THE OHIO EDUCATION GADFLY

A Bi-Weekly Bulletin of News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 4, Number 5. February 24, 2010.

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Contents

Editorial

Capital Matters

Review & Analysis

Flypaper's Finest

Short Reviews

Editor's Extras

About Us

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Editorial

When there is less of it, school funding should encourage innovation

No one denies that Ohio's economy is in crisis. The state's current $50.5 billion biennial budget was made whole in 2009 by $8 billion in one-time federal Reinvestment and Recovery Act dollars and $2.4 billion in budget cuts. It is estimated that the state will face at least an $8 billion deficit in 2011 ($3.9 billion in FY2012 and $4 billion in FY2013).

Without new federal dollars the state is going to have to cut upward of 15 percent of its current spending. As K-12 education funding represents about 40 percent of the budget, a sizeable portion of these cuts will likely need to come out of school funding. David Varda, executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, acknowledged as much in the Columbus Dispatch earlier this month, "Is it realistic that we're going to get through this biennial budget without cuts? Our school districts have been held pretty harmless compared to their colleagues in other states."

And the Dispatch echoed his concerns in an editorial Sunday, "Difficult cutbacks are in the state's future and almost certainly in the amount of state aid school districts will receive. What is uncertain is when the state's leaders will acknowledge this and start talking numbers."

The message seems clear -- expect cuts to school funding in the near future. Despite this brutal fiscal reality, Ohio's system of school funding does little to encourage smart spending decisions. For example, it does not reward district or building leaders for figuring out how to make cuts across their budgets that can improve efficiencies while also improving performance (e.g. rewarding teachers for performance rather than years of experience). Nor does the system encourage cost efficiencies like sharing services across districts or merging smaller districts into larger ones. Both recommendations were shared by a new report from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program and the Greater Ohio Policy Center.

In times of crisis, flexible systems work better than rigid, one-size-fits-all, command-and-control systems. This is true across all sectors of human endeavor -- combat, business, politics, athletics, and, yes, even education. Like an NFL quarterback barking out changes to the play at the line of scrimmage, leaders closest to the action are in the best position to make the calls about what works.

Instead, Ohio is creating new mandates through HB1 and its dubious school funding model (see here for two powerful critiques). By design, these mandates are the same for all public schools -- rich and poor, rural, suburban, and urban, high-performing and low-performing, and large and small alike.

The following mandates are coming online in the coming months and years (note, waivers are serving as a safety valve but they are temporary and are issued at the discretion of the Ohio Department of Education):

These costly new requirements are serious burdens on school leaders and they bulk up the status quo without encouraging reforms, let alone transformation. Consider the substantial costs of just the salary requirements of the K-3 class-size mandate (see table below).

Last school year (2008-09), 509,686 students were enrolled in grades K-3 in Ohio's public schools. Under the current 25:1 student-teacher ratio, the state requires about 20,347 teachers to serve those students. By 2014, every public school in the state is required to have a 15:1 student teacher ratio at these grade levels. This means an additional 13,565 teachers will be necessary to serve the current number of students in the state's K-3 classrooms.

Assuming $57,812 per teacher for salary and benefits (based on the FY2011 statewide average teacher salary in HB1), Ohio will need an additional $784 million each year just to pay these new teachers by 2014.

There are additional implementation costs to consider. For example, districts will not only have to hire and pay the new teachers, they will also have to provide professional development for them, find or build additional classroom space, and purchase more instructional materials.

Meanwhile, the evidence that class-size reduction even works is questionable at best. Melinda French Gates recently wrote in the Washington Post, "The country has tried a lot of (outrageously expensive) reforms that don't improve student outcomes -- such as reducing class size by one or two students and paying teachers to get master's degrees."

Where's this money supposed to come from if the state lacks the funds? Local taxpayers are making it clear that they can't give any more. The Cincinnati Enquirer captured the angst when it quoted a mother of two urging her district not to seek a new levy. "I think you guys need to think about this very hard in these economic times that we have right now," the parent said. "Every one of you knows...a family where one or both parents have lost their job. Increasing their taxes could be the final straw to them losing their home."

For Ohio's schools to innovate while also cutting costs and boosting performance they need a school funding system that rewards local decision making and provides real incentives for changing. To get there, the state should scuttle the evidence-based model of school funding -- or modify it seriously -- and move toward a weighted funding plan wherein per-pupil amounts "weighted" according to the specific needs of individual students follow the students to the public schools they choose to attend.

By devolving financial decision making to the school level, districts would have to compete for the business of the individual schools as schools could buy services from multiple providers. Those school districts and other providers (e.g., county Educational Service Centers) that provide quality services (such as financial management, transportation, and special education) at the best price would excel, while those that don't would either have to improve or close. In this fashion, service consortiums, district consolidations, and the like would be driven by market forces rather than political horse-trading.

by Terry Ryan

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Capital Matters

Fordham's charter school sponsorship contract 2.0

Next school year marks the Fordham Foundation's fifth year as a charter school sponsor in Ohio. We currently have four schools up for renewal of their original sponsorship agreements (aka, charters). Their renewal presents us with an opportunity to update the universal sponsorship contract that we use with all schools that we sponsor, and to share our thoughts on what constitutes a quality contract.

We've learned a lot in the last five years (some lessons tougher than others), and have watched many charter schools -- including some of our own -- struggle to deliver students the excellent education they deserve. With 58 percent of charter students in Ohio's Big 8 cities proficient in reading last year, and only 49 percent proficient in math, improving the academic performance of charters (as well fostering sound operational/financial management that enables academic improvement) is critical. As a sponsor, we've come to appreciate the important role that sponsorship contracts play in holding charter schools accountable. While it certainly hasn't been easy to take action when schools don't meet performance or operational standards, it's necessary.
So what are the key components of a sound sponsorship agreement?

As was the case in 2004, when we drafted our initial sponsorship contract, Fordham still firmly believes in allowing schools maximum operational freedoms. We stay out of the day-to-day operations of the schools we sponsor. In exchange, those schools are accountable to us, and ultimately to the public, for results. Specifically, the school must perform well academically on state assessments; be fiscally viable and operationally sound; and demonstrate strong, effective, and transparent governance.

Our new sponsorship agreement retains the freedom for accountability principle (indeed, schools approved for sponsorship by the Fordham Foundation are free to educate their students according to their own unique education plans), yet also contains checks and balances essential to making the autonomy-for-accountability principle work for school and sponsor alike. We also want incentives in the contract that encourage and reward performance.

Key provisions of our new contract include:

High-performance rebate. A school may get a rebate of $2,500 to $10,000 off its annual sponsorship fee -- depending on performance and enrollment -- if, in addition to the school's rating, it met AYP requirements, did not have findings for recovery in its most recent audits, and was 80 percent or more compliant in terms of documentation and site visits. Thus, it's not okay to have good academics but weak finances, governance, or operations -- a school must be strong in all of these areas.

Nepotism. No voting board member may be related in any manner to any employee of the school, management organization, or vendor that services the school. Services are defined as any work that relates to the education mission, operations, or governance of the school. This provision seeks to eliminate the conflict of interest that is inherent when school boards approve the employment of relatives. While state statute speaks partially to nepotism, it is narrow and only prohibits employment of governing authority members and their relatives with non-profit or for-profit operators of schools (e.g., management companies). If a school doesn't have an operator, the statute doesn't apply. The Fordham Foundation believes schools must always remain objective when it comes to issues regarding employees -- we've seen what can happen when this is not the case.

Unauditable designation. If Fordham learns that a school may receive an unauditable designation from the auditor, the school shall be subject to probation, suspension, termination, or non-renewal. To even begin to go down the path of receiving an unauditable designation, a school likely has substantial problems. Our goal with this provision is to be proactive and not allow a school to get to the point that it may be designated unauditable.

Streamlined accountability plan. We continue to have four main goals for our schools: 1) make Adequate Yearly Progress (there are four ways to accomplish this in Ohio), 2) be rated at least the state's mid-level rating of Continuous Improvement, 3) outperform comparable schools (i.e., local district schools and charters statewide), and 4) make more than a year of growth on the reading and math components of Ohio's value-added growth measure (which is appropriate as our schools serve the state's neediest children). We also encourage each school to include their own unique indicators of success (e.g., 100 percent of graduating students go on to high performing college preparatory programs).

Of course, there are more than 70 charter school sponsors in Ohio, and not everyone shares Fordham's approach to sponsorship or our theory behind quality charter contracts. And, to some, our terms will seem strict. But we believe that it's not asking too much to demand charter schools to be top performers in exchange for true operational freedoms. Standards matter.

by Kathryn Mullen Upton and Terry Ryan

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If you can't beat 'em, join 'em: Cleveland teachers union wants to organize charter schools

Speaking to reporters last month about the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's Academic Transformation Plan, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten warned that teachers need to be full partners in the district's reform effort, "I am deadly serious about a reform agenda that does things with teachers, not to them." Apparently, she wasn't referring just to district school teachers. This week Cleveland's AFT affiliate commenced with efforts to organize the city's charter schools.

The Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU) made public records requests this week to Cuyahoga County charter schools asking for teachers' names, years of experience, current salary, and other information, presumably in preparation for reaching out to the teachers about joining the CTU. Meanwhile, union officials issued a newsletter to its current members advising them of its efforts. In the newsletter, CTU President David Quolke and Director of Professional Issues Mark Baumgartner questioned why the district would want its students to be educated by charter schools, "What is in it for CMSD?"

For starters, how about better-educated students?

Six of the top ten schools in the city are charter schools. And the charter operators that the district wants to bring into its portfolio are among the best in Ohio. Take, for example, Citizens' Academy, which the district school board is considering sponsoring. The school boasts outstanding academic achievement results year-in, year-out, and serves a population of students just as disadvantaged and academically challenged as the rest of the city.

How would a unionized teaching force impact the ability of a school like Citizens to continue its success? A quick review of the collective bargaining agreement shows that school leaders of organized charter schools would be severely restricted in how they hire, reassign, and compensate their teachers. Parent-teacher conferences, before- and after-school tutoring, and other interactions that are vital to successful charter schools could be capped. Collaboration among the teaching staff, another hallmark of outstanding charters, would be difficult if staff meetings were restricted to one hour per month as they are in district schools.

Executive Director of Citizens' Academy, Perry White, asks a better question than "What's in it for CMSD?": "The overriding question is how will having a teachers union improve on our ability to educate all of our children and make sure they're ready to graduate from college? We respect that they represent the interests of teachers; we represent the interests of students."

It's not all bad. Unionized charter teachers in Cleveland would reap some benefits -- like being able to avoid even the sight of school lunches and having a say about where vending machines are placed in their buildings (as provided for in Article 11, Section 3, and Article 13, Section 1 of the CTU contract respectively).

A version of this piece appeared on Fordham's Flypaper blog.

by Emmy L. Partin

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Review & Analysis

Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher's Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap
Steven Farr, Teach For America
February 2010

With nearly two decades of data on more than 17,000 teachers, Teach For America has released its internal findings showing what distinguishes its most highly effective teachers from the rest. The book, Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher's Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap, outlines six principles embodied by effective teachers and builds the evidence base for an issue that author Steven Farr says has been far too long shrugged off as an ineffable mystery -- what makes a great teacher?

TFA teachers and alumni will surely recall large portions of the "Teaching as Leadership" (TAL) framework from heart (or at least older iterations of it). My first encounter with TAL occurred during afternoon-long sessions at a coffee shop in 2005, between college graduation and moving to the East Coast to begin my teaching stint in Camden, New Jersey. I had just two weeks to ingest the formulas for extraordinary teaching before heading to Summer Institute (TFA's five-week boot camp).

For me, TAL was memorable (you'll see what I mean if you flip through it for yourself) because of its sense of urgency about closing America's vexing achievement gaps, and because its anecdotes inspired hope that hard-working young people could achieve the seemingly impossible with their students.

But the contents of TAL aren't just motivators. For TFA teachers, the six principles are guidelines for how to measure classroom success, signposts for knowing whether you're on track to replicating the extraordinary achievements of teachers who've gone before you. The framework's principles are wrap-around and multi-purpose -- not only do they inform TFA's selection process, they serve as evaluation tools and guidance for TFA in developing its teachers from neophytes into educators capable of moving their students ahead by one, two, three, or more years of academic growth.

TFA has found that highly effective teachers do the following:

  1. Set big goals that are ambitious, specific, and measurable. I first learned this as BHAG -- "big, hairy, audacious goal" -- which doesn't make sense until you see someone's face after you proclaim that your kindergartners will read second-grade books by May. Then, "hairy" seems pretty accurate considering you haven't taught them how to sit in their chairs yet. (In fact, one NYC principal's expectation that teachers outline their goals for students recently instigated the United Federation of Teachers to file a grievance.)
  2. Invest students and their families. Teach For America doesn't have a monopoly on this; excellent schools everywhere realize that family involvement is a key factor in helping kids achieve. However, TFA may be unique in the extent to which its teachers will do nearly anything (dye their hair, shave their heads, pay for field trips out of pocket) to motivate their students to learn. I came to understand the essence of this pillar when I watched footage of a teacher whose third graders were screaming and crying (literally) with excitement over which class had a higher homework completion rate.
  3. Plan purposefully. When you're an amateur with a tough assignment, deliberate planning is one of the only ways to prevent the type of crashing and burning that haunts every new teacher. Everything -- and I mean everything -- must have purpose, which is why this principle is exemplified not just by airtight lesson planning but by classroom management strategies prescribing even how a student raises her hand to use the bathroom. Such deliberateness prevents misbehavior from erupting during transitions, down-time, etc. and ensures that students are spending every second of their time on task.
  4. Execute effectively. Effective teaching results from a great deal of preparation and practice. TFA realizes that stellar teachers are masters of communication, can think on their feet, and adjust mid-course when necessary. It also requires a dose of humility to recognize when a lesson is failing, to not take things personally, and to be so committed to the students that you can recognize the slightest wrinkle of confusion on a child's face during a lesson, or a subtle act of disinvestment, and make changes accordingly.
  5. Continuously increase effectiveness. Steven Farr points out that when observing TFA's most highly effective teachers, it's common to hear apologies from them that the class is in the midst of dramatically changing its management system, restructuring guided reading groups, etc. In other words, the only thing these teachers are tied to is never being tied to anything. Top-notch teachers constantly seek improvement, are reflective about themselves, and take responsibility for lessons, systems, or strategies that aren't working. In order to be effective in this realm, an obsession with all forms of data is pretty much a prerequisite. The cycle of tracking, observing, learning, and morphing is so central to TFA that I wouldn't be surprised if interviewees earn points for referencing their love of self-help literature.
  6. Work relentlessly. Some principles inherent to highly effective teaching are harder to develop than others, and I think this area is one of them. Great TFA teachers have a relentless commitment to their students and feel urgent about closing America's achievement gaps. But the fuel driving TFA teachers to work long hours, to face failure daily, to not only write high expectations on a classroom poster but to truly believe that children performing years behind grade level can leave their class achieving at high levels comes from an internal locus that I think even TFA has a difficult time quantifying.

Teach For America believes unequivocally in the power of quality teaching to transform educational opportunities for low-income and minority students who have been denied the excellent education they deserve. Through their organizational commitment to data collection, research, and constant self-improvement, TFA has refined these principles over time and has leveraged them to impact the lives of 3 million students. Five years ago when I first came across TAL, I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of these principles, or that only by living and breathing by them would I be able to succeed as a novice and live up to the difficult tasked placed in front of me.

I remain convinced by the power of Teaching as Leadership to recruit, evaluate, and develop extraordinary teachers, and am excited by a growing consensus that it is indeed possible to measure what makes a teacher excellent. Of course, the evidence around teacher quality is still partial at best, and the definition remains blurry (not everyone agrees that "effectiveness" should be the driving metric).

But in reading Teaching as Leadership, you begin to see at least a faint outline made possible by the successes of thousands of teachers in low-income communities -- one with the potential to convince even the worst of skeptics that America's achievement gaps are not inexorable. Policy makers, educators, and the rest of us must press forward in search of greater precision around defining, measuring, and building systems to attract and reward our highly effective teachers. For the 14 million children growing up in poverty in the US, our search for answers has never been more imperative. Buy the book here.

by Jamie Davies O'Leary

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Flypaper's Finest
A selection of the best offerings from Flypaper, Fordham's blog.

Move over Charlie Brown, here comes Ohio, by Jamie Davies O'Leary

This has been a tough winter for Ohio and its cities, and I don't mean because of the weather... In last week's Ohio Education Gadfly, we pointed out another rating system that, although not education-specific, is still somewhat disheartening. Both Cleveland and Columbus made Forbes' worst 10 winter cities list, with Cleveland taking the title. I have to admit I was somewhat surprised to see Columbus alongside infamously blustery cities like Boston, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Yesterday the Buckeye State earned yet another Forbes prize (do they employ a legion of disgruntled Ohio natives or what?), with Cleveland rising to the top of the "most miserable cities" list. Read the full post here.

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Cincinnati: We'll sell you a school building, just don't use it for a school, by Kathryn Mullen Upton

Can a school district sell a school building and prohibit the buyer from opening a school in that building? It seems laughable, but the Cincinnati Public Schools are suing an individual who purchased the district's vacant Roosevelt School because the purchaser plans to open a charter school in that space. Read more here.

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Short Reviews

2009 State Teacher Policy Yearbook: Ohio
National Council on Teacher Quality
January 2010

This third edition of the NCTQ Yearbook takes another well-deserved look at the teaching profession, boasting a revamped set of goals and indicators even more rigorous than last year's. The headline for Ohio? We joined the rest of the nation in floundering on all fronts. Whereas the highest grade in 2008 was a B+ (North Carolina), this year's front-runner clocks in with only a C (Florida). Ohio scored marginally above the national average of a D, garnering a rating of D+. The comparisons stop there, however, as NCTQ President Kate Walsh explains, because the metrics were significantly overhauled--and to our eyes, for the better. There are now five focus areas (up from three): teacher training, recruitment (in particular, expanding the pool), identifying effective teachers, retaining effective teachers, and dismissing ineffective ones.

The report found that Ohio did particularly poorly in four areas: Failure to use evidence of student progress the main component of teacher evaluations; lack of an efficient termination process for ineffective teachers; a disingenuous route to alternative licensure; and not ensuring that elementary teachers are well prepared to teach mathematics. Ohio's policy highlights, as outlined by the report, were somewhat lackluster. They included supports for differential pay in high-needs schools and shortage subjects, support for performance pay, and requiring that all new teachers pass a pedagogy test. While Ohio technically supports differentiated and merit based pay, there has been no substantive effort by the state to enable them. If these are the highlights of Ohio's teacher prep policies, we're pretty comfortable stating that the Buckeye State earned its rating. There's much more to comb through in both the national and state reports. Find the full report here and see how Ohio did here.

by Eric Ulas and Daniela Fairchild

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Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education: A Report on Rethinking the Federal Role in Education
The Brookings Institution
February 2010

This report envisions a new role for the federal government in promoting school choice opportunities for students, and points to initiatives in Ohio (and in other places) that have expanded school choice options. It highlights Ohio choice opportunities--particularly voucher programs in Dayton and Cleveland--alongside those in New York, D.C. and Chicago, as among the few places where voucher programs exist.

A good primer for anyone interested in school choice generally, the report contains a fairly detailed history of school choice legislation and judicial decision-making (including the Cleveland-originated U.S. Supreme Court voucher ruling in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris). Broad enough in its scope to detail rationales supporting school choice, the report contains important details about different programs and is not shy about calling out the effectiveness of some of the programs.

Most importantly, the report focuses on ways the federal government can support school choice, such as by providing a framework for sharing information with families about their school options. Other recommendations hint at a more proactive role for the federal government, such as expanding the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's provisions for school choice for eligible students to include virtual schools.

The authors are careful to challenge the role of school districts in implementing school choice policy (specifically in terms of disseminating information about other schooling options), since they are "interested parties" in how students and families make decisions about education. Strangely, though, the report makes no mention of why the federal government would be a better platform from which to disseminate information on school choice options than individual states.

This omission is a reminder of the unresolved questions surrounding the appropriate state and federal roles in public education. While reviewing the historical evolution of school choice options, the report fails to do the heavy lifting required to make a convincing argument that one level of government can intrinsically serve better than another in this role, especially as it relates to school choice, one of the most controversial aspects of public education. Read it here.

by Tim Hoffine

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Resources for Districts and Charter Management Organizations
The Broad Foundation
2009

This collection of papers and "toolkits" is meant to help districts and charter management organizations navigate through some of the most complicated issues facing school systems. These papers distill "best practices" from 10 urban districts and are supposed to serve as set of guidebooks that school leaders can adapt to fit their particular needs. The latest addresses the expansion of access to Advanced Placement courses. How can a school identify earlier qualified students, better train qualified staff, and help overcome financial barriers for students? Another takes up the logistics of school closures, from sample budgetary timelines to responsible reassignment of students and staff. These kits eschew ideology and rhetoric for common sense approaches to some tough organizational challenges, and may be worth the attention of your eyeballs. Check 'em out here.

by Eric Ulas

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Editor's Extras

What Clevelanders can learn from Columbus middle school principals

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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