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.
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
Under Ohio state law, public schools will be required to have a teacher evaluation system in place by July 2014. Half of the teacher evaluation formula is to be based on student learning growth on exams. For some subjects, this puts schools in awkward situation of having to evaluate for example, gym or art teachers—subjects that don’t have established exams and tests.
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has published manuals for evaluating teachers of these hard-to-measure subjects. But, as Terry Ryan recently reported—some of these guidelines border on the absurd.
Even the august champion of teacher evaluations, Bill Gates, worried about “hastily contrived” teacher evaluations. He writes in the Washington Post:
Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure.
Mr. Gates reiterated his point by citing Ohio’s recent gym teacher evaluation manual as an example. Gates’ commentary provoked responses, from Anthony Cody in Education Week and Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.
Dublin City Schools does a small yet nice honor for its high-flying students. In the midst of balance sheets and income statements, Dublin City’s 2012 financial report includes a page with the pictures of five students who achieved a perfect 36 out of 36 on their ACT exams. At the bottom of the page, underneath their pictures, was the short but sublime statement: “Less than five-tenth of one percent of the students taking the ACT nationwide will be able to accomplish what these Dublin Students have done.”
Though it’s a small honor—and yes, it’s buried on page 117 of a document that few people will lay eyes upon—Dublin City properly celebrates the hard work and smarts of these students. And, perhaps other schools could follow the lead of Dublin, and find ways to recognize the accomplishments of their high-achievers, even in official reports. For, it’s a powerful reminder to readers, amidst the tedium of governmental reporting, of the purpose of education in the first place—to give kids the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Data – no, not the character from the hit television series Star Trek -- travels an amazing and mainly unknown journey through galaxies of complex IT systems that only perhaps Stephen Hawking can fully articulate.
As the newest member of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s sponsorship team in Dayton, Ohio, I have been inundated recently with compliance issues and database systems. The database systems are intended to support timely and voluminous data-gathering and reporting between schools and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), and to make that data accessible to the public and researchers. My most recent assimilation did not involve the Borg, but instead involved ODE’s Education Management Information System, or EMIS.
EMIS, established in 1989, is expansive to say the least. It is ODE’s main data collection source for primary and secondary education, including demographic, attendance, course information, financial data, and test results. EMIS’ collected data falls into four general categories: district level, student, staff, and financial data. A community school must timely enter and maintain all of this data into their computer, in goal of sharing it with ODE. In practice, however, this is not as simple as a school merely downloading its data directly into an ODE portal each month and calling it a victory.
All states have similar data systems nowadays, but Ohio’s is deficient among its peers in some regards. First, as Auditor Yost has highlighted, Ohio law prevents the state from having personally identifiable student data.
May 8, 2013