Impact of school improvement initiatives in HB 153
Governor Kasich has put a priority on academic achievement in his inaugural budget proposal with several provisions aimed at improving Ohio’s lowest performing public schools. There has been much media coverage and chatter among observers about the broad concepts of these proposals, but little has been said about the real impact they might have in schools across the state. Here’s a look at three sets of proposals and who’d be affected.
District schools: Parent trigger & restructuring mandate
Certainly the most talked-about of the governor’s school-improvement proposals is the creation of a “parent trigger” for the state’s worst-performing district schools. The proposal has brought about front-page news stories, strongly worded editorials against the idea, and public testimony in House hearings on the budget dismissing the trigger as another assault on public schools.
The provision would allow parents to petition a school district to force reforms in a school that, for at least three consecutive years, has been ranked in the lowest five percent of all district-operated schools statewide based on its performance index (PI) score (which is a measure of student achievement across all tested grades and subjects). Parents would be allowed to file a petition requesting the district reopen the school as a charter school, replace at least 70 percent of the school’s staff, contract with another school district or entity to operate the school, turn operation of the school over to the state, or make other fundamental reforms to staffing and governance.
This is strong medicine for sure. Similar restructuring has been required for years in failing schools under No Child Left Behind and is taking place in 42 Ohio schools thanks to federal School Improvement Grants. But the part of the parent-trigger proposal that has been missed by almost everyone is how few schools this law would actually impact.
For example, if the provision took effect immediately and was based on the previous three years of academic data, less than one percent of district schools would make the list (29 out of 3,372 district schools that received academic rating data last year, to be exact).
A similar provision would mandate the restructuring or closure (with similar options as the parent trigger) of district schools that are also in the lowest five percent of all district buildings based on PI score for three years and that are rated Academic Emergency or Academic Watch by the state. Only 23 schools statewide meet this threshold, based on current data. Almost half of the schools eligible for the parent trigger or mandatory restructuring are in Cleveland and the others are scattered across the state’s other big and mid-sized urban districts.
The part of the parent-trigger proposal that has been missed by almost everyone is how few schools this law would actually impact.
Teachers: mandatory content exams in low-performing districts
The governor believes that lack of content knowledge is a major factor when it comes to ineffective teachers (and he’s right to an extent – strong content knowledge is necessary, especially in upper grades and complicated subjects). The governor has proposed requiring teachers in the lowest performing districts to take content-area exams and allowing districts to use the results of the exams to inform (but not exclusively) personnel decisions about teachers. Specifically, the proposal would rank all school districts annually by PI score and identify the bottom 10 percent of districts statewide. Teachers of core subjects (reading, English language arts, math, science, foreign language, government, economics, fine arts, history, and geography) in those districts would be required to retake all of the state’s teacher licensure exams that are required for the grade and subject they teach (Ohio currently uses Praxis exams).
Of all of the governor’s school improvement provisions, this one has by far the widest impact. Using the most recent available data, the bottom 10 percent of Ohio districts serve more than 352,000 students and employ nearly 15,500 regular classroom teachers. Assuming for example’s sake that three-quarters of those teachers teach a core subject more than 11,500 educators would be required to retake at least one exam. Currently, Praxis charges a $50 registration fee per testing year and $80 for the first test a teacher takes (subsequent tests cost less). It would cost $1.5 million to administer a single exam to all of those teachers. The actual cost could go much higher, as the provision allows teachers to take the exam up to three times and because the state requires multiple Praxis exams for most licenses. It’s not clear who would cover this cost; the Legislative Service Commission’s analysis assumes teachers will pay out-of-pocket.
A closer look at the districts that fall into the bottom 10 percent shows they aren’t all that bad. Four of the districts are rated Effective by the state, another 47 are rated Continuous Improvement. Fully 50 of them have a PI score of 80 or better (which indicates that, on average across all grades and subjects, students in the district are "proficient" on the state's exams). Thirty-eight districts have PI scores of 85 or better, and the highest district PI score in the bunch at 89.8.
Charter schools: Raising the bar to open new schools
The governor wants to improve school quality in the charter sector, too. While his budget relaxes many of the barriers to opening new charters in the state, it adds a new requirement that prohibits sponsors or operators with any schools rated Academic Emergency or Academic Watch from opening new schools. Some high-performing operators and school districts would be able to continue opening charter schools under this provision but they’d have a tough time finding an eligible sponsor to authorize them.
None of the state’s major sponsors (including the Fordham Foundation) would be able to open new schools next year. A smattering of districts and ESCs would remain eligible, but just a handful of them are serious charter school authorizers. Most oversee small single-school charter programs within their own districts. Further, geographical restrictions on where authorizes can sponsor new schools would limit the ability of even these sponsors to bring on new schools. This proposal, as written, would effectively put a pause on the growth of charters in Ohio, for one year at least.
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