Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 3, Number 15
May 27, 2009
How to make Ohio education even worse
News and Analysis
Budget mess befuddles charter-school planners
Burying zombie charter schools
Food for thought: Building a high-quality school choice market
From the Front Lines
A little state help would go a long way toward helping needy science students
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / May 27, 2009
The recent furor over the many flaws and unrealities in Gov. Ted Strickland's (and the Ohio House of Representatives') plan to alter Ohio's school-finance system has diverted attention from other grave mistakes in the education portion of the state's biennial budget bill (see here).
Foremost among these are the misguided changes it would make in Ohio's academic standards, assessments, and accountability system.
Nobody says the present arrangement is perfect. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and others have repeatedly conferred mediocre grades on it. But H.B. 1 would take it from fair to poor.
Dutifully following one of the hottest fads in American education, the measure gives dramatically more attention to so-called "21st Century" skills than to the 3 Rs and actual knowledge. It ignores some key reasons we send kids to school in the first place. It sets lofty goals for which there are no practical gauges of progress or performance. And by changing the assessment system, the bill would make it far more difficult to compare the future performance of Ohio's schools and students with their past performance.
Strickland opened the 21st Century skills door (known in the education field as "P-21" (see here) when he urged in January that Ohio schools do far more to develop "critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, media literacy, leadership and productivity, cultural awareness, adaptability, and accountability." This theme made it through the House and now awaits Senate attention. It was-predictably-endorsed at a
Mike Lafferty / May 27, 2009
Charter-school operators are finishing up the details of their five-year operating budgets, a tough task given that lawmakers are still wrangling over exactly what kind of school-funding charters are to receive over the next two years (see here).
State law requires charter schools to submit five-year budget forecasts but school operators, confused and fearful for the future of their schools, can only guess at how to complete these. Many say their schools won't make it anywhere near five more years if the state charter-school financing approved by the Ohio House becomes law. Adding to the uncertainty are Ohio's declining economy and falling state revenues (see here).
House-approved spending levels would send the 350 students expected to enroll this autumn in Cleveland's Entrepreneurship Preparatory School (see here) back to what John Zitzner, the school's founder and president, calls the "dropout factories"-his name for most of the city's public district schools. The vast majority of his students are from families living in poverty. Almost every student receives a subsidized lunch.
A $400,000 loss in state funds would devastate the school's education program. "Of the 145 (public district and charter) schools in Cleveland, 15 are effective or excellent and we're one of them," he said. Instead of pushing ahead to establish another 10 schools in the next 20 years, Zitzner figures his school would be out of business in a year if proposed spending cuts are left intact.
Charter-school leaders are so focused
Terry Ryan / May 27, 2009
We've heard much about "zombie banks," institutions that are fundamentally insolvent but stay open because they are propped up by government intervention. But finance isn't the only field trod by the walking dead. In Dayton, and indeed across Ohio, we are also witnessing zombie schools. Many are operated by public school systems. To the great embarrassment of those who have supported charter schools, more than a few also exist within the charter sector. These are schools that remain open even though they no longer have any real hope of successfully educating children or even paying their bills.
Zombie charters are characterized by low enrollments, persistently weak academic achievement, and sorely troubled finances. In Ohio, 53 charter schools are rated in Academic Emergency or have fewer than 150 students, certainly meeting the zombie definition. Most have shown these failings since birth, which, for many, occurred during Ohio's mad rush by irresponsible sponsors in 2003-04 to open as many charter schools as possible as fast as possible. Sponsors, of which our sister organization, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is one (we sponsor two schools in Dayton and four elsewhere in the state), are responsible for "licensing" charter schools to operate, holding them accountable for results, and intervening when they struggle. Regrettably, too many Ohio sponsors have not done their jobs well, and as a result we are stuck with too many zombie charter schools.
The Dayton Daily News has reported on three of them.
How state education agencies in the Northeast and Islands Region support data-driven decision making in districts and schools
May 27, 2009
The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance
While there have been many studies describing how to collect and manage data, the education sector has largely ignored the difficult issue of gathering and storing data in such a way that it is available in a centralized manner. This analysis finds that the Northeast and Islands region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the Virgin Islands) manages its data in four ways: 1) centralizing information into one data system or warehouse, 2) developing tools for further data analysis and reporting, 3) training educators on the data system or warehouse, and 4) continuing to educate professionals concerning the collected information. However, these states have encountered limits to collecting data, namely, lack of staff, expertise, and funding. The lack of staff and expertise is side-stepped by using vendors who assemble and maintain the data as well as instruct educators on how to use the data. While costly, all the states and the Virgin Islands hired outside vendors, a number of which were partially funded by federal grants. The analysis allows education leaders in Ohio to take a more in-depth look at its teacher-student data and see how other states handle the task. For the report, see here.
May 27, 2009
Opening supply and demand is the first step in creating great schools, but having the educational market open is just not enough, argues Erin Dillon from Ed Sector. Using examples of how retail grocery stores and banks expand into low-income neighborhoods, this paper explores the more nuanced understandings of supply and demand and how to build a high-quality, school-choice market. To build the supply of good schools, for example, school reformers need to analyze community needs and assets and map the educational marketplace to know what kind of school a community needs. Also, school reformers need to establish strong community connections through advertising and by gaining public support during the planning stages for the school. Equally important, Dillon argues, that, on the demand side, parents need accurate information to identify and select good options. A lack of knowledge can lead to poor school choices. In Ohio, organizations, such as the Ohio Black Alliance for Educational Options and School Choice Ohio, provide critical services for families needing to learn about school-choice options. Because the paper details the possibilities and recommendations for improvements in school supply and demand, it makes for an interesting read and can be found here.
Mike Lafferty / May 27, 2009
While we're used to stories about government spending millions, billions, and now trillions, this story is about how just a little more state money could make a big difference in rural Ohio schools like South Point High School.
You see, it's been seven years since South Point biology teacher Jayshree Shah had any students able to present science projects at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (see here), the world's top science and engineering fair. It's not because science students at the Lawrence County school, 130 miles south of Columbus, are not qualified to rub elbows with the world's high-school scientific elite.
There is simply no money for students, no matter how worthy, to attend such events. Shah said state funds once helped send top science students from South Point and other Ohio high schools to the Intel fair but that money dried up several years ago. Under the fair's rules, students are not allowed to pay their own way so travel expenses must come from donors, and there's little money for that in South Point.
"We don't have the economic base here. There's no industry. In southern Ohio the largest employer is Wal-Mart," said Shah.
The Ohio Academy of Science (see here) has noticed the problem. Ohio sent 20 high school students to the Intel fair in Reno, Nev., but students in 42 of Ohio's 88 counties had no chance, according to the academy. The academy oversees science fairs throughout