Ohio Gadfly Daily

Dr. Geno Thomas

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.

Lowellville Local Schools in Mahoning County, Ohio, where I am superintendent, has participated in Ohio’s open enrollment program for almost 20 years. Our district enrolls about 600 students annually, about 54 percent of whom attend from outside Lowellville’s district borders through Ohio’s open enrollment option. The program’s impact on our schools and students has been overwhelmingly positive, yet there has been some skepticism about open enrollment across the state. Most of these criticisms seem territorial at heart or seem to stem from a philosophical opposition to choice. Folks might ask, “Why should taxpayers have to pay for students who live outside their district?” or they may wonder about capacity issues, overcrowding, or transportation issues when serving kids outside of their bounds.

But there are other aspects of the program worth knowing about—real benefits for students, families, educators, and communities when districts opt to allow students via open enrollment.

1)      Greater course offerings. In Lowellville, given the manner in which...

On September 15, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) submitted its ESSA plan to the U.S. Department of Education. Ohio’s current accountability system meets most of the stipulations of the new federal law. As a result, Ohio’s federal plan doesn’t make that many changes to state practice.

But there is one under-the-radar ESSA provision that could have a significant impact on Ohio. ESSA explicitly says that when calculating four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, states can only use the percentage of students who earn a regular high school diploma. This diploma is defined as “the standard high school diploma awarded to the preponderance of students in the State that is fully aligned with State standards.” While there’s nothing stopping states from awarding multiple diplomas, the four-year graduation rate that they report to the feds can only be based on a single diploma—whichever one the majority of students earn.

This could have implications for how the state handles graduation for students with special needs, who represent about 15 percent of Ohio students. In a recent presentation to the State Board, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) put it this way:

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  1. I have said it before, but it bears repeating: the reach of Aaron Churchill knows no geographic bounds. Here he is commenting on standardized testing in a Pennsylvania news outlet. It appears from this piece that there is no one in all of the Keystone State who supports standardized testing—which is weird—and so the reporter had to go looking far afield for someone to “bless the tests”, as we say around here. But maybe it’s just that no one like that was in the reporter’s contact list. Thank heaven for Aaron’s misspent Pennsylvania youth. (Morning Call, Allentown, PA, 9/30/17)
     
  2. Speaking of lone voices, data analyst Howard Fleeter appears to be alone in his assessment that Ohio’s school report card data is valuable. At least that’s how it appears in this round up of opinion on report cards from a group of state office holders as compiled by Gongwer. (Gongwer Ohio, 9/29/17) Oddly enough, the PD has a similar story with a similar tone—albeit with a few less voices in it. This is coverage of a community event held in Shaker Heights last week in which some legislators and state board members talked about report cards. (Cleveland
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  1. State supe Paolo DeMaria and veteran analyst Howard Fleeter were featured presenters at this week’s meeting of the House Speaker's Taskforce on Education and Poverty. Truth be told, I didn’t hate what they had to say, especially their focus on schools which are already showing success in closing achievement gaps for students living in poverty. (Gongwer Ohio, 9/28/17)
     
  2. Kudos to Jeremy Kelley for being the first journalist to look at teacher ratings as part of the recent report card data. Brickbats for the data, which seems somewhat unrealistic. (Dayton Daily News, 9/29/17)
     
  3. Dear ECOT, I have some questions about your expenditures under the line item ‘advertising’. Give me a call when you get a chance. Sincerely, Auditor Yost (…). P.S. – Please find enclosed several subpoenas and the phone number of the attorney general’s special counsel appointed to help me out on this. TTFN. Dave.” (Columbus Dispatch, 9/27/17) “Dear ECOT (and VCS, but that’s beside the point), still finding some big discrepancies in your attendance audit for last year. Because it wasn’t nearly as bad as the previous year, you may be pleased to find that the enclosed clawback invoice is a much more
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  1. I was remiss in not clipping this piece from the massive “CBus Next” education package in the Dispatch last week. It is about “the future of education” and talks a lot about technology – robots, combining science with art and history classes, virtual reality, etc. That well known advocate of MOOCs and online course choice Aaron Churchill is quoted within, which is important. But as a side not: don’t a couple of those schools featured in here sounds really cool? I really think so, but I could be biased. (Columbus Dispatch, 9/22/17)
     
  2. Speaking of online education, ECOT this week cleared the first hurdle toward its regeneration as a dropout recovery school as the Ohio Department of Educated accepted its report that the majority of its students are in need of a special program for at-risk students. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 9/26/17)
     
  3. And speaking of alternatives to the status quo, let’s not forget the original “opt out”: homeschooling, which is still a sizeable slice of the education pie here in Ohio. And it’s gotten more sophisticated too: with “homeschool cooperatives” evolving to provide unique experiences for students and families well beyond the kitchen table. Take a look
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You have no doubt seen numerous media stories regarding the recent release of school report card data in Ohio. As supporters of a robust accountability system, we urge you to pay attention to the stories and the ongoing discussion. The success of our public schools (charter and district) in doing the vital work with which they are entrusted must be assessed, reported, and analyzed. Schools which evidence success should be lauded, emulated, and expanded to reach as many students as possible. Schools which struggle in any area should be highlighted and helped to improve if possible.

None of these things can happen without robust data and clear-eyed analysis.

Fordham has worked for many years to be a source of unbiased analysis, research, and commentary on the state’s annual report card data. With Ohio’s most recent data release having occurred in mid-September, we have published the following:

  1. Two separate stories; a similar theme. That theme is the correlation between test scores and race/income as reflected in state report card data. First up, Aaron is quoted on that topic in the Dispatch. (Columbus Dispatch, 9/24/17) Next up, Chad is quoted on that topic at length on statewide public television. (State of Ohio, via Ideastream Public Media, 9/22/17) Well, now that we’re all agreed (thanks to the data that we have at hand), on with the solutions, right?
     
  2. We interrupt your regularly-scheduled report card data update to bring you this “news”: the Ohio Department of Education isn’t currently planning to change its process for verifying students’ “at-risk” status despite the fact that ECOT will soon be entering into said process. Chad is on hand to suggest that if this is a problem for folks (well duh), the legislature may want to consider inducing a change. (Columbus Dispatch, 9/23/17)
     
  3. Returning to report card-related pieces, editors in Youngstown this weekend opined upon the district’s still-dismal report card and how that may affect their support for the CEO. Ouch. (Youngstown Vindicator, 9/24/17) You will note that despite their angst (perhaps understandable given that the CEO’s “latitude”
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Cris Gulacy-Worrel

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 recent request by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) to apply for Ohio’s Drop Out Prevention and Recovery (DOPR) designation has shined a spotlight on this unique type of alternative school and has created many misconceptions surrounding what they do, the students they serve, and how they serve them.

Those of us who have dedicated our careers to providing safe, inclusive, high-quality learning environments for our most challenged students think these misconceptions should be identified and exposed. DOPR is a status for which schools must apply and is outlined in state law. The designation has existed for many years. Only programs that meet the components set forth by law are approved by the Department of Education. DOPR schools must meet specified academic as well as financial objectives set by the Department. The designation is not a shelter for charter schools to utilize as a protection against public accountability for student performance, nor are drop out recovery waivers intended to be leveraged by schools not specializing in this specific student population. The designation is meant...

  1. More on state report cards to start the day. To wit: at least one state legislator is very very unhappy about state report cards, for reasons which are barely articulated in this piece. He’s got some support among the usual statewide public media interviewee pool. Fordham is namechecked in this piece as well, regarding charter school report card data. (WOSU-FM, Columbus, 9/22/17) Fordham is namechecked at the very end of this piece as having supported a “solution” two years ago to what is apparently a longstanding “problem” regarding charter school sponsor payments. Why mention that now? That “problem” is now seen as one of a couple of “loopholes” which might “benefit” ECOT (pronounced “not stop them”) in its efforts to regenerate into a dropout recovery school. And you know how journalists hate loopholes. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 9/21/17)
     
  2. The Columbus Dispatch has been publishing a monthly series on “The Future” of our great city, looking at various areas of civic endeavor and looking at what’s next within those areas in some depth. They have reached the topic of education this month, and one of the voices talking about “what’s next” is United Schools Network CEO Andy Boy.
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A recent article in Education Week highlighted how an under-the-radar ESSA provision could spell trouble for states with multiple high school diplomas. The provision outlines the definition of a regular high school diploma, which must be used to calculate a state’s four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate. Specifically, the definition of a regular high school diploma is: “the standard high school diploma awarded to the preponderance of students in the State that is fully aligned with State standards.”

The trouble that several states are running into is with the phrase “the preponderance of students in the State.” Preponderance, by definition, means a majority. In the past, some states offering multiple diplomas have calculated their graduation rates by adding up the percentage of students who earn each of the different diplomas. Under ESSA, states will only be permitted to count one of those diplomas—a move that could significantly lower graduation rates.

According to the EdWeek article, the provision was intended to ensure that the diplomas states award are adequately preparing all students. “Advocates for lower-income and minority students, and those with disabilities, were key voices at the table when that section of the bill was being drafted,” EdWeek journalist...

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