Ohio Policy

Okay, I know I'm about the 31,487th person to pick up on this, but there's one factoid in the 2009 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of Americans' attitudes toward public schools that is driving me especially nutty. Although the number of respondents who favor charter schools rose to 64 percent (up from 49 percent last year), the majority of Americans still don't know what charter schools really are. Most respondents admitted they thought charters were not public, could charge tuition, could screen students on the basis of ability, and/or could teach religion. Agh! (None of this is true, by the way, if any poll respondents are reading). A 2009 Fordham report looking at Ohioans views on education had similar results-52 percent of respondents said they favored charters. Meanwhile, 55 percent said they knew little to nothing about them.

I'm reminded of many frustrating conversations I've had along the way, trying to defend why I support charters and explain to cousin Millie or Uncle George or a public school teacher at a conference that yes, I agree with them that public schools should NOT be disbanded, and no, I DON'T think we should pay public schools to teach bible verses to children, etc. and also that none of that thinking is accurate whatsoever.

Charter schools are "secular, tuition-free, open enrollment public schools of choice that are freed from many local and state regulations and union contract constraints. They control their own curriculum, staffing, organization and budget. In...

The Education Gadfly

Terry Ryan of our Ohio offices offers a concise explanation of our Ohio 2009 Education Report Card Analysis in this video.

Ohio 2009 Education Report Card Analysis from Education Gadfly on Vimeo .

In February, during the heated political debate around Governor Strickland's education reform plan, I wrote an opinion piece for the Columbus Dispatch that argued the governor's attack on for-profit charter schools "would be a blow for needy children and families. For example, the top-performing elementary school in Dayton in 2008 - the Pathway School of Discovery - is a charter school operated by the National Heritage Academies. Does it make sense to toss 570 children out of a school rated effective (the only elementary school in Dayton so designated) solely because it is operated by a for-profit company?"

Fortunately for the families and children in the Pathway School of Discovery, the governor's attacks on charter schools were largely defeated by the Senate. I say fortunate because the school received its state report card this week and it was rated excellent (an A) by the state of Ohio, and it was one of only two schools in the city with a top academic rating (the other being the charter high school DECA).

In Ohio, we simply have too few schools - charters or district - that serve needy children in our urban areas well. Consider just released state achievement data that show of the 648 schools (176 charters and 472 district schools) serving children in Ohio's Big 8 cities (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown)???? only eight percent of charters are rated excellent while a meager seven percent of district schools have...

Here in Ohio, the annual report card release from the Ohio Department of Education is like Christmas. We wait a long time for this morning, anticipating what kind of goodies there will be to unwrap in all of the data (and there is a lot of it).In good news, students in Ohio's "Big 8" districts (large urban cities) were just as likely to attend a school rated "A" or "B" by the state in 2008-09 as they were the year before (for the last two years, 20 percent of urban students- both charter and district - attended a school ranked Effective or Excellent). But, as Terry points out in our Special Analysis of Local Report Cards (PDF), there are still over 125,000 children in Big 8 cities who attend a school rated by the state as failing, or on the verge of it.

The good news is that according to Ohio's value-added metric, which measures the amount of growth achieved by schools and districts (in addition to absolute proficiency rates), roughly half of all schools in the Big 8 cities that serve grades four through eight exceeded expected growth in 2008-09.

As Terry is quoted on Catalyst OHIO:

"This data represents both the worst of news and the best of news. Overall, only half of the students in big urban districts are proficient in reading and math. But the good news is that in these schools, whether charter or district, students seem to be...

Laura Pohl

Teachers and administrators arrive at Columbus Collegiate Academy by 7am.

Teachers prepare their lessons in a central planning room.

Columbus Collegiate teachers wheel their lessons among the school's four classrooms.

Andrew Boy, Columbus Collegiate's founder and principal, prepares breakfast for the students. "I don't ask the staff to do anything I wouldn't do myself," he said.

Students learn the "four times tables" by singing a song with hand movements.

Checking out a book at the classroom library.

Photographs by Laura Pohl and Eric Ulas

Each year the Thomas B. Fordham Institute conducts an analysis of urban school performance in Ohio.  We found that in 2008-09, 54 percent of charter students in Ohio Big 8 cities were in a school rated D or F, while 50 percent of traditional district students attended such a school. In Cleveland and Dayton, however, charter students outperformed their district peers in both reading and math proficiency.

In partnership with Public Impact, we analyzed the 2008-09 academic performance data for charter and district schools in Ohio's eight largest urban cities.

City Profiles


Winning the award for pretty much the least surprising news ever is that the National Education Association (NEA) has slammed President Obama's Race to the Top (RttT) initiative, a $4.35 billion competitive grant program for states to support educational reforms and innovation. The NEA has eloquently pared down the program's stipulations into several choice buzzwords and phrases that are sure to make its members' blood boil (whether or not they've actually read RttT's proposed criteria and regulations). Here are the main criticisms extended by the NEA (and other teachers unions, I would venture to guess) as well as the hypothetical response of a Democrat who used to find herself disliking her own party on many education issues, until Obama and Duncan came along:

1) NEA: Obama's school improvement plans are "narrow," "top-down" and not much different from the Bush administration's mandates (hint: include as many references to NCLB as possible; it is education's own "weapons of mass destruction" and it will make everyone very uncomfortable).

Reform-minded Democrat: Obama's reform agenda is based on several components. He wishes for states to develop highly effective teachers, create high standards and assessments, build high-quality data systems, and turn around struggling schools. This doesn't seem narrow to me. Even so, "narrowness " and "wideness" are not the criteria upon which I'll judge his reform plans. "Effectiveness" matters more.

2) NEA: RttT just extends more federal mandates that will "usurp" the rights and responsibilities of state and local...

School-choice foes in the Buckeye State are getting smarter about the strategies they employ to undermine the choice movement.???? Since the birth of charters here in 1998 and vouchers in 2005, opponents--namely Democrats, teacher unions, and the education establishment--have fought a "districts = good, choice = bad" fight.???? But with Democrats, including the President, across the country embracing choice and some of the state's top districts????employing charter schools themselves, that fight can only take local choice opponents so far.???? Rather than accepting school choice as an important component to improving public education, they've now focused their efforts on driving a wedge in the choice movement itself.

We first saw this tactic during the state budget deliberation process last spring, when Ohio House Democrats proposed????different levels of funding for charter schools based on their affiliation with traditional school districts. Charters were pitted against charters in a way they hadn't been in previous budget battles, and the resulting fight wasn't pretty. For example, some school leaders of high performing charters in Cleveland associated with the district were shunned by other charter advocates who saw them as turncoats for urging closer district-charter collaboration at the expense of charters not authorized by school districts. While the House funding plot was ultimately foiled by Senate Republicans, relationships within the charter school community remain bruised.????To be fair, Ohio's charter school community has never marched together the way teacher unions and other education establishment organizations do, but there's no doubt that the...

An editorial in the Dayton Daily News from this Monday argued that Ohio should bring Teach For America (TFA) into the state. The piece rightly outlines the steps necessary to create an Ohio TFA presence--for example, changes to teacher certification rules, funding for TFA training, and buy-in from unions. Not to gloss over the importance of such regulatory changes (TFA's entry here is impossible otherwise), but it is the question of "why TFA?"--rather than "how TFA?"--that I find most compelling and deserving of elaboration.

One commonly-hailed justification for an Ohio-based TFA site is its potential to recruit smart, energetic young people into a state that is suffering from an exodus of talent. Earlier this year, Fordham explored this trend in the Losing Ohio's Future report , which elucidated some of the causes behind Ohio's brain drain. But would the creation of TFA Ohio (say, in Cleveland, Cincinnati or Appalachia) promise to retain young talent? In other words, is Ohio losing talented college graduates to other TFA-friendly states? According to recent data illustrating which national universities and colleges send the most graduating seniors into the 2009 TFA corps, the answer is a resounding "yes."?? Of the top twenty large schools (defined as 10,000 undergraduates or more), two are in the Buckeye State: Ohio State University and Miami University. Although Ohio doesn't make the list for medium-sized schools, three of its colleges are in the top twenty small schools (defined as 2,999 or fewer...

Students at Columbus Collegiate Academy, one of six schools Fordham authorizes in Ohio

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) recently released a report, Quality, Diversity and Choice: the Value of Multiple Charter Authorizing Options, which outlines various types of charter school authorizers and weighs the advantages and disadvantages associated with each. We're pleased that our sister organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is listed in the nonprofit category as an example of a "strong authorizer," alongside organizations (in other categories) that we greatly respect, such as the Massachusetts Board of Education, Central Michigan University and the Mayor's Office in Indianapolis. (Fordham serves as an authorizer of six schools in the Buckeye State).

NACSA says that "good authorizing is about function more than form; there is no one particular authorizing option that works best in all circumstances... Good authorizing requires a relentless focus on quality." We wholeheartedly agree. Fordham has learned much in the last five years as a charter school authorizer (or sponsor, as it is called in Ohio). We've come to appreciate the many challenges facing schools serving the state's neediest children in an often hostile political environment. We believe sponsors must have an unwavering emphasis on school quality-academically, financially, and operationally. For more on Fordham's role as a charter school sponsor, see our annual Fordham Sponsorship Accountability Report, which outlines in detail the status of our sponsorship...