Ohio Policy

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....

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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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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

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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!

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Yesterday's NY Times article points out that 97 percent of??NYC schools had received an A or B on city report cards. Given all the lamenting that goes on about the sorry state of public education in America (and rightly so), news like this is amusing. The article reports that "at more than 50 of the schools that received an A... more than half of the fourth graders were below state standards in reading." Education officials in NYC have already begun planning to raise standards so that next year's report card grades seem more realistic.

Here in Ohio, statewide report card data was released last week. A quote from the superintendent of public instruction raises a similar question about whether students are actually learning, or standards are just too low. "Educators continue to help students achieve at higher levels and, in many cases, surpass the rigorous academic standards that have been laid before them," said Deborah Delisle, referencing the fact that more than 85 percent of Ohio's 612 school districts received an A or a B, an increase from previous years.

Statistics like this obviously mask the 15 percent of Ohio districts who aren't performing well (districts that tend to have disproportionately large student populations) and the fact that there are a whole lot of students in the Buckeye State who do not reside in an A or B district (to be precise, 202,229 in the eight largest urban districts alone). For those of you non-Ohioans,...

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Eric Ulas

Education Week features an insightful new study that finds excellent teachers tend to raise the performance of their peers.

We've known for a long time that great teachers matter hugely to student performance but showing a ???spillover effect' of teachers on other teachers has the potential to influence attitudes and practices in several important policy areas; primarily teacher merit pay and mentoring programs.

C. Kirabo Jackson, one of the study's authors noted:

If it's true that teachers are learning from their peers, and the effects are not small, then we want to make sure that any incentive system we put in place is going to be fostering that and not preventing it. If you give the reward at the individual level, all of a sudden my peers are no longer my colleagues-they're my competitors. If you give it at the school level, then you're going to foster feelings of team membership, and that increases the incentive to work together and help each other out.

A team-based performance incentive system is an intriguing idea that critics of individual merit-based pay might see as middle ground.

The results of this study can also be applied to teacher mentoring programs. Recent studies have shown that highly structured teacher mentoring programs have marginal effectiveness. But in seeing evidence that top-notch teachers affect peers, might it be possible that more informal mentoring programs would produce better results?

Having experienced a highly structured mentoring program in an urban...

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One frequently hears arguments that redirect blame from failing schools (and their teachers and principals) to ubiquitous social monsters that are bigger and hairier (poverty, broken families, crime) but also impossible to hold accountable.?? I get this. There are undeniable correlations between student achievement and socioeconomic status. When I taught in Camden, New Jersey (then the second poorest city in the US) I could empathize when my colleagues said--in so many words--that a student's failure simply wasn't their fault. Having been schooled in Teach For America's no excuses curriculum, this abdication of blame was foreign to me. But seeing up close the level of poverty that ravaged our school's neighborhood, and the kinds of unspeakable problems that come with that, I couldn't help but make peace (if not always agreeing) with the tendency for educators in persistently failing schools to point to the outside social forces that make their work so difficult.

This comment by Metro Association of Classroom Educators chairman John Trotter (affiliated with Atlanta Public Schools), however, is a new way to redirect blame, and one that I can't make peace with.

Duncan apparently thinks that you can just demand and command improvement...He wants to replace everyone...except the ones who matter, the children.

They are unmotivated and lazy. Yes, there are many incompetent and idiotic and mean administrators who need to go. There are even some bad teachers, but these are really rare. The problem starts with the students. What is Duncan going to do with

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Do you want a nitty gritty view of how funding issues and accountability ratings affect local school districts? Then you won't want to miss this week's Ohio Education Gadfly. Mike spends some time with school district officials, who share their views ??on how Gov. Strickland's new "evidence-based" education model will affect their students, their teachers, and their bottom line (fyi, many of them are still in the process of figuring it out). Next, Terry gets controversial when he talks about why Kettering City Schools - who received a "C" grade, even though it met far more academic goals than other "C" districts like Cincinnati Public or Columbus City Schools - reflects what's wrong with Ohio's rating system. Want to witness the controversy? Read the comments after his editorial in the Dayton Daily News.?? In another (not-so-happy) story, Mike looks at closures of preschools and early college academy high schools sweeping the Buckeye State. Emmy reminds us to check out Fordham's sixth annual analysis of Ohio urban school performance, and compiles the excellent media coverage by state newspapers who highlighted our analysis (yes, we're proud of this). Other features include a look at NYC's "School of One" pilot program and a timely review that discusses performance management in school districts (think Los Angeles and New Orleans). And don't miss this week's videos under "recommended viewing" - the first features Fordham sponsored charter school Columbus Collegiate Academy (great job Laura and Eric!), and...

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The Cincinnati Enquirer reported on Friday that Cincinnati Public Schools will be the focus of a study by The New Teacher Project (TNTP). TNTP will analyze teachers' contracts in hopes of proposing policy changes in a report scheduled to come out a few weeks before the district's contract expires with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

There are two reasons this is such exciting news. First, TNTP is well known for creating effective partnerships with urban districts and churning out reports that can improve district staffing practices immensely.?? Cincinnati Public Schools could greatly benefit from this. For two of TNTP's very impressive reports that offer recommendations on improving district staffing procedures, see Missed Opportunities and Unintended Consequences.

The second reason to be excited is simply that Ohio needs more partnerships with groups like TNTP, whose consultants can offer a great deal of insight on how?? to improve?? teacher hiring, firing, recruitment and retention procedures (much needed in a place like Cincinnati). TNTP also can circulate innovative ideas - all the more important in a state like Ohio, which isn't keen on brands such as Teach For America, or robust alternative teacher/principal programs that spur entrepreneurialism in districts that need it.

Admittedly, there is no guarantee that Cincinnati Public Schools will take TNTP's recommendations to heart, or that the district's staffing practices will improve enough to have a tangible impact on student achievement. But it's like getting excited when a new restaurant comes to town,...

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