A Bi-Weekly Bulletin of News and
Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 4, Number 4. February 10, 2010
Gadfly Readers Write...
Social studies, history standards debate finally heating up
Interest is building over how best to teach history to Ohio's public school kids. Largely ignored thus far by the media, the draft social studies standards-- read, history-- have been noticed by the education and history community.
In fact, they've been so noticed that the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has taken the comments it has received on the original draft and is using the input to modify the draft and re-release it in coming weeks. "We've got some really good feedback. We're going to post again. We will have another loop for feedback," said ODE Associate Superintendent Stan Heffner.
The State Board of Education must approve the standards by its June meeting.
Some opponents to the first draft were concerned with moving early American history from the fifth to the fourth grade, and limiting high school American history to what happened from the 1870s onward.
At their most basic, the proposals from ODE would change when certain periods of history are taught and the way it is taught. These kinds of changes are taking place in other states, too. In North Carolina, for example, some worry whether high school students will get enough American history.
In Texas, well, it's all about history and religion, and whether Indians and Hispanics are included, and even whether America is a hip hop or country western nation (here and here). In the Lone Star State people have their knives out. But it's no joking matter, since what Texas uses impacts the textbooks that are published for many of the nation's schools (see here and here).
A real issue for Ohio and other states is that there are simply not enough hours in the day to cover everything everyone thinks is important-- especially given the opposition that blossoms whenever the idea of extending the school year or school day is discussed.
Ohio's draft standards also push the idea of interconnectedness among subjects-- that reading, writing, math, history, and science learning should somehow overlap. "All content areas...statute says must be more coherently focused-- which means we must squeeze out content-- go into depth and thinking skills, besides just memorizing facts," Heffner said.
Interconnecting subjects makes sense in that one subject can reinforce learning in other areas.
But, alas, the subject of history may be different. It's more malleable than, say, science. What we choose to highlight and recite to students is shaped by culture and politics, for example, by those running state government whether they are conservative or liberal.
The current social studies standards were adopted in 2002. The new draft standards move very basic, early American history from the fifth grade to the fourth grade where it will be taught in conjunction with Ohio history. Students get another, more substantial dose in the eighth grade when they will be taught how America evolved in the early days of colonization to the Civil War, a span of about 250 years. It sounds like basic historical civics. After that, they get a year's worth of American history in high school-- from the 1870s on.
That's not the only history the kids will get. In fifth grade they will learn about the origins of other countries of the Western Hemisphere and sixth graders will learn a little eastern hemisphere history. Seventh graders will study world history from about 1000 B.C. through about 1750.
These plans have elicited some concern.
"Think about this for a moment: Unless Ohioans choose to study pre-1877 American History after they leave high school, the only knowledge of the founding of our country will come from elementary and middle school level instruction," current state board of education member Susan Haverkos and former board member Colleen Grady wrote recently in their blog.
History buffs are outraged. "I have no problem with fifth grade students learning about Latin and South America but I do not believe it should be at the expense of Ohio students learning about their own country first," said Scott Fisher, a trustee of the Friends of Fort Laurens Foundation (see here). The fort, in Bolivar in Tuscarawas County, is the only Revolutionary War fort in Ohio. The Friends claims support from the Ohio Society Sons of the American Revolution, Ohio Society Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Brigade of the American Revolution.
According to the draft standards, however, students will learn about their own country first-- at least a little-- in the fourth grade before they study South America.
According to ODE spokesperson Scott Blake, the social studies committees working on the standards recommended the change to strengthen the study of geography in the middle grades. Grade five social studies looks at the peoples and regions of North America, leaving out the study of most of Latin America and especially South America.
"Grade six then had the daunting task of teaching people and regions of the world. The conclusion the committees came to was to focus grades five and six on geography, with Western Hemisphere coming first because it includes North America and the U.S.," Blake said. "This serves as a strong reinforcement to the grade four study of Ohio in the United States. The grade four theme grew out of the concern that the study of Ohio history be presented in a context that would help students understand Ohio's role in the development of the United States," Blake added.
In an interview with The Gadfly, Fisher said it's important to study foreign cultures but not at the expense of American history. He believes repetition is important and that certain concepts and events in history should be studied more than once. For Fisher, what the draft represents is even worse and he fears that large amounts of American history, especially Revolutionary War history, will be eliminated and that it won't be made up in the eighth grade. "ODE proposes to eliminate American history," he said. "I fear Ohio's education system will create a generation of American history illiterates."
Actually, it's too late for that. Those crying for change in education continually lament the poor performance of American students in math, science, and other subjects compared to students in other nations such as Finland and South Korea. It seems we're no better in history-- both children and adults. The sad fact is Americans really know embarrassingly little about their country's history.
When the Intercollegiate Study Institute surveyed 2,508 Americans on their history prowess, the average score was 49 percent. College educated adults scored a little better at 55 percent. Our young people score just as poorly. While the 2006 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that overall, knowledge of history was improving in lower grades, NAEP found only 47 percent of the high school seniors demonstrated a basic understanding of our national history.
This is bad for democracy. "Let us be concerned so many young people leave high school, of age to cast their ballot, lacking the knowledge of history that our democracy demands of all of us," former Thomas B. Fordham Institute board member Diane Ravitch said after the 2006 results were released (see here).
The new standards-- however they turn out-- are supposed to help cure these worries. According to Heffner at the ODE, "If you look at the Ohio core, students need to have American government and American history. American history is part of the assessment. We aren't diminishing American history," he said, adding the new system also will have rigorous end-of-course exams.
Moving early American history up a year, also, will align it with the NAEP test and should help boost Ohio's NAEP scores, Heffner said, since many Ohio students have not been exposed to the information when they take the test.
"In the end these aren't our standards. Rather, they belong to Ohio and we need to hear from the people who will use them," he said.
by Mike Lafferty
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Is Ohio's value-added system broken?
In 2008, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released data showing that more than 80 percent of Ohio schools achieved "below expected growth" in fifth-grade reading. A year later, ODE data showed that 98 percent of schools made "above expected growth" in sixth-grade reading. What's going on here?
What could possibly have accounted for such a spike in school performance from one year to the next? Well, nothing really, except a flawed system for measuring student progress. What's disturbing, however, is that administrators and policymakers are using these poorly calculated statistics to make real decisions that impact schools, teachers, and students.
Skewed curves and yo-yos
Although ODE first made value-added data available in 2007, state officials admitted at the time that the methodology needed some tweaking and improvements. While no consequences were attached to the first year of data, policymakers and educators eagerly awaited the official release of data in year two.
That year (2007-08-- see Figure 1) revealed that buildings were being classified in a statistically odd way. Some tests showed a disproportionately high number of schools with students achieving above expected yearly growth (green on the chart) and two tests showed disproportionately high numbers of schools falling below expected growth (red).
According to a normal statistical distribution (a bell curve), a high number of schools should achieve "average" growth (yellow), with smaller numbers of schools achieving below expected and above expected growth. The actual numbers are startling because most schools were not, contrary to what was expected, average.
But it was the 2008-09 data (Figure 2) that showed just how wild the variations in data could get. Whereas 84 percent of schools attained below expected growth in fifth grade reading the prior year, 98 percent of schools were suddenly able to produce above expected results in the sixth grade. Further still, none of the schools produced below expected results.
Figure 3 shows this "yo-yo effect" of producing below expected gains one year, and then dramatically higher gains the next (or the reverse).
For a single classroom, school, or even district, such dramatic swings are plausible. However, it is far less plausible that all fifth-grade teachers and students in the state had a very bad school year in 2007-08, or that all sixth-grade ones had a great year in 2008-09. Even if Ohio had a single curricular scope and sequence, along with a single set of instructional materials, you would still not see that type of dramatic variation in student growth. Some teachers and their students would have to do better or worse in terms of growth.
The phenomena depicted in this data, then, must be the result of the tests themselves, and the method used to calculate the level of growth, which relies on vertically and horizontally aligned tests for every subject every year.
One would expect that achievement for reading in a given year to be roughly the same, unless the state made a coordinated effort to emphasize one subject over another. (Note, in looking at math gains over the same period of time, one also sees a yo-yo effect from year to year, but the differences aren't as dramatic as in reading.) In this case, the instruments and methods used are partially to blame for showing strong differences in gains between these two years. The state is counting on the baseline year (2006-07) to be consistent across tests horizontally and vertically, which is not dependable for a test this new. Ohio is also relying on the standard deviation from the baseline year. Instead, if the measure utilized the standard deviation of each year's test, there would be consistent proportionality in the distribution of above, at, and below a year's expected growth.
Implications for accountability policies
These results show schools dramatically alternating between below expected and above expected, and there is a danger in making decisions based on data that will simply change later, even though teaching and learning has not. Such results should be a red flag that the method of value-added analysis in Ohio is unreliable and might not form a solid foundation for decision-making.
The real danger is that these results are used for high stakes accountability decisions. Schools with falling achievement scores are spared consequences because their value-added data shows them making strong yearly gains. Conversely, schools with low gains on their value-added data can be penalized because this data show them making minimal yearly gains even though they may have strong overall achievement scores. Certainly some of the results are accurate, but there are surely some "false positives" and "false negatives" in the school classifications. These false positives and negatives could lead decision makers to erroneous conclusions about school performance.
Consider the following-- one large urban district was confident in its belief that despite a three year decline in overall achievement scores, the growth measures validated its academic strategies and administrators planned to move forward knowing the growth would eventually result in improved overall student achievement. That may happen, or it may not if the value-added model is of a poor statistical design. Without the life preserver of the value-added provision of Ohio's school accountability system a number of charters would have been forced to close in the last year. A number of schools (district and charter) rated Academic Emergency by the state would also have faced sanctions. Bad data may have delayed needed reforms for many Ohio students.
Additionally, seeking above expected growth from every student and every school every year is problematic. The goal should be one year of expected growth for one year of teaching. The exception would be an expectation of greater than one year's expected growth for those students who are far behind their peers, and have received intervention services. Value-added measures are precisely the method that should be used to evaluate the effectiveness of intervention services for low-achieving students. For students on grade level, however, attainment of that goal should not be designated as a cautionary yellow. It is what should be reasonably expected of students and good teaching.
A proposed fix
The yo-yo effect described here strikes at the credibility of Ohio's value-added measurements, and the lack of clarity surrounding how to calculate them is problematic. Fortunately, there is an alternative.
A basic z-score analysis (which re-standardizes results yearly based on average growth statewide) is a simpler, more transparent way of measuring growth. I have been using this method to analyze some school districts for seven years in order to identify areas of strength and weakness, to evaluate gifted and intervention services, and to plan for staff professional development initiatives.
There are added advantages to this method. It is based on data publicly available from the state, and it can be done on any laptop with a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel. Districts down to individual classroom teachers could see how it operates and use it for their own evaluative purposes. In short, it does away with the skepticism for the proprietary black box method of determining "expected" gains that the state currently employs.
More importantly, a state-standardized growth measure would correct the disproportionate results currently skewing the classification of students and schools. In order to assess growth, there has to be a standard of some kind. (It must be noted that with a normal concept of growth on a statewide scale, it would be impossible for a majority of districts to attain the above expected growth label.)
It would be wise for Ohio to redo this year's value-added classifications with a simple, z-score (standard score) methodology and report the differences to schools for their internal planning. Eventually moving to such a system could also save the state money by running the analysis in-house and would shore up the credibility of the system among its critics. Most importantly, decision makers-- from state policy makers to classroom teachers-- would not be receiving information that could lead them to making poor decisions.
by Douglas A. Clay
Dr. Douglas A. Clay currently serves as the assistant director for assessment and accountability of Cleveland State University's campus of the Reading First-Ohio Center for Professional Development and Technical Assistance for Effective Reading Instruction. He has designed and managed data collection systems as well as professional development in making student data actionable for leadership in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District as director of student assessment. He has extensive experience in multivariate data analysis techniques, teacher effectiveness measures, and evaluation models. Dr. Clay has acted as external evaluator and consultant on numerous federal, state, and regional evaluations of professional development for school improvement efforts. These opinions are Dr. Clay's and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Ohio Education Gadfly or the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
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Gadfly Readers Write...
Re: Decade in Review
In Gadfly's January 8th "Decade in Review," I noticed a minor inaccuracy concerning the September 1999 entry about school facilities. The tobacco settlement provided only $2.5 billion of the Rebuilding Ohio Schools initiative I launched in the fall of 1999. I proposed a 12-year, $10.2 billion plan to rebuild all of Ohio's schools. This initiative was approved by the legislature and by the time I left office more than $6.2 billion had been appropriated for school construction. It utilized the tobacco settlement monies plus bond and general fund dollars. This effort should be mentioned as an overall initiative rather than the tobacco settlement. It has been by far the largest school construction program in Ohio's history and addressed a big part of the findings from the DeRolph decision by funding the poorest school districts first and giving them a much higher percentage of state participation.
Governor of Ohio (1999-2007)
Distinguished Research Associate, University of Dayton
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Every bit counts: Ohio could gain tens of millions under revised Title I formula
Ohio is facing roughly an $8 billion deficit as it heads into a new biennium, so it should come as no surprise that Governor Strickland is lobbying for whatever federal money might be available to help fill the hole. The Buckeye State is not alone. As the New York Times reminds us, many states will see staggering deficits in their education budgets as early as the end of this school year as one-time stimulus money dries up.
Last week Strickland pushed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to approve Ohio's Race to the Top application. On the one hand, Strickland's effort here seems futile: Duncan alleges RttT is an apolitical competitive grant program with a "very high bar;" and there are hundreds of reviewers deciding which applications are of merit. Such a request seems a little misplaced (unless we're in the dark and RttT awards will be based on politics).
Still, even though Ohio's application may be lessthan sterling (especially as it comes to support for charter schools and school turnarounds), you can't blame Strickland for trying to get badly needed dollars for Ohio's schools. It is in the interest of Ohio's children, especially the neediest among them in urban and rural schools, for the state's leaders to advocate for more federal K-12 funds, and to capitalize on existing federal funding streams.
A recent report from Center for American Progress, Bitter Pill, Better Formula, lays out a new formula for distributing Title I, Part A funds. Title I-A is the largest elementary and secondary program operated by the federal education department and allocates funds to districts with concentrations of low-income students.
Bitter Pill makes the case for replacing the current funding mechanism with one that is simpler and fairer. While the details of the proposed Title I-A formula change are quite complex (for example, the authors explain why existing measures of states' "fiscal effort" are incomplete and biased toward wealthy states), the rationale is simple and one that all Ohio leaders should become familiar with.
Stated simply, revising the Title I formula would not only serve low-income students better (the correlation between districts' allocations per poor child and their actual concentration of poor kids would rise from .19 to .32 under the new formula) but would reap larger funding allocations for Ohio.
In fact, the report shows that Ohio stands to gain more than all but five other states, and estimates that Ohio's Title I-A allocations would grow by six percent between FY2009 and FY2010 with the new formula. In FY2008, Ohio districts received $512 million in Title I-A funds; under the revised formula, then, poor children in the Buckeye State could receive approximately $30.7 million more annually.
Bitter Pill doesn't gloss over the political challenges to revising the Title I-A formula (not all states stand to gain from it). But with painful budget cuts looming, Ohio can't afford not to maximize any and every federal funding opportunity.
Admittedly, $31 million is pennies compared to Race to the Top's $400 million. But Race to the Top funds are one-shot and are no panacea for states' long-term fiscal problems; conversely, a revised Title I-A formula would result in stable annual increases for Ohio's poorest students, and with no costly requirements attached.
By Jamie Davies O'Leary
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Finding excellence in Canton, Ohio by Jamie Davies O'Leary
Yesterday morning I visited McGregor Elementary, a school in Canton, Ohio, serving students in preschool through sixth-grade, and doing it very well. The building sits practically across the street from the sprawling Timken Co. steel plant, nestled in a neighborhood you might describe as working class. Even if you've never been to a northeastern Ohio city, the surroundings immediately feel familiar. It reflects the quintessence of old industrial cities, the kind whose rapid job loss and demographic shifts leave them looking worn and a little forgotten. Read the full post here.
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Thumbs up on Obama's K-12 education themes, by Chester E. Finn, Jr.
On primary-secondary education, as on most topics, Mr. Obama stayed at 30,000 feet [in his State of the Union address]. The main themes he sounded, however, are fine: use federal education dollars to reward success, not failure; apply Arne Duncan's "race to the top" reform priorities to the mega-bucks Elementary/Secondary Education Act;and keep a "competitive" element in this rather than simply distributing dollars via formula. All extremely hard to do but all worth doing. Read the rest of this post here.
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The funniest education-related Super Bowl commercial
Curious as to how Fordham manages to churn out so much terrific education news and analysis in such a timely fashion? We employ a Gadfly of course. Watch this video to learn more.
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Convergence and Contradictions in Teachers' Perceptions of Policy Reform Ideas
Learning Point Associates & Public Agenda
Jane Goggshall, Amber Ott, & Molly Lasagna
What happens when teachers and policymakers don't see eye to eye? On issues like performance pay, standardized tests, teacher tenure, and termination, there is a rift between what many teachers and decision-makers think, and this report argues that addressing it is necessary if there's any hope to build enough support and legitimacy to truly change the teaching profession.
The third release from the Retaining Teacher Talent study, this report presents survey data from 890 public school teachers and six focus groups, and highlights where teachers' opinions parallel or depart from what policymakers and researchers think. Where they are at odds is perhaps most interesting. The vast majority of teachers (92 percent) say that student engagement in coursework is an excellent or good measure of their effectiveness; meanwhile, only 56 percent say standardized test scores are a good or excellent indicator of teacher success. (In fact, "too much testing" was the most frequently cited drawback of teaching, ahead of discipline problems and low salary.)
This general antipathy among teachers toward testing, as well as toward eliminating teacher tenure (only nine percent view it as a "very effective" way to improve teacher quality), performance pay tied to test scores (just eight percent), and terminating poor performers (34 percent), threaten to undermine national and statewide efforts to improve the performance of the students who need it most.
What policies do teachers rally behind? Smaller class sizes, reducing student discipline problems, and professional development. While the report correctly points out that research on nearly alleducationreforms is thin, it misses the mark when it laments that ideas advanced by Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, etc. don't represent the most popular ideas to teachers (since when does popularity mean good policy?) and suggests that policymakers take teachers' advice (sometimes that's okay, but what about when teachers thwart reform?)
In Ohio, teachers are lucky. Some favorite policies (smaller class size, professional development) are currently en vogue, and the more controversial reforms that made teachers in this survey bristle haven't really been brought to the table, at least not yet. Still, those caring about future education reform in the Buckeye State might want to familiarize themselves with teachers' perceptions on key issues. Read it here.
by Jamie Davies O'Leary
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The Economic Benefits from Halving the Dropout Rate
Alliance for Excellent Education
The commonly cited phrase that an investment in kids is an investment in our collective future is no understatement. This report by the Alliance for Excellent Education examines the potential impact of increased high school graduation rates on local economies, individual earnings, and home sales.
In 2008, an estimated 600,000 students from the fifty largest US cities and surrounding metropolitan areas made the decision to forego high school graduation. The authors, perhaps realizing that achieving a 100 percent graduation rate isn't realistic, determine the economic impact of reducing that rate by just half (300,000 students).
The predicted gains are noteworthy. For the forty-five metropolitan areas included in the model, graduating 300,000 high school students would result in: $4.1 billion in additional earnings over the average year; 30,000 new jobs and increased local GDP by up to $5.3 billion by the midpoint of graduates' careers; increased local and state tax revenues -- up to $536 million during an average year; and home purchases totaling $10.5 billion. All of this, from 300,000 additional high school diplomas.
For Columbus alone, the benefits would be $39 million in earnings and economic growth of $49 million. For Cleveland, earnings would increase by $52 million and overall economic growth by $66 million. These figures clearly spell out the benefits students and society as a whole would reap from increasing graduation rates.
Unfortunately, despite the obvious returns of reducing the dropout rate, Ohio's fiscal perils probably mean that education could take a back seat to issues of unemployment, broken pensions systems, or filling budget holes, especially considering that our current budget is plugged with about $8 billion of one-time federal stimulus money.
While the report presents useful data showing the cost of the dropout crisis--count on economists to drum up forecasts about the relationships between graduation rates and economic growth or earnings--this doesn't guarantee action or even tell us the best policies by which to reduce the dropout rate. Although increasing Ohio's graduation rate is a laudable goal, education strategies to achieve this will surely be costly. With an unemployment rate of 11 percent and a looming deficit of $8 billion, Ohio simply can't pay for it all. Read the full report here.
by Mark LeBoeuf
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Hopes, Fears and Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2009
Robin Lake, Ed.
Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington at Bothell
This paper is the fifth of an annual series from the National Charter Research Project and provides a timely look at critical challenges facing charter sector (including a chapter by Fordham's Terry Ryan). This series is best known for its yearly update on the charter landscape.
Noteworthy is the considerable growth charters have experienced-- charter enrollment nationwide grew from approximately 900,000 to more than 1,400,000 between 2004 to 2009 (an increase of 55 percent). Ryan's chapter on the importance of strong school leaders is particularly relevant in light of the current administration's efforts to turn around 5,000 of the country's lowest-performing schools. He highlights the clear need for strong leadership in turnaround efforts, based on Fordham's experience as a charter authorizer working to turn around a failing charter school in Dayton. Another interesting chapter looks into the relationship between unions and charters. The AFT represents about 80 charters nationwide, and while this is a relatively small number, it raises many interesting questions on the future relationship between charters and unions. The report also highlights the dilemma faced by high performing charters as they face a gap between test score achievement and college readiness.
Well worth the read as it covers a broad depth of topics as charter schools mature. You can find it here.
by Eric Ulas
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So that our readers can be snowed in, but not tuned out...
Compiled by Tim Hoffine
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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 email@example.com. Would you like to be spared from the Gadfly? Email firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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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