Ohio Policy

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.

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...

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.

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,...

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...

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...

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...

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

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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...

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