Ohio Gadfly Daily

David Figlio, a researcher at Northwestern University, recently released his seventh-annual evaluation of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The study uses scholarship students’ results on national assessments, like the Stanford Achievement or Iowa Test of Basic Skills, to examine whether they are making year-to-year gains. (Elsewhere in this issue, I review the study in greater detail.) The Sunshine State’s program, which enrolls nearly 60,000 students, is akin to Ohio’s EdChoice and Cleveland scholarship (a.k.a., “voucher”) programs.

One of the study’s findings was particularly striking: Private schools in Florida, especially Catholic ones, appear to have a relatively larger impact on scholarship students’ reading scores than math. Across all schools, Figlio found that voucher students made a 0.1 percentile gain in reading but posted a loss of -0.7 percentiles in math. The overall math-reading difference may or may not be trivial—there is no test of statistical significance across the subject areas. But larger differences in reading-to-math gains appear when gains are disaggregated, for example, by religious affiliation:[1] Consider the large annual gain in reading for voucher students attending a Catholic school (1.98 percentiles) versus the slight loss in math (-0.25). True, the larger...

There are three terms and phrases that I wish we could ban from the education sphere--terms that I feel are standing in the way of meaningful dialogue and the proper, productive focus of discussion.

1. “Our Kids”

Except in cases of “wards of the state,” children do not belong to school districts, charter schools, city governments, or state departments of education. Yet that term, “our kids,” can be found in quotes from school-district officials all over the media when discussing transportation, open enrollment, and school funding. “Our kids,” as used in these examples, is a language of possession and ownership, usually linked to money. It is at once patronizing and simplistic, reductive, and exclusive.

Even a benign use of “our kids” in this context is archaic and out of touch with reality; in fact, the ownership sentiment has been out of touch since open enrollment began in 1989, and the pace of change only accelerated from there. Today, nearly 120,000 children attend a charter school, and another 30,000 or so students attend a private school via a voucher. More than 70,000 students attend a school outside of their district of residence through interdistrict open enrollment. And...

At the cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, Ohio’s school districts employed 132,000 or so individuals who were not classified as teachers or administrators in 2010. Who are these people, what services do they provide, and do their efforts help students achieve? In this new report, my Fordham colleague Matthew Richmond  explores the “hidden half” of school personnel in Ohio and across the nation. The study documents a huge increase in non-teaching personnel over the last several decades—an increase that has received almost no attention, despite its sizeable implications on district budgets.

In 2010, non-teachers comprised half of the U.S. public-school workforce—up from 40 percent in 1970, and 30 percent in 1950. Taken together, their salaries and benefits total one quarter of all current K-12 education expenditure. The story in Ohio mirrors national trends: In 1986, Ohio had just 47 non-teaching staff for every 1,000 students. By 2010, that number rose to 75. When the study disaggregated the category of non-teaching personnel (a sort of catch-all classification of non-teachers, including administrators), the largest growth occurred in the teacher-aide category. From 1970 to 2010, this group swelled from 1.7 percent of the U.S. public-school workforce to 11.8 percent, an increase of...

Enacted in 2001 and now enrolling nearly 60,000 needy students, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) is the largest private-school choice program in the nation. Since March 2008, economist David Figlio has reported evaluation results on an annual basis. This report, his seventh and possibly last due to an unfortunate change in Florida law, documents his findings on the 2012-13 school year. The results: As in previous years, scholarship students who transfer from a public to private school tend to be lower-achieving and from poorer-performing schools. In other words, private schools aren’t “cherry-picking” students. Per test performance, Florida’s scholarship students kept pace with the progress of students, of all income levels, nationwide over the course of the year. On average, they made a 0.1 percentile gain in reading but lost -0.7 percentiles in math on nationally-normed assessments. The gain in reading and loss in math were not statistically different from zero, suggesting that scholarship students gained a year’s worth of learning. (A gain of zero is interpreted as a year’s worth of learning.) The average gains, however, camouflage some variability in gains across Florida’s private-schools. For example, in reading, scholarship students in 6 percent of...

This is a tricky story, but stay with me.

A 10-year-old charter school in the Cincinnati area ended up in court against the Ohio Department of Education back in July in an effort to find a sponsor (after being dropped) and to reopen as usual for the 2014-15 school year. The tussling ended in a court-ordered limbo, but the legal questions remained an active concern.

A July 29 piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer summarized the story to that point and quoted Fordham’s Vice President for Sponsorship and Dayton Initiatives Kathryn Mullen Upton laying out the legal issues under consideration: "(1) The accountability system and an authorizer's judgment about the quality of a school are meaningless; (2) if you're a school that is non-renewed by any authorizer, not just ODE, you can simply go to court and up your chances of finding a new sponsor; and (3) despite recent actions to try to improve school and authorizer quality, ODE in reality has scant enforcement ability/authority… In a nutshell, it's a huge step backward for Ohio."

The limbo dragged on with no resolution but on August 12 the school announced it would not reopen due to financial distress....

  1. Editors in Columbus have checked out Fordham’s new Hidden Half report, and opined favorably upon it. (Columbus Dispatch)
  2. Sticking with the realm of opinion, lots of editors and commentators weighed in on the coming legislative battle against Common Core in Ohio. Check out the arguments of editors in Cleveland in favor of Common Core (Cleveland Plain Dealer), commentary from a Cincinnati resident against the Common Core (Cincinnati Enquirer), and editors in Akron in favor of Common Core (Akron Beacon Journal). Gonna be a crazy couple of weeks around here
  3. In other news, echoing a question we’ve been debating around the office, the alternative tests being used in Ohio this summer to assess third graders’ reading track third graders’ reading scores have come under the microscope of the Big D. (Columbus Dispatch)
  4. This is a fascinating article on the state of competition among public schools in Toledo at the start of the 2014-15 school year. There are fewer charter schools in Toledo this year than last and only one new startup opening its doors. What this might mean for TPS’ enrollment numbers is parsed, as is the effect of the last two
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  1. As if the protracted will-they-close-or-won’t-they hasn’t been bad enough for the families of approximately 600 students at the now-closed VLT Academy in Cincinnati, now these poor families have to endure the opportunism of a new charter school looking to attract them when their own sponsorship contract is in question. And that despite the fact that there are district, charter, and even voucher options for most or all of the former VLT students. Oy vey! (WLWT-TV, Cincinnati)
  2. Speaking of opportunism, a couple of state legislators on the D side are pointing to the VLT Academy saga as proof that Ohio’s charter school law is broken – as if they think it’s sad that VLT didn’t stay open!  I do like this though: the senator in question “welcomed Republicans to introduce their own legislation to overhaul charter laws if that is what it takes to get a discussion started.” Don’t mind if they do, brother. See you at the table. (Gongwer Ohio)
  3. Not sure why this story didn’t get bigger (or more grammatically-correct) coverage, but a group of Dayton Public Schools teachers protested at the annual start-of-school convocation earlier this week due to contract issues over pay.
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  1. ODE has finally come to the end of its active data review in districts across the state with the release of revised report cards for all districts involved in data scrubbing and all school buildings affected. The complex effort to truthfully report Performance Index scores, numerous academic indicators met, AYP, and individual building grades is now complete and Gongwer does a good job of describing the work involved. The main upshot noted is that students in three additional schools across the state are now voucher-eligible due to the revised report cards. The new EdChoice application deadline, recently extended for just this reason, is September 5. (Gongwer Ohio). The Big D also covers this story, from a Columbus perspective. (Columbus Dispatch)
  2. As noted in the Gongwer piece, some schools’ scores actually improved by recalculation of proper data. I’m not sure it’s something to crow about, but then I don’t run a school district. (Toledo Blade)
  3. We noted yesterday that school started in many districts across Ohio, with a number of policy changes taking hold. One of those is the hold-back provision of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, a topic we’ve been covering since the end
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After more than two years  of community-wide and bipartisan struggles to raise the bar for everyone in Cleveland schools, a sudden and incongruous shift has dropped expectations to a new low, at least for some of its freshman, just in time for the start of a new school year today.

The Freshman Fresh Start was recently approved by the school board of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). The resolution allows incoming freshmen to participate in extracurricular activities (sports and clubs) despite low grades that, under the current regulations for all other grades, would make them ineligible. Instead, incoming freshmen are now only required to pass (receive a “D” or higher) a minimum of five subjects in the preceding grading period. (For the first quarter of the year, eligibility would be based on the last quarter of the preceding year.) Formerly, the policy required that students a) not receive a failing grade in the previous grading period, b) maintain a GPA of 2.0 or higher in the previous grading period, and c) maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.0 throughout the year.

It sounds innocent enough, but upon closer inspection, the implications are far-reaching and appalling. Incoming...

Gadfly Bites is back from vacation and catching up on some older news reported during the hiatus:

  1. The deadline for candidates to run for State Board of Education seats in November has come and gone. State Board of Education President Debe Terhar did not file paperwork and so will not run for another term. Newly-appointed board member Ron Rudduck will be running for a full term, as promised, and an open seat will be contested by two others besides former State Rep. Robert Hagan, as we noted last week. (Columbus Dispatch)
  2. This is probably the stalest of old news: more piling on to the “investigate Horizon/Concept Schools for X” bandwagon. But, I include this for variety. (Gongwer Ohio)
  3. I say “variety” because the rest of our old news is about the Common Core. I went on vacation sure that hearings on the new legislative assault on the Common Core in Ohio would start while I was gone. But no. Turns out that the legislators leading the assault actually want to have some text in their bill before debate begins and so have delayed the start of hearings
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