Ohio Gadfly Daily

The world of education is no stranger to controversy. The most recent kerfuffle centers on Ohio’s use of the Common Core State Standards which were adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education in 2010.

Opposition to Ohio’s latest academic standards in math and English language arts has sprung up based on half-understood ideas of what standards are, what they’re for, and how they came into being. In an instant, and several years after the fact, the undoing of the Common Core has become a zealous calling for folks urging their school boards and their state legislators to stop the implementation of Ohio’s duly adopted academic standards.

But the Common Core isn’t new for Ohio’s educators, who have been implementing these deeper and more rigorous standards over four school years. Superintendents, principals, and teachers are not only fully aware of but also have been actively engaged in implementing what is required of them and their students under the state’s new academic content standards.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s recent eye-opening series of articles depict how educators are embracing the challenge of the Common Core. These articles should serve to ameliorate the fears of those who oppose the Common Core, while heartening parents, educators, and policymakers who want more rigorous learning expectations in their schools. These articles describe in detail the on-the-ground and in-the-classroom realities of Common Core implementation in Northeast Ohio. These reporters have done a masterful job looking at how education professionals in 26 different districts – from working class...

The nation’s two largest teacher labor unions (AFT and NEA), the largest public-sector employee labor union (SEIU), and other national organizations are rallying today on their “National Day of Action.” Unfortunately, this conglomerate of labor and liberal interest groups has put forward a slate of tired and worn-out “adequacy” principles and solutions that are better suited for another time and place. The principles represent an input-driven, compliance-based public education model that has yielded decades of academic mediocrity and nary a whiff of excellence.

Meanwhile, this coalition portrays any effort from education “outsiders” to reform America’s public school system as “corporate”—not because there is any evidence of a corporate conspiracy but because it polls well in our increasingly polarized society. This is an unambiguous attempt by teacher unions to preserve their monopoly over the public-school system. The message to those outside the union sphere of influence is clear: Butt out.

We won’t be so kind as to accede. For, as we argue below, the seven principles that this coalition has laid out are deeply flawed. If our ultimate objective is for our public schools and students to achieve higher academic performance, Ohio needs a bolder set of guiding principles. To its credit, the Buckeye State (sometimes with and sometimes without labor support) is indeed undertaking bold, promising educational reforms in our K–12 schools.

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Labor’s principle #1: Public schools are public institutions.

Public schools are of course public institutions; as such, taxpayers—individuals and businesses alike—have a...

  • Educator "speed-dating" is being tested as a means to fill numerous teaching vacancies in Cleveland. And it actually kind of works!
  • Ohio's Got (Math) Talent: Lancaster High School student Jaydeep Singh is one of only eleven students in the entire world to get a perfect score on his AP calculus exam.
  • Ohio’s state school board and its members have been scrutinized in the Akron Beacon Journal’s series of investigative reports.
  • The Columbus Dispatch’s editorial board opines on charter school quality and comes out (again) in support of the Common Core.

Public education is a brier field of policy issues. Among the thorniest of all is how to educate America’s high-need students—those who are severely disabled, either physically or mentally. Though they make up a small portion of students, the education of high-need students can have widespread impacts.

In order deliver an adequate (if not excellent) education to those students, schools may need to hire instructors with specialized skills and a full-time nurse, or they may need to purchase expensive equipment. For a small school district or a charter school, serving just one high-need student could stress budgets—and crowd out resources that would have been otherwise allocated to general-education students.

Nevertheless, a civil society should provide good educational opportunities for all children, including those with special needs. But this objective presents policymakers with a seemingly intractable problem: How can states and districts provide the necessary resources to educate high-need students without breaking the bank or straining services for general-education students?

A recent brief by Daniela Fairchild and Matt Richmond, my Fordham colleagues, offers sensible solutions to this conundrum. To begin, they define “high-need students” as those who cost at least three times more than a typical general-education student. In Ohio, this definition would cover students who are identified as multi-handicapped, deaf, blind, or autistic or students who have had a traumatic brain injury.

The authors put forth three recommendations for policymakers: (1) Create “cooperatives,” which would serve high-need students from multiple schools, thereby taking advantage of economies of scale; (2)...

Fordham's Mike Petrilli testifies before the House Education Committee at midnight on November 21. Photo credit: Fordham Institute

On November 20, the Ohio House Education Committee heard testimony on House Bill 237, legislation that would prevent the state board of education from continuing its efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards. The committee previously entertained sponsor testimony on the legislation from Representative Andy Thompson, but this was the first opportunity for the public to testify on this bill.

Hundreds of concerned Ohioans, both supportive of and in opposition to the Common Core, descended upon the Statehouse to make their thoughts known, some arriving up to two hours before the 5 PM hearing. As the hearing time approached, the crowd outside the committee room swelled, and frustration grew as it became apparent that the committee room, the largest in the Statehouse, would not be able to accommodate everyone in attendance. To make matters worse, debate on the House floor ran late, delaying the start of the committee until almost 7 PM.

Undeterred, the mostly anti–Common Core crowd remained and filled the committee room and the Statehouse Atrium (an overflow area that received audio of the committee proceedings). More than forty people signed up to testify before the committee and were split roughly evenly between Common Core supporters and opponents. In the more than six hours of testimony—the hearing ended just after 1 AM—legislators were treated to a...

A sea of changes in education policy have begun to affect classrooms across Ohio. Schools are implementing the Common Core, the state has overhauled teacher- and principal-evaluation systems, new assessments will undergo field-testing this year, schools are scrambling to comply with the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee and to address the accompanying staffing issues, and the first portion of Ohio’s new statewide accountability system has been phased in with the release of the completely overhauled 2012–13 school and district report cards.

We at Fordham recently analyzed student achievement statewide and in Ohio’s eight largest urban cities in Parsing Performance: Analysis of Ohio’s New School Report Cards. In the interests of transparency and accountability, we reported in our annual sponsorship report how our own portfolio of sponsored schools fared under the new academic performance requirements.

Prior to delving into our results, allow us to refresh your memory on the new system and its implementation timeline. Schools were graded on a set of components for 2012–13 and will be assessed against additional components in 2013–14, still more in 2014–15, and all components when the system is fully implemented in 2015–16. Although schools will be graded on component parts of the report card in 2012–13 and beyond, schools will not receive an overall rating (i.e., the sum of the components) until 2014–15, at which time each building will be assigned an A to F grade for overall performance.

Graph I, below, details the performance of Fordham’s sponsored schools under two key components...

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano or the endless lines at Best Buy on Black Friday, there is an annual gathering in Cincinnati that compels folks to camp out for days on end. They leave most of life behind in pursuit of a single goal: a coveted spot in a magnet school.

The campers are parents of incoming Kindergarten students who are convinced that the desired magnet school is the right place for their children. This year, the tents began popping up at the first school nearly two weeks before the opening of the lottery. The parents should be commended for their commitment and dedication.

But what does this annual ritual really signify?

Does it mean that Cincinnati schools are so bad that families will do anything for a better option? Probably not. These are families trying to attend a handful of high-quality magnet schools. The quality and desirability of these schools is a positive development for Cincinnati Public Schools. With over 15,000 students in district schools that received a D or F rating on their performance-index scores last year, the real question is this: Why there aren’t more schools like these? A long line for scarce seats is not a new development in Cincinnati.

Does it mean that Cincinnati’s lottery system is broken? Probably. A two-week campout in November in Southern Ohio seems more like the set up for a reality-competition show than for quality education outcomes. And while Cincinnati Public Schools neither condones nor discourages the...

For years, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has consistenly fought for high standards in K-12 education. Tonight, the Ohio House Education Committee will consider testimony on House Bill 237, legislation that would repeal the Common Core, the state's new and more rigorous learning standards for math and English language arts. The Ohio State Board of Education adopted the Common Core in June 2010, and schools across the Buckeye State are presently implementing the standards. As an organization committed to high academic standards, we vigorously oppose the repeal of the Common Core and as such, oppose House Bill 237. The written testimony of Michael J. Petrilli, Executive Vice President for the Fordham Institute, is printed below or can be read by clicking here. -- Editor

Representatives: It’s an honor to be with you today. My name is Mike Petrilli; I’m the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education policy think tank, advocacy group, and charter school authorizer based out of Dayton. As most of you know, we also have offices here in Columbus and in Washington, DC. I was honored to serve in the George W. Bush Administration; our president, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan Administration. Perhaps most importantly, I was raised in the Midwest and lived for two years in Clarksville, Ohio. It’s great to be back in the heartland.

As a strong conservative and a strong supporter of the Common Core, I’m here to urge you...

Class size is an incessant policy issue—something like a leaky faucet. The din of the class-size debate drips in the background while the thunderclaps roar (Common Core! Charters!). Many parents and teachers drone on about class-size reductions; fiscal hawks want class-size increases. Meanwhile, wonks have observed America’s shrinking teacher to pupil ratio, with trivial achievement gains to boot.

Education reformers—including Fordham (see our excellent, brand-new Right-sizing the Classroom study)—have urged commonsense policies that put a school’s best teachers in front of more students. Doing this may boost student achievement—perhaps, as we found in our study, more so in upper-grade levels than elementary. But oftentimes this means the scrapping maximum class size mandates etched into teacher contracts or state law, a difficult task. Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, articulates this position well, saying, “Ideally, schools would focus on increasing the number of students their best teachers have responsibility for.”

But it is MOOCs (“Massive Open Online Courses”) that have the potential to stretch the class-size debate the furthest. MOOCs could put the nation’s best teachers—not just a school’s best teachers—in front of more students. Presently, these online courses run the gamut, from an advanced high-school/freshman college course to advanced college-level courses. Professors from the nation’s top rated colleges and universities teach the courses. One can select from a smorgasbord of topics: Coursera and edX—the major players in the MOOC market—publicize, for instance, courses in Data Analysis (Johns Hopkins), Jazz Appreciation (University of Texas), and...

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Two articles from the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Patrick O’Donnell last week focused on the classroom-level implementation of the Common Core, Ohio’s new learning standards. O’Donnell’s reports stand in the vein of other reports from across the nation about Common Core—for example, click on the following link for the Hechinger Report’s excellent series. The school visits were conducted at the Berea, Orange, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, and Bedford school districts, all located in the Cleveland area. It is evident from these reports that the Common Core standards are dramatically changing how instruction and learning happen in Ohio’s classrooms.

In the English classroom, teachers are now requiring students to cite evidence from the text, in order to support their conclusions. One educator remarked, “It’s not enough to just say what you think the theme [of a text] is. You need specific evidence.” Another educator compared this mode of instruction with past instructional practices: “Kids used to talk more about how they felt about the theme. . . .It was more about their feelings than the evidence.” Meanwhile, in the math classroom, teachers are creating lessons that have “real-world” twists to them, aimed at better ingraining mathematical concepts. According to one high school math teacher, under Ohio’s old standards, “You wouldn’t relate things to why you would ever need them. . . .Now the focus is much more with practical standards: Here is what actually translates to real life.”

The Common Core continues to draw fire. But these Common Core critics ought...

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