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Thursday, December 10, 2015

New ESEA Returns Power to States. But is that a Good Thing?

It looks like the federal government is going to back off and let states handle more education policy. This is a direct response to the uproar over testing, No Child Left Behind, Common Core, Race to the Top and other heavy-handed, top-down federal initiatives.

To be clear, this doesn't mean testing is going away; it's just that states can limit the time it takes to do them. It also limits the stakes inherent in the tests and no longer requires test scores to be tied to teacher evaluations, which I have always considered a mistake because of year-to-year fluctuations in test results.

But I have to admit that I'm concerned about leaving stuff this important up to the states. Now in some states, it will be fine -- states that have a history of valuing and committing to public education. But in other states, especially those in the least-educated corners of our nation, I fear they will see this and wipe their brows, knowing they will no longer be held to account for failing to properly serve kids.

This whole accountability regime has me flummoxed, I must admit. I like that AYP forces wealthy districts to have to figure out how to serve even small numbers of at-risk youth. I like that my 1st grader is learning tougher math concepts than even my 5th grader did four years ago.

But I hate all the testing and what it's done to the anxiety many kids (including my own) feel, not to mention teachers, administrators, and even entire communities as they get rated based on these things. I want my kids learning cool things. But I hate that it's taken tests to stimulate it.

This concern stretches now nationally with the federal government's step back. Without the high-stakes tests, will kids still be learning these concepts? In some states yes, others no. Without the federal hammer, will at-risk kids be served in all districts? In some states yes, others no. Without as much testing, will we be able to determine if kids are learning all they'll need in the 21st Century world? In some states yes, others no.

This is the problem with the federal government stepping back -- it will lead to the Balkanization of American education. I remember when kids would move here from Tennessee or Kentucky when I was a kid and they'd be 6 months to a year behind what we were learning. That's not good.

I also remember that when we let states handle important civil rights issues previously, it was not our nation's proudest moment. That's also not good.

But I also know that the federal government went too far, overtested and created in many ways a poisonous, high-stakes atmosphere that turned talented teachers away from the profession and created test-anxiety in 8 year olds. This is also not good.

I would hope this policy shift would grant our nation the opportunity to find a better balance. There is little question that basing so much upon how 8 year olds do on a test one day out of 180 does not give a full or complete picture of a school's worth. But it does grant us at least some window into what's going on at the school. If we're going to have tests, they should measure more than analytic ability, but also a kid's creative and practical abilities too, which will drive curriculum to be more creative and practical. The results of these more comprehensive assessments are far less driven by demographics than our current batch.

But learning involves more than tests. As Einstein said, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." There are skills that are far more predictive of a child's ultimate success than how well they do on a standardized math test in 4th grade. Things like a love of learning -- what I contend is the most powerful predictor -- grit, independence, critical thinking, teamwork, and a host of other measures should also be valued. I don't know if it's possible to assess these through a quantitative test. But these are all things we want our kids to know and learn how to do. Yet the recent focus on the three Rs had been so intense that kids are only learning the other important concepts by chance.

Getting the federal government out of the picture in many ways will free up states to innovate on these ideas. However, only a handful probably will. And kids in those states will be really lucky. My fear is the rest of our kids won't be. They'll be stuck in a watered-down version of today's accountability structure that will be somewhat less onerous, but also filled with far fewer, and lower expectations.

I have always thought that the best role for the federal government in education is funding. The feds are in the position to provide enough revenue so that, for example, Ohio can finally live up to its funding requirements under the Ohio Constitution. If I had been President, Race to the Top would have been a call to provide adequate and equitable funding to establish a world-class education system throughout the United States. In order to receive this funding, states would have to show their funding formula equitably distributes funding to every child in the state. Then the feds would make up the shortfall on adequacy, if states didn't have enough funding to adequately pay for the formula.

The problem with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top was both provided far too few resources for the far too many strings that came attached with them. My concept is kind of the opposite: A few strings dealing with funding formulas (you can only keep getting the money if your formula continues to equitably distribute the funds so every kid gets what they need to succeed) and far greater resourcing.

Perhaps this step back will give our leaders the chance to re-think the federal government's role in the national education sphere. I doubt that it will, but with each new turn, there's always fresh hope.

What I pray does not happen is that kids in some states and regions of the country now fall further behind because their local leaders care less about public education than leaders in other states. That, I fear, may be even worse than high-stakes testing. Though not much.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why did the Similar Students Model Spark a Nerd War?

Recently, there have been a spate of stories and rumblings about an education performance calculation called a "Similar Students" model -- a model that the Ohio Department of Education is going to be studying over the next several months.

The idea behind the model is to figure out how students are doing, regardless of demographic background. This is a concept with which I share much in common. After all, I have written in this space and elsewhere that I can predict the Performance Index (Ohio's single proficiency measure) scores of 3 out of 4 Ohio school districts if you give me nothing but the district's Free and Reduced Lunch population.

I also am excited by the work of Robert Sternberg, who developed a theory that broke intelligence into 3 categories -- creative, practical and analytical. Why is that exciting? Because poor, minority kids who test in the creative and practical sections are just as likely to do well as white, wealthy kids. This could mean that future testing may not be demographically determined as today's regime, which focuses solely on the analytical does.

And while folks at Yale are developing the Aurora Assessment based on Sternberg's work, it's still being beta tested and used primarily to identify gifted kids in underrepresented subgroups.

The Similar Students Measure was developed by the California Charter School Association to help that state determine performance, given demographic challenges. However, it's now being championed by the big Ohio charter school interests that have made our state a national joke. Why is that? Because the Similar Students Model makes Ohio charters -- especially the state's woefully performing eSchools -- look much better than their awful report card performance would indicate.

And for guys who make $100 million a year providing these dreadful services to at-risk kids, like William Lager of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) -- whose all Fs and one D on the state report card is worse than any school district in the state, even Youngstown, whose performance was so poor that the state put it in academic distress and effectively got rid of the elected school board -- this new system would be a Godsend because it would let them off the hook under the new, tougher accountability regime expected after the historic passage of House Bill 2 this fall.

To their credit, the Fordham Institute had a study done on Similar Students that took the methodology to task and argued that Ohio's current system of using Value-Added data (which demonstrates student growth over the year on standardized tests) is superior. The CCSA went bananas over the criticism and started spouting off to some of this state's most vociferous, anti-quality charter school advocates, who used these criticisms to explain why Similar Students was better and the criticism of it wrong in media and other reports.

Yes. This is what a Nerd War looks like.

Anyway, I felt bad for the CCSA. Because they didn't know what they were getting into when they jumped into the Ohio fray. No one outside of Ohio really can understand the bare-knuckles politics involved here.

But here's a way of looking at it.

The state's top Republican lobbyist -- not its top education policy guru -- is making education policy arguments for the anti-quality charters on this issue. Nothing against Neil Clark, with whom I had a few dealings during my time in Columbus, but he is not an education policy expert. His expertise is political.

That's not his fault, by the way. It's just an indictment of our charter school debate in Ohio that it is a well-paid lobbyist, not a policy nerd, who is the spokesman for the anti-quality charter crowd, which should tell you all you need to know about the policy seriousness of the argument. It's being made by a political operative (though a highly skilled and effective one), not a policy wonk. In a Nerd War, you need nerds fighting for you.

Lager doesn't have that.

So who carries more weight -- a lobbyist in Ohio, or the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, whose recent study on Ohio's eSchools showed once again how poorly they perform? Mr. Clark called CREDO -- whose studies have become a kind-of gold standard on national and local charter school performance and was set up by pro-charter school advocates -- a "don't-think-tank". Again, catchy cut downs are no substitute for real policy differences.

This isn't to say CREDO is above criticism. For a real, substantive critique of CREDO's methodology, look at what the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado published.

Clark is just out of his element here. But it is telling that ECOT and the online schools have a political operative make their arguments. That's because there simply are no policy arguments or data analytics that can put lipstick on Ohio's eSchool performance pig. They just really, really perform poorly. And, in fact, as I've reported several times for Innovation Ohio and the Ohio Charter School Accountability Project, they are a heavy drag on the entire charter sector, which would still underperform local public schools without eSchools, just not by as much.

However, it now appears that the CCSA and Fordham have made peace, or at least reached a Nerd War ceasefire. They issued a joint statement this week that's replete with wonk, but essentially says what the CCSA told the Beacon Journal -- that California's model was developed because they don't have the same student-level data Ohio has with its Value-Added measure. The bottom line is this: Lager's forces were dealt a fatal blow on this front with the joint statement. They now have no nerds fighting for them.

In a Nerd War, that's a bad thing.

As Ohio continues to study the Similar Students Model, I hope it expands to look at the work of Dr. Sternberg so we can develop a better, more thorough battery of assessments that aren't so demographically affected and encourage a more well-rounded learning experience for Ohio's kids.

So let this be the first salvo fired in the next Nerd War.

Hopefully, Ohio's kids will win this one, just like they did the previous one.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Charters Fixing Youngstown? Data Say, "Not So Fast."

One of the key provisions of Ohio's new $71 million federal charter school grant is to, according to the state's cover letter, "Integrate quality charter development into the State’s new authority to create achievement school districts serving the children of the most dysfunctional school districts."

That's an EduSpeak way of saying they want to use a good chunk of the money to create more charter schools in Youngstown and any future area that's in "academic distress." (By the way, the only time "achievement school district" comes up on a search of the Ohio Department of Education website is in the state's grant application to the federal government. That designation doesn't exist in this state outside of the grant writers' rhetorical flair.)

But there is a major question: Should charters be seen as the rescuer of Youngstown City Schools? Recently released data would suggest that they should not, as I wrote briefly for Innovation Ohio. 

This is not to say Youngstown is any great shakes performance wise. 

It is not. 

Youngstown has struggled for years to improve their students' academic performance. But Youngstown's struggles are much less profound than Youngstown charters' struggles. And significantly less so. Let's look at the data, which I used to calculate each school's Performance Index (PI) in each proficiency test, along with Youngstown's PI (which is the state's amalgamation of proficiency performance and is used by the state to determine whether charter schools can open in a particular district with 120 being the highest possible score and 30 being the lowest) in each test.

























When comparing Mahoning County charter schools – the charters with the greatest percentage of its students coming from Youngstown, as well as the most obvious starting place to expand Youngstown’s charter footprint – with Youngstown, what becomes clear is that even the state’s lowest performing school district (according to the Ohio General Assembly) overwhelms its local charter competitors.



In only 1 of the 20 comparable performance tests do Mahoning County charters perform better on average than Youngstown – and that by a mere two-tenths of 1 percent. In the 19 other categories, Youngstown outperforms the average Mahoning County charter school by an average of nearly 14 percent, from as high as a 34.5 percent difference in 9th Grade English Language Arts to a 0.7 percent difference in 4th Grade math. In 13 of those 19 categories, Youngstown outperforms the average Mahoning County charter by more than 10 percent.

Beyond just using the average scores, it is also rare for any Mahoning County charter school to outperform what the Ohio General Assembly says is the state’s worst-performing school district on any comparable proficiency assessment.


In fact, Youngstown outperforms its individual Mahoning County charter school counterparts 2 out of every 3 times on comparable tests. In no broad testing category (English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies) do Mahoning County charters outperform Youngstown more often than not. Only in math, where Youngstown outperforms its Mahoning County charter school competitors by a single case, is the count even close.

While it appears the proponents of the Youngstown Plan seem intent on investing a large portion of the state’s controversial $71 million federal grant on expanding charter schools in Youngstown, the data suggest that there are few, if any, options in Youngstown that would provide better educational outcomes than the Youngstown City Schools. And at the very least, there are not enough high-performers in the Youngstown area to warrant a significant taxpayer investment in that area’s charter schools.

Youngstown does not have a ready-made group of high-performing charters in whom to invest, unlike a city like Cleveland with its Breakthrough Schools. The new CEO should carefully consider whether expanding Youngstown’s poor-performing charter schools should make up a the lion's share of the reform.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ohio's Record with Federal Charter Grants Not So Great

When I last left you, I was cheering about the passage of House Bill 2 -- Ohio's most important charter school reform bill since the program began in the late 1990s. It was quite a heady day.

Since then, there continues to be controversy over the $71 million federal grant Ohio received from the US Department of Education to expand high-performing charters here. In fact, the feds have held up payment until the Ohio Department of Education explains its actions and apparently false statements it made in its grant application. And there remain concerns that the bulk of the funding will go to boost charters in Youngstown -- an area of the state that has a particularly poor performing charter sector.

I have consistently said that while I have grave concerns about the veracity of several statements in the grant application, I also believe that Ohio should take this opportunity to build upon HB 2's success and use the funding to grow our rather paltry high-performing charter school sector. I have also said that I'm really concerned about whether the Ohio Department of Education -- as currently constituted -- has the ability to properly administer this windfall.

After all, the guy who wrote the application and misled the feds on it is gone, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction is set to retire shortly. Given that ODE has recently dropped the ball on charter accountability, I'm not overly confident they can do this, especially now when an influx of federal money could help bolster the state's new reforms.

To its credit, the Fordham Institute looked at a previous iteration of the federal grant ODE received and found some encouraging things. The charters that got the grants tended to be higher performing and closed at smaller rates than charters overall. However, nearly 1 in 4 recipients still closed up shop after getting their grant. So it's still not a great outcome, just better than Ohio's nationally ridiculed charter sector overall.

However, there's a major caveat with what Fordham wrote -- the data stem from a 2007 grant that ended in 2013. This is 2015. The department that received the 2007 grant is nothing like the 2015 version. That grant Fordham examined essentially was administered during the Strickland Administration, whose ODE enjoyed relative staff stability, not to mention the State Superintendent tenure of Deb Delisle, who was later chosen to head up the US Department of Education's Primary and Secondary Education division -- the folks who administer the charter grants ODE got this year. 

This is a very, very different ODE. The department is now going to be seeing its 5th leader since Gov. John Kasich took office four short years ago -- and the second leader to leave under a cloud of controversy. This department needs help, a policy leader rather than a political appointee and more than anything, stability.

But beyond the simple fact that the ODE that oversaw the implementation of its 2007 grant isn't the same one that will be overseeing this one, there remain more concerns about Ohio's ability to handle this grant.

These federal charter school grants have been given since 1995. Over those 20 years and more than $3.3 billion granted, only California and Florida have received more federal money to expand high-quality charters than Ohio, which received funding in 1998, 2004, 2007 and 2015. And the next highest -- New York -- would have received less even without Ohio's recent $71 million grant. Yet despite a more than $270 million investment, Ohio's charter sector has become a national joke. Meanwhile, Massachusetts -- the state whose citizens are suing because there aren't enough charter schools because they're such a great option there -- only received $50 million over the 20 years.

States that have received at least $100 million in federal grant money
meant to expand high-performing charter schools in their states
The graphic at the left tells the story of the amount Ohio's received to expand high-quality charters here. Yet, despite this investment, the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes found that 40% of our state's charters are in "urgent need of improvement."

We should be doing better than having a couple great charters in Dayton, a dozen or so in Cleveland, a couple in Columbus and a couple in Toledo.

That's not to say there hasn't been improvement in the charter sector since 2004, though, just not enough to put the sector on par with local public schools. And who knows whether the federal grants had anything to do with the improvement.

Be that as it may, the year prior to the state receiving its 2004 grant saw charters receive an average Performance Index score (Performance Index is the state's single proficiency calculation) of 62.01 (120 is the highest, 30 is the lowest). Ten years (and two federal grants) later in 2013-2014, the average charter school Performance Index score was 78.89.

In the 2003-2004 school year, the top 5% of charter school Performance Index scores was 94.78. Last year, the top 5% was 105.41. So it appears that the higher performers are getting better by about 11%. However, the bottom 5% also saw marked improvement from an average 32.8 in 2003-2004 to an average 52.95 last school year -- a more than 62% improvement.

There were far fewer charters 10 years ago, so the top 5% of schools were actually 5 schools, but there have been improvements. However, before you get too excited, even with that improvement, only 7 Ohio school districts received lower Performance Index scores than the average charter school in the 2013-2014 school year. Remember that Ohio charters took kids and funding from every district in the state last year.

And the top 5% of school districts' Performance Index scores in 2013-2014 was an average 109.89 -- higher than even the highest performing charter schools.

So while there have been improvements since 2004, there remains a crying need for ODE to get its act together and properly administer this $71 million grant. 

The past may be prologue, but it is not necessarily the future.  ODE has to fulfill its obligations and keep an eagle eye on the $71 million to ensures it goes to charters that deserve the investment, not to those schools that have brought our state national scorn. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

I'm Back!

Well, I've been absent from this space for a bit. In case you didn't know, I was running for City Council in Green. I won the most votes of any of the at-large candidates -- and more than any at-large candidate has ever won in Green. So that was great.

Then I got tied up in holiday preparation and teaching.

Starting next week, I will be doing a daily post here. Sorry to have let this go for so long. But there is much to discuss. And discuss we will.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Great Day for Ohio's Kids

A little more than two years ago, I listened to a presentation in the bowels of the Ohio Statehouse. It was being given by a school funding expert from Students First -- the then-notorious education reform group spearheaded by education policy lightning rod Michelle Rhee.

Except what I heard didn't match the preconceptions I had of the group. She talked about how Ohio's proposed school funding fix was flawed. It needed more funding to accommodate poverty. It shorted kids whose second language was English. It needed overhauled.

In the audience was Ohio's Executive Director of Students First -- Greg Harris. Greg and I knew each other briefly when I was in the Ohio House and he was at KnowledgeWorks -- a Cincinnati-based think tank on whom I relied during my time in the legislature.

Students First and I had been snarking each other a bit on Twitter prior to this hearing. But after the presentation, Greg and I walked out in the hallway and started talking. Soon, there were a few other folks. We we all talking about the same thing: How can we change the dialogue in Ohio around charter schools to focus on quality rather than quantity of choices?

I didn't know it then, but ... that's how.

By listening and being willing in engage folks as peers rather than enemies.

Within a few days, that conversation in the dank, marble basement of the Ohio Statehouse turned into a 2-hour lunch meeting, followed by conference calls and dialogue and planning. Soon, we had formed a working group about which we all knew we had to keep quiet and behind the scenes. After all, this was all about the same time the Ohio legislature had voted to send more money to poor performing charters and eliminate a $100,000 provision to reward high-quality charters.

That move resulted in this article in the Akron Beacon Journal where Greg finally said what many on my side of the argument had been saying for years: 
"We need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on [low-performing schools] and, more importantly, we need to stop wasting kids’ lives ... A lot of times it has to do not with how well your school is performing but how well your lobbyist is paid."
Having Harris say that in a newspaper was the first time I could remember that an Ohio charter advocate had so forcefully stated what has been so clear for so long: Ohio's charter school system was a mess and politics made it that way.

After convening several meetings over the next several months, we developed a working document of meaningful charter school reforms. Our work paralleled work being done here and nationally to reform Ohio's broken system led by legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle.

KnowYourCharter.com was started and showed the funding and performance issues charters pose to the state's education system all in one place. Greg's initial clarion call to quality was hailed by other pro-charter advocates whose boldness grew with each passing moment and, frankly, each outrageous charter school scandal.

On Wednesday, everybody's hard work paid off with the most sweeping, comprehensive and meaningful reform of Ohio's charter school system since the program began in the late 1990s. It will keep track of Ohio's operators, letting the public know where they operate and how they perform. It will force sponsors to do their job and hold schools to account, or else they won't be able to sponsor schools. It will open up the mostly opaque world of charter schools so the public can better track the now $1 billion a year in state money that goes to charter schools.

It is not perfect. It doesn't directly close poor performing charters, choosing instead to force sponsors to do that. It doesn't address the funding issues that force districts to have to backfill the lost state money with local money. And it relies on an Ohio Department of Education in disarray.

But man, it does a lot. As a first step, this one is a Lulu (apologies to B. Bunny).

At a time when Ohio's under heavy scrutiny for its recent federal award of $71 million to supplement its charter schools and the former school choice head at the Ohio Department of Education had to resign because he illegally fudged data on the very sponsor evaluations that are the key to HB 2's success, we needed this bill to pass.

And did it ever. Of the 99 House members and 33 Senators, only 6 House members voted No, and that was in response to a curious, last minute addition that changed public pensions.

Two years ago, as Greg and I chatted in the Statehouse basement, I never would have dreamed that within a matter of months, Ohio would have passed a charter reform package that could potentially turn around our state's charter woes so dramatically. I never would have thought that such a bill would essentially pass without objection through the most conservative, Republican legislature in recent memory.

But it did.

There aren't many times in the past 16 years I've been proud of our state and its legislature on this issue. Until Wednesday. Is the bill perfect? No. But no bill is.

But man, we didn't just turn a corner. We drifted through it. Vin Diesel would be proud.

This is a turning point for our state's education system. When the quality of students' experiences is considered more important than the shear number of them. When big political donors don't get everything they want. When our state's leaders decided to rise up and finally address our national embarrassment of a charter school system.

I'm proud to have played whatever role I did to make this happen. But I'm most proud that for the first time in a generation, children of Ohio may have the quality school options they deserve.

And for that, I'm not only proud, but grateful.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bizarro World: Ohio Wins Big USDOE Award for Charter School Oversight.

Every once in a while, I'm gobstopped. Really and truly. Yesterday was one of those times. That's when I found out that Ohio had received the nation's largest award from the U.S. Department of Education for Charter School oversight.

Considering that study after study after report after comment has indicated that Ohio has among the nation's weakest charter school oversight regimes, I was left scratching my head. According to the USDOE evaluation,
"Ohio has established high and exacting accountability expectations of authorizers (including evaluation against standards) and, inferentially, schools. This is critical to their plan and the priority of high quality authorizing permeates this and other sections of the application ... Overall, a very clear and carefully planned strategy."

More outrageous is the reviewers said there were "no weaknesses noted."

Huh?

What about the Bellwether report from December that found:
"Part of the problem has been Ohio’s incoherent charter-school law—a law that has too often failed to put students’ best interests first. Instead, in too many ways, it has protected powerful vested interests, smothered schools with red tape, starved even the best schools, and tolerated academic mediocrity. But fixing Ohio’s charter law is no easy task. The law itself is roughly 40,000 words and has been amended nineteen times since its enactment in 1997. It contains many peculiar exceptions, loopholes, and restrictions."
Or what about the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who recently reiterated that Ohio's authorizer laws make Ohio the "Wild, Wild West" of charter school authorizing?

Or what about the comment made later in the reviewer comments that found that "The numbers [on authorizers] are very aggressive and not adequately informed by data, especially Past Performance."

I mean, WTF?

How about this little chestnut:

"There is insufficient data to determine the extent to which the academic achievement and academic attainment (including high school graduation rates and college and other postsecondary education enrollment rates) of charter school students equal or exceed the academic achievement and academic attainment of similar students in other public schools in the State over the past five years."
Huh?

Here are the last 9 years of state report cards that allow the public to do that exact thing -- compare charters with local districts and schools. Or how about www.KnowYourCharter.com, which has compiled all that info into one site?

What are these reviewers talking about?

How about this:

"Included in the strategy is demonstrated evidence and willingness to close poor performing schools (p. 22)

According to ODE's own school closure data, only 24 charter schools have been closed under the state's closure law, which was passed in 2005. Of those, 17 were closed between FY2009 and FY2011. Only 7 have been closed under the statute since FY2011. The state has ordered that 56 charters close for several reasons since FY2000. However, only 18 of those happened since FY2011.

To give you an idea of scale, there have been 209 charters shut down since the program began. The state only had anything to do with 81 of those, or less than 40%, with only a handful in the last 5 years.

Where is this so-called willingness?

Try this nugget:

"There is an effort to aggressively replicate successful schools and models that serve at-risk students, primarily in the Ohio 8."
Huh?

This would be news to the Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland, by the way, when according to emails recently released, the head of the Charter School division at ODE thought Breakthrough -- the state's highest performing charter group -- was ruining the Ohio charter school potential.

The Ohio 8 are the big urban districts in Ohio -- Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown.

I can only assume this is a reference to the so-called Youngstown plan, which will replace the elected school board with a CEO who could then turn all schools into charters. But Youngstown is not the area where the high performing charters reside.

Again, where is this aggressive effort to replicate charter groups like Breakthrough?

I'm not saying Ohio shouldn't take the money. My concern is whether Ohio sufficiently misled the USDOE about what's going on here and whether ODE, which is now without a charter school oversight head because the old one manipulated data, is going to ensure this funding goes to schools like Breakthrough and not the old, poor performing, politically connected charter operators.

You can't possibly read this story in the 74 -- Campbell Brown's education reform group -- and square it with the massive award Ohio received.

What's weirder? Try this. Macke Raymond -- the director of CREDO, which looks at charter school performance around the country -- this year told Ohio folks , "Be very glad you have Nevada, so you are not the worst."

Guess who also got a federal award this week? That's right. Nevada.

So the two worst performing charter states in the country got awards from the USDOE to increase the number of charter schools in those states.

How, exactly, does this improve the overall quality of the nation's charter schools?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How Contracts Trump Good Public Policy

Yesterday, I wrote about the recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling that found that White Hat Management can profit from failing kids. While I spent most of my post talking about the campaign contributions Brennan and his family have given to the Justices that ruled for him, I wanted to discuss a little bit about the legal reasoning the court gave for its ruling.

Ultimately, this case was about a business' right to contract its way around good public policy. And that interpretation of contract law has its roots in the 1990s and early 2000s fight over tort reform. Ohio was one of the ground zero states for business interests' attempts to put Justices in place who were pro-business. Ohio Supreme Court candidates have to spend upwards of $1 million to win their seat.

I wrote stories for the Beacon Journal in the 2002-2004 era about Ohio's place as the number one state for negative campaign spending for Supreme Court races. Nobody paid more for negative ads against Supreme Court candidates than was spent in Ohio.

Ultimately, the beneficiaries of these efforts were current Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, Justice Judith Lanzinger (who wrote the pro-Brennan ruling), Justice Terrence O'Donnell (who recused himself from the White Hat case after taking $15,000 from Brennan and his family), and lately Justices Judith French and Sharon Kennedy. These are the Justices who found that Brennan could profit from the stuff he bought while running schools with public money, even if his mismanagement (White Hat is easily the worst performing big charter school operator in Ohio) caused the school's closure.

And why is that? Because they have a contract.

One of the big things tort reformers wanted was to have contract provisions override other consumer rights. Whether it's through arbitration clauses or other things, businesses want contracts they draft upheld by courts so the business can control the outcome. It's just good business.

But one of the very real consequences of the fealty to contract is the development of potentially really horrible public policy.

Like the White Hat ruling. I'm encouraged that pro-business reformers like the Fordham Institute are now calling for legislative changes to fix this ruling. I'm skeptical that the body whose political ties to Brennan and other for-profit charter school operators run even deeper than the Ohio Supreme Court will do that.

But I hope they do heed Fordham's call.

Back to the ruling.

While a majority of Justices found for White Hat -- saying they owned the property they purchased while running the school -- a lower court found against White Hat, saying instead that public funds used to procure equipment for charter schools are the school's property. So it's not like contract law makes it impossible for a competent judge to rule for the public over White Hat.

It's all a matter of perspective.

Nearly all first-year law students take Torts and Contracts. In Contracts class, you learn how difficult it is to get a contract voided. And for good reason. Caveat Emptor, right? We want contracts to be enforceable, otherwise what's the point?

But there are contracts that get voided for good reasons. I would argue that letting failing charter school operators profit from the equipment they purchased, using public dollars, for the school they ran into the ground is just such a reason.

It would prevent the bad operator from making money off their failure.

But the Justices thought the fact the board signed the contract means Tough Luck.

Never mind that in many cases, these boards were actually hand picked by White Hat. Or that Ohio operators historically have been able to essentially fire truculent board members. Or that the White Hat contract is not negotiated -- White Hat gives the board the contract on a take it or leave it basis.

In fact, the White Hat contract was not an agreement between two parties; it was a document drafted by a company and agreed to by a company-approved panel. However, when that panel turned on the operator, as they did in this case, the operator can now hold the rebellious board hostage by saying, "Sure, you can drop us. But only if you buy back all the equipment we bought for you using public money, or buy new desks, chairs, books, computers, etc."

Yet none of this matters to the Justices. What matters is whether the board signed it.

This is a pure textual argument that illustrates the peril of judges ignoring the context of their decisions. It leads to simplistic legal analysis and blinded public policy.

There is no doubt that textual arguments are sound legal arguments. However, textual arguments in a vacuum can lead to poor outcomes. And, I fear, that's what happened here.

One more thing.

I know many talk about focusing on kids rather than adults when it comes to education policy. I'm struggling to see how allowing White Hat to profit from failing those kids helps kids succeed. Instead, it seems that it will discourage charter schools from firing their failing operators because it would cost them money they don't have to retain their publicly funded equipment. So, in fact, this ruling will most likely have a potentially profound negative impact on kids. But the adults running bad charter school operations? They'll do just fine.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ohio Supreme Court Justices Take Money from White Hat, Lets them Profit from Failure

Today, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that White Hat Management -- the state's worst performing large-scale charter school operator -- gets to keep all the equipment it uses public money to buy, even if the school was shut down for being one of the state's worst performing schools.

White Hat -- run by Republican mega donor David Brennan -- can sell the equipment how it sees fit, even if it was its own incompetence and failure that led to the school's closing.

While this opinion may seem somewhat surprising, what isn't surprising is that the Supreme Court Justice who wrote the opinion has taken $5,000 in campaign contributions from Brennan and his family. Justice Judith Lanzinger received that money in 2004.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor -- whose political career started in Brennan's Summit County backyard -- received money every year she was up for the court in 2002, 2008 and 2010 when she ran for the Chief Justice seat. She has received a total of $11,900. Surprised she signed onto Lanzinger's opinion?

Justice Judith French received $7,200 last year when she ran for the high court -- as the White Hat lawsuit was pending. Any surprise she voted to uphold White Hat's right to profit from their failed school management?

I credit Justice Terrence O'Donnell for recusing himself from the case. He received more money than any other sitting Justice -- $15,000.

Justice Paul Pfeiffer took money from Brennan in the early 1990s, but hasn't recently and dissented from the Lanzinger opinion.

The opinions on this case are complex and complicated, with many of the Justices trying to seem like they are with White Hat on some things, but not others. Don't let them fool you with their strained efforts. On the only thing that mattered -- allowing Brennan to profit from his failed operations -- they were lock step behind their benefactor.

This case demonstrates emphatically the problem with electing judges. Namely, you get politicians in robes. The Court sat on the case for more than a year, but the minute the media started calling them out for the delay, they drop this disjointed opinion. Their vote splitting on various issues reminds me of legislative maneuvering to let members in tight districts save some face on what will be a bad bottom line vote for their district.

The other big charter school donor in this state -- William Lager of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which received $100 million last year in state funding as well as all Fs and one D on the state report card -- also gave to Lanzinger, French, O'Connor and O'Donnell. While it wasn't Lager's issue that was before the court, the ruling would let Lager profit off the computers he lets kids use and other equipment he acquires while running that online school -- the nation's largest for-profit school.

We stagger as a state toward a respectable charter school program, while being constantly face slapped by the extraordinary challenges facing those who want quality school options for Ohio's kids. This case is another sobering reminder that, in the words of Robert Frost, we Ohioans who want quality options for kids have miles to go on this journey.

Like Frost, we have to keep seeking. We cannot sleep.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Debate Over. Local Taxpayers Subsidize Charters. Now What?

What a difference a week makes. And what a difference good reporting can make.

Two weeks ago, I joined with Woodridge Local Schools officials to point out (once again) that not only are Ohio's nationally ridiculed charter schools not performing well overall -- a fact agreed to by all major outside examinations of Ohio charter school performance -- and that we should pass House Bill 2 ASAP, but the way they're funded means children in local public schools have fewer resources.

The funding issue is not addressed by House Bill 2.

Over the weekend, Marianne Lombardo of Democrats for Education Reform and Ron Adler of the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, took me and Woodridge to task for performing a "disservice" by suggesting that charters remove resources from local schools, and that actually local schools benefit from the current system.

Adler completely ignored, by the way, that Woodridge officials independently reached the same conclusions and calculations I did. But, again, he tried to make this a "liberals hate charters" thing, even though charter schools were originally a liberal idea.

Running bad ones that profit from failure, like Ohio's do overall, I agree, is not a liberal idea. But I digress.

Then today's Columbus Dispatch put the issue to bed.

School districts do subsidize our nationally ridiculed charter schools.

When you have Republican education policy leaders in the Ohio Senate, like Peggy Lehner, go on the record with a statement like this:

"It’s kind of a shell game with the money,” she said. “It’s state dollars, but you have to use local dollars to backfill the state dollars. I think it’s pretty clear that these kids are getting local dollars.”
Or when Ohio House Finance Committee Chairman Ryan Smith describes the charter school funding system like this:

“I think we can find a better way, a more transparent way,” he said. “It’s affecting (schools’) bottom line and could somewhat be deceiving in what they’re actually getting.” 
Or when the Ohio Legislative Service Commission determines that 3 out of 4 districts would be in better financial straits if the state funded charters directly, rather than deducting it from districts that sometimes never even had the child walk through their door, then the argument's pretty well over.

I don't know why folks like Lombardo and Adler insist on peddling their snake oil anymore. Now that the Ohio Department of Education keeps better track of charter funding and charter students on their monthly finance reports, anyone can easily see that the current charter system means kids who remain in districts have, in some cases, far fewer state resources than the state claims they need.

Just add up the per pupil funding before charters get their money and kids, then add up the per pupil funding remaining after charters received their funding and kids. It's arithmetic.

Local districts have to make up for that lost state revenue by using local revenue. Lombardo and Adler claim that after charters take their money and kids, the district's overall per pupil funding goes up. But that's deceiving for two reasons:

  1. It only goes up because the reliance on local property taxes goes way up, which is contrary to four Ohio Supreme Court cases that said Ohio had to reduce the reliance on local property taxes to pay for schools.
  2. It's still less overall money.
I'll try to explain this by way of example. 

Say you have District X that the state says needs $10,000 per pupil to educate its 100 kids for a total of $1 million. However, the state says the district can come up with $5,000 per pupil ($500,000 total) through local revenue. So the state will pick up the other $5,000, or $500,000. 

However, if 10 kids decide to go to charters, the state takes $10,000 for each kid and sends it to the charter. So that's $100,000 going to pay for 10 kids in charters. That means instead of the state paying $500,000 to educate the 100 kids in District X, the state is now paying $400,000 to educate the 90 remaining students. That means instead of the state picking up $5,000 of the cost, they're now picking up $4,444, or $556 less per pupil. 

Now the district has to pick up that $556 using local revenue or spend 5.4% less per pupil. If they do pick up the $556, it means that of the $10,000 per pupil cost for the remaining students, $5,556 is coming now from local taxpayers while $4,444 is coming from the state. Instead of the state picking up 50% of the cost, it's now picking up 44.4% of the cost. The local taxpayers just saw their burden jump 12% from 50% to 56%.

Lombardo and Adler both claim that the per pupil funding increases. That is true. But only if the districts decide to spend the same amount of money. So in our example, $1 million spread across 90 students is more per pupil than $1 million spread over 100 students. That can only happen if the district raises more than the state assumes it does. (And that is true in many cases because the state's funding formula is so inadequate that it underestimates each district's need, but that's another post.)

However, in more than 85 school districts, there isn't enough local revenue generated to replace the lost state funding to charters. So in those cases, Lombardo and Adler are simply wrong. And in the other cases, they're deliberately misleading. 

So in my example, the local district raises $500,000 and now the state is only paying $400,000 for the remaining 90 students. So while the per pupil funding is the same $10,000 as before, it's still less funding to pay for the same heating, busing, food, teacher, and administrator costs the district had before the kids left for charters. And instead of a 50-50 local-state cost share, it's a 57-43 local-state share.

There are many districts that have thousands of students, but only lose a few dozen to charters. So there's no real way to adjust staffing or other costs to account for the less state revenue. They have the same number of buildings, the same number of janitors, the same number of bus drivers, the same number of teachers, and the same number of administrators even with lost kids to charters. Only now, they have less state money to help pay for them.

And it means that local districts have to use sometimes significant portions of their locally raised tax dollars to effectively subsidize the charter school losses. In the case of Columbus City Schools, it's 7.6 mills, or about $266 per $100,000 home.

The question now becomes what do we do about this?

The Dispatch story focused heavily on the direct funding issue. Direct funding was suggested by Gov. Ted Strickland in 2009 -- the year I handled the education budget in the Ohio House. At that time, pro-charter forces panicked that it was an effort to allow Strickland to line-item veto the entire program. So I put the current deduction system back into the budget to allay those fears. 

Go figure.

However, this argument is a canard at this point. No governor -- I don't care how radical -- is going to line-item veto a $1 billion program. It would about like line item vetoing school lunches, the library fund and the local government fund combined. So let's stop saying that some crazy governor's going to line-item veto a $1 billion line item.

Direct funding has been unanimously agreed to by the 2010 School Funding Advisory Council's subcommittee that was charged with finding ways to improve charter-traditional school collaboration. That subcommittee was made up of equal parts charter and traditional school advocates.

Charter schools are creatures of state law. They probably should be paid like they are state actors.

There should also be a formula developed that more accurately approximates the cost of educating children in the lower-cost charter school environment. Right now, they are paid based on the cost in the higher-cost traditional school environment -- ostensibly to make up for the lack of direct local revenue going to charters. However, a more accurate funding formula with direct state funding would all but eliminate that issue. I believe there should also be some sort of way to use the funding system to drive out the profiteers and habitual poor performers while rewarding the handful of high-performing charters the state has and build on that foundation.

There are many ways to fairly and equitably fund charters so the few excellent charters we have can thrive and the many poor performers we have can't last.

I'm thrilled we've now moved beyond the basic question of whether charters impact funding for kids in local districts and are now on to the question of how can we make both systems work for schools, teachers and kids. That is the kind of healthy discussion we need.

As for those who want to continue fighting the war that's only garnered us national scorn? 

I hope I speak for the whole quality-focused charter school reform movement when I say, "Ain't nobody got time for that."

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why the Delay in Rating Ohio Charter Sponsors?

Recently, there has been much made of the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) rigging the state's charter school sponsor (authorizer in every other state) ratings. Those ratings are critical to any meaningful reform of Ohio's nationally ridiculed charter school system because all the reform efforts currently underway rely on forcing sponsors to do a better job of oversight, or else.

However, if ODE doesn't put together a reliable and accurate rating system, then much of the reform effort will be for naught. That's what makes what David Hansen -- the state's former charter school czar and husband of Gov. John Kasich's presidential campaign manager -- did so pernicious. By rigging the system to benefit poor performing, for-profit operators, he jeopardized the entire charter school reform effort, further cementing Ohio's place as the nation's charter school backwater.

After Hansen resigned, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross, withdrew the sponsor evaluations that had been done, and instead of including the scores from the poor performing schools Hansen had apparently illegally discounted, determined to re-invent the wheel. This week, he appointed a three-member panel to help guide the development of a charter sponsor evaluation system.

Here's the thing: The sponsor evaluation system was passed in late 2012. The first evaluations had to be completed by January 1. We're going on three years of development here. Why do we need another 6-12 months with this panel to develop an evaluation system -- a delay that could put off by another year, or even two, any meaningful reform. This would, of course, give big political contributors who run many of the failing schools two more years of collecting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

At KnowYourCharter.com, I put together three suggestions for sponsor evaluations.


  1. Take the GPA of all the schools under the sponsor's aegis based on the state report card
  2. Develop an index based on the percentage of students in schools sponsored by the agency who are in schools that receive a C or higher grade on four key report card measures
  3. Use the same overall grade formula that the department will be using for school districts on the new report card
All of these ideas I developed in the course of an afternoon. I'm not saying these are the only three ways of doing it, but ODE has had three years to do this. And they need more time? 

What the ratings systems I developed demonstrate pretty clearly is this: Ohio's charter school sponsors reflect the overall system -- there are a few quite high performing sponsors, but the overwhelming number of them are poor performing.

ODE needs to get this right. And they need to do it now. They've had three years. Our kids can't wait any longer while bumbling (or worse) bureaucrats delay the education reform Ohio's children desperately need.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Price of Ohio House sitting on Charter Reform? Max Donation from Nation's Largest For-Profit School

Just a few days after the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives declined to take up House Bill 2 (HB 2) -- the most significant charter school reform package since the program began -- the campaign committee meant to re-elect his members got a familiar, maximum level check from William Lager, who runs the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT).

Not to be undone, so did the Ohio Senate's campaign committee.

Both were for $18,798.51.

ECOT is the nation's largest for-profit K-12 school. It is also notoriously poor performing. On the state's 9 report card measures, it got Fs on all but one. And that one was a D. That's worse than any school district in the state, even Youngstown, which the state said late last month was in such bad academic distress that it needed to be taken over by the state.

It is indeed sobering to realize that every single dollar going to ECOT from Youngstown is going to a worse performing school.

Last year, the state of Ohio paid ECOT $104 million to educate the 15,088 students it received from Ohio's local public schools. That $6,921 per pupil is nearly $2,500 more than the average Ohio school district received last year from the state before charters, vouchers and open enrollment were deducted.

ECOT's per pupil state funding is larger than all but 52 of Ohio's 613 school districts. And this is for an electronic school without buildings, custodians, buses, heating, cooling, sports teams, etc. 

There was plenty of talk around the House Bill 2 vote that ECOT's lobbyists were all over the statehouse. Now we know why. The question now is this: Will the contributions keep House Bill 2 from moving this fall?

We'll see...

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ohio Charter School Sheriff Resigns. Now What?

Lost amid the noise this weekend about David Hansen resigning his post as chief overseer of Ohio charter schools is this fact: Ohio no longer has a chief official looking over its troubled charter schools.

Not only that, but the charter school sponsor ratings -- which Hansen had rigged to benefit big campaign donors -- have been rescinded by the state, with no apparently quick time table to replace them.

That means we have no charter school sponsor ratings, nor do we have anyone with the authority to go after poor performers, even the weak ones Hansen had selectively chosen to hammer.

So at the end of the day, Ohio's nationally mocked charter schools are, for the moment, enjoying less oversight than they've been receiving from the Ohio Department of Education, all while the public knows less about their primary overseers' performance.

This can't stand.

We need a new charter school sheriff that won't bend to political interests. And we need the sponsor evaluations of all sponsors re-done.

And we need them both before the new school year begins.

Otherwise, it's yet another set back for quality and another mile marker on our state's seemingly inevitable trek down the path of more failing charter schools.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ohio Charter School Sheriff All White Hat, No Cattle

Well, that was quick. Less than a week after telling the State School Board that he had broken the law when he didn't count Fs for online charter schools run by big Republican campaign donors, David Hansen -- the husband of Gov. John Kasich's new presidential campaign manager Beth Hansen -- has resigned as Ohio's top school choice official.

This also comes just about a month after the Fordham Institute wrote a very hopeful blog post praising the Ohio Department of Education's recent crack down on a few low-performing charter schools -- the culmination of what had been about a year of hopeful signs from the department, including Fordham's specific praising of Hansen's "more aggressive" crackdown approach. If I'm Fordham today, I'm feeling more than a little bit deceived. And pissed.

I was less enthusiastic than my friends at Fordham, but agreed with them that there were encouraging signs. I had noticed the department had started calling school choice "quality school choice" and had issued a few directives to charter school sponsors warning them to do a better job of monitoring their schools.

My enthusiasm was always tempered by the fact that Hansen and ODE were ignoring the big fish. And that was, unfortunately, Hansen's undoing. None of these crackdowns were against schools run by big Republican donors -- David Brennan of White Hat Management or Bill Lager of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- whose schools rate among the worst in the state and who educate about 20% of all Ohio charter school students.

Those two men have given more than $6 million to mostly Republican Ohio politicians since the program began and have collected more than $1.7 billion in state funds -- about 1 in every 4 charter dollars ever spent.

Instead, Hansen rigged the system -- apparently illegally -- to make their schools' poor scores not count against the sponsors that oversee them.

That also meant that sponsors wouldn't be motivated to improve these schools, even under a new charter reform bill, whose focus is on forcing sponsors to do a better job overseeing charters rather than directly closing the poor performers.

It is no accident that White Hat Management -- about the same time we found out the state wasn't counting certain schools' poor grades -- announced it was selling off its "highest" performing schools, whose still poor scores would be counted, and keeping its E-School and dropout recovery schools, whose worse scores wouldn't be counted.

As an aside, it will be interesting indeed if Hansen ends up working for White Hat, just like former Voinovich education czar Thomas Needles did.

This incident also points out another issue: Even if the new charter legislation passes eventually (a dubious proposition that this point), the fact that it grants so much discretion to ODE is quite problematic. It is now apparent that the gubernatorial takeover of the department -- a process started under Gov. George Voinovoich when school board members started being appointed rather than exclusively elected -- is now complete. The current state superintendent, Richard Ross, was Kasich's education czar, then moved on over to the department. Hansen had obvious close connections with the Kasich administration.

ODE is supposed to be an independent voice for Ohio's kids -- not a gubernatorial, or legislative  rubber stamp. It's time for the state school board to exercise its constitutional authority and start bringing at least some independence back to the agency so these kinds of politically motivated shenanigans don't happen again.

There are 123,000 charter school kids in Ohio who are, in the vast majority of cases, being poorly served by these schools -- even compared with the worst-performing local public schools.

The state needs a real watchdog for these kids, not a sheriff that's all white hat and no cattle.

Friday, July 17, 2015

New Ohio Charter School "Sheriff" Breaking the Law?

In yet another black eye for Ohio's struggling charter school sector, it appears that the man who is supposed to oversee charter schools arbitrarily -- and potentially illegally -- decided not to count the worst scores of the state's embarrassingly poor performing virtual schools when evaluating the state's sponsors (authorizers in all other states).

After the State School Board grilled David J. Hansen (who used to run the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Studies and is the husband of Presidential Candidate John Kasich's chief of staff) this week, the department announced earlier today it was retracting the evaluations.

Is it an accident that Hansen decided to exempt the worst scores of schools run by the state's largest political donors?

And how does this jibe with the reputation Hansen had been trying to burnish as the state's new Charter School Sheriff?

And should Kasich be concerned that someone so close to him might be getting into serious trouble just days before his big announcement?

As I've stated before in this space, Hansen's "crack down" had yet to impress me because it only impacted a few charters that didn't have many kids. When the state's largest charter school and nation's largest for-profit school -- the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- gets all Fs and a D on the state report card, yet Hansen doesn't scold them, but instead decides not to count that abysmal record (which is even worse than Youngstown City Schools -- the district that's in such bad shape that the state had to take them over in a back room, last-minute effort), it speaks louder to me than taking down a few tiny schools.

Hansen always was dealing with the charter sector's weaker sisters -- small sponsors and schools with no political clout -- a far cry from the huge clout carried by the for-profit operators.

This episode also speaks to the importance of public transparency and accountability. A publicly elected (and partially appointed) body demanded answers of public officials, who then had to answer them in public, revealing potentially illegal activity that even Ohio Auditor David Yost said bore an eerie resemblance to the data scrubbing scandal that threw Columbus City Schools into the frying pan a few years ago.

Because a public body did its job and held public officials accountable, this potentially illegal activity was uncovered. Remember that as the Youngstown City Schools are turned over to an unelected board and CEO. Who knows what the public will be able to find out there. I mean, Youngstown is not exactly known for being free of public corruption.

Once again, Ohio's charter school system and the state's woeful oversight of the sector are cause for national ridicule. At what point will Ohio's leaders say, "Enough is enough"? I'm so sick of having to write about this stuff. How many backward steps must we take before we'll take one forward?

It's time to fix this so we can move on to the serious work of making Ohio's public schools work for every child in every community. We need the meaningful charter school reform in House Bill 2, as well as better closure and funding mechanisms.

The first thing we have to do, though, is make sure no foxes guard our hen houses.

First things first.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Federal Data: Ohio Charter Schools Widen Ohio's Already Too Wide Achievement Gap

Recently, the White House put out a report outlining the country's student achievement gap, and the news wasn’t great for Ohio. 

We had the nation’s ninth largest reading gap between our highest and lowest performing schools, the second-largest math achievement gap, and the fourth largest graduation gap. While much of this difference can be explained by the high performance of our highest performing schools, the gap is and should be a serious concern for Ohio’s educators, parents and policy makers.

What the data show, however, is that far from being a solution to the achievement gap issue here, Ohio's charter schools are part of the problem.

I wrote about this issue at Innovation Ohio last night.

Here are what the data tell us:
  • Despite making up 8% of all Ohio school buildings, charters represent 13% of the worst-performing math buildings, 31% of the worst-performing reading buildings, and 78% of the buildings with the worst graduation rates.
  • Ohio’s achievement gap is 6% bigger in math, 8% bigger in reading and a whopping 23% bigger in graduation rates than they would be if the analysis included just local public schools.
  • And while the state’s achievement gap is still too large, in all three cases, eliminating charters from the calculation drops Ohio’s achievement gap ranking. Math drops from second to fourth greatest. Reading falls from ninth to 11th greatest. And the state’s graduation rate gap tumbles from fourth to 14th highest.
  • The achievement gap is greater in charter schools for math than it is in the local public schools
  • The charter school achievement gap is narrower in reading and graduation rates because charters’ highest performers are so low performing overall compared with local public schools. For example, the average graduation rate for the 19 highest-performing charters – defined as those that have greater than 60% graduation rates – is 65%. Those 19 charters represent 17% of eligible charters. The average rate for the highest performing local schools – 96% of which have graduation rates greater than the 60% threshold – is 91%.

There is work that needs done closing Ohio’s achievement gaps in all schools, no question. But what the federal data clearly show is that charter schools don’t provide an overall solution. In fact, they are part of the problem -- especially on graduation rates.

Folks in Youngstown and other places should take note of this federal data: Relying on charter schools to close achievement gaps in Ohio has not worked. In fact, it has led to greater gaps in student achievement overall. So before the new CEO in Youngstown decides to turn all of that city's schools into charters or something, here's hoping he or she looks at the evidence first and carefully considers district options.

As for the gaps themselves, much of Ohio’s gap problem is driven by our highest scoring local public buildings scoring so well. For example, while our lowest-performing math buildings score an average proficiency rate of 26% – the same as West Virginia – our remaining buildings score a 78% – the nation’s seventh-highest rate and far higher than West Virginia’s 47% – the nation’s fourth-worst showing. So while West Virginia’s gap seems to be much narrower, it’s because the state’s schools perform so much worse overall than Ohio’s do.

So, if there’s a silver lining to the achievement gap report it’s that 95% of our schools are doing a pretty good job. However, we must address the 5% that are struggling mightily by utilizing – and paying for – measures that research shows can help improve student achievement.

Here is how each type of school does in Ohio, with the White House figures reported on the top line. The numbers are percentages. In reading and math, it's measuring proficiency. In graduation, it's measuring the graduation rate.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Kasich Education Record: From 5th to 18th

In 2010, Ohio was riding high, from an education policy perspective. The state had just tightened its charter school closure standards and created a new funding formula that promised to make the system constitutional as part of a national award winning education reform overhaul.

And the culmination of this was a national ranking of 5th best education system in the country, as judged by Education Week's national Quality Counts report.

But things started changing when Gov. John Kasich took office. Most of those award-winning changes were wiped out. His own funding formula was trashed and dropped by his own party. Ohio's charter schools are now a national joke. And his efforts at local, urban reform are off to a dubious beginning.

The culmination of Kasich's work? The state is now ranked 18th in the country.

This is not the kind of education record I would want while running for President.

Next Step for Charter Reform: Politics and Money

Today, I wrote in Real Clear Education that it's time for the quality-based charter school community to start raising some money for political campaigns to offset the clear political advantage Ohio's poor-performing, for-profit charter sector has.

What was so frustrating about the outcome of Sub. HB 2 was that every fair-minded education policy advocate in the state, be they pro-free market or pro-local public school, agreed it was a great step forward, regardless of minor (or major) quibbles.

Yet that consensus -- both here and around the country -- couldn't offset the political power that has always dominated our state's charter school discussion.

I hope that this episode acts as a wake up call for well-meaning charter advocates that great ideas don't win over Ohio legislatures and governors on this issue: Money does.

I hate that it's this way. Especially in my home state.

But this is Ohio's education policy Real Politick. And, as I argue this morning, only money can eradicate this noxious weed.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Cost of Kasich Veto Substantial

As I have reported, Gov. John Kasich decided to cut education funding with his veto pen a couple days ago. Now we know the district-by-district impact of those cuts, thanks to an Ohio Legislative Service Commission projection. Here's the bottom line:

  • Overall cut is $90.2 million
  • Cleveland is cut the most at more than $13 million
  • There are now 114 out of 612 districts that will receive less money in the 2016-2017 school year than the state sent them last school year
  • A total of 25 school districts will get cut by more than $1 million
  • Mayfield City Schools will see a 40% cut
  • Warrensville Heights -- one of the state's poorest districts -- will see a more than $1 million cut
And it's worse if you look at how schools have fared since the 2010-2011 budget. Now 263 districts will receive less money than they did during that Recession budget. If you adjust for inflation, there is now $187 million less money for schools than there was in the 2010-2011 budget and 334 districts receive less.

As I've said, Kasich's veto was devastating to schools and children. Districts need more than the year Kasich generously gave them to adjust to these cuts.

This is not the last thing I'd want families in my home state to remember as I launch a Presidential bid. But, then again, I'm not. So I could be wrong.