Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 2, Number 11
May 21, 2008
AG's office may be too busy to carry the OEA's water
News and Analysis
Mitch Chester departs for Massachusetts leaving the plate half full
News and Analysis
Initial report indicates Reading First program doesn't work
From the Front Lines
Teacher probed for allegedly teaching religion in science class
Terry Ryan / May 21, 2008
We take no joy in the Marc Dann scandal, but the Attorney General's resignation does raise the possibility of a more level-headed approach to the charter-school debate in Ohio. In 2007, Dann launched lawsuits aiming to close four charter schools (see here). He cited the state's charitable trust laws and alleged that the schools had violated their "charitable" missions as 501(c)3 organizations because they were underperforming academically and, as such, were misusing state funds. This last claim is painfully ironic in light of this week's Columbus Dispatch headline that noted "Scandal may rain lawsuits on state." The Dispatch wrote that the Dann scandals open the state up to sexual harassment lawsuits that could cost Ohio over $1 million.
The charter lawsuits, as it turned out, were the idea of the Ohio Education Association (OEA), which crafted the legal theory on which the suits are based. It's possible Dann's interim replacement and his eventual successor will have a different philosophy toward these lawsuits and seek to have them tossed out.
As Gadfly readers likely recall, the OEA's novel theory of trust law would effectively turn the state attorney general into a charter-school prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Under the theory, the AG would determine whether a school is successful or not, thereby usurping the regulatory authority of the General Assembly, the Ohio Department of Education, and individual charter school sponsors. If the attorney general gets this authority, observers wonder
Mike Lafferty / May 21, 2008
Mitch Chester, former senior associate superintendent for policy and accountability at the Ohio Department of Education, began a new job Monday as commissioner of elementary and secondary education in Massachusetts. Before leaving the state, Chester talked with Ohio Education Gadfly Editor Mike Lafferty about his thoughts on the state of public K-12 education in Ohio. The entire interview is online here, and following is a summary of the conversation.
Q. You were brought to Ohio to improve the state's accountability system. Are you happy with the progress?
A. Absolutely....Back in the mid '90s, when we first started looking at reading, less than half of our fourth graders could reach the proficient standard....And at this point, some 10 years later, more than three-quarters of Ohio's third and fourth graders are reading at proficient levels. So there's been just tremendous progress made, both in terms of developing an aligned system and in terms of the improvement in learning and achievement for students.
Q. What haven't you accomplished?
A. The standards movement talks about being clear about what we want students to learn..., measuring progress toward and against those expectations and...accountability, being transparent with the results. I think the piece that's just a work in progress is how we build systems of support for teachers and administrators that help them to improve the quality of the curriculum and quality of the instructional program.
Q. How do you resolve the achievement gap between urban and suburban kids,
Emmy L. Partin / May 21, 2008
The federal Department of Education has released its interim report of Reading First (see here), the centerpiece program of No Child Left Behind that is supposed to help the most economically disadvantaged and academically struggling elementary students learn to read. The report from the department's Institute for Education Sciences found that Reading First's impact on student reading comprehension was not statistically significant, but it also noted that the program resulted in teachers spending more class time on the five essential components of reading.
Reaction in Ohio to the fed's evaluation of Reading First has been critical. James Salzman, co-director of the Reading First Ohio Center, called the federal report "methodologically flawed, statistically glamorous, and ultimately meaningless in terms of its conclusions" (see here). Salzman said the 128-school study involving 5,200 students was far too small, involving about one-seventh the number of schools needed for a viable study of the massive federal program. He also believes most schools in the study came from large, urban districts, while smaller rural districts have shown the most improvement in reading in Ohio.
Fordham's new research director, Amber Winkler, also questioned the report's findings (see here) and recommended that policymakers wait until the final evaluation is released later this year to determine Reading First's fate. The program's purpose is to ensure that all students read at or above grade level by the end of the third grade. Over the past five
Mike Lafferty / May 21, 2008
MOUNT VERNON - A Mount Vernon City Schools' science teacher has a monitor in his classes these days after he allegedly promoted Christianity in his classroom and used a hand-held laboratory electricity generator to mark crosses onto the skin of students.
The school district expects to complete an investigation by the end of the month concerning allegations that John Freshwater, who has taught in the Mount Vernon schools for 21 years, promoted his Christian beliefs in class.
According to Superintendent Steve Short, the school launched the investigation after the parents of one of Freshwater's students complained about their son being marked with the generator. According to the complaint, the student said the pain was severe enough to prevent him from sleeping at night. The complaint also claimed that Freshwater displayed the Ten Commandments in his classroom, kept multiple Bibles in his classroom to pass out to students, and taught his own beliefs from the Bible.
The Columbus Dispatch reported the middle-school science teacher used the generator to "burn" a cross on their son's forearm. The device is used to ionize gases in laboratory experiments so students can identify gases by the different colors each emits in an electrical field.
Last month, Short ordered Freshwater to remove a Bible and Ten Commandments posters from his classroom. Freshwater removed the items, however, he objected to removing his personal Bible from his desk, considering that an infringement of his rights under the First Amendment of the United
Emmy L. Partin / May 21, 2008
The Economic Policy Institute updates its 2004 report on teacher pay and then some in The Teaching Penalty: Teacher Pay Losing Ground. The institute finds that the pay of public school teachers is 15 percent lower than that of comparable professionals and that, over time, teacher pay has grown at a slower rate than inflation or the pay of similar workers. The report concludes that any attempt to alter the recruitment-and-retention patterns in teaching must start with increasing teacher wages across the board but fails to address important non-wage variables that affect the teacher-pay equation.
The book's authors name accountants, reporters, registered nurses, computer programmers, clergy, and personnel officers as teachers' professional peers, given the skill level and education required for the jobs. However, they do not acknowledge that most of these "comparable" professionals work outside the bounds of public employment and collective-bargaining agreements where pay is linked not only to an employee's credentials and seniority but also to job performance, and where poor performers aren't likely to stay on the job for long.
The Teaching Penalty continues the fruitless argument that teachers devote more time to work outside their contracted schedules than do other professionals. To justify dividing a teacher's annual pay by a full year of work instead of actual contracted weeks, and thus lowering the teacher's average weekly earnings, the authors assert that teachers often spend some of their summer breaks attending "professional development or other activities expected