Opinion and News Analysis
Opinion: You’d be crazy to see SB5’s defeat as rejection of Ohio school reform
By Terry Ryan
Ohio’s electorate soundly
rejected Issue 2 (the referendum on Senate Bill 5) on Tuesday. As almost
everyone knows, that statute made significant changes to collective bargaining
for public employees in the Buckeye State. The most controversial bits included
changes to binding arbitration (to give management the right to impose its last
best offer), a ban on strikes by public employees, and elimination of seniority
as the sole factor for determining who should be laid off when cutbacks are
Though teachers and their unions were most definitely
included—both in Senate Bill 5 and in the frantic, well-funded ($30 million) effort
to persuade voters to repudiate it—education-policy watchers outside Ohio may
not appreciate the extent to which this was really a referendum on policemen,
firemen, and other “first responders” in the public sector. They and their
unions were covered by the measure, too, and played the lead role—and by far
the most visible role—in the campaign to undo it. There is, in fact, every
reason to believe that if the first responders hadn’t been involved, Senate Bill
5 would have survived Election Day.
On the same ballot, Ohio voters repudiated Republican plans to restructure collective bargaining in the Buckeye State and the big plans of Beltway Democrats to reshape the nation’s healthcare system.
At their raucous victory party on Tuesday night, union
leaders said the vote should send a clear message to Governor Kasich and GOP
legislative leaders. “Their biggest mistake was to think they (Republicans)
could come up with a solution and impose it on a bunch of people,” said
Bill Leibensperger, vice president of the Ohio Education Association. He
continued, “There has always been room to talk. That’s what collective
bargaining is about. You bring adults around a table to talk about serious
He was half right. Ohio’s voters indeed rejected what they
were persuaded was a Republican over-reach to reshape state and local
government and how it deals with its employees. The same day, however, and by
an even greater (2 to 1) margin, Ohioans spurned key pieces of President
Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Supporters of that
ballot item boasted that, “Today, Ohio voters sent a clear message to President
Obama… We reject the mandates of ‘Obamacare.’”
In sum, on the same ballot, Ohio voters repudiated GOP plans
to restructure collective bargaining in the Buckeye State and the big plans of Beltway Democrats to reshape the nation’s
healthcare system. So what lesson should politicians and policymakers draw?
There's much to read in SB5's tea leaves.
Photo by John Tann
Ohioans—like Americans generally—are largely centrist in
their politics. (That’s why it’s been a key swing state in so many national
elections. Remember “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation”?) The political extremes
on both sides are loud and polarizing, of course, yet most state voters are
moderates open to compromise. They don’t like one-party solutions and are
skeptical of big fixes, wherever they originate. Lasting change and real reform
in a state like Ohio requires
some level of bipartisan support and collaboration.
What does this mean for education reform? Do we now face a
period of political paralysis in Ohio (and beyond) where nothing can be changed
even when change is needed? Will elected officials be so shell-shocked by this particular
electoral pounding that they will simply nibble on the margins of reform—and
attempt to make nice to the unions that trounced them?
That would be a terrible mistake. Surveys have consistently
shown that Ohioans support bona fide school-reform efforts, and many of the
other education changes that were tucked into the 300 pages of Senate Bill 5 had
and still have the support of voters. These include:
- Creating a salary structure free of automatic
- Requiring performance-based pay for teachers and
nonteaching school employees;
- Limiting public employer contributions toward
health care benefit costs;
- Requiring annual evaluations of teachers to
include student performance data; and
- Requiring that any lay-offs be based in part on
The Fordham Institute polled Ohioans on education issues in
and in every one of these surveys Buckeye residents said they prefer to pay
teachers according to their “performance and how effectively they teach” rather
than compensate them for “years of service and degrees earned.” In 2009, the
margin was a striking 69 to 15 percent. Further, an overwhelming 87 percent
favored “giving local public schools more freedom to fire teachers that aren’t
performing,” while only 11 percent opposed such a measure.
In case you don’t like Fordham data, Quinnipiac reported two
weeks ago that Ohioans supported (49 to 40 percent) the provision in Senate
Bill 5 that pay increases for public-sector employees (including teachers)
should be based on merit rather than seniority. And again, as Ohio goes, so
goes the nation. Recent national polls show Americans overall support merit pay
and tying tenure to performance. An Education
Next survey earlier this year
found that “those who say tenure should be based on academic progress increased
from 49 percent to 55 percent between 2010 and 2011.”
Nor does the economic imperative to do more with less go
away with this week’s vote. Budgets are tight. Revenues are down. Taxpayers are
stressed, not least because so many of them lack jobs. (Ohio’s unemployment
rate is 9.1 percent and it has lost 400,000 jobs over the past five years.) It
was this basic reality that mobilized Republicans to pursue the changes wrought
by Senate Bill 5 in the first place: They would save a lot of money that the
state and its school systems don’t have.
University of Arkansas economist Robert Costrell captured
the profound challenges still confronting Ohio when
he wrote of this week’s vote:
The core fiscal issues that
motivated SB5 remain unsolved for school districts. SB5 was a very broad
bill, which contributed to its defeat, but specific provisions are quite
important for keeping school district costs under control. There were
two particularly important provisions regarding health insurance. First,
the law capped district contributions at 85 percent, so that teachers would
have to pay 15 percent. By comparison, the collective bargaining agreement
for Cleveland sets the employee share of premiums at about five percent. Second,
and perhaps even more important, the law gave districts the ability to set plan
design, subject to best practices established by a state board. Currently
collective bargaining agreements establish which plans will be offered, what
the deductibles and co-insurance rates are, etc. In Cleveland, for
example, there are no deductibles at all for in-network coverage, nor is
there any co-insurance. This is quite astounding—well below industry
standards, even for generous plans, like those we find in public
universities. These provisions are written into the union contract. They
will be very difficult to remove, under current bargaining law, which leaves
school districts at a great disadvantage at the bargaining table. So
districts like Cleveland will continue to face huge budget difficulties, now
and in the future. The defeat of SB5 will mean layoffs and other education
cuts, unless these provisions are re-enacted separately.
Senate Bill 5 is now dead, but the underlying problems
facing Ohio schools and budgets remain. To make any progress, bold changes are
needed in education and other parts of the public sector. But as Philip Howard
in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal,
across the entirety of the public sector the unions are still powerful obstacles
to needed change.
This piece was originally
published (in a slightly different form) on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.
|Click to listen to commentary on the repeal of SB5 from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
Opinion: We have a parenting problem, not a poverty problem
kicking off Education Trust’s annual conference, Kati Haycock said that we
can’t let “bad parenting” be an excuse for poor educational results. She’s absolutely
right, of course. It’s not like our schools are running on all cylinders
(especially schools serving poor kids), and if only parents were doing their
jobs too, achievement would soar. Sure, we’ve got several examples of school
models that are making a tremendous
in educational outcomes for kids, regardless of what’s happening at home.
said, it strikes me as highly unlikely that we’re ever going to significantly
narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor unless we narrow the “good
parenting gap” between rich and poor families, too. (And yes, I know I’m going
to catch a lot of grief for saying that.)
We're never going to significantly narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor unless we narrow the 'good parenting gap' between rich and poor families, too.
admit it: The Broader/Bolder types are right when they say that a lot of what influences student achievement
happens outside of schools and before kids ever set foot in a Kindergarten
classroom. Where they are wrong, I believe, is in thinking that turbo-charged
government programs can compensate for the real challenge: what’s happening (or
not) inside the home.
used to talk about this, but for whatever reason they’ve been awfully silent
lately. Perhaps that’s starting to change. A new book by Minnesota
think tanker Mitch Pearlstein addresses the issue head on. And last week, in
the Washington Post, compassionate
conservative Michael Gerson argued that issues
like divorce and teenage pregnancies are what are dampening social mobility.
let’s get specific: What can parents do to increase the chances of their
children doing well in school? Let’s just start with the zero-to-five years.
- Wait until
you’ve graduated from high school and you’re married to have children.
drink or smoke when you’re pregnant.
regular prenatal check-ups.
- Nurse your
baby instead of using a bottle.
- Talk and
sing to your baby a lot.
- As you
child grows, be firm but loving.
TV-watching, especially in the early years.
- Spark your
child’s curiosity by taking field trips to parks, museums, nature centers,
virtually all of these items, we’ve got evidence that affluent parents are much
more likely to engage in these behaviors than poor parents. And what makes it
easier for affluent parents to do these things mostly isn’t about money (more
on that below) but marriage: Getting hitched and staying that way. It’s a heckuva
lot harder (though not impossible, of course) to be a great parent when you’re
doing the job alone than when you’ve got a partner. And in case you haven’t
noticed, out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates and divorce rates have reached
catastrophic levels for the poor and the working class—but not for the most
affluent and well-educated among us.
mentioned above, the Left’s answer to this challenge is a panoply of social
programs. Home visits for pregnant women. Community-health centers. Head Start.
I’ve got no complaints with these, especially if they can show evidence of
we’re still dancing around the issue if we don’t address the family directly.
Imagine we could convince most poor teenagers—whether they are black, white, or
Hispanic—to save child-rearing for their 20s, and to get and stay married
first. Getting them to adopt healthy parenting behaviors, then, would be much
more doable, even on a limited budget. (See the innovative work that GreatSchools.net is
on this front.) You don’t have to be Richy Rich to nurse your baby, or sing to
her, or learn how to be loving but firm. Sure, a few of these items are easier with
money. (I imagine that low-income families use TV as a babysitter more because
they can’t afford alternative childcare.) But mostly these take commitment,
discipline, and practice.
do we spark a marriage renaissance, especially for poor and working-class families?
Honestly, I don’t have a clue. Some argue for
family-friendly tax incentives; others think a religious revival is what’s
needed. I would vote for middle schools and high schools that are unafraid to
preach a pro-marriage, wait-till-you’re-older-to-have-babies message—neo-paternalistic
charter schools or religious schools in particular. In other words, this is
another strong argument for school choice.
the solutions, let’s at least start talking about the problem. Pat Moynihan
tried to warn us long ago that our national experiment with large-scale single
parenthood would turn out badly. He was right, and then some. Let’s not wait
any longer to do something about it.
This piece was originally
published (in a slightly different form) on Fordham’s Flypaper blog. To subscribe to Flypaper, click here.
News Analysis: Challenging all students: What a radical idea!
For decades, college admissions officers have
sought to re-engineer the demographics of their campuses—an understandable
impulse with all manner of perverse consequences. Not surprisingly, this
dubious idea has filtered down to the K-12 system, too. Districts, like the one
in Alexandria, VA, are revamping entrance requirements for their gifted-education
programs in an effort to boost minority enrollment. (In Alexandria, 34 percent
of the students are black and 31 percent are Hispanic—yet, in the city’s gifted
program, those percentages drop to 17 and 11, respectively.) Gadfly welcomes
efforts to improve outreach and strengthen kids’ preparation: Qualified and
capable students of color won’t enroll in gifted-education programs of which
they aren’t aware. But slackening the criteria for program entry is something
else entirely. As
with AP classes, rigorous entrance requirements for gifted programs are
necessary if high-achieving students (whatever their race) are to get much out
of them. Simply put, our education system must work to the advantage of all its students—from those scoring in
the top decile to those in the bottom. Districts should try this “radical”
concept instead: Group students by academic prowess, and meet the needs of all
pupils. Let common sense prevail!
|Click to listen to commentary on gifted programs and tracking from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
News Analysis: Killing online learning with kindness
You will take your online class. And you'll like it.
Photo by Justus Hayes
Over the past few months, crusading Idaho state
supe Tom Luna has shepherded a flock of forward-thinking and cost-saving
reforms—including adoption of merit pay and a rollback of tenure and
collective-bargaining rights. Yet amid Luna’s bold reforms hides one black
sheep. If legislators agree in January, Idaho will become the first state to
mandate that all high schoolers take at least two courses online. (Currently,
Michigan and Alabama require students to each take one online course.) Further,
one of these classes must be “asynchronous”—think more “correspondence course”
and less “virtual classroom.” Gadfly is a firm believer in the potential of digital
learning to expand the reach of fantastic teachers, to individualize
instruction, and to allow for more choice in public education. But the goal
should be to expand access to digital learning, not to require kids to engage
in it against their will. Supporters of such mandates often claim that learning
how to take an online course is itself a critical skill to build. But if the
courses are well-designed (like, say, your iPhone), mastering the experience
should be a no-brainer. Luna might want to put the sheers to this particular idea.
|Click to listen to commentary on Idaho's online-learning mandate from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
Review: Charter-School Management Organizations: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts
If CRPE’s recent meta-analysis of charter-school
research was an amuse-bouche, this report (from Mathematica/CRPE) on the practices
and impacts of charter-management organizations (CMOs) acts as the entrée—and perhaps
also the dessert. It exhaustively details the characteristics of forty CMOs (of
the nation’s 130, which serve 17 percent of charter-school students), noting
some interesting commonalities: Compared to their district counterparts, CMOs
typically run smaller schools (with smaller classes). They also offer more time
in learning: Forty percent of studied CMOs provided their students with more
instructional time than all of the
nation’s traditional public schools. Completing the meal, the report analyzed
student-achievement results for those CMOs with adequate data. Echoing previous
charter research, the report finds that CMO performance varies—and widely. Of
the twenty-two networks analyzed, eleven boast significantly positive impacts
in math, while ten can make that claim in reading—this compared to a representative
control group of district pupils. (Seven negatively impact their students in
math, six in reading.) Why do some CMOs do so well while others flounder?
Researchers note two reasons for success: intense teacher coaching and school-wide
behavior standards (notably those that offered consistent rewards and sanctions
and asked for parent and student contracts). Unfortunately, the authors stop
there. No after-dinner coffee or digestif. Because of promises of
confidentiality, the report names neither the high-flyers nor the
low-performers. Interesting data, yes, but not much help to school shoppers or
communities seeking effective CMO’s to run more of their schools. Though a
palatable and hearty meal, the report could have used that added bit to settle
the reader’s stomach.
|Click to listen to commentary on this CRPE/Mathematica study from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.
Review: High-Stakes Reform: The Politics of Educational Accountability
In her new book, Kathryn A. McDermott of the
University of Massachusetts tackles the complicated theory and history of
educational accountability. According to McDermott, our increasingly
centralized system has been shaped by the push for educational equality, going
back to desegregation and continuing with performance-based accountability
today. To make her case, McDermott showcases the rise of accountability
structures in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New
Jersey, and the growth in federal involvement. Perhaps most interesting are the
lessons McDermott draws from these case studies—relevant to other public-policy
sectors as well. Notably, to design a smart accountability system, policymakers
must first ensure that they have the capacity to operate it. Else accountability
creates perverse incentives (like cheating on high-stakes testing). As federal policymakers
accountability back to the states, it will be smart to remember whence and
why our current model originated. This book shines a light onto that past.
From The Web
The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: This soapbox has a great view
Mike and Janie bite off big topics in this
week’s podcast—from the repeal of SB5 to racial imbalances in gifted-ed
programs to online learning. Amber wants CRPE to name names and Chris starts
subbing for the pension benefits. You’re gonna want to sit down for this.
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.
Flypaper's Finest: The secret to good parenting? Good schools.
By Peter Meyer
so sure Mike is right that “we
have a parenting problem, not a poverty problem,” and I’m even less sure
that he is right that educators should “start talking about the problem.”
I know this may sound heretical, since anyone who has
spent more than a minute in an inner city school or neighborhood (see my Ed
Next story on two Chicago
charters) knows the intensity of the social dysfunction—and no school is
immune to its effects. But parenting is not a problem that educators are
equipped to handle—they have a hard enough time agreeing on curriculum.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Flypaper's Finest: Tennessee’s report card on teacher-prep programs even cooler than TFA results
A new report
from Tennessee’s Higher Education Commission shows that Teach For America
teachers outperformed traditionally trained teachers (regardless of experience
level) in reading, science, and social studies. Tennessee’s report card on
teacher preparation (which results from a 2007 legislative mandate not
unlike Ohio’s new requirement to track the effectiveness of teacher
preparation programs) examined twenty-one different programs, only five of
which were “alternative providers.” (Note: This isn’t
the first such
analysis showing that TFA-prepared teachers outscore traditionally-trained
But the fact that TFA teachers outshined other
teachers is actually the less interesting/relevant part of these data.…
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.
Briefly Noted: Lucky number 13
- To avoid a court
injunction, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has
pulled back the reins in his plan to lengthen the school day in the
Windy City. The thirteen schools that
have already agreed (thanks to a monetary incentive) to up their
school day by ninety minutes will keep their current bargain. But no other
schools will be able to join that group. Just one more example of politics
taking precedence over children.
- Courtesy of the Center
on Education Reform’s new district survey, we learn that half of
districts eligible for school-improvement grants find it “inappropriate”
to ask a district to turnaround a failing school in three years. Of course
this begs the question: What is an appropriate amount of time? Five years?
these schools may yet be the better option.
- Charter-school enrollment
in D.C. leaped
9 percentage points over the past year—nudging District charters up to
41 percent market share. If current trends continue, D.C. will be a
majority-charter city within two to three years.
- Other cities might be wise
to emulate this charter trend in D.C.: NAEP results show
that students in charter schools made greater gains from 2009-2011 than
their district-school peers in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math.
What’s more, poor and minority students saw the most dramatic score hikes.
- Overheard on Capitol Hill:
“Why did the U.S. Department of Education propose
the creation of an Office of Early Learning?” “To administer the
early-education Race to the Top grants.” “But, why did the USDOE create
this third round of RTTT in the first place?” “To give the proposed Office
of Early Learning something to administer, of course.”
- Everyone’s favorite
drama-filled school district is back in the headlines this week. After a
run-off election on Tuesday, Democrats retrieved control of the Wake
County School Board, 5-4. What this means for the district’s
new school-placement plan is anyone’s guess.
- Fairfax County, VA saw voter
turnout tick up over 30 percent for this off-cycle election, higher
than other counties in The Old Dominion. What’s promising is the why:
According to exit polls, the school-board race (typically a snoozer) drove
people to the poles. With six new Democratically leaning board members
(and a supe exiting in July 2013), keep an eye on Fairfax’s doings.
And then there were forty-seven: Montana
joined the ranks of Common Core adopters this week.
Announcement: What’s next for education reform?
Policy-oriented reforms (from standards to
school choice) too-often fail to gain traction in our deep mud pit of an
education-governance structure. For them to take hold, we need to change not
just certain policies, but the fundamental way in which education is
controlled. To hash out these changes, Fordham and the Center for American
Progress have assembled leading minds from the policy and academic worlds. Join
us for the all-day conference on December 1 and start thinking outside the box.
(We’re springing for lunch, too!) For a full schedule and list of panelists, and
to register, click
Announcement: Be a school-choice czar
Part blogger, part
spokesperson, part wonk—Fordham is on the hunt for a director of our parental-choice
program. If you’re a fantastic writer and savvy researcher with a passion for
school choice, go ahead, live the dream. Come work for Fordham. Read
the full job description here.
Announcement: A key to scaling quality charters
For years, reformers
have struggled with how to unlock quality, en masse, in the charter sector. Do
charter-school incubators hold the key? Join Fordham and the Cities for Education
Entrepreneurship Trust on December 7 from 3:30 to 5:00PM to find out. The
conversation will start with an analysis of key findings from a new Public
Impact policy brief—but it will quickly progress from there. To learn more
about the event, or to register, click here.
Announcement: Choosy reformers choose choice
As if the majestic Rockies weren’t enough to
draw you in, Colorado has emerged as a hotbed of education reform over the past
two years. Now it’s your chance to get in on that action. The state’s
Department of Education is searching for a director of their school-choice department.
For those with experience in budgeting, proposal development and management who
are interested in applying, the full job description can be found
Announcement: Getting back to BASIS
BASIS Schools Inc.—which focuses on a rigorous
college-prep curriculum for all and boasts some impressive student-achievement
results—is opening a new campus in the District of Columbia. Parents looking to
learn more about this new school venture, come to Fordham on November 16 from
12:00 to 1:30PM: BASIS will be hosting a brown-bag-lunch information session. Register here. Can’t make it
but still interested? Find another information session that suites you, or
learn more about the program at BasisDC.org.
Featured Fordham Publication: After the Budget, What Next? Ohio’s Education Policy Priorities
The debates surrounding Ohio’s biennial budget
and other education-related legislation during the first half of 2011 were
intense, and it’s no wonder. The state started the year facing an historic
deficit, federal stimulus money was vanishing, and school districts were
preparing for draconian cuts. Meanwhile, despite decades of effort, Ohio’s
academic performance has remained largely stagnant. Achievement gaps continue
to yawn. To this landscape came Governor Kasich’s budget plan (House Bill 153),
which included dozens of education-policy changes, signed into law on June 30. In
light of the repeal of SB5, it’s time to take stock. To what extent have Ohio’s
leaders met the challenges and opportunities before them in K-12 education?
What needs to happen next? Read
on to learn more.