Ohio Policy

Some major school choice initiatives are headed down the legislative pike, and, if enacted, they promise to help tens of thousands of Ohio kids who are low- and middle-income and who attend both public and private schools. Yesterday in a press conference, Ohio Representative Matt Huffman (R-Lima) unveiled a package of choice reforms that would ?change the system in a meaningful way for taxpayers and kids.? Huffman's plan, which will officially be introduced next week, includes:












  • Creation of a statewide, limitless voucher program. The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program would combine with the statewide EdChoice Scholarship program, and caps for both would be lifted.
  • Abandoning the ?failing school model? as a way to determine eligibility for vouchers; currently, EdChoice recipients must attend a public school that was deemed as failing for two of the last three consecutive years by the state to be eligible. The new voucher system would not ?divide communities? and make value judgments about school quality or pit schools against one another in a competitive fashion. Instead, eligibility would be income-based and would allow low- and middle-income families regardless of attendance area to receive a scholarship
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Yesterday Nick and I attended the Ohio Senate Insurance, Commerce, and Labor Committee hearing on SB 5, which would eliminate collective bargaining for state employees and greatly scale back union rights for local public sector employees.?

We arrived over at the Statehouse around noon, two and a half hours before the hearing was scheduled to start as we anticipated, rightly so, a packed house. We stationed ourselves in the hallway corner outside the hearing room (the doors were locked) with the plan of getting some work done on our laptops while we waited to go in. However, this plan soon changed when hundreds of union members and supporters converged on the Statehouse. After waiting for two and half hours, being physically pushed around and asked if I was a journalist ? or a member of the Tea Party (which is staging a demonstration in support of the bill tomorrow), trying to ignore supporters of the bill who were behaving like petulant five year olds, and seeing bomb sniffing dogs and not so happy State Highway Patrol officers roam about, we made it into the Senate hearing room.?

Needless to say SB 5 is controversial and contentious. Yesterday's...

Alex Russo at This Week in Education is calling Teach For America's 20th summit celebration ?premature,? ?unwarranted,? and an ?expensive-seeming birthday part/slick celebration,? among other things. As a TFA alumna one who attended this ?revival? with a ?sense of accomplishment? that Russo calls ?immodest and premature ? reminding [him] of the kid who expects praise for doing his homework for a few days in a row or the football player who starts celebrating before he's reached the end zone? ?I'm inclined to feel defensive.

I'll admit some of his post is funny; I can be as self-deprecating as the next person and point out the quirks and oddities and intensity and weird inflection of TFAers -- the oversized teaching bags, hipness of how they dress, etc. (as one tweeter said, many female teachers can be identified by their ?flats? and ?mustard-colored sweaters?).?

But here's the thing about TFA teachers or alums. Being compared to kids who expect praise for doing homework isn't that insulting. Anyone who's been a teacher in a poor urban or rural classroom will be the very first to admit that celebrating the small successes, the day-to-day victories ? including cheering on a student for homework...

As a Steelers fan I don't often go searching for reasons to praise Cleveland, but when it comes to education reforms they've got most other Ohio cities beat, especially Columbus.

Not to force comparisons, but we've said before that Columbus should take a page from Cleveland's charter school playbook as that district has worked hard to share facilities with charters, learn from their successes, and invite new high-performing models to open there. (Meanwhile, Columbus has denied facilities to charters ? including a Fordham-authorized one?because, to state it simply, they're better at providing a quality education to low-income kids.)

Columbus should also borrow a page from Cleveland's school turnaround playbook. Last week Terry lifted up one of Columbus's biggest turnaround failures- Champion Middle School ? which also caught the attention of the New York Times.? Terry rightly cited the need for better school leadership, innovative principal training models, and the role of leadership as the lynchpin for addressing chronic school dysfunction.

This weekend, two of the state's biggest newspapers featured school turnaround efforts in their respective cities and the differences are telling.

From the Columbus Dispatch, one learns that Columbus City Schools has taken a ?hunker-down approach?...

Last night lawmakers in the Ohio House Education Committee heard testimony regarding House Bill 21 ?legislation that would, among other things, grant a professional educator license to Teach For America alums teaching in Ohio. For the second week in a row, the conversation steered into interesting territory about the merits of TFA (last week, Terry and two teachers from Fordham-authorized, high-performing charters testified on the bill's behalf). This week the bill was amended so that the provision would not only let alums get licensed here, but would also open up alternative licensure pathways so that the actual program could take root in Ohio, something which Fordham has been pushing for years. This piece of legislation would finally bring it to fruition.

As an alumna of the program and someone who's lived in other states and cities not only amenable to TFA but actually thrilled about it, these conversations among lawmakers continue to shock me. Many lawmakers admitted that prior to last week's testimony (during which bright alums like Abbey Kinson and Jenna Davis wowed them with stories of their kids achieving stellar academic results), they'd never heard of the program. Others illustrated glaring ? if accidental...

Yesterday, Ohio State Senator Shannon Jones (R- Clearcreek Twp.) introduced Senate Bill 5, which would dramatically overhaul public collective bargaining in Ohio (which has been in place for roughly 28 years).? The bill would prohibit state employees from engaging in collective bargaining and make massive changes to local collective bargaining laws and local public union rights, impacting everyone from firefighters to nurses, prison guards to teachers. Those around Capitol Square oughtn't be surprised ? after all, as a candidate Governor John Kasich expressed his concerns with public-sector unions and famously vowed to ?break the back of organized labor in the schools.?

Speaking of education unions, here's a peek at what changes could be in store for teachers and school districts in the Buckeye State if the bill passed as-is:

  • Health insurance as a subject of collective bargaining would be prohibited; district management would choose health insurance offerings.
  • Districts and other public employers would be prohibited from paying more than 80% of health insurance cost for employees.
  • State law regarding leave time for teachers would be scrapped; instead, school boards would adopt leave polices describing how leave is accrued, how it can be used, and how it can be
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In today's Ohio Education Gadfly, Jamie, Bianca, and I explore what's missing from the debate around Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Akron mom who was jailed for nine days and convicted of tampering with documents in order to send her two children to a school outside their home district.

Many are calling it a ???Rosa Parks moment for education.??? Civil rights and political activists are pleading with the governor to pardon Williams-Bolar (and he has asked the Ohio Parole Board to review the case). Kevin Huffman noted in the Washington Post, ???She looked at her options, she looked at the law, she looked at her kids. And she made a choice.???

But did she really look at all of her options? Lost among the clarion calls for expanding school choice to help parents like Ms. Williams-Bolar are key questions. Besides falsifying documents to send her kids outside of Akron Public Schools, did Williams-Bolar have other options? If so, why didn't she use them?

In fact, Williams-Bolar did have legal school-choice options, more than most Ohio families, including:

Intra-district transfer. The Akron Public Schools allows students to attend a school other than their local...

In a New York Times article this week, Sam Dillon examined the Obama administration's $4 billion attempt to turn around the country's worst schools and highlighted Ohio's capital city's $20 million effort to remake seven of the city's most troubled schools. One school, Champion Middle School, has for decades been a poster child for failed schools and failed turnaround efforts.

As we noted late last year, the dysfunction at Champion is chronic. In 2001, only 23 percent of the school's sixth graders were proficient in reading. A decade later and after multiple turnaround efforts (including new principals and teachers over the years) the figure was just above 26 percent and math scores had actually slid from 33 percent proficient to just 23 percent proficient. These are bleak numbers indeed and they offer a fairly stark indictment of the whole turnaround enterprise.

Yet, as Dillon reported, ???because leading schools out of chronic failure is harder than managing a successful school ??? often requiring more creative problem-solving abilities and stronger leadership, among other skills ??? the supply of principals capable of doing the work is tiny.??? The nation's schools of education have not been generating the talent necessary...