Ohio Gadfly Daily

COMPILER’S NOTE: Gadfly Bites is back from its summer break. Today, a recap of Fordham In the News pieces published over the last ten days. Regular publication schedule restarts tomorrow, August 19.

  1. More than a half-dozen Gannett outlets (including the Cincinnati Enquirer) carried a story last week looking at the status of charter school law reform in Ohio – stalled – and suggesting possible reasons for the hold up of what had been a bipartisan push to improve charters in Ohio. Well, really only one reason is touted. Our own Chad Aldis is quoted in response to that key assertion: “I think to suggest (contributions) had an effect is only speculation… Members in both parties get lots of campaign contributions from lots of people.” Lawmakers interviewed insist they want to make sure the bill is right before passing it. (Zanesville Times-Recorder, 8/8/15)
  2. Fordham’s Kathryn Mullen Upton is quoted – and Fordham’s charter sponsorship portfolio is summarized – in this piece regarding what is called “rampant uncertainty” in the charter school world in Ohio. The piece lumps together a number of separate issues (sponsor ratings, audit findings against individual schools, sponsor accountability, the aforementioned stalled bill, etc.) in
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In early May, a coalition of stakeholders from business, philanthropy, and education organizations in Cincinnati announced a bold new public-private partnership called Accelerate Great Schools (AGS). The nonprofit organization is modeled after a similar program in Indianapolis known as the Mind Trust. In Indy, the Mind Trust is accomplishing some pretty remarkable things, including attracting established reform organizations and charter operators with proven records, and funding fellowships for talented people with ideas that have the potential to transform education. But what makes Cincinnati the right place to implement such a daring venture, and what exactly is AGS trying to accomplish?

Part of the reason why Accelerate Great Schools is coming together in Cincinnati—and has a chance to be successful—is because education in the Queen City has a lot going for it already. The school district, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), has implemented community learning centers (CLCs). CLCs are schools that offer more than academics. They also provide health services such as eye centers, dental clinics, and mental health counseling; after-school programs and tutoring; parent and family engagement programs; early career and college access services; mentoring; and arts and recreational programming for students, families, and the...

Reporter Richard Whitmire recently discovered the Building Excellent Schools (BES) fellowship program while interviewing a number of its graduates, leaders of high-performing charter schools across the country. The program allows promising charter school leaders to learn from the best practitioners in the field, to forge vital connections, and to see firsthand the importance of a strong leadership team. Over the years, BES has imparted these skills to many educators who have gone forth to lead new charter schools with the zeal of pioneers.

We here at Fordham have seen firsthand what Whitmire describes, because Columbus, Ohio is home to BES Fellow Andrew Boy—founder and chief executive officer at the United Schools Network (USN). Since Andy completed his BES fellowship and started his first school in a tiny church in 2008, he and his team have created a network of four schools successfully serving approximately 560 students in low-income neighborhoods in Columbus.

According to USN’s 2014 Annual Report, 89 percent of seventh graders at USN’s Dana Avenue campus scored proficient or higher on the reading portion of the Ohio Achievement Assessment. That’s five percentage points higher than all Ohio public school students. Students in USN’s Main...

Recently, ACT disaggregated its 2014 test results and college retention rates in order to get a closer look at the college aspirations and preparation levels of ACT-takers who reported a family income of less than $36,000 (approximately 24 percent of test-takers.) Overall, 96 percent of low-income students who took the ACT reported plans to enroll in college. 33 percent of these students wanted to obtain a graduate or professional degree, 51 percent wanted to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and 13 percent wanted to obtain an associate’s degree. Despite these aspirations, however, only 11 percent of low-income students met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks, which include English, reading, math, and science. Even more troubling, a whopping 50 percent of low-income students failed to meet even one benchmark.

When broken down by subject, low-income students performed best in English (45 percent met the benchmark, compared to 64 percent of all students). In the three remaining subjects, however, low-income students posted far lower numbers. 26 percent met the reading benchmark (compared to 44 percent of all students), 23 percent met the math benchmark (compared to 43 percent of all students), and 18 percent met the science benchmark (compared to...

COMPILER’S NOTE: Gadfly Bites is taking a summer vacation next week. It will return with a wrap up of the previous week’s stories on Tuesday, August 18. Regular thrice-weekly publication will resume on Wednesday, August 19.

  1. I’m not sure why the current Academic Distress Commission in Youngstown was fretting last week about what good they can do for the district while awaiting the new commission arriving in October. The information that will emerge from this staffing audit they authorized for the ever-shrinking district will be invaluable. Even the school board president says so. And then the new commission will, hopefully, act upon the findings. (Youngstown Vindicator, 8/6/15)
  2. Remember that dustup over upsizing of high school athletic divisions due to the new eligibility of charter and STEM school students? Complaints and litigation threats successfully tabled the division changes yesterday. Adults solving adult problems like adults, eh? Hope someone remembers that there are lots of newly-eligible students who will need the adults to think of them at some point. (Columbus Dispatch, 8/6/15)
  3. Speaking of adult problems, Governor John Kasich said the following this week in regard to state board of education members’ criticism of the Ohio Department
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Even though measures to improve charter school quality are currently stalled in the Ohio General Assembly, Fordham remains dedicated to our work as an advocate for high-quality school choice in Ohio. Toward that end, and in partnership with our colleagues at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), we recently filed a brief in support of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE)’s efforts to close two low-performing schools in the Cleveland area.

The case, Governing Authority et al v. Ohio Department of Education, is ultimately about whether a sponsor (also known as an authorizer) has the authority to close a charter school that has failed to meet contractual performance standards.

The schools at issue, Cleveland Community School and Villaview School, were sponsored by the Portage County Educational Service Center. Last April, ODE revoked Portage’s sponsorship authority for attempting to circumvent the law and mislead parents and students. ODE, in accordance with state law, then assumed sponsorship of the schools and...

  1. Here is yet another school district touting their new “online education program”, decrying the loss of money for kids who leave the district for charter schools (online or otherwise) and then implying that the kids come back to the district “even more behind” than when they left. Lots of problems with all of those anecdotal statements, of course, but let’s put those aside to focus on who is providing this valuable new service to the district’s students in their online venture for “non-traditional learners”. Vandalia-Butler City Schools has contracted with an online charter school to run their own E-school. Fascinating and bizarre. (Dayton Daily News, 8/3/15)
  2. So, if online charter schools are no longer foes for school districts, then who is? According to the leaders of 41 Southwest Ohio school districts, the state of Ohio is their enemy. The state has made it “nearly impossible” for their teachers to do their jobs via “unfunded mandates”. Oddly enough, Vandalia-Butler has yet to sign on to this enmity pact. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 8/3/15)
  3. However, in Columbus, it’s the Ohio High School Athletic Association that appears to be the more urgent bête noir. OHSAA’s distribution of newly-sports-eligible charter and STEM
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Author's note: following the publication of this piece, the Ohio High School Athletic Association voted to reverse their original decision and removed all charter and STEM school students from enrollment counts in district high schools.

Late in July, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) announced that it had parceled out newly sports-eligible students evenly and randomly to district high schools in the cities where they live. This action was taken as a result of a 2014 change in law that now allows non-district students in charter or STEM schools to participate in district-affiliated athletics (and certain other extracurricular activities). Instantly, all but one of the high schools in Columbus City Schools were “upsized” into a new athletics division—in some cases two or three steps upward—because of the technical increase in the schools’ enrollment. In other words, schools previously fielding sports teams in lower divisions (where the competition is less fierce) will now face tougher competition in the big leagues.

While stoicism reigned over the situation as it similarly unfolded in Toledo, the reaction in Columbus was swift and furious. One Columbus Dispatch sports writer called this action a “burden on districts that are already...

Finding a facility for charter schools to call home is a challenge on a number of fronts, not the least of which is finance. Some charters have been fortunate to find an unused district school building. Here in Columbus, the high-performing United Schools Network utilizes two former Columbus City Schools’ facilities. Other charters, like KIPP Columbus have built its own school from scratch (though its first home was a former district building as well). Unfortunately, these examples are the exception rather than the rule.

For many charters, operating in a traditional school building is financially infeasible. While charter schools bear the responsibility to find their own facilities, they receive only a small amount of state money for the task. Anecdotally, we know that this has forced many charters to make ends meet by residing in facilities that weren’t originally built for the specific purpose of educating children.

We wondered exactly how many charter schools use non-traditional facilities. To answer this question, we looked at the seventy-nine charter schools located in Franklin County (most are in Columbus) and then searched their addresses on the county auditor’s real estate website, which provides information including structure type and ownership (present and...

  1. After last week’s presentation by ODE to the current Youngstown Academic Distress Commission, more details are emerging on what the future CEO-led district might look like. The prime question in this piece is whether the elected school board will be retained and what it’s duties might be. (Youngstown Vindicator, 8/2/15)
  2. It is clear that folks in Lorain – the only other Ohio school district currently under the aegis of an old-style Academic Distress Commission – are looking warily at Youngstown for a glimpse of their possible future. This weird hybrid opinion piece/fact roundup is equal parts hope (“The district is pinning its hopes in Dr. Jeff Graham, who started Aug. 1 as the new Lorain City Schools superintendent.”) and propaganda (“We can’t think of anyone who would want to see Lorain Schools viewed in the same light as the struggling Youngstown City School District…”). But its authors are oddly optimistic about their own chances of avoiding state takeover (“We support any and all efforts to re-energize the struggling Lorain Schools.”) while simultaneously jumping the gun and erroneously reporting that Youngstown’s elected school board has already been disbanded. Almost as if the piece was written by a divided
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