External Author Name: 
Eric Ulas

Should Ohio win the $400 million it is seeking in Race to the Top, it’s important to know who will be affected. Specifically, what type of student will the much-talked-about funding touch? The state education department has touted that nearly 62 percent of the state’s public school kids will be impacted, including high numbers of African-American, Hispanic, limited English proficient, and economically disadvantaged students.

But what about participation of students according to how well their schools perform academically?

We’ve broken down the data to look at RttT participation among district and charter schools according to four performance-related measures. Regardless of which performance metric is used, a theme emerges: among students in the state’s lowest performing schools (defined in any one of the four ways) a significant number won’t benefit from RttT dollars, assuming Ohio wins them. Conversely, among the students in schools doing seemingly well, many will get the funds.

(If Ohio wins Race to the Top, the Ohio Department of Education will receive funding to do work at the state level that has the potential to impact all Buckeye State schools, including those that did not sign on to Race to the Top.  However, it’s unclear to what extent a district or charter school that couldn’t muster the local support to sign up for RttT in the first place, and which will not receive dollars to do RttT work at the local level, would participate in any reforms.)

RttT participation by buildings’ state academic rating

Of the students in RttT-participating charter schools, only 37 percent of those that will get funding attend the lowest performing schools in the state (those rated D or F by the state in 2008-09). Among district students, the number is starker: just 12 percent of district students in RttT – participating schools attend one that is currently rated D or F.

Chart 1

 Chart 2

It is important to note that this distribution of students in RttT schools by performance rating is roughly proportional to the overall distribution of students by school rating. Still, for a program whose primary emphasis includes turning around the lowest performing schools, this data show that – in Ohio at least – Race to the Top funds won’t flow in any targeted or strategic fashion to actually reach the schools serving the lowest performing students.

Table 1 shows the percentage of kids (charter and district) within each performance category that are signed on for RttT – and what percentage is not. Among all Ohio students in schools rated Academic Emergency (F), 17 percent of them are in schools not participating in Race to the Top. Among students in the next-to-worst category, Academic Watch, 15 percent of them won’t receive funding.

Table 1

RttT participation by state “Performance Index” score

Ohio’s A-F grading system is far from perfect and suffers from widespread grade inflation, with an overwhelming number of schools rated A or B. A school’s “Performance Index” score reflects a more accurate measure of schools’ true academic achievement, since it is a weighted average of student performance in all tested subjects or grades.

Table 2 shows that of Buckeye State students in the lowest performing district and charter schools (those that score below 80 and therefore fall below proficiency), 16 percent won’t get funds. Even worse, when the numbers are broken down to look only at the state’s charter students, almost one-third of kids in Ohio’s worst-achieving charter schools won’t get RttT funds.

Conversely, among students in the best performing schools (100 or above), over half will get Race to the Top funds.

Table 2

RttT participation by AYP

Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, is an accountability metric that is the hallmark of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. AYP uses achievement results to measure growth over time – and schools that are otherwise high-performing can fail to make AYP with particular subgroups of students and therefore fail to make overall AYP.

Table 3 shows that 31 percent of all Ohio students in schools (district and charter) that did not meet AYP will not receive RttT funds. When the data are analyzed to look at district and charter schools separately (not shown in the table), 32 percent of students in district schools will not receive RttT funds. Charter students fare better – just 18 percent of students in charter schools that missed AYP will not receive RttT funds. While a majority of students in schools that did not meet AYP will be receiving RttT funds, one-third of all students equates to over 230,000 youngsters.

Table 3


RttT participation by graduation rate

The final table illuminates what high school students will be impacted by funds. As Table 4 illustrates, over half (55 percent) of Ohio students in district and charter high schools with a graduation rate of 90 percent or higher (the goal set by the state) will receive RttT funds. Meanwhile, among those schools with a graduation rate below 90 percent, almost a third won’t receive RttT funding.

Table 4

Overall, among all high school students in district and charter schools signed up for RttT, over two-thirds are in a high-graduation rate school (90 percent or above).

Chart 3

It is not surprising that many of Ohio’s disticts and charter schools – regardless of their academic performance– signed up for Race to the Top. As chronicled in the piece above, the state’s schools are facing serious fiscal pain. But Race to the Top was billed as a program that would help the country’s neediest students by getting better leaders into their buildings and better teachers into their classrooms.

According to this analysis, as many as a third of students in the most troubled schools won’t get funding. This is unfortunate because it’s precisely those students in districts or charters with low graduation rates, poor academic ratings, and failure to make AYP that stand to benefit most from RttT’s reforms and resources.

If Ohio follows through with its application promises and requires districts to include student performance data in teacher evaluations, redistribute teachers and principals to the neediest schools, or implement a number of other RttT-related provisions – it isn’t the kids in decently performing schools that need those reforms. This seems like a Race to the Top for many of the kids who are already close to the peak, while those in the valley can only watch and wait.

A PDF version of this analysis is available here.

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