Ohio Policy

By July 1st, Ohio law will require public school districts (charter and district) to establish a teacher evaluation policy. The evaluation policy must conform to a framework that depends half on student growth on test scores and half on classroom observations.[1] Based on these measures, teachers will earn an overall rating: accomplished, proficient, developing, or ineffective.

In our recent survey of superintendents, Ohio’s teacher evaluation policy received mixed reviews. Nearly three out of four (73 percent) said that teacher evaluations would become accepted practice five years hence. And, 42 percent said that teacher evaluations would lead to “fundamental improvement” in the state’s K-12 school system. So, there’s modest optimism toward teacher evaluation.

But there’s undeniable angst about the policy details. Nearly all superintendents (93 percent) think that they’ll be lawsuits when personnel decisions are based on Ohio’s evaluation framework. And nearly all (86 percent) think that the classroom observation mandate will “put too much pressure on principals.” One superintendent said

“It will over-tax the principals and render them useless. They will need to spend so much time on evaluations, they will not have time for anything else.”

When one looks at the Ohio Department of Education’s website, one can see from whence this sentiment emerges. For example, the “teacher evaluation resource packet,” which operationalizes the classroom observation portion of the policy, clocks in at 22 pages. By simple extrapolation, this suggests a small mountain of paperwork for a principal who supervises 20 teachers.

Is there a...

Teach For America (TFA), the demonstrably effective teacher placement and preparation program, is wrapping up its first year in the Buckeye State. In 2012-13, TFA placed 34 teachers in schools and pre-K centers in the Cincinnati-Dayton-Northern Kentucky area and another 50 in Cleveland-area schools. (Six TFA teachers taught at Dayton Liberty Academies, Fordham-sponsored charter schools, and Fordham has supported TFA’s start-up efforts in Southwest Ohio financially.)

A series of articles (accessible here, here, here, here) by reporter Jessica Brown of the Cincinnati Enquirer kept tabs on three of Ohio’s inaugural class of TFA teachers: Sarah Theobald, Paige Fryer, and Tierra McGee. Theobald taught preschool at Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency, Fryer taught first grade at Impact Academy, a charter school, and McGee taught seventh grade at Holmes Middle School in the Covington (KY) School District.

What do the Enquirer articles tell us about TFA teachers? Three characteristics are apparent:

1.)    They’re resilient – Theobald, the pre-K teacher, reported the challenge of having three Spanish-speaking students in her class. With the help of her peers, she’s managed to integrate them into her classroom—and she’s also made learning Spanish a priority.  

2.)    They learn fast – Fryer, who teaches at Impact Academy, reported how she quickly learned on-the-job teaching tricks. One was as simple as giving students clear instructions. McGee, who teaches at Covington, found that role-playing engaged her students, so she adapted her lessons accordingly.

3.)    They achieve results –Fryer, for example, achieved 1.5...

According to the authors of The SEA of the Future: Leveraging Performance Management to Support School Improvement, the federal government and state legislatures have asked State Education Agencies (SEAs) to be take a bigger role in improving schools. In the Buckeye State, the SEA is the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). To meet these increasing demands, the authors suggest SEAs transition into a performance management system, a system defined by high standards and goals, the systematic assessment of the organization’s progress, and a willingness to continuously improve and adopt new strategies.

In three interconnected essays, the authors, who are mostly affiliated with the University of Washington's Center for Reinventing Public Education, share what they believe to be the necessary steps to build a successful performance management system: (1) changing the system of support that an SEA offers to improve the organizational capacity of local districts and schools, (2) funneling resources to support the policies necessary to enact district-level change, and (3) engaging stakeholders such as governors, legislators, and advocates to help sustain the decisions made by SEA leaders. The key takeaway is that a successful SEA must be willing to change and respond to the needs of its districts and schools, while being unburdened by the status quo.

As cities in Ohio become leaders in education reform, it is becoming increasingly necessary for ODE to help support and sustain these policy reforms. Fortunately, state superintendent Dick Ross has a track record of innovating at the district level...

  • The Cincinnati Enquirer has created the nifty quiz “How much do you know about the Common Core” to educate readers, while shooting down Common Core misconceptions.
  • With the increase of technology such as iPads and mobile devices, some school leaders and parents are encouraging students to limit technology use and spend more time reading or playing outdoors. 
  • Students in some Ohio schools could soon report bullies via text message as part of a new initiative by Blackboard.
  • A few school districts across the country, including two middle schools in Hamilton City School District (Butler County), have started separating boys and girls during lunch periods and recess in an effort to improve behavior.
Bianca Speranza

Last week I began my long awaited journey as a 2013 Teach for America Corp member in Southwest Ohio (SWO). Fellow corps members from all over the state, country, and even world convened in Cincinnati for a weeklong induction. The week served as an introduction into the region where we will be working for the next two years, as well as time for us to get to know each other and the motivation behind our reasons for wanting to join TFA.

We spent the week focusing on two major themes: heart and getting started. Heart: Who are the people we are working with, what are we trying to accomplish, and why does this work matter to us and to others? Over the course of five days we dove head first into the history of Cincinnati, Dayton, and Covington, discovering the people that make up these great cities and the unique challenges associated with each of them. The experiences ranged from visiting the Freedom Center to learn about the racial inequalities that have plagued Cincinnati for many years, as well as eating dinner in the home of a single-parent mother and hearing from her first hand what is important to her as a parent in Covington, KY. We also visited high-performing charter schools such as the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), hearing from their leaders, students, and teachers that the stale status quo of under achievement in a city can be just that and that there are ways to reach above...

This week I am joining members of CEE-Trust for a conversation on some of the nation’s most promising city-based school reform efforts. CEE-Trust is a coalition of 33 reform organizations like MindTrust in Indianapolis, Mayor Karl Dean in Nashville, Charter School Partners in Minneapolis, New Schools for New Orleans, and the Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland. Fordham is a founding member, and this is one of my absolutely favorite groups to spend time with because the people involved are leading implementers and practitioners of school reform. They are all doers.

In years past I always left the CEE-Trust meetings wishing more were happening in Ohio’s cities. But, this year is different. Ohio’s big cities are rapidly becoming leaders in school reform. In fact, I’d argue there is no state with three major cities doing more than what is happening in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Consider the following.

Cleveland: In early 2012 Mayor Frank Jackson (who appoints the school board) unveiled his “Plan for Transforming Schools.” The Jackson Plan required changes to state law and in July 2012 Governor Kasich signed House Bill 525, which gave the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and its superintendent Eric Gordon new flexibilities to deal with the city’s long-suffering schools. Key elements of the plan included:

  • Keeping high-performing and specialized teachers during layoffs by making tenure and seniority only secondary factors in those personnel decisions.
  • Paying teachers on a “differentiated” salary schedule based on performance, special skills and duties, as opposed to years of
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The number of high school graduates from Ohio’s charter schools has risen sharply in the past decade. In spring 2002, only 580 students graduated from a charter; in spring 2011 (the last year of available graduation data), 6,301 students graduated from a charter, only slightly below of graduates of Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus school districts combined. 

Where do charter school grads go upon graduation? Not likely to college. Only around 1 in 10 charter school graduates head directly into an Ohio public university or college (two- or four-year), according to the Ohio Board of Regents. Note: The Regents’ data do not account for high school graduates who attend an out-of-state, private, or for-profit college—thus, underreporting the number of college-bound grads.

For graduates of e-school charters, a measly 9 percent made the plunge into college, while for graduates of brick-and-mortar charters, it’s 11 percent. There is, however, considerable variation across the charters. As might be expected, Ohio’s few high-performing high school charters had a higher percentage of grads go off to college. For example, 48 percent of Dayton Early College Academy’s (DECA) and 50 percent of Toledo School for the Arts’ graduates enrolled directly into an Ohio college. On the flip side, only 8 percent of ECOT (the state’s largest e-school) graduates went to an Ohio college immediately after graduation, and 50 out of 115 charters had zero students.

The chart below shows that, compared to traditional districts, charter schools lag considerably behind in sending graduates directly into college. On average,...


Like a rose in an unkempt garden, Menlo Park Academy stands out among Ohio’s hodgepodge of charter schools. First and foremost, Menlo excels academically—it was one of 30 charters in Ohio that earned an “Excellent” (A) or above state academic rating in 2011-12. (This, out of 302 rated charter schools.) Second, Menlo, which enrolls 300 or so students, is a regional school, drawing K-8 students from 40 school districts in and beyond the Cleveland metro area. And, Menlo is Ohio’s only charter school dedicated to educating gifted students.

Menlo’s uniqueness, together with Fordham’s long-standing interest in gifted and talented students, quickly attracted our attention. We’ve visited the school on two occasions, once with Fordham’s president Checker Finn. During these visits we learned much from Menlo’s leaders, teachers, parents and students about how the school has grown, as well as its current and future challenges. These discussions whetted our appetite to dig deeper—to learn more about Menlo’s story, its people, and how it goes about educating gifted students. We asked Ellen Belcher, an award-winning journalist formerly of the Dayton Daily News, to report the Menlo Park story and what she uncovered made us even more excited about the work of Menlo. It also made us wonder why there aren’t more charter schools in Ohio committed to serving the needs of the state’s gifted and talented students.

Ohio law permits gifted-focused charter schools such as Menlo. Under Ohio Revised Code (ORC) §3314.06, charter schools can adopt a policy that...

Blended learning: It’s the talk of the town and perceived favorably, but it hasn’t found widespread use…yet. Fordham’s May 2013 publication Half Empty Half Full: Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reform surveyed 344 of Ohio’s 614 district superintendents: 59 percent of superintendents thought that blended learning would lead to “fundamental improvement.” However, despite the vocal support for blended learning, few superintendents (a mere 5 percent) report that it has achieved “widespread” use in their school district. In fact, 31 percent of superintendents reported that blended learning was of “limited or no use” in their district.

Blended learning refers to an instructional model that mixes virtual education with traditional face-to-face instruction. The model can vary depending on what instructional model the teacher chooses to implement. (Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, identify four blended learning models.)  

Who are the most laggardly of the laggards in terms of using blended learning? It seems, as might be expected, that superintendents of rural districts are the most likely to report little to no use of blended learning. And, importantly, it’s not on account of attitudinal resistance to blended learning from these rural school leaders.

Chart 1 shows that rural superintendents view blended learning favorably—as favorably as their peers in larger, more urban districts. Sixty-one percent of rural superintendents view blended learning favorably, a percentage that mirrors that of urban (61 percent) and suburban superintendents (66 percent), and is considerably higher than small town superintendents (45 percent). 


  • Common Core: Fordham’s Emmy Partin hit the airwaves to discuss the Buckeye State’s transition to the Common Core standards in English language arts and math on All Sides with Ann Fisher on WOSU, Ohio’s National Public Radio station. Ida Lieszkovsky, a reporter for StateImpact Ohio and Kelly Kohls, president of the Ohio School Board Leadership Council joined Emmy to inform the public about the new learning standards and to debate their merits. To view the video of the event, please click here.
  • Good school governance: Fordham published Limitless: Education, the Reynoldsburg Way, a short report that profiles Reynoldsburg City School District, a Columbus-area school that serves around 6,000 students. In Limitless, Ellen Belcher, an award-winning journalist and formerly of the Dayton Daily News, interviews school leaders, teachers, and parents to describe how one Ohio district pushes innovation and empowers leaders—all to better meet kids’ needs while maintaining fiscal discipline. If you’re interested in an example of “portfolio management” done well, you’ll want to read this report, which can be downloaded here.
  • Superintendents’ views on education reform: The Buckeye State is in the midst of serious educational reform—from brand-new learning standards to a revamped accountability system to teacher evaluations partly based on students’ test scores. How do district superintendents, who are tasked with implementing these reforms, view them? With a hearty embrace? With a grimace and frown? To read the views and opinions of Ohio’s superintendents (344 out of 614 responded to our survey),
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