Ohio Policy

It’s October, and that means election season. One important decision facing many Buckeye voters is whether to approve their...
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) recently released the results of its revised sponsor evaluation, including new ratings for...
Piet van Lier
NOTE: All photos used in this piece were graciously provided by the Cleveland Transformation Alliance. The photo at the top of...
According to the most recent Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, [1] an alarming 6...
On September 15, Ohio released report cards for approximately 600 school districts and 3,500 public schools (district and charter...
We know that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor impacting student performance—and that the variation in...
Politicians are wise to pay attention to public opinion data, but they are also responsible for crafting sound policies based on...
As students and teachers settle back into school routines, thousands of high schoolers are getting their first taste of classes...
College may not be for all , but it is the chosen path of nearly fifty thousand Ohio high school grads . Unfortunately, almost...
Ohio’s report card release showed a slight narrowing of the “ honesty gap ”—the difference between the state’s own proficiency...
School report cards offer important view of student achievement - c ritical that schools be given continuity moving forward The...
Today, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) announced that it would release the $71 million Charter School Program (CSP)...
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump recently visited Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, a charter school educating...
There are emerging signs, as I’ve written , that Ohio’s charter law overhaul (HB 2) is working. Significant numbers of poorly...
Last week, several of my Fordham colleagues published a fantastic fifty-state review of accountability systems and how they...
How does teaching stack up to other occupations in terms of compensation? A recent analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (...
Although recent analyses show that the child poverty rate isn't as high as many people believe , the fact remains that millions...
Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) epitomizes the relentlessness and vision necessary to close achievement gaps in urban education...
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...
Shortly after Ohio lawmakers enacted a new voucher program in 2005, the state budget office wrote in its fiscal analysis, “The...

America’s devotion to local control of schools is dying, but it is also being reborn as a new faith in charter schools. These independently operated public schools—nearly 7,000 across the country, and counting—provide a much-needed option for almost three million youngsters in forty-two states and Washington, D.C.

The prevailing arrangement in America’s 14,000 school systems starts with an elected board. The board appoints a superintendent, who manages more-or-less uniform public schools staffed by a unionized workforce of government employees. This setup may have functioned well for an agrarian and small-town society in which people spent their entire lives in one place, towns paid for their own schools, and those schools met most of the workforce needs of the local community.

This arrangement does not perform nearly so well in a country of mobile and cosmopolitan citizens, where states make most education rules and furnish the greatest share of the money, where government intrudes in myriad ways, and where discontent with education outcomes is rampant. It doesn’t meet the requirements of people who change neighborhoods and cities as well as jobs and careers, and it’s ill-suited for an era of fervent agitation about equalizing—and compensating for—the treatment of children from different backgrounds, locales, and needs.

Nor does local control mean what it once did. Some ninety school districts today struggle to educate more than 50,000 students each in systems sprawling over many miles and run by massive bureaucracies. The Houston Independent School District is responsible for 215,000 pupils, Chicago for 400,000, Los Angeles for 700,000 and New York City for more than a million. The governance of these systems doesn’t work well when elected boards have evolved from panels of public-spirited civic leaders into gaggles of aspiring politicians and teachers-union surrogates.

The feebleness of traditionally governed public schools explains the burgeoning alternatives. Yet far from undermining local democratic control, these new schools are reinventing it—down to small communities of families that now run their own schools, each with six or seven board members.

Because these boards function more like nonprofit organizations than political bodies or public agencies, their members need not stand for election. Being generally union-free, they don’t have the headaches of collective bargaining. And with freedom to engage and deploy principals and teachers, and to adjust budget, curriculum and instruction to do their students the most good, charter schools are attracting to their boards selfless citizens and community leaders who see a plausible chance to promote change.

The charter phenomenon is also reinventing the school district. Instead of geographically bounded municipal units run in top-down fashion, “charter management organizations” comprise virtual networks—confederations, really—of similar schools that may be located hundreds of miles apart, that mostly run themselves, but that can draw on the organization for expertise and services that individual schools may not be able to muster for themselves. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) started as a single classroom in Houston and now boasts 200 schools in twenty states. Eva Moskowitz’s high-performing Success Academy began in Harlem and now has forty-one schools in four boroughs of New York City.

Charters don’t answer every education prayer. Their test scores are all over the place, though the best studies show strong, positive effects for poor and minority children. Funded with about three-quarters of the per-pupil dollars that traditional schools receive, many charters have trouble making ends meet and rely heavily on private philanthropy and entrepreneurial energy.

Established education interest groups—always more attentive to adult jobs than to kids’ learning—fight charter schools relentlessly, as do a few civil-rights groups aligned with the unions. Some charter leaders and board members have been guilty of self-dealing and corrupt behavior.

But that’s where democracy comes in. While autonomous in many ways, charters are ultimately accountable to public authority. They’re a new species of school, but they remain public schools, open to all comers, paid for by taxpayers and licensed by the state. If they fail to meet standards of academic performance and fiscal soundness, charters—unlike district schools—are supposed to be closed or restarted under fresh leadership. More than 1,200 charters closed between 2010 and 2015 even as more opened. Some states are still figuring out how to make this work, but most are getting better at it.

Twenty-five years from its beginnings, chartering portends profound changes in the structure of American public education. That’s why the battles around it are about more than market share, test scores and discipline codes. They’re proxies for what’s really in dispute: power and control over a K–12 education behemoth that spends more than $600 billion a year and employs some six million adults.

Local control as we’ve known it is growing obsolete. Let’s hail the kind of local control that charter schools embody.

Editor’s note: A version of this article was originally published in the print and online editions of the Wall Street Journal

If the latest polls are to be believed, Hillary Clinton may be heading toward a landslide victory, especially as far as the Electoral College is concerned. If that happens, it will likely reverberate through down-ballot races—for the Senate and House of Representatives but also for gubernatorial and state legislative offices, too. The conventional wisdom is that disaffected moderate Republican voters may stay home, hurting GOP chances across the board.

What if this scenario comes to pass? What would it mean for education reform?

In short: It ain’t good.

The reason, in my view, is that the politicians most likely to stand up for smart, robust education reforms—expanding charter schools but also holding them accountable, for example, or setting high standards and empowering educators to meet them as they see fit—are mainstream conservative Republicans. These are the folks who have led the push for expanded parental choice, who held the line on the Common Core when the going got tough, and are willing to make investments in education as long as they are tied to results.

And these are precisely the sorts of Republicans likely to succumb to a wave election, representing, as they do, swingy suburban districts chock full of GOP voters who are fed up with Donald Trump. If they lose, it will leave Republican caucuses at the state and federal levels even more dominated by Tea Party conservatives and populists, and tilt power in the direction of the teachers unions to boot.

In Washington, a wave election will return control of the Senate to the Democrats, which could make it harder for charter school advocates to fight to increase essential charter start-up funds. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, in particular, has been a strong supporter of charter schools, and may lose his close race if voters in suburban St. Louis and Kansas City stay home. On the other hand, uber-Democrat for Education Reform Michael Bennet, the Senator from Colorado and former superintendent of Denver, will likely be aided by a Democratic surge. (For more on the federal ramifications, see this smart and sobering piece by Rick Hess, or this excellent overview from Politics K–12.)

A big Democratic win would also have significant implications in at least a handful of states. Colorado is at the top of the list, where Democrats could find themselves in control of the House, Senate, and governor’s office—potentially giving the Colorado Education Association a lot more running room to wreck the state’s excellent reform record. (The PARCC test could be particularly vulnerable.) The same outcome is possible in Washington State, where the Senate might land in Democratic hands, and where the teachers union would surely love to strangle charter schools in the crib. In other blue states, especially along the coasts, Democrats may find themselves with super-majorities, wreaking havoc on reform writ large.

Then there are marque ballot initiatives. Question 2 in Massachusetts—to lift the cap on charter schools—is already struggling in the polls. Moderate Republicans staying home would be the final nail in the coffin. And in Georgia, Amendment 1—to create a Tennessee-style achievement school district—is also taking on water, and could be drowned by a Democratic wave.

It’s not all bad news though. In several states it’s possible that chambers will go from complete Republican control to divided government—which can be helpful for defending high standards and charter accountability efforts, considering the hard Right’s willingness to throw these efforts overboard. That may be the outcome in Arizona, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

Keep in mind that very few of these races have hinged on education reform; yet education reform will be significantly impacted nonetheless. If that feels unfair, don’t forget the Republican wave election of 2010, which ushered in the Year of School Choice. What goes around comes around, and reformers should be ready for a rocky 2017, whether we deserve it or not.

A new CALDER study by David Figlio and colleagues examines the implementation of Florida’s third-grade reading guarantee. The analysts study whether the policy is enforced differently based on a student’s socioeconomic status. The short answer: yes.

Florida legislators enacted a statewide grade retention policy in 2002 requiring that, in the absence of an exemption, students were not to be promoted from third to fourth grade unless they met a minimum reading standard (i.e., meeting the “level 2” benchmark or higher on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) reading exam). However, there are several reasons why a student might qualify for an exemption and be promoted, despite not having reached the requisite level: they have limited English proficiency and have received fewer than two years of instruction in an English as a second language program; have certain disabilities; or have received reading remediation for two years and have already been retained twice between kindergarten and third grade. Moreover, students can also obtain an exemption by demonstrating acceptable reading performance on a reading test other than FCAT that has been approved by the State Board, such as scoring in the fifty-first percentile or above on the Stanford-10, or by demonstrating reading proficiency through a teacher-developed portfolio.

Analysts matched birth data from babies born in Florida between 1992 and 2002 to demographic and academic data for students attending public schools from 2000–01 through 2007–08. In total, they tracked eight cohorts of students totaling over 879,000. Because Florida uses a strict cutoff for determining retention, analysts were able to compare the variations across students of different socioeconomic backgrounds who made the cutoff by a small margin and were subsequently not affected by the policy.

In the first year, descriptive data show that the proportion of retained students increased overall from 3 percent to 15 percent; among those who scored below the cutoff, retention rose from 11 percent to 67 percent. Yet over the six years of policy implementation for which analysts have suitable data, the proportion retained dropped from a high of 15 percent to a low of 6 percent (owing partly to fewer students scoring below the cutoff, possibly because of better reading instruction), but has increased slightly since then. And during the same six years, the percentage receiving exemptions more than doubled from 26 percent to 54 percent.

The key finding, however, is that, controlling for exemption eligibility, scoring right below the cutoff increases the probability of being retained by 14 percent for children whose mothers have less than a high school degree, compared to kids whose mothers have a bachelor’s degree or more. Analysts find that these differences are driven mostly by the fact that kids of well-educated (and presumably affluent) mothers are more likely to be promoted based on the results from teacher portfolios, which are the most subjective mode of exemption. Because other research shows that families in lower socioeconomic classes tend to be less effective advocates for their children (they are, for instance, less likely than middle-income families to request a specific teacher), analysts point to this as the likely cause here, too.

What’s less clear is whether retention is beneficial—a question for which we don’t have definitive answers. Some research shows positive academic outcomes in Florida specifically, but they fade out over time, and it’s hard to know if retention was responsible for the bump, or rather the supports that it triggered. Some also worry about the stigma of holding kids back. Regardless of what research says about the merits and drawbacks of early-grade retention, this study reveals a simple truth: Better-educated moms are working the system in Florida.

SOURCE: Christina LiCalsi, Umut Özek, and David Figlio, "The Uneven Implementation of Universal School Policies: Maternal Education and Florida’s Mandatory Grade Retention Policy," CALDER (September 2016).

To ensure that pupils aren’t stuck in chronically low-performing schools, policymakers are increasingly turning to strategies such as permanent closure or charter-school takeovers. But do these strategies benefit students? A couple recent studies, including our own from Ohio and one from New York City, have found that closing troubled schools improves outcomes. Meanwhile, just one study from Tennessee has examined charter takeovers, and its results were mostly inconclusive.

A new study from Louisiana adds to this research, examining whether closures and charter takeovers improve student outcomes. The analysis uses student-level data and statistical methods to examine the impact of such interventions on students’ state test scores, graduation rates, and matriculation to college. The study focuses on New Orleans and Baton Rouge, with the interventions occurring between 2008 and 2014. During this period, fourteen schools were closed and seventeen were taken over by charter management organizations. Most of these schools—twenty-six of the thirty-one—were located in New Orleans. The five Baton Rouge schools were all high schools.

The study finds that students tend to earn higher test scores after their schools are closed or taken over. In New Orleans, the impact of the interventions was positive and statistically significant on state math and reading scores. New Orleans high-schoolers also experienced an uptick in on-time graduation rates as a result of the interventions, though the Baton Rouge analysis reveals a negative impact on graduation (more on that below). No significant effects were found on college-going rates in either city. With respect to intervention type, the analysis uncovers little difference. Both closure and charter takeover improved pupil achievement. Likewise, the effects were similar on graduation rates—overall neutral when taking together both cities’ results.

More importantly, the research indicates that these intense interventions benefit students most when they result in attendance in a markedly better school. Post-intervention, New Orleans students attended much higher-performing schools, as measured by value added, while in Baton Rouge, students landed in lower quality schools, perhaps explaining the lower graduation rates. Furthermore, the analysis suggests that the positive effects are more pronounced when schools are phased out over time—that is, the closure or takeover is announced and no new students are allowed to enroll—thus minimizing the costs of disruption. These results largely track what we found in Ohio, where students made greater gains on state tests when they transferred to a higher-performing school post-closure.

While not well liked by the general public, the hard evidence continues to accumulate that, given quality alternatives, students benefit when policymakers close or strongly intervene in dysfunctional schools.

SOURCE: Whitney Bross, Douglas N. Harris, and Lihan Liu, The Effects of Performance-Based School Closure and Charter Takeover on Student Performance, Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (October 2016). 

This report from the Council for a Strong America provides an alarming snapshot of how ill-prepared many of the nation’s young adults are to become productive members of society.

The Council is an 8,500-member coalition comprised of law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business executives, pastors, and coaches and athletes. Its inaugural “Citizen-Readiness Index” gives more than three quarters of states a C or below on the index, due to staggering numbers of young people who are 1) unprepared for the workforce, 2) involved in crime, and/or 3) unqualified for the military. (Eligibility to enter the military depends on a range of factors, including physical fitness and attainment of a high school diploma.)

Nationwide, almost a third of our young people (31 percent) are disqualified from serving in the military due to obesity alone. Factoring in drug abuse, crime (more than 25 percent of young adults have an arrest record), and “educational shortcomings” raises that number to 70 percent. These data are shocking and should remind everyone of the stakes at hand. Given the proven and widely known negative correlation between educational attainment and crime, drug use, unemployment, and other negative life events, it is all the more imperative that K–12 schools do a better job preparing young people not just for college but for life as upstanding, productive citizens.

Unfortunately, the report doesn’t address K–12 public school quality, nor does it provide many concrete steps for state or local leaders—where education policy is truly set—to address the citizen-readiness crisis. Instead, it offers a set of recommendations geared specifically at Congress and the next president to address the problem.

Part 1, “strong families,” calls for Congress to reauthorize the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. Outlining research on the relationship between childhood trauma (affecting nearly a quarter of all children) and crime and drug use, the report makes a case—albeit a loose, indirect one—for reauthorizing the program, which serves 150,000 at-risk parents and kids.

Part 2, “quality early education,” dives into research on the long-term gains offered by high-quality preschool, but it misses the boat in its broad recommendation to reauthorize Head Start and expand the Preschool Development Grant Program. While making a strong moral case for investing in children, the Council overlooks research indicating that academic gains from preschool often wear off and that many current early education programs are woefully insufficient. It does, however, acknowledge the uneven quality of Head Start. Further, because it ignores questions about the quality of K–12 public schools, there’s no guarantee that suggested improvements to early learning will be sustained over time and ultimately reap the intended benefits—higher education attainment, lower crime, increased readiness for military, etc.

Part 3, healthier schools, is perhaps the most relevant section, given the coalition behind this report, which includes military generals, coaches, and athletes, and the one that might be most practically addressed at the state level. Even if the other recommendations were implemented fully and school quality was improved dramatically, obesity would still disqualify a significant number of people from military service. Sixty percent of young adults are obese or overweight, according to standards set forth by the American Medical Association. These numbers are worrisome not only in light of military ineligibility but in terms of the life-long health consequences. The report recommends that Congress and the president “defend science-based nutrition standards” like those embedded in the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. Specifically, it calls on lawmakers to support the Child Nutrition Reauthorization introduced last year by the Senate Agriculture Committee. And it implores states to place a greater priority on physical education programs: the percentage of schools requiring students to take physical education has declined significantly in the last fifteen years, as has the amount of time spent on recess.

Despite not devoting energy or ink to discuss the academic quality of K–12 schools, the Citizen-Readiness Index does an excellent job of outlining the dire ill-preparedness of too many young people for jobs, college, or the military. The scope and commitment of the bipartisan coalition behind this report is impressive, even though its recommendations take on an equally broad, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach. As states develop their accountability plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it might be worth including “citizen readiness” as a high school indicator.

SOURCE: Council for a Strong America, “2016 Citizen-Readiness Index” (September 2016).

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