Ohio Policy

Eric Ulas

Spurred by a new report and the looming state financial crisis, the time may be right for school district consolidation for Ohio.?? According to the recent report by the Brookings Institute and The Greater Ohio Policy Center, the Buckeye State drastically needs to scale down its overabundance of local school districts.

Consider the numbers:

??? Ohio has 611 school districts, almost half of which (49 percent) serve fewer than 1,700 students each.

??? Ohio ranks 47th in the U.S. in actual K-12 dollars going into classroom instruction.

??? Ohio ranks 9th in spending on administrative overhead.

??? Ohio's administrative overhead costs are 49 percent above the national average.

Faced with such staggering figures, both Governor Ted Strickland and his Republican challenger John Kasich gave measured statements of approval to the notion of consolidation in a recent article in the Akron Beacon Journal. Said Strickland:

''I think some of the administrative functions perhaps could be consolidated in a way that would be a cost saving, while at the same time allow the individual schools to maintain their colors, their mascots, their individuality,''

In the same article, Kasich called...

???Teacher effectiveness??? has made its way to the top of the education policy agenda, supplanting the focus on ???highly qualified??? teachers from No Child Left Behind and treading into the dangerous (but necessary) territory of measuring effectiveness, in part, with student test scores. President Obama and Secretary Duncan's decision to use the language of teacher ???effectiveness??? in the application for the federal $4.35 billion Race to the Top grants (with student growth a ???significant factor??? in measuring teacher effectiveness ) was no small shift. We'll find out soon how serious Obama and Duncan are about ensuring ???great teachers and leaders??? ??? the RttT category worth almost a third of the application points -- as first round finalists will be announced next week.

Meanwhile, Bill and Melinda Gates have their sights set on the concept of teacher effectiveness as well, investing $290 million in four cities that are developing ???groundbreaking plans to improve teacher effectiveness.??? And just to be sure we all know what effectiveness means, they're pumping another $45 million into the Measures of Effective Teaching project, an initiative that will gather...

OhioFlypaper

It's no surprise that Ohio's economy is in crisis, but you might be amazed at the price tag for some of Gov. Strickland's new education mandates. Terry points out the implications of decreasing class size in grades K-3 alone (to 15:1), which will cost $784 million per year by 2014. If you're wondering how, where, and when Ohio plans to come up with that money while facing an upcoming $8 billion deficit, join the club.

Meanwhile, Kathryn (the Fordham Foundation's director of charter school sponsorship) discusses Fordham's new contract with its charter schools. We're proud of Fordham's strict sponsorship (authorizing) contract, which allows schools maximum operational freedoms but requires that schools be held to high standards of operational and academic excellence. Be sure to check this piece out to learn what types of provisions are necessary for a high-quality contract between schools and their authorizers.

Also on the lineup is Emmy's response to the Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU), which recently asked why the district would want to utilize charter schools as part of its transformation plan. Emmy says, ???For starters, how about better-educated students???? and points out that six of the top ten schools in...

???????The overriding question is how will having a teachers union improve on our ability to educate all of our children and make sure they're ready to graduate from college? We respect that they represent the interests of teachers; we represent the interests of students.???????????

- Perry White, executive director of Citizens Academy, a Cleveland charter school that is one of the top-performing charters in Ohio, speaking to the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the Cleveland Teachers Union's efforts to unionize the city's charter schools.

Since the troubled birth of charter schools here in 1997, school districts have had a love/hate relationship with them. Some district officials have sought to embrace them as part of their larger reform efforts, while others have done everything in their power to kill them off. A few leaders have actually done both simultaneously.

In 1997, then-Dayton Public School District Superintendent James Williams brought together a broad coalition of community leaders in an effort to convert five failing schools into district-authorized charter schools. At the time, charter schools were a brand new concept in the Buckeye State. Williams envisioned educational "high-flyers" with innovative teaching programs, longer school days, and a longer school year designed to boost student achievement. He dreamed of someday converting the entire district to charters. His plan was ultimately scuttled by the local teachers union, the same union that recently vetoed Dayton's application for Race to the Top funding.

Fast forward to 2010 ???????? Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eugene Sanders is pushing an Academic Transformation Plan that seeks real collaboration between the district and the city's current and future charter schools. The district is asking the city's top charters to join...

Can a school district sell a school building and prohibit the buyer from opening a school in that building?

It seems laughable, but the Cincinnati Public Schools are suing an individual who purchased the district's vacant Roosevelt School because the purchaser plans to open a charter school in that space. Apparently, the sale agreement contained a provision requiring the purchaser to only use the property for commercial purposes. The purchaser bought the facility for $30,000 at auction, agreed to the terms, and then commenced with plans to open a charter school in the space (a plan that a city zoning inspector signed off on in October).

Setting aside the legal question of whether such a restrictive provision is void as against public policy, the lawsuit shows what a joke the state's charter school right of first refusal law really is. State law requires school districts to sell ???????suitable??????? classroom space by first offering the property for sale to start-up local charter schools. In five years of working in charter school authorizing, I don't think I've ever come across a district actually using this provision.

The reality is that are precious few high-performing schools serving...

In a recent poll of elementary school principals commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a majority of principals reported that recess has a positive impact on student achievement. While there's little doubt that physical activity is good for kids, helps them ???listen better??? and stay more focused in class, etc. (not to mention a hundred other worthwhile reasons for promoting physical activity), the methodology from the RWJF poll was less than satisfying.

As Education Week's Curriculum Matters points out, a principal's self-reported perceptions of student learning might not be convincing, especially compared to more ???concrete??? evidence like test scores (the blog goes on to highlight further studies showing the behavioral/social impacts from recess). RWJF's efforts to curb childhood obesity are certainly commendable. But what principal is going to tell a pollster that recess isn't positive for kids?

I don't doubt the power of play (just poll results), which is why this article from the Wall Street Journal was so satiating. WSJ featured a study from the Wharton School of Business that examined the returns from high school sports participation (especially for girls). The researchers looked at female sports participation...

OhioFlypaper

Be sure to check out the latest edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly for some good snow day reading. With DC experiencing more precipitation than Ohio (a rare event) and the east coast getting hammered- we know some of you out there are buried indoors (and if you venture out, be sure to dress the part). Read Mike Lafferty's??piece about the history standards debate in Ohio (also relevant to North Carolinians, Texans, or anyone interested in the controversies of US/world history curriculum).

Dr. Doug Clay of Cleveland State University pens a guest editorial on what's wrong with Ohio's value-added system, and why it's critical to understand (and prevent) the yo-yoing effect inherent to the current methodology before making high-stakes decisions based on the data. Jamie points out a potential windfall for Ohio under the Center for American Progress' proposed Title I formula changes.

And don't forget to read several great reviews and Editor's Extras to stay abreast of the latest education research, news and factoids (and snow-themed videos, of course)....

Ohio State University President Gordon Gee has been in the press lately for his ideas to ???reinvent??? higher education (including changes to the way professors are awarded tenure). Gee probably isn't unique in recognizing the perverse incentive structure inherent to the university tenure process, as reflected in this quote??in the LA Times:

The traditional formula that rewards publishing in scholarly journals over excellence in teaching and other contributions is outdated and too often favors the quantity of a professor's output over quality.

But Gee is exceptional in his willingness to swim against the current, by openly speaking against the holy grail of postsecondary and K-12 education alike ??? educators' tenure. In fact, it's probably the only time you'll read the words ???bold??? and ???tenure??? and the name of an Ohio education leader in the same sentence.

Admittedly, arguments for and against tenure differ dramatically at the university and K-12 level (there are legitimate reasons to incentivize non-teaching work in universities) and it's important not to conflate them. But the sentiment behind what Gee is doing ??? suggesting dramatic changes to the status quo and probably ruffling a lot of feathers in the meantime...

Yesterday morning I visited McGregor Elementary, a school in Canton, Ohio serving students in preschool through sixth-grade, and doing it very well. The building sits practically across the street from the sprawling Timken Co. steel plant, nestled in a neighborhood you might describe as working class. Even if you've never been to a northeastern Ohio city, the surroundings immediately feel familiar. It reflects the quintessence of old industrial cities, the kind whose rapid job loss and demographic shifts leave them looking worn and a little forgotten.

Glancing at some basic data, the school appears similar to other Canton City Schools: student mobility is slightly higher than the district average; its average per pupil expenditure nearly meets the district mean; its teachers are a notch above the district in terms of years of experience and salary.

But, over 90 percent of McGregor's student population (just shy of 400 students) is economically disadvantaged, and the school??knows how to educate poor kids well.??Without getting into too much nitty gritty (you'll get to hear more in a forthcoming Fordham-Ohio report this May), the school consistently meets Adequate Yearly Progress, posts achievement test scores that outpace the...

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