?? While Ohio's unemployment rate has decreased slightly, we're nowhere near out of the woods yet, as evidenced by this particularly miserable news day for Ohio's schools:

Early college high schools have lost a large portion of their funding. (Mike Laffery discussed this situation earlier in the Ohio Education Gadfly) Two such schools in Columbus, which allow students to graduate from high school with up to two years of college credit, will look very different after the cuts. The Africentric School, operated by Columbus City Schools, has lost close to $1 million. It will still offer some college enrollment opportunities, but students will graduate with far less college credit. The Metro School, a STEM school long touted as an innovative model, has lost more than $800,000 of its funding to pay for college classes.

The Ohio Department of Education, already understaffed and overworked, had its budget slashed, despite the influx of $1.65 billion in federal education stimulus money. The agency will have to cut additional staff, services, and testing. Add to this the fact they've already been given the unfortunate task of turning the headache-inducing provisions of HB1 into reality, and they really have a difficult road ahead of them. (Whoever can come up with a way to turn ???enthusiasm' and ???self-direction' into assessable skills deserves a MacArthur Award)

The State Supreme...

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There has been much ink spent on the debate around 21st century skills. The eminent historian Diane Ravitch has rightly blasted 21st century skills as a fad with lineage that can be traced back to at least the early part of the 20th century when "the dean of the education school at Stanford called on his fellow educators to abandon their antiquated academic ideas and adapt education to the real life and real needs of students."????????????

Despite the criticism of Ravitch and other leading lights in American education, 21st century skills have taken hold not only in education circles but in state law. Consider Ohio where state law now requires a senior project to be completed by a "student or a group of students" for graduation. In lock-step with the mantras of 21st century skills, the purpose of the senior project is to assess the student's:

a) Mastery of core knowledge in a subject area chosen by the student;

b) Written and verbal communication skills;

c) Critical thinking and problem-solving skills;

d) Real-world and interdisciplinary learning;

e) Creative and innovative thinking;

f) Acquired technology, information, and media skills;

g) Personal management skills such as self-direction, time management, work ethic, enthusiasm, and the desire to produce a high quality product.

These 21st century skills are actually listed in state law????- yes, even a prescription for "enthusiasm" - and the state is expected to hold schools and districts accountable for...

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