Ohio Education Gadfly
Volume 5, Number 17
October 19, 2011
Transforming Governance in Ohio's Urban Districts
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A frank look at Fordham's ranking among Ohio authorizers
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Methods to improve math skills come from abroad
Is it time for Ohio to consider new forms of school governance for its most troubled school districts, and if so, what might alternatives look like?
Ohio’s current patchwork system of 610 local school districts managed by elected school boards (plus 300+ independently managed charter schools and dozens of vocational schools and county educational service centers) goes back to the Progressive Era of the late 19th century. The belief at the time was that all children needed a basic education and the best way to ensure that would happen was by empowering an elected group of civic-minded leaders to run the schools. Columbia University’s Gene Maeroff captured the ideal when he wrote, “A local board of education is – in its ideal form – a group of citizen-volunteers who give unselfishly of themselves, usually without remuneration, to look after the affairs of the school system and, by extension, the community.”
This system of local control may have worked well for communities during much of the 20th century, but in recent decades some major urban school districts have fallen into fiscal and academic bankruptcy with elected school boards at the helm. Mayors in these cities have stepped in to take charge of their public schools. Don McAdams, president of the Center for Reform of School Systems, explains:
The move to mayoral control of urban districts happens not just because policy makers believe education is integral to the success of a city and must be aligned with the other functions of city government; it
The Ohio Department of Education recently released performance rankings of all charter authorizers (aka “sponsors”), as part of the new requirement that those ranking in the bottom 20 percent of all authorizers cannot take on new schools for one year.
This is a provision we at Fordham fully supported and in fact helped craft, as a means to ensure better quality and accountability in the charter school sector. The rankings, found here, include 47 authorizers including us (our sister organization, The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, is an authorizer). On a list of 47 authorizers, we ranked 24th. Nine sponsors fell into the bottom 20 percent and cannot open new schools.
We’ve never shied away from the truth when it comes to our schools. Each year, we publish a comprehensive, public account of our schools’ performance (our 2011 edition will be out next month and you can peruse past editions here). We’ve also been among the first to admit that the work is tough; that more school choice without parallel accountability measures is pointless (kids need better options – not just more of them); and that closing schools is an important part of quality authorizing. Historically we’ve accepted the challenge of closing troubled schools poor academic results.
But because these state rankings are new and high-profile, we wanted to take a moment to put them in context and reiterate our emphasis on continuous improvement for all of our schools.
It’s important to note a handful of facts about the rankings shared by ODE:
- The rankings are based on a sponsors’ schools’
October 19, 2011
The George W. Bush Presidential Center (in Dallas) recently released data on international student achievement in both reading and math, which you can peruse in an interactive tool, the Global Report Card. The report card compares 2007 math and reading achievement levels between districts across the nation and 25 developed nations. The tool does not adjust for differences in race, socioeconomic status, or other classifications; however, the tool is still useful to get an idea of how our nation’s students measure up against their future global competition.
How does Ohio fare? In short, Ohio’s major city school districts don’t stack up well at all against their international counterparts.
Among the eight districts, Akron Public Schools had the best showing, ranking in the 28th percentile in math and the 41st percentile in reading. Dayton Public Schools and Youngstown City Schools struggled even more by comparison. Both cities ranked in the bottom 15 percent in math while ranking in the 24th and 25th percentiles respectively in reading. Chart 1 shows how Ohio’s major urban districts fared in comparison to their international counterparts.
Chart 1: International achievement benchmarking of Ohio’s “Big 8” districts
Source: The Global Report Card, George W. Bush Presidential Center
What is more concerning is that these numbers improve (significantly in math) when these districts are measured against just the rest of the United States, meaning the country as a whole is continuing to fall behind other developed nations. This is largely due to the fact that many wealthier suburban school districts are not doing too
Jamie Davies O'Leary / October 19, 2011
Rigorous studies have been conducted on various school voucher programs – most notably those in Milwaukee, the District of Columbus, and Florida – but this study by CATO’s Matthew Carr is the first of its kind to study Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship program. Specifically, it examines whether traditional public schools are spurred to improve in the face of a threat of losing students to private schools. It does not examine whether vouchers are effective for students who use them but rather investigates a key school choice theory: whether competition “creates incentives for systemic improvements.”
To test this, Carr collected achievement data from the Ohio Department of Education on EdChoice-eligible schools over three distinct time periods beginning in 2006 (note, eligibility changed multiple times), which creates a unique research design in that there are three “treatment” periods enabling analyses of whether each school changed its own behavior in response to the voucher threat. (In contrast, other studies have compared fundamentally different types of schools, eligible v. non-eligible schools.)
The study measured school improvement by looking at fourth- and sixth-grade reading and math scores; and the percent of students scoring at various levels (limited, proficient, advanced) to gauge the extent to which schools under threat focused on “bubble students” (those just above and below the proficiency cut-off and upon whom a school’s rating depends most heavily). It also controlled for factors such as school quality (rating on A-F scale), and percent of students who are white, disadvantaged, and/or disabled. Unique to this study (and impressive) is that Carr manages to tease out the “scarlet
October 19, 2011
With a continued emphasis from the federal government on accountability for K-12 schools, specifically among the lowest performers, state education agencies (SEAs) have had to take a more direct role in school improvement. However, do SEAs have the capacity and resources necessary to take on this work? A recent report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education attempts to tackle this question by examining functions currently performed by SEAs, how they distribute their funds to various functions, and whether or not they are capable of more school improvement work.
To answer these questions CRPE examined SEAs in eight states: California, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington, and collected data from each SEA’s website as well as contacted staffers about financial data. While strict generalizations cannot be drawn from eight states, it is important to note that their experiences are reflective of that in many other states and therefore provide insight for other SEAs, including Ohio’s.
Overall, the current state of SEAs’ capacities and workloads paints a grim picture in terms of their ability to be more involved with school improvement. Not surprisingly, almost 50 percent of the staff at SEAs serves in administrative roles (e.g., human resource, financial management, and technology). On the other hand, the distribution of personnel for performance and improvement ranges from 7 to 28 percent. Colorado and California dedicate less than 10 percent of SEA personnel to performance and improvement, while Texas and Tennessee dedicate more than 25 percent of their staff to these functions.
Largely, the investment in school improvement has been relatively minimal. But
October 19, 2011
- In a system of over 6,000 schools educating over 2 million students, Catholic schools in the United States are setting the bar high with graduation rates over 99 percent and students attending college at a rate of 84.7 percent. This article from Education Week credits the success of Catholic schools on their focus of the whole child as opposed to focusing on standardized test results.
- Students in New York City are enjoying yoga as an alternative to typical physical education classes. The only dilemma the students face is whether to “om” or not to “om”.
- Columbus schools are slowly veering away from “reform math” towards Singapore methods which move at a slower pace but concentrate more on understanding the foundations and basics of numbers. While Singapore routinely scores near the top on international math tests, the hope is that students here will dramatically improve achievement as many students who have been unsuccessful in the past have lacked the foundations of number sense.
- Despite cutbacks across Ohio, Reynoldsburg has opened Gateway Academy for gifted students. The new program is for students in grades five through eight and groups the students according to ability. These changes remove limitations for gifted students by letting them progress based on their ability level rather than their grade level.