Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 4, Number 8
April 7, 2010
Rick Hess sets Gadfly straight
By Mike Lafferty
News and Analysis
Ohio's path to Race to the Top success
By Jamie Davies O'Leary
Weak links to student achievement in school funding model
By Jamie Davies O'Leary
Columbus district leadership defends transportation costs of school choice
Should federal dollars be used to try to turn around failing charters?
Mike Lafferty / April 7, 2010
Frederick M. Hess is an educator, political scientist and author who studies K-12 and higher education issues. In addition to his Education Week blog Rick Hess Straight Up, he is the author of many influential books on education including Education Unbound, Common Sense School Reform, Revolution at the Margins, and Spinning Wheels. A former high school social studies teacher, he has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University, and Harvard University. Hess visited Ohio recently to discuss education policy with Ohio educators, community and business leaders, and lawmakers. The Ohio Education Gadfly caught up with him between meetings.
Q . You’ve been critical of Race to the Top. Why?
A. The aspiration is a good one. I think doing it through a competitive grant makes sense but I think the sum is large, the program is so novel, and the opportunities for getting it wrong are so great that it’s important to be incredibly thoughtful to get it right and I’m worried we’ve fallen short on that count.
Q. How so?
A. We’ve done an insufficient job of buffering it from political officials. I think too much of the scoring is based on hot fads of the moment and buzz words rather than knocking down outdated policies and anachronistic practices. I think the criteria for judging were insufficiently spelled
Jamie Davies O'Leary / April 7, 2010
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the winners of the federal Race to the Top education sweepstakes. Delaware took home $100 million and Tennessee was awarded $500 million. Ohio placed 10th among 16 finalists with a score of 419 out of 500, beating Louisiana by a hair and falling just below Rhode Island and Kentucky.
The fact that Delaware and Tennessee, states with high levels of district and union buy-in, snagged first round awards has set off a flurry of speculation about the extent to which stakeholder participation is critical for Race to the Top phase two. On the surface, their wins may seem attributable to the fact that “these two states were touching every single child” (i.e., broad district participation) and had widespread support from teachers unions. And Ohio would certainly be better off if it could “include more people and interests across the political spectrum in writing the application,” as the Columbus Dispatch recently argued.
Gov. Strickland was spot on when he said that nonparticipating districts should explain to taxpayers why they rejected the chance to win Race to the Top dollars, especially since nearly half (49 percent) opted out (we took a similar stance when the Dayton Education Association, despite the district facing a $5 million budget deficit, refused to sign on).
But lack of stakeholder involvement is not the primary reason Ohio lost in the competition. Ohio’s application’s
Jamie Davies O'Leary / April 7, 2010
Members of Ohio’s School Funding Advisory Council have expressed concerns about the efficacy of the state’s new evidence-based model (EBM) of school funding. As Ohio heads into the next biennium with a staggering $8 billion deficit, tough questions about the expensive mandates imposed by the EBM aren’t just partisan drivel; they are part of a necessary public policy debate. It’s a reasonable expectation to want to know that the state can actually afford.
The co-creator of the EBM himself – Lawrence Picus, a researcher from the University of Southern California – attended the council’s March 25 meeting in Columbus and had a chance to answer council members’ burning questions. How do other states implementing the EBM perform academically? Does Ohio have to adhere exactly to the EBM, as designed by Drs. Picus and Odden – or can it deviate? How much will it cost to fully implement Ohio’s EBM? Will effective Buckeye State districts have to modify their current policies, and who will pay for it?
Unfortunately, Dr. Picus’s responses to these critical questions were usually contradictory or incomplete. His presentation of evidence behind the original EBM wasn’t reassuring either, as his list of educational best practices from which the funding model is derived appears to have no discernible connection to the costly mandates with which Ohio leaders are now struggling.
Dr. Picus presented “10 steps” that can “double student performance,” arguing that these serve as the common thread among
Emmy L. Partin / April 7, 2010
The Columbus City Schools could potentially save millions in transportation expenses, which make up 8 percent of the district’s budget, by requiring students to attend schools close to their homes, according to a report presented to the school board last week. However, leadership quickly refuted the recommendation to reduce educational options and defended the district’s open enrollment policy.
Columbus has magnet schools that offer special curricula or educational programming, and students enter a lottery to gain admission. The district also allows district-wide open enrollment so that children can attend a school other than their neighborhood school if a slot exists. The district buses students to the school they select.
Additionally, state law requires districts to provide the same transportation services to private-school and charter-school students as its own students. Other states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, have similar laws making the school district responsible for busing all students.
While the prevalence of school choice may be smart from an educational perspective, it is no doubt costly. The district transports nearly 40,000 students daily this school year, but the Columbus Dispatch reported that the district needed 75 more buses than it had two years ago to transport just 263 more students because of difficulty in routing buses around the city in sync with school schedules.
In response to the report, school board member W. Shawna Gibbs told the Dispatch that the instructional impact of choice deserves a review separate from
Terry Ryan / April 7, 2010
Charter schools are different from traditional district schools in that they are free of many regulations and operating constraints, but in return for their freedoms they are held accountable for their results. Those charter schools that fail to deliver results over time are closed, the theory holds. Yet, strict charter accountability in the form of closure collides with the efforts of states like Ohio to use federal school improvement dollars to turn around troubled charter schools.
President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Duncan are pushing the school turnaround concept hard through the Race to the Top competition and School Improvement Grants. Andy has written extensively about the many challenges that face turnaround efforts, and has mustered much evidence against the cause.
Strict charter accountability in the form of closure collides with the efforts of states like Ohio to use federal school improvement dollars to turn around troubled charter schools.
Despite Andy's strong case against all turnarounds, I have argued that there are times when the turnaround strategy may have merit for school districts. Of course, we should take on turnarounds with a healthy dose of skepticism and with the understanding that most will fail. But, in cities like Fordham's hometown of Dayton, half of the community's schools perennially receive an F or D on the state's academic report card.
Why would we want to place an ironclad ???no??? on a reform-minded superintendent who might seek a portfolio of
Treating Different Teachers Differently: How State Policy Should Act on Differences in Teacher Performances to Improve Teacher Effectiveness and Equity
April 7, 2010
Center for American Progress
By Robin Chait and Raegen Miller
Robust data systems, performance-based professional standards, and rigorous evaluation systems are three components Ohio can use to create better “infrastructure” to support recruiting, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers. That’s the latest from Center for American Progress’s Treating Different Teachers Differently, a report calling for state and local policymakers to reconsider how to:
- encourage the most effective teachers to stay in the profession;
- leverage the talents and reach of the most effective teachers;
- discourage the least effective from remaining in the profession and dismiss chronically ineffective teachers; and
- improve the performance of all teachers and thus improve student outcomes.
Ohio’s teacher policies were a major reason the state didn’t win first round Race to the Top funding, but there room for hope. Ohio was recently lauded by Education Week for last year’s budget bill that pushed teacher tenure until after the seventh year of employment. Gov. Strickland also introduced an innovative plan for teacher residencies, though the devil is in the details and it remains to be seen how useful they will be for improving teacher effectiveness. The Buckeye State can go further by rethinking the frequency and substance of teacher evaluations and by including some form of student performance metrics in evaluations.
Treating Different Teachers Differently doesn’t mask the complexity of these issues. Opponents of performance pay make good points about whether a test can capture a teacher’s (and student’s) entire performance. In
April 7, 2010
Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University
Manyee Wong, Thomas D. Cook, & Peter Steiner
This report uses fourth and eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results from 1990-2009 to determine whether No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) accountability mandates have improved student achievement. The researchers compared national NAEP scores of students in public schools and private schools, and contrasted NAEP scores in states with varying levels of rigor in their student proficiency requirements (and thus with varying degrees of likelihood that schools will fall below Adequate Yearly Progress and be subject to NCLB’s sanctions). Both comparisons serve to analyze the scores of students at NCLB-reformed schools against the scores of students in schools who were not subject to NCLB reforms.
The results, as Debra Viadero at Education Week suggests, are not an “epitaph” for NCLB. From 2002-onward (post NCLB), fourth and eighth grade math scores improved at a higher pace in schools subject to NCLB-mandated reforms than at schools not subject to the law. Reading scores also improved, though less dramatically, as a result of both NCLB reforms and higher state proficiency standards. While the authors are quick to caution that this is not a comprehensive study of NCLB, their findings are significant as they illustrate that the law’s accountability framework—as well as rigorous academic standards in some states – may be at least partially responsible for increases in student achievement.
This research is especially pertinent as
State Test Score Trends Through 2007-2008, Part 5: Are There Differences in Achievement Between Boys and Girls?
Janie Scull / April 7, 2010
Naomi and Victor Chudowsky
Center on Education Policy
This new report from CEP brings good news and bad. The good: According to state assessments, there is no consistent gender gap between boys and girls in math in elementary, middle, or high school. The bad: Boys continue to lag behind girls in reading at all three levels. The report analyzes state-level 2007-08 test data in all 50 states for grades 4, 8, and high school (grade 10 or 11, depending on the year tested) and then compares those scores to 2002. In 2007-08, roughly even amounts of boys and girls scored proficient in math, and no state had a gap larger than ten percentage points. In reading, on the other hand, boys clock in behind girls at every grade level and in every state with measurable data (forty-five of the fifty qualified), with some gaps as large as or larger than ten points. Good news for the Buckeye State – Ohio’s largest gap was six percent, in 10th grade reading.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell us much, because the proficiency bar is so low in some, nay many, states that the higher-achieving group is already mostly above the bar. Thus, any improvements by the lower-achieving group will “close” the gap. Furthermore, gap comparisons don’t tell how well students are actually learning. A better metric is to look at average scores, which the report does briefly. It finds that gaps have actually increased
April 7, 2010
- Ohio recently unveiled plans to scrap the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) in favor of the ACT (and a combination of other performance measures) for high school juniors in an attempt to better align high school curricula with college- and career-ready academic standards, and to increase the number of college graduates by 100,000 students in Ohio by 2017. Requiring that the ACT be taken in high school has been lauded by KidsOhio.org as a positive step which could emulate the successes of other states enacting similar ACT requirements and whose students’ ACT scores and college enrollment subsequently improved.
- While the stimulus package has helped mitigate large-scale layoffs, this early study of ARRA (by Marguerite Roza, et al) shows that public education could be in its “biggest employment decline in years.” An aging workforce will strain pension systems—a problem that could be partially solved by basing teacher tenure on performance, rather than longevity within the school system.
- For those of you intimidated by the structure of teacher contracts, or simply wondering how best to read and interpret various provisions within them, we highly recommend Education Sector’s interactive explainer to cut through the murkiness. With an easy-to-read layout and side-by-side comparisons of a district and charter school contract, it’s more engaging than Sarah Palin in her new show.
- Researchers at Florida State University conclude that students who fail to meet their own high expectations for themselves suffer no
April 7, 2010
Though it serves the same challenged population as many urban schools, Citizens' Academy in Cleveland boasts an outstanding academic track record. Check out our video to learn what the school's teachers and leaders believe are the keys to the school's extraordinary success.
Citizens' Academy and seven other Ohio schools will be featured in Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio's high-performing, high-need urban schools, due May 2010 from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.