Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 1, Number 47
November 28, 2007
Ohio can't rely on do-it-yourself academic accountability
By Emmy L. Partin
Fordham plus choice equals charters
By Mike Lafferty ,
State teacher pension plan: What, me worry?
From the Front Lines
Here's an idea: fire the boss
Charter-school report to be released December 5
Emmy L. Partin / November 28, 2007
As lawmakers in Washington hash out the details of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), both accountability and standardized testing are facing mounting criticism and skepticism. This backlash is felt in the Buckeye State, where some would like to move our academic accountability system away from the state's current achievement tests. While many speak of national standards and a national assessment (Fordham included), there are powerful forces in Ohio encouraging us to take a step backward instead.
Governor Strickland favors multiple measures of performance as the basis for academic accountability (see here). Teachers and principals participating in the administration's education focus groups say that portfolio assessments are a major topic of discussion. And George Wood, author of Strickland's K-12 education transition report, is a critic of the standards-and-testing movement. On his blog, Wood writes about Nebraska's assessment system as a model to which Ohio and other states should look for guidance and inspiration (see here).
Nebraska's STARS (School-based, Teacher-led Assessment and Reporting System) allows the state's 517 school districts to design their own assessment systems. These assessments include a portfolio of teacher classroom assessments, district tests that measure how well children are meeting locally developed learning standards, a state writing test, and at least one nationally standardized test to serve as what Wood calls a "reality check" (see here).
Results of these local assessments, not surprisingly, show that Nebraska's students are making academic gains (see
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has issued its "Sponsorship Accountability Report 2006-07" for the nine charter schools it sponsors in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Springfield (see here). The bottom line of the report is that Fordham and the schools we sponsor have a lot of work to do. As a group, Fordham-sponsored schools are simply not performing as well as we, or they, had hoped they would, but that doesn't mean we're giving up or that those schools are not making a difference to the students and communities they serve.
Fordham got into sponsorship by choice because it was the most obvious way to begin to bring much needed change to public education. Creating and running charter schools in Ohio has proved incredibly difficult for both sponsors and school operators. Yet, our challenges are largely mirrored by urban districts in Ohio. When the state report card data came out in August, we saw that 183,000 district and charter-school students in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton were attending schools graded either D or F (officially, "academic watch" or "academic emergency"). In Dayton, Fordham's hometown, the numbers were especially grim. Fully 80 percent of children attend a public school in Dayton (district or charter) rated F or D.
Clearly, both charters and public district schools must improve. Toward this end, Fordham is excited about its effort to sponsor two strong new school models for Ohio: a KIPP (see here) school
Teacher retirement systems across the country are receiving much attention as of late. Lawmakers and leaders of Ohio's state teachers' pension plan need to read a feature in the new issue of Education Next (see here) by economists Robert Costrell and Michael Podgurksy. In the article they explore the peculiar incentives of teacher retirement systems around the country and the impact they have on the composition of our teaching workforce and on public finance. This will not come as a surprise to Gadfly readers as Costrell and Podgurksy examined Ohio's system in a report in June that identified a $19 billion unfunded liability for pensions and questioned the impact of the system's generous, optional retiree health-insurance program on the fiscal health of school districts and teachers (see here).
One solution, according to Costrell and Podgursky, is to switch from defined benefit (DB) plans to defined contribution or cash balance plans that tie benefits to contributions made by teachers and their districts. Most of the private sector in America has switched to defined contribution (DC) plans over the last 20 years. A few teacher pension plans (Ohio's is one) have also started to offer DC plans but with strings attached that make them less appealing than the traditional DB plans.
In Education Next, Costrell and Podgursky provide a detailed primer on how teacher pensions work and their pitfalls. Teachers typically earn relatively little in the way of pension benefits
Mike Lafferty / November 28, 2007
The Toledo Public Schools teachers union has proposed that the district's lowest-performing school should be teacher-run.
"Our proposal is that there would be no administrators and it will be totally teacher-led," said Francine Lawrence, Toledo Federation of Teachers president, told the Toledo Blade's Ignazio Messina.
The proposal for Pickett Elementary would selectively place teachers, offer salary incentives, concentrate on early childhood education and community engagement, and include a longer school year, Messina reports.
Lawrence called her idea "somewhat unique" in the nation. But, the Gadfly would like to remind readers that it was precisely this idea that was the genesis behind the charter school ideal in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, there is nothing preventing public school teachers in Toledo or elsewhere in Ohio from opening a charter school and this is being done by union teachers in New York City (see here).
"The ultimate goal, what we are committing to do, is that the school will exit school improvement status," she said of Pickett's annually poor ranking.
The idea has some hurdles sans the charter school path: state law requires administrative leadership in schools and the principals' union contract states there will be a principal in every school.
But is also has support in high places.
"I was enthusiastic about some of the pedagogy and some of the ideas," State Superintendent Susan Tave Zelman, told the Blade.
November 28, 2007
December 5, the National Charter School Research Project at the Center on Reinventing Public Education is hosting a luncheon to release the 2007 edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools. Presenters include Andrew Rotherham (Education Sector), Priscilla Wohlstetter (USC), Jon Schnur (New Leaders for New Schools), Ben Wildavsky (Kauffman Foundation), and Robin Lake (NCSRP Executive Director and editor of the report). This year's event is at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. For more information or to register, contact Kate Ratcliffe at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 685-2214.