Ohio Policy

Chances are, you’ve heard something in the past year about test mania. Everyone from superintendents to parents to retired educators has an opinion; even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested tests and test prep are dominating schools. Given all this attention, one might assume that students spend hundreds of hours each year taking tests—perhaps even more time than they spend actually learning. A recent report from Ohio Schools’ Superintendent Richard Ross paints a very different picture.

The report, required by state law, reveals that Ohio students spend, on average, almost twenty hours taking standardized tests during the school year. (This doesn’t include teacher-designed tests, but does include state tests.) Twenty hours is a good chunk of time, but when one considers that the school year in Ohio is about 1,080 hours total (it varies by district and grade level), that means testing only takes up about 2 percent of the year. (Report results show that students spend approximately fifteen additional hours practicing for tests, but this additional time only raises the total percentage to 3 percent).

Regardless of this small percentage, critics of standardized testing make some valid points. No one wants quality, in-depth learning...

Cheers to State Auditor Dave Yost. Ohio’s Auditor last week released the results of unannounced visits his staff made to thirty charter schools back in October looking to compare reported student enrollment numbers with actual on-site counts. Nearly a quarter of schools showed “unusually high” discrepancies between the two numbers. Some will cry “witch hunt,” but this is really just one more bit of evidence that it’s time to review and revamp (as necessary) Ohio’s charter school laws.

Cheers to Ohio Representative Bill Hayes. In his first interview upon taking the chairmanship of the House Education Committee, Hayes was asked about the prospect of more Common Core repeal efforts in the General Assembly. His response was a study in open-minded fairness on an issue where lightning bolts and flames are expected. He expressed interest in hearing from both sides on the issue, while not equivocating on his position as “a supporter of local control for school districts.”

Jeers to Lorain City Schools’ new Board President Tony DiMacchia. Mr. DiMacchia is a proud native of Lorain and a cheerleader for his district,...

Editor's note: This testimony was presented at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions onFixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability on January, 21, 2015. It additionally appeared in a slightly different form at Education Next.

Chairman Alexander, Senator Murray, Members of the Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I would like to begin by congratulating the committee on putting the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act at the top of its legislative agenda for the 114th Congress. Nothing is more important to our nation’s future than ensuring that we provide all children with the opportunity to reach their full academic potential. Congress cannot do that on its own, but it can help by addressing the very real shortcomings of the most recent reauthorization, No Child Left Behind, and restoring the predictability with respect to federal policy that state and local officials need to carry out their work.

As you move forward with this important work, however, I would urge you not to lose sight of the positive aspects of No Child Left Behind. Above all, the law’s requirement that students be tested annually in...

Though hardly the only issue to be debated during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act, annual testing has taken center stage in discussions so far. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate HELP committee, put forth a bill that leaves open the possibility of removing the federal requirement that states test students annually in reading and math from grades three through eight—a possibility that has thoroughly freaked out much of the education-reform community.

But as Alexander has explained, he is merely trying to respond to what he and every other member of Congress are hearing from their constituents: There’s too much damn testing in the schools.

But is that true? And if so, is it because of the federal requirements?

A new report from the Ohio Department of Education provides some timely answers, at least for one state. (A bellwether state, mind you.) State Superintendent Dick Ross charged his department with collecting information about the number of hours Buckeye State students spend preparing for and taking tests (not including tests developed by their own teachers). The findings are illuminating (most of this language is verbatim):

  • The average student spends approximately
  • ...

Financing public education has historically been the joint responsibility of state and local governments. But while traditional districts have long had access to both state and local sources of revenue, nearly all Ohio charter schools tap state funds alone. The reason: Unlike districts, charters do not have the independent authority to levy taxes on local property. Meanwhile, districts have been loath to share local funding with charters. The only exceptions in Ohio are eleven Cleveland charters, which together received $2.2 million in local revenue for 2012–13 as part of a revenue-sharing plan with the district. As a result, Ohio charters operate on less overall taxpayer support than districts.

Despite the stark fact that charters rarely receive local funds, a few groups are mounting attempts to claim that somehow charters receive proceeds from local taxes. Their claims are false. First, state data contradict any proposition that local funding directly flows to charters. Second, while some charters may receive more state aid than districts, on a per-student basis, this difference in state funding is simply a product of the state funding formula. It is not a result of local funds indirectly going to charters, as some have suggested.

The facts are...

The nineteenth edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report is out, and while Ohio outperforms over thirty states, the results show that there is still much work to be done. The 2015 report, which has a new evaluation system that focuses on outcomes rather than policies and processes, indicates that the nation as a whole declined from a C+ in 2013 (when grades were last given) to a C in 2015. Ohio also declined, moving from a B- in 2013 to a C in 2015. The report rates states’ quality along three key dimensions: Chances for Success, which takes into account indicators like family characteristics, high school graduation rates, and workforce opportunities; K–12 Achievement, which rates academic performance, performance changes over time, and poverty-based gaps (as measured by the NAEP assessments); and school finance, which includes measures of  funding equity across schools. Ohio’s overall score, which is the average of the three categories, was 75.8 out of 100 possible points, which earned a ranking of eighteenth in the nation. In the Chances for Success category, Ohio earned a B-. Most indicators in this category show that Ohio is close to the national average, including preschool enrollment (46.5 percent of...

In the past year, Ohio policymakers have turned their attention to strengthening vocational education. Rightly so; too many non-college-bound students exit high school without the skills to enter the workforce. Blue-collar businesses in Ohio, for example, continue to express concerns about the “skills gap”—the mismatch between the technical abilities they need and the actual skills of their workers. But retrofitting vocational education to meet the demands of today’s employers remains a work in progress. As Ohio schools retool vocational education, they should seek examples of those who have accomplished this very task, and a new paper from the Pioneer Institute provides five case studies of technical high schools in Massachusetts that are well worth reading. A common thread emerges: All of the schools are thriving with the support of their local businesses. These companies have advised the schools on program design (e.g., what skills and jobs merit emphasis), and they have driven fundraising efforts. A couple examples are worth highlighting. One technical school worked closely with advanced manufacturing companies in the area to raise half a million dollars to outfit the school with cutting-edge metal working machines. (Previously, the school had provided technical computer skills, but not actual...

Before Christmas, we gave you the rundown of all the media outlets that focused on charter quality and policy thanks to two Fordham-sponsored reports:  Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) report on Charter School Performance in Ohio and Bellwether Education Partners’ The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations for Ohio's Charter School Sector. The holidays are over now and we’re nearly a week into the new year and media outlets are still talking about the reports and largely concur on the need to improve Ohio’s charter sector. In case you missed the rash of editorials over the past two weeks, here’s a quick look at what they say:  

On Christmas Eve, Fordham’s Chad Aldis appeared in the Columbus Dispatch with commentary about the relationship between bad law and bad charter schools. He focused first on the results from the CREDO report, which found that Ohio charter students, on average, lose an equivalent of 14 days of learning in reading and 43 days of learning in math relative to their district peers. Chad pointed out that while these numbers are bad in their own right, they are even more appalling when compared to charter...

We look back at an important two weeks in Ohio charter school policy

This fall, the editorial boards of two of Ohio’s most widely read newspapers issued stinging missives urging legislators to make sweeping changes to the state’s charter school law. In September, the Plain Dealer opined that lawmakers should “work together on a bill to improve charter schools.” One month later, in light of revelations about a questionable charter-facilities deal, the Columbus Dispatch argued that charter reform “should address questionable lease deals along with other loopholes, conflicts and oversights in Ohio’s charter-school system.”

They’re absolutely right: 120,000 Buckeye charter students deserve to attend a school governed by a great charter law—a law that puts the interests of children first. But at the present time, Ohio’s charter law too often fails to protect these students’ best interests; instead, in too many ways, it protects powerful vested interests, smothers schools with red tape, starves even the best schools, and tolerates academic mediocrity.

Predictably, overall charter school performance in Ohio has been lackluster. In the two most extensive evaluations of Ohio charter performance in 2009 and 2014, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that Ohio charter school students, on average, make less academic progress than their district counterparts. The 2014 results, released last week, estimated that charter students received an equivalent of fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days of learning in math.

But fixing Ohio’s charter law is no easy task. The law itself is roughly 40,000 words and has been amended nineteen times since its enactment in 1997. It contains many peculiar exceptions, loopholes, and restrictions. Few would argue that the current law clearly expresses how the charter school system ought to function.

Policymakers must know exactly what needs to be repaired and how best to make the fix. To assist in this task, Fordham enlisted Bellwether Education Partners, one of the smartest education-consulting firms in the land. Their analyst (and Fordham fellow) Andy Smarick, who has worked on charter policy issues with the New Jersey Department of Education and the United States Department of Education, agreed to conduct a thorough review and analysis of Ohio charter law (along with two Bellwether colleagues). Their report, released on Monday, offers ten policy recommendations that, if implemented, will lead to stronger charter policy in Ohio. In our view, these recommendations pivot around three central objectives that policymakers must focus on in a charter-reform bill.

First, the state must better define governing relationships. Currently, Ohio charter law too vaguely delineates the powers and responsibilities of each actor in the charter-governing system. State policymakers need to remedy this by more clearly and explicitly establishing the governing relationships, starting with the powers and duties of the state board and the Ohio Department of Education. From there, policymakers must make clear the responsibilities of charter school authorizers, governing boards, and management companies—and to whom (and how) each entity is held accountable.

State policymakers must also work to purge conflicts of interest. Authorities should not tolerate permissive laws that allow adults to make dishonest gain at the expense of students’ best interests. For example, a charter authorizer—the entity that regulates a charter school—is allowed to sell services to its schools. This bizarre arrangement creates an obvious disincentive for an authorizer to hold its school accountable, especially if closure becomes necessary. Ohio charter school law also strongly protects management companies, even if they fail to deliver a quality education. Because of a loophole in law, charter school boards have little leverage to terminate a management contract. One national policy analyst gave this particular provision “the award for the most breathtaking abuse in the nation.”

Finally, charter schools need help to compete. At present, state policy treats Ohio charters as second-class public schools. They receive less overall taxpayer funding, garner scant facilities support, and are often at the mercy of traditional districts when it comes to student transportation. Taken together, state policy places charters on an uneven playing field with their district counterparts. While a few Ohio charters are producing exemplary results through smarts and raw determination, their outcomes are the exception rather than the rule. For too long, policymakers have unfairly asked charters to make educational bricks without straw, and now is the time to remedy charter-funding inequities.

In 2006 Fordham, along with two national charter organizations, published seventeen recommendations for Ohio charter-policy reform in a report titled Turning the Corner to Quality: Policy Guidelines for Strengthening Ohio’s Charter Schools. Some of its suggestions have been adopted, including fairer school accountability that includes student-growth measures and a rigorous evaluation system for charter school authorizers. Yet other recommendations have fallen on deaf ears.

Eight years later, the Ohio policy community is poised yet again to tackle charter school reform. Fordham’s latest report, The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations to Improve Ohio’s Charter Sector, builds on the policy foundations laid in 2006, considers the latest developments in Ohio charter policy, and reflects some of the very best thinking nationally concerning charter school policy. Wise policymakers—those who care deeply about the twin principles of good governance and robust competition in our public institutions—will carefully consider its lessons in the coming days.

photo credit: OZinOH via Flickr

It’s been a busy month in the world of Ohio charter schools.

First, on December 9, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a report on Charter School Performance in Ohio, supported by Fordham-Ohio. Using test data from 2007–08 through 2012–13, CREDO concluded that Buckeye charters produce mediocre results that haven’t improved much in recent years. In fact, the low academic performance of Ohio charter students is estimated to be the equivalent of fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days in math each year compared to traditional district students. Our summary of the findings spelled out the good news and the bad, but more importantly focused on the direction that Ohio’s charter sector needs to take in order to improve. We weren’t the only ones to take this tack.  

The Plain Dealer published two pieces on the CREDO report; the first largely focused on the “big picture” data points as noted above. In the second piece, education reporter Patrick O’Donnell noted that the "grim" results underscore an immediate need to improve charter quality. But he also pointed out that, unlike other areas of the state, Cleveland charters showed positive results—the equivalent of fourteen additional days of learning in both reading and math. The Plain Dealer also noted that CREDO’s research shows equivalent percentages of special education students and English language learners in charters and traditional districts—an important rebuke to charter critics’ claim that the percentage of such students is markedly lower in charters than in district schools.  

Gongwer Ohio, a Statehouse news organization, indicated that CREDO’s work may be “the most comprehensive study of Ohio’s charter schools to date.” They drew attention to CREDO’s findings for low-income, black charter students, who—compared to their peers in traditional public schools—receive an additional twenty-two days of learning in math and twenty-nine additional days of learning in reading. Gongwer quoted several education advocates, including Greg Harris of StudentsFirst, who acknowledged that while his team was “pleased that low-income black students across Ohio and Cleveland students attending charters are outperforming their traditional school peers in math and reading,” they were also concerned that “most charter school students in the state remain behind their peers in traditional schools.”

The Columbus Dispatch also highlighted the finding that Ohio charter schools are narrowing the learning gap. However, the Dispatch quoted CREDO’s Macke Raymond, who noted that “it’s a very modest pace of change” that “needs to accelerate.” Dr. Raymond emphasized this point to a crowd of more than 150 when she presented her findings at the City Club of Cleveland on December 9. Her work was also covered on Cleveland Public Radio's IdeaStream, which emphasized that lax rules for sponsors have contributed to Ohio’s low performance. Dr. Raymond said that “high performing states have really been very deeply attentive to their authorizers and how they perform. They hold their authorizers accountable.”  

That was the perfect set-up for another Fordham-sponsored report on charter quality. On December 16, Andy Smarick and his colleagues at Bellwether Education Partners released The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations for Ohio's Charter School Sector. The report offers ten policy recommendations which, if implemented, will lead to a stronger charter movement.

At an event at the Athletic Club of Columbus, over sixty-five attendees listened to Smarick present his findings. Afterwards, a panel of Ohio-based charter school experts including President and CEO of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools Dr. Darlene Chambers, Senate Education Chair Peggy Lehner, House Education Vice Chair Andrew Brenner, and the United Schools Network’s Chief Learning Officer John Dues discussed the report. Senator Lehner pointed out that the CREDO report and Bellwether’s recommendations came “from two organizations who are very well known for being supportive of the charter school movement. When our friends are saying things like this, we need to take note and not dismiss it.” Representative Brenner said that advocates and legislators should “continue to look at additional reforms in education in general that has more of the money follow[ing] the student.”  

This led the state’s papers to editorialize in favor of reform. The Columbus Dispatch took the position that state law holds back charter schools. They focused on charter school sponsors and their misaligned incentives, quoting State Auditor Dave Yost, who observed that the “report does a good job of pointing out where Ohio’s governance of community schools doesn’t work.” The Dispatch also quoted Rob Nichols, spokesman for Governor John Kasich. “The governor strongly supports school choice and wants to see higher standards and greater accountability for all schools, whether they be public or charter,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Plain Dealer emphasized Smarick's "two pronged strategy" for improving charters: more oversight and more resources. Comments from John Dues of the United Schools Network during the panel give on-the-ground credence to the need for more resources. “We’re all about providing high quality education for kids,” said Dues. “Most of the kids that we serve are students of color that are economically disadvantaged. And when you throw on top of that our schools are being funded at such a lower rate, it just seems like we’re kind of harkening back to separate and unequal schools.” The Plain Dealer also quoted Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, who was adamant in urging “Governor Kasich and Ohio legislators to move these recommendations into law in 2015.”

We’re adamant about that, too, and we are pleased that this opening salvo garnered the attention of Governor Kasich, who opined, “We’re going to fix the lack of regulation on charter schools.” 

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently released the latest in its School Survey Series—this installment features data compiled on Ohio’s private schools. Because private schools are less regulated than public schools, there’s a dearth of information available. What does exist is largely demographic in nature or the result of surveys voluntarily completed by school leaders. The Friedman report uses a combination of data from the U.S. Department of Education (survey) and the Ohio Department of Education (demographic), most of it presented in terms of percentages. While there are some differences between the two sets of numbers, no matter how you slice it, the numbers of private schools and students have declined over the years. The annual federal surveys show average enrollment in private schools was 245 students in 2011–12, down from a peak of 272 students in the 1995–96 school year. And the demographic makeup of private schools is shifting as well. From 2005–06 to 2011–12, the number of black private school students increased by 3 percent, while their share of the public school population moved downward—likely a result of the state’s myriad voucher initiatives. In 2014–15, nearly half of Ohio’s private schools are registered to accept students in the largest voucher program, the EdChoice Scholarship. However, many of those schools report to ODE that they are not operating at full capacity, and author Andrew Catt’s analysis of the self-reported numbers suggests that as many as 36,794 currently open seats could theoretically be filled with scholarship students. If filled, this would triple the number of vouchers in use and nearly reach the statutory cap of 60,000. Finding students to fill those seats is harder than it appears, especially since Ohio’s income-based EdChoice program is being phased in only a grade at a time. All in all, this snapshot of Ohio’s private school sector is good information for the media, advocates, and policymakers to have as they contemplate changes to the state’s private school and voucher laws.

SOURCE: Andrew D. Catt, “Exploring Ohio’s Private Education Sector,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (December 2014).

The 2014 version of the State Teacher Policy Yearbook from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) focuses heavily on the “critical issue” of teacher preparation. And in the glare of that spotlight, NCTQ finds that, while the average state grade for teacher preparation policies has improved from a D in 2011 to a C in 2014, there is still far more work to be done to ensure that new teachers are prepared to help students meet the demands of college and career-ready standards. Three states—Florida, Indiana, and Rhode Island—are ahead of the pack and earned grades of B+. Two states (Alaska and Montana) earned dismal F grades. Ohio falls into the middle of the pack with a grade of C, but this “average” grade hides several troubling truths about Ohio’s teacher preparation practices. For example, in Ohio, only fourth- and fifth-grade elementary teachers are required to pass adequately rigorous content tests. In fact, the Buckeye State is one of only four states in the nation that doesn’t require all elementary teachers to pass a content test prior to licensure. Ohio’s middle school teacher preparation policy is better, since teachers must pass an appropriate content test in every core subject they are licensed to teach. The same is true at the high school level, but the tests have significant loopholes for science and social studies teacher candidates. These candidates, who often specialize in certain disciplines (think chemistry vs. biology; American history vs. world history), are permitted to take content tests (labeled as “integrated”) which combine two or more disciplines, thereby offering a watered-down indication of their mastery of highly specialized content. The preparation and licensure of special education teachers is equally troubling. Ohio offers only a single K–12 special education certification, which fails to differentiate between the specific subject, grade-level, or pedagogical knowledge required to meet the needs of students with disabilities anywhere along the K–12 spectrum. Worse still, Ohio does not require a minimum GPA for admission into teacher prep programs, nor does it require a test to measure the academic proficiency of teacher candidates prior to their acceptance into a program. Furthermore, while Ohio collects student achievement data, ties it back to the teacher’s teacher-education program, and makes that data publicly available online, there are no minimum standards set for performance—in other words, no real accountability if a teacher-education program isn’t effective in preparing high-quality teachers. While Ohioans could take heart in the Buckeye state’s overall improvement since 2011 (an embarrassing D+ has improved to a C), it’s time for Ohio policymakers to buckle down and get serious about improving the quality of our education schools.

Source: “2014 State Teacher Policy Yearbook.” National Council on Teacher Quality, (December 2014). 

  • Cheers to proper investigative journalism. By which I mean journalists digging deep to investigate a question to which they don’t have an answer at the start. Alison Matas and Kelli Young of the Canton Repository did just that to produce a story on the most private of private schools in Ohio. These entities – prosaically dubbed nonpublic, non-tax-supported schools – are not well-known to the general public, and the reporters did a fantastic job of finding, interviewing, and interpreting the comments of the leaders of the ultimate opt-out “schools” operating in Stark County. Their follow-up piece looking at graduates of this type of school was equally well researched and presented.
  • Jeers to the charter school founder facing legal action in Ohio who is trying again after four unsuccessful attempts to launch a charter school in his Pennsylvania hometown. Here’s hoping he gets skunked again AND gets some just desserts in Ohio to boot.
  • Cheers to everyone girding to fight against America’s “math phobia”. Two veteran math teachers in Northeast Ohio are tired of hearing that “some children just aren't able to really understand math,” an attitude reinforced daily by adults who should know better. Fearing math and not knowing how to do it are two different things. That they are using Common Core math standards to address the issue is really just icing on the cake.
  • Jeers to entrenched interests intent on stonewalling new education ideas into oblivion. The idea of a four-district consolidated high school—with an early-college component—is drawing statements of concern from board members in all four Geauga County districts, an area of the state where a number of small districts fight for survival due to population shifts and economic circumstances. It is probably not surprising that these traditionalists are unwilling to look beyond their own borders for help (two of the districts involved have already seen an innovative merger proposal wither to nothing simply out of fear of change), but it’s disappointing that an innovative plan such as this, which is already a success elsewhere in the state, could fizzle before it even gets full consideration.
  • Cheers (and Can I have another, please?) to Ohio’s education innovation grants. Two rounds of Straight-A Grant funding have shown success in creating consortia of schools (district, charter, STEM, early-college, and vocational schools) dedicated to pursuing “sustainable, innovative, local ideas [that] will help transform and modernize Ohio's education system.” The Ohio Department of Education last week requested another round of funding for such grants in their budget request for the next two years.

It’s been a busy month in the world of Ohio charter schools.

First, on December 9, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) released a report on Charter School Performance in Ohio, supported by Fordham-Ohio. Using test data from 2007–08 through 2012–13, CREDO concluded that Buckeye charters produce mediocre results that haven’t improved much in recent years. In fact, the low academic performance of Ohio charter students is estimated to be the equivalent of fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days in math each year compared to traditional district students. Our summary of the findings spelled out the good news and the bad, but more importantly focused on the direction that Ohio’s charter sector needs to take in order to improve. We weren’t the only ones to take this tack.  

The Plain Dealer published two pieces on the CREDO report; the first largely focused on the “big picture” data points as noted above. In the second piece, education reporter Patrick O’Donnell noted that the "grim" results underscore an immediate need to improve charter quality. But he also pointed out that, unlike other areas of the state, Cleveland charters showed positive...