Ohio Gadfly Daily

Ohioans are waiting to see if Senate Bill 5, which would greatly reduce public sector collective bargaining in Ohio, can be repealed at the ballot box in November. Meanwhile, teachers unions and local school districts are working fast to avoid the legislation's consequences, at least anytime soon.

Changes to state law cannot trump existing collective bargaining agreements. So until a teacher union contract expires, teachers and districts won't have to comply with the bill's provisions. Those include (among other things): prohibiting strikes; removing decisions about leave policies, class sizes, and employee assignment from the scope of collective bargaining; prohibiting salaries from increasing solely due to time on the job; removing seniority as the prime determinant of layoffs; allowing districts to pay no more than 85 percent of employees' health care premiums; and prohibiting districts from paying any portion of employees' pension contribution.

We've seen a rash of one- or two-year contracts agreed to recently as a result of SB 5, including in Columbus, the state's largest district. A few locals have negotiated longer agreements, like Bexley, outside Columbus, where teachers and the district agreed to a four-year contract in quick fashion (a single day!). That agreement ends in July 2015, by which time Ohioans may well have ousted the current governor and Republican House majority and replaced them with Democrats who will have overturned the work of the previous administration.

What's missing from many of these agreements are attempts to deal with...

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Ohio's policy makers are trying to set the conditions for schools and districts to make smart cuts, but the timing for this couldn't be worse. 2011 will be long remembered as the year school funding fell off the ???cliff.??? The Buckeye State has seen $5.5 billion in one-time federal stimulus dollars dry up, the state legislature is in the brutal process of cutting $8 billion from its biennial operating budget, and local school districts have been pummeled by decreasing home and business valuations since 2008. In cities like Cleveland and Dayton, all of this is made worse by unpaid property taxes of 20 percent or more.

Governor Kasich and the Ohio legislature ??? in just over 100 days ??? have been working furiously on a series of changes to law that seek to give school district officials more flexibility in how they manage their districts in time of fiscal scarcity. For example, Ohio lawmakers have passed legislation (SB 5) that would give district officials flexibility to RIF teachers based on performance rather than exclusively on seniority, legislation has been passed that reduces state mandates (HB 30), and the current budget would allow for more innovation and sharing of services across schools, school districts and other government entities (HB153).

This is all for the good, but most of these changes will have little or no impact on how decisions are made in the coming months by districts dealing with their FY2012 budgets. Even reform-minded superintendents wanting to make smart...

Following Diane Ravitch on Twitter is sort of like giving a six-year-old a kazoo on a long car trip. You know that by doing so, there's a very strong probability that it will result in near constant aggravation or annoyance. But you do it anyway, because somewhere deep in your troubled psyche you thrive on provocation.

Being provocative isn't always a bad thing ? and Ravitch does it well. Her latest charge to Twitter followers is pretty pointless, though. She suggests a naming contest for charter school names (#charterschoolnames) and then retweets suggestions from followers that range from mildly funny to offensive, especially to the poor, mostly minority families who flee their traditional school for an alternative and who certainly wouldn't categorize themselves as ?privileged.? Here are some of the worst:

  • Dollars First Academy
  • Privilege Academy
  • Test Purgatory Hi-Tech High
  • Letuslineourpockets High
  • Erasure Secondary
  • Dewey, Cheatum & Howe Academy
  • Results By Attrition Network, Inc
  • Wishful Thinking, Heavy Spending Academy
  • I'm Better Than You Academy
  • Village of Stepford Charter School
  • W.A.S.P. Academy (Why Ask Stupid People)
  • TFA Tours

Wow. This ridiculous Twitter anti-charter rant is more like giving the child a drum set. Ohio Gadfly suggests other charter school names that are probably more accurate, at least from the perspective of the families and kids who utilize such options, like ?Kids who would otherwise not have a shot in hell because their current school is failing ACADEMY.?

Flypaper readers, please weigh in with other suggestions...

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NASA's decision to award the four retired space shuttles to museums in Washington, Florida, New York, and California was a blow to Dayton and to the entire Buckeye State. (Dayton was the fifth preferred site and barely lost out.) Dayton, the hometown of Orville and Wilbur Wright and the Wright Patterson Air Force base and air museum, thought it had made a winning case for one of the shuttles. Not only does Dayton have one of the country's great air and space museums, Ohio is also the home of the country's two most famous astronauts ??? John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.?? In the end, none of this mattered.

Ohio's senator Sherrod Brown captured the frustration of many of his fellow Ohioans when he said, ???NASA ignored the intent of Congress and the interests of taxpayers. NASA was directed to consider regional diversity when determining shuttle locations. Unfortunately, it looks like regional diversity amounts to which coast you are on, or which exit you use on I-95. Even more insulting to taxpayers is that having paid to build the shuttles, they will now be charged to see them at some sites.???

Ohio has been dealt a series of blows in recent years from seeing long-time employers like NCR bolt to Atlanta, to losing two Congressional seats to faster growing states like Texas, to seeing Akron's native son Lebron James bolt Cleveland for the Miami Heat. It seems that the Buckeye State can't compete with the money, energy,...

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Effective teachers are the most valuable education asset that Ohio (or any state) has. Statistics don't lie when it comes to their impact on children's learning. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, who recently testified before a joint hearing of the Ohio House and Senate education committees, reports that "having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background." Similarly, a weak teacher can blight a child's prospects.

Given how powerfully teachers can alter students' life trajectories, it is not only prudent but imperative to push reforms that enable education leaders to distinguish effective teachers from ineffective ones. With a fair and rigorous system that measures gradations of teacher effectiveness - not just binary ratings such as "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory" - school systems can reward their ablest instructors and put them in the classrooms where they are most needed, target support to teachers who need it and weed out those who are not a good fit for the profession. For Ohio, where low-income and minority children reach proficiency at far lower rates than their wealthier peers, the stakes are enormous.

But the evaluation system isn't working nearly as well as it needs to. As U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has noted: "Everyone agrees that teacher evaluation is broken. Ninety-nine percent of teachers are rated satisfactory and most evaluations ignore the most important measure of a teacher's success - which is how much their students have learned."

In Ohio, districts pay...

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By now it should be no surprise to anyone that Ohio is the midst of a financial crisis, and that schools will undoubtedly feel the brunt of this. School districts around the state must cope with the end of federal stimulus money as well as tangible personal-property tax replacement payments to schools. With hearings about the budget (HB153) underway, Terry testified before the Ohio House Finance Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education last week to offer support for certain reform provisions, while also urging the Ohio Legislature to think bigger and bolder in some areas.

Terry offered support for:

  • The creation of Innovation Schools/ Zones, which would allow schools to achieve cost savings and greater efficiencies by allowing them to seek waivers from some state laws.
  • The expansion of school choice. He praised the fact this budget would hold charter schools and their sponsors more accountable for their performance, but cautions that many details still need to be worked out and refined.
  • The expansion of the EdChoice scholarship. He offered support for the proposed expansion of the voucher program, but called for the academic performance of private schools to be tracked and evaluated. As it currently stands documentation of academic performance of private schools is not required. Schools that receive public funding should be sanctioned to the same criteria as public school and use academic data to determine the success or failure of their academics.
  • Capitalizing on effective teachers, what Terry argues are the most valuable
  • ...
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Ohio is in the midst of its biennial budget debate and there has been much angst and ink spilled about a proposal in the budget bill (HB 153) to create a ???parent trigger??? for the state's truly woeful schools. The proposal has triggered front page new stories, strongly worded editorials against the idea, and public testimony in House hearings on the budget dismissing the idea as another assault on public schools.

The bill would allow parents to petition a school district to force reforms in a school that, for at least three consecutive years, has been ranked in the lowest 5 percent of all district-operated schools statewide based on its performance index score (which is a measure of student achievement across all grades and subjects). Parents would be allowed to file a petition requesting the district to do one of the following:

  1. Reopen the failing school as a community school,
  2. Replace at least 70 percent of the school's personnel,
  3. Contract with another school district or a nonprofit or for-profit entity with a record of effectiveness to operate the school,
  4. Turn operation of the school over to the state Department of Education, or
  5. Any other restructuring that makes fundamental reforms in the school's staffing or governance.

This is strong medicine for sure, and for truly atrocious schools necessary. Now, the part of the story that has been missed by almost everyone is how few schools this law would actually impact. The bar for triggering...

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With the GOP dominating so many state capitols and governors' mansions, it shouldn't come as a surprise that legislation aimed at expanding school choice is on the rise. In Ohio, the most prominent (but certainly not the only) bill would expand the state's existing voucher program and also create two additional voucher/scholarship programs ? one aimed toward special education students, and the other aimed toward students attending schools anywhere across the state and meeting a fairly generous income requirement. Terry wrote about HB 136 last week, specifically pondering whether targeting scholarship to families making up to $100,000 annually was prudent during trying fiscal times, and whether the state should provide scholarships to families already paying private school tuition. ?

And as HB 136 is up for debate in the coming weeks, we'd predict that the accountability provisions within the bill may also be hotly contested. Should private schools receiving voucher students be subject to testing/accountability?? Does this infringe on their rights? What would this look like in practice? Why should we pump taxpayer dollars into schools without commensurate accountability requirements? (A 2009 Fordham report suggested a sliding-scale approach: as a private school enrolls more voucher students, ?the greater its obligation for transparency and accountability.?)??

As Ohio delves deeper into this debate ? precipitated not just by HB 136 but also by Gov. Kasich's plans to expand the EdChoice program in terms of both the number of scholarships and eligibility requirements surrounding them ? the state...

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Ohioans, for the most part, understand that strong teachers and good schools are a critical investment in our children's and our state's future. Consider that in 2010, the state invested more than $18.3 billion in K-12 public education ??? roughly $2,078 for every adult living in the Buckeye State.

In fact, school funding in Ohio has steadily increased over the past three decades. Just since 1991, when the first DeRolph lawsuit was filed, per-pupil revenue for Ohio's public schools has risen 60 percent (even accounting for inflation). After decades of steady growth in spending on its schools Ohio now faces a funding cliff. Education in the state is facing cuts of at least $1.3 billion.

The state's schools are being asked to do more with less. How do we do this smartly, without damaging children, especially our neediest? To answer this question it is prudent to look at the data. Where are we making gains? Where are we falling flat? Where do the investments pay off? Where don't they?

The Akron Beacon Journal jumped into the debate with a recent news story and follow-up editorial using NAEP test scores (commonly referred to as the Nation's Report Card) to show Ohio has made ???great improvements??? since the 1990s, especially in math. The paper went so far as to ask readers ???why haven't gains ??? especially for African Americans ??? been trumpeted from the rooftops????

Further, the paper insinuated that Ohio's small gains in math over...

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The 2010 census numbers came out this month and ???shrinkage??? is the defining term for Ohio's cities. Cleveland shrunk by 17 percent over the last decade and fell to 396,815 residents, a 100-year low. Cincinnati lost 10 percent of its population and is down to 297,000 residents, also a 100-year low. Toledo contracted by nine percent and now has a population of 287,208. The only large city in the state to grow was Columbus and it now has a population of 787,000.

Fordham's hometown of Dayton lost 15 percent of its population to reach a 90-year low. Since 1970 the city of Dayton has lost almost half of its citizens. Those left behind are increasingly poor. Fully a third of the city's residents had incomes below the poverty level in 2008, more than double the Ohio average. More than 80 percent of the city's school children are deemed economically disadvantaged.??

As Dayton continues to contract and get poorer its public schools struggle to educate the children left behind. The school district was rated Academic Watch by the state in 2009-10 and it met only one of the state's 26 academic indicators. No student in Dayton attended a public school (district or charter) that was rated Excellent or Excellent with Distinction, while in 2008-9 five percent of the city's children attended a top-rated school. In 2009-10, just 36 percent of students attended a school rated B or C (Effective or...

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