Analysis of Ohio's Competitiveness for "Race to the Top" Funding

Like other states, Ohio has committed to applying for federal Race to the Top (RttT) dollars. If the state’s application is selected, it will receive $200 to $400 million for education innovation that targets six criteria:

  • Great Teachers and Leaders;
  • State Success Factors;
  • Standards and Assessments;
  • General Selection Criteria;
  • Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools; and
  • Data Systems to Support Instruction.

Following is the Fordham Institute’s analysis of Ohio’s present competitiveness for RttT funding based on the final priorities released by the U.S. Department of Education in early November. (A PDF version of this analysis is available online here.)

Note: The Race to the Top selection criteria are listed below in order of weight by points to reflect the importance of these areas to the U.S. Department of Education and the Obama Administration.

1) D. Great Teachers and Leaders (138 points)
(D)(1) Providing high-quality pathways for aspiring teachers and principals (21 points)
(D)(2) Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance (58 points)
(D)(3) Ensuring equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals (25 points)
(D)(4) Improving the effectiveness of teacher and principal preparation programs (14 points)
(D)(5) Providing effective support to teachers and principals (20 points)

Fordham Analysis: Portions of HB 1 seek to improve teacher quality by implementing a four-year residency program for new teachers and delaying tenure decisions until a teacher’s seventh year. These reforms may contribute to points in D1 and D5 (residency program with lead or mentor teachers is a persuasive idea for professional support).

However, Ohio’s current emphasis on credentials and coursework to attain both traditional and alternative licensure collides with the RttT emphasis on “teacher effectiveness.” The RttT guidelines even go so far as to define what “highly effective” means in the final application – being able to move students 1.5 years ahead in academic growth. In fact, no part of the federal application even mentions advanced degrees or credentialing as a necessary component of teacher effectiveness, yet both are key components to teacher certification in Ohio. 

Current Ohio law does nothing to require or encourage the use of student performance data in gauging teacher and principal effectiveness (nor—unlike some states now struggling with this--does it prevent the use of such data when considering professional effectiveness.). Pending bill SB 180 seeks to require that student data be linked to teacher evaluations, but resistance by legislators and lobbyists is likely to cost Ohio points here.

The RttT guidelines make clear that, when it comes to teachers, “improving effectiveness based on performance” is worth 58 points alone. The RttT criteria state that effectiveness can be measured using “multiple rating categories” (such as observations and peer reviews) but outlines clearly that such evaluations must also take into account data on student growth.

Local collective bargaining agreements will make it difficult for Ohio to implement statewide a plan for the “equitable distribution of effective teachers and principals,” which is worth 25 points under D3. Under most Ohio collective bargaining agreements more senior teachers get to select the schools they work in while new teachers take the school assignments they get.

Ohio may also lose points because the state falls short when it comes to opportunities for teachers and principals to obtain additional performance-based compensation. There are some districts, like the Columbus City Schools, that are moving in this direction, but there is great skepticism on the part of Ohio’s teacher unions towards accepting performance-based compensation.

By moving oversight of teacher preparation programs to the Board of Regents, Ohio has demonstrated an emphasis on improving the quality of these programs, which could earn the state points under D4.  Additionally, many in higher education, including the Chancellor Fingerhut, support using student achievement data to shed light on the effectiveness of the state’s teacher preparation programs.

2) A. State Success Factors (125 points)
(A)(1) Articulating State’s education reform agenda and LEAs’ participation in it (65 points)
(A)(2) Building strong statewide capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain proposed plans (30 points)
(A)(3) Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps (30 points)  

Fordham Analysis: Under these criteria the most significant challenge for Ohio relates to the state’s current fiscal plight, which raises serious questions about the state’s “capacity to implement, scale up, and sustain proposed plans” crafted under RttT. Consider how Ohio balanced its FY2010-11 budget. Lawmakers cut $4 billion in spending and used an infusion of $7 billion in one-time federal stimulus dollars to patch it together. Even so, lawmakers still need to fill an $851 million budget hole that opened when the governor’s race-track gambling bid for state revenues fell apart.

Further, Ohio will fall short in demonstrating past success in raising achievement and closing gaps as required in A3. Ohio’s performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has barely inched up over the past ten years and achievement gaps persist. The most recent NAEP scores for math (2009) indicate that only 36 percent of Buckeye eighth graders are proficient, a figure that has barely budged since 2000 (30 percent). In reading (2007), the stagnation in scores is worse.

3) B. Standards and Assessments (70 points)
(B)(1) Developing and adopting common standards (40 points)
(B)(2) Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments (10 points)
(B)(3) Supporting the transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments (20 points)  

Fordham Analysis: This is likely Ohio’s strongest category as the state, after some dithering, now seems bent on getting the full 40 points for adopting Common Core standards in ELA and math. Further, the Ohio Department of Education seems committed to implementing those standards as well as common tests aligned to them. The state deserves maximum points for its efforts on this front. This movement by Ohio to embrace the Common Core and common tests is a prime example of how RttT has actually changed the policy direction of states in a positive way.

4) F. General Selection Criteria (55 points)
(F)(1) Making education funding a priority (10 points)
(F)(2) Ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charters and other innovative schools (40 points)
(F)(3) Demonstrating other significant reform conditions (5 points)

Fordham Analysis: Ohio’s current budget reworked the state’s school funding system. Governor Strickland’s evidence-based model (EBM) of school funding focuses largely on mandates regarding inputs and services (e.g. kindergarten for all, class-size reductions for grades K-3, wellness coordinators and other non-teaching adults in schools) that have little direct connection to improving student performance. There is little doubt this model of school funding will drive up the cost of public education and the governor has committed the state to spending more in coming years. For example, the governor’s plan calls for the state share of spending on K-12 education to increase from 52 percent in 2009 to more than 55 percent in 2011, and ultimately to top 60 percent within a decade. All of this, however, is in doubt due to the state’s fiscal plight.

F2, ensuring support for high-performing charters, is an area where Ohio falls gravely short. The state’s charter schools receive about 30 percent less operating dollars than traditional district schools and charters do not receive a commensurate share of local dollars or facilities assistance. These are serious strikes under the RttT guidelines and are apt to cost the state a sizeable portion of the 40 points in this category. 

Ohio’s charter authorizing laws do not focus on student achievement, another criterion of RttT. However, Ohio could make up ground here by fully exercising the new authority of the state education department to oversee charter authorizers and putting in place a performance-based model of authorizing that focuses squarely on student performance and transparency. Further, the state could speed up the spending of the federal start-up dollars for new charter schools that it currently has sitting in its account and/or seek approval from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the amount of Federal start-up dollars available for new schools (e.g. from $500,000 to $650,000).

While Ohio does not have an ironclad cap on the start-up of new charter schools it does have various caps on sponsors and rules that make it hard for new schools to open in Ohio. Further, there is a moratorium on the opening of any new e-schools.

Finally, the state’s political leadership has been decidedly anti-charter school in recent years. In both his 2007 and 2009 budgets Governor Strickland and allies in the Ohio House tried hard to reduce funding further for Ohio’s charter schools while also creating new regulations and barriers to charter school entry in the Buckeye State. However, one charter stipulation may garner points—Ohio’s charter school academic death penalty that closes consistently low-performing schools is the strongest charter accountability law in the nation.

5) E. Turning Around the Lowest-Achieving Schools (50 points)
(E)(1) Intervening in the lowest-achieving schools and LEAs (10 points)
(E)(2) Turning around the lowest- achieving schools (40 points)

Fordham Analysis: Ohio has not demonstrated an appetite for turning around low-performing schools, and the efforts to date in the Buckeye State have not been encouraging. The Columbus Dispatch captured the frustration and skepticism in Ohio in early 2009 when it reported that, although the state had spent $48 million over five years to improve struggling schools, few had actually improved.

According to the Dispatch, “statewide, and in Columbus, the most popular option has been to change the principal and some or all of the teachers, and try new curricula.” This was consistent with the principles of turnaround laid out in No Child Left Behind; however, the expected turnarounds never materialized. As the official in charge of turnaround efforts at the Ohio Department of Education lamented at the time, “the ‘hero model’ of bringing in a new principal to turn around a school simply hasn’t been effective.” The head of the Columbus teachers union saw these disappointing results as evidence for doing away with turnaround efforts entirely. She stated bluntly, “This hasn’t worked. I have seen that students are worse off than they were before.”

In Ohio, 99 public schools serving about 66,500 children have failed to make AYP for six or more consecutive years and, according to federal law, should be undergoing serious restructuring. An additional 90 schools in the state, serving another 58,000 students, have failed to make AYP for five years and should be drafting restructuring plans this year. Ohio needs to present a very convincing case for how it proposes to start turning around these schools but it faces serious constraints in the effort.

First, while state law permits and even encourages “turnarounds” or state intervention, and NCLB would seem to require this, the strength of collective bargaining agreements here makes it difficult for districts to fire teachers wholesale in a struggling school or to implement other radical changes to school operations like a longer day and a longer year. Further, weak support for charter schools makes the chartering option unattractive as part of a turnaround strategy. For example, if a district opts to convert a broken school to charter status it promptly sees a reduction in funding of up to 30 percent unless the district wants to share its locally-generated levy revenues (and facilities) with the charter which has not happened anywhere in the Buckeye State. 

6) C. Data Systems to Support Instruction (47 points)
(C)(1) Fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system (24 points)
(C)(2) Accessing and using State data (5 points)
(C)(3) Using data to improve instruction (18 points)

Fordham Analysis: Ohio is well-positioned in this category. The state’s ongoing efforts to put in place a longitudinal data system should result in the state scoring well in this category. 

In sum, Ohio today is not as well-positioned for RttT dollars as many lawmakers, educators and others are claiming. Senator Sawyer, for example, recently declared that “Ohio already has an A; we want to make it an A+” when it comes to Ohio’s position for RttT dollars. That strikes us as either ill-informed or Panglossian.

To be sure, most other states will also have a number of strikes against them using the RttT criteria and the U.S. Department of Education will surely have to grade states on a curve. Everyone knows, too, that Ohio is politically important to the Obama administration. But that’s no reason for complacency. In the two months before RttT applications must be submitted (due January 19, 2010), Ohio should work hard – by passing legislation and making formal commitments to real reform – to improve its odds of success. 

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Other viewpoints of the “Race to the Top”
First, we recommend this comprehensive analysis of the final RttT guidelines by Dutko Worldwide. And The New Teacher Project put out another report, this one focused specifically on how a state can develop a bold agenda for a highly effective teacher workforce to be more competitive for RttT.

In the media, the Washington Post says that although the final Race to the Top regulations have been weakened, the Obama Administration is still committed to its core reform principles. Education Week highlights the three most important factors in winning RttT, one of which is evaluating teachers and principals based on student performance.

In the blogosphere, check out Terry Ryan’s and Andy Smarick’s thoughts at Flypaper, Tom Vander Ark’s quick analysis of how the new regulations affect school turnarounds, and a reminder from Eduwonk that the readers and reviewers of state applications matter a lot in determining whether the RttT initiative will succeed.

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