GOP owes charter schools some tough love
By Terry Ryan
Since their inception in 1997, charter schools have been at the
center of some of the most politically contentious debates in Ohio. The charter
debate too often has been characterized by two competing camps. One side
typically has been organized labor (the teacher unions), many Democrats, or
citizens uninformed about school choice but believing it represents a threat to
“public schools.” The other side tends to be business –represented by large
profit-making school management companies, free-market oriented individuals
(often Republicans), as well as activists of all political stripes who advocate
for educational equity.
Interests on both sides of the debate have poured money into
political campaigns over the years and have treated the politics of charter
schools as a zero-sum game in which a gain by either side must come at the
expense of the other.
This political polarization has led pro-labor Democrats to support anti-charter
legislation while pro-business Republicans have fought to protect extant school
operators and have resisted accountability measures that they perceived as
anti-charter. True to form, in his first budget in 2007 – and again in his
second budget in 2009 – Governor Strickland proposed legislation that would
have banned for-profit charter operators, cut charter school funding, and
buried the schools in costly regulations.
The long political struggle around charter schools has hurt charter school
quality in the state, made it difficult for Ohio to improve its charter law,
and retarded the power of charter schools to meet their potential. According to
new state charter law rankings by the National Alliance for Public Charter
Schools (NAPCS), Ohio’s law now ranks number 27 out of 41 states with charter
In contrast, the states with the best charter laws – Minnesota, Florida,
Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York – have made steady improvements over the
last few years through bipartisan legislative action. According to NAPCS, these
improvements include both the removal of constraints on charters (e.g., lifting
of charter caps and moratoriums) and the strengthening of charter school
accountability. Florida, for example, made the biggest jump in 2010, moving
from number 11 to number two. Florida’s rating leapt because lawmakers there
embraced quality control provisions that included adopting model charter school
applications and requiring high-quality charter school application evaluation
forms and performance-based charter contracts.
Republicans now control state government in Ohio and have promised to remove
caps and moratoriums on charters. This is a good start, but removing barriers
to new schools must be balanced by improvements to the state’s charter quality
control mechanisms. Ohio should build on the lessons from Florida and other
high-performing charter states.
Specifically, Governor Kasich and legislative leaders can help promote charter
school quality by crafting policies that ensure would-be school operators are
carefully vetted in advance of opening; that all schools are thoroughly
monitored by responsible authorities for their academic performance; and that
poor performers exit the market in timely fashion.
|| Parental choice should be encouraged, but in tandem with rigorous accountability for results.
Failed schools should not be able to skirt academic
accountability, whether they are traditional district schools, virtual charter
schools, or charter schools operated by for-profit management companies or
non-profit ones. The theories behind the school choice movement – that parents
will vote with their feet and that the market will hold schools accountable –
are imperfect and in reality all too often leave poorly performing schools in
place. Parental choice should be encouraged, but in tandem with rigorous
accountability for results.
The states with the best charter schools also have the strongest charter school
laws. According to Peter C. Groff, president and CEO of the NAPCS “High-quality
charter schools start with strong charter school laws. Our state charter law
rankings describe how laws can ensure charter schools are able to innovate in
ways that boost student achievement while being held to high standards of
academic, fiscal, and operational performance.”
For too long, charter schools have been a political battlefield on which
powerful political interests have waged war. As such, charter quality has
suffered and children who badly need better educational options have all too
often bounced from troubled school to troubled school. Governor Kasich and
Republican lawmakers should break the cycle of political acrimony around school
choice. This means resisting the temptation – and the encouragement they will
surely receive from some in the charter sector – to push for more charter
schools while also scaling back on school accountability. This would be a grave
The challenge facing education reformers in Ohio isn’t so much to add yet more
school options, but to ensure that those available to families are in fact
educationally sound. This is both the lesson from Ohio’s rocky history with
charter schools and the lesson from states with higher performing charter
previously appeared in the Columbus Dispatch and Cleveland Plain Dealer.
New legislative session kicks off with a bang -- several education bills on the table
By Jamie Davies O’Leary
It’s been a while since Gadfly buzzed about legislative
hearings or new bills, what with the past legislature renowned for its inactivity.
But the new 129th General Assembly already has several education
bills in the works, so expect Gadfly to be reporting on capital matters over
the coming months.
HB 21 –
Virtual charter schools, value-added
data, and Teach For America graduates.
Sponsored by Rep. Courtney Combs (R-Butler County), the bill is a recycled
version of last year’s HB 312 and SB 180 (legislation
aiming to make Ohio more competitive for Race to the Top funds, and for which
in support). While SB 180 was passed by the Senate, neither bill made it
anywhere in the House.
The basic components of the legislation are well-intentioned,
but limited. HB 21 would:
- Lift the
ironclad moratorium on charter e-schools and replace it with a
performance-based vetting process, which makes good policy sense. If a
charter school authorizer wishes to open a new e-school, it must have a track
record of authorizing success. Specifically, at least one of the charter
schools it sponsors must be rated Continuous Improvement or higher. While this
metric is imperfect (for example, if a sponsor has 10 schools rated D or F and
only one rated C – that’s not exactly “successful”) it at least extends a performance-based cap to e-schools similar to
what applies to new bricks-and-mortar charter schools while also opening the
market to new virtual providers. This is a good thing as this is one of most
innovative and rapidly expanding sectors in public education.
the use of student performance data in evaluating teachers and principals for
licensure. For teachers in grades 4-8 and in reading and math, Ohio’s
value-added data will be the primary growth measure; for other teachers, a
“standardized measure of improvement in student achievement” will be
“designated by the superintendent of public instruction.” While the sentiment
behind this is right – teachers should be
evaluated based on student growth – the bill also leaves in place many
nonsensical requirements for various tiers of licensure, such as holding a
master’s degree. Stipulations to require student growth metrics in teacher
evaluations should be part of a fresh teacher evaluation overhaul bill. Keep in
mind that the Republican-controlled legislature can push for bolder changes to
teacher evaluations; lawmakers don’t need to stick with recycled legislative language
from last session that, by virtue of Democratic control of the House, was palatable
to both parties and therefore more vanilla.
- Grant a
professional educator license to alums of Teach For America - teachers
who’ve successfully taught low-income students in another state (Ohio currently
doesn’t have a TFA site) and would like to teach here. While the 129th
General Assembly should go much further and actually change alternative
licensure rules to pave the way for alternative talent pathways like TFA to
take root in Ohio, this small provision to let alums teach here is an excellent
way to retain talent in low-income areas as well as to battle the state’s brain
HB 30 –
School funding. Perhaps the
most-talked-about education bill so far, HB 30, sponsored by Rep. Randy Gardner
(R-Wood County), would eliminate significant requirements from HB 1 (Gov. Strickland’s
“evidence-based” funding model). Specifically, it abolishes of the School
Funding Advisory Council, as well as universal all-day kindergarten mandates,
requirements for school districts to create “family and civic engagement teams,”
and other reporting requirements. File this piece of legislation under both
“least surprising” and “most convenient to cash-strapped school districts.”
Despite the fact that many district leaders expressed support for these
components of the EBM in theory, they
were viewed as unfunded mandates, and nothing troubles school leaders more than
that ugly phrase.
HB 36 – Calamity days. Co-sponsored by Reps. Casey Kozlowski (R-Pierpont) and John Carey
(R-Wellston), the bill would give back
two calamity days to Ohio schools districts while also granting schools more
authority to lengthen the school day to make up those missed days. Although giving flexibility to districts and
schools to determine for themselves how to make up for lost time is commendable
(let’s see that kind of autonomy doled out elsewhere in K-12 education), upping
excusable calamity days from three to five would be a bad move. We’ve argued before
that Ohio’s students simply can’t afford lost instructional time; if anything,
the Buckeye State should be moving in the opposite
direction – to lengthen the instructional time available to students. No
one’s arguing that districts in the midst of a snowstorm can’t cancel school,
just that they should make up instructional time beyond three excused days.
Rep. Carey said that justifications for the bill included “safety
and financial concerns” (Gongwer News;
subscription required) but excusing two extra calamity days does nothing to
save money, as teachers and principals are still paid for missed days. If anything,
it’s wasteful budgeting and lost learning opportunities for children.
Changes to K-12 governance give Kasich major ed reform opportunity
By Emmy L. Partin
Education reform is moving fast in Ohio, and a sudden
membership shuffle on the State Board of Education has given Governor Kasich the
opportunity to ramp up the pace further, putting his imprint on the state’s
schools much faster than his predecessors.
The Ohio House will begin hearings this evening on several
pieces of education legislation (see the article above), and the Senate is
expected to follow suit next week. While Governor Kasich isn’t likely to unveil
his full education platform until he introduces his biennial budget proposal in
mid-March, at minimum he is certain to dismantle the evidence-based school funding
model, expand school choice options, and revamp Ohio’s public sector collective
bargaining laws, including those that affect local teacher and school employee
But whether serious education reforms will be achieved (and
sustained) depends on more than just the governor’s and lawmakers’ best ideas
and intentions. Success also depends on how well the reforms are implemented,
which in turn depends greatly on the governance structure and leadership of
education at the state level. In other sectors of state government, the
governor appoints agency heads and has fairly broad control over policy
implementation. Education is a different beast altogether.
The Ohio Department of Education, responsible for
implementing state education laws and policies, is technically independent from
the governor. Instead, ODE and its chief, the state superintendent of public
instruction, answer to the State Board of Education, a 19-member partially elected,
partially appointed body. The complex arrangement is a compromise from the
Voinovich era intended to at once give the governor some control over K-12
education while still buffering the sector from frequently changing political winds.
The result is a messy and often times ineffective governance structure.
Governor Strickland agreed as much in 2008 when
he announced his intent to appoint a “director of education” to serve on
his cabinet and take on many of the responsibilities of the state superintendent
and state board of education. The idea went nowhere but such a power grab isn’t
unprecedented. In 2007, Strickland made a similar move to gain more control
over higher education. House
Bill 2, which passed with broad bipartisan support, made the Chancellor of
the Ohio Board of Regents a governor-appointed position and gave most of the
power held by the board, which previously governed Ohio’s system of public
colleges and universities, to the Chancellor. The board was relegated to an
advisory role. Few argue that arrangement hasn’t served Ohio well. In other
states, governors have made similar moves in K-12 education. Massachusetts’
Governor Deval Patrick appointed
a cabinet-level education secretary in 2008, and Washington’s Governor
Christine Gregoire is seeking
to establish a similar position in the Evergreen State.
Coming off of November’s election, most observers thought
Kasich would need to make a similar move and put in place his own education “czar.”
This person would usurp power from a State Board of Education that was seen as
hostile, or at best not receptive, to the sorts of education reform ideas
coming from the governor-elect.
What a difference two months makes. Kasich now has a number
of options when it comes to the optimal education governance arrangement for
putting his reform plans into action.
Thanks to power politics in the Ohio Senate, Kasich found
members to the State Board of Education just a week after taking office.
(In contrast, it wasn’t till after two years in office that Governor Strickland
could appoint enough members to get the board to his liking.) Now the governor
has options beyond creating an “education czar,” including:
- With a Republican-led State Board of Education
that appears largely in-line with him, Governor Kasich could leave the current
governance structure in place, and even the current ODE leadership. The board holds
sufficient power to exert pressure on Superintendent Deborah Delisle and her
top staffers to help, rather than hinder, the governor’s reform agenda.
- Alternately, Governor Kasich and the board could
make a bold move and replace the superintendent with an education reformer more
obviously aligned with their agenda. If Kasich intends to bring in someone new,
this arrangement is preferable to creating a new and separate education
director position. A new superintendent could hit the ground running promoting
and implementing reforms without having to first build up a new office and team
the way an education director would, and could take advantage of current talent
at the education department and the knowledge base those people bring.
If Kasich takes the latter option, could the Buckeye State
be the next landing spot for one of the big names in education reform?
The (arguably) biggest name in the game, former DC Schools
Chancellor Michelle Rhee, is off the table, having set up her Students First organization and
indicating she doesn’t intend to return to a superintendent position at any
level. But what of other known reformers? Certainly any number of big-city district
chiefs would view the top Ohio post as a great opportunity to move up to the
next level. And might state chiefs who are feeling anti-reform pressure from their
new governors, like Rhode
Island Commissioner Deborah Gist, be interested in taking the helm in Ohio?
Or might the governor turn to some of Ohio’s better known reformers like Bart
Anderson, who leads the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, or Cincinnati
Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ronan?
When it comes to education reform, Governor Kasich is in as
strong a position as any modern Ohio governor. National reform momentum is
converging on the Buckeye State, the GOP-led legislature seems eager to help
the governor take on tough battles, and Kasich has the ability to exert more
control early on over the state education system than any of his predecessors. There
is real potential for him to make great strides and make Ohio a leader in
From the Front Lines
Geoffrey Canada speaks to Dayton community
By Jamie Davies O’Leary
Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), spoke at the
University of Dayton last week as part of the university’s diversity lecture
series. (You can read Dayton Daily News’ nice coverage of it here.) Fordham’s hometown of
Dayton is the perfect place to hear Canada’s message. It’s one of Ohio’s
poorest cities, and despite all of our efforts on the ground there,
the city is a constant reminder of how tragically difficult it is to improve
outcomes for poor kids. In Dayton Public Schools, over three fourths of kids attend a
school rated D or F. No children go to a school rated Excellent.
for Dayton – and the nation – is right. Our communities simply can’t afford to
have so many young people unemployed (or in jail), especially African American
boys. It’s an issue of global competitiveness and our economic health, but more
than that – a moral and spiritual imperative.
Beyond that, one
piece of his message really stood out: here in Ohio, we’ve been busy for the
past several years thinking about state-level policy issues that inhibit
districts and schools from serving kids better, and pushing to lift roadblocks
when it comes to reforming K-12 education.
Now perhaps more than ever, the Buckeye State stands a chance at successfully
rolling back senseless laws and requirements, and untying districts’ hands so
that they can pursue meaningful reforms. However, there still remains a gap
between what state or local-level policy can achieve, and what it takes to
actually exterminate achievement gaps. In that space resides a level of
leadership, activism, and drive (that Canada embodies perfectly) that is both
difficult to measure and hard to foster. It’s not like you can just plant a
Geoffrey Canada down in Dayton and other urban communities and wait for
grassroots reform to grow.
As Canada described
how HCZ’s work unfolded, it was a good reminder of the role that local
leadership and home-grown reform plays in K-12 transformation: “No one from the
federal or state or whatever level of government was going to come in and fix
it for us. We didn’t ask permission; we just did it.” The 21 Promise
Neighborhoods across the US (winning federal grants to try to create similar
“zones”) will illustrate the extent to which the concept can be replicated.
Until then, Canada’s
words both inspire and cause slight anxiety: “Hope is as infectious as
despair.” That’s true, but only comforting to a small degree because it’s far
easier to work in the realm of policies, legislative language, regulations, and
rules than it is to deal with the more enigmatic aspects of the human spirit
and translate these qualities into tangible improvements for kids. At the
risk of sounding like a broken record, human capital matters enormously in
strengthening communities – both drawing in talented individuals and keeping
them. Even if Ohio can make great progress in changing policies/legislation,
issues of human capital loom large and
are integral to the state’s long-term ability to help kids most in need. Kudos
to Canada for the reminder.
Charter School Authorizers and Student Achievement
By Kathryn Mullen Upton
This working paper from the Center on Reinventing
Public Education – as part of its National Charter School Research Project –
examines the impact of charter school authorizers on student achievement. The
paper focuses on Ohio, a state that allows a wide variety of entities – public
school districts, educational service centers, 13 state universities and
501(c)(3) organizations that meet Ohio Department of Education (ODE) criteria –
to authorize (aka, sponsor) charter schools.
collected longitudinally linked student-level data that spanned from 2004-05
through 2007-08 from ODE. The data were for elementary and middle grades only,
and virtual/online charter schools (aka e-schools) were excluded from the
study. The report found that when it comes
to student achievement in both reading and math, charter schools that
were originally authorized by nonprofits, on average, produced the least gains
in student achievement, while district-authorized charters had the largest
gains (though statistically insignificant). ESC-authorized and state-authorized
charters were “statistically indistinguishable” from other charters in both
note that these findings may reflect Ohio’s ongoing struggle with how to grow
and regulate the charter sector, with choice proponents often wishing to expand
school choice for the sake of choice (with success defined by the diversity and
number of options), and others (including Fordham) cautioning that choice must
come with quality controls and a laser focus on performance. The report
concludes – and we agree – that the structure of the authorizing entity is not
the issue. Regardless of entity type, the key issue is whether the entity is
effective at the work of charter school authorizing itself.
Assessing the Determinants and Implications of Teacher Layoffs
Add this credible and quantitative research
to the growing list of reports finding seniority-based layoffs to be
detrimental both to student learning and to the bottom line. From the CEDR, the
report analyzes data on over 2,000 Washington state teachers who received
reduction-in-force (RIF) notices during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school
years—primarily on a first hired, last fired model. It then compared these
seniority-based layoffs to a number of proposed performance-based layoff
models—each using a different metric for value-added. In a computer simulation,
the seniority-based model caused student learning to lag by two to four months
compared to a performance-based model, and under it African American students
were 50 percent more likely to have their teachers laid off than were white
students (compared to 20 percent more likely in the performance-based
scenario). Further, the study found that performance-based layoffs would save
up to 10 percent of the state’s teacher workforce, as fewer tenured, higher-paid
teachers would need to be pink-slipped to meet budget quotas. Many states,
including Fordham’s home state of Ohio, have laws that require all teacher layoffs to be based on seniority
alone—laws that, in light of this study’s findings, legislators would do well
Learning about Teaching: Initial Findings from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project
By Janie Scull
In the fall of 2009, the Gates
Foundation commenced an epic task: the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET)
project. Through thousands of hours of videotaped and live classroom
observations, student and teacher surveys, and information on student
achievement gains, foundation analysts labored to uncover the best indicators
of teacher effectiveness, the goal being to craft systemic and reliable
evaluation processes and feedback mechanisms for the future. The preliminary
findings of this massive initiative are now available. And if they’re a sign
what’s to come, teacher evaluations will be in for a major makeover. This
preliminary report analyzes two of the project’s five measures of teacher
effectiveness—student scores (on both state and external tests) and student
survey responses. There were four take-aways: First, a teacher’s past success
in producing student gains is highly predictive of that teacher’s ability to do
so again. Second, teachers who, according to their students, “teach to the
test” do not produce the highest value-added scores for said students; rather,
instructors who help their students understand math concepts and reading
comprehension yield the highest scores. Third, student perceptions of their
teachers are remarkably telling and remain stable across groups of students and
across classes taught by the same teacher. Most reflective of teacher
effectiveness is students’ perceptions of whether their teacher controls the
classroom and challenges them with rigorous work. The analysts end by noting
that a combination of these methods provides teachers a more accurate,
detailed, and targeted evaluation. These findings are just the beginning of
MET. Check back in late spring for the final report—including analyses of
Groundhog Day event: Are Bad Schools Immortal?
you drive past low-performing schools and feel a bit like Billy Murray? Join
Fordham and a crackerjack set of panelists on Groundhog Day, February 2, from
3:30 to 5:00PM, for a lively conversation on bad schools—and how they just
don’t ever seem to go away. Find out more information here, or RSVP here. The event will also
be webcast live.
Click to view our event trailer
A selection of the finest offerings from Fordham's blog, Flypaper.
Powerful vignette for National School Choice Week
By Jamie Davies O’Leary
weekend the Akron Beacon Journal highlighted parents who “cheat” to get their kids into preferred
schools, lifting up the story of an Akron woman who faces criminal charges (and
10 days in jail) for putting her kids in a neighboring, better school. Regardless
of your beliefs about school choice, doesn’t a story like this make you pause? Read the
full post here.
Official Race to the Top amendment rules... three months later
By Andrew Proctor
Ohio’s gubernatorial race former Governor Ted Strickland’s campaign placed Race
to the Top funding in the spotlight. Strickland asserted that Ohio’s $400
million in RttT winnings could fall into jeopardy if John Kasich scrapped the
“evidence-based” model of school funding. (We disagreed.) … Last week, Ohio’s RttT funding came into question again in a blog by Meisha
Headen, head of Ohio’s Cleveland-based Democrats for Education Reform…..
Luckily for Headen and others still wondering, the Obama Administration
recently released guidelines for the RttT grant amendment process. Read the full post here.
School lunch special: Chicken a la... foam?
By Andrew Proctor and Nick
- KidsOhio just released a study timed perfectly for National
School Choice Week, which polled parents in Columbus’s Weinland Park (where
Fordham-sponsored Columbus Collegiate Academy is making gains) who sent their
kids to district schools other than the ones assigned to them. Results show
that parents were motivated by academic performance more so than reasons like
- ‘Tis the season to be releasing policy platforms and words of
advice to ed reformers. The latest comes from Education First Consulting, with Education
Policy Advising: How to set your Governor—and Yourself—up for Success,
Beginning on Day 1. Also check out
Policy Imperatives (advice for the state), and Michelle Rhee’s (studentsfirst.org) policy priorities
if you haven’t already.
results for grades 4, 8, and 12 on the
National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) are out, and like NAEP’s math
and reading counterpart results, it’s not looking so hot. While Ohio scores
higher than the national average in grades 4 and 8, proficiency rates are still
frighteningly low (we’re talking horror movie science experiment gone awry) –
41 percent for fourth graders and 37 percent for eighth graders.
in your child’s school lunch? “Bagel dogs” and “chicken foam”, according to
Mrs. Q, an anonymous teacher who ate 162 $3 school lunches and wrote about them
on her blog, Fed Up With Lunch. CNN recently ran a story about the blog, on
which Mrs. Q laments that students who qualify for reduced lunches have only limited
and unhealthy lunch options like pizza and fries, although she notes that her
district has improved the quality of its lunches in the last year.
Save the date: Two events on "doing more with less" in K-12 education -- March 14 & 15
among the many concerned about Ohio’s fiscal crisis and the impact it will have
on K-12 education (which eats up 40 percent of state revenue), mark your
calendars for March 14 or 15.
Family Foundation, Ohio Grantmakers Forum, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
are assembling two public events in northern Ohio to help local education,
business, and community leaders identify ways to think smart about cuts to
school funding while staying focused on student achievement.
event will be held at Cleveland State
University at 4:30 on March 14; the second will commence the morning of March 15 at Lorain County Community College
at 8:30AM. Fordham President Chester E. Finn, Jr. will moderate both
events, and both panel discussions will feature Nathan Levenson, co-founder of
District and Community Partners and former superintendent of Arlington Public
Schools in Massachusetts (where he led a financial and academic turnaround of
the district); Steven Wilson, founder and president of the Ascend Learning
charter management organization in NYC, who also served as a panelist during
our September 2010 “Stretching the School Dollar” event; and Paolo De Maria,
who will provide an Ohio-specific perspective drawn from his experience the former
state education finance official, policy advisor to Governor Taft, and executive
vice chancellor at the Ohio Board of Regents.
forward to seeing you there!