Ohio Gadfly Daily

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).

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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...

  1. CREDO released a report yesterday looking at performance of e-school students in 17 states and the District of Columbia. I can’t speak to the level of surprise with which individual readers greeted the generally-awful findings. Ohio was one of the states under the microscope and the dismal results are particularly piquant here in the wake of a landmark charter law reform bill (which, coincidentally, went to Governor Kasich for signature yesterday). Chad is quoted on that very issue in all of these pieces. To wit: "While Ohio has a jumpstart on improving its online charter schools (because of HB2), these findings should serve as a clarion call for policymakers, pundits, taxpayers, and school choice advocates that more work remains." Check out coverage of the CREDO results in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10/27/15), the Dispatch (Columbus Dispatch, 10/27/15), and Gongwer (Gongwer Ohio, 10/27/15).
  2. Speaking of report releases, Patrick O’Donnell got an early look at NAEP data set for full release this week and has already published his first story. Why the rush? There appear to be some small but significant NAEP gains for students in the CLE. These are specifically newsworthy in light of
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  1. The editor of the Blade published a lengthy commentary on Ohio’s new charter reform law this weekend, urging the state not to allow “abuse and cronyism” to derail it promising reforms. (Toledo Blade, 10/25/15)
  2. Here a piece published late in the day on Friday, previewing CREDO’s upcoming report on E-school performance across the country. Ohio’s results are not expected to be stellar. s in the crosshairs. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10/23/15)
  3. The PD stayed on the national education beat this weekend, taking a look at the new study on student testing from the Council of the Great City Schools. The current amount of testing they found is “beyond reason”. CMSD CEO Eric Gordon participated in the council's national news conference and said exams used to be about helping instruction but "have strayed to measure so many different things… Cleveland schools need to spend more time making sure district tests are not redundant and are both useable and used to inform instruction." (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10/24/15) Today, in central Ohio, educators are weighing in on the post-PARCC testing regimen in the Buckeye State. Says the formerly-Big D: “Local educators expect that this school year’s statewide testing
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  1. Chad’s testimony earlier this week in front of the state board of education was covered, a bit belatedly, by Gongwer. Some nice details in here of the wide variety of business covered by the board this month, including the fact that discussions are to begin shortly between the Ohio and U.S. departments of education regarding the $71 million Charter School Program grant awarded to the Buckeye State. (Gongwer Ohio, 10/21/15)
  2. A new Chair of the Ohio House of Representatives’ Education Committee was announced this week – Rep. Andrew Brenner (R-Powell), who has served as Vice Chair for the last 10 months. Fresh off the passage of HB 2, let’s hope good will, good work, and good luck continue for the committee. But that’s my wish, not necessarily the wish of the folks writing, reading, or commenting on this particular news item. (Columbus Dispatch, 10/23/15)
  3. Ohio charter schools were given access to $25 million in facilities funding via the most recent state budget. This past week, the framework for schools to access this funding started to come together during a meeting of the Ohio School Facilities Commission. Applications for the grants will be scored on quality
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  1. We and others have noted that the success of recently-passed charter law reform in Ohio is dependent upon implementation and oversight. From the “devil’s in the details” department, a presentation from the Ohio Department of Education at this week’s state board meeting raised questions about a possible expansion of the geographic areas in which exemplary sponsors could open new charter schools. This possibility was a surprise to board members, and even ODE seemed a bit skeptical. When reached for comment on this, our own Aaron Churchill said, “I don’t see how you can do it. It would seem to be in contrast with existing law.” Situation developing, as they say. (Dayton Daily News, 10/20/15)
  2. Sticking in Dayton for a moment, no testing irregularities have been found at two Dayton charter schools, despite some headline-blaring allegations from last year. So say the results of an investigation into said headline-blaring allegations from the state auditor’s office. Despite the involvement of the auditor (never get tired of hearing from that guy, amiright?), expect no blaring headlines of this story. The piece doesn’t even list an author. Make of that what you will.  Horizon Dayton. (Dayton Daily News, 10/20/15)
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Thank you, President Gunlock and state board members, for giving me the opportunity to offer public comment today.
My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-oriented nonprofit focused on research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C. In full disclosure, the Institute’s sister organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is a sponsor of 11 charter schools, some of whom have been past winners of the federal Charter School Program (CSP) funds I am about to discuss.
CSP is a federal program dating back to 1994 that enables states to run their own state-level grant competitions for new charter schools. Since its inception, the US Department of Education has invested over $3 billion in charter schools nationally. The recently announced round of grants went to several states and directly to some high-performing charter school management companies. Ohio earned the biggest award--$32.5 million in FY15 towards a recommended total of $71 million.
I was surprised—more on that later—by some of the backlash Ohio’s win generated. Critics openly questioned whether Ohio’s charter sector deserved the award and whether the Ohio...

It’s been a busy year for the Ohio charter sector. The long-awaited passage of House Bill 2 is finally a reality, and Ohio charters are back on the road to national respectability. Despite this good news, the state is still dealing with the hangover caused by its reputation as the wild, wild west of charter schools. People are still talking about the recent omission of e-school grades on sponsor evaluations, and there have been calls for a review of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and its staff. So when the U.S. Department of Education announced the recipients of new grants through the Charter Schools Program (CSP), some folks (in Ohio and elsewhere) were shocked to find that Ohio was not only a winner but also the recipient of the largest grant—over $71 million.

While debates rage over whether or not Ohio deserved the grant, the real question should be how the Buckeye State can best use the windfall. CSP funding is intended to enable states to “run state-level grant competitions” to support new and expanded public charter schools.[1] The department has...

Nearly everyone agrees that high-quality pre-kindergarten is a worthy investment. Calls to expand it at public expense are born from a handful of well-known (and very costly) intensive models that appeared to deliver long-term positive effects for poor children: improved school readiness, increased graduation rates, and even the mitigation of risk factors like teen pregnancy and incarceration. These oft-cited outcomes are compelling. So is the urge to level the playing field for children who arrive at school with a thirty million word gap. But an actionable definition of “high quality” remains elusive, and studies of large, scaled up pre-K programs have shown mixed results.

The latest study from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody Research Institute adds valuable evidence to the discussion of whether, when, and how pre-kindergarten is a worthy investment. In 2009, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Education, the institute launched a rigorous study of the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program (TN-VPK). This is a full-day program targeted toward exceptionally at-risk four-year-olds; researchers tracked two cohorts of children (those applying in 2009–10 and 2010–11) through the end of their third-grade years (2013–14 and 2014–15 respectively). Oversubscribed programs enabled a random design whereby children enrolled in...