Ohio Gadfly Daily

With all the controversy regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), it’s easy to forget that there is another piece to the puzzle: the new standards are surely important and an improvement for most states, but in addition to strong state standards, the assessments aligned to the standards need to be of high quality if the standards are to achieve their aim of graduating students ready for college or a career. This fact sheet from Education First provides state policymakers and education advocates with a wealth of information on the tests being developed by the two leading test consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, as well as the competing test offered by ACT Aspire. The first half of the primer uses a combination of maps, tables, and infographics to systematically present the similarities and differences between the assessments. The compilation of this information into a single, easily readable document should prove to be a valuable resource to anyone looking to learn more about the next generation of assessments being adopted alongside the CCSS. The rest of the document explores a variety of topics, including what constitutes a high quality assessment; how assessment items on each test vary (with examples); the use of assessments for college readiness, admissions, and placement; and factors to consider when evaluating an assessment. Overall, the information in this primer nicely frames the testing options and allows state leaders to move around the assessment...

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With great fanfare, the Dispatch’s recent bombshell article outed seventeen charter schools in the Columbus region that closed within the past year. The closures occurred for a variety of reasons, ranging from fiscal woes to unsanitary conditions. Spicy material, yes, but beyond the headline, the Dispatch published a no-less-important companion piece that outlined the role of charter-school authorizers (or “sponsors”), of which Fordham is one.

Few people probably know that authorizers exist, much less what they do. But authorizers are crucial cogs in the charter-school system, as they perform four major tasks: they (1) review applications for a new charter school; (2) establish a contract with a school to allow it to open; (3) ensure compliance; and (4) renew (or non-renew) a contract with the school. We at Fordham take our responsibilities as an authorizer seriously, and we support the principles of rigorous authorizing standards set forth by the National Association of Charter School Authorizing (NACSA). Many authorizers in Ohio do the same—though seemingly not all, as evidenced in the Dispatch’s article. As charter-school quality comes into greater focus for the Buckeye State, authorizers and their practices must come under the microscope. But first, here are a few things to know about authorizers in Ohio.

1.)   Ohio has a smorgasbord of charter authorizers

Sixty-eight entities currently authorize at least one of Ohio’s 393 charter schools. Such entities include the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), thirteen educational-service centers (ESCs),...

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  • Cleveland Metropolitan School District is in hot water after rehiring three retired district principals without a public hearing. Under state law, a hearing is required when a retiree is rehired into a public position. This they did, five months after giving them the gigs in error. Gadfly wonders if all this public hoop jumping couldn't be easily avoided though: Shouldn’t Ohio altogether cease the practice of “double dipping” (i.e., when public-sector “retirees” receive both a public pension and a public-employee salary)?
  • Fallout from the long-simmering data “scrubbing” scandal continues. Last week, the Ohio Department of Education referred seven school districts (Campbell, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Marion, Northridge, Toledo, and Winton Woods) to the Office of Professional Conduct to investigate whether individual staff members improperly withdrew students from the district’s attendance records. The shoe still remains to drop on Columbus City Schools.
  • Information, information, information: The Cleveland Transformation Alliance will soon launch a new website www.clevelandta.org that includes much-needed school information for parents. The site will have Cleveland schools’ performance index score and its value-added rating, along with space for community ratings and comments.  
  • The state’s new teacher evaluation system is creating headaches for school administrators. Newark City Schools’ (central Ohio) superintendent estimates that his district’s school administrators will spend some 2,500 hours this year on evaluations. Fortunately, there may be relief on the horizon as Senate Bill 229 (passed the Senate and awaits hearings in the House) would loosen some of the state
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As the debate over the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) rages on in blogs and statehouses nationwide, educators are getting on with the business of putting the standards into practice. In these three issue briefs, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) offers direction to charter authorizers navigating the challenges posed by CCSS implementation. The first brief provides a simple introduction to CCSS and CCSS-aligned assessments, including a list of questions that authorizers can ask themselves to self-diagnose exactly how the Common Core will affect them—e.g., “How do my state’s implementation requirements apply to charter schools?” and “Does my state have a federal accountability waiver?” In the second brief, NACSA stresses the importance of maintaining charter schools’ autonomy during the transition to CCSS and the new assessments: The authors remind the authorizers that the Common Core are a set of learning standards, not a curriculum (“Although the framers have developed suggested reading lists, and some states have adopted them as menus for school districts’ convenience, the new standards do not dictate what textbooks or instructional methods schools must use”), and that schools should avail themselves of their freedom to use whatever materials will help their students reach the standard. The third (and most extensive) brief digs into maintaining accountability, warning authorizers that school performance may drop significantly with the new tests. NACSA offers a host of options from which to choose—such as rating schools using proficiency only, proficiency plus growth, and multiple indicators—but urges authorizers above all...

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The first thing that strikes you while reading Breaking the Cycle is an embodiment of the phrase “meeting students where they live.” Many of the life stories of students at Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) are told through the students’ own writings—school assignments that don’t run from or sugarcoat lives of poverty, deprivation, abuse, and hopelessness in all their varied ugliness. Dr. Judy Hennessey, superintendent and CEO of DECA, and her team instead turn those experiences into lessons in tenacity and motivation, with notable success. The realities of absent or neglectful parents are dealt with in the contracts signed by adults and students with the school—no parent, no problem—we’ll do all we can to help this child succeed. Any responsible adult (pastor, uncle, grandmother) who will commit to be a partner in and to be held accountable for that child’s success will do. The obstacles to academic achievement for poor urban youth are myriad, pervasive, and no secret to anyone. What makes DECA so special—as Dr. Diggs shows us through her research, spare and insightful prose, and heaping helpings of DECA students and staffers’ own thoughts and words—is that these obstacles can be addressed head on and torn down. The obstacles are replaced with high academic goals, a relentless focus on the future, and the message that students at DECA don’t need to lose the essence of who they are to emerge from their circumstances and succeed. Who they will become is not constrained by where they...

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Last week, the Fordham Institute released a report with recommendations on accountability in publicly funded private-school-choice programs. The furor it has incited among school-choice advocates around the country (here, here, and here) is palpable but not unexpected. Their concerns are many, but in a Flypaper piece, Mike Petrilli responds that the consequences of bad schools—bad schools of all types—are too real to ignore.

In Ohio, home to five private-school-choice programs (more voucher programs than any other state), the recommendations have not caused an uproar, perhaps because many of the report’s recommendations are already in law within Buckeye borders.

1.) Require that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) participate in state assessments.

While this is probably the most controversial recommendation, four out of five of Ohio’s programs (all but the Autism Scholarship) already mandate this by law. Ohio’s largest private voucher program, the EdChoice Scholarship, has required participants to take the state assessment from the time it was first proposed. Credit for including this provision goes to the foresight of key players at the time: Governor Bob Taft, House Speaker Jon Husted, and Senate President Bill Harris. With more than 31,000 students now using vouchers in Ohio and the numbers steadily growing every year, there’s no sign that it has had a negative impact on participation by either private schools or students or that it has warped the schools’ autonomy or mission.

2.) Mandate public disclosure of those assessment results,...

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Ohio earned a C- rating, placing the Buckeye State tenth in the nation in StudentsFirst’s second-annual “State Policy Report Card.” StudentsFirst is a national education-reform organization led by Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. The highest-rated states were Louisiana and Florida, which both received a B- rating. For its policy report card, StudentsFirst bases a state's ratings on three reform “pillars”: Teacher quality, parental choice, and fiscal- and governance-related issues. Fairly high praise for the Buckeye State, but as the mediocre rating indicates, Ohio still has plenty of room to improve.

According to StudentsFirst, Ohio’s areas of strength include:

  • Increase Quality Choices (B) – Ohio’s expansive voucher programs and performance-based charter contracts are cited as strengths.
  • Empower Parents with Information (C+) – Ohio’s new A-F school report cards are given high marks.
  • Spend Taxpayers Resources Wisely to Improve Outcomes for Students (C+) –Ohio’s improvements in fiscal transparency are commended. One example StudentsFirst cites is recent legislation that requires the department of education to display the link between school spending and academic outcomes.

The weaknesses include:

  • Value Effective Teachers (F) – Ohio’s minimum salary schedule for teachers (based primarily on seniority and credits-earned) remains in law, and is a significant barrier for education reform. However, not all is bleak in this area, as the report card rightly notes: Districts that participated in the federal Race to the Top program are now required to adopt a performance-based compensation system.
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I am an American Girl Dad. No use hiding it, no reason to lie. A significant portion of my non-work life and my living room is occupied by AG.

My wife and I took our girls to the American Girl Place on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on Black Friday a couple of years. This past summer, I was the only solo dad standing in an enormous line at 7:00 on a steamy morning for the grand opening of AGP in Columbus. “Props to you,” all the eyes pointed at me seemed to be saying, “but you’re out of your mind mister.”

But, truly, I love American Girl. Mainly because of what it has meant to my daughters over the years.

  • I read all the Felicity Merriman (1774) books to them when they were little. When we finally made it to Williamsburg some years later, they remembered the stories and went to find the places we read about and were able to find their own way in to the living history being played out in front of them.
  • We learned a ton from the stories about Rebecca Rubin (1914) as a Russian immigrant in New York City. These characters and their well-researched fictional worlds are miles from my daughters’ life experience but the best part of a later visit to NYC was an unplanned side trip to the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. Not only were the familiar touchstones of Rebecca’s story there, but the Italian immigrant experience in that same
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The sleepy issue of gifted education is poised to become a front-burner issue in 2014. The State Board of Education will soon rewrite Ohio’s operating standards, the controversial rules on how schools identify and serve gifted students. The state will release a second year of value-added data for gifted students, which indicate a school’s effect on these students’ learning gains. Columbus City Schools recently moved to seek approval from the state that would allow five of its high schools to adopt selective-admissions policies, based in part on gifted status. Finally, the time may be ripe for policymakers to create a statewide selective-admissions school for gifted students, as Illinois and Mississippi have done.

As gifted-education policies garner more attention, policymakers may want to know what data are available on gifted education in Ohio and what the data say (hint: they’re perplexing). Below are three points on Ohio’s gifted-education data.

1.) Gifted services data appear to be inconsistently reported by schools.

Ohio collects and reports two key data elements regarding gifted students: First, the state reports the number of students who are identified as gifted. Second, it reports the number of identified students who receive gifted services. The enrollment statistics for both gifted identification and services are reported at the school and district level. Schools are not required by law to serve their gifted students, only to identify them. Administrative code requires schools to report these data and submit an annual report, and it also requires an audit...

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The time for standing by and hoping that Ohio’s lowest-performing charter schools will improve on their own is over. As a strong supporter of charter schools, my resolution this year is to seize the promise of change that accompanies a new year and resolutely champion the effort to improve the quality of the charter sector.

While I am committed to raising the performance of our state’s charter schools, I also know that undertaking such an effort sans allies likely leads to failure. But timing is everything—and luckily, I believe that now is the right time for all of Ohio’s charter advocates to take up the fight for quality charter schools.

The problem

Charter schools have been operating in Ohio for well over a decade, and their performance can be most accurately described as mixed. There have been some resounding successes, such as the Breakthrough Network in Cleveland, Columbus Preparatory Academy, and Columbus Collegiate Academy. These schools, and dozens other like them, highlight the great potential of charter schools to change the educational trajectory of our most at-risk students. Yet there are other charter schools that have struggled mightily, as documented by a series of newspaper stories and editorials. In our most recent review of Ohio charter schools’ performance, we found that urban charters performed at the same low levels as district schools—which simply isn’t good enough.

The challenges in Ohio’s charter sector have garnered national attention, as well. The Center for Education Reform aptly...

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