Ohio Policy

In his recent State of the Schools speech, Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) CEO Eric Gordon referred to a 2013 column in the Plain Dealer comparing him to the ancient Greek king Sisyphus. As every school kid used to know, Sisyphus rolled a boulder up a mountain each day, only to watch it roll back down. He was doomed to spend the rest of eternity repeating this pointless task as a punishment for his greed and deceit—a kind of Greek myth Groundhog Day

The comparison of Gordon and Sisyphus is unfair. The punishment of Sisyphus, at its heart, is one constructed to impose hopelessness and despair. There is certainly much work to be done in Cleveland, but as we at Fordham have pointed out before (see here) there are also reasons to be hopeful about Cleveland’s progress. There is no room for Sisyphus in the fight to improve Ohio schools.

That being said, the English teacher in me appreciates the allusion. It even got me thinking about other ancient figures who might better symbolize the Buckeye state’s struggle to give its kids the best education—an education that all students deserve, but far too few receive. There’s the...

On September 19, teachers in the Columbus suburb of Reynoldsburg went out on strike for the first time since 1978. They started the school year without a contract in place, and neither two-party negotiations nor third-party mediation led to a breakthrough.

The initial contract offer from the district included a couple of notions that were thought by outside commentators to be problematic, including performance-based pay for teachers and the elimination of health care coverage in favor of a cash payment that teachers could use to buy their own coverage. As divisive as those issues could have been, they were actually pretty well hammered out before the walkout. The sticking point turned out to be a hard cap on class sizes.

With little movement on either side on this issue—and after dueling unfair labor practice charges were filed—the strike began. Day One was rough, but by the end of the first full week the feared “spillover” effects of the strike were not seen at Friday night’s big football game. But those Day One stories moved one district parent to sue to close the schools for the duration of the strike, citing...

Last week, the Ohio Education Research Center (OERC) hosted a terrific conference at Ohio State University which brought together the state’s education research and practitioner communities. The focus of the one-day conference was teacher quality—why it matters, and how Ohio’s teacher-quality initiatives are playing out in the field.

In his keynote address, Eric Hanushek of Stanford University set the table, zeroing in on the economic value of a high-quality teacher. He showed that students who are fortunate enough to have high-quality teachers are more likely to have higher lifetime earnings than those less fortunate. The implication was easily understood: It cannot be left to chance as to whether students get a high-quality educator.

But here’s the rub: Less clear is what policies help to ensure that every Buckeye student is taught by a great teacher from Kindergarten through high-school graduation. Hanushek pointed out that several variables commonly used to measure teacher quality—including Master’s degrees, experience after a few years of teaching, and participation in professional-development programs—only weakly correlate to actual effectiveness.

A panel discussion wrestled with the ambiguity and complexity involved in raising teacher quality. (The slide decks are available here.) The panel, moderated by Rebecca Watts...

Next-generation learning models—“technology-enabled” education, if you will—are designed to personalize education in any way necessary to help students at all performance levels meet and exceed goals. As with any innovation introduced into American education, next-generation models have met resistance and in many cases have been either halted altogether or subsumed into the by-the-book system. In their new issue brief, Public Impact’s Shonaka Ellison and Gillian Locke argue that charter schools are the ideal place for next-generation learning models. Charter-school autonomies, inherent in their DNA, provide the best platform for tech-driven innovations like ability grouping, mastery-based promotion, student-paced learning, separation of administrative and instructional duties for teachers, and online learning. The researchers show these practices are carried out in various combinations at a number of charter schools around the country. No mention is made in the brief about solely online schooling, whose model would seem to be synonymous with much of the innovation described here but whose results have too often fallen short of expectations. In fact, having a building in which to attend school seems to be an unstated requirement for creating the type of next-generation models the authors examine. And while Khan Academy and ASSISTments can extend the school...

These days, the words “Massachusetts standards” cause hearts to flutter among some in Ohio. And not without reason. The Bay State had solid pre-Common Core academic-content standards. But less known is how demanding Massachusetts set its performance standards—the cut-score for achieving “proficiency” on its state tests. This bold action bucked the No Child Left Behind trend, whereby many states, including Ohio, set dismal performance standards. (Under NCLB, states were allowed to set their own bar for “proficiency.”) In this new study, we see just how high Massachusetts set its performance standard relative to other states. To rate the “stringency” of state performance standards, Gary Phillips of AIR created a common scale by linking state NAEP results from 2011 to international tests. Looking at fourth-grade math and reading, Massachusetts had the most stringent performance standards in the land. And in eighth grade, Massachusetts tied with a few other states for the most-stringent standards. Meanwhile Ohio’s performance standards were woefully mediocre compared to other states. Importantly, the study also points out that higher performance standards also led to lower state-reported proficiency rates. Massachusetts, for example, reported roughly 40–55 percent proficient in these grades and subjects; in contrast, Ohio reported...

Always a hot topic for debate, charter school issues—especially those involving funding—are hotter than usual.

Let’s start at the national level, which we can see in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ new report The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: A State-By-State Analysis. NAPCS reports on twenty-five states and the District of Columbia, assessing the overall “health of the movement” by focusing on eleven indicators, including student-enrollment growth, innovation, and academic quality. Washington, D.C.’s and Louisiana’s charter schools come out on top, in part because of equitable funding for charters compared to district schools. Oregon and Nevada finish last for a number of reasons, not least of which being poor learning gains. Ohio finished in the middle of the pack, getting high marks for charter growth but struggling with student achievement.

The state of New York ranked fifth in the NAPCS analysis, just ten points behind Louisiana, but has experienced some well-publicized tussles over charter school issues in recent months, including a lawsuit filed by a group supportive of charter schools alleging that New York’s method of funding charter schools violates the state constitution and disproportionately hurts minority students. Buckeye state officials should keep an...

With any luck, the “Know Your Charter” website from Innovation Ohio (IO) and the Ohio Education Association (OEA) will go the way of Pets.com and Geocities.com. The new website’s stated aim is to increase the transparency around charter-school spending and academic results by comparing them to traditional public schools. While greater transparency is a worthwhile goal, it looks like Innovation Ohio—a liberal advocacy group founded by former Strickland administration officials—and the Ohio Education Association (OEA)—the state-level affiliate for the nation’s largest labor union—let political spin get in the way of presenting information in a meaningful way.

The website misinforms the public by failing to report essential information about public schools, calling into question how much the website actually helps anyone “know” anything. In particular, Innovation Ohio (IO) and the OEA make the following crucial omissions in reporting basic school information:

1.) They ignore district funding from local property taxes. You’ll notice that the IO-OEA website reports only state per-pupil revenue for districts and public-charter schools. But remember, school districts are funded jointly through state and local revenue sources.[1] By reporting only state revenue, they flagrantly disregard the fact that school districts raise, on average,...

Heated debate has erupted over changes to Ohio’s new standards, assessments, and accountability policies. Most significantly, the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics has triggered efforts to roll back the new standards and the assessments associated with them. In addition to the Common Core, the state is undertaking other bold but controversial reforms, including the Third Grade Reading Guarantee—aimed at improving early literacy—and evaluations of teachers and principals that factor in student achievement.

These policy reforms reflect a shifting paradigm in K-12 education. For years, it was assumed that schools would provide an adequate education for all students. Since the early 2000s, prodded by federal law, states adopted policies whereby students have been required to meet “proficiency” benchmarks on state tests. This policy framework has moved the achievement needle forward: Disadvantaged students, for one, have demonstrated gains over the past decade on national assessments.

Yet the academic standards in Ohio and in many states across the nation remained too low, and student outcomes mediocre. The minimum expectations for what students should know and be able to do failed to match the demands of colleges and employers. As a result, Ohio and other...

The 2013-14 school year marked the first year of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee (TGRG), a law that requires the retention of children not reading on grade level to be retained. This initiative was modeled after similar legislation in Florida and other states. The policy is also based on research that shows that students who can’t read on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate than a child who reads proficiently. These numbers are even higher for children who live in poverty, particularly Black and Hispanic students.

In a TGRG document posted on its website, the Ohio Department of Education notes that approximately 24,000 students drop out of Ohio high schools each year. They go on to say that most of the students who drop out do not have the reading skills necessary for future success, and that the Third Grade Reading Guarantee is a way of ensuring support for struggling readers early in life.  At Fordham, we’ve long said that reading is important to long-term success, and research shows that third grade is a pivotal year. But with all this focus on third grade, we could be missing another pivotal year that’s just as...

This year’s state report cards brought a new twist for some Columbus parents—a parent trigger. Parent triggers, made famous by several high profile efforts in California and a major motion picture, allow a majority of parents in (usually) low-performing schools to force changes to how that school operates. If this sounds to you like a recipe for controversy, you’re right. Even here at Fordham, Mike and Checker have taken different views on whether the pursuit of a parent trigger is worth the effort.

As for me, I’m a huge proponent of empowering parents. Giving dissatisfied parents at low-performing schools the opportunity to take control of their school does that. I’m not an ideologue though, and care most about whatever leads to better academic and life outcomes for kids. The question then is whether the parent trigger is a tool that should be used or even expanded in Ohio.

Just the facts

Ohio’s parent trigger law was passed as part of the state budget bill in 2011 (House Bill 153). It’s designated as a pilot program affecting only Columbus City schools that have been ranked in the bottom five percent of all schools in the...

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