Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 2, Number 7
March 26, 2008
Lessons of Charter School Sponsorship
Calamity days are truly calamitous for charters
By Kathryn Mullen Upton
Mr. Governor, what are you fighting for?
Gadfly Readers Write...
about Ohio's autism scholarship program
Gadfly Readers Write...
about the governor's education takeover
Better late than never? It's almost time for Plan B
From the Front Lines
"Free college" actually costs a lot of money
Reviews and Analysis
New Denver pension study finds similar problems as Ohio
Reviews and Analysis
Seems like a plan...
Want to work for Fordham?
Kathryn Mullen Upton / March 26, 2008
Many Ohio school districts have surpassed their state-allotted five "calamity days" this year. Consequently, charter schools have learned district calamity days are even more calamitous because they are at the mercy of local school districts for busing.
The problem is charters don't get calamity days, so when a district closes for bad weather, unless a charter school provides its own busing (a rarity), the charter school must also close. In Fordham's small world of seven charter schools, if a school closes for bad weather we invariably get some phone calls from parents asking why they can't just drop their children off at school.
Good idea, but it doesn't work that way. Many parents don't volunteer to drive children to school when the buses aren't running. So, when a community school remains open, many students are absent. This, in turn, kills attendance figures for the school, which must have 93 percent or higher attendance to meet the state's Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) mandate. On the other hand, if a charter closes, the school is hurt because it must provide at least 920 hours of instruction. So, the school saves on attendance but loses on instruction time.
A possible solution is for community schools to offer the state minimum of 920 hours of instruction but match their schedules to their local district. In this way they would not be dinged on AYP attendance and they could take advantage of the transportation provided by districts on
Terry Ryan / March 26, 2008
Governor Ted Strickland made it clear in his State of the State address, and more recently in comments in the press, that he wants control over what happens per K-12 education. What's been missing from this debate around the shake-up in the state's educational leadership, however, are details of the governor's plan for moving K-12 education forward. There has been much talk of vision, broad goals, and principles but few concrete details. The fight is important only if we know what the governor is fighting for. But, at this point it seems like a fight only for the sake of fighting.
As the governor has noted, Ohio's public education system was rated by the nation's leading education journal, Education Week, as the seventh-best system in the country. No doubt fair-minded people would say Superintendent Susan Zelman and her able team at the Department of Education deserve much credit for that.
Still, the state faces daunting challenges, the greatest of which is the persistent achievement gap between rich and poor, black and white. Ohio's black-white gaps exceed 25 percentage points in both eighth-grade reading and math scores on the 2007 NAEP assessments known as the nation's report card.
In 2006-2007, 46 percent of the 183,000 students in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton attended schools rated "academic watch" or "academic emergency," the two lowest-possible performance categories. Poor students and children of color score dramatically lower than their more affluent and white peers on all measures
March 26, 2008
The state's autism voucher program provides up to $20,000 a year for special instruction for an autistic child. A recent Policy Matters Ohio study (see here), among other things, found fault with the program because a third of the private providers in the study do not offer traditional inclusion-based instruction for special needs children. The study's findings sparked the following reaction from Chad L. Aldis, executive director of School Choice Ohio.
A study released, with much media coverage, by Policy Matters Ohio about the state's Autism Scholarship program came up short on addressing its full impact and value. School Choice Ohio has been paying close attention to the Autism Scholarship program, and we know that it provides new options to families and students with autism in cases when their individual learning needs are not being met by traditional district providers and schools.
Of course, individual student learning is the real issue here, the reason schools exist in the first place. And that is the key question for evaluating the Autism Scholarship: are the individual learning needs of students being met more effectively by alternative service providers than they would be under their traditional district choices?
Children with autism oftentimes need focused, specialized, personal intervention before they can function effectively in a mainstream classroom. Students with autism often need early and intensive preschool interventions for maximum academic progress. Does the autism scholarship help meet these student needs? Parents seem to think
March 26, 2008
Terry Ryan's Columbus Dispatch op-ed concerning Governor Strickland, Ohio school superintendent Susan Tave Zelman, and Fordham's Fund the Child report, sparked comment, including this e-mail from Kris Christenson:
What Governor Strickland really needs to concern himself with is the ebb and flow of monies to the state tax coffers that are being lost, no longer paying in to support the school system. Rich doctors and wealthy others glean their wealth from Ohio's people, then declare their residences in no-tax states. Industry continues to close down. The governor needs to work on these issues instead of jumping on the old bandwagon of negative criticism of public school educators, professing he alone has the omnipotence and time...to manage how the education money will be spent to most effectively...educate Ohio's masses. The truth is the governor doesn't have the training and experience to have a plan or the people to put it in place.
Nothing in classrooms will get any better than it already is under him. He needs to just let the people who know how to do the job do it and get on with being a unifying force with Superintendent Zelman as his criticism does nothing but lower morale. Many already don't see the point in continuing to dedicate their lives to a profession where their efforts are unappreciated. Young people no longer choose the field because the pay, working conditions, and pensions are poor.... The governor doesn't have the answers he says he has to improve a system that isn't failing at all. He should be supporting the people who cheerfully and tirelessly urge our children to learn and accord them the dignity they richly deserve so that educators can move forward effectively. What he needs to be doing...is getting money flowing back into Ohio. If he can do this, everything in Ohio will improve.
Emmy L. Partin / March 26, 2008
Every few months, it seems, someone calls for a moratorium on new charter schools in the Buckeye State until the current ones can be further "studied." Yet the one statutory requirement for an examination of Ohio's charter and choice programs has lingered without action for more than a year and its deadline is looming.
H.B. 79 (126th General Assembly) in December 2006 directed the Partnership for Continued Learning (PCL) to study and report back on the operations and oversight of the state's charter school program and the Educational Choice Scholarship Program (the state's voucher program). The PCL study was also to make legislative recommendations to the General Assembly by March 30, 2008. It wasn't until December 2007 that the PCL even released a Request for Qualifications inviting higher-education institutions to submit proposals for conducting the study. There were no takers, in part because the project was woefully under funded and the timeline was impossibly tight.
At its meeting last week, the PCL was slated to hear an update about the status of this study but the matter was tabled until the group's next meeting. That meeting will be held in May, more than one month after the legislative recommendations were to have been submitted to the General Assembly.
Should a study ever be conducted by the PCL, and we are not advocating for one, we would strongly encourage the research team to revisit the report the Fordham
March 26, 2008
It would cost up to $200 million to provide college scholarships to graduates of the Cincinnati; Covington, Kentucky; and Newport, Kentucky, public-school systems, according to the Cincinnati-based Strive education partnership. Supporters of the nascent program to promise the scholarships also would have to come up with $500 million to endow a self-sustaining scholarship pool, reports The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Strive leaders have been researching whether a scholarship program similar to that operating in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is feasible for their communities. In Kalamazoo, the program has made it possible for needy students to go to college and it even has attracted families to live in a city hard hit by tough economic times and serious job losses.
Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba said any scholarship program for the Cincinnati region would require support from local funders and national foundations, perhaps even federal grants, according to Enquirer reporters Ben Fischer and Cliff Peale (see here).
Even if these big bucks can be raised, there are additional hurdles. Strive released a report (see here) recently showing fewer than half of incoming kindergartners in the three public-school systems are prepared for academic success in later grades. Students leaving those systems also are less likely to graduate from college than their peers.
Emmy L. Partin / March 26, 2008
Gadfly readers will recall last June's much-debated Thomas B. Fordham Institute study, Golden Peaks and Perilous Cliffs: Rethinking Ohio's Teacher Pension System, which called for overhauling the State Teachers Retirement System (see here). In its wake came more reports of pension problems nationwide (see here and here for recent examples). The latest entry is a report issued by the Piton and Donnell-Kay Foundations examining the Denver Public Schools teacher pension system. This report found similar problems as those facing Ohio and provided recommendations similar to those in Golden Peaks and Perilous Cliffs. Misery may love company but, unfortunately for teachers, schools, and taxpayers, this is not the kind of "me-too" situation you like to see.
The Denver study does not delve into costly concerns like retiree health-care benefits, legacy costs, and unfunded liabilities. Instead, the researchers look at the impact the pension system has on recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in the Denver Public Schools (DPS). The researchers concluded that the DPS pension system works against recruiting the best and brightest into the district, makes it more difficult to attract mid-career professionals from other locales and professions, and hurts the district's efforts to retain its most valuable senior educators.
Denver's pension system is structured like others around the country, and it is fair to assume that pension systems elsewhere have a similar negative impact on district efforts to recruit, hire, and retain the best teaching force
Alex Karas / March 26, 2008
In 2005, state governors and educational leaders agreed the country needs to boost achievement levels to prepare students for college and demanding 21st century jobs. That's a good idea and lots of educational leaders and politicians have mouthed similar words since Achieve Inc. conducted its National Education Summit on High Schools (see here). The challenge, as always, is not just coming up with agreement to the problem, but actually agreeing on a plan and carrying it through to fruition.
In a follow up to the 2005 meeting, Achieve, a bipartisan, non-profit organization devoted to raising school standards, reports that Ohio has made progress. The state has adopted some of the improvements recommended three years ago, such as aligning its standards with those of college readiness. Also, Ohio has developed a stronger core curriculum and now requires students to enroll in courses that prepare them for college entry and decent-paying work. In addition, Ohio plans to carry out the remaining steps of the 2005 strategy: adding college- and career-ready standards to school-assessment systems; developing longitudinal data systems to track student progress through college; and holding high schools and postsecondary institutions accountable for students' preparation for life after graduation.
These are all steps in the right direction, but the state's educators still have much work ahead of them if the state is serious about the goal to have all young people college ready.