Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 1, Number 43
October 17, 2007
Political Education 101: Children cannot vote
Delusions of mediocrity
From the Front Lines
Sticks and stones may break my bones but guns can definitely kill me
From the Front Lines
Thorough and efficient...and unfair?
Reviews and Analysis
Cincinnati schools have tough choices but big opportunities
Terry Ryan / October 17, 2007
Politicians in Ohio, Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, all too often use education and children as pawns for adult interests. Exhibit A is the recent lawsuit brought by Attorney General Marc Dann against three Dayton charter schools. The AG, citing "a continued failure to educate children," asked the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to shut the schools because they were failing to deliver as public charitable trusts and that he was acting to protect the children.
Exhibit B is Republican Columbus mayoral candidate Bill Todd's lawsuit against the Columbus Public Schools and the Ohio Department of Education claiming they maintain "an unfair and inequitable system of education."
The attorney general's claims were dubious from the start. As the Wall Street Journal recently noted, fully 80 percent of children attending the Dayton Public Schools sit in a school rated either academic emergency (F) or academic watch (D) in the state's school-grading system (see here). In Dayton, simply closing a few woefully performing charter schools mid-year and assuming that their several hundred pupils can easily migrate to better schools is at best ill-informed decision making and, at worst, calculating and self-serving.
It wasn't just Dann's interests being served, though. The attorney general was acting not at the behest of education-deprived families or children in the schools or at the urging of the Ohio Department of Education, which monitors pupil achievement, but at the suggestion--and with the counsel--of the state's major teacher union,
Emmy L. Partin / October 17, 2007
Media attention of the Fordham Institute and Northwest Evaluation Association's new report, The Proficiency Illusion, had politicians lecturing and education officials in Washington, D.C. and state capitals wringing their hands and circling the wagons earlier this month. The report, released October 4, criticized the way states measure what our children need to learn in school and highlighted the potpourri of standards for proficiency on state achievement exams.
The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and other dailies paid attention (see here and here), as did many Ohio newspapers (see here and here). But the best line may have come from the Journal Times in Wisconsin: "It used to be that even if Wisconsin students didn't score well, parents and people concerned about education could comfort themselves with the notion that at least Wisconsin's performance was above the national average, that even our poorest students were still pretty good.
"That's apparently not the case. Like some twisted version of Garrison Keillor's mythical Lake Woebegone, we have created a Wisconsin where the women may be strong and the men good-looking but all the children are below average."
State education officials in Ohio and elsewhere immediately went on the defensive. These bureaucrats have to navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of No Child Left Behind--they are tasked with setting high academic standards and are subject to the fallout when those standards aren't met.
Mike Lafferty / October 17, 2007
In Cleveland, last week we were reminded, horrifically--again--that schools can be very scary places. A 14-year-old gunman, also known as a student, opened fire in a downtown alternative high school, injuring two students and two adults, before shooting and killing himself (see here). The shooting occurred at SuccessTech Academy.
While they grab national headlines, as absolutely horrible as they are, school shootings are, at best, rare in the nation's 119,000 schools. Violent crime in schools dropped by half between 1994 and 2003, according to the University of Virginia (see here). Homicides, which peaked in the early 1990s at more than 40 a year in schools, dropped sharply by 2002.
Federal statistics indicate that, in a recent year, an estimated 6.5 percent of all students carried a weapon to school. A Columbus Public Schools official told The Gadfly that a dozen guns (six loaded) were taken from students in the last year, down from 27 (16 loaded) in the 2005-2006 school year. Statewide, 451 guns and more than 3,000 other weapons were taken from students in Ohio public schools last year, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
The real problem is fighting. The Ohio Department of Education reported 78,296 fights and other acts of violence in the last school year. Charter schools, however, are calmer and safer. According to a report issued earlier this year, charter schools experience far fewer discipline problems than district public schools (see
A lot has been written about the fiscal impact of charter schools on traditional districts (see here, here, and here--just to name a few). Sometimes the information is accurate; almost always it is biased based on who's presenting it. Ohio's school-funding formula is complex, and the funding math gets even fuzzier when it comes to how the state funds charter schools. Advocates on both sides of the charter-school funding debate are guilty of glossing over the minutiae. But the truth is that students in charter schools in the Buckeye State are short-changed in education funding compared to their peers in district schools.
Charter schools are public schools serving public school children (the General Assembly said so and the Ohio Supreme Court agreed). But charter schools are only guaranteed the state base amount of funding and are unable to levy any additional local dollars as school districts. Nor do they have access to state school facilities dollars. Consequently, they must operate with substantially less public funding than district schools. This funding disparity is clear when you compare school spending.
Consider two similar high schools in central Ohio. Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School, a Columbus city school, served 563 students last school year--69.6 percent of students were black, 73.1 percent economically disadvantaged, and 7.7 percent had disabilities. A central Ohio charter high school, Arts and College Preparatory Academy, served 195 students: 50.5 percent black, 50.9 percent
Kristina Phillips-Schwartz / October 17, 2007
The Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is at a critical juncture. There's a levy on the ballot in November and three school board seats to be filled. The district also is searching for a new superintendent. The tough decisions on tap will have an enormous impact in a district where 43 percent of students attend schools rated in academic watch or academic emergency, despite significant academic progress.
A recent--and top-notch--report conducted by McKinsey & Company offered a number of useful and necessary suggestions for improving governance and central administration at CPS, including building a new performance management system that deepens accountability, reinforcing financial oversight to enable effective deployment of resources, and focusing more on policy setting and strategic planning. Work is underway in the district to implement the long list of suggested changes (see here).
As the board shifts its attention to policy and strategic planning, board members ought to consider some innovative ideas that would encourage real and systemic change as the new superintendent and board tackle the difficult task of creating the district anew.
First, poorly performing schools should be shuttered. It makes no sense to have children languishing in failing schools year after year. Currently, there are 34 district schools on the bottom two rungs of the state's ratings ladder. The district should implement a strategy of replacing nonfunctioning schools by replicating good ones. Cincinnati need only to look to the Chicago Public Schools' Renaissance 2010 where