Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 1, Number 1
November 2, 2005
Welcome to the Ohio Education Gadfly
Now Buzzing the Buckeye State
POLITICOS BEWARE! Ohioans are 'Halfway Out The Door'
Reviews and Analysis
Why do parents in Columbus choose charter schools?
Reviews and Analysis
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / November 2, 2005
Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Ohio Gadfly, a bi-weekly source for news, analysis, and insight into the education reform effort in Ohio. This e-newsletter is written, edited, and produced right here in the Buckeye State by staff of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Dayton. Since 1998, Fordham has been out front on school reform issues in our home community and across the state. In 2005, we took the unprecedented step of putting our credibility on the line (and our ideals into action) by becoming a charter school sponsor. Our unique combination of policy expertise and practical experience will inform each issue in a way that no other publication in the state can. The Ohio Gadfly is an off-shoot of the original Education Gadfly, published in Washington, D.C., which launched in 2001 and today reaches 7,000 readers across the country. Our new publication will surely benefit from its older sibling's experience. Also, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is providing grant money that is critical to our success. We believe The Ohio Gadfly will play an important role in informing the dialogue and inspiring the debate around pressing issues facing K-12 education in the Buckeye State, and your feedback and comments are most welcome. Please share your ideas about anything we write by sending your comments to email@example.com.
—Chester E. Finn, Jr., President and Terry Ryan, Vice President for Ohio Programs and Policy
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Nobody doubts that the "powers that be" in Columbus have been busily tinkering with the K-12 education system. Over the past half-decade legislative changes have come on six fronts:
- The state launched a results-based accountability system that has been modified and shaped by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
- Ohio's school rating and school report-card systems are yielding high-visibility and attention-getting annual appraisals of every school and school system in the state.
- The state made changes in its teacher preparation and certification processes.
- Ohio developed a charter school system of 250 schools serving upwards of 70,000 students.
- The state enacted the Ohio Education Choice Scholarship Program—a voucher program for children in the state's most troubled schools.
- There has been nonstop revision of the state's approach to school financing, partly dictated by the courts, and partly led by the executive and legislative branches.
But what do ordinary Ohioans think about all this? How do parents, taxpayers, and citizens view public schooling in 2005? Do they like these reforms? Seek more or less of them? Have confidence that they'll succeed?
Fordham decided to find out. So, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we enlisted analysts Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett to examine the attitudes of Ohio residents toward their public schools. Nobody does this better than Farkas and Duffett, who have a combined 25 years of experience in opinion research and social policy. Their bona fides, as well as the full
Allison Porch / November 2, 2005
What is it about charter schools that's tantalizing enough to lure families away from district schools? Is it Disney vacations? Free TiVo? According to the Kids Ohio survey, it's something less glitzy—plain business sense. Charter schools listen to their clients (parents and teachers) and offer the products (schools) that meet their varying needs accordingly. Among the top reasons why parents and guardians of Columbus charter school students made the switch: 1) the charter schools' attention to safety and discipline; 2) their focus on individual student needs; 3) their ability to address specific, unmet academic or physical needs; 4) their overall quality of education; and 5) their attention to parent-school communication. Of the 371 people surveyed, just 13 percent will return their children to district schools next year. The vast majority were satisfied with their children's new digs. Perhaps the district could lure back a few students with some bling-bling, but probably not. Parents and students have long since learned that all that glitters isn't gold. To read the report, click here.
It's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly time at the charter schools corral. And David Brennan, famed industrialist and creator of the White Hat school management company, stars in all three roles. To charter supporters he's the hero, to the teachers unions he's the villain, and as for the ugly, well, keep reading. The showdown started when the Columbus Dispatch ran a series of articles about Brennan and his White Hat Life Skills schools, which serve students that the public school system left behind—high school drop-outs. The day after the Dispatch ran its front-page story on Brennan, the Ohio Federation of Teachers charged his schools company with not testing all of its students, and thereby seeking to cover up its (ugly) student achievement record. This seems a strange accusation to make as the schools under question were all rated in the state's lowest ranking—Academic Emergency. You'd think that if White Hat were going to cheat they'd at least seek a decent state rating. So what's going on? At least four possibilities (or some combination of the following) spring to mind:
- The schools are waiting for students (these are young people with reading levels far behind their age-level peers) to get to a point in their studies where they feel the students have a fighting chance to pass the graduate test before administering it to the students. Why test kids when you know they will fail (this is a question with
November 2, 2005
In the short two years an Indianapolis charter school was open, it mismanaged funds and didn't prove academically viable. The result? Despite a public outcry to keep the school open, officials wasted no time in shuttering its doors. Contrast that with the long overdue closing of The International Preparatory School (TIPS) in Cleveland. TIPS's financial woes trace all the way back to 2001, when an audit showed the school had illegally spent $98,000 of public funds. Throughout the six years TIPS was in operation, the school languished in Academic Emergency. Yet, when Attorney General Jim Petro announced the school would be closing there was an outpouring of the support for the school by some of the parents whose children attended it, and there were threats of lawsuits. It appears that, after much hemming and hawing on all sides, TIPS is no more. Watching from afar, and with less than perfect information on both cases, we applaud Indianapolis for following through on its obligation to close failing schools in a timely fashion. We wonder: why did it take Ohio so long to do the same?
"Petro wants charter school closed," by Scott Stephens, The Plain Dealer, October 21, 2005
"Auditor: Shut charter school," by Scott Stephens, The Plain Dealer, October 12, 2005
"City threatens to shut charter school," by Kim L. Hooper, Indianapolis Star, October 6, 2005
November 2, 2005
They say that what's good for the goose is good for the gander, but in the world of public education, that axiom is not always followed. Take, for example, Cleveland Public Schools' recent attendance policy controversy. For the 2004-05 school year, CPS reported an astonishingly low number of excused absences (just 620, while Columbus reported over 300,000 for the same time frame). This, thanks to a new category created in 2002 by CPS ("excused with homework") whereby students were counted present so long as they completed their assignments upon returning to school. State officials mysteriously did not notice the discrepancy. But recent legislative efforts by charter school opponents to fine charter operators and sponsors up to $5,000 for failing to report accurate data suggest that expectations are not always fair for the underdog. Fortunately, after the Cleveland scandal was exposed, the Ohio legislature announced it will hold hearings regarding public school attendance. Hopefully the result will be fair requirements for reliable reporting from both traditional and charter schools. To which Gadfly says, "Bring it on!"
"District staff aimed to skew absence data," by Janet Okoben, The Plain Dealer, October 18, 2005
"Schools admit attendance error," by Janet Okoben, The Plain Dealer, October 14, 2005
"Students rarely marked absent," by Janet Okoben, The Plain Dealer, October 6, 2005