Ohio Gadfly Daily

Tom Gunlock

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.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) recently recommended that the legislature soften graduation requirements and allow attendance, community service, and other non-academic items to replace test scores and allow students to graduate regardless of whether they meet existing graduation requirements. If the proponents of this change are to be believed, the state’s End of Course (EOC) tests (which replaced the Ohio Graduation Tests, or OGTs) are too hard for students—and will lead to nearly one-third of the Class of 2018 failing to graduate.  Though lowering standards is troublesome there is another—perhaps more alarming—reason to oppose this recommendation: the legislature is being asked to make a change without having all the facts. Here are a few questions that must be answered before the legislature can decide to lower the bar.

First, what does the most recent student data say?

The SBOE claims that a third of students in the Class of 2018 won’t graduate due to new EOC tests. But this claim rests solely on test results from students’ sophomore year, almost 12 months ago....

In April, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos toured the Van Wert school district in rural northwestern Ohio along with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. In such sparsely populated communities, private and charter schools are usually scarce. But does that mean school choice does not exist? Absolutely not: In a Cleveland Plain Dealer op-ed published just before her visit, Secretary DeVos noted that “parents or guardians of nearly 20 percent of students who live within Van Wert’s district lines choose to send their children to a nearby district.”

She was of course referring to interdistrict open enrollment, a public school choice policy that allows students to attend school outside of their “home district” without having to pay tuition. While open enrollment often flies under the radar, it’s among the oldest and most widespread forms of school choice in America. Minnesota passed the nation’s first open enrollment law in 1988, and several other states, including Ohio, enacted similar laws shortly thereafter. Forty-four states now allow some form of open enrollment: Some states require their districts to participate in open enrollment (it’s mandatory), while others leave that decision to local districts.[1]

Like any choice initiative,...

  1. It’s the end of the traditional school year across Ohio and that means only one thing: a dearth of actual education news in publications far and wide. As you can see. Nonetheless, we start today with a pretty interesting profile of the valedictorian of this year’s senior class at Ponitz Career Technology Center in Dayton. She is Turkan Tashtan. Her family fled Russia when she was 8 and they eventually settled in Dayton after a brief stop in Pennsylvania. She spoke no English and had never attended school before. Her educational journey included an ESL track, a Dayton charter school, and finding and choosing Ponitz for high school. She has her eye on becoming a lawyer or a business leader someday. Best of luck in everything! (Dayton Daily News, 6/2/17)
  2. Everything is apparently awesome – I’m talking balloons, confetti, track meets, and hot Cheetos awesome – when you’re part of the team at the Colossus of Lorain (a.k.a. the academically-distressed district’s schmancy new-ish high school). In fact, the term “academic distress” is not mentioned once in this piece – a look back at the year just completed from the perspective of first-year Lorain High School principal Robin
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  1. We start today with an opinion piece from the PD in which education professionals attempt to dispel misconceptions about standardized testing in Ohio’s schools. Good stuff. Now, why that had to be done in an opinion piece is still an open question. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/31/17) On a related note, Ohio appears to have a bit of a test problem at the moment. No, not that one. This one: In the first year that all high school juniors in Ohio are required to take the ACT, about 1,300 test takers in 21 districts across the state have had their scores invalidated due to a mix up in test forms distributed. The result is that those students’ tests have been rejected with no scores reported. Test takers in Reynoldsburg, their families, and their school officials are pretty upset by the snafu. (Columbus Dispatch, 6/1/17) And so are test takers in the Miami Valley, their families, and their school officials. (Dayton Daily News, 6/1/17) Additionally, the remedy current on offer – a voucher for a free retest at the earliest available opportunity – isn’t sitting too well with those folks either. Story developing, as they say.
  2. I know
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Stéphane Lavertu

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.

The 2015 reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act—known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—requires states to identify poorly performing public schools and help them improve. Importantly, ESSA grants states flexibility in fulfilling this requirement. That means Ohio has some decisions to make as it creates the state’s accountability plan due to the feds this fall. To inform this decision-making, the Ohio Department of Education commissioned Deven Carlson of the University of Oklahoma and me to use rigorous scientific methods to estimate the impact of recent efforts to turn around struggling schools in Ohio. I write to share the results of this study and to offer some general thoughts on how Ohio might proceed under ESSA.  

Our study focused on two recent “school turnaround” initiatives: Ohio’s administration of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program beginning in 2009 and its intervention in “priority schools” beginning in 2012. These programs targeted elementary and secondary schools ranked in...

  1. The CEO-style Academic Distress Commission is on the mind of the PD’s Patrick O’Donnell this week. Fist up, he took a look at the hopes and fears of officials in Lorain as said CEO-style ADC ramps up there. Mostly at the fears, though. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/27/17) Then Patrick took a look at the state of play in Youngstown, the only other district currently operating under the aegis of a CEO-style ADC, including rants, raves, and worst-case scenarios. Mostly the rants and the scenarios, though. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/30/17) And just in case you’ve missed a recent update on just how “ranty” things are in Youngstown, here’s a reminder. Apparently, the school board and the CEO are “communicating” largely via Vindy articles these days. Good for circulation numbers, I’m sure. Probably not so good for kids. (Youngstown Vindicator, 5/24/17)
  2. Speaking of things that are good for kids, summer is apparently not one of them, if the recent spate of articles clipped here are to be believed. Here is a look at all of the efforts afoot in the city of Columbus to keep local kids safe and engaged over the extended break from school. Of interest
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Posted just six hours after the close of Mother’s Day, this eerily titled article, “Some school districts tail parents to check where family actually lives,” discussed the lengths to which some parents go to enroll their child in a “desirable school district”—and the lengths to which some districts go to keep such “outsiders” at bay.  Nothing says we cherish or appreciate moms like this description of a local residency investigation that resulted in a child being forcibly withdrawn from a local school. As the Columbus Dispatch reported:

“In April, lots of Bexley residents chimed in over social media when an outraged mother posted that the Bexley school district hired a private investigator to tail her for months to see if she and her young son actually live at her mother’s house. She said she works multiple jobs and isn’t at home much. In the Facebook post that has since been removed, she said her son had been kicked out of school with only five weeks left in the year...”

In response, the district’s attorney, Gregory Scott defended the district’s actions saying:

“There’s nothing nefarious about that [legally following someone in public].”

“Districts that choose to close...

Performance-based funding in the public sector has begun to take root in recent years, most prominently in higher education and in merit-pay plans for some teachers. It’s based on the belief that in order to incentivize stronger performance by individuals and institutions, policymakers should provide them with a portion of their funds based on demonstrated outcomes.

Ohio has also dabbled in performance-based funding for its K-12 schools. Starting in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, state lawmakers provided a $17-per-student bonus to high-performing districts—those rated “excellent” or “excellent with distinction.” That funding stream was not renewed in the next budget cycle but performance-based funding reappeared in a different form in FY 2016-17. Under present policy, districts (and charters) receive nominal bonuses based on their third-grade reading proficiency rates and their graduation rates. Altogether, Ohio spreads about $35 million per year in performance bonuses to each district, with sums typically ranging from $10 to $50 per student. All districts receive some amount of bonus funding.

Ohio’s budget bill (for FY 18-19) keeps these bonus programs intact, and we certainly applaud the rationale and the intent. Yet performance-based funding in its present K-12 form has several flaws, and...

Back in February, U.S. News and World Report named Massachusetts the top state in its Best States rankings. Though the Bay State has plenty else going for it, part of its triumph is based on educational success—and on that dimension it’s no secret that Massachusetts students have recently excelled on both the national and international stages.

Perhaps, therefore, we ought not be too surprised that one of Ohio’s latest Common Core repeal attempts would replace those “national” standards with Massachusetts’s pre-2010 academic content standards. The bill’s sponsor has argued that the Bay State’s old standards are in Ohio’s current best interest because, while teaching them, Massachusetts moved from “modestly performing” to best in class. In recent testimony, he called them “excellent” and “proven” and argued that this change is necessary because Ohio’s education ranking has “plummeted” (which, for the record, is a misunderstanding of the data). The implication is that by adopting Massachusetts’ old standards, Ohio will place itself on the road to dominating the education sphere.

But is that true? Were Ohio to adopt the old Massachusetts standards, can we expect Massachusetts-style academic results?

Brief but apt digression: let’s turn...

Inequity in the City—the work of veteran authors of charter-school funding studies, including Inequity’s Next Frontier, Inequity Persists, and Inequity Expandsdiffers slightly from its predecessors because of its metropolitan focus. Its core finding is familiar, however: public charter schools face serious and persistent funding gaps compared to their district counterparts. (Will we ever get to read “Inequity Shrinks” or “Inequity Disappears”? One can dream.)

The analysts focused on 15 cities: Atlanta, Boston, Camden, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, San Antonio, Tulsa, and Washington, D.C. These locales were selected for their high concentration of charters or their “potential for growth.” Data come from fiscal year 2014.

They examined revenue differences in these places between the charter and district schools sectors, including all sources of funding—local, state, federal, and nonpublic. In eight of the cities, the authors conducted longitudinal analyses. They also tested to see whether differences in the enrollment rates of students with special learning needs (defined broadly to include students who are low-income, English language learners, or with disabilities) might explain funding differences.

There are several notable findings:

  • Urban charter schools continue to receive significantly less money than
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