Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 5, Number 4
February 23, 2011
Buckeye State letting students down on U.S. history
Of budgets, unions, and... pizzas?
Terry Ryan / February 23, 2011
The Midwest is in turmoil over proposed changes to state laws that deal with collective bargaining rights and pensions for public sector employees, including teachers and other school personnel (as well as police officers, state employees, and more). Madison looks like Cairo, Indianapolis like Tunis, and Columbus like Bahrain, with thousands demonstrating, chanting slogans, and pressing their issues. (Fortunately, nobody has opened fire or dropped “small bombs” as in Tripoli.) Economics are driving this angst: how should these states deal with their wretched fiscal conditions and how should the pain be distributed?
To address these problems, Republican lawmakers and governors have proposed major changes to collective bargaining laws and pension systems. In Ohio, Senate Bill 5 would continue to afford teachers the right to bargain collectively over wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. But the bill would also make profound alterations to the status quo, including: requiring all public-school employees to contribute at least 20 percent of the premiums for their health-insurance plan; removing from collective bargaining – and entrusting to management – such issues as class size and personnel placement; prohibiting continuing contracts and effectively abolishing tenure; removing seniority as the sole determinant for layoffs and requiring that teacher performance be the primary factor; and abolishing automatic step increases in salary.
Not surprisingly, these changes are being fiercely resisted by the Buckeye State’s teachers, their unions, and their political allies. Battle lines are forming, and we at Fordham—as veteran advocates for “smart cuts” and “stretching the school dollar”—have been drawn into the fray. In the past week, I
If your child thinks Presidents’ Day is little more than an excuse for a long weekend during blizzard-and-sledding season, you just might want to tell the new members of the Ohio State Board of Education to do something about the state’s history standards. Those who approved the current standards last June bungled the job.
According to a new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Buckeye State has failed to delineate clear expectations for what its students in primary and secondary schools should learn about their country’s history, its founders, and its most influential leaders. In fact, this review by two top-flight U.S. historians finds that Ohio’s current standards cover enormous swaths of history in a few brief strokes, only rarely mentioning specific events or people.
It’s as if they think children can learn history from thirty thousand feet, because these standards rarely touch the ground. In fifth grade, for example, the standards declare that “European exploration and colonization had lasting effects which can be used to understand the Western Hemisphere today,” but provide no clarification or detail. What exactly is that 5th grade teacher—mostly likely not a history specialist herself—supposed to teach her students? What exactly are they supposed to learn?
| It's as if they think children can learn history from thirty thousand feet, because these standards rarely touch the ground.
It’s no better in eighth grade, where just two skimpy standards address
Jamie Davies O'Leary / February 23, 2011
On the twentieth anniversary of Teach for America, founder Wendy Kopp (with some help from Teaching As Leadership author Steven Farr) reflects on lessons from TFA teachers and alums about what it takes to lift achievement for low-income kids. Despite an over-abundance of TFA lingo and countless anecdotes that—while inspiring—are redundant, formulaic, and idealized, the book makes several compelling arguments. Most notably, TFA teachers and alums have shown that it’s possible to significantly lift performance of low-income students. Kopp goes on to offer candid perspectives on funding, school choice, class-size reduction, technology, and even “heroic teaching”—noting that not one of these education-reform bullets is silver. Unfortunately, she also leaves some important questions unanswered. Though the book articulates the need for more effective teachers, it doesn’t address the supply-side of the talent equation (i.e., how to attract better teachers to the profession other than through alternative certification). Sure, the book hails success stories from high-performing charter management groups (KIPP, YES Prep), whole cities (New Orleans, NYC, D.C.), and other innovative models (School of One, Rocketship Education), but for those not living in dynamic hubs of educational innovation and able to cultivate such talent-dependent reforms, the book’s lack of tangible policy recommendations is discouraging. Kopp calls for ways to increase the pace of change—including fostering political leadership and advocacy infrastructure—but skims over political and policy barriers affecting these initiatives. While there’s much to like about the book’s inspiring, can-do attitude, it doesn’t go far enough in providing the real-world advice that policymakers need.
Location, Location, Location: How Would a High-Performing Charter School Network Fare in Different States?
February 23, 2011
This report by Bellwether Education Partners investigated the financial feasibility of a highly successful charter management company, Aspire Public Schools (California), if it were to operate in 22 different states and the District of Columbia.
The 23 places, including Ohio, were selected because they already had operating charter schools and “were recently included in a comprehensive analysis of charter school finances.” Previous research found that California charter schools fared worse than district counterparts, receiving 9.2 percent less funding per student. Building on this research, this brief assumes that Aspire would receive the average level of charter funding per student in each state. It also adjusted for state-specific labor, facility, and operating costs, which vary by location. They found that Aspire’s native California’s school-funding model, along with projected educational and building expenses in the state, created some of the harshest financial conditions for charter school operation nationwide. In 18 of the 23 states studied, Aspire would have had a greater operating margin.
How would Aspire have fared in Ohio? Not very well. The state’s poor relative ranking in this cost-analysis, only $38 per student operating margin, reveals tough conditions here that limit incentives for high-performing charter school networks to operate or migrate here. Add this report to the pile of evidence showing that the Buckeye State needs to address charter-district school funding inequities. Per pupil funding for Ohio charter schools is about two-thirds of per pupil funding for traditional public schools. The state has also eliminated a $50,000 grant that was designed to help charter schools with start-up costs.
Rating a Teacher Observation Tool: Five ways to ensure classroom observations are focused and rigorous
February 23, 2011
In this practical guide, The New Teacher Project outlines critical components for an effective teacher evaluation system. It comes at a crucial time when states, including Ohio, are in the middle of rethinking their teacher personnel and evaluation policies. Drawing on its publication, Teacher Evaluation 2.0, TNTP names six characteristics for rigorous evaluations:
- Teachers should be evaluated annually;
- Evaluations should be based on standards of excellence;
- Multiple measures should be taken into account when evaluating teachers;
- Multiple rating levels should be created to differentiate one teachers performance from another;
- Frequent observations and constructive feedback are crucial;
- Evaluation outcomes must play a significant factor in decisions about teacher employment.
Rating a Teacher Observation also points out that objective data such as student learning measurements are important to a successful observation, but subjective judgments by administrators must also play a role. They suggest what a sample observation might look like: 50 percent based on objective student learning measures, 30 percent drawn from classroom observations, and 20 percent based on other measures of student learning.
The New Teacher Project goes on to outline specific examples of metrics that might factor into a rigorous evaluation (e.g., ways to measure the quality of lesson delivery, instructional content, or the physical learning environment) and therefore offers a practical tool for districts seeking to revamp teacher evaluations. States around the country and particularly Ohio would do well to tap into TNTP’s vast knowledge base when it comes to teacher evaluation systems.
a Teacher Observation Tool: Five ways to ensure classroom observations are
focused and rigorous
The New Teacher Project
Nick Joch / February 23, 2011
How can America effectively educate the “forgotten half” of her children (non-college-bound students)? In Pathways to Prosperity, a team of researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education view current drop-out trends as evidence of the failure – not of the quality of education – but of the “college-for-all” standard currently embraced in the US. Rather than calling for higher standards, higher graduation rates, and overall increased performance, the report labels the high bar (college-for-all) flawed, simply because students are currently not meeting it (i.e. obtaining a bachelor’s or associate’s degree). They admit that students need some sort of post-secondary certification to obtain a job with a middle-class salary, but assert that vocational education would be much more practical and appealing than a traditional college for many students. The researchers subsequently call for a massive vocational education initiative guided by the following principles:
- Multiple pathways: Middle and high schools offer vocational training, especially in-workplace training, in order to help students earn a career/technical training certificate.
- An expanded role for employers: Businesses partner with schools to provide middle and high school students with vocational training.
- A new social compact with youth: The government requires students to achieve certain academic outcomes (high school graduation, etc.), providing “as much support as necessary” along the way. If students fail to meet the requirements, they may face consequences, such as the loss of social benefits.
Interestingly, the researchers consistently lift up northern and central European nations’ education systems as ideals in career and technical training, but they allot very little ink to Japan and Korea, which have adopted college-for-all models and lead the
Nick Joch / February 23, 2011
- With all the hullaballoo about public sector unions of late, Colorado’s recent Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration conference comes at an apt time. Secretary Arne Duncan himself attended the conference and gave a speech that addressed teacher accountability, seniority, and lay-offs. His speech wasn’t specific enough to satisfy Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk, who penned two articles analyzing Duncan’s remarks on last hired, first fired policies and how to turn “collaboration” from a politically correct buzz word into a tangible, effective reality.
- Ever wonder what TFA alumni do after they finish their urban school teaching stints? In their recent Education Next article, Monica Higgins, Frederick Hess, Jennie Weiner, and Wendy Robinson claim that TFAers, more than participants of any other similar program, go on to become educational entrepreneurs of the highest degree.
- It’s budget season, and the pennies are flying as nearly everyone in ed policy tosses in their two cents about Obama’s proposed budget. The Center for American Progress (CAP) has recently released several articles analyzing educational and other provisions in the budget. Of particular interest on CAP’s site are an article picking apart the teacher preparation portion of the budget and an interactive budget calculator with which users can try their hand at balancing the nation’s balance sheet.
- Race to the Top was great for states with
winning applications, but what about the rest? A new study
from the Center for Education Policy asks exactly this question, and finds that
many states are actually sticking to the ambitious ed reform plans they laid
out when applying for Race