Ohio Gadfly Daily

Passed by the Ohio House and Senate, House Bill 70 sharpens the powers and duties of “academic distress commissions” (ADCs) in Ohio and now awaits the signature of Governor Kasich.

Academic distress commissions were added to state law in 2007 as a way for the state to intervene in districts that consistently fail to meet standards. Two districts (Youngstown and Lorain) currently operate under the auspices of an ADC, but the new bill only applies to the former (as the latter’s commission is too new) and to any future districts which fall into academic distress after the bill’s effective date. Despite being nicknamed the “Youngstown Plan,” HB 70 doesn’t specifically mention Youngstown; on the contrary, it applies statewide and significantly alters the way any ADC—whether already existing or established in the future—is run. Moving forward, a new ADC will be established if a district receives an overall F grade on its state report card for three consecutive years. As for districts already under an ADC (Youngstown and Lorain), the structure of their ADCs will change on the bill’s effective date of compliance.

Let’s examine four of HB 70’s biggest changes...

Many would argue that the media doesn’t give education the ink or airtime it deserves. But surprisingly, a new publication suggests that—at least at the local, state, and regional levels—K–12 issues receive a fair amount of attention.

In this study, policy strategist Andrew Campanella used the NewsBank database to search for key education terms in headlines and ledes. In total, he compiled stories from more than five thousand news sources and filtered out results about higher education. He found that education coverage was up 7.7 percent in 2014 relative to the twenty-five year trend, and also discovered that local, state, and regional outlets featured K–12 education in about 6.8 percent of stories. That’s a decent proportion of stories when considering the various topics covered by media outlets. In contrast, national media was about three times less likely than local media to feature education.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it isn’t education policy driving the news coverage in local outlets. Sports were by far the most covered “education” topic, appearing in 13.6 percent of state, local, and regional education stories. Special events like pep rallies and field trips were a distant second at 5.1 percent. When policy was covered, the study found...

  1. Chad is quoted in a story on the stall in charter law reform in Ohio. The bill that was oh-so-close to passage earlier this week now appears to be delayed until at least September. (Columbus Dispatch, 7/1/15)
  2. With a stroke of his pen last night – well, actually a stroke not taken – Governor Kasich outlawed PARCC tests in Ohio. The full piece from the PD also includes other testing-related details included in the new state budget. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6/30/15)
  3. More opining on the so-called “Youngstown Plan” this week, which is really a strengthening of Ohio’s Academic Distress Commission protocols, still awaiting Governor Kasich’s aforementioned pen stroke. Here’s what editors in Akron had to say. (Akron Beacon Journal, 6/30/15) And here’s what editors in Canton had to say. (Canton Repository, 6/29/15)
  4. Speaking of Canton, here is an update on a charter school whose sponsor – the Ohio Department of Education – intends to suspend its operations due to, among other things, poor academic performance. What’s the update? The school’s operator sued to put a hold on the suspension and to try and get the closure process stopped. They lost the first
  5. ...

In the reauthorization debate, civil rights groups are pressing to have ESEA force states to "do something" in schools where students as a whole are making good progress but at-risk subgroups are falling behind. Their concerns are not unreasonable, to be sure. Schools should ensure that all students, especially those who are struggling academically, are making learning gains.

Yet it’s not clear how often otherwise good schools fail to contribute gains for their low-achievers. Is it widespread problem or fairly isolated? Just how many schools display strong overall results, but weak performance with at-risk subgroups?

To shine light on this question, we turn to Ohio. The Buckeye State’s accountability system has a unique feature: Not only does it report student growth results—i.e., “value added”—for a school as a whole, but also for certain subgroups. Herein we focus on schools’ results for their low-achieving subgroups—pupils whose achievement is in the bottom 20 percent statewide—since this group likely consists of a number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds, including from minority groups.

(The other subgroups with growth results are gifted and special needs students, who may not be as likely to come from disadvantaged families or communities. The state does not disaggregate...

It wasn’t that long ago when you could go from one end of your K–12 education to the other without even laying eyes on a student with a disability. “In the early 1970s, these youths were marginalized both in school and in life, with only one-fifth of children with disabilities even enrolled in public schools,” notes Education Week, whose tenth annual “Diplomas Count” report focuses this year on students with disabilities. Today, nearly six million such students are enrolled in U.S. public schools, with the vast majority studying alongside non-disabled peers. They are “coming of age at a time when they, like all high school students, are increasingly expected to perform to high academic standards and to prepare for further education or training and a productive role in the workplace,” the authors observe.

How are they doing? Eighty-one percent of our public high schools students can now expect to march across stage and be handed a diploma within four years; that’s both a historic high and the headline finding of “Diplomas Count 2015.” However, the graduation rate among students with disabilities is 62 percent—a figure that masks wild (and somewhat suspicious) variations from state to state: from a low of...

Elsewhere in this issue, you read about the "Youngstown Plan," sharpening the teeth of Ohio’s Academic Distress Commission (ADC) protocols for persistently troubled school districts. While newspaper editors and citizen groups in Youngstown have been calling for something stronger than the existing ADC for a while now, it is a singular moment of opportunity that has facilitated the new plan’s rapid adoption. The re-retirement of former Youngstown Superintendent Connie Hathorn and the instatement of a six-month interim supe is a perfect setup for this transition. Youngstown has been in academic and financial trouble for decades, and the district has been formally under the ADC’s thumb for the past five years, yet the needle of success has barely budged.

Meanwhile, in Ohio’s other current ADC district, Lorain City Schools, a new superintendent was named the same day the Youngstown Plan passed. As the vote concluded, the chair of Lorain’s ADC sounded a warning that the new legislation could also become the “Lorain Plan,” which would include the selection of a new CEO and the creation of a new commission light on local appointees. He’s right: Lorain’s ADC, like Youngstown’s, has struggled mightily to...

  1. Editorializing on the so-called “Youngstown Plan” – that is, a proposal to strengthen Ohio’s Academic Distress Commission protocols that is likely to be signed into law by the governor – began in earnest this weekend. You can find quick-hit blog posts both in Ohio and nationally. But honestly, why don’t we just let the editors at the Youngstown Vindicator have the floor. After all, they’ve been begging for someone to step in and save their schools for months now, as readers of Gadfly Bites will know very well. “The new legislative plan, with the creation of the chief executive officer position,” they opined, “is exactly what we have wanted.” (Youngstown Vindicator, 6/28/15).
  2. On the other hand, there’s a group of Youngstown-area legislators who are less-than-thrilled by this plan, especially the CEO aspect. “It’s going to be up to us to solve this problem,” they say. “It’s a community problem it will take a community solution to fix it." Oddly enough, one legislator says that they want a system in place like that being piloted in Cincinnati – one that “helps engage parents and students in the school system by making the school an integral part of their
  3. ...

Many people have misconceptions about career and technical education (CTE) that are grounded in an archaic view labeling CTE as “blue-collar stuff” for kids who aren’t on a college path. A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, however, points out that “CTE today is far more demanding than vocational tracks a generation ago, which were often seen as dumping grounds for students who couldn’t handle college-preparatory classes.” Richard Kahn, the chief executive of a CTE school in Manhattan, says that his school’s goal is to “get everybody into the middle class economy.” In a guest piece on Flypaper in March, Sean Lynch of the Association for Career and Technical Education noted that CTE programs also “open doors to new career exploration opportunities, lower high school dropout rates, and engage at-risk students with interesting curriculum.”

But what does CTE look like on the ground? For answers to these questions, let’s take a look at Ohio’s career and technical education programs.


In Ohio, the law requires public schools to provide students the opportunity to take CTE courses beginning in seventh grade (though most students wait until high school to enroll). Ohio’s CTE programs are...

  1. Most media discussion of legislative activity in Ohio is currently about the state budget, which faces a looming deadline by which it must be finished. But last night, House Bill 2 passed the Ohio Senate by a vote of 30-0. That is, significant and vitally needed reform of Ohio’s charter school laws. Big stuff. Here’s a play-by-play of yesterday’s legislative action with reaction from our own Chad Aldis. (Columbus Dispatch, 6/26/15)
  2. Here is additional coverage of the same event – describing charter law reform efforts, with lots of lovely insider detail –but this one contains 100 percent less Fordham references. (Gongwer Ohio, 6/25/15)
  3. In other legislative news, House Bill 70 passed the Senate and changes to it concurred by the House earlier this week. This is bill is primarily about statewide expansion of Community Learning Center models (like those being piloted in Cincinnati City Schools), but it is a set of amendments added in the Senate which are generating all the news coverage. Those amendments create what is being called the “Youngstown Plan”, a sharpening of the teeth of Ohio’s Academic Distress Commission protocols which would replace Youngstown’s supe (and potentially others as well) with a
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Last week, Ohio policymakers took a bold step toward strengthening education in persistently low-performing districts. House Bill 70, which passed both legislative chambers, grants significant new powers and responsibilities to the state’s academic distress commissions. Among the key provisions is a call for an appointed chief executive officer who would lead each district’s reform efforts.

Created by the state in 2007, academic distress commissions are triggered when districts fail to meet basic academic standards. Presently, two districts—Youngstown and Lorain—are overseen by separate commissions. These are the key features of the commission, as specified under present but now soon-to-be retired state law:

  • They are directed to assist the district.
  • They consist of three members appointed by the state superintendent and two appointed by the president of the district board; the state superintendent designates the chair.
  • They must adopt an academic recovery plan for the district, to be updated annually;
  • They are vested with certain managerial rights, such as appointing and reassigning school administrators, terminating contracts, and creating a budget; however, state law does not require a commission to exercise these rights.

Unfortunately, these arrangements were largely toothless. The commission existed only to assist the district and to draw recovery plans—not...