Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 3, Number 23
August 19, 2009
Debunking the demonizers of student testing
By Jamie Davies O'Leary
News and Analysis
Growth of school choice in the suburbs no cause for alarm
News and Analysis
Ohio's K-12 cyber-learning community is an emerging landscape
News and Analysis
Survey says -- Ohio AP science students score well nationally
Raising Rigor, Getting Results: Lessons Learned from AP Expansion
Hard work with Ohio's charter schools paying off
Save the date: World-Class Academic Standards for Ohio
Jamie Davies O'Leary / August 19, 2009
An op-ed by Cleveland State University education professor Karl Wheatley in the August 9 Cleveland Plain Dealer argues that the pursuit of improved student achievement in our public schools is largely a waste of time (see here). Wheatley's reasons range from absurd to insulting, especially toward those Ohio children who have been denied an excellent education and whose life prospects dim each time we make ridiculous excuses on behalf of failing schools. He believes that those of us who pursue higher standards "clearly do not understand education well enough to craft wise policy." But he does not explain how a de-emphasis on standardized testing would benefit students in his home district of Cleveland, 84 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged. Given that Wheatley's attitudes against student testing are unfortunately common, it is important to dissect each of these arguments in turn.
First, Wheatley argues that ending the pursuit of "student achievement" would save "billions of dollars a year." Certainly, the creation and implementation of standardized tests costs money. But it doesn't cost nearly as much as the achievement gap between black and Latino students and white students which cost the United States an estimated $310 billion to $525 billion annually (see here). This represents between two and four percent of national GDP. How can America close this insidious gap without diagnosing it first? It can't.
Another problem, according to Wheatey, is that striving for better student achievement is
Emmy L. Partin / August 19, 2009
When charter schools were introduced in Ohio, they were presented as vital options for students in underperforming urban schools. Eleven years later, charters have broken through the borders of the "Big Eight" urban districts. Now, nearly a quarter of charter-school students hail from rural and suburban areas, with a surge in charter enrollment from such districts over the past five years. Evidence indicates that suburban families choose charter schools for the same reasons urban families do: to access an education that better meets the needs of their children.
E-schools enroll the majority of non-urban charter school students (more than 75 percent of e-school students come from outside the state's major urban districts) and account for much of the recent enrollment growth (e-schools first opened in Ohio in 2001, see more below).
In Franklin County, where suburban charter-school enrollment growth was highlighted recently in the Columbus Dispatch (see here), most of the suburban districts that are losing significant numbers of students to charter schools are also among the area's lowest-performing districts. Groveport Madison Local Schools lost nearly 1,100 students to charter schools last year, up from 400 students five years ago. Last year, the district failed to meet the state's minimum proficiency standards on 15 of the 23 state assessments administered in grades 3 through 10, besting only Columbus and Whitehall among Franklin County's 16 districts.
Families are also choosing charter schools at the urging of their home districts. Despite oft-repeated
August 19, 2009
While Ohio's higher education cyber-learning landscape is firmly established (see here), the K-12 cyber-school landscape is still in its infancy. Of Ohio's 1.7 million students, 23,000 were enrolled full-time in one of the state's 28 cybercharters in 20-2008. In addition, the Ohio General Assembly recently established the first statewide high-school interactive distance-learning pilot program. Despite these efforts, however, little is known about the scale of online courses offered beyond the cybercharter sector, although the Ohio Department of Education has just started collecting data on online classes offered by traditional schools, district coops and the like (see here).
The data emerging indicate that Ohio's K-12 school system is evolving a rich and complicated cyber-learning sector. Districts, educational service centers, magnet schools, universities and colleges, charter schools, career-tech centers, and private vendors all offer cyber courses of various types. For example, Lorain County Community College allows high-school students to enroll as part of a post-secondary option (see here). More unconventional providers of cyber-learning programs are the Columbus Zoo (see here) and the Cincinnati Art Museum (see here), both of which offer supplemental online programs for interested teachers and students.
Cyber programs can span a district, the state, or the globe and they can embrace a spectrum of courses and subjects (see here and here). Some Ohio cybercharters (11) serve one county, while 14 serve multiple counties. Three cybercharters serve students statewide. None of Ohio's cybercharters, however,
Mike Lafferty / August 19, 2009
Ohio may be lagging in the numbers of students taking Advanced Placement courses, although students who do take the AP science tests are among the top scorers nationally, according to a recent survey.
The survey, Taking the Pulse of Bioscience Education in America (see here), places Ohio in a leading group of eight states. While Ohio education planners can take heart, the report's overall message is that America is failing to prepare its middle- and high-school students to study the biosciences in college.
The results of the study, released in May, will be examined at the BioOhio Education Summit September 1 at the TechColumbus Center (see here). The report was funded and researched by Battelle (see here), BIO (see here), and the Biotechnology Institute (see here).
The top eight states cited in the report are Connecticut followed by Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin. States lagging the most are Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia.
According to the study, 63 percent of Ohio students taking AP science exams scored grades of three or better in 2008, compared with 55 percent nationally. Looking at biology only, the state placed seventh with 58 percent scoring three or better compared with 50 percent of the student test-takers nationally. When the ACT is considered, however, achievement falls. On the science portion of the ACT in 2008, Ohio placed 16th, with an average score of 21.7 compared with a national average
August 19, 2009
David Wakelyn from the NGA Center for Best Practices
Ohio lags behind the nation when it comes to Advanced Placement (AP) courses. In 2008, the state had only about 18 percent of high-school students taking an AP exam (compared to 25 percent in the U.S.), and only 11 percent of Ohio AP students scored proficient or higher on the exams (compared to over 15 percent nationally).
In 2005, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices launched a major initiative to expand AP courses in order to include more low-income and minority students and funded AP expansion in 51 schools across the country. In Raising Rigor, Getting Results: Lessons Learned from AP Expansion, David Wakelyn checks in on how the initiative has affected student outcomes over the last four years.
The project increased the number of AP courses available and guided schools in recruiting underserved student populations through three strategies. First, schools expanded access to as many students as possible by lowering the selectivity level for AP courses. Second, schools built teacher capacity through additional training and offered extra learning support to students through seminars, summer prep classes, and study groups. Finally, the project created incentives for students and schools. Students were able to increase their GPAs in weighted AP courses, compete for special college scholarships, and even receive monetary incentives for good AP exam scores. Schools also benefited financially for making classes available.
The efforts of the initiative delivered promising results,
August 19, 2009
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) recently released a report, Quality, Diversity and Choice: the Value of Multiple Charter Authorizing Options (see here), which outlines various types of charter school authorizers and weighs the advantages and disadvantages associated with each. We're pleased that our sister organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is listed in the nonprofit category as an example of a "strong authorizer," alongside organizations (in other categories) that we greatly respect, such as the Massachusetts Board of Education, Central Michigan University and the Mayor's Office in Indianapolis. (Fordham serves as an authorizer of six schools in the Buckeye State).
NACSA says that "good authorizing is about function more than form; there is no one particular authorizing option that works best in all circumstances... Good authorizing requires a relentless focus on quality." We wholeheartedly agree. Fordham has learned much in the last five years as a charter school authorizer (or sponsor, as it is called in Ohio). We've come to appreciate the many challenges facing schools serving the state's neediest children in an often hostile political environment. We believe sponsors must have an unwavering emphasis on school quality-academically, financially, and operationally. For more on Fordham's role as a charter school sponsor, see our annual Fordham Sponsorship Accountability Report here, which outlines in detail the status of our sponsorship duties and the profiles of each of our schools.
August 19, 2009
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Ohio Grantmakers Forum, with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are hosting a one-day conference, "World-Class Academic Standards for Ohio," in Columbus October 5. The conference will bring together state and national education experts to share promising national and international efforts in the development of world-class standards; discuss promising practices from top-performing states; and highlight ways to improve Ohio's academic standards, assessments, and accountability system. See a full agenda here. Registration information will be available in early September.