Ohio Gadfly Daily

School boards matter. Indeed, in Fordham’s new report Do School Boards Matter?  researchers found that knowledgeable, hard-working boards that prioritize student achievement govern higher-performing districts. Perhaps this is no surprise, particularly given the wide-ranging authority of boards. In Ohio, school boards’ statutory powers include prescribing curriculum, appointing a treasurer and superintendent, creating a school schedule, and entering into labor contracts with teachers. Meanwhile, we in Columbus have painfully observed what happens when a school board fails to exercise diligent oversight.

School boards, then, can be potent entities (or dismally impotent ones). But does anyone care about them?

To dig into this question, I look at the November 2013 school-board elections for Franklin County. The county has a nice mix of districts, including one big-city district (Columbus) and a number of both high- and low-wealth suburban districts. I look at three data points: The number of contested seats, voter turnout rates, and “undervotes” among those who actually went to the polls. This slice of data portrays a general air of apathy among the electorate toward school boards.

First, when it comes to competition for seats, many of the seats went uncontested. Remarkably, there were just seventy-two candidates vying for fifty board seats across Franklin County—less than two candidates per open seat. In fact, five of the seventeen school districts had entirely uncontested races (the number of candidates equaled the number of open seats). If you ran for office in those districts, you automatically...

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In the waning days of 2013, I highlighted five big issues to keep an eye on in 2014. Ohio’s new teacher-evaluation system was number two on the list. In terms of predictions mine was anything but bold; after all, this is the first school year that the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) has been implemented. Any new system, especially one as important and controversial as OTES, is going to make headlines.

Last fall, Senator Randy Gardner introduced legislation (Senate Bill 229) to make minor modifications to the evaluation system. Most notably, he proposed reducing from 50 to 35 percent the amount of a teacher’s performance evaluation that is based on student achievement and lengthening the time between evaluations to three years for many teachers. The bill sailed through the Senate in less than a month, but it stalled in the House Education Committee until recently.

The House last week unveiled a substitute bill (legislative comparison document) that clarifies some ambiguities in the law and offers helpful tweaks. Other modifications are more substantive and could help school leaders to more accurately determine a teacher’s performance level. The most substantial among the House’s proposed changes include the following:

  • Incorporate student surveys into teacher ratings. Borrowing from the recent Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study sponsored by the Gates Foundation, it would allow (not require) school districts to use student surveys as 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation and would reduce the emphasis on the teacher-observation
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As in many states across America, too many young adults in Ohio are unemployed, disengaged, and on the road to nowhere. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that approximately 140,000 Ohioans aged twenty-five to thirty-four have not earned a high-school diploma. Within this same age bracket, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 85,000 job-seeking young adults (or 7.6 percent of them) are unemployed in the Buckeye State.

Given these alarming statistics, the state’s efforts to support young adults in dire straits is admirable. But Ohio’s House Bill 343, which would extend access to a free and public education to young adults ages twenty-two to twenty-nine, doesn’t get the remedy right. In fact, the bill may provide an antidote more toxic than the ailment it intends to treat.

The legislation would allow up to 1,500 young adults to enroll in a dropout-recovery charter school or a school in a “challenged district” if the adult resides in the district. These students would be allowed to attend the school up to two cumulative years with the purpose of obtaining a high-school diploma. Public aid would fund the enrollment expansion at $5,800 per pupil for fiscal year 2015. The bill requires the State Board of Education to develop reporting and accountability standards for any school that enrolls young adults aged twenty-two to twenty-nine in a dropout-recovery program.

For three reasons, the legislature should think twice before enacting this bill or an omnibus bill that includes the provisions contained in House...

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Recognizing the contribution of schools and teachers to their students’ learning is a key element of a performance-based accountability system. Yet determining how to measure such contributions remains unsettled science. Two approaches—student-growth percentile (SGP) and value added (VAM)—have emerged as the most rigorous ways to measure contributions to growth. Even within the value-added category, there are several ways to specify the statistical model. (Ohio, along with a few other states, uses a proprietary model that was developed by William Sanders and is run by statisticians at SAS.) But does the model actually matter, as it pertains to teacher-level ratings? In this paper, researchers compare SGP to VAM, using longitudinal student data from public schools in Washington, D.C.. Interestingly, the authors specify a teacher-level VAM (not the Ohio model) that includes student background characteristics and an SGP model that excludes them.[1] Generally speaking, the researchers found strong correlations between the models (greater than 0.9 for both math and reading). However, the analysts found a number of outlying teachers whose growth estimates were substantially different across the two models. As a result, a minority of teachers (14 percent) would have landed in a different rating category depending on the model. The analysts, however, attribute very little of the differences to the inclusion-exclusion of background variables. So is one model superior? The authors can’t say—there’s no “magic model” to compare them with—but their research demonstrates that different models can alter some teachers’ ratings. Ohio’s state-level policymakers should...

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  • Horizon Science Academy in downtown Toledo has been entangled in a months-long process to secure a new facility by buying the building currently housing the YMCA. Despite a signed contract and a use permit approved by two of three needed city entities, the deal has stalled. They are opposed in this effort by a neighborhood group which would prefer Toledo Public Schools take over the space for a Head Start program and affiliated services, regardless of the fact that TPS has no funds on hand to do so. You can read the whole saga as it has unfolded on the Ohio Gadfly Daily, but the vote last week in city council to grant final approval for the use of a school in the building tied at 6–6. The city’s new mayor D. Michael Collins declined to cast the deciding vote at the time; he has two weeks in which to do so.
  • Kudos to Chris Woolard, Director of Accountability at the Ohio Department of Education, for winning the 2014 State Data Leader Award from the Data Quality Campaign. Chris and his team were recognized for their efforts to ensure Ohio teachers and administrators have easy access to timely, relevant student data, as well as training in how to appropriately and meaningfully use those data to improve results for students. You can check out an audio interview with Chris, where he discusses the vital work of bridging the gap between data systems and the teachers who use them.
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Life Skills Centers, a group of fifteen dropout-recovery charter schools operated by White Hat Management, is on the decline. Last year’s enrollment (school year 2012-13) was less than half that of 2006. The erosion of Life Skills Centers’ enrollment bucks the steadily rising trend in Ohio’s overall charter enrollment. And within dropout-recovery charters—a special subset of schools that enroll at-risk high-school students—Life Skills Centers’ enrollment losses have also been atypical. Excluding Life Skills, the state’s sixty or so dropout-recovery schools have experienced flat to increasing enrollment trends from 2006 to 2013 with the exception of 2012.[1]

Chart 1: Life Skills Center student enrollment, 2005-06 to 2012-13

Source: Ohio Department of Education Notes: The number of Life Skills Centers has remained constant—fifteen schools—throughout this period except for 2005-06 when there were fourteen schools. There are three former Life Skills Centers (then operated by White Hat) that changed management companies and school names effective July 2012. These schools are not included in the totals in chart 1 or table 1 for any years.

Perhaps the enrollment decline is no surprise, given the low performance of these schools. Table 1 shows the five-year cohort graduation rates for Life Skills Centers from 2009-10 to 2011-12. The graduation rates for their pupils are sometimes less than ten percent. The Life Skills Center in Dayton performs the highest among the group: 25 percent graduation rate in 2011-12; 22 percent in 2010-11....

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I am not a fan of sports, despite the best efforts of my father, my friends, and my work colleagues; nor am I a watcher of House of Cards, despite a love of deep and twisty TV generally; nor have I gotten into the reality TV show genre, despite watching hours of commercials for them all over the years.

But, thanks to my work here at the Fordham Institute, I have come upon a real life story that has elements of all these genres and just in time for March Madness it has come down to the wire.

Note: I am indebted to journalists Mark Reiter and Ignazio Messina of the Toledo Blade for diligently following this story and allowing me to vicariously “ride along”.

Horizon Science Academy in Toledo is a K-8 charter school in the downtown area that has been in business since 2011. It has 270 students enrolled this school year and received a D for performance index and an A for overall value-add last year (check out their full report card here). In late 2013, the operators were looking to expand and found a ready-built new home – the building currently occupied by the Toledo area YMCA (gym, services, offices). A deal was struck between the two parties, contracts signed, and then attention turned toward obtaining the required special use permit to allow a school to operate in the building.

The first part of that process required approval from the Toledo Plan Commission,...

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Ron F. Adler

Since 1998, thousands of parents have chosen to enroll their children in Ohio's public charter schools. Today, nearly 120,000 students are being educated in one of Ohio's more than 400 public charter schools. Cleveland (29%), Dayton (28%), and Toledo (27%) all landed in the top ten school districts with the highest percentage of charter school students, according to a recent analysis by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  

For the past few months, legislators and leaders within the charter school movement have observed, with considerable concern, a handful of start-up charter schools that abruptly closed after less than a year of operation.  Missteps by a few sponsors who allowed the opening of these untested charter schools signal the need for some sponsors to do a better job of vetting.  Even with thorough vetting, new and tighter controls should also be considered when a first time, inexperienced operator decides to open a charter school.

However, even though changes should be considered, Ohio must never turn its back on new start-up charter schools.  Many of Ohio's strongest achieving charter schools were born from community inspiration and with sponsors listening to the many calls from parents.  Most of these new charter schools filled voids that existed within the traditional educational system, sometimes for decades. 

Make no mistake, the vast majority of...

I had the good fortune of attending the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) conference last week. AEFP attracts some of the nation’s finest researchers along with a small smattering of policymakers and advocates. Cutting-edge research on topics ranging from parents and school choice, adequacy in school funding, and value-added accountability were presented, and the working papers are online and well worth perusing.

The conference was a veritable buffet of dialogue on education research and policy, and the following are the three main ideas I took away:

  • First, there is a growing stable of researchers who are willing to tackle challenging but pressing policy issues. A few of the more ambitious projects came from graduate-student researchers who are making valiant efforts to answer thorny and (perhaps) impossible research questions. Some of the interesting studies included preliminary work on a return-on-public-investment model for charter schools, whether “adequacy and equity” court cases have contributed to achievement gains, and whether value-added models of teacher effectiveness have “floor” and “ceiling” effects (i.e., bias VAM estimates of teachers with many low- or high-achieving students). It’s evident that the education-research community is moving in the right direction by making concerted efforts to answer questions that matter for sound policy and practice.  
  • Second, to cease testing and data collection would cripple promising research avenues. There is growing concern about testing and data collection among education policymakers and the public. The backlash is understandable. But make no mistake: if states backtrack on testing
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In Ohio’s education circles, much attention of late has been focused on the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, A-to-F school grades, and Ohio’s New Learning Standards (which include the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts). Ohio’s upcoming shift from the Ohio Achievement Assessments (grades 3–8) and Ohio Graduation Test (grade 10) to what’s being referred to as Ohio’s Next Generation of Assessments has, for the most part, flown under the radar.

Ohio’s new state assessments will likely be used for the 2014–15 school year and were developed in order to align with the learning standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010. The assessments will be in math, English language arts, science, and social studies (new for Ohio) and will be administered online—although a paper-and-pencil version will be available the first year. In the primary grades (K–8), students will be tested in math and English language arts in grades 3–8 (as they are now), in science in grades 5 and 8 (as they are now), and in social studies in grades 4 and 6. As for high school, the state will administer end-of-course exams in physical science; biology; Algebras I and II and geometry (or integrated Mathematics 1, 2, and 3); English language arts 1, 2, and 3; American history; and American government.

The Ohio Department of Education will develop the science and social-studies tests, and the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is slated to create the...

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