Half empty or half full: Superintendents' views on Ohio's education reforms
This report is based on the responses to an online survey conducted in Spring 2013 with 344 school district superintendents (an impressive 56 percent) in Ohio. The survey covered seven education policies, specifically: Common Core State Standards, teacher evaluations, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, open enrollment, A-to-F ratings for schools and districts, individualized learning (blended learning and credit flexibility), and school choice (charter schools and vouchers). It also included several questions on general attitudes towards school reform in Ohio and two trend items. Download today to discover the key findings and also view a PowerPoint by researcher Steve Farkas of FDR Group.
Limitless: Education, The Reynoldsburg Way
The Reynoldsburg City School District, just east of Columbus, is far down the “portfolio management” path – further than probably any suburban school district of its size. This feature article discusses portfolio management and takes readers behind the scenes in Reynoldsburg.
Redefining the School District in Tennessee
Adapted from the Foreword
by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Amber M. Winkler
As the challenges of education governance loom ever larger and the dysfunction and incapacity of the traditional K–12 system reveal themselves as major roadblocks to urgently needed reforms across that system, many have asked, “What’s the alternative?”
Part of the answer is the Recovery School District, a new state-created entity that that has the potential to turn around schools that have—often for decades—produced dreadful results under district control.
This is both a governance innovation and an imaginative response to pressure (from No Child Left Behind, from Secretary Arne Duncan, and from many other sources) to transform the nation’s most egregious “dropout factories” into providers of quality education and sources of worthy school choices for children who urgently need them.
Redefining the School District in Tennessee, by Nelson Smith, examines the progress of the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD), a statewide model for school turnarounds based on Louisiana’s pioneering Recovery School District.
The ASD is now leading the charge in developing talented building and classroom leaders, luring high-quality charter-management organizations to The Volunteer State, and incubating new school-choice networks. It runs some schools directly and entrusts others to external charter operators. But the goal remains the same: turn the bottom 5 percent of schools into high-achieving ones (top 25 percent) within five years.
Will this happen? ASD is too new to have produced definitive evidence. But its forerunner in New Orleans, where the percentage of students performing on grade level continues to rise, demonstrates what’s possible.
This is the first of a three-part series focused on recovery school districts. The second will target similar efforts in Michigan and Virginia; the third will review and distill national lessons from all of these endeavors.
Download Redefining the School District in Tennessee to learn more.
In the Media
Governance in the charter school sector: Time for a reboot
When charter schools first emerged more than two decades ago, they presented an innovation in public school governance. No longer would school districts enjoy the “exclusive franchise” to own and operate public schools, as chartering pioneer and advocate Ted Kolderie explained. Charters wouldn’t gain all of the independence of private schools—they would still report to a publicly accountable body, or authorizer—but they would be largely freed from the micromanagement of school boards, district bureaucracies, and union contracts. Autonomy, in exchange for accountability, would reign supreme.
Over the course of its twenty-year history, however, American education and its charter school sector have evolved in important ways. One of the significant ways is school governance—not a topic that gets a lot of attention but, as it turns out, a crucial one that is overdue for an overhaul (and not just in the charter sector).
The growth of nonprofit charter networks (CMOs), the ubiquity of for-profit school-management companies (EMOs), and the emergence of “virtual” charter schools have all upended the notion that charters would mostly be freestanding “community-based” schools of the “one-off” variety. Yet the public policies and practices that characterize charter governance haven’t kept pace with these real-world changes.
To examine this mismatch more closely and consider how it might be set right, we interviewed nearly two dozen analysts, authorizers, board members, and practitioners with interest in and knowledge of charter schools. Not one of them felt that the inherited assumptions and regulations about governance in the charter sector are truly well suited to present-day realities. This brief explores several ways that charter governance might be rebooted.
In the Media
Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality
In just two decades, charter schools have grown from a boutique school reform strategy to an alternative public school system serving a significant percentage of the nation’s K-12 students. In 1996, just 19 states had charter legislation in place, and there were only about 250 charters serving some 20,000 pupils. Fast forward to 2013: 41 states and the District of Columbia now have charter laws on the books, and there are more than 2 million students enrolled in 5,600 charter schools.
Many students attending charters are in high-need, high-poverty neighborhoods; in Cleveland for example—in Fordham’s home state Ohio—nearly 15,000 students (25 percent of Cleveland’s public school students) attended a charter school during the 2011-12 school year. This begs the question: how are these schools doing in comparison to their district peers and in comparison to their wealthier peers across the state? And how might we structure closure and new school policies to increase the number of high-flying charters while reducing the number of academic laggards?
Conducted jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact, the new research study Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality sheds light on charter performance — in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis. These cities were highlighted because they have relatively large numbers of charter schools and charter school students. These are cities where charters have been part of the educational landscape for a decade or more.
Searching for Excellence analyzes the 2010-11 standardized test results for 108 elementary and middle schools in these five cities. Charter school quality is assessed by comparing charter school test results to those of the home school district and to all public schools statewide. Results are reported for both individual charters and as a citywide cohort.
Download the report today!
Steps in the Right Direction
How does Governor Kasich’s school funding plan stack up, according to one of the nation’s foremost experts in school finance and reform? Find out in our latest publication, Steps in the Right Direction: Assessing “Ohio Achievement Everywhere” – the Kasich Plan.
In 2009, Fordham's Ohio team engaged Professor Paul Hill to to provide an analysis of then-Governor Strickland's school funding plan. We couldn’t think of anyone better to do the work than Hill—he is founder and recently retired director of the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, and a former Senior Fellow at Brookings and RAND. He was also the lead researcher on Facing the Future: Financing Productive Schools, a six-year effort, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which concluded that America’s public-school finance systems are burdened by rules and narrow policies that hold local officials accountable for compliance but not for results.
Fast forward to 2013, and another Ohio governor is proposing a school funding reform plan. We once again asked Professor Hill if he would provide a review of the governor’s plan. As the title notes, Professor Hill observes that Governor Kasich’s reform plan will advance Ohio and it schools, but it could be better and bolder. Download the short report to learn more about Professor Hill’s take on Kasich’s school funding plan.
When Teachers Choose Pension Plans: The Florida Story
In an era of budgetary belt tightening, state and local policy makers are finally awakening to the impact of teacher pension costs on their bottom lines. Recent reports demonstrate that such pension programs across the United States are burdened by almost $390 billion in unfunded liabilities. Yet, most states and municipalities have been taking the road of least resistance, tinkering around the edges rather than tackling systemic (but painful) pension reform.
Is the solution to the pension crisis to offer teachers the option of a 401(k)-style plan (also known as a "defined contribution" or DC plan) instead of a traditional pension plan? Would this alternative appeal to teachers?
When Teachers Choose Pension Plans: The Florida Story sets out to answer these questions.
Commentary & Feedback on Draft II of the Next Generation Science Standards
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has provided big-picture feedback and detailed, standard-specific commentary for the second draft of the Next Generation Science Standards—standards that done right, set a firm foundation upon which the rest of science education across the states will be constructed. In our comments on the first draft, we concluded that “the NGSS authors have much to do to ensure that the final draft is a true leap forward in science education.” In comments on Draft II, we address to what extent NGSS writers have moved closer to a set of K–12 science standards that even states with strong standards of their own would do well to adopt.
In the Media
Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century
School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?
Many proponents of private school choice take for granted that schools won’t participate if government asks too much of them, especially if it demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve many kids. But is this assumption justified?
A new Fordham Institute study provides empirical answers. Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types schools shy away from regulation more than others?
Among the study’s major findings:
- Regulations that restrict student admissions and schools’ religious practices are more likely to deter school participation than are requirements pertaining to academic standards, testing, and public disclosure of achievement results;
- Curriculum and testing requirements ranked among the least important considerations for school leaders, with just 25 percent citing state assessment rules as very important in their decision to participate or not;
- Only 3 percent of non-participating schools cited governmental regulations as the most important reason to opt out;
- The reasons most cited by school principals for participating in voucher programs were expanding their mission in the community (87 percent), helping voucher-eligible families already enrolled in their schools (75 percent), and aiding needy children in the community (72 percent);
- About one-third of non-participating private schools cited a lack of eligible families in their vicinity as key to their decision to shun the program; and
- Catholic schools are most likely to participate in choice programs, regardless of the regulatory environment.
Watch the replay of the event based on the report: