Ohio Gadfly Daily

This week I am joining members of CEE-Trust for a conversation on some of the nation’s most promising city-based school reform efforts. CEE-Trust is a coalition of 33 reform organizations like MindTrust in Indianapolis, Mayor Karl Dean in Nashville, Charter School Partners in Minneapolis, New Schools for New Orleans, and the Rogers Family Foundation in Oakland. Fordham is a founding member, and this is one of my absolutely favorite groups to spend time with because the people involved are leading implementers and practitioners of school reform. They are all doers.

In years past I always left the CEE-Trust meetings wishing more were happening in Ohio’s cities. But, this year is different. Ohio’s big cities are rapidly becoming leaders in school reform. In fact, I’d argue there is no state with three major cities doing more than what is happening in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. Consider the following.

Cleveland: In early 2012 Mayor Frank Jackson (who appoints the school board) unveiled his “Plan for Transforming Schools.” The Jackson Plan required changes to state law and in July 2012 Governor Kasich signed House Bill 525, which gave the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and its superintendent Eric Gordon new flexibilities to deal with the city’s long-suffering schools. Key elements of the plan included:

  • Keeping high-performing and specialized teachers during layoffs by making tenure and seniority only secondary factors in those personnel decisions.
  • Paying teachers on a “differentiated” salary schedule based on performance, special skills and duties, as opposed to years of
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The number of high school graduates from Ohio’s charter schools has risen sharply in the past decade. In spring 2002, only 580 students graduated from a charter; in spring 2011 (the last year of available graduation data), 6,301 students graduated from a charter, only slightly below of graduates of Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus school districts combined. 

Where do charter school grads go upon graduation? Not likely to college. Only around 1 in 10 charter school graduates head directly into an Ohio public university or college (two- or four-year), according to the Ohio Board of Regents. Note: The Regents’ data do not account for high school graduates who attend an out-of-state, private, or for-profit college—thus, underreporting the number of college-bound grads.

For graduates of e-school charters, a measly 9 percent made the plunge into college, while for graduates of brick-and-mortar charters, it’s 11 percent. There is, however, considerable variation across the charters. As might be expected, Ohio’s few high-performing high school charters had a higher percentage of grads go off to college. For example, 48 percent of Dayton Early College Academy’s (DECA) and 50 percent of Toledo School for the Arts’ graduates enrolled directly into an Ohio college. On the flip side, only 8 percent of ECOT (the state’s largest e-school) graduates went to an Ohio college immediately after graduation, and 50 out of 115 charters had zero students.

The chart below shows that, compared to traditional districts, charter schools lag considerably behind in sending graduates directly into college. On average,...

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FOREWORD

Like a rose in an unkempt garden, Menlo Park Academy stands out among Ohio’s hodgepodge of charter schools. First and foremost, Menlo excels academically—it was one of 30 charters in Ohio that earned an “Excellent” (A) or above state academic rating in 2011-12. (This, out of 302 rated charter schools.) Second, Menlo, which enrolls 300 or so students, is a regional school, drawing K-8 students from 40 school districts in and beyond the Cleveland metro area. And, Menlo is Ohio’s only charter school dedicated to educating gifted students.

Menlo’s uniqueness, together with Fordham’s long-standing interest in gifted and talented students, quickly attracted our attention. We’ve visited the school on two occasions, once with Fordham’s president Checker Finn. During these visits we learned much from Menlo’s leaders, teachers, parents and students about how the school has grown, as well as its current and future challenges. These discussions whetted our appetite to dig deeper—to learn more about Menlo’s story, its people, and how it goes about educating gifted students. We asked Ellen Belcher, an award-winning journalist formerly of the Dayton Daily News, to report the Menlo Park story and what she uncovered made us even more excited about the work of Menlo. It also made us wonder why there aren’t more charter schools in Ohio committed to serving the needs of the state’s gifted and talented students.

Ohio law permits gifted-focused charter schools such as Menlo. Under Ohio Revised Code (ORC) §3314.06, charter schools can adopt a policy that...

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Blended learning: It’s the talk of the town and perceived favorably, but it hasn’t found widespread use…yet. Fordham’s May 2013 publication Half Empty Half Full: Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reform surveyed 344 of Ohio’s 614 district superintendents: 59 percent of superintendents thought that blended learning would lead to “fundamental improvement.” However, despite the vocal support for blended learning, few superintendents (a mere 5 percent) report that it has achieved “widespread” use in their school district. In fact, 31 percent of superintendents reported that blended learning was of “limited or no use” in their district.

(Blended learning refers to an instructional model that mixes virtual education with traditional face-to-face instruction. The model can vary depending on what instructional model the teacher chooses to implement. Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, identify four blended learning models.)  

Who are the most laggardly of the laggards in terms of using blended learning? It seems, as might be expected, that superintendents of rural districts are the most likely to report little to no use of blended learning. And, importantly, it’s not on account of attitudinal resistance to blended learning from these rural school leaders.

Chart 1 shows that rural superintendents view blended learning favorably—as favorably as their peers in larger, more urban districts. Sixty-one percent of rural superintendents view blended learning favorably, a percentage that mirrors that of urban (61 percent) and suburban superintendents (66 percent), and is considerably higher than small town superintendents (45 percent). 

Chart...

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Wayward Sons, a recent report published by the policy think tank the Third Way, finds that the average girl’s educational and career outcomes have improved over time, while boys tend to be faring worse. This widening “gender gap,” the report contends, suggests “reason for concern” and “bodes ill for the well-being of recent cohorts of U.S. males.”

Explaining why boys are struggling now more than in past decades is, of course, extremely complex. One line of inquiry might consider the changing schooling experiences of boys and girls: Could it be that boys are becoming increasingly harder to educate? Might schools tailor education in ways unsuitable for boys’ needs? Or is it a mix of both?

Fair questions—and using Ohio’s special education data, I look at whether there’s any evidence that (a) boys might be harder to educate than girls and (b) whether schools might respond to difficult-to-educate boys by referring them into special education.

The Ohio data is nothing short of remarkable: There are considerably more boys identified as disabled than girls. (The referral and identification process is a joint effort between the parent and the school.) Statewide, 166,690 boys (65 percent) and 88,539 girls (35 percent) were identified as disabled in 2011-12. This compares to a 51 percent male to 49 percent female ratio for all K-12 students—disabled and non-disabled together.

A similarly disproportionate number of boys populate the specific disabled categories. In fact, every single category except one (deaf-blindness) has more boys than girls....

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When Ohio Governor John Kasich released his “Achievement Everywhere” school funding plan in late February it was widely criticized for “stealing from the poor and giving to the rich.” Opponents of the governor’s plan noted “rich” suburban districts would see more state funding than poorer rural and urban districts. People wondered why the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, with a long history of poverty, would see no increase in state funding while Cleveland suburban districts like Euclid City would see a 21 percent increase in funding.

It didn’t seem to make sense, despite the arguments of the governor’s staff that Ohio’s demographics had changed considerably over the last decade (consider Cleveland had lost 30,000 students), and poverty was far more widely dispersed than most people thought. In response to the cries that the governor’s plan was unfair to rural and urban districts while a money grab for suburban districts the House rewrote the Kasich school funding plan to fund both rural and urban schools at higher amounts. This, it was argued, would be a fairer funding formula than what the Governor proposed and spreadsheets of the House plan did indeed show more rural and urban district benefiting from their plan than the governor's.

It is yet to be seen what the Senate is going to do per school funding, but one hopes that Senators are reading the new book from the Brookings Institution that reports “the suburban poverty rate in America has climbed by 64 percent over the...

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Yesterday, I spent all day hitting the Refresh button on my email account. Probably 653 times. Why? Because the one school that we wanted for our children for next year was to announce its lottery results to those lucky few who would be chosen. 12 or 13 slots for sixth grade, out of an application pool of several hundred (wish I knew exactly how many).

On click number 653 we got the news at last: Our numbers didn’t hit.

***

My parents practiced school choice the old-fashioned way in the late 1970’s – they moved from the east side of Columbus to the boonies. This was their only option. With a one-income family and four children, private school was not in the cards. My father drove 30 miles one way to work (even farther later in his career) with no complaints.

Why not stay in Columbus City Schools? Desegregation. I’m not proud of this fact and the mindset that it evokes, but they were not the only ones in our neighborhood – let alone the city – who did not want their children bussed across town for a school they felt inferior to the one they had. In fact, we had five other family/friends move from our street alone into the same tiny burg in the country the same summer. Did we miss out on some opportunities moving from a big city district to the country? You bet. But all of us did OK in our new environment and our...

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Last week, Fordham’s Ohio team gathered with school leaders and ed reform stakeholders - including legislators and members of the State Board of Education - to discuss the findings of our latest report, Half Empty or Half Full? Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reforms

While we provided a recap of the event Friday, I’m happy to share a full-length video of the event! If you missed it, or attended and would like to view or share with others, check out the video here.

We feel the survey and its findings provide an important window into how the reforms we champion play out on the ground in districts across Ohio. The insights of our panelists and audience members are interesting and enlightening. Watch the video and tell us what you think.

Share your comments about the survey and event below. We look forward to seeing you at future Fordham events!

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“This is about leadership.” Such was the closing comment of state superintendent Dick Ross at this morning’s Columbus event “Always Reformed, Always Reforming.” It was a remark spurred by the findings from Fordham’s recent publication Half Empty or Half Full? Superintendents’ Views on Ohio’s Education Reforms. At this event, school and policy-making leaders gathered to discuss the findings of Fordham's newest publication, a survey of Ohio's superintendents who are tasked with implementing a host of eduational reforms.

Steve Farkas of the FDR Group led off the event with a presentation of the findings the survey of 344 of the state's 614 superintendents. The survey found varied opinion from school leaders for the Buckeye State’s recent reforms. Among the seven reforms we inquired about, superintendents strongly support the Common Core and individualized learning. District superintendents, however, are far less enamored with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee and school choice options (vouchers and charter schools).

A panel discussion followed with Fordham’s Terry Ryan moderating and Senator Peggy Lehner, Kirk Hamilton, and Steve Dackin participating on the panel. Senator Lehner is the chair of the Senate Education Committee, Kirk Hamilton is the executive director of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA), and Dackin is the superintendent of Reynoldsburg City Schools near Columbus.

Panelists (from left to right): State superintendent Dick Ross, Steve Farkas of the FDR Group, Kirk Hamilton of the Buckeye Association of School...

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For the better part of three decades, states have been implementing all manner of school reforms, ranging from academic standards to district report cards, from statewide graduation tests to new technologies, from teacher evaluations to alternative certification, from charter schools to vouchers. Ohio is fairly typical in this regard. It’s been struggling with all of these and many more, mostly sent forth from the state capitol.

How do district leaders feel about education reform?
Real gains to student performance depend mainly on hard work by district leaders, principals, and teachers.
Photo by michibanban

As the reform load has grown weightier, however, we at Fordham have come to understand more clearly that while lawmakers can help set the conditions for improvement (or get in the way of needed changes!), any real and sustainable gains to school and student performance depend mainly on hard work by district leaders, school principals, and teachers. Along with students and families, they fuel the engines of improvement, even as state officials may turn the key. 

In the commercial world, Ohio has long been known as the country’s “test market” because if something sells in the Buckeye State, it is apt to sell nationwide. (Ben Wattenberg and the late Richard Scammon once wrote that the most typical American was a forty-seven-year-old suburban...

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