Ohio Policy

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther is passionately outspoken about Columbus City Schools. He is an alumnus of the district, and his...
Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) epitomizes the relentlessness and vision necessary to close achievement gaps in urban education...
Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) epitomizes the relentlessness and vision necessary to close achievement gaps in urban education...
Ohio has developed one of the nation’s best school report cards , packed with data and clear A–F ratings for schools and...
August 16 marked the first day of school for the thousands of children who attend the Dayton Public Schools (DPS). They returned...
Ohio leaders have started an important conversation about education policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act. One of the...
Dave Yost
On August 11, 2016, Ohio’s elected state auditor delivered the following remarks during the opening of the Ohio Charter School...
Competency-based education has attracted attention as a “ disruptive innovation ” that could remake American schools. Under this...
Chronic absenteeism among students elicits serious concern for good reason. When pupils miss many days of school, they risk...
Many education stakeholders see the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as an opportunity to fix the most problematic provisions in...
The new education law of the land—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—has been the talk of the town since President Obama...
We at Fordham recently released an evaluation on Ohio’s largest voucher initiative—the EdChoice Scholarship. The study provides a...
Rabbi Eric "Yitz" Frank
This blog was originally posted on Education Next on July 24, 2016. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently released a study on...
In a previous blog post, we urged Ohio’s newly formed Dropout Prevention and Recovery Study Committee to carefully review the...
Eighteen months ago, Ohio proved it was finally serious about cleaning up its charter sector, with Governor Kasich and the Ohio...
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) required states to identify and intervene in persistently low-performing schools. Some states opted...
Shortly after Ohio lawmakers enacted a new voucher program in 2005, the state budget office wrote in its fiscal analysis, “The...
I remember the exact moment I became a charter school supporter. It was 2006, and I was a few days away from completing my first...
On June 22, the Dropout Prevention and Recovery Study Committee met for its first of three meetings this summer. The committee is...
Traditional districts that serve as charter school sponsors are often glossed over in the debate over Ohio’s charter sector. But...
A short article published this week in the Columbus Dispatch makes serious reporting mistakes that leave readers with a distorted...
Last year’s biennial budget ( HB 64 ) required Ohio to define what it means to be a “consistently high-performing teacher” by...
Thomas J. Lasley II
NOTE: Tom Lasley, executive director of Learn to Earn Dayton and former dean of the School of Education and Health Sciences at...
Ohio’s largest online school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), has recently caught flack for its low graduation rate...
NOTE: This is the introduction to Fordham Ohio's latest report— Pathway to Success: DECA prepares students for rigors of college...

Ohio has developed one of the nation’s best school report cards, packed with data and clear A–F ratings for schools and districts. In this light, the reports that parents receive on their own children’s state exam performance are doubly disappointing. Simply put, the current form of these reports is mediocre. They represent a missed opportunity to clearly convey where children stand academically, how well (or not) they are progressing in school, and how bright (or not) are their future education prospects.

Ohio can and should do a better job communicating with families.

The image below displays a snippet from a sample state test score report for 2015–16. The student’s name (Jane) and high school math score (706) are fictitious. The entire document is available at this link both for grades 3–8 and high school.

These score reports have a couple of helpful features that provide context and comparison, such as giving families the ability to relate their children’s scores to various averages. In this example, Jane’s math score lags behind these averages, which might raise flags for her parents. Additionally, the report breaks down the math test results by subtopics (e.g., ratios and proportions, modelling and reasoning) and even offers ideas, if only cursory ones, on how families can help their children improve in each area.

But the score reports also leave a murky picture of achievement. The headline on the front of the report, shown in the figure above, reads (emphasis added): “Jane’s score is 706. She has performed at the proficient level and meets standards for Mathematics.” That sounds great, but careful readers will observe the following note in the report’s glossary: “The accelerated level of performance suggests that a student is on track for college and career readiness.” So which is it? Is Jane doing fine by state standards, or is she off track academically because she hasn’t made it to “accelerated”? Policy wonks in Columbus will know that the discrepancy between the fine print and the headline is explained by Ohio’s failure to match its proficiency standards with college-and-career-ready benchmarks. But unless they’ve combed through the details, parents are likely to suppose—wrongly—that proficiency signifies being on track for college or the workforce after high school.

Instead of sending mixed signals, state policy makers should tell families straight-up whether their children are on track for college and career. This would be more in line with Ohio’s own commitment to ensure that students are well prepared for post-secondary education or the workforce. Readiness is at the heart of the state board of education’s vision statement, and it was even deemed a “social and moral obligation” by state policy makers when they wrote to federal officials last year (page 25).

State legislators should do their part by aligning proficiency with CCR benchmarks. ODE and the state board of education can pitch in by telling parents on their children’s score reports that proficiency does not match the readiness standard: They should do this in bold print and most certainly not bury the message in a glossary.

In addition to making this utterly fundamental change, Ohio policy makers should consider two other steps that would greatly improve communication with families.

  • Report students’ statewide percentile ranks. As mentioned above, families can gauge where their children’s scores stand relative to their peers by comparing them to various averages at the state, district, school levels. This is a useful starting point, but the state could give parents much clearer information by reporting percentile ranks. In the example above, we know that Jane is below the statewide average—but just how far below? Is she at the forty-fifth or the twenty-fifth percentile? We don’t know, because the report doesn’t say. Reporting ranks would also allow parents of both high- and low-achieving students to annually track whether their children are holding steady, gaining ground, or falling behind their classmates. Nothing in the current report accomplishes that. Percentile ranks shouldn’t be a mystery: The ACT and SAT report them to test takers. Why not Ohio?
     
  • Use predictive analytics to give families a better idea of the college trajectory of their children.   With the help of analytic tools that companies like SAS have already developed, Ohio could let parents see which kinds of colleges their middle school children are likely to be admitted to four or five years into the future. The projections could be displayed on these score reports, as they would be based on state exam results. Much care, of course, would be needed in communicating them (they shouldn’t be presented as deterministic, and actionable steps should be offered to help change these trajectories). If done well and provided early in kids’ lives, this type of information could empower families to make sure their students are on track for success after high school.

Some will say that such candid information, projections, and advice aren’t the state’s role. After all, parents see quarterly report cards four times each year. In many cases, these reports offer timely and relevant information, especially in the absence of a state exam. But in a time of grade inflation, an A or B on the report card may not always mean what it should, especially if we believe that schools sometimes provide less-than-frank diagnoses of children’s academic performance. Report cards also help little when placing a child’s achievement into broader context. State exam results provide an essential extra: an independent checkup on achievement, akin to what an external audit supplies the shareholders of a company. Families deserve the truth about those results, both in relation to post-secondary readiness and to their children’s peers.

Ohio policy makers have made a good start by disseminating clear information about school performance. Now they need to be just as clear and informative about the performance of individual children.

Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) epitomizes the relentlessness and vision necessary to close achievement gaps in urban education. Started in the basement of a church with 57 students in 2008, CCA evolved into one of the city’s top-performing middle schools. It earned national awards for the gains achieved by students who are overwhelmingly disadvantaged, and grew into a network of schools serving 600 students. I visited CCA in its original location in 2009. Despite its unassuming surroundings, I knew right away this school was different. It was the type of place that inspires you the moment you step through the door. Its hallways echoed with the sound of students engaged in learning. College banners and motivational posters reminded students—and visitors—of why they were there. Teachers buzzed with energy, motivated by a combination of urgency and optimism—all students can and will learn. Its founder and visionary leader, Andrew Boy, spoke deliberately and matter of factly about the success CCA would help each student achieve. He was aware of and sensitive to the challenges facing his students—hunger, trauma, housing instability, and the myriad complications of poverty. But these obstacles would not become excuses upon which to hang blanket statements about children. Boy knew that for the most at-risk students, low expectations victimize them even further—and they deserve better.
 
Columbus Collegiate Academy – West, a replica of the original CCA, opened in 2012 in Franklinton in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The school’s relentless focus on academics and high expectations both academically and behaviorally are exemplified through Jahnea’s story. An eighth-grader, she tells about her plans for high school as well as college and beyond—a vision for her own life made possible in no small part because of the expectations CCA leaders and teachers have for her and their willingness to do whatever it takes to help her get there. We hope her story reminds you that this is what’s possible when we invest in and empower high-quality charter schools.
 
Read the full profile here.

August 16 marked the first day of school for the thousands of children who attend the Dayton Public Schools (DPS). They returned to a district with a new superintendent, but many old problems. Regrettably, Dayton is at the end of a five-year strategic plan that barely moved the needle on the city’s dismal track record for student achievement. In 2014–15, DPS was the lowest-performing of Ohio’s 610 public school districts. That distinction should make Dayton’s citizens cringe.

Superintendent Rhonda Corr—who knows Cleveland well but is new to the Gem City—was given only a one-year contract by the board of education. That’s not enough time to accomplish much beyond figuring out what needs fixing. She’ll need to determine why so few of Dayton’s young people are learning enough to put themselves on track for success in later life.

She may find something nobody has ever spotted before, but previous diagnoses of Dayton’s education woes have uncovered plenty of problems. Some of them are outside the school system’s immediate control, such as the tragic challenge of multi-generational poverty. Others, though, are endemic to the district itself, including a stubborn bureaucracy, eleven different bargaining units, high rates of truancy, and huge numbers of suspensions in the seventh and eighth grades.

Dayton has undertaken numerous efforts to turn the situation around, including the aforementioned strategic plan, DPS’s Contract with the Community, a Theory of Action with all the right buzzwords, Neighborhood Schools, a robust list of community partners, and the mayor’s City of Learners initiative, to name a few. The Council for the Great City Schools has conducted “peer reviews” of DPS at least twice, in 2002 and in 2008. In 2013, the district bravely took a close look at its teacher policies with the help of the National Council on Teacher Quality. The resulting report, Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Teacher Policies and Practices in the Dayton Public Schools, contained over twenty findings that paved the way for some overdue changes in school staffing. These included greater principal autonomy, revised procedures for reductions in force, and the establishment of new committees to work on professional development, tenure, and compensation. (Reading up on this history should be at the top of Superintendent Corr’s to-do list!)

None of these reports and plans have been enough to reboot DPS, which is now in line for a state takeover in 2018 unless student achievement improves dramatically. (See here for a comprehensive report from the Ohio Department of Education outlining the district’s challenges.) So Superintendent Corr plainly has her work cut out for her. While it may seem overwhelming, here are some suggestions she might consider: 

  1. Request a performance audit from Auditor of State Dave Yost. These audits—available to all Ohio districts—identify areas of cost savings; Dayton hasn’t had one since 1998. DPS should put the money saved into rebooting its lowest-performing schools.
  2. Provide adequate training, management, and support for leaders. This critical piece of infrastructure was identified as the number-one challenge regarding leadership, governance, and communication (here at page 21). The district needs to clarify roles and functions, provide training, and balance workloads. If it can’t keep good leaders and develop sustainable succession plans, we can’t possibly expect anything to improve.
  3. Staff high-needs schools for success and pilot at least two turnarounds. This recommendation is borrowed in part from Teacher Quality Roadmap. DPS has talented school leaders and teachers. To accomplish it, the district must (a) assemble teams to turn around the two lowest-performing DPS schools; (b) identify school leaders and teachers with several years of success in their respective roles; (c) give the principal freedom to lead the process so that the teams are cohesive, committed, and mission-aligned; (d) study turnaround strategies to identify which one is right for the building and its students and families; (e) pay the team more because they’re taking on more; (f) build in systems for growth into leadership roles, succession, and substantive professional development; and (g), if successful, replicate!
  4. Closely review curricula and implementation, as well as current testing practices. The DPS website touches on many topics but, amazingly, doesn’t address what’s being used in the classrooms or whether it is being implemented effectively. There’s also lots of information about the state’s new academic standards (a.k.a. Common Core), but putting them into practice has proven challenging.
  5. Actively monitor family engagement in each building and use it as a measure of school health. The National Parent Teacher Association has found—of course—that students do better when their families are engaged. Engagement means more than open houses, a holiday performance, and a few conferences here and there. Rather, it has to include the proactive engagement of parents, guardians, relatives, caregivers, and students on the individual level of home visits and phone calls. Developing relationships is essential.

DPS already has a lofty and appropriate mission statement: “Equip our students to achieve success in a global society by implementing an effective and rigorous curriculum with fidelity.” The new superintendent’s job—and all people of good will must wish her success and assist her in every way possible—is to begin to make that a reality for Dayton’s children.

Ohio leaders have started an important conversation about education policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act. One of the central issues is what accountability will look like—including how to hold schools accountable for the outcomes of student subgroups (e.g., pupils who are low-income or African American). Ohio’s accountability system is largely praiseworthy, but policy makers should address one glaring weakness: subgroup accountability policies.

The state currently implements subgroup accountability via the gap-closing measure, also known as “annual measureable objectives.” Briefly speaking, the measure consists of two steps: First, it evaluates a school’s subgroup proficiency rate against a statewide proficiency goal; second, if a subgroup misses the goal, schools may receive credit if that subgroup shows year-to-year improvement in proficiency.

This approach to accountability is deeply flawed. The reasons boil down to three major problems, some of which I’ve discussed before. First, using pure proficiency rate is a poor accountability policy when better measures of achievement—such as Ohio’s performance index—are available. (See Morgan Polikoff’s and Mike Petrilli’s recent letters to the Department of Education for more on this.) Second, year-to-year changes in proficiency could be conflated with changes in student composition. For example, we might notice a jump in subgroup proficiency. But is this an indication of gap closing? Not necessarily: It might be explained by a change in the subgroup’s student composition.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, while reducing the achievement gap remains an important goal, policy makers should not explicitly pit one group of students against another in accountability systems. Unfortunately, this is what the gap-closing component does: It compels schools to disproportionately focus on certain subgroups at the expense of others.

So let’s scrap the gap-closing measure and start over. But how should Ohio proceed?[1]

In my view, state policy makers should create a new report card component dedicated to subgroup performance. It would rely on disaggregated performance index scores (a status measure) and disaggregated value-added scores (a growth or longitudinal measure). Ohio already breaks down value-added scores by three subgroups and would just need to extend those efforts to additional subgroups. The state would need to introduce a subgroup performance index, although that calculation is relatively simple and straightforward. The component could look something like the following (more subgroups could be added, such as gifted students or homeless students, and weights could be altered):[2]

Table 1: Hypothetical subgroup performance report card component

Subgroup

PI Grade

VA Grade

Points Earned for Subgroup

Race/Ethnicity: Asian

C

D

1.5

Race/Ethnicity: Black

B

C

2.5

Race/Ethnicity: Hispanic

A

D

2.5

Race/Ethnicity: Multiracial

D

D

1.0

Race/Ethnicity: White

B

A

3.5

Students with Disabilities

A

C

3.0

Limited English Proficiency

D

D

1.0

Economically Disadvantaged

C

A

3.0

Composite Subgroup Performance

C

2.25

* Assigning points in the following way: A = 4; B = 3; C = 2; D = 1; F = 0; equally weighting PI and VA grades and across the various subgroups; rounding the average composite number of points at the half-point interval when making the conversion to a letter grade (e.g., 2.25 rounds to 2.00 = C).

A component such as this should ensure a more technically sound and transparent way of holding schools accountable for subgroup outcomes. The approach would assign responsibility for the achievement and growth of both typically higher- and lower-performing subgroups. It would also send the right message. Here in Ohio, our approach to ratings is streamlined (for the most part, just two key measures) and fair (balancing growth and achievement). Our accountability system needs to work with schools to make certain that all students, no matter their background or starting point, can grow academically and reach their potential.


[1] Under ESSA, Ohio will need to implement some type of subgroup accountability measure to identify schools with low-performing subgroups. It may not have to be a standalone report card component or an A–F graded measure as displayed above.

[2] If Ohio goes this route, the state would probably need to disaggregate whichever subgroups are graded on the performance index to also be graded on value added. In other words, Ohio likely could not disaggregate its PI scores for English language learners without disaggregating their VA scores. 

 

The surprising best seller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis has become something of a cause célèbre on the grounds that it explains the appeal of Donald Trump to the white underclass (from which author J.D. Vance emerged). Writing in the American Conservative, Rod Dreher aptly notes that the book "does for poor white people what Ta-Nehisi Coates's book did for poor black people: give them voice and presence in the public square."

The book should also be required reading among those of us in education policy. It reminds us of the roles that institutions play (and fail to play) in the lives of our young people, and further suggests that education reform cannot be an exclusively race-based movement if its goal is to arrest generational poverty. Poverty is a "family tradition" among Vance's people, white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who were once "day laborers in the Southern slave economy, sharecroppers after that, coal miners after that, and machinists and millworkers during more recent times."

Vance emerges as something of an emissary to elite America from Fishtown, the fictional composite of lower-class white America that Charles Murray described in his 2012 book Coming Apart. This growing segment of American society is marked not just by economic poverty, but also by social and cultural poverty: the decay of bedrock institutions like marriage and organized religion, as well as the erosion of cohesive social standards like the two-parent family. Still, the more apt comparison might be to Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's 2003 book about two young women caught up in a suffocating web of destructive relationships, teen pregnancy, drugs, crime, and general dysfunction in the South Bronx.

If the connective tissue between the urban poor and downwardly mobile working-class whites is lost on pundits and policy makers, the same isn’t true of Vance, who describes being deeply struck by William Julius Wilson's book The Truly Disadvantaged. "I wanted to write him a letter and tell him that he had described my home perfectly," Vance writes. "That it had resonated so personally is odd, however, because he wasn't writing about the hillbilly transplants from Appalachia—he was writing about black people in the inner cities." Ditto Charles Murray's Losing Ground, "another book about black folks that could have been written about hillbillies—which addressed the way our government encouraged social decay through the welfare state," he notes.

Watching an episode of The West Wing on television, Vance is struck that "in an entire discussion about why poor kids struggled in school, the emphasis rested entirely on public institutions. As a teacher at my old high school told me recently, 'They want us to be shepherds to these kids. But no one wants to talk about the fact that so many of them are raised by wolves.'" The characterization is unkind, but Vance is unsparing in his analysis of the people he loves and the culture they have created. It can include "an almost religious faith" in hard work and the American dream; yet he describes his town as one "where 30 percent of the young men work less than twenty hours a week, and not a single person [is] aware of his own laziness."

Vance comes from "a world of truly irrational behavior." His family, friends, and neighbors spend their way into poverty. "And when the dust clears—when bankruptcy hits or a family member bails us out of our stupidity—there's nothing left over. Nothing for the kids' college tuition, no investment to grow our wealth, no rainy-day fund if someone loses her job. We know we shouldn't spend like this. Sometimes we beat ourselves up over it, but we do it anyway," he writes. Domestic life is a chaotic mess of failed relationships, drug abuse, and self-sabotage. "We don't study as children, and we don't make our kids study when we're parents," Vance acknowledges. "Our kids perform poorly in school. We might get angry with them, but we never give them the tools—like peace and quiet at home—to succeed." It is only when Vance enjoys a few years of relative stability—living full-time with his "Mamaw" (grandmother), herself a tough, foul-mouthed, and violent character—that he is able to begin to turn his life around.

One must be richly skilled in cherry picking, or else deeply in denial, to see clear public policy solutions to the problems illumined in Hillbilly Elegy. While Vance may see personal behavior rather than policy as exerting a greater influence on life outcomes, public institutions—the Marine Corps and Ohio State University most particularly—played a prominent role in arresting his otherwise inevitable march down the road to nowhere. If Vance's hillbillies' lives are chaotic, their politics are incoherent. "Mamaw's sentiments occupied wildly different parts of the political spectrum," Vance writes, ranging from radical conservative to European-style social democrat depending on her mood or the moment. "Because of this, I initially assumed that Mamaw was an unreformed simpleton and that as soon as she opened her mouth, I might as well close my ears.” Eventually, he perceives wisdom in his grandmother's contradictions: "I began to see the world as Mamaw did. I was scared, confused, angry, and heartbroken. I'd blame large businesses for closing up shop and moving overseas, and then I'd wonder if I might have done the same thing. I'd curse our government for not helping enough, and then I'd wonder if, in its attempts to help, it actually made the problem worse."

If there is any theme that has emerged from the fractious state of our political and civic lives in 2016, it is not how divided we are, but rather how deeply and stubbornly obtuse we are about one another's lives. There is a tendency among refomers to sentimentalize the lives of the poor, or to infuse poverty with a note of tragic heroism. Vance seems aware of this himself, noting in his preface that his object is not to argue that working-class whites "deserve more sympathy than other folks" but that he hopes readers "will be able to take from it an appreciation of how class and family affect the poor without filtering their views through a racial prism."

My first attempt to read LeBlanc’s Random Family failed. The despair it conveyed was bottomless, and it took over a year before I was able to return to it. A similar grimness at times weighs down Hillbilly Elegy. It is only the foreknowledge of how Vance's story ends, with a slot at Yale Law School and a job at a Silicon Valley investment firm, that allowed me to keep turning the pages. But none of this makes his story less essential. I used to assign Random Family to graduate students who were first-year Teach For America corps members; I still view it as required reading for anyone teaching low-income, inner-city children. For education reformers, I would now bookend that recommendation with Vance’s memoir. Both books force us to confront simpleminded views of the ills we seek to address, and to be humble about over-optimistic schemes to set things right. For education reformers, I do not recommend reading Hillbilly Elegy. I recommend studying it.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in a slightly different form in U.S. News & World Report.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther is passionately outspoken about Columbus City Schools. He is an alumnus of the district, and his first experience as an elected official came as a member of its board of education. He has regularly praised Columbus City Schools and publicly bemoaned those who have spoken negatively about them. "I was tired of listening to people talk poorly about Columbus schools," Ginther said in a 2011 interview with ThisWeek Community News, explaining why he initially ran for school board. "As a matter of fact, I had a great experience in Columbus City Schools."

So strong is his belief in the district that Ginther is a major proponent of the levy this November that would authorize a 14 percent tax increase on residents to provide an influx of cash to Columbus City Schools.

However, when facing the decision of where to send his own daughter for kindergarten, Ginther chose a different path than the one he acclaims for the rest of the city's children. It is Ginther’s long-term support of Columbus City Schools that made last week’s announcement both surprising and noteworthy. The family’s assigned district school is a shining star that has been ranked as one of the best public elementary schools in the state; it’s a feeder, in fact, for the very high school from which the mayor himself graduated. Yet instead of “going public,” Ginther has decided to pay $20,175 a year for his daughter to attend an elite suburban private school.

Let me be clear: I support Mayor Ginther’s personal decision on how to best educate his child. As he explained in a statement to Columbus Monthly, “Every family must make decisions on what is best for their children to help them learn and grow.” Others can debate the optics of the decision in regard to the district’s levy request, but this is one of the core principles of the school choice movement: the ability of parents to send their children to the school that will serve them best.

His predecessor, Mayor Michael Coleman, established the Office of Education and worked with the Columbus City Schools to offer district-run charter alternatives within the public school system. A member of Columbus City Council at the time, Ginther broadly backed then-Mayor Coleman’s efforts to improve education in the city. Since becoming mayor himself, however, Ginther has been curiously silent on school choice and district alternatives—yet he is now electing to utilize just such an alternative for his own family. If Ginther recognizes the inherent value of school choice by sending his daughter to a prestigious private institution, the least he can do is fight for other families to have options too.

Moving forward, I hope that Mayor Ginther will use his platform to be a strong advocate for school choice so that all parents in the city of Columbus are able to enjoy the same freedom for their children that he has exercised. Anything less than this would be complete hypocrisy.

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