Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 3, Number 9
April 15, 2009
Gadfly Readers Write...
about proposed funding levels for charter schools
School funding and weak evidence
News and Analysis
The eight-percent solution sounds like a gamble
Expert to offer guidelines for improving state's academic standards
The governor could benefit from a sit-down with the president
April 15, 2009
Myrrha P. Satow, CEO and superintendent of EdVantages Inc., took issue with an April 1 Ohio Gadfly editorial concerning Gov. Strickland's proposals for funding charter schools.
The Fordham Institute's recent editorial analysis of Dayton charter school funding under Gov. Strickland's proposed funding fix, "Governor's proposal for charter-school funding a head scratcher," April 1, 2009, makes some very good points, but also provides some misleading data.
Attempting to demonstrate that "there are some serious charter school winners in the governor's plan, and some big-time losers," the editorial incorrectly stated that Trotwood Preparatory and Fitness Academy (TPFA) was among the "serious winners." This is not accurate. Our internal analysis of TPFA's funding for next year concluded that TPFA would lose over $400,000 under the new plan.
Fordham relied on numbers provided by ODE. We at EdVantages, TPFA's nonprofit EMO, were deeply perplexed by ODE's analysis and we believe it to be incorrect in many instances.
We applaud Fordham's statements regarding the gross inconsistencies in the plan, the potential incompetence of its designers, and the long- term consequences of a poorly designed system. However, State Rep. Clayton Luckie (D- Dayton) publicly singled out TPFA, in front of students, families, and staff, as evidence of the plan's supposed charter-friendliness. Printing inaccurate data has consequences.
Fordham did acknowledge that the numbers it so prominently displayed may be "simply inaccurate." Lacking confidence in the numbers, it makes little sense to make examples of specific schools.
Terry Ryan / April 15, 2009
Gov. Strickland's school funding plan has come under heavy fire in recent weeks. Republican lawmakers-and outside experts on school finance-have criticized it for lacking any real evidence (see here). Numerous editorial writers and school district officials have observed that it spends more money on wealthy districts than on poor districts (see here). And even some of its supporters-for example, the Ohio Business Roundtable and the Ohio Grantmakers Forum-have sought to inject greater flexibility into it so as not to undermine such innovations as STEM schools, quality charter schools, and early college academies.
Many, probably most, of these challenges have merit and deserve serious, reasoned responses. Yet the governor's office is all but stonewalling. The latest is the release of a "statement by experts validating Ohio's evidence-based approach to education." It came out late on Good Friday-a classic political ploy to minimize attention to something, usually bad news that someone important cannot conceal but wants to minimize. (Wait until everyone has started their holiday weekend.)
Yet according to the Strickland press release, "The analysis, commissioned by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, validates the governor's research-based proposal to establish a constitutional system of education in Ohio" (see here). That looks more like vindication or corroboration than bad news. Why bury it on Easter/Passover weekend?
We can think of three possible reasons. First, maybe the governor's team did not want reporters and analysts to look too closely at the innards of the "Review and Analysis
April 15, 2009
Online learning is the fastest-growing sector in education. In the fall of 2008, 44 states reported offering significant full-time or supplemental learning opportunities for students. Ohio has been a leader in moving toward this powerful educational innovation, but it risks sliding backwards when it comes to cyber charters.
Gov. Ted Strickland proposes to cut $105 million in cyber-charter funds in fiscal year 2010. His proposal would also burden existing cyber charters with new requirements and limits, including outlawing the for-profit firms that operate some of the better e-schools, such as Connections Academy (see here) and the Ohio Virtual Academy (see here).
Whether called e-learning, virtual schooling, or cyber schooling, online learning opportunities provide an outlet to traditional classroom-based instruction for parents seeking to customize learning opportunities for their children. Just as important, they allow parents to be actively involved in their child's education. In short, e-learning programs offer learning opportunities for children and places for parents to turn if they and/or their children are unhappy with the education provided by their traditional schools.
Online learning also has the potential to help students access rigorous courses taught by high-quality teachers that they might not otherwise get. Students in a rural southeastern Ohio county, for example, could take an advanced physics course from a top-rate teacher in a suburban Columbus district. It opens new learning opportunities for students living in rural areas, attending hard-to-staff urban schools, or stuck at home or in a
Mike Lafferty / April 15, 2009
The board of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio told members last month that it could not rely on a nine percent return on investment to fund future retirement benefits. The implication is that the board will continue to rely on a long-term return of eight percent.
While that eight percent might seem ridiculous given the vast losses in the stock market, it turns out that just about all public pension funds depend on that rate. It also turns out that public pensions need a rate of return that is much higher-by about one-third-than the comparable figure for private pension funds, which generally calculate growth at a long-term average rate of about six percent.
Why the difference? According to a pension-fund analyst at the Center for Retirement Growth at Boston College, public pension funds generally expect wage growth to be higher for their members than the managers of private pension funds. "The private sector has a little more expectation of trying to keep on top of costs," Jean-Pierre Aubry told The Gadfly.
Getting that higher rate of return means gambling, according to Jay Greene, the chairman of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. But, in a Gadfly interview, Greene pointed out that, because public pension funds such as the STRS are guaranteed by the government they are essentially gambling with taxpayers' dollars.
An eight percent return may sound perfectly reasonable to some, he said. "The trouble is we don't
Mike Lafferty / April 15, 2009
The national education curriculum expert who helped design the country's premier standards and accountability system in Massachusetts will tell an Ohio Senate panel today that the 21st century skills-based program being proposed for Ohio will actually retard student learning.
In testimony prepared for the Ohio Senate Education Committee this afternoon, Sandra Stotsky, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, will tell the lawmakers that, "Statements about skills, learning processes, or learning strategies are not standards, chiefly because they are generic in nature, content-free and not sufficiently content-specific" (see here).
The concept of 21st century skills is a major part of Strickland's sweeping education plan being considered by the General Assembly.
In her prepared testimony, Stotsky says the 21st century skills movement actually inhibits learning. "Attempts to emphasize skills, processes, or strategies, as in the 21st century skills movement, will point teachers in the wrong direction and retard student achievement," she says.
As senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999-2003, Stotsky had a key role in revising that state's education standards. Massachusetts' standards are generally regarded as the strongest in the United States and the state's education system is considered the nation's best.
"What did we do to ensure a set of strong and coherent academic standards in each subject? First, we eliminated all strands, substrands, or statements that were chiefly about skills and learning processes or strategies," she says.
Stotsky calls Ohio's current standards mediocre.
She believes it
Terry Ryan / April 15, 2009
Tis the season for school reform and both President Obama and Gov. Strickland are pushing their school reform agendas hard. In comparing and contrasting the efforts of these two Democratic leaders some similarities emerge, but so do some interesting differences.
Where there is agreement: Both the governor and the president want to spend more money on public schools; both, also, want new investments in early education. These are long-standing Democratic positions so no surprises here. But, and this is new, each is seeking more seat time in schools for kids. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan could have been speaking for both Strickland and Obama when he said recently, "I fundamentally think our children are at a competitive disadvantage. The children in India and China who they are competing [with] for jobs are going to school 25, 30 percent more than we are." Gov. Strickland wants to add 20 days a year to Ohio's school calendar.
Where they disagree in kind: Both Strickland and Obama say they see quality teachers and better teaching as pivotal to improving student achievement. Here, Strickland's plan is less bold than Obama's, but controversial enough that it has garnered the ire of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. The governor's plan seeks to overhaul teacher tenure (making tenure decisions in nine years, up from the current three), and his plan would create new teacher licensure requirements and a teacher residency program.
President Obama goes further and challenges one of
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / April 15, 2009
Patrick Wolf, Babette Gutmann, Michael Puma, Brian Kisida, Lou Rizzo, Nada Eissa
Institute of Education Sciences
Amid all the sound and fury surrounding the D.C. voucher program, this study is a significant feather in the cap of the program's supporters. Why? Because despite the study's rigorous methods (a gold-standard, randomized, controlled trial, which usually finds "no effect"-see here), students offered a voucher were performing at statistically higher levels in reading after three years (equivalent to a 3.1 month gain) than students not offered a scholarship. The reading finding is even more striking since the treatment group was highly mobile-a factor that likely contributed to the null findings in years one and two.
Unsurprisingly, both groups performed similarly in math and the program did not have a significant impact in reading or math for those students who applied from the worst-performing public schools. While this latter finding is unfortunate and has been cited as reason to shut down the program, we should remember that students coming from the very worst schools are the hardest to remediate and require the most time to do so. This study only measures three years.
The researchers also discovered that the voucher program had improved reading achievement for five subgroups: students not previously attending a school in need of improvement, those with higher levels of performance at time of entry into the program, those entering grades K-8 when they applied (i.e., everyone but high school