THE OHIO EDUCATION GADFLY

A Bi-Weekly Bulletin of News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 4, Number 13. June 9, 2010

Gadfly On the Web

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Contents

Editorial

Capital Matters

In Case You Missed It

Short Reviews

Editor's Extras

About Us

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Editorial

Education debate in Ohio is picking up steam
What a difference a year makes. This time last year Ohio was in the midst of a heated battle to approve the state's FY2010-2011 budget. House Bill 1 passed in mid-July but its trek through the legislative process was marked more by sniping and political horse-trading than thoughtful policy debate.

As Ohio was considering the most extensive changes to its public education system since the 1990s, there was scant public discussion among state leaders about what all these changes would actually mean for public policy -- whether they were affordable and what their impact would actually be on schools, children, and taxpayers. The political debate continues, but Ohio seems to be moving toward a more thoughtful discussion about the future of its schools.

Consider just a few examples.

Funding & spending: Governor Strickland's evidence-based model of school funding relies on a ten-year phase in of billions of dollars in new state spending in education, at a time when the country is slowly emerging from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. As the budget passed last summer, the governor and his allies refused to acknowledge that such a funding increase was unlikely, or that the mandates of the funding model would be deferred indefinitely. Objections to the model itself and its costs, from experts like the Center for Reinventing Public Education's Paul Hill to newspaper editorial boards, were largely dismissed by policy leaders last year.

Today, everyone from local teachers and district superintendents to the governor and his team is acknowledging that the state's budget is racing toward a fiscal cliff in 2011. Reality has now set in and it's ugly no matter if one is a Democrat or a Republican. The governor has commissioned the KnowledgeWorks Foundation to explore cost-savings in K-12 education, and everyone expects the next biennial budget will come at the expense of school funding. The question is how bad the cuts will be, and whether they be done smartly.

Standards & Accountability: A year ago energy was being expended on minor notions like changing "test" to "assessment" when referring to statewide exams in state law. Though HB1 called for new academic content standards and appropriately aligned assessments, the primary debate was about "21st century" skills. At the time it looked as though Ohio would be taking its own path toward developing new academic content standards.

Just this week, however, Ohio became the seventh state to adopt the Common Core math and English-language arts standards (see separate article). These are a major improvement over the state's current standards and likely superior to anything the state could produce on its own. The state has also adopted new social studies and science standards, the latter coming after six months of robust debate about what should be included in them.

On the accountability front, the Ohio Department of Education has responded to concerns about its value-added system by making adjustments ahead of this year's local report cards and is already busy working on version 2.0 of its innovative value-added system. Meanwhile, the legislature has approved changes to how the state rates public school districts (see separate article) -- one of the few education-related actions taken by the General Assembly this year. These are improvements all and ones certain to make positive differences in the education of the state's children in coming years.

School choice: Charter schools were a political pawn from day one during the 2009 budget battle, with the governor seeking to ban all for-profit charter operators from the state, regardless of how well their schools performed. House Democrats proposed a funding scheme that would have snuffed out most of the state's charters irrespective of their quality or performance. Charters are still a politically charged topic, but the conversation around them seems more rational. The question is no longer whether Ohio should have charter schools, but how these schools should be held accountable to ensure they serve children and taxpayers well.

In Cleveland, the school district has embraced charter schools as part of its academic transformation plan. Rep. Stephen Dyer (D-Green), who shepherded the education budget through the House last year, has relaxed his language around charters, acknowledging in recent hearings that for-profit operators per se aren't bad. No doubt, there is still a ton of political intrigue swirling around the state's charter school program, but arguments for a day when charters are no longer part of Ohio's educational ecosystem seem futile and out-of-touch with both national politics and the desires of 90,000+ students currently enrolled in these schools.

Teacher personnel policies: House Bill 1 did little to impact teacher personnel policies, aside from a smart move to extend tenure decisions to the seventh year of a teacher's career. But if Ohio wins federal Race to the Top funding, participating districts will have to base a "significant" portion of teacher evaluations on their student performance. District, community, and opinion leaders in Cleveland have joined the growing call for an end to the state's archaic last-hired, first-fired law for teachers.

In Cincinnati, leaders sought the advice of experts at the reform-minded The New Teacher Project about the district's personnel policies before embarking on its current contract negotiations. There is serious talk about things like performance pay and rewarding teachers for working in the toughest schools or in high-demand subjects.

Education reform in Ohio has happened in fits and starts over the last 20 years. And as the education debate circa June 2010 shows, reform issues were not resolved by HB 1. Rather, HB1 was the starting point for a new debate about the future of education in Ohio. This debate is ongoing and efforts to encourage Ohioans, from the schoolhouse to the Statehouse, to stay informed and engaged in this conversation are for the common good. Many tough decisions about the future of education and schooling in Ohio are still before us, but the foundation for the debate has been set by events during the last two years.

by Emmy L. Partin and Terry Ryan

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Capital Matters

Common Core academic standards: Moving beyond adoption in the Buckeye State
The State Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to adopt the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math, an action we've lauded as a smart move for Ohio's youngsters.

The Common Core standards have spurred controversy in other states, so it's encouraging to see Ohio recognizing the importance of rigorous common standards and swiftly approving the Common Core -- especially as state education leaders previously feared that Ohio wouldn't have adequate time to adopt new standards. 

One consequence of moving quickly toward adoption has been surprisingly little public discussion of what state-level implementation of these standards will entail. Yet this topic should concern everyone in the Buckeye State who wants to see the new standards actually drive improvements in student performance.

To date, most of the discussion around implementation of the Common Core has consisted of simple platitudes such as "we will, of course, need to adequately support teachers by providing rigorous new curricula and targeted professional development and training." That's simplistic and glib, for it masks innumerable specifics that will make the difference between these standards being a primary driver of student achievement or little more than laudable goals.

The next steps in implementing the Common Core are creating model curricula and instructional guides based on the standards, and a system of assessments tightly aligned to them. These are no small tasks to be looked past, but ones that will likely be best achieved by groups of states working together, not by each state individually. As that work progresses, and hopefully Ohio can be a leader in this effort, there is much that an early adopter state like ours can be doing to be in the best position possible to roll out the new standards.

After all, as we've learned from those states that already have rigorous standards accompanied by persistently poor student achievement, adopting great standards is no quick fix for student achievement woes. California is the best example of this fact -- excellent standards, but weak achievement. Setting great standards is hard work, but implementing them well is even harder.

Fortunately, we have models of excellence from which to learn. And we've learned that translating rigorous standards into stronger student achievement normally demands that at least four key elements be in place from the start. Ohio has some of these in place, but has work to do in others:

  1. Data-driven instruction. Standards drive student achievement only if they are used every day to drive planning and instruction. In practice, that means teachers must use the standards as the foundation on which to build their short- and long-term instructional plans. They must frequently pause to assess student progress toward mastery of each standard and use the data from those assessments to drive whole-class and small-group instruction, and to identify individual students who need targeted intervention in particular areas.

    While Ohio gets high marks for its education data systems from the Data Quality Campaign, the state still has much room for improvement when it comes to making the system fully operational, particularly in planning short-term instructional goals.

  2. Ownership of results. Instructors who successfully drive student achievement in their classrooms are those who "own" their students' outcomes. They actually believe not only that it is their responsibility to ensure students master essential content, but also that it is within their power to guide students toward significant achievement gains. (This also happens to be one of ten key traits we found in the high-performing urban schools we examined in our Needles in a Haystack report.) It is crucial for teachers to recognize that they--and not other external or family forces--are the main drivers of those results.

  3. Accountability. Belief and ownership aren't the whole story. Teachers and schools who successful use rigorous standards to drive achievement are also held to account for what their students learn. If you look, for example, to successful charter school networks, student achievement (measured in multiple ways) is always a factor--generally the most important factor--in judging a school's effectiveness. Such accountability is essential. It helps keep the conversation focused in these schools and classrooms where it should be: on student learning.

    Accountability at the individual level remains a challenge for the Buckeye State. While Ohio's data system has some ability to match student performance data with individual teachers, collective bargaining agreements and other barriers make it difficult to use student data to evaluate teacher performance.

  4. Flexibility. The most powerful way to ensure that ownership of student achievement results is held at the school level--rather than the district or state level--is to pair accountability with flexibility. At the school level, this means giving school leaders authority over their budgets and staffing decisions. We all know that great leaders can be creative in allocating scarce resources--dollars, time, personnel, etc. They should be given the chance to do this. At the classroom level, this means holding teachers accountable for student outcomes.

Ohio should continue the momentum of adopting the Common Core and aggressively examine an implementation process and remove any hurdles that stand in the way of making the Common Core standards successful here.

by Kathleen Porter-Magee and Eric Ulas

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Districts can breathe easier thanks to change in state rating system
A change has been made to a provision of Ohio's school rating system that caused otherwise high-performing districts to see their ratings plummet when they failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) with particular student subgroups. Case in point: Kettering City Schools met 29 out of 30 academic indicators last school year but didn't make AYP in reading with students with disabilities and those that are limited English proficient. This was the third year in a row the district failed to make AYP with any two subgroups, so the state bestowed a "C" or Continuous Improvement on it. (Without the AYP provision, Kettering would have earned an A+.)

By comparison, Ohio's rating system also awarded a "C" to Marion City Schools, even though that district met none of the state's 30 academic indicators. In order to restore legitimacy and fairness to the rating system, State Senator Gary Cates proposed a bill (SB 167) last fall that intended to provide a safeguard to those districts, like Kettering, against falling swiftly from great heights.

The bill stipulated two things: a district could only fall in ratings if it missed AYP with the same two subgroups (not just any two subgroups) for three consecutive years, AND it would only fall one category (in Kettering's case, down to Effective or "B.") These provisions were recently tucked into another piece of legislation, which has been approved by both houses of the Ohio General Assembly and awaits the governor's signature.

While this might all sound like a lot of quibbling about details, it is hugely important for Ohio districts. High-performing districts that don't make AYP with hard-to-reach subgroups will be happy. But whether those districts should be penalized more for not succeeding with certain students, like those who don't speak English well or have disabilities, is another matter and one that still is not resolved with this legislation.

by Jamie Davies O'Leary

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In Case You Missed It

Congratulations to Andrew Boy for prestigious award
Andrew Boy, founder and co-director of Columbus Collegiate Academy (one of Fordham's six sponsored schools), was recently selected for Columbus Business First's "Forty Under 40," a highly selective award that recognizes young professionals who are not only outstanding at their jobs, but have also made a difference in their communities and/or in the lives of others.

As Columbus Collegiate's sponsor, we're intimately aware, and proud, of Andy's excellent work with his students, 94 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged. In a single year, Andy and his exceptional team of teachers moved their inaugural class of sixth graders from 35 percent proficient in reading and 41 percent proficient in math (as fifth graders) to 74 percent and 82 percent proficient in reading and math, respectively. These results helped the school earn an EPIC (Effective Practice Incentive Community) Award from New Leaders for New Schools earlier this year.


Andy's work at Columbus Collegiate, and as a mentor and community volunteer, earned him a place in the 2010 class. Andy was the only school leader represented; other professions included law, finance, public relations, medicine, government, and technology. We were proud to attend the dinner and awards presentation May 27 to support Andy and his fellow honorees.
Congratulations, Andy!

by Kathryn Mullen Upton and Jamie Davies O'Leary

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Fordham states its case for charter-school accountability
At the invitation of Rep. Stephen Dyer, chair of the Ohio House Finance Subcommittee on Primary & Secondary Education, Fordham's Terry Ryan and Kathryn Mullen Upton provided testimony at last week's charter-school accountability hearings. Their testimony represents Fordham's core beliefs about how a sound charter sector should function and we appreciated the opportunity to share our position in this venue. Read their testimony here.

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Short Reviews

Opportunity at the Top: How America's Best Teachers Could Close the Gaps, Raise the Bar, and Keep our Nation Great
Bryan Hassel and Emily Hassel
Public Impact
June 2010

What's the most effective way to ensure that more students are taught by highly effective teachers? In Opportunity at the Top Public Impact co-directors Bryan and Emily Hassel answer this in compelling fashion, arguing that two of the most obvious strategies -- shoring up the teacher pipeline and removing the least effective educators -- fall dramatically short. We must combine these reforms with a fundamental rethinking of the way we use those 25 percent of teachers (800,000 of them) who are already effective.

The report packs a lot into 34 pages: first, a summary of research showing the impact of a teacher's effectiveness on student growth. Second, a description of the gravity of the problem -- not only do we fail to retain the best teachers, we can barely identify the most effective ones because teacher evaluation systems overwhelmingly group them into a homogenous "satisfactory" group. Compounding this is the fact that we don't leverage the good teachers we do retain for the benefit of enough students. Consider that "only 600 students will benefit from the instruction of an excellent elementary school teacher even if she stays on the job for 30 years."

Opportunity at the Top estimates that, if we focused energy on not just improving recruitment and dismissal, but on retaining and leveraging current talent, nearly 87 percent of classes, impacting nearly 46 million students, would be taught by great teachers.

What's stopping us? Here's where the report doesn't dig deep enough. It spends a good chunk of time discussing the barriers to retaining and leveraging great teachers, namely: evaluation and salary systems that don't differentiate according to performance, back-loaded retirement benefits, simplistic across-the-board class-size mandates, funding systems based on staff positions, and other policies that prevent teachers from taking on greater student loads or teaching remotely, etc.

But digging these systems out of the teacher-policy cement is what Ohio needs to focus on first if it hopes to install what the Hassels call an "opportunity culture" in teaching -- one that rewards teachers in proportion to their contributions to student learning. Still, in terms of conceptualizing those changes and estimating the broad impact it'd make on student achievement, this report is a great starting point.

by Jamie Davies O'Leary

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Are We Beginning to See the Light?
Jean Johnson, Jon Rochkind, and Amber Ott
Public Agenda
June 2, 2010

Americans are sold on the idea that math and science skills are increasingly important and that the future workforce will hold more jobs that utilize these skills. But don't mistake this sentiment as a call for improved science and math education, says a new survey from Public Agenda, because more than half of parents believe their child's math and science schooling is "fine as it is." (The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development disagrees -- it says American youngsters rank 25th internationally in math and 21st in science.)

Parents also expressed a general desire for their children to take more advanced math and science classes in high school (60 and 54 percent, respectively), but few want an emphasis in specific areas like physics and calculus (42 percent each). In fact, most people don't think it's essential for students to understand advanced science (28 percent) and math (26 percent) at all -- even as 84 percent of Americans agree that students with advanced math and science skills will hold a competitive advantage over their peers in terms of jobs and future earnings.

Most troubling, says Public Agenda's Director of Education Insights Jean Johnson, is that nearly 70 percent of Americans think science education can wait until middle or high school. "Many parents don't realize the importance of starting children in science early on. Many think it can easily wait until high school," Johnson laments.

The full survey asks 34 questions about the current and future state of science and math education, the current and future workforce demands for skills in these areas, and the value the public places on various issues related to math and science education. Responses are available in two groups, all respondents and parents. Check out the survey here.

by Emmy L. Partin

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Multiple Pathways to Graduation: New Routes to High School Completion
Shannon Marsh and Paul Hill
Center on Reinventing Public Education
May 2010

Urban districts across the country have long been exploring alternative approaches to identifying, retaining and graduating their students most at risk of dropping out. What has emerged in recent years in a handful of districts is known as a Multiple Pathways to Graduation (MPG) approach. This working paper from the Center on Reinventing Public Education draws on interviews from several districts with MPG strategies and provides an overview for districts interested in implementing such programs.

The report provides a good overview of the three types of MPG programs: The Targeted Population approach is the most popular and is widely seen in East Coast urban districts. This approach uses data segmentation analysis to identify students most at risk and match them to a program that meets their specific needs. District-Wide and Linked Learning pathways are rarer and confined to single districts on the West Coast. Portland Public Schools has opted for the District-Wide model while Sacramento City Unified School District has opted for the Career and Technical Education-focused Linked Learning model.

The most useful aspects of the paper are short analyses that would help interested districts identify which models of MPG would best suit their needs. Also of use are the basic startup requirements, benefits, and challenges of each model.

All in all, this is a good primer for any administrator who is considering a Multiple Pathways to Graduation program. This paper would be a particularly good read for administrators in Ohio urban districts (Cleveland and Columbus are both singled out in the introduction for their high drop-out rates) that have long been struggling to boost graduation rates. Read the report here.

by Eric Ulas

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Editor's Extras

TFA, teacher pay, and funding inequities in CA

by Tim Hoffine

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About Us

The Ohio Education Gadfly is published bi-weekly (ordinarily on Wednesdays, with occasional breaks, and in special editions) by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Have something to say? Email the editor at ohiogadfly@edexcellence.net. Would you like to be spared from the Gadfly? Email ohiogadfly@edexcellence.net with "unsubscribe gadfly" in the text of your message. You are welcome to forward the Gadfly to others, and from our website you can even email individual articles. If you have been forwarded a copy of Gadfly and would like to subscribe, you may email ohiogadfly@edexcellence.net with "subscribe gadfly" in the text of the message. To read archived issues, go to our website and click on the Ohio Education Gadfly link. Aching for still more education news and analysis? Check out the original Education Gadfly.

Nationally and in Ohio, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, along with its sister organization the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, strives to close America's vexing achievement gaps by raising standards, strengthening accountability, and expanding high-quality education options for parents and families. As a charter-school sponsor in Ohio, the Foundation joins with schools to affirm a relentless commitment to high expectations for all children, accountability for academic results, and transparency and organizational integrity, while freeing the schools to operate with minimal red tape. The Foundation and Institute are neither connected with nor sponsored by Fordham University.

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