Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 1, Number 27
January 24, 2007
An Amendment Adrift (and please don't save it)
By Quentin Suffren ,
Changes Will Bring a New Order to OBR
Reviews and Analysis
School Safety Expert Speaks in Dayton
Reviews and Analysis
Opening Doors: How Low-Income Parents Search for the Right School
Proficiency Has Its Price
Ohio is teeming with chatter about education reform, thanks in no small part to recent efforts by teacher unions and various other school district associations to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to “fix” education funding.
Few folks are rushing to praise the amendment--and for good reasons. For one, there is little empirical evidence that spending more money on education leads to significant improvements in academic achievement. Consider that the United States has tripled its spending, in cost-adjusted per-student dollars, on education since 1960 without gaining significant improvements in student outcomes. And communities where education spending increased dramatically due to court decisions have failed to see any measurable improvements in academic achievement as a result (see here). Most famous is Kansas City, where in 1985, a federal judge gave the district carte blanche to spend as much state money as necessary to make the district successful. Over the next 12 years, the state and district spent nearly $2 billion to build new schools, improve classroom instruction, and bring student test scores up to the national norm. Despite spending that could put the most inveterate profligate to shame, the district posted no measurable gains in academic achievement. Similar scenarios have played out in Sausalito, CA; Cambridge, MA; and Washington, DC.
Ohio’s proposed constitutional amendment seeks significant new financial inputs, which would be borne by Ohio’s taxpayers--many of them citizens dependent on the state for financial
January 24, 2007
Sometimes fundamental political changes can be identified months or years before they arrive. Like the dust raised by an ancient army of foot soldiers in the distance, everyone can plainly see what is to come, even if the outcome is unknown.
Other times, like earlier this month, change can happen in a few hours. In less than 24 hours on January 10-11, two press releases and a few newspaper articles signaled a nearly certain change in the basic structure of Ohio’s higher education governance. Assuming this change occurs, the only remaining questions concern its extent and long term implications.
Ohio’s current system of higher education coordination was established in 1963 with the creation of the Ohio Board of Regents (OBR). The Board has nine members serving staggered nine-year terms. For the most part, OBR has been populated with relatively distinguished Ohioans with an interest in higher education. OBR responsibilities include the distribution of both the public subsidy to state colleges, and state-funded need-based financial aid to students. The Board also has the authority to authorize independent nonprofit colleges and approve new degree programs at those institutions.
Yet OBR’s most important responsibility is the selection and supervision of the chancellor. The chancellor is a member of the governor’s cabinet--but unlike every other cabinet member, the chancellor is not selected by the governor. (Individual Board members are appointed by the governor, but under the current system, a Taft-selected majority of
Quentin Suffren / January 24, 2007
School safety is one issue that brings together all educators, regardless of their affiliation with charter, district or private schools. This point was proved in Dayton last week, when over 120 school leaders, administrators, staff and concerned citizens attended a school safety seminar hosted by Fordham and the University of Dayton’s School of Education and Allied Professions. Featured speakers included Kenneth S. Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services and nationally recognized advocate for emergency preparedness planning and crisis prevention.
Participants heard a number of good reasons to take school safety seriously: aggressive behavior is on the rise; funding for school safety is on the decline (despite the violent tragedies in places like Littleton, Colorado and at the Amish West Nickel Mines School in Pennsylvania); and just 57 percent of students feel “very safe” at school, according to a December 2006 poll (see here). With roughly 20 percent of America’s population (including students, teachers, staff and parents) in schools everyday, school safety can be compromised by a host of both internal and external threats (gang violence, terrorist attacks, disturbed individuals, etc.).
These facts may send some school administrators on shopping sprees for high tech surveillance cameras and metal detectors--and perhaps rightly so. Yet Mr. Trump emphasized that threats to school safety can also be contained, and even prevented, by smart planning, comprehensive preparation, and continuous practice. Indeed, it’s sometimes the low-tech measures
Kristina Phillips-Schwartz / January 24, 2007
The latest report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) addresses the notion (often voiced by critics of choice initiatives) that low-income parents don’t make informed school choice decisions. Researchers asked 800 low- to moderate-income parents in Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., and Denver how they gathered information and made decisions about available schooling options. Survey results showed that low-income parents engaged in a significant amount of information gathering, and considered school performance as an important factor when making decisions. Low-income parents also relied on multiple sources of information and were generally satisfied with the school choice decisions they make (much like the more affluent parents surveyed).
Yet large numbers of low-income parents still preferred and trusted “soft data” (word-of-mouth, school observations, culture, etc.) more than test scores as an indicator of academic quality. And the lowest-income parents (those with incomes below $20,000 per year) gathered less information about options, reported lower levels of satisfaction with their choices, and believed they would benefit the most from access to a paid counselor or parent information centers. (Parents in Dayton have Greatschools.net, which publishes My School Chooser, a user-friendly guide to area school programs, and also trains parent leaders to help low-income parents through the school choice process.)
CRPE’s findings reveal that low-income parents, while far from uninformed consumers, still need greater access to information and resources to select the best options for their children. Ohio policymakers
January 24, 2007
Ohio’s Coshocton City Schools has taken performance pay in a whole new direction--offering elementary school students as much as $100 for solid test scores ($15 for each “proficient,” and $20 for each “accelerated” or “advanced” on the state’s five tests). Entire grades of elementary students are selected by lottery each year to participate in the incentive program, funded by the foundation of local businessman Robert E. Smith. The program, now in its third year, is a hit with district students and teachers, and Coshocton has maintained its “Effective” rating (the state's second highest rating) under Ohio's accountability system. Critics, however, contend that paying students to perform will kill their internal motivation for success and love of learning. But Coshocton superintendent Wade Lucas maintains that “if we can make a difference for our kids and give our teachers another motivating tool, then I think it’s a program worth continuing.” A study to be released this summer will help determine the program’s impact and future. If the findings are positive, proficiency (and the increased focus on academics that hopefully comes with it) in Coshocton might just be worth the price.
“Calculating the Cost of Paying for Grades,” by Scott Stephens, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 21, 2007.
“Ohio District Tests Performance Pay--for Students,” by Debra Viadero, Education Week (registration required), January 17, 2007.
January 24, 2007
In the January 10th editorial “Focus on Instructional Time, Not School Days,” we asserted that over six years ("say from 1st to 7th grade"), students in Houston Independent School District spend a full year more in school than their peers in Cleveland. That span of time (from 1st to 7th grade) is actually seven years and the resulting difference in school time is about 77 days (using Cleveland’s school day)--not a full year. As Gadfly goes in search of a new abacus, you can find more commentary on the school day/time debate here.