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
Last week, Terry and I wrote about Teach For America and its potential to improve inner-city public education in Ohio. We cite a couple examples of TFA alum who are transforming education in our nation's cities--and in the following article, we spotlight Sam Franklin, a TFA alum who is working to improve public education in Pittsburgh. As a graduate of Kenyon College, Franklin has ties to Ohio. We hope you'll be inspired by his story. - Aaron Churchill
This article originally appeared in Carnegie Mellon Today. It is reprinted with permission.
Profound speech in hand, Samuel Franklin walked into his classroom of underprivileged sixth-graders for his first day in Teach for America. He planned to emphasize how they would team up to beat the odds, proving their critics wrong. But as the words came out of his mouth, he realized how silly he sounded. The students were waiting for him to start teaching.
Franklin, who had noticed inequalities in the public education system throughout his own time in school, had no doubt in his mind that he wanted to join Teach for America after finishing his undergraduate studies at Ohio’s Kenyon College. Teach for America recruits graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged public schools.
Franklin began his assignment in the Oakland, California school believing that with proper support and motivation, every student can succeed. His school’s student population was made up entirely of minority students from low-income families. After
Evaluating teachers to gauge their impact on student achievement is a necessary reform. For too long school districts have been unable to identify their high performers from their underachievers, and reward and support them accordingly. Few disagree that it is a good thing to know if teachers are having a positive impact on their students’ abilities to read, write, do mathematics, comprehend history, and acquire the other academic knowledge and skills young people need to be successful in life.
But, in Ohio – and probably in other states – the desire to evaluate teachers has likely gone too far when we try to hold Physical Ed teachers accountable for teaching students to meet state defined targets like:
*Consistently demonstrating correct skipping technique with a smooth and effortless rhythm;
*Demonstrates correct technique, the ball flies upward at approximately a 45-degree angle and over a distance of 30 feet or great;
*Consistently demonstrates good rhythm by following a sequence of dance steps in time and with music;
*Able to throw consistently a ball underhand with good accuracy and technique to a target (or person) with varying distances; or
*Able to strike consistently a ball with a paddle to a target area with accuracy and good technique.
The Ohio Department of Education has, as mandated by state law, put together a 165 page “Physical Education Evaluation System” that is now being used across the state to measure the effectiveness of PE teachers.
Some of Ohio’s largest school districts are embracing charter schools as part of their overall district reform strategies. Mayor Jackson’s education reform plan in Cleveland calls for tripling “the number of Cleveland students enrolled in high-performing district and charter schools from the approximately 11,000 students currently enrolled in these schools to approximately 33,000 by 2018-19.” In Columbus, Mayor Coleman’s “education commission” is exploring ways to encourage “the growth of high performing charter schools.” In Cincinnati the district recently announced a new partnership with the charter operator Carpe Diem (a high-performing blended-learning charter school model based in Arizona).
Fordham has long-advocated, along with groups like the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for better cooperation and creative partnerships between school districts and quality charter schools. As far back as 2007, we argued for a “Portfolio Governance Approach to Meeting the Needs of All Dayton Children.”
Great school leaders are high in demand and portfolio districts compete aggressively for them
Unfortunately Dayton couldn’t run with the concept in 2007, but fast forward to 2013, and according to a new book by Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, and Betheny Gross entitled Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies for Managing Urban Schools, there are now close to 30 urban school districts across the country pursuing “the portfolio strategy.” According to Hill, Campbell and Gross leading portfolio districts “support existing schools that are succeeding with the children they serve, close unproductive schools, create new ones similar
May 8, 2013