Ohio Gadfly Daily

The new education law of the land—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—has been the talk of the town since President Obama signed it into law in December 2015. Under the new law, testing doesn’t initially seem that different from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) days: ESSA retains the requirement that states administer annual assessments in grades 3–8 and once in high school; requires that test results remain a prominent part of new state accountability plans; and continues to expect states to identify and intervene in struggling schools based upon assessment results. But a closer look reveals that ESSA provides a few key flexibilities to states and districts—and opens the door for some pretty significant choices. Let’s take a look at the biggest choices that Ohio will have to make and the benefits and drawbacks of each option. 

Test design

There are two key decisions for states in terms of test design. The first is related to high school testing. ESSA permits districts to use “a locally selected assessment in lieu of the state-designed academic assessment” as long as it’s a “nationally recognized high school academic assessment.” In other words, Ohio districts could forego a...

We at Fordham recently released an evaluation on Ohio’s largest voucher initiative—the EdChoice Scholarship. The study provides a much deeper understanding of the program and, in our view, should prompt discussion about ways to improve policy and practice. But this evaluation also means that EdChoice is an outlier among the Buckeye State’s slew of education reforms: Unlike the others, it has faced research scrutiny. That should change, and below I offer a few ideas about how education leaders can better support high-quality evaluations of education reforms.

In recent years, Ohio has implemented policies that include the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, rigorous teacher evaluations, the Cleveland Plan, the Straight A Fund, New Learning Standards, and interventions in low-performing schools. Districts and schools are pursuing reform, too, whether changing textbooks, adopting blended learning, and implementing professional development. Millions of dollars have been poured into these initiatives, which aim to boost student outcomes.

But very little is known about how these initiatives are impacting student learning. To my knowledge, the only major state-level reforms that have undergone a rigorous evaluation in Ohio are charter schools, STEM schools, and the EdChoice and Cleveland voucher programs. To be certain, researchers...

Rabbi Eric "Yitz" Frank

This blog was originally posted on Education Next on July 24, 2016.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently released a study on the academic impact of Ohio’s flagship school choice program authored by noted researcher Dr. David Figlio of Northwestern University. The report is noteworthy for its principal findings, namely that, not only is the sky not falling for impacted public schools, the EdChoice program has had a positive impact on the academic performance of public schools whose students are eligible for a scholarship. Surprisingly, the study also found that the students using scholarships to attend private schools who the report studied (more on that later) did not perform as well as their public school peers on the state test.

Matt Barnum of The 74 wrote an article that details some of the possible explanations for the latter finding. Based on my own experience in Ohio, I can attest that many nonpublic schools do not align their curriculum to the state test, nor do they focus much on these measures, and that is likely an important factor. However, it is important to note what the study could not address. As Dr. Figlio made clear in both his...

  1. Ohio’s STEM Learning Network is a statewide consortium of standalone, charter, district, and private schools adhering to STEM learning principals developed by Battelle, the state, and other partners. It is ten years old and poised to grow even further in both number of member schools and in topics as the arts become integrated into the paradigm. STEAM heat, indeed. (Gongwer Ohio, 7/22/16)
  2. Somewhat akin to the Loch Ness Monster, there’s been sighting of an actual education story on the main website of the Enquirer! The topic: details on how levy dollars earmarked for preschool expansion in the Queen City will flow should said levy pass in November. You’ll remember that two entities were considering going to the ballot separately for the money but that that recipe for dual failure was averted by an agreement between the two. This is the start of figuring out what the sharing agreement might look like and includes at least one if not two additional “partners”. Does the description of a “Trusted Entity” creating a “Preschool Expansion Organization” sound Orwellian to anyone but me? Oh, and if you’re wondering where Nessie goes when not on the main Enquirer pages, look no further
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  1. Everyone and her brother are talking about Cleveland this week. Can’t figure why. But be that as it may: there is some love for the Breakthrough Charter School Network buried deep in this piece on the Cleveland Plan. (Hechinger Report via Huffington Post, 7/20/16) The love for Columbus-based and Fordham-sponsored United Schools Network is front and center in this piece (which I am deplorably late in covering). It is a love letter from a USN teacher to her school, her kids, and her job. Lovely. (Education Post, 7/18/16)
  2. Among other agenda items, the Dayton City Schools board of education this week touted Belmont School, which was named one of 37 “bright spots” across the country by the White House Task Force on New Americans. Specifically, the task force lauded the school for its Welcome Belmont program, which aims to integrate students of different backgrounds by pairing native-born students and incoming immigrant students for the year. The school plans to double participation in the coming year. Kudos. (Dayton Daily News, 7/20/16)
  3. Ohio’s largest online school – and particularly the current kerfuffle over their attendance audit – remained on the minds of editors in Columbus. They
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  1. Chad was a guest on a tiny sliver of All Sides with Ann Fisher yesterday. The topic was Ohio’s largest online school, its current tussle with the state over an ongoing attendance audit, and the larger implications for it and others like it depending on the findings. Audio and video are available at the link; the online schools portion starts around 16:45; Chad gets to join in after the journalists have had their bash (sending the nonexistent case to the state supreme court if they do say so themselves), around 35:00. (WOSU-FM, Columbus, 7/19/16) The first 16 minutes of this edition of Fisher’s show was spent on the journalists discussing the Republican National Convention. When this show was planned, there wasn’t a connection between the two topics. Fortuitously for radio station, host, and journalists/pundits, a connection arose. Here’s the editorial board at the ABJ to tell you all about it. (Akron Beacon Journal, 7/20/16)
  2. Back in the real world, the third and final public meeting hosted by Youngstown Schools CEO Krish Mohip was held this week. Some students finally showed up (including one from a local private school and none from the district’s East High School)
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  1. Not sure why the Dispatch decided to pick on one particular private school in Cincinnati to make its point here, but be that as it may, the paper is not wrong in its analysis. Information on private school quality is hard to come by in Ohio, even for publicly-funded EdChoice voucher students. As you may have guessed, this piece is riffing off of our EdChoice evaluation report released two weeks ago. Thanks for the love, guys. (Columbus Dispatch, 7/17/16)
  2. EdChoice is namechecked in this piece (along with charter schools and open enrollment) about Mansfield City Schools’ imminent release from state-mandated fiscal emergency status. The stats reported here are pretty interesting, especially the comparison between Mansfield and similar districts like Whitehall and Zanesville. It is noted that Mansfield has fewer kids open-enrolled to neighboring districts than those to which it is compared but has more charter and voucher students. Honestly, though, it seems like the inefficiencies of a smallish but spread-out district are what’s really come home to roost here. Kudos to the district for making the needed changes to tighten things up. Next up for Mansfield to tackle: that “at risk for academic distress” albatross. (Mansfield News
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  1. The Dispatch published dueling editorials in the wake of Fordham’s new report evaluating the EdChoice Scholarship Program. Well, I say “dueling” but that would imply that the two commentators were actually talking about the same thing. Our own Chad Aldis discusses the report and its findings in his piece. (Columbus Dispatch, 7/14/16) Teachers union president Melissa Cropper’s piece is more “free form”, incorporating commentary on the apparently widely-held belief that teachers are lazy and how she thinks HB 70 (the “Youngstown Plan”) should be repealed into her brief analysis of the EdChoice report. Nope. Me neither. (Columbus Dispatch, 7/14/16)
  2. We reported a while back that the city and the school district in Cincinnati worked together to avoid placing two separate levies funding pre-K expansions on the ballot simultaneously. A similar situation has arisen in Dayton but is not yet being handled collaboratively. I’m sure the Gem City will get there eventually, but it may take a little time if this report is to be believed. Step one: have coffee together. (Dayton Daily News, 7/13/16)
  3. The theme of this week’s meeting of the Dropout Recovery and Prevention Committee seems to be time. How much time
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  1. Another suburban school district has billed the state for a return of “their money”, which went to charter schools because “their students” went to charter schools instead of to them. Our own Aaron Churchill is quoted denouncing the move as the “theatrics” that it is. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 7/11/16)
  2. Some more coverage of Fordham’s new report evaluating Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program. Two national write ups – both seemingly in the right-of-center column – seem to get the nuances we hoped would emerge from the findings. (RedefinED blog, 7/11/16; Watchdog.org blog, 7/13/16) Gongwer also seems to get the pluses and minuses in the findings, getting quotes from a couple other Ohio voucher supporters to bolster their analysis. (Gongwer Ohio, 7/12/16) The D covers the report for a second time today, in their Education Insider column. I don’t think we’re particularly “bummed” around here by the report’s findings, but I personally am bummed that they chose a sports analogy to try and illustrate their case. (Columbus Dispatch, 7/13/16)
  3. We told you on Monday about the state’s largest online charter school suing the state to block the final stage of an attendance audit which was to
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In a previous blog post, we urged Ohio’s newly formed Dropout Prevention and Recovery Study Committee to carefully review the state’s alternative accountability system for dropout-recovery charter schools. Specifically, we examined the progress measure used to gauge student growth—noting some apparent irregularities—but didn’t cover in detail the three other components of the dropout-recovery school report cards: graduation rates, gap closing, and assessment passage rates. Let’s tackle them now.

Each of these components is rated on a three-level scale: Exceeds Standards, Meets Standards, and Does Not Meet Standards. This rating system differs greatly from the A–F grades issued by Ohio to conventional public schools; the performance standards (or cut points) used to determine their ratings are also different. One critical question that the committee should consider is whether the standards for these second-chance schools are set at reasonable and rigorous levels.

Graduation Rates

Dropout-recovery schools primarily educate students who aren’t on track to graduate high school in four years (some students may have already passed this graduation deadline). These schools are still held responsible for graduating students on time. Ohio, however, recognizes that dropout-recovery schools educate students who need extra time to graduate by assigning ratings for extended (six-, seven-,...