Ohio Gadfly Daily

School finance systems are complicated, often controversial, and subject to a certain amount of speculation. Are public schools “overfunded” or “underfunded”? Are they wasting precious taxpayer dollars or putting them to effective use? From which sources are they receiving their funds, and what strings might be attached? Are our public institutions on solid financial footing, or are they in dire straits?

These are fundamental questions that parents and taxpayers have every right to ask and to which they’re owed clear answers. One crucial disclosure is a district’s statement of revenues and expenditures—akin to a business’s income and expense statement. This report describes how a district raised revenue and how it spent those funds during the past fiscal year.

But you may be surprised to learn that the state revenues received and transferred to charters are also included in a district’s financial statement. You wouldn’t know it by simply looking at the statement: Consider, for example, the statement of revenues and expenditures for Cincinnati City Schools in the figure below.

You’ll notice that the presentation doesn’t clearly display the $57 million received to educate Cincinnati...

  1. Our own Jamie Davies O’Leary is front and center in the Enquirer with an opinion piece explaining why Ohio should not consider returning $71 million in recently-awarded federal Charter School Program (CSP) funds. (Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/3/15)
  2. Our own Chad Aldis is heavily quoted in an ABJ piece discussing reaction to the recent CREDO report on e-school performance in more than a dozen states, including Ohio. The piece is mainly about those who are arguing against the report’s dismal findings. Chad is not one of those voices. (Akron Beacon Journal, 11/2/15)
  3. The same day, editors in Akron opined to vilify e-school performance in Ohio based on the report. Snappy headline, by the way. (Akron Beacon Journal, 11/3/15) Editors in Cleveland opined on the new e-school ratings as well, but took a moment to tie them in to the ongoing do-over of charter sponsor reviews in Ohio. Hold that thought. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/3/15)
  4. Another requested injunction to halt the so-called Youngstown Plan (really just a sharpening of Ohio’s Academic Distress Commission protocols currently tightly focused on Youngstown) in its tracks has been denied in court this week. Foes of the plan vow to
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Schools have long been championed as places where we can level the playing field for low-income children. Unfortunately, that leveling doesn’t happen very often. Instead, schools have become the epicenter of not only the achievement gap, but also the opportunity gap— the inequitable distribution of resources and quality opportunities that contribute to the achievement gap.   

The authors of a recent Manhattan Institute (MI) policy brief discuss how income stagnation and inequality can limit opportunities for kids. Specifically, the brief references “the vastly different pathways available to students from different backgrounds.” To be fair, these gaps don’t exist just because of schools. But as Robert Putnam argues in his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, “Even if schools didn’t cause the growing opportunity gap—and there’s little evidence that they have—they might well be a prime place to fix it.”

So how do we get schools to take on the opportunity gap? What can we do? My colleague, Mike Petrilli, has tackled this question before and emphasizes the importance of social capital. Putnam, on the other hand, emphasizes monetary capital; he advocates allocating money to schools for the exclusive goal of ending the opportunity...

The folks at ReSchool Colorado have big changes in mind for education in the Centennial State. In the works since 2013, this project of the Donnell-Kay Foundation aims to imagine a new education system that “pushes the boundaries of current thought and practice, and better prepares learners to be happy, productive, and healthy people and professionals.” The group has spent the last two years searching for breakthrough innovations through small, discreet projects they call prototypes. The outcomes of these prototypes are meant to inform a redesign of the larger education system in 2016.

A detailed new article gives us a nuts-and-bolts look at one of these prototypes. In this case, the scale was very small: nineteen low-income immigrant families with young children living in Boulder public housing. The objective was to provide everything that these families might need to access high-quality educational enrichment experiences: trips to zoos and museums, swimming lessons, and the like. In short, the kinds of out-of-school activities that rich suburban parents tend to take for granted. The ReSchool team provided, among other things, funding via debit cards (mini-vouchers) to pay for the activities; detailed information guides geared to the knowledge level of the families (meeting...

Five years ago, Ohio established an academic distress commission for Youngstown City Schools that was to oversee wide-scale improvement efforts. Youngstown had slipped into “Academic Emergency” (the equivalent of an F on today’s report cards) and failed to make adequate yearly progress for four consecutive years. It was the first district to sink low enough to activate a statute imposing state intervention.

In 2010, I wrote about Youngstown’s “unfocused, expensive, and misdirected” approach to improving schools, which included spending $2 million on reducing student-teacher ratios, “deploying a comprehensive system of outreach and support” for students that included “a community asset map,” and creating leadership teams whose sole purpose was to foster “collaboration, trust, and communication.” The original improvement plan was riddled with vague and meaningless language. Worse, it demanded no reforms that could actually move the needle on student learning: changes to how teachers teach and are evaluated, how principals make decisions affecting day-to-day operations, or how the district might carve out space for innovations typically stifled by collective bargaining agreements.

Predictably, little has changed since 2010. An update on the district’s recovery plan in March 2013 revealed an alarmingly unfocused approach by the commission,...

  1. House Bill 2 – historic charter law reform in Ohio – was signed into law by Governor Kasich yesterday. Upon the signing, the governor said, “Making sure that our kids aren’t stuck in failing schools has been a priority, and this bill will profoundly benefit our children.” Nice. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/2/15) I don’t usually clip letters to the editor, but this one – from NACSA President/CEO Greg Richmond – praising the now-enacted charter reform bill, seemed worthy. (Toledo Blade, 11/1/15)
  2. The state board of education is in the process of updating the standards for gifted education in Ohio. Gifted advocates have some concerns about the process up to this point and some firm ideas about what they’d like to see in the final version of the standards, which are still some months of meetings, public comment, and debate away. (Columbus Dispatch, 11/2/15)
  3. In other news, here’s an in-depth look at funding for special needs students in school districts in Clark and Champaign Counties. District and ESC officials say numbers of special needs students are increasing, along with the associated costs. State and federal funds for services, they say, are flat or shrinking. Kudos for
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  1. The CREDO report on e-school performance release earlier this week continues to ripple through Ohio media outlets. Chad is quoted in Gongwer’s report from yesterday. "Ohio shouldn't back away from its disappointing NAEP results," he said. "This is a benchmark the state should use to gauge its long-term progress." (Gongwer Ohio, 10/29/15). The formerly-Big D recycled Chad’s previous-published quote in this story on reaction to the report by ECOT, Ohio’s largest virtual school… (Columbus Dispatch, 10/29/15) …as well as in today’s op-ed in which editors opine in agreement. (Columbus Dispatch, 10/30/15)
  2. Speaking of Dispatch editorials, here’s an interesting one from yesterday in which editors express happiness that Ohio’s post-PARCC tests have been well-received by educators thus far and urge folks to give the new tests a chance. Sounds sensible. (Columbus Dispatch, 10/29/15)
  3. Leaving the realm of sensible far behind now, loyal Gadfly Bites subscribers may recall the “Leap Frog” reading tutoring program in Akron. It was started by a group of former politicians/candidates with materials and in spaces that were begged and borrowed in a zealous attempt to help city third graders pass the state’s reading test and be promoted to fourth grade. As
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Late last night, results were released from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—an exam that is widely considered the best domestic gauge of student achievement. NAEP is administered in each state, every two years, to a representative sample of fourth and eighth grade students in reading and math. With its rigorous content and stringent standards for meeting proficiency, NAEP provides a clear and honest view of student achievement in Ohio and across the nation.

The bottom line from these test results is that too many Buckeye children are struggling to meet rigorous academic goals. The NAEP results for 2015 show just 45 and 37 percent of fourth graders are proficient in math and reading, respectively. In eighth grade, only 36 percent of youngsters are proficient on each of the assessments. Relative to national averages, Ohio students achieve at somewhat higher levels—though some of that is due to its favorable demographics vis-à-vis poorer states. Yet their performance still trails well behind the top-performing states in the nation, such as Massachusetts and New Jersey. Compared to 2013—the last round of NAEP testing in these grades and subjects—student proficiency in Ohio was slightly lower (as were the national averages).

The following...

The Center for Research on Educational Options (CREDO) at Stanford University just released findings from a first-of-its-kind study assessing the impact of online charter schools in seventeen states (including Ohio) and Washington, D.C. The news is dismal—for “virtual” charters nationally, for Ohio, for advocates like Fordham, who argue for e-schools’ rightful place in the school choice landscape but are weary of their quality problems; and most of all, for the students losing dozens (in some cases hundreds) of days of learning by opting into a virtual environment.

CREDO found that virtual charter school students nationally (those enrolled in a public, full-time online school) learned the equivalent of seventy-two fewer days in reading and 180 days in math compared with the traditional public school students to whom they were matched[i]. That’s essentially an entire school year gone to waste in math and almost half a year gone in reading. In Ohio, students in virtual charter schools lost about seventy-nine days in reading and 144 days in math.

It is also striking that—unlike CREDO’s national charter studies, which discovered many states’ charter school sectors handily outperforming traditional public schools—in no state did online charter students outperform...

School leaders are responsible for nearly everything that happens in a school—from creating a positive culture to tracking data to evaluating instruction to hiring (or sometimes firing) the teachers who most affect student achievement. Despite this extraordinary amount of responsibility, many policymakers and reformers devote their time to crafting policies that affect teachers rather than principals. In light of this, we at Fordham began thinking over some important questions: Are schools doing an effective job of recruiting, selecting, and retaining great school leaders? Are principals being trained effectively, and is there meaningful ongoing support? Are principals empowered to make decisions and challenge the status quo? What’s the right balance between autonomy and accountability?

At a breakfast event on Tuesday, we hosted presentations and a panel discussion from a few experts in the field. First we talked with Dayton Public Schools (DPS) Superintendent Lori Ward, who shared how difficult it is for a large, urban district like hers to recruit and retain effective principals.

Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori Ward

Ward explained that of the 28 buildings in DPS, 20 are led by a principal with three...