Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 1, Number 10
April 12, 2006
Strickland's Call for "Universal Pre-K" Falls Short of Universal
Can Ohio's Districts Embrace Choice through Portfolios of Schools?
Dark Clouds Do Give Way to Sunshine
Massachusetts' Charters Draw Support
From the Front Lines
Ohio Speaker of the House on the School Trail
National Charter Schools Week 2006 (May 1-6, 2006)
Stand Up for Education
Terry Ryan / April 12, 2006
If Ted Strickland becomes governor, the Democrat will follow in the footsteps of Illinois’s and Kentucky’s current governors and push for universal pre-K. And why not? Early-years education programs are a winner politically. An October 2005 survey by Hart Research Associates found that 53 percent of America’s voters would be more likely to support a political candidate who favors pre-K programs.
But beyond politics, some research suggests the policy makes sense. The RAND Corporation’s study “Scaling Up High-Quality Pre-K” points to several decades of research that suggests high quality early education programs can produce significant long-term benefits, including narrowing, although not closing, the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.
But does his rhetoric square with reality?
Ohio currently directs about $68 million of state and federal funds on preschool programs for children of disadvantaged families, serving about 10,750 three and four-year olds. The state has two pre-K programs: the Public Preschool Program and a much larger state-run Head Start program. Strickland’s platform calls for adding $100 million in the first two years of his term to provide “every child a fair start through access to ‘high-quality’ care and education.” This is good politics, but $100 million dollars over two years wouldn’t come close to providing funding for universal access – if universal means every Ohio child aged three and four, or even a significant portion of them, are to be in high quality pre-K programs.
Run the numbers: according to a 2005 study
What’s the new vocabulary word for the week in school districts? “Portfolio diversification.”
This common Wall Street term is becoming popular as districts, realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach to schools isn’t working, are offering a portfolio of options to parents —traditional, charter, privately managed, and some schools run by universities and nonprofits. The portfolio system allows superintendents to act less like bureaucratic overseers and more like direction-setters. This is a very big deal; it is nothing less than the restructuring of public education from bureaucratic dinosaur to a modern organization.
A district considering the shift from top-down management to a portfolio of schools should focus on these crucial elements:
- A governing relationship between district and school that’s marked by mutual performance expectations and clear learning goals.
- Operational autonomy and adequate resources for schools, including build-level personnel control.
- Effective use of achievement data to improve instruction.
Cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia are among the many districts pursuing this strategy. According to a report by Paul Hill for the Progressive Policy Institute, the Chicago Public School District is the most “notable example” of this approach. In fact, the city is in the process of creating more than 100 new schools by 2010.
A small number of districts in Ohio (those that have been exposed to real external competition from charters and vouchers) have also begun to pursue the portfolio approach. The Toledo Public Schools sponsors various charter, magnet, traditional, and (Gates
Terry Ryan / April 12, 2006
Ohio’s charter schools are under a cloud. Recent articles in some of Ohio’s major newspapers have challenged charter school efficacy and have provided fodder for opponents who want to regulate these public schools out of existence.
Fortunately, the Ohio General Assembly is out in front on this problem. This past summer, House Bill 66 was passed, and it addresses many of the concerns raised by the newspapers. This new law, slightly modified by the recently enacted budget corrections bill, slows the growth of new charter schools to a crawl, allowing only operators with a proven record of success to establish new schools in the coming school year. The law also imposes more severe academic accountability measures on charter schools. Those that fail to deliver for three consecutive years will be closed.
Moreover, the law protects children in failing schools by allowing them to use the Ohio Education Choice Scholarship Program to switch to a private school. This is a big deal. For example, this means many of the 7,000 plus children attending Dayton charter schools could opt for a voucher and private school education in 2006-07 if the students find themselves in a failing school. Because of the new law, charter schools will need to offer real and impressive benefits in order to retain their student body.
The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is in on the act, too. It’s working with the state’s 63 sponsors (50 of which are traditional school districts) to
April 12, 2006
As writer Joe Williams, author of Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education, pointed out in our February Ohio Gadfly, school districts in Ohio use a process called “flagging” to disrupt the finances of charter schools. Flagging is where districts challenge a charter student’s eligibility, thus holding up the money for the student that the charter should receive. Given the animosity some districts feel toward charter schools, this sets up potential areas of conflict.
“This situation is akin to McDonald’s asking Burger King to sign off on payment every time a person ordered a Big Mac,” Williams wrote.
A flagging update: In recent days, Cincinnati Public Schools challenged the residency of 31 students at Harmony Community School, denying $100,000 owed to the school in state money. In another example, the Ohio Department of Education finally agreed to pay the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), the state’s largest online charter school, $263,000 in past due tuition after three years of audits revealed it was owed to the school.
Charter schools face enough financial challenges without their competition holding power over the ledgers.
“Ohio to Pay Online School,” by Dennis Willard and Doug Oplinger, Akron Beacon Journal, April 3, 2006.
“CPS Presses Residency Issue: District Challenges Charter Over 31 Students,” by Jennifer Mrozowski, Cincinnati Enquirer, April 4, 2006.
April 12, 2006
The picture is overwhelmingly clear: People in Massachusetts view public charter schools favorably because they are seen as delivering the goods academically and have be set up with solid rules, strong accountability and transparency. Those are three things Ohio’s charter school program is still developing.
A poll by the Massachusetts State House News Service and KRC Communication, conducted in early March 2006, showed that the state’s residents support charter schools by a 67 percent to 28 percent margin. Support is equally strong among men and women, and strongest among adults aged 18-39, with a 78 percent approval rating. This contrasts with a Fordham Foundation survey of Ohioans in November 2005 that showed 51 percent of citizens strongly or somewhat favored charter schools.
This latest poll information from Massachusetts underscores information reported in a recent series by the Cleveland Plain Dealer that spotlighted problems with charters in Ohio and pointed to Massachusetts as a more successful model.
Public support for charters in Massachusetts has grown since 2002. This support is connected to the fact that the academic performance of charter schools in Boston surpasses that of its district competitors.
In stark contrast to Ohio, the poll showed strong support among all political parties, although Republican support is firmest.
By a wide margin (54 percent to 37 percent) Massachusetts residents said they are in favor of raising the spending cap on charter schools in underperforming districts. The current law limits the portion of a district’s
April 12, 2006
Ohio Speaker of the House Jon Husted (R-Kettering) took over four hours out of his very busy schedule Monday and visited two charter schools in Dayton, and plans more school visits across the state in the near future.
Husted visited ISUS, a premier drop-out recovery program, in the morning and spent nearly two hours at the Dayton Academy in the afternoon. He asked sharply focused questions of Dayton Academy board members, administrators and teachers, seeking to better understand the problems and potential of public charter schools in Ohio.
However, first impressions are important in schools as well as business.
“I can walk into a school and know in five minutes what I am going to find on the performance side,” Husted said. “If the children are well behaved, well mannered toward their teachers, then when you look at the report card, the grades are there. If you don’t see those things, you know it is going to be chaotic.”
Husted said his first impression at the Dayton Academy was of well-behaved and focused students, who carried around “a sense of pride.”
The school, created in 1999 and with a current enrollment of nearly 800, has shown steady progress in the state proficiency exams the last three years.
“We think we have a model here that can be replicated throughout the state,” said Dick Penry of Alliance Community Schools, which oversees both the Dayton Academy and the Dayton View Academy. Both schools are run by the
April 12, 2006
Over four-fifths of our high school students yearn to be challenged. According to The State of Our Nation’s Youth, a survey conducted by the Horatio Alger Association, 88 percent of high school students say that if schools set higher standards and raised expectations, they would work harder. A majority would also like to see opportunities for more challenging courses, provisions for real-world learning, and early advice from guidance counselors and teachers.
Another recent report, The Silent Epidemic, a study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that 90 percent of high school dropouts reported having passing grades when they left school. The number one reason they left? They were bored.
The message is coming through: Today’s youth want more from their high schools. Access the full reports to find out more about students and their opinions.
“The State of Our Nation’s Youth,” Horatio Alger Association, 2005.
“The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts,” by J. Bridgeland, J. Dilulio, K. Morison, March 2006.
Quentin Suffren / April 12, 2006
In its fourth annual review of NCLB, the Center for Educational Policy (CEP) confirms that the impact of the law is even more complex than the political debate surrounding it. In this comprehensive and controversial study, CEP finds that one thing is certain: NCLB has dramatically altered the way school districts do business. Aligning curriculum to state standards, using data to drive instruction, and promoting academic growth for all student subgroups are three of the positive impacts of NCLB. One administrator notes, “Building by building, I see teachers sitting down and discussing low performing students.” However, from the start, states and school districts have complained of inadequate funding, a narrowing curriculum, and unreasonable requirements for special education students and English language learners.
What about achievement, accountability, and teacher quality? Here, the results are murkier. While states and districts point to increased numbers of schools meeting Adequate Yearly Progress goals as well as a narrowing achievement gap, data from the National Assessment of Education Progress and the Northwest Evaluation Association dispute these assessments. Correlate this discrepancy with a dizzying array of state tests and variety of methods used to interpret results, and it becomes clear that not everyone is playing by the same rules. As for teacher quality, districts are swelling the ranks of “high qualified” educators as defined under the law, yet administrators are skeptical that the effort will improve classroom instruction.
The Cleveland Municipal School District, like many urban districts, is on the front line of NCLB. Reform has
April 12, 2006
Begin planning for National Charter School Week with fresh and creative ideas provided by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Click here to view their online tool kit.
April 12, 2006
KidsOhio.org and the Columbus Metropolitan Club will be hosting national educational policy expert Dr. Kati Haycock in Columbus to discuss her hope for America’s schools. Register here to attend.
April 12, 2006
On Tuesday, April 11 and Wednesday, April 12, the Oprah Winfrey Show turned the focus of its estimated 49 million U.S. viewers to the dropout crisis in America's high schools. Also this week, TIME magazine's April 17, 2006 cover story, "Dropout Nation," provides an in-depth look at the nationwide dropout crisis and the repercussions that accompany it.
“Dropout Nation,” by Nathan Thornburgh, Time Magazine, April 9, 2006.