What would be the impact of the governor's school turnaround plan?

When Gov. Kasich first introduced his biennial budget for
Ohio over a month ago, it was quickly apparent that he and his administration
were serious about overhauling the state’s poorest-performing schools. Fordham
has long
advocated
for applying sanctions to not only poorly performing charter schools but
chronically troubled district ones as well. In the governor’s budget, and left
completely intact in the version reported out by the Ohio House, is a provision
that would require districts to reconstitute schools that rank in the bottom
five percent of all public district schools statewide (according to Performance
Index (PI) scores, weighted averages of a school’s students’ performance on the
state’s exams across all tested subjects and grades) for three consecutive
years and are rated “D” or “F” by the
state.

In similar fashion to the federal School Improvement Grant
(SIG) program, districts with such schools could opt to:

  • close the school and reassign students to higher
    performing buildings;
  • contract with another district, non-profit, or
    for-profit entity with a track record of success to operate the school;
  • replace the principal and all teaching staff
    (far more stringent than SIG’s “transformation” option, which would leave half
    of a school’s teachers in place); or
  • re-open the school as a conversion charter
    school.

Kasich’s budget also imposed other sanctions for chronically
underperforming schools, including testing all teachers’ content-area knowledge
in such schools (which we caution against) and allowing parents to “trigger” a
turnaround (which has since been removed by the House and turned into a small
pilot program).

The closure provisions for chronically troubled district
schools seem fair and up-to-the-challenge. Yet which schools would be affected
by this? How many students would possibly be displaced? Are the schools slated
for overhaul according to this provision really the state’s most troubled schools? How many of them
are already receiving federal SIG dollars for turnaround?

To answers these questions, we analyzed PI score data of all
public district schools in Ohio from the last three school years (2007-08 to
2009-10), as well as school rating and other demographic data. PI scores range
from 0-120. (Note: we pulled out those schools receiving a “zero” PI score, as
many of them appear to have received that score for some other reason than legitimately
scoring zero. For instance, many zero-PI schools previously had scores of above
100 or 90, illustrating that they were actually high-quality schools and not
representative of the lowest 5 percent. Re-pulling the data with zero-PI
schools would result in a different list of schools.)

 District schools
slated for turnaround

Under the turnaround provision, schools will be closed based
on rankings relative to other schools
– a metric that some might argue is unfair (why not use an absolute achievement threshold to sanction schools?). However, the
list of schools that are in the bottom five percent and rated “D” or “F” is a
fairly accurate portrait of the lowest performers in Ohio. The list below
includes 93 schools located across 16 different districts, collectively serving
33,695 students.
It’s also worth noting that of the 93 schools on the turnaround list, 41 are
located in Cleveland, with Columbus coming in second with 13 schools slated for
turnaround.

Table 1: Ohio district schools with PI scores in the bottom 5% for the
past three years and rated D or F

schoolturnarounds1.jpg

Source: Ohio
Department of Education: Interactive Local Report Card

The average growth in PI over the last three years among
these 93 schools is actually negative – overall, the schools slated for
turnaround had PI scores fall by 1.4
percent since 2007. In other words, poorly performing schools tend to stay poorly performing or even get
worse. Only 39 of the schools experienced positive growth in scores, but except
in a few instances, that growth was minimal. Math and reading proficiency
averages for these schools are also telling about why they’re in need of a
turnaround, with the lowest proficiency rates for third grade reading and math
tests at 20.6 percent and 8.7 percent respectively. 

Overlap with School
Improvement Grants

Of all the schools listed for closure, 13 have been awarded
SIG grants totaling $37,546,632 (over three years). Table
1 above highlights the schools (in yellow) that will receive SIG money and that
also would be slated for turnaround status under the governor’s new plan. This
overlap raises serious questions around how the state’s turnaround proposals and
schools’ existing turnaround plans (funded through SIG) would coincide. Would
schools using SIG money get a chance to turn themselves around via their
current plans (many of which are “transformation” – a less rigorous option not
even included in the governor’s turnaround agenda), or would they be forced
into immediate action according to the governor’s plan?

In conclusion, the list of district schools slated for
turnaround according to Kasich’s budget seems like a fair representation of the
state’s truly troubled schools – though obvious questions remain around the
interaction of SIG turnaround plans and the options according to this new
provision. While the diagnosis of these schools seems right – they are
chronically failing and students attending them deserve better – it also begs
other policy questions around human capital. Does Ohio have enough teaching and
leadership talent willing to take over 93 schools, or charter management groups
capable of taking some of them on? Do neighboring schools have space for an
influx of students should they be reassigned? These questions merit serious
consideration should the state school turnaround provision get passed in the
final iteration of the budget.

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