Ohio Gadfly Daily

Two weeks ago I spent a couple of hours hunched over a cafeteria table, helping one of the eighth grade students I mentor outline her research paper. It brought back some fond memories of my time as a high school English teacher. But it also reminded me of one of the most frustrating aspects of teaching writing: When you’re a full-time educator teaching dozens of students, there is never enough time to provide every single student with the kind of detailed and consistent feedback that will truly transform their writing.

Maybe that’s why I was so thrilled when a few days later I came across the news that The Graide Network (TGN) had successfully raised over $1 million to expand its reach to more schools. For those who are unfamiliar, TGN is an organization that connects K–12 teachers with teaching assistants who grade and provide feedback on student writing through an online platform. Assistants, known as “Graiders,” work remotely and are undergraduate or graduate students who are enrolled in, or preparing to enroll in, teacher preparation programs.

The process works like this: Teachers post detailed information about an assignment, including a rubric and grading instructions, and are matched...


Two weeks ago, several lawmakers introduced legislation that proposes a major restructuring of education governance in Ohio. The crux of House Bill 512 is to foster a more coordinated approach to K–12 and postsecondary education policy, with the governor taking a clearer leadership role. To accomplish this, the bill proposes a new agency that would be led by an appointee of the governor and confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate. Most of the current duties of the Ohio Department of Education would transfer to the new agency, along with those of the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation.

The governing framework proposed in this bill charts a course towards a more coherent, seamless, and unified vision for education—from preschool all the way to the workforce. This change in approach is critical as data show that too many young people in Ohio struggle to make transitions from high school to college or career. Consider the following statistics:

  • College remediation: It’s no secret that too many college-going freshmen require remediation before taking credit-bearing courses. According to the most recent data from the Ohio Department of Higher Education, 31 percent
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Solving the “thirty-million-word gap” is not as simple as pouring more language into a child’s ears until she catches up with her peers. New research from a team at MIT points to “conversational turns”—defined as an adult utterance followed by a child utterance, or vice versa, with no more than a five-second pause between the two—as the best predictor of scores on standardized tests of vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning. These findings were independent of parental education levels, socioeconomic status (SES), and the amount of language to which children were exposed in the home. The senior researcher on the team described conversational turns as “almost magical” in their ability to build language competence in children.

The study involved thirty-six children between the ages of four and six and their parents. All were native English speakers, and the children were typically developing, with no history of premature birth, neurological disorders, developmental delay, speech/language therapy, or grade repetition. All participants passed a pre-test hearing screening. The children participated in a functional MRI task (fMRI) that monitored neural activity in Broca’s area, the part of the brain most associated with language production and processing. The task involved passively listening to short,...

  1. Editors in Toledo opined in favor of the proposed change in state-level education governance in Ohio. In principle, at least. (Toledo Blade, 2/26/18) So did all the folks who testified at the second hearing on the bill, which occurred in committee yesterday. Some of the legislators on that committee seemed less supportive. For now. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/28/18)
  2. School funding in Ohio got pretty good marks in a national report from Education Trust, released earlier this week. Much to the consternation of several folks who have earned their daily bread for the last 10 years or so insisting that this is not the case. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/27/18)
  3. Poland Local Schools this week received the results of a state audit, outlining some $1.6 million in possible annual savings. Much of that would come from – you guessed it – reductions in staffing. Poland district officials seem as skeptical as you might expect. You know, someone should do a study to see how often districts take the advice to trim staff. (WKBN-TV, Youngstown, 2/27/18) Instead, I predict a new levy for Poland Schools will be the first order of business. Hopefully officials won’t hold cool and popular
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In case you missed the headlines, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson recently resigned. Though a few scandals have plagued the district as of late, the one that spurred Wilson’s resignation was personal. He bypassed the citywide school lottery system to enroll his daughter in a high-performing school.

Wilson’s actions must be condemned as a misuse of power and a violation of public trust. He should not have circumvented district policies for his family’s benefit, and his resignation is warranted.

That being said, it’s not hard to understand why he did it. Based on media reports, the school that his daughter initially enrolled in—an arts magnet school—turned out to be a bad fit. Rather than keeping her in a school that didn’t work for her, Wilson did what most parents would do: He searched for a better option. Unfortunately, this meant using his power and connections to transfer his daughter into a high-performing school. Given these facts, it’s clear that he wanted his daughter to attend an academically strong school that was also a good fit for her. 

Wilson’s situation isn’t unique. Whether it’s a low-performing school, a school that isn’t the right fit, or both, tens...

  1. It may or may not surprise you to know that not many school districts in Ohio have a diversity plan when it comes to hiring. Small town Mansfield is not one of those districts. Seems to me that they don’t have much to show for having a plan in place for a year, but district officials seem satisfied. (Mansfield News Journal, 2/23/18)
  2. Things are much more clear cut in Norwalk schools; almost too much so. Both the board and the teachers union in the small northern Ohio town are delighted with their recent contract negotiations. They even use the word “enjoyable” to describe the process. Can you imagine? And what alchemy could have led to this shiny happy outcome? A newly-implemented process called “interest-based bargaining” (isn’t that every kind of bargaining?). “Essentially it emphasizes working toward solutions and takes away conflict from the process,” the journalist explains helpfully. Oh, right. THAT’s what everyone else is doing wrong. (Norwalk Reflector, 2/25/18)
  3. Some of the small town districts in Northeast Ohio seem to be continuing a 30 year lament in regard to school levies. Some say that a 1976 law makes “boom and bust” cycles the norm
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  1. Editors in Columbus this week opined – using Fordham as a prominent piece of evidence – in favor of strong and substantive graduation requirements. (Columbus Dispatch, 2/22/18)
  2. The main thrust of this piece, looking at the recent meeting of Lorain’s Community Business Schools Partnership group, is that new turnaround programs in the troubled district will likely start small and grow slowly. But I can’t tell if that mindset exists because the public suggestions they are getting about the ideal process are so timid or because there is fear of a financial catastrophe coming up that could scuttle everything. Either way, though, kind of a downer. (Northern Ohio Morning Journal, 2/21/18) But it looks like a credible first step toward change might finally have been taken. But who knows? Five months is a long time and wasn’t he already out the door back in November? (Elyria Chronicle, 2/22/18)
  3. It was announced this week that Kent State University would partner with Akron City Schools to create three new “college and career academies” within Firestone High School to help students move more seamlessly from high school to higher ed. These academies will cover areas such as visual
  4. ...

Back in October, the Gates Foundation announced a new strategy for their education efforts. Going forward, the organization plans to focus much of its attention—and monetary investment—on networks of schools that will develop locally-driven solutions to improve student achievement. The foundation already issued its first Request for Proposals, along with some guidance based on feedback from various organizations with prior experience improving postsecondary outcomes for students.

Although this grant opportunity is for school networks and not policymakers, there are still plenty of important lessons that lawmakers can learn from the guidance that Gates released to its applicants. And candidates up for election in November should also consider it as they finalize their education platforms.

Here’s a look at three key ideas:

Focus on equity

The Gates Foundation wants applicant responses to “demonstrate a clear commitment to equity.” This is of course important because every single child matters and deserves an excellent education.

For state lawmakers, supporting school choice is a great way to accomplish this. Education is often referred to as the great equalizer, but for millions of children in the United States equal educational opportunities are just a pipe dream. Because of their household incomes and neighborhoods,...


Over the past year, Ohio lawmakers have been mulling revisions to the state’s teacher evaluation policies. The leading proposal, put forth in similar provisions in Senate Bill 240 and Senate Bill 216, would replace the state’s current evaluation framework, known as the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES), with a framework sketched out by the Educator Standards Board (ESB).

If passed, the new evaluation system would continue to require annual teacher evaluations (with some exceptions); protocols calling for at least two thirty-minute observations; and ratings assigned along four categories. The major difference between OTES and the ESB recommendations is how they incorporate student performance data in teachers’ evaluations. Controversially, OTES prescribes certain weights that student growth measures must receive in the rating system. However, ESB proposes that “high quality data” be embedded as “sources of evidence” that evaluators can use to justify their ratings along various dimensions of Ohio’s performance rubric.[1] While an updated rubric has yet to be unveiled, it would likely follow a national pattern that is now weakening the use of student data in teacher ratings.  

Replacing OTES with the ESB approach may...


The Ohio House of Representatives just proposed to restructure oversight of K–12 public education by shifting much of the state Board of Education’s power to the governor through a newly formed cabinet-level position.

This would be a serious overhaul, so it’s no surprise that it’s garnering strong reactions. I’m sensitive about reducing the role of a publicly elected board—in no small part because I ran for a seat on it two years ago.

Supporters of the change argue that the board’s current hybrid governance structure—wherein the pubic elects eleven members and the governor appoints eight—is ineffective; they think the governor should be responsible for the direction of education policy and held accountable by voters accordingly. Critics of the proposal contend that reducing the authority of the partially elected board would subvert the will of the voters and replace it with “party politics,” the last thing they want for K–12 public education.

Democracy is rightly one of America’s core principles. But, as Robert Kennedy, Jr. said “Democracy is messy. And it’s hard.” Indeed, running for the state education board laid bare some of its imperfections—and not just because I lost. Elections are sometimes portrayed as ideal forms of...