Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: Ohio's charter program risks becoming a laughing stock
By Terry Ryan
The Ohio House, now again run by Republicans,
presented budget revisions last week that risk making the Buckeye State the
nation’s laughing stock when it comes to charter-school programs—a status that Ohio
has previously owned, and one we should struggle not to resurrect.
A decade ago, Ohio rivaled Arizona as the Wild West
of charter-school programs. It hewed to a laissez-faire
approach to school openings, growth, and quality, encouraging hundreds of charters
to spring up like dandelions. As a result some of the people and organizations
that launched these new schools were ill-prepared. Some had eccentric views of
what a school should be. Some operators turned out to be more interested in
personal enrichment than in delivering high-quality instruction to poor kids.
And most authorizers—including the Ohio Department of Education (ODE)—offered
little to no oversight for their schools.
needs to take the lessons of the past seriously, not return to the days of
charter schools run amok.
As a result,
headlines such as “Charters Fail to Deliver,” “State Audit Says Charter School
Company Owes Thousands,” and “Wild Experiment” were ubiquitous. Things got so
bad that, in 2002, State Auditor Jim Petro (a Republican, and now John Kasich’s
higher-education chancellor) issued a report blasting ODE for being such a weak
and undemanding charter-school authorizer. Less than a year later, the (Republican-controlled)
General Assembly passed HB364, which forced ODE entirely out of the business of
sponsoring charter schools.
was the first effort at cleaning up Ohio’s troubled charter program and it was
followed in subsequent years by further reforms to the program by Republican
lawmakers, including implementation of one of the nation’s toughest automatic charter-school
closure laws. (To qualify for that
grim fate, a school must earn an F grade on the state report card for three
of the last four years; the cut-off is a bit stricter for school serving grades
four through nine.) As a result of such efforts to build a better balance
between choice and accountability, Ohio’s charter-school program has seen far
fewer school meltdowns in recent years and the overall quality of the program
has improved, with really atrocious schools being booted entirely from the market.
John Kasich’s education-reform plans, contained in his proposed biennial budget
for the state, would continue in that vein and deserve to be perfected and
enacted. But then the General Assembly’s House of Representatives weighed in.
Its proposed budget-bill amendments would push Ohio back into Wild West
status—and enable the profiteers to get even richer. Instead of striking a
sound balance between freedom and accountability—the essence of the charter-school
“bargain”—its plan focuses exclusively on how more schools can open, especially
those run by for-profit firms with mediocre-to-dismal track records of educational
success in the state. Some of the bill’s more troubling provisions would:
school operators to apply directly to the Ohio Department of Education for
authorization to establish a school and, upon approval, operate the school with
essentially no oversight by anyone. (This is the same Department of Education
that was banned from the job in 2005.)
- Allow operators to force out board members if a
dispute arises between the board and the operator, while also allowing the operator
to handpick the replacements and requiring operator consent for renewal of any
existing contract between a governing board and a sponsor. (This gives
operators veto power over their regulator.)
an authorizer—no matter how bad its current portfolio of schools—to sponsor
many more new schools.
months back, I warned in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that:
too long, charter school education has been a political battlefield on which
powerful political interests have waged war. As such, charter quality has
suffered and children who badly needed better educational options have all too
often bounced from troubled school to troubled school. Gov. 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
for the power of the pen—my pen, anyway—but the message still rings true. Ohio
needs to take the lessons of the past seriously, not return to the days of
charter schools run amok. Fortunately for the state’s children, at
least a few others seem to agree.
The Ohio House
votes today (Thursday) on the budget bill; may its members do the right thing.
This piece originally
appeared (in a slightly different form) on Fordham’s blog, Flypaper. To get timely updates from Fordham, subscribe to Flypaper.
News Analysis: Vouchers for everybody?
School-choice proponents should be swinging from
the rafters, as voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs are finding their
way into more and more states’ statutes—several of which offer aid to middle-class
families, not just impoverished ones. But fissions are emerging among the
ranks. Some, including Howard Fuller (a diehard voucher supporter and key
architect of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program), see this as a distinct shift
away from the social-justice mission of vouchers. No longer will vouchers “help
equalize the academic options for children from low-income and working-class
families,” warns Fuller. Yet others, like John Norquist, see this expansion as
a way to keep middle-class parents in socio-economically integrated
neighborhoods even as their children grow to school age. Instead of fleeing to
rich suburban districts (often with “private”
public schools), these parents would remain in their integrated
neighborhoods—stymieing the “system that rewards concentration of the rich in
exclusive suburbs segregated from the poor” (Norquist’s words). A sticky debate
indeed. While Gadfly supports the expansion of school choice to families in
higher income brackets, he can’t help but wonder if the Year of the Funding
Cliff is the right time for this idea to come of age.
News Analysis: Rick Snyder: Ed reform's sleeper pick
On whom would you bestow the title “America’s
boldest education-reform governor”? Mitch Daniels? Chris Christie? Scott
Walker? What about Rick Snyder of the Great Lakes State? A moderate Republican
who won office thanks in large part to the support of frustrated Democrats who
crossed over in the primaries, Snyder did not talk much about education during his
campaign. But his newly rolled-out reform proposal is a doozy—and in all the
right ways. Among his best initiatives: Make Michigan’s funding performance-based,
with school-wide bonuses for student growth; mandate that districts accept
students from across their borders as long as they have classroom space; remove
charter caps in districts with at least one failing school; create a rigorous
teacher-evaluation system; and tie teacher preparation to the Common Core
standards. Of course, all of these ideas must run the legislative gauntlet before taking hold.
Still, for now, let us say: Go Blue!
Review: The Nation's Report Card: Civics 2010
The woeful proficiency rates of American
students on the most recent NAEP Civics assessment (released yesterday) are
even more jarring in the context of this week’s events. The nation’s report
card assessed some 26,000 fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students; across
all grades, about one quarter of pupils scored proficient, and 2 percent
advanced. Alarming—though not terribly different from NAEP results in other
subjects. So what do these numbers signify? At the fourth-grade level, it means
that barely one quarter of students could identify a function of the military
and only 2 percent could offer up two rights of American citizens. The 76 percent
of twelfth-grade students who failed to score proficient could not, for
example, define the term “melting pot” or explain whether or not it applied to
the U.S. And only one percent of eighth graders could recognize a role
performed by the Supreme Court. Still, there is some positive news to report. Notably, since 1998, the
white-Hispanic and black-white achievement gaps have narrowed, while all
sub-group scores have risen. But on the whole, the picture is bleak, especially
for our twelfth grade students—the very people who will be eligible to vote in
next year’s elections.
Review: Passing Muster: Evaluating Teacher Evaluation Systems
By Janie Scull
As states and districts across the country craft
and begin to implement new teacher-evaluation systems, an important question
arises: How will we ensure that new systems accurately and reliably assess
teacher effectiveness? To find answers, Brookings guru Russ Whitehurst
assembled a top-of-the-line task force and asked them to investigate “relative
strength of prediction,” value-added methodologies, and reliability. And deep
into the weeds of these concepts they dive. In the end, they propose a metric
against which evaluation systems can be appraised (and a handy Excel calculator to help districts determine the accuracy of their teacher-evaluation systems). As with other efforts from
Brookings, this report is not a walk in the park, but if you like wonky, it’s
just for you.
Review: A Portrait of School Improvement Grantees
This nifty new policy brief and interactive map from Education
Sector offer up a focused look at where the $3.5 billion in federal School Improvement
Grant (SIG) money is going and what it’s being spent on. Through new high-tech
software, the interface lets users investigate trends and patterns in the 843
SIG schools, including their location and the type of intervention strategy being
implemented in them. The SIG program marks the largest pot of federal funds
ever targeted to America’s failing schools, with an average of about 4.2
million offered up to each school. (For more information on SIG, look here
From the report, we see that some grantee schools may not be among the neediest
in the country, some are managed by companies with poor track records, and some
should have been closed long ago. While these school-level factoids are
interesting, it’s the big picture that is most fascinating, especially for
policymakers charged with determining SIG’s impact and future. For instance, of
the four ED-approved turnaround models—transformation, closure, turnaround, and
restart—seventy-three percent of SIG grantees chose “transformation.” (This is
arguably the easiest of the available options. It demands only that schools
replace the leader and implement some small-scale shifts, rather than close, replace
the majority of the staff, or convert to a charter school, as the respective other
models require.) In fact, SIG grantees in fifteen states used this model
exclusively. These numbers are even more telling when broken up by level of
urbanization. SIG schools in cities chose transformation 65 percent of the
time, whereas rural SIG schools chose that model 97 percent of the time. Why?
The report posits: “Urban districts are better able to relocate students in
another school. Schools in more remote locations face limited pools for hiring
and fewer partnership opportunities and are left with only one real practical
option—transformation.” Kudos to Ed Sector for making transparent how states
are using these three billion-plus federal-education dollars.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Teacher Appreciation Week
Mike and Rick are all sorts of punchy this week,
talking civics lessons, philanthropic giving, and Arne Duncan’s teacher
pandering. Amber breaks the piggy bank with a look at teacher-pension plans
while Chris gets meta in the Big Apple.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: Squaring the teacher-salary circle: It can be done
By Peter Meyer
A few days ago Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements
Calegari, founders, according to their official ID, of the 826 National tutoring
centers and producers of the documentary American Teacher, wrote an essay for
the New York Times titled “The High Cost of Low
(We know that Eggers also happens to be author of the bestseller A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.)
Unfortunately, the headline doesn’t do justice to their argument, which is that
we have to “make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates”
by, among other things, better training and recruiting—but the headline also
highlights the problem with their analysis: They can’t leave the “low pay”
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: Anne Bryant: It's "wrong" for unions to "buy" school-board seats
Some reformers mistrust school boards almost as
much as they despise teachers unions. It’s not that they have any particular
beef with democratic control of public schools. It’s that they’ve come to see
the unions on both sides of the bargaining table. That’s because said unions
often manage to capture the very boards with which they then negotiate.…
So it was fascinating, reassuring, and perhaps
significant the other day when Anne Bryant, the long-time executive director of
the National School Boards Association and America’s foremost defender of
school boards as we know them, said that it is “wrong” for unions to “buy”
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Briefly Noted: An apple a day to keep Arne away
we have ourselves a debate. Alfie Kohn’s recent piece on the “pedagogy of
poverty” has caused quite a stir among Fordham and its friends. Read
our initial take on the piece, follow-ups from Mike
Porter-Magee, and Peter
rebuttal by Diane Ravitch. Where do you weigh in on the “pedagogy of
your comments on Flypaper.
and Pearson have joined forces to create online curricula aligned to the
Common Core standards. (Just in case you were curious, Texas almost certainly won’t
be partaking; members of the Longhorn House just introduced a
bill barring adoption of the Common Core standards—never mind the curricula
associated with them.)
apples, Arne Duncan lays out his love for educators in an “open
letter to the American teacher” this week (in honor of teacher-appreciation
week). Alas for Mr. Secretary, American
teachers are having
none of his compliments.
Anderson—formerly of Teach
For America, New Leaders for New Schools, and Gotham’s District
79 program—heads from the Big Apple to the Brick City, as Newark’s
newly appointed superintendent. For more on Anderson,
her credentials, and what her appointment might mean for Newark, we
turn to Peter Meyer.
- And more
on the district-leader-appointment front: Roy Roberts (a former GM Corp.
replace Robert Bobb as the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public
- Ready to
have some of your preconceived notions shaken? Check out Paul Peterson’s recent
Education Next piece “Eighth
Grade Students Learn More through Direct Instruction.” (The title is a bit
of a spoiler alert.)
If education reformers came
in action heroes, Gadfly might just ask for a Mitch Daniels doll for his
birthday. Governor Daniels delivered a dynamite
speech at AEI yesterday, articulating
his support for national standards and some smart thoughts on the federal
role in education (sounding a lot like a reform
Letter to the Gadfly: The power of trust
By Bob Compton
Gadfly review of my education documentary, The Finland Phenomenon, misinterprets my film. I appreciate the
chance to clarify my views.
way of background, I have spent twenty-five years as a venture capitalist and
high-tech entrepreneur, recognizing talent and building companies around the
world. I have also led several teams in turning around poor performing
organizations. Those experiences inform the documentary films I have produced
over the past five years.
The Finland Phenomenon, I selected
Dr. Tony Wagner, author of the Global
Achievement Gap and Harvard researcher, as my collaborator and on-screen
narrator. He has thirty years of experience in education as well as sensitivity
to the subtleties of complex systems.
her review, Ms. Fairchild dismisses my depiction of the Finns’ “culture of
trust” in education with her derisive comments that Dr. Wagner “heralds [this]
as the magic bean of Finland’s success” and by warning her readers not to “be
hypnotized by Wagner’s fluffy thoughts on the culture of trust.”
Dr. Wagner does not proclaim trust as a “magic bean” nor are his thoughts
“fluffy.” In those respects, Ms. Fairchild’s review is an unfair interpretation
of how my film depicts Finland’s extraordinary academic success in a
Fairchild wants to parse the school system the Finns have built over three
decades, take what she thinks might work in the U.S. and ignore the rest. She
believes “a more probable explanation for the nation’s academic strength [is]Finland’s
rigorous, intense, and competitive teacher-training programs.”
Ms. Fairchild dismisses as Finland’s “myriad educational idiosyncrasies” are
actually integrated, self-reinforcing strategies carefully created and
cultivated over the past three decades. Yes, teacher selection and training
represent an important cornerstone of their success. But Americans who want to
recruit top talent for our schools should consider carefully how a “culture of
trust” supports and reinforces that strategy.
my own international business dealings, I recognize that what works in one
culture often does not directly translate to another country—and vice versa. I
do not think Americans can adopt a school system identical to Finland’s.
However, I do believe that high standards for teachers must go hand-in-hand
with high levels of trust.
education reformers want to attract a large group of better-educated and more
effective teachers. I agree with this goal. Getting there is the tricky part.
Many reformers want to harness teachers in a yoke of testing, rigid control,
and constant reporting. This is the strategy Frederick Taylor devised in the
late nineteenth century as a way to measure and manage production-line workers.
It perfectly removes all initiative, creativity, and personal dignity.
my own management experience, solely focusing on control and reporting will
actually have the opposite effect of the intended goal. You simply can't
micromanage great performers. Capable people will neither be drawn to nor stay
in an organization founded on a culture of distrust. They quit.
In my view, Ms. Fairchild and other critics of the
current American education system should pause and reflect on the model they
are promoting to “improve” American education. Trust has completely broken down
and reasoned debate has devolved into shrill diatribe. In business, this
unappealing environment would drive away the best employees and would repel the
most talented people. I believe it is unlikely that a strategy built on a
“culture of distrust” will be any more successful in public education.
Announcement: Jump on the strategic-data train
reformers—or those who would like to be—should turn their attention to three
job postings available at the Strategic Data Project, an arm of Harvard’s
Center for Education Policy Research. CEPR is hiring for a data fellow, senior
manager, and agency partnerships manager. Read the full
job descriptions to learn more—including how to apply.
Fordham's featured publication: September 11: What Our Children Need to Know
This report proffers advice on what schools
should teach and children should learn about September 11 and about history,
civics, heroism, and terrorism. Featuring twenty-three statements by leading
educators and experts, plus an extensive bibliography, the volume constitutes a
constructive, hard-hitting alternative to the “diversity and feelings” approach
that many national education groups took to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In
light of this past week’s occurrences, this report is as relevant today as it
was when published nine years back.