Ohio Gadfly Daily

In early June, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released an updated draft of its ESSA plan for public comment. The department had initially intended to submit its plan earlier this spring, but after heavy pressure, state officials decided to delay submission until September. The most important part of the document is its description of the state’s proposed school accountability and intervention policies. We believe that Ohio’s plan does a good job meeting both federal and state requirements.

Still, Ohio should aim for excellence, if not perfection. Allow me to identify three improvements worthy of consideration before ODE submits its plan to the U.S. Department of Education. These are sections that ODE could likely tweak without running afoul of federal or state law.

Eliminate the Chronic Absenteeism indicator (Title I, Part A: Improving Basic Programs Operated by LEAs—Indicators; lines 428-512)

ODE proposes using Chronic Absenteeism as a new report-card measure to comply with ESSA’s requirement for an indicator of School Quality or Student Success. This is a mistake. While related to student learning, absenteeism is not itself an outcome measure, which should form the basis of school accountability. Attendance should be viewed more akin to an “input”...


This blog originally appeared as an editorial in today’s edition of the Columbus Dispatch.

The Ohio Senate just voted to allow the class of 2018 to receive diplomas without demonstrating proficiency in a single academic subject area. The competence-free graduation option, which came from recommendations made by the State Board of Education under pressure from local school superintendents, would award students a diploma upon meeting just two of eight conditions.

These include softballs like attending school regularly, obtaining a 2.5 senior-year grade-point average or completing community service. Show up, do a nominal number of assignments or a few months of part-time volunteer work, and the diploma is yours. Forget about setting a pitifully low bar; Ohio is about to remove it altogether.

It’s important to remember why, decades ago, Ohio and many other states decided to set competency-based graduation requirements in the first place. Namely, too many local school districts were willing to hand out diplomas that their graduates could not read, to young adults who had made it to 18 with the reading, writing, and math skills of grade-school students. The system had failed them.

The problem was most pernicious for poor and minority students, who were much...


In a provocative headline, a recent Wall Street Journal article proclaimed that “Rural America Is the New ‘Inner City.’” The piece profiles Kenton, Ohio, along with several other towns across the nation that have recently suffered population losses, sluggish economies, and surging substance abuse. The sudden interest in communities like Kenton is not surprising, given that President Trump rode a wave of rural and small-town support to the White House.

Long a neglected realm of school reform, rural education is also capturing more attention. Collin Roth and Will Flanders of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty point out that rural students in the Badger State post some of the lowest ACT scores and highest college remediation rates; this mirrors data from Ohio. A recent study from the Rural School and Community Trust notes that nearly half of rural students are low-income (eligible for subsidized meals) and often have limited opportunities to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Meanwhile, a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education documents the challenges rural schools face recruiting and retaining teachers and securing parental involvement.

Of course, there isn’t a single cure-all that can elevate education in sparsely populated...

  1. Our own Jamie Davies O’Leary was front and center on the editorial page of The D this morning, opining against lowering graduation standards in the strongest possible terms. (Columbus Dispatch, 6/28/17) In case you’ve forgotten what she’s talking about, here’s Jeremy Kelley to remind you and give you the depressing legislative update. Personally, I can’t believe we’re going down this road and can’t bear to discuss it further. (Dayton Daily News, 6/27/17)
  2. Speaking of things that I can’t bear: I missed out on clipping some important budget-related news on Friday. Our own Chad Aldis was discussing potential changes to the state’s sponsor evaluation system proposed in the budget. He advised that, whatever the outcome, the focus stay as firmly on academic outcomes as possible. (Gongwer Ohio, 6/23/17)
  3. In somewhat related news, a kerfuffle is afoot in Cleveland regarding the proposed opening of two new charter schools for next school year – one of which will be sponsored by Fordham if it actually opens. At issue is how, when, and whether the Cleveland Transformation Alliance vets charter sponsors operating in the city. I’m sure this will all get worked out, but the rhetoric is a
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Despite their pronouncements to the contrary, many of Ohio’s affluent suburban school districts are about as “public” as a gated community. That’s the right conclusion to draw from a series of recent events.

In late May, The Columbus Dispatch explored how some school districts in Ohio are rooting out students with “questionable residency” (my colleague Jamie Davies O’Leary also examined this Dispatch article here). For those unfamiliar with questionable residency, it refers to students who are enrolled in a school district where they claim to live, but who actually live elsewhere. In particular, the article focused on Bexley City Schools, citing arguments in favor of investigating residency claims from both the superintendent and the district’s law firm and investigators.

Three weeks later, we released Interdistrict Open Enrollment in Ohio: Participation and Student Outcomes. The report examined statewide data on Ohio’s open enrollment policy, which permits students to attend school in a district other than the one in which they live. Ohio’s policy is voluntary, which means it’s up to districts to decide whether to accept non-resident students. In total, 80 percent of Ohio’s 610 school districts allow open enrollees, and more than 70,000 students participate in the...

  1. Not much going on in education news over the weekend, but what there is of it revolves around money. Of course. First up, a huge surplus in the class fees fund in Toledo Public Schools likely means drastically lower fees for many classes next year – even full elimination in the costs of some workbooks and lab coats and art supplies. This is awesome for folks, certainly, but I might wonder what it does to the renewal chances of the three district levies on the horizon over the next 18 months. Do you need money or don’t you? Inquiring minds want to know. (Toledo Blade, 6/26/17)
  2. You know who’s got a lot of money to spend? Dayton’s Preschool Promise program, that’s who. And they’re still having trouble finding 3 and 4 year olds to spend it on. But never fear, they’ve spent some of that money to hire some outreach coordinators to work hard over the summer to recruit families into the program. Because preschool is some kind of unknown quantity that parents need spelled out to them. Good luck! (Dayton Daily News, 6/24/17)
  1. Patrick O’Donnell took a look at the latest CREDO study of charter management organizations, showing that several CMOs with schools in Northeast Ohio are performing very well indeed. John Zitzner of Breakthrough Schools calls their results “mind-boggling”. You know what’s more mind-boggling to me? The fact that this piece has been posted on the PD website for nearly 48 hours and has attracted not one comment. Not one. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6/21/17)
  2. Speaking of charter schools, here’s a story about the rent agreement between the City of Mansfield and a charter school which rents space from them. It’s a long one – over 1000 words – and the upshot is that the school has not paid rent for a year or so. But the round robin of misunderstandings, missing voice mails, typos in contracts, and the like reads like a comedy of errors on both sides. Interestingly, there are no online comments on that article either. (Mansfield News Journal, 6/21/17)
  3. As you may have heard, Dayton City Schools’ infamous busing woes lasted almost the entire year in 2016-17. But things are going to change in 2017-18! By which I mean the bell schedules at nearly
  4. ...

Recently, several school districts asked to be repaid a chunk of the money that the state of Ohio is attempting to recover from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT); House Bill 87, currently pending in the General Assembly, would grant them their wish. ECOT is the largest virtual school in Ohio and is notorious both for its political clout as well as its poor performance. It’s been embroiled in a lawsuit with the Ohio Department of Education and was recently ordered by the State Board of Education to return $60 million for being unable to prove all of its 15,000-plus students were logged in and adequately participating in learning last year. ECOT is fighting this decision and related issues in court.

ECOT’s track record may be poor, but there is something alarming in this discussion about the “lost money” that Ohio districts are now seeking. Regardless of whether ECOT could document their students’ attendance, these children were not being educated by their home districts either—because they didn’t attend their schools. That much is indisputable.

The question at the heart of the...

  1. Our own Jessica Poiner, in a blog posted Monday, “blasted” Ohio’s efforts to lower graduation requirements and reduce the state’s high school diploma to an Oprah-like certificate of participation. (“Everybody gets a diplomaaaaaaaa!”). Fortuitous timing of said Ohio Gadfly Daily post, too, since the Ohio Senate decided to include just such a lowering of graduation requirements in the state budget bill it is currently debating. Patrick O’Donnell noted that fortuitous timing and said so in this piece. In other, not-sure-it’s-unrelated news, the Senate is proposing to reduce Medicaid eligibility too. Can we really have it both ways, Senators? Just askin’. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6/20/17)
  2. The first of those open-to-the-whole-public-really-everyone-no-seriously-everyone focus groups gathering input on the type of person Lorain schools needs as its CEO drew mostly district employees this week. Sad? Sure. Predictable? Maybe. But what’s interesting is that none of those quoted in this brief recap of the discussion seem sure that putative CEO frontrunner Moe Szyslak is their ideal candidate. Certainly not as sure as the other district supes quoted earlier in the week. But I could be wrong about that analysis. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal, 6/19/17) A second focus group held the following day
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John Zitzner

NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.

Not long ago, the Plain Dealer published an opinion article by former public school educator and teacher union head Bill Lavezzi. In his article, “Calls for funding equity for Ohio charter schools overlook charters’ failures and lack of transparency,” Lavezzi offered up five “simple, common-sense” standards that all charter schools should meet if they wish to receive equitable public funding. In the article, he also suggests that charters not meeting these conditions are “parasitic” and “undeserving not only of funding equity but of public funding itself.”

The idea that equitable funding for children should be conditional in the first place—especially for those students in public charter schools who are predominantly low-income and minority—makes about as much sense as a parent doing the same to his kids. In this analogy, public charter schools are the disliked step-child struggling to prove their worth to a parent dangling approval—and resources—conditionally for one, while doling it out unconditionally for the other....