Ohio Gadfly Daily

  1. The outgoing school board and the interim supe made some fairly permanent decisions this week regarding the school closure process in Dayton. Come the new year, several public meetings will be held to discuss the situation and solicit feedback on the district’s multiple wildly underutilized school buildings as well as its (apparently) crumbling-at-the-seams HQ building too. (Dayton Daily News, 12/20/17) The outgoing school board and the interim supe also made a fairly permanent decision regarding approval of a new contract with the district’s paraprofessionals union. That still leaves four of Dayton’s eleven bargaining units (how many?!) working on expired contracts, including bus drivers and mechanics. (Dayton Daily News, 12/20/17) I’m sure the district’s drivers and mechanics will work it all out with the school board. I’m sure it won’t be complicated at all by the fact that the city’s public transit drivers have called a strike starting on January 1 due to unresolved contract issues of their own. Guess who loses if it turns sour in one or both of those negotiations? That’s right: folks who already have trouble getting to school and work on the bus every day already! (Dayton Daily News, 12/21/17)
  2. Speaking of
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In the world of American politics, controversy dominated 2017. In the world of Ohio education policy, things were a bit quieter—but still eventful. As we say goodbye (or good riddance) to 2017, here’s a look at the seven biggest education stories of the year.

7) State budget

You know it’s a slow year when the budget bill barely makes the list of top education stories. On June 30, Governor Kasich signed Ohio’s biennial state budget. The bill largely maintained the current school funding formula, with nominal increases to base foundation aid to schools (including charters). Three out of four districts will see a funding increase across the biennium. With legislators concentrating on ways to fill a nearly $1 billion revenue shortfall, several important funding reform ideas failed to get the time and attention they deserved—including solutions to the decades-long problem of caps and guarantees and an emerging idea to directly fund school choice programs. As for the latter, charters continue to be supported inequitably and based on an archaic payment system that subtracts dollars from districts instead of paying charter schools directly, leaving both charters and districts frustrated.

6) School choice

During his campaign, President Trump ...

A new working paper from the Stanford Graduate School of Education uses roughly 300 million state math and English language arts test scores from 2009–15 for students in third through eighth grade in over 11,000 school districts across the country to take a really-big-picture look at patterns of academic achievement. The analysis allows users to compare the growth rates across U.S. school districts, a view of educational quality that is rarely seen at a national level. The findings—broken down over time, by geography, and into various subgroups—should be of interest to all education stakeholders.

The data come from NAEP and state assessments via the National Center for Education Statistics and exclude only the smallest districts for whom data on test scores and/or socioeconomic status (SES) are not available due to small sample sizes. Data on students in bricks-and-mortar charter schools are also included, rolled into the data of the district in which each school is located. Data on students in online charter schools, which enroll without regard to district boundaries, is excluded. The author of the study estimates that the data account for almost 99 percent of all public school students.

The best news comes from the temporal analysis:...

  1. In case you missed it, Aaron Churchill had an op ed published in the Dispatch yesterday in which he argues for a revamp of Ohio’s school and district report cards. He lays out in brief the recommendations of his recent Back to the Basics report. (Columbus Dispatch, 12/19/17)
  2. Also possibly up for a revamp—Ohio’s teacher evaluation system. State Senator Peggy Lehner has introduced a bill that would make changes to what data are used to measure performance, the timing of observations, the rubric by which teachers are graded, and the professional development track which follows evaluation findings. A lengthy and important list. (Dayton Daily News, 12/19/17) Speaking of teachers, Youngstown Schools CEO Krish Mohip says that his teachers must improve their attendance. Some of those Y’town numbers look kinda bad, but the biggest question in this article for me: why is Austintown’s teacher absenteeism so much higher than Youngstown’s? (Youngstown Vindicator, 12/17/17)
  3. It’s all change in Dayton these days. After this week’s school board meeting, it seems likely that their next president with be a newcomer rather than one of the experienced continuing members. Maybe he was the only one with a copy of
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Here at Fordham, we try to keep our finger on the pulse of what our Ohio readers are interested in. But every year, we are pleasantly surprised when blog posts take on lives of their own.

Herewith, the most-read Ohio Gadfly blog posts of 2017, with some thoughts as to why these pieces caught your attention.

1. The student perspective

Chad Aldis’ daughter Alli had just finished her sophomore year when she wrote “My experience with AP U.S. History: The importance of rigor in bringing history to life” in June. In it, she described how much she disliked the rote memorization and dry recitation of facts that characterized her previous history classes. But all that changed when she enrolled in Advanced Placement. Engaging content, in-class debates, essays, and take-home packets allowed Alli and her classmates to dig deeper into the aspects of American history that they found interesting. It’s hard to say whether it was readers’ own experience of the dry and dusty version of history class or perhaps their own love of APUSH that drew them to this piece; but whatever it was, this was our most-read blog of the year by a very long way.

2. Wishful...

Last week, Bellwether Education Partners (in partnership with the Collaborative for Student Success) released its review of Ohio’s plan to comply with the federal law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This was part of a larger project gauging the strengths and weaknesses of each state’s ESSA plan. Ohio policymakers should give careful thought to their feedback; but what should they take away from this evaluation? Let me offer three points of strong agreement with their Ohio review—and one different viewpoint. Note: I participated in this project as a peer reviewer but did not evaluate Ohio’s plan.

The areas in which the reviewers’ opinions were spot-on are as follows.

  • Ohio’s accountability system is too complex. Under its summary of weaknesses, Bellwether writes: “The sheer number of measures included creates a complicated system and tends to dilute the value of many individual measures as a result.” Amen. Ohio now includes up to fifteen district or school ratings, including an overall rating, six component ratings, and eight subcomponent ratings (i.e., ratings within a larger component). This creates a noisy, cluttered report card that can lead to confusion rather than clarity on school and student performance. State legislators
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  1. Fordham’s Aaron Churchill is quoted in this Dispatch piece on the topic of rising high school graduation rates. Our research guru warns that giving out unearned diplomas just for the sake of “fairness” can devalue both the piece of paper and the education it is supposed to represent. (Columbus Dispatch, 12/15/17)
  2. Meanwhile, representatives of some of the state’s public colleges and universities were discussing a similar topic at the City Club of Cleveland last week. Apparently there was widespread agreement—from the perspective of college and career readiness for students—that “many K-12 schools aren't doing their job.” That is despite those rising K-12 graduation rates of which they are all aware. Pretty scathing if you ask me, although the college reps were nice enough to shoulder some of the blame for somehow not communicating with the high schools from which they recruit students what it is they are looking for in their incoming freshmen. I wonder a little how that is possible. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/15/17)
  3. Perhaps the Vindy and Akron City Schools should stop discussing details of their new I Promise School while they are ahead. The more I hear about it, the less special
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  1. The state board of education finished up their meeting this week by drafting a resolution proposing to create a working group to review and recommend changes to state report cards. The resolution will be debated at the next meeting in January. Fordham’s hot-off-the-presses report on this very topic is quoted within. If any of you board members need copies, just say the word! (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/13/17)
  2. Meanwhile, Ohio’s war on knowin’ stuff opened a new front this week as the state’s Kindergarten readiness assessment came under fire in the Senate Education Committee. I am assuming that the people who want to eliminate this “burdensome” and “time consuming” test are the same ones who want to spend millions on pre-K because it is the answer to all of K-12 education’s woes. But I could be wrong. (Gongwer Ohio, 12/13/17)
  3. Fascinating piece digging deeper into the details of a plan to possibly close several schools in Dayton due to ongoing student population loss and serious underutilization of buildings. There are a lot of interesting bits in here—and more to come, I’m sure—but I will leave you with just this one stat: “Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton said
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  1. As the song says, “There’s a war goin’ on out there somewhere.” It seems to be a war on knowin’ stuff and it’s being waged in the state board of education. First up, the board seems disposed to extend the “temporary” diploma pathways for the Class of 2018—the ones that sidestep end of course exams—to the Classes of 2019 and 2020 at least. Happy Hanukkah kids! Chad is quoted here with this pearl of wisdom: “Tests aren't the problem… The problem is that too many Ohio students are finishing high school without adequate math and reading skills.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/12/17) Additionally, the state board approved a recommendation to the state legislature to eliminate three sets of tests statewide. These are the English I exam, WorkKeys, and tests given to students which are used to evaluate teachers. Merry Christmas kids! (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12/12/17)
  2. In his comments on the graduation requirements issue, Chad noted that the bar was previously raised in part because businesses were saying they were having trouble finding qualified candidates to fill in-demand jobs. Probably coincidentally, Governor Kasich was reminding business leaders of that lack-of-qualified-applicants situation yesterday. His fix, once again, centers

The gap in vocabulary for children growing up in poor households compared to their higher-income peers is well documented in research, especially for the youngest students just entering school. But shouldn’t the start of formal education begin to mitigate that gap? Research has shown that, unfortunately, initial gaps tend to persist, leading to a steep uphill climb by the time students are “reading to learn” in fourth grade and up. A group of researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas and San Diego State University recently studied whether the pernicious effects of socioeconomic status (SES) might negatively affect not only base vocabulary size but also the typical processes of word learning, which would serve to increase a child’s vocabulary going forward.

They recruited a group of 68 students ages 8 to 15 to take part in an experiment that required participants to use the surrounding text to identify the meaning of an unknown word. Each exercise included three sentences, all with a made-up word at the end. For example: “Pour some water in my raub.” This was the last of a three-sentence triplet designed to lead a reader to that “raub” means “cup.” All of the words...