Ohio Policy

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,


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.

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, for example, wants its members and school districts to pay an extra 2.5 percent each - raising member contributions to 12.5 percent and school districts' to 16.5 percent."

Meeting this request would cost taxpayers at least $1 billion, despite the fact that many Ohioans "have seen their 401(k)s shrink...

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 Court decided that Gov. Strickland's slot machine plan, one of the central revenue-generating components of his school reform, is subject to a voter referendum. Ohio is traditionally a hard sell on gambling issues, having consistently voted down measures to allow casinos in the state (and Strickland was a leading...

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 delivering them. And, this is where the theory of 21st century skills melts down under the heat of implementation.

Pity the officials at the Ohio Department of Education - and at other state education departments facing similar legislative mandates - who have to come up with criteria for measuring...

A Core Knowledge blog this week criticizes the concept of "learning styles" and educators' acceptance of this "unquestioned dogma." Specifically under critique is Michelle Rhee, whose DC Public Schools Teaching and Learning Framework includes the targeting of multiple learning styles among qualities of good teaching. The blog references Dan Willingham (a cognitive psychologist whose views on 21st??century skills I greatly admire), who authored a guest post also calling out Rhee for her acceptance of such scientifically invalid theories.

I'm not a neuroscientist--this isn't hyperbole...Willingham really is a neuroscientist--and I won't even pretend to have opinions regarding the scientific legitimacy of Rhee's focus on "learning styles." But, as a former teacher and TFA alum (a program that believes in paying attention to student learning modalities; also, possibly where Rhee first heard these terms) I still think Rhee's suggestion to consider learning styles when delivering instruction is a valid one.

Willingham contends that the theory that kids learn better when taught according to their learning styles just doesn't hold water (I don't disagree with this point). But he also says:

Some lessons click with one child and not with another, but not because of an enduring bias or predisposition in the way the child learns. The lesson clicks or doesn't because of the knowledge the child brought to the lesson, his interests, or other factors.

He admits that whether a child "gets it" or not depends on the student's background knowledge and interests. When teachers "cater to learning styles"--e.g., providing visual aids in addition to speaking (auditory), or including kinesthetic activities in combination with visual/auditory--can't these add-ons (think: visuals, pictures, charts, clapping, chanting, songs, movement, etc.) engage children, trigger their previous knowledge, and match their interests? If so, then Rhee's suggestion to vary the...

Eric Ulas

You may recall that in 2007, Fordham published a report critical of Ohio's state teacher pension funds. The report found that the current system was wildly unsustainable and essentially hindering recruitment of quality teachers. Don't miss this week's Ohio Education Gadfly for a timely (and fascinating) look at what's happening to the system now. Fast forward two years later-- the fund is going bankrupt (by the admission of its own director) and seeking a handout of cash from taxpayers. Although STRS promises to tighten their belt and to reign in benefits, such measures are little more than short term fixes. Mike Lafferty and Terry Ryan explore this crisis and what might be done about it.

Next, Checker discusses From Schoolhouse to Courthouse, a new book??released by??Fordham and??the Brookings Institute.??This piece (also featured in the Education Gadfly last week) is so good we're mentioning it again. In another piece, Eric examines two new studies and the impact they could have on shaping Ohio's new teacher mentoring programs. Mike also reviews a recent study that measures states' science standards and evolution - with some surprising results.

Finally, our Ohio offices welcome new fall interns Kalli McCorkle from Ohio State University, and Nicole Berry from Wright State University....

The fiscal problems consuming states and school districts have gotten their fair share of press recently. The narrative is somewhat formulaic: _________?? (state/district/school) is hurting financially in the following way/s ________ (budget cuts, falling revenues, failed levies) and because of this, bad things are happening, such as ____________ (massive teacher layoffs, shrinking the curriculum, bloated class sizes, cutting sports/extracurriculars/busing).

Ohio's narrative has a twist: add to the depressing formula the fact that the governor has recently mandated very expensive reforms, despite the fact that many school districts are barely keeping their heads above water. Last week Mike's Ohio Education Gadfly piece dug into this ongoing saga, and Emmy discussed it in previous Flypaper posts here and here. Yesterday's article from the Cincinnati Enquirer was another reminder that Gov. Strickland's mandates have a big sticker price. District officials shared their concerns over implementing full-day kindergarten by 2010:

Even if we could pass our levy and spread out and have the space, the new challenge is the cost," said Little Miami Superintendent Dan Bennett. "Quite honestly, we're nowhere close to being prepared for it, financially." (The article estimated the cost for adding kindergarten teachers to be $700,000 for Little Miami.)

To add all-day kindergarten, we would have to add at least one building, as well as the staff and programming for that building," said Laura Kursman, (Lakota) district spokeswoman.

We do not currently have enough classroom space to implement all-day kindergarten. This mandate will increase costs in facilities, transportation and personnel costs," said Oak Hills Superintendent Todd Yohey.

Not everyone has accepted the one-dimensional nature of this doomsday fiscal narrative at face value. Last week Eric pointed out that many districts have failed to cut costs sensibly (e.g. laying off good teachers, keeping bad ones,...

Over at the Education Next blog, Martha Derthick laments the decline of "stately" schools:

On the road in America, it has become hard to distinguish a public school from a post-industrial factory. The schools are the ones with yellow buses parked outside.

The schools' transition from stately, which was characteristic of the early 20th century, to sterile has several explanations: the spread of modernism generally, the devaluation of public architecture in particular (city halls have been victims too), the physical growth of schools through both district consolidation and population increase, and fiscal pressures in the public sector.

Whatever the reason, today's schools rarely invite respect. Once aspiring to be temples of learning, they lack symbolic connection to their function-unless we suppose, with Diane Ravitch, that No Child Left Behind turned schools into testing factories.

Derthick specifically highlights the turn-of-the-twentieth-century school buildings in Ohio's Queen City (which are also featured in 2001's An Expression of the Community: Cincinnati Public Schools' Legacy of Art and Architecture):

That schools in the early 20th century could be more than stately-they could actually be places of rare beauty-is suggested by the extraordinary history of Cincinnati, where schools incorporated fine art in the form of paintings, fountains, stained glass, tile decorations, and other architectural ornaments.

The decline of stately schools has been hastened here in Ohio, where over the past decade the state has poured billions of dollars into renovating and replacing our public schools with the new, modernist buildings Derthick describes. A visit to any of Ohio's newly built schools will confirm that we've moved away from buildings of beauty to buildings of function. I'm certainly in favor of


Our friends at the State of Ohio Education blog rightly call Ohio's recent move to eliminate social studies tests in grades five and eight a "short-sighted decision," not just because a basic understanding of history, geography, civics, and current events is critical, but because Ohio students happen to be doing poorly in these subjects. Barely half of eighth graders and 61 percent of fifth graders passed the social studies assessments last year. Gov. Strickland is being criticized for allowing budget concerns to drive the decision to drop the exams (along with abandoning writing tests in grades four and seven), a move that will save $4.4 million dollars.

States are not required by NCLB to test social studies. But Ohio's decision to eliminate these tests is foolish on several fronts. First, Ohio can't fully address the "unacceptably low student achievement" in social studies without having data that illustrate how students (and sub-groups of students) are performing in that area. Second, although the state plans to re-implement social studies tests after the current budget cycle (by June 2011), the quality of Ohio's longitudinal data is weakened by interruptions in testing (and who's to say that Ohio's budget will be in better shape by then?). Finally, social studies subject matter is simply too important not to emphasize (whether or not an appropriate "emphasis" can be achieved with or without testing is up for debate, but I won't go into that here).

A few recent stories highlight this concern particularly well. As a recent Newsweek blog (that featured Checker) put it, the "changing nature of school curriculum" (i.e. a decline in the role of civics education) may be partially to blame for the political drama that unfolded prior to President Obama's speech to the nation's schoolchildren....

Eric Ulas

Don't miss this week's special edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly! One year ago, the Fordham Institute released a report titled Accelerating Student Learning in Ohio. In it, we outlined five policy recommendations for strengthening public education in the Buckeye State.

Gov. Strickland's?? recent ???evidence-based??? school funding reforms moved Ohio forward in some areas (e.g., teacher tenure, teacher certification, and high school end of course exams), but backwards in others (e.g., evidence-based model for school funding.) In our view, Ohio still has a long way to go if it is to create a system of education that focuses squarely on high performance for all children and schools.

This edition of the Gadfly revisits our original five recommendations in comparison to current policy and outlines our vision of where we think the state needs to go. Ohio's gubernatorial season?? will be heating up in early 2010, and we think these policy priorities are worth making it onto the political agendas of either party.

Definitely a must-read!