Gadfly Bites 11/13/17 - A Mighty Fortress is our District

  1. We’re back after a little break on Friday, with a lot of central Ohio education news. Stay with me on this first one; it’s twisty. Twenty-some years ago, Columbus City Schools was embroiled in a lawsuit over the use of religious music—specifically Christian hymns and spirituals—used in its graduation ceremonies. To end the suit, the board agreed to implement a no-religious-music policy district wide. Well, somehow that policy disappeared from the district’s rulebook a couple of years back and its absence was noted last week. Some board members are trying to get it reinstated, some are wondering if it can be finessed, and still others are more concerned about how it disappeared in the first place and wondering whether the policy was violated while it was accidentally off the books. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/9/17) Some of the original parties to the 90s-era lawsuit are still around and are of course adamant that the no-religious-music policy be reinstated immediately. The ACLU is intrigued as well, and would additionally like to know how the policy got dropped in the first place. I think the word they’re looking for is “boilerplate”. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/10/17)
  2. The urban development guru at Columbus Underground reported last week that Columbus City Schools will be auctioning off more surplus properties at the end of the month, including a couple in prime hipster locations. Hopefully these will be actual auctions rather than end-run sales to predetermined “state entity” buyers so that the district can maximize its return on the assets. Yes, even if they have to sell to one of those pesky charter schools. (Columbus Underground, 11/10/17)
  3. Finally, the Columbus school board was somewhat divided last week on the issue of whether they should require their new superintendent to live in the district. Current supe Dan Good does not and has never done so, and some folks worried that such a requirement would cause some potential candidates to avoid applying for the job (whyever would that be?). In the end, they agreed that “the successful candidate is expected to live in the district”. And you know what they say about high expectations in school. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/10/17)
  4. I have always thought it would be an interesting research project to compare big urban school districts to one or more of their inner-ring suburban districts. Places where the demographics are very similar but the footprints much different. Can a smaller version of an urban district do better in dealing with “big city problems”? Are they more nimble or adaptable? Or are they similarly struggling? One such comparison here in central Ohio is Columbus City Schools and neighboring Whitehall City Schools. The Dispatch is today looking at a resurgence of the old and tiny ‘burb, including both economic and educational dimensions. There’s not a ton of data yet, it seems, but those pesky charter schools are “stealing” fewer kids so there’s that. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/13/17)
  5. And speaking of small Ohio school districts getting attention, a national podcast series recently took a look at Steubenville schools in remote Eastern Ohio. This time, actual (and impressive) data is involved! As you may recall, Steubenville stood out as one of the few districts to achieve As in both growth and proficiency scores on its most recent state report card. It is specifically important because Steubenville is a quintessential post-industrial Rustbelt town that has experienced every piece of bad fortune you think of associated with that description. How have they managed this feat? Take a listen to get a better sense. (EdTrust Extraordinary Districts podcast, November, 2017)
  6. Still riffing off of the Council of Great City Schools conference held in Cleveland last month, Patrick O’Donnell has this preview of a bill coming down the pike in the Ohio General Assembly which aims to ban out-of-school suspensions for students in third grade and below. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that I can count Senator O’Donnell as a Yes vote. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/12/17)
Jeff Murray
Jeff Murray is the Ohio Operations Manager of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute,