Ohio Policy

An editorial in today's Columbus Dispatch hits the nail on the head. Ohio's South-Western City Schools shouldn't forget the fiscal crisis (we've blogged about the district's cuts here and here) that consumed them prior to the narrow levy passage this week. Instead, district leaders in South-Western and elsewhere across the state should confront the patterns that put them on a "collision course":


"For most school districts, more than 80 percent of the operating budget goes to salaries and benefits, yet when deficits loom, cuts are made to the 15 to 20 percent devoted to transportation, sports, the arts and other highly visible programs. When personnel costs are cut, the reductions come in the form of positions axed, not salaries or benefits trimmed.


The tightening American economy has made voters less and less willing to accept that they should pay proportionally more of their income each year to support school salaries and benefits more generous than their own.


South-Western is well-managed; it has seen academic progress with spending and tax rates below the average for Franklin County. Its personnel spending isn't unreasonable when compared with other school districts; its...

Standards-based reform in education is imperfect. The ways that states and districts assess kids, design tests, and attempt to hold teachers and schools accountable are bound to be flawed, lead to unintended consequences, and create many enemies along the way. But I wish the opponents of standards-based reform in Ohio would at least get a little more creative.

You may recall from a few months ago that Karl Wheatley, Cleveland State University ed professor, said the best way to improve education would be to "stop focusing on student achievement ." I outlined why I thought that was a bad idea here . The gist of his argument, believe it or not, was that because standardized testing creates "collateral damage," perverse incentives, etc. the best thing to do is to stop trying to raise student achievement.

Yesterday's op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch from another education professor, Thomas Stephens of Ohio State, comes from the same predictable script (aka "we don't like the focus on standards/testing/accountability so let's call for its demise-or at least replace it with a nebulous emphasis on problem solving and innovative thinking"). In "Standards obstruct education," Stephens argues that Ohio's decision to revise...


By guest blogger and Fordham's Director of Charter School Sponsorship Kathryn Mullen Upton

The Columbus Dispatch writes today that "the truth about Columbus middle schools is brutal." More than 70 percent of the district's middle schools are rated "D" or "F" by the state and none of them met federal Adequate Yearly Progress targets.

A bright spot in this urban education landscape is the new Columbus Collegiate Academy (which the Fordham Foundation authorizes ). In 2008-09 (the school's first year), CCA was the highest performing middle school in Columbus. Of its inaugural class of sixth graders, most of who were performing well below grade level when school started in August 2008, 74 percent met reading proficiency and 82 percent met math proficiency on the state achievement tests. These are amazing results, especially for a first year start-up, ??and are not an aberration: NWEA MAP data (a nationally-norm referenced assessment) corroborate CCA's stellar state test results. (You can watch a video about Columbus Collegiate Academy's first official day of school in 2009.)

But it's been a brutal ride for CCA and other start-up charter schools in Ohio, including the Buckeye State's first KIPP...

Education policy wonks (and I can speak as an outsider, having come to Fordham after a long career in journalism) can get so wrapped up in their great ideas for saving the nation's schools that it's easy to forget there are other people with ideas that are far removed from the most timely education reform debates. These usually have nothing to do with the NEA, Democrats, Republicans, reading, writing, or NAEP scores for that matter. For example, last week, Fordham's Terry Ryan and others showed up at the Ohio Senate Education Committee to argue forcefully for a bill that would mandate much-needed changes in Ohio education law, including making it easier for Teach for America alumni to gain teaching licenses in the state.????

But before that testimony could begin, a couple from Middletown, Ohio, spoke in support of another bill. The man and his wife had their own ideas about what schools should be doing, arguing gracefully and poignantly to require schools to include dating violence awareness education in school health classes. In 1992, their daughter was tragically murdered by an estranged boyfriend. In the years since they have been passionate about spreading the word among...

A bill has been proposed in the Ohio House of Representatives (HB 319) that would require parents of students who attend school districts rated Continuous Improvement (a "C" rating) or lower to attend a parent-teacher conference.

That's right, require. If you're thinking that Ohio districts rating "C" or lower tend to be those districts that are poorer, and whose families/parents tend to be lower-income, that's an accurate generalization. And if you think that's a confusing thing for House Democrats to rally behind (among all of the exciting education ideas floating around), I agree. But it's less confusing given the track record of Ohio Democrats and the political context that can confuse any Democrat that sets foot onto Ohio soil.??

On the one hand, it seems that the House Democrats who sponsored this bill have been listening to President Obama's remarks about parents' responsibility over their students' education:


"Parents, if you don't parent, we can't improve our schools. You've got to parent. You've got to turn off the television set in your house once in a while, you've got to put the video game away once in a while...You should have a curfew in your house...

Ohio education policymakers seem to have a split personality when it comes to what they say they care about and what they fund. The frequency and impact of this disconnect make it all the more frightening.????????

This Jekyll-and-Hyde contrast was evident today when education experts gathered ????in Dayton to discuss the state of the state's schools at a discussion sponsored by the Ohio Grantmakers Forum (our Terry Ryan was a panelist).

Tom Lasley, dean of the School of Education and Allied Professions at the University of Dayton, pointed out that Ohio now requires all-day kindergarten, yet the same piece of legislation which mandated that devastated early learning funds that help prepare children for school. ????Meanwhile Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Stanic pointed out that children are entering Dayton schools and they're already two years behind.

Lasley complained equally about the other end of the K-12 continuum - the state decimated funding for its nine early college academies that have produced good results for inner city high schoolers. ????It's the same with the "Seniors to Sophomores" program in which high school students could earn college credit, cut ????a year out...

This conversation about churches authorizing charter schools has raised my hackles. Not because it deals with religious organizations overseeing public schools and ensuring that public dollars are spent well (a conversation absolutely worth having), but because the conversation is happening in Ohio, where we already have too many charter school authorizers (70+ sponsors serving about 310 schools) - especially if the goal of authorizing is to birth and oversee great schools.

The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has been sponsoring (as authorizing is called here) charter schools in the Buckeye State since 2005, and as such we have learned a ton about the business. First and foremost, that providing high-quality oversight of public charter schools is costly and time-consuming, and this is if things go well. Being a sponsor in Ohio means not only holding schools accountable for their results (and ultimately making life or death decisions about schools), but also helping schools navigate a myriad of regulatory and legal issues.

Our base sponsorship agreement with schools is more than 30 pages long - and this doesn't include dozens of pages of attachments - and deals with issues ranging from responsibilities of parties to compliance with...


This week's edition opens with a timely look at Senate Bill 180 - a pending piece of legislation that would make Ohio more competitive for Race to the Top dollars (you'll definitely want to check out Terry's testimony, as well as testimony from two dynamic Teach For America alums who spoke about their maddening experience to try to get certified in Ohio).

??Terry Ryan testimony in support of Ohio SB 180

John Dues and Abbey Kinson testimony in support of Ohio SB 180

Next in the lineup, Mike highlights the grave funding cuts to Ohio's early college academy high schools and their decision to form a lobbying group to stay afloat. Eric discusses the performance gap between Ohio NAEP math scores and the state test results; this disconnect, though not unique to Ohio, should inform lawmakers and education officials who...

I'll take??Emmy's bait. I have no objection to churches working as authorizers, if they can do it well. Many of course run schools themselves-and some good ones, ones that we (Fordham) have been urging ed reformers to find ways to support and sustain. I haven't read Brookwood's application, so all I know is what google serves up, which includes this nice story about the church's work serving 54 special ed students "in grades seven through 12, including those with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and/or an autistic diagnosis." It certainly sounds like they're "education oriented," contrary to ODE, and (perhaps) that they've had some success.

So to me the question isn't whether they're a church, a tutoring program, a university, or a nonprofit think tank-it's simply whether they have the competence and the commitment to hold charter schools to a high standard, educationally, fiscally, and organizationally. I think ODE needs to have high standards for its authorizers, but it's distressing, if true, that Brookwood was rejected not on any of those grounds, but because they're a church....

A central Ohio church has appealed the Ohio Department of Education's denial of its application to become a charter school authorizer (more on the story here, subscription required):

Brookwood [Presbyterian Church], doing business as Brookwood Community Learning Center, submitted a 49-page application to the ODE in November 2007 for approval as a charter school sponsor.

The church said that instead of reviewing application materials, the ODE determined that "neither the national Presbyterian church nor Brookwood Presbyterian Church is eligible to apply to become a sponsor" because they are not "education oriented" entities as required under state law.

"Despite the fact that nothing in the Ohio Revised Code prohibits a religious organization as such from ... being approved as a sponsor of community schools in Ohio, ODE's decision made it clear that the applicant's status as a church alone was a disqualifying fact in the eyes of ODE: 'also please know that no church has been approved as a sponsor,'" the church told justices.

It is true that no churches serve as authorizers in Ohio, but church-related organizations are certainly active in the charter sector with the knowledge and approval of the state.????Educational...