Ohio can use Race to the Top funding to improve teacher quality

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and others voiced support yesterday for Senate Bill (SB) 180 (see here) that would strengthen Ohio’s position in the federal Race to the Top sweepstakes through:

  • Using value-added student achievement data to help determine teacher effectiveness;
  • Issuing an initial professional educator license to applicants who have completed at least two years of teaching in other states through the highly regarded Teach for America program (for empirical evidence on the success of the program, see here, here, and here); and
  • Loosening the cyber-charter moratorium to make it possible for high performing e-schools to open and operate in Ohio.

Terry Ryan, Fordham’s vice president for Ohio programs and policy, told members of the Ohio Senate education committee that SB180 would allow the Buckeye State’s schools – especially the most troubled – to take advantage of talented veteran teachers from Teach for America who don’t want to spend time and money jumping through needless certification hoops and meaningless state requirements.

“We’ve seen this first hand in two of the charter schools we sponsor in Columbus – the Columbus Collegiate Academy and KIPP Journey. Both schools have drawn on Teach for America alumni who have worked successfully in some of the nation’s toughest urban schools.  These teachers and others like them represent some of America’s finest educators. The two schools serve children in the Linden and Weinland Park neighborhoods of Columbus,” Ryan testified.

Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) is a particularly good example since in its first year of operation the school easily outshined the Columbus district and charter middle schools, ranking first in the city on the performance index score, fourth in reading, and first in math. Yet only one of the school's four teachers last year was traditionally licensed. This year, four of seven are (the others teach under long-term substitute licenses as allowed by Ohio law). 

“We are able to recruit great teachers, many who have gained urban teaching experience in other states as members of Teach for America, but they have to spend far too much time weaving through a maze of paperwork and red tape," CCA Co-Director John A. Dues told the committee.

CCA math teacher Abbey Kinson learned to teach with the TFA program in a Washington, D.C. school serving some of that city’s neediest children and is teaching under a long-term substitute license. "I work an average of 70 to 80 hours in a week and I'm proud to stand up here and brag about my kids," she told lawmakers. Achievement for Kinson's math students on the Ohio Achievement Test jumped from 41 percent to 82 percent. In just one year, her students achieved more than two and a half times the “expected yearly growth” as measured by the nationally recognized Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress.

"I've proven that I know the best practices and have the skills to inspire kids to reach their potential. Yet, according to the Ohio Department of Education, I'm not qualified to receive full licensure in middle school mathematics," she said.

In addition to changing licensing rules, SB 180 would require using value-added student achievement data to help determine teacher effectiveness and allow for high-performing e-schools to open and operate in Ohio.

Ryan also called for Ohio to make additional changes that align with President Obama’s education reform agenda, including adopting common national academic standards, putting in place an effective data-tracking system, embracing innovative models of teacher and administrator training, and supporting high quality charter schools and turnaround efforts.

Such changes could help Ohio gain some of the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds being offered by the federal government to boost innovative education programs.

Ryan said passage of SB 180 would make Ohio a leader in using value-added data to help gauge teacher effectiveness. “Such data should absolutely be one of the components in creating a fair, accurate, and useful measure of teacher effectiveness, which everyone knows is central to student learning,” he told the committee. “High-performing teachers also deserve to be rewarded for delivering results, especially with our neediest students and in hard-to-staff subjects like science and mathematics. And those who can’t deliver results need to be removed from the profession.”

Ohio also needs to encourage innovation in how it recruits and prepares school leaders. While innovative school leadership programs are expanding across the country, Ohio is lagging. New Leaders for New Schools, a prominent example of a well-respected urban school-leadership program, doesn’t operate in Ohio because they have not been invited here.

According to the recently released 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (commonly referred to as the nation’s report card), just 36 percent of Ohio eighth graders scored proficient or better in mathematics. The most recent reading results (from 2007) were similar. (See more on NAEP in News & Analysis below.) Spurred by such bleak achievement data, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have committed to turning around 5,000 of the country’s lowest performing schools, about 200 of which are in Ohio.

“Thousands of young Ohioans, reaching the threshold of high school, haven’t mastered the ability to do basic computations or read critically, let alone grasp the essentials of science, history, or civics,” Ryan said.

But if state leaders are embarrassed by the lackluster performance of Ohio students on national achievement tests, they ought to be appalled at how the state’s urban schools are performing.

As an illustration, Ryan used Dayton, where more than half of the city’s schools received the equivalent of a D or F on the most recent state report card. Only two Dayton schools – both charter schools – earned an A.

“Such bleak achievement levels are common across Ohio’s urban and rural areas,” Ryan said.

State Board of Education member Susan Haverkos and Bill Sims, head of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools also testified in support of SB 180. “The challenge is standing up for what is in the best interest of the student, overcoming special interest groups and political pressure, and embracing just a few reforms that will have long term benefits for Ohio,” Haverkos told lawmakers.

Read Terry Ryan’s testimony here, John Dues’ here, and Abbey Kinson’s here. Video of the hearing is available at www.edexcellence.net/flypaper.

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