Ohio Policy

The Reynoldsburg City School District, just east of Columbus, is far down the “portfolio management” path – further than probably any suburban school district of its size. This feature article discusses portfolio management and takes readers behind the scenes in Reynoldsburg.

Introduction

One of the most exciting developments in American education during the last decade has been the reconceptualization of school districts and how they should be organized and managed. Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, describes this as a movement of “relinquishers.”¹ Relinquishers, according to Kingsland, are superintendents who use their authority to transfer power away from the central office to individual schools – and, most important, to their principals and teachers.

Education researchers Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, and Betheny Gross at the Center on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle have written for more than a decade about “portfolio school districts.” Like Kingsland’s relinquishers, portfolio school district leaders see their role not as running the schools, but rather as creating the conditions for a “tight-loose” system of school management – “tight” as to results, but “loose” with regard to operations. Superintendents are no longer owner-operators of schools, but rather “quality control agents” for portfolios of different types of schools in their districts.

Portfolio school district managers, according to Hill and his colleagues, think like savvy financial managers who build a diverse portfolio to ensure overall financial success even if parts of the portfolio underperform. A successful portfolio manager:

…avoids betting everything on one investment, knowing that some holdings will perform much better than expected and some much worse. This manager is agnostic as to which companies are represented but knows that diversity is key...

As the charter movement enters its third decade, it is imperative that policymakers and legislators understand the perspective of those schools that have succeeded in providing their students with a quality education. The charter sector in Ohio is often seen by those outside as a monolith – for better or worse – but Fordham has long known that there are both high-flyers and underachievers. As an organization that focuses on the availability of quality education for Ohio’s children, Fordham feels it is imperative that the lessons of the high-performing charter schools be known above and beyond the “charter sector” as a whole.

As a step in accomplishing this goal, Fordham’s own Terry Ryan has helped form a coalition of high performing charter schools to testify in front of the Senate Finance Committee’s Education Subcommittee. The schools in which these leaders work represent some of the best public schools that Ohio has to offer. While each leader is advocating for their school and telling the story of what success looks like in their cities, they also provide overarching policy recommendations that could help forward the expansion and replication of successful charters including:

  • Supporting the implementation of the Straight-A-Fund
  • Increasing the per pupil facilities funding to charter schools
  • Implementing tougher laws that would lead to the closure of failing charter schools

Below you will find links to the testimonies this coalition have turned in to the Subcommittee.

Andrew Boy, Founder & Executive Director at United Schools Network (USN)

School Profile: ...

The last couple of weeks have witnessed unremitting and well-coordinated attacks on the Common Core academic standards. States from New Jersey to Michigan to Ohio to Alabama have all been targeted by “a grassroots rebellion” against the Common Core. This rebellion has the backing and encouragement of national pundits such as Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Phyllis Schlafly. It also seems to have considerable cash behind it (though nobody will say from where). The Fordham Institute team has been drawn into the national fray, and in recent weeks we’ve been drawn into the battle in our home state of Ohio. Just yesterday, we had a long conversation/debate with a group that included individuals from Citizens for Objective Public Education (a Phyllis Schlafly inspired group), Tea Party groups, Religious Right groups and hard core local-control groups that believe standards, curriculum and assessments should be set by only your own town’s board of education..

These critics contend, inter alia, that the Common Core:

  • is a national curriculum (critics of the Common Core confuse standards with curriculum);
  • is a takeover of education by the federal government and the beginning of the end of state/local control;
  • requires the mandatory collection of intrusive personal data about kids (including possible retina scans);
  • de-emphasizes handwriting skills;
  • favors “repair manuals” over classic literature; and
  • isn’t nearly as rigorous as current state standards.

Every single one of which assertions is flat wrong. To read more about these debates see here, here and here.

The most peculiar...

High-quality gifted education for the state’s ablest students should be an imperative for Ohio. These kids are most likely to turn into tomorrow’s inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers and job creators. In generations to come, the state’s economic vitality—and America’s international competitiveness—will depend in no small part on whether we maximize our human capital at the high end even as we strive to raise the skill-and-knowledge level for all.

Today, however, the vast majority of Ohio’s high-potential youngsters aren’t receiving the education they need to reach their full potential. As the Columbus Dispatch recently reported, even high-flying districts are failing to make gains with gifted students.

It’s not a new problem. Two decades of federal education initiatives have pushed states to set minimum standards, raise the floor, and close achievement gaps. All are worthy goals—and millions of U.S. educators have been struggling to help their pupils attain them—but along the way our K-12 education system has sorely neglected those children who are already “proficient”, many of them actually achieving at high levels.

Ohio has long required its districts to identify which children are “gifted”—there are several different ways one can qualify—but does not require anybody actually to provide these kids with additional classroom challenges or with teachers prepared to instruct fast learners. Hence districts have no incentive or accountability for improving gifted education. So most of them don’t do it—or don’t do nearly enough of it. The result: Two hundred Ohio districts offer no special services whatsoever for their gifted students....

Ohio’s bright-eyed freshmen aren’t ready for college coursework. That’s the story from the Ohio Board of Regents, which reports that 40 percent of Ohio’s college freshman at public colleges and universities take remedial (high-school level) coursework in either math or English. Moreover, 14 percent of incoming freshman are required by their colleges to take both a remedial math and English class.

These are staggering numbers, with massive implications for students and taxpayers. For students who take a remedial course, Complete College America found that only 35 percent graduate in six years. This compares to 56 percent of all students. Similarly, the Ohio State University found that students who took remedial coursework graduated at a rate 30 points lower than their non-remedial peers. With these dismal results in mind, remedial coursework largely wastes the $130 million per year Ohio spends to support remedial education.

The chart below takes a closer look at the remediation rates for incoming freshman who attend an Ohio public college or university, by the public high school from which they graduated. The performance index generally indicates the quality of the high school. The chart shows three things:

  • As expected, higher-performing schools tend to have lower remediation rates;
  • A small portion of Ohio high schools have remarkably high remediation rates—above 70 and 80 percent—and four schools break the 90 percent mark;
  • A modest-sized section of high-performing high schools also have high remediation rates. This is unexpected—and indicates that remediation is a problem for students
  • ...

The Common Core academic standards—gearing up this year and next, and to be fully implemented by 2014-15—represent an overhaul in how teachers teach and how students learn. The new learning standards in English language arts and math will stress students’ reasoning and analytical skills—considered by many educators and researchers to be an improvement compared to how educating students has been done in recent times.

Consider the mounting evidence that the Common Core will be a change—if not a “monumental shift”—that pushes education in the right direction for the Buckeye State.

  • Peggy Marrs, a Common Core coach for Cincinnati Public Schools, quipped that under the Common Core, students are “going to be reasoning with themselves and with others in groups. They’ll be judging one another’s conclusions and solutions…They’re going to be analyzing and justifying answers.”
  • Ellen Gorman, an eighth-grade math teacher at West Clermont School District, said that under the Common Core “[t]he focus has been shifted, to having students think about how they got their answer and be able to explain their process.”
  • Mark Farmer, Northwest Local School’s (Hamilton County) assistant superintendent of curriculum, remarked that “These new standards require our kids to do research, to look up sources and think about them, make an opinion and put it in writing in a clear way.”

And, a growing number of educator surveys show the support that the Common Core has in the field:

  • Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. sees headwinds ahead for the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia, the organizations that are developing assessments aligned to the Common Core.
  • Mike Petrilli urges the Republican National Committee to rescind their draft resolution rejecting the Common Core.
  • Terry Ryan and the rest of the Fordham Ohio gang debunk the fabrications and hyperbole swirling in Ohio from those who oppose the Common Core.
  • Emmy Partin debates the Common Core—in a manner worthy of the setting—with a panel of Ohio elected officials and advocates.
  • Read all this, but still sure what’s going on with the Common Core? See our FAQ on the Common Core here!

Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) earns attention from national media

  • DECA’s principal Dave Taylor joins the Huffington Post to discuss what makes DECA special for its students. Check out the video here. And, be sure to congratulate DECA for its bronze medal awarded by U.S. News and World Report.

Is it time for Ohio and other states to take bolder steps toward turning around our most troubled schools and districts? There are a growing number of states that say yes, and they are leading the way in launching “recovery school districts.” The oldest and best known of these efforts is the Louisiana Recovery School District (see our Fordham report here), but other states are embracing the idea – Tennessee, Michigan, and most recently Virginia.

Recovery school districts, simply put, are state-created entities that take responsibility for running – and turning around – individual schools that have languished academically for years while under district control. Fordham, as part of its series on school governance alternatives and reforms, is issuing a three-part series focused on recovery school districts. The first report is on the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD), which was seeded as part of Tennessee’s winning Race to the Top (RttT) application in January 2010.

Nelson Smith, former head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and long-time school reform leader, was the perfect person to report on the history, challenges and early successes of the Tennessee ASD. According to Smith, Tennessee’s RttT application committed the state to turning around the “bottom 5 percent” of schools, and Tennessee allocated $22 million of its $500 million RttT award to launching the Achievement School District. Support for this effort was bipartisan and strong leadership has been key to moving it...

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