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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

My Thanksgiving Wish for Everyone...


Here is my Thanksgiving wish for everyone. It's possible for Democrats and Republicans to work together and say respectful things to one another. I pray we can reach that point again. Soon.



Ohio's Largest Campaign Finance Violator named Trump's Education Secretary

Well, this is something. Amway Billionaire Betsy DeVos was named as Donald Trump's Education Secretary choice today.

Wow.

DeVos has a bad history here in Ohio. In 2006, she allowed David Brennan to launder campaign cash through her All Children Matter PAC. That led to the largest fine ever levied against a candidate or PAC by the Ohio Elections Commission -- $5.2 million. By all accounts, that fine was larger than all fines put together.

DeVos is an avowed school choice champion. She has been politically active to elect pro-school choice candidates around the country. And there is little question she would continue to push for more vouchers and charter schools as Secretary.

However, there's not a great track record with federal charter school investment. Just in Ohio, we found that about 1/3 of all the money sent to grow high-quality charters went to charters that closed shortly after receiving the federal funding, or never opened in the first place.

In all other federal grant programs, only 2% of the entities failed or failed to open.

I hope DeVos is focused on quality rather than choice for choice's sake. But combining this news with the crazy, unwarranted and clearly politically motivated attacks against state Sen. Peggy Lehner and her family (which will be the subject of a standalone post form me later), one starts to think that perhaps the quality-based choice advocates are about to be crushed.

And that would be terrible for our nation's kids.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Happens if Trump Blows Up USDOE? Folks in Trump Country get Hammered.

Now that we have to contend with a President Trump, I thought it might be useful to look at one of his only concrete policy proposals: Eliminating the U.S. Department of Education and replacing the funding with a voucher program.

Killing off the USDOE has long been a dream of the conservative movement, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry remembering he wanted to eliminate it, even as he famously stumbled over the other agencies he wanted to whack.

But what would this mean for local communities? What would it mean for Ohio's school districts?

Well, it would not be good if federal funding disappeared. Every district in Ohio but 5 received federal funding last year. The largest recipients are urban districts. But the most disproportionately impacted are the poor, white, rural districts in communities that overwhelmingly voted for President Trump.

That's because they have the least amount of local tax revenue to make up for the lost federal funding, and they have among the lowest incomes in the state. Below, you will see the top 25 Ohio School Districts that would need to have residents sacrifice the largest percentages of their incomes to pay for lost federal revenue. While Youngstown, Warren and East Cleveland are the top 3, about 1/2 are from the rural, red counties that overwhelmingly put a guy in office who would force them to consider serious income tax increases to keep their schools going. The districts best able to withstand a federal funding loss? You guessed it -- the state's wealthy, suburban districts.



Overall, Ohio school districts received $1.5 billion in federal funding last year, which would force districts to seek an overall property tax increase of about $220 per $100,000 home.

While I have certainly disagreed with federal education policy, especially when it comes to some of the competitive funding it's come to be defined by, Title I, IDEA and other federal programs have sought to bring equity and adequacy to our nation's most struggling schools. The evidence that these programs help kids is pretty clear.

Will Trump eliminate these programs that improve kids lives while keeping property taxes down in communities that can least afford to raise them? We'll see.

But elections have consequences. And if one of this election's consequence is the elimination of federal education funding, it appears that those who made Trump president will suffer among the worst outcomes.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ohio Charter School Sponsor Ratings: School Districts have Highest Academic Achievement

While I have concerns with how the overall grades are being calculated in Ohio's new charter school sponsorship ratings, there's something really interesting happening in the area that is most important in my mind -- academic performance.

Try this: The only recipients of an A, B, or C in academic performance are school districts and Educational Service Centers. While it is also true that these public entities sponsor far fewer charter schools, the performance shouldn't be overlooked.

It appears that the more charters you sponsor, the worse your rating. Which isn't surprising, given Ohio's overall poor performing charter sector.

But it should be made clear that the 33 charter school sponsors that receive As, Bs and Cs on academic performance are all public entities.

Equally telling?

All 33 are rated ineffective or poor. Which means the state would say that the 33 highest rated charter school sponsors in academic performance would be banned from opening new charters, or in the case of the poor rated sponsors, would have to immediately shut down.

I'm not sure that how the accountability system should work.

Ohio Sponsorship Ratings: It Pays to be a Bureaucrat

The new Charter School Sponsor ratings are out, and there are a ton of poorly rated sponsors in Ohio -- a result nearly everyone foretold.

However, one of my concerns about the new system, which the historic House Bill 2 instituted, has come to fruition, though not as dramatically as I thought it might.

The new system called for sponsors to be graded in three, equally weighted areas: Adherence to quality practices, as outlined by industry standards, compliance with current law and rules, and academic performance. If they rated poorly, they wouldn't be allowed to sponsor schools anymore. If they were deemed "ineffective," they wouldn't be able to sponsor any new schools.

My concern had been that if the sponsor was great at dotting i's and crossing t's, they would be able to get away with lousy academic performance. If you get two As and an F, that's a B- average. So my concern was sponsors with poorly performing schools could remain as sponsors simply because they could jump through the other two bureaucratic hoops.

The new data indicate that is happening in some cases. And in others, sponsors with great academic performance are being deemed ineffective because they don't follow the bureaucratic process -- an equally concerning outcome in my view.

For example, the only 5 sponsors to receive an effective rating -- the highest given this year (there is an exemplary rating that no sponsor reached) -- all received Ds on their academic performance. But they made sure that they dotted their i's and crossed their t's. So they got the highest rating.

One of those -- St. Aloysius Orphanage -- has been banned from opening new schools in Cleveland because of their schools' awful academic track record there. It's not a good look for the state to say a sponsor is among the state's best while the state's second-largest district has banned it from operating. Again, if the academic portion were weighted 50% and the other two at 25% each, then that problem wouldn't be as great.

And on the other hand, there are 8 sponsors with As for academic rating -- 7 of these sponsors are school districts; one is an Educational Service Center. Yet all are rated as ineffective or poor, overall, because they aren't meeting the industry developed quality standards.

Does this system disproportionately harm school district sponsors? I think it's a question that needs asked. It certainly appears that charter sponsors aren't being rewarded enough for good academic performance -- which is, let's face it, the most important aspect of a sponsor's job -- or punished enough for poor academic performance.

But am I glad that sponsors are finally being rated? Yes. It's a positive step. But there are serious concerns with the current calculation that lead to incongruities that need addressed. I hope the state takes up these concerns and fixes them quickly.


Friday, September 30, 2016

Taxpayers, Kids Win. Ecot Loses Lawsuit. May Have to Repay $60 million.

Three years ago, I met with a group of folks concerned about the state of Ohio's charter schools. The group included members of the traditional public school and charter school advocacy world. During the part of the discussion when we tried to identify the biggest problems with charter schools, eSchools came up. But within minutes, the group shot down the idea of going after eSchools. That's because the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow's William Lager had grown so powerful, thanks to his significant campaign contributions. After all, Gov,. John Kasich had recently spoken at ECOT's graduation.

Lager had said while introducing Kasich at that commencement that "you will find no leader more committed to the ECOT idea than Governor Kasich."

"We'll never get anywhere," I remember someone saying about trying to take on eSchools. I didn't think much differently. Going after ECOT seemed an insurmountable political hurdle.

No more.

Word came out a few minutes ago that ECOT's lawsuit has failed. The school, which claimed to be the nation's largest, now may have to repay Ohio taxpayers more than $60 million of the $109 million it received last year because the state determined ECOT could only verify it had 40 percent of the 15,000 plus kids it claimed. The state still pays ECOT so much per pupil that even with this cut(and including all of its revenue streams), ECOT can still clear as much as 22 percent profit after paying all of its staff.

Now I know ECOT will use every maneuver to overturn this ruling from Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French. There will be appeals.

But what a day this is for Ohio's kids and taxpayers.

Since Lager opened ECOT in 2001, Ohio's taxpayers have sent the school $903 million. If the state's recent determination that ECOT was overpaid by 60 percent last year were applied over the last 15 years, Ohio taxpayers have sent about $540 million for kids that ECOT never really had. That's a staggering figure. And it's not outrageous to make that assumption because ECOT was nailed by State Auditor Jim Petro during its first year of operation for the exact same thing.

And what have we received for that? Certainly not high-quality education. ECOT earned only Fs on the new state report card -- something it also achieved two years ago under the less difficult state report card regime.

But here's the outrageous data point: According to the New York Times, no school in the country failed to graduate more kids than ECOT. Not a single school.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of ECOT's failure, here are a few examples:

  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend all grades in the Norwalk school district.
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend Bexley.
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend 455 Ohio school districts
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend every school district in each of these Ohio counties: Vinton, Monroe, Carroll, Morgan, Harrison and Noble.
  • Enough kids fail to graduate ECOT to fill Community Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. or Cleveland Central Catholic's new stadium.
  • Enough kids fail to graduate ECOT that their number would rank among the nation's 200 largest high schools
It is criminal that a school this adept at failing has succeeded so richly at fleecing Ohio's taxpayers. You want to know why elections matter? This, my friends, is why.

I applaud the Ohio Department of Education for finally standing up to the bully. I applaud those in the legislature on both sides of the aisle to stood up for kids and against the adults who would fail them while robbing their parents blind. I applaud those pro-charter school reformers who stood up for quality choices for Ohio's kids rather than more bad ones like ECOT.

Most of all, I applaud the members of the media and advocates who have banged this ECOT drum for 15 years. And while for too many of those years the drum's beat was lost on the winds of political power, today it was heard.

Loud and clear.



Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ohio Senate Passes Bill that Could Close State Agencies En Masse. Gift to ECOT?

I'm not usually Conspiracy Guy. But when Senate Bill 329 -- a bill that would force state agencies to sunset every two years and would have to be renewed or closed then -- passed the Ohio Senate today, I started wondering, "Is this a gift to ECOT?"

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- the nation's largest K-12 school run by huge political contributor William Lager that received all Fs on the state report card while failing to graduate more kids than Newark City Schools has students -- was hit this week by the Ohio Department of Education for only being about to account for 40% of the approximately 15,500 kids it was paid to educate last year.

ECOT has been embroiled in a contentious lawsuit with the Ohio Department of Education, who they claim is unfairly trying to find out if the $109 million the state paid them last year was actually justified.

Why do I think 329 has something to do with ECOT? First of all, the bill's sponsor is Bill Coley, yes, the same Bill Coley who almost cost Ohio's kids $71 million in federal funding meant to grow high quality charters because ODE submitted a rule 3 weeks late.

Is there a better warning shot fired across ODE's bow than a piece of legislation that threatens their very existence, unless Ohio legislators (who are the largest recipients of Mr. Lager's largess) say they can exist?

Again, I'm not Conspiracy Guy. But am I alone in thinking these dots seem awfully closely connected?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ohio: ECOT Overpaid by 60%. Still is Paid Enough to Clear 22% Profit

Well, it appears what had been long suspected -- that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow has been substantially overpaid by state taxpayers -- is true. The Ohio Department of Education has determined that ECOT -- the nation's largest K-12 school -- really isn't, for it has only
40% of the kids Ohio's taxpayers funded last year.

However, even with that potential 60% cut in pay, ECOT would still have enough money to pay for all their school personnel and still clear 22%!!!

Let me say that again: ECOT could have their state aid cut by 60% and still clear 22%!!!

Last year, ECOT received $109 million from the state. They paid all their school personnel -- teachers, administrators, programmers, etc. -- $47.5 million. If they were cut 60%, then they would have about $4 million less than that. However, the school also receives $11.8 million in federal funding and another $5.5 million in "other, non-tax" funding, according to ODE records.

So they would clear -- all told -- more than $13 million, even with a 60% cut in state funding!!

Even if their other sources are cut by the same percentage, ECOT would still be able to clear at least 6% profit.

As I've said many times, we as a state pay eSchools waaaay too much money, especially given their dismal academic performance. Let's hope the legislature takes note and brings eSchool funding more in line with their cost structure rather than their profit motive.


Ohio Report Card Results Defy Belief

I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I believe in high standards for our kids. I like that my 6th grader was learning pre-Algebra concepts in 3rd and 4th grade. But don't think for a moment that this new state report card is anything but artificial grade deflation.

Grade deflation happens all the time. For example, I know that at one time, the Harvard Business School would fail students in the bottom 25% of their class, even if those students scored over 90% or something on their class assessments.

That's called grade deflation. It's every bit as pernicious as grade inflation.

It doesn't prove you have high standards. If you're a teacher, it proves you're a jerk. If you're a school, it proves you have some sort of tough guy complex. If you're a state, it proves you're trying to further the narrative that Ohio public schools are failing and need reformed in dramatic ways.

Is it a coincidence that giving more Ds and Fs to districts will potentially allow hundreds of more districts to be available for brick and mortar charter schools to open (it's currently at 39 districts) after the 2017-2018 school year?

Well, dear reader, I leave that analysis to you.

As I've said many times, if I created a test in my University of Akron course that I knew most kids would fail, I wouldn't be allowed to give the test. Because it's an unfair assessment of my students' understanding of the course material.

Yet we allow Ohio leaders to get away with saying "we're raising standards" to explain away the historically bad performance of Ohio's school districts -- a performance Ohio school districts have never replicated in nearly 20 years of high stakes standardized testing.

If you think it's really about higher standards (mind you, we've had these standards in place for two years now and passed them when I was in the legislature), then explain this: Not a single school district in this state received a higher performance index score this school year than they did in the 2013-2014 school year.

Not one.

Is that really possible? That no school district in the state is doing a better job today at preparing kids for these tests than they were three years ago?

How do you know that the score drops don't mean a lot? Because school districts generally rank about where they always have -- wealthier ones on top, poorer ones on the bottom.

This leads to all kinds of statistical nonsense. For example, Cleveland's performance index score dropped by more than 27%, yet their state rank was the exact same as the 2013-2014 school year. Meanwhile, Firelands Local in suburban Lorain County had a slight smaller, 26% score drop. Yet Firelands had the state's largest single rank drop -- from 161st to 528th (out of 609 districts).

And there are districts like Athens, which had a greater than 10% drop in their performance index score, but actually improved their state rank by more than 125 spots.

Overall, the biggest percentage score drops happened in the districts with the lowest scores already, with the bottom 10% of performance index scores in the 15-16 year seeing their scores drop nearly 25% since 13-14. Meanwhile, the state's highest performing districts this year only saw an average 6.2% score drop -- 1/4 the dip of the poorer districts. The median score dropped 13% and the number of scores over 100 (out of 120 maximum) dropped from 288 districts in the 2013-14 year to 48 this last year.

Another issue is each successive standardized test has dropped scores. Again, not surprisingly. The last year of the OAAs was 2013-14 and districts did how they traditionally have done -- very well. In the 14-15 year, we had the PARCC exams and scores dropped some then. Last year we had the AIRs (after complaints about the PARCC), and now we have the worst results ever. However, it's important to remember that the majority of school district grades remain A, B or C.

What we have here is artificial grade deflation posing as "tough standards." The standards have nothing to do with it. It's testing regimes kids aren't used to taking, coupled with tests that most kids were expected to do poorly on in the first place.

If teachers were giving these tests, they'd be fired. Deservedly so.

But when we attach real consequences to these results (a district's performance index score rank determines whether charter schools can open in that district, for example), our leaders accept them as little more than a "real" indication of how districts are doing because it fits in with their now 30-year-old narrative that the nation's public schools are failing.

And while in a few, isolated cases that narrative is true, in the vast majority of cases, nothing could be further from the truth.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ohio Report Card Drives Down Performance. So What?

Amid all the hue and cry over Ohio's new, obtuse and downright head scratching Report Card results, it might be helpful to look at how performance has changed over the four years that Ohio has implemented its much-praised A-F grading system.

What is clear is that each year, report card grades stay the same, or get worse for all school and district types. However, the biggest performance drop -- by far -- has been for Ohio's school districts, which saw their percentage of Ds and Fs more than double over the last four years.

Meanwhile, Ohio's charter schools have had a nearly 40% greater jump in their failing grades than Ohio's much-maligned Big 8 Urban school buildings (the Big 8 school districts are Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown). Four years ago, Ohio's charters and urban buildings had almost exactly the same percentage of D and F grades and today, charters have 5 percentage points more D and F grades.

The charts below show the percentage of As, Bs and Cs each group of schools and districts received each year since 2012-2013 and their percentage of Ds and Fs.




Today, about 7 out of 10 Big 8 Urban building grades are D or F, which is not good.  However, 3 out of 4 charter grades are D or F, which is worse.

Meanwhile, even though charters did the best they had ever done in the 2012-2013 school year, with 60% of their grades being D or F, that result is still the mirror opposite of school districts' worst performance.

What's that mean? It means the best charters have ever done is having 6 out of 10 grades be D or F. The worst districts have ever done is have 6 out of 10 grades be A, B, or C.

The only constant between the 2012-2013 report cards and the 2015-2016 version is Ohio charter schools continue to be vastly outperformed by their school district counterparts (remember that all but 2 Ohio school districts lost students and funding to charters last school year). And now, unlike four years ago, we can say that Big 8 Urban buildings -- overall -- outperform charters in a meaningful way.

Regardless of school type results, what these historic data show is just how illogical the report card has become. Does common sense tell you that school districts today are twice as ineffective as four years ago, or even that 3 out of 4 times, charters are failing?

To hear the report card defenders, all this indicates is that our standards are getting tougher.

Never mind we've had three different state assessments the last three years. Don't think that matters? In 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 we had the same tests. Is it a surprise that the results are nearly identical each year? Now they are wildly different.

Never mind that it is illogical to assume that worse grades mean standards are tougher or results are more accurate -- a narrative thread I strongly oppose.

Never mind that if I developed a test in my class that I knew significant numbers of students would fail (like we were told these new Ohio assessments would do), I would be disciplined for developing a bad, unfair test.

What matters most to Ohio policymakers, it appears, is that we are finally getting some data that indicate Ohio school districts are failing kids almost as often as politicians have been telling us they have been failing for years. If the report card is meant to support a political narrative that public schools are failing kids and we need more choices, regardless of those choices' quality, then the report cards are doing that job better than ever.

But if they're meant to actually give the public a better, more accurate notion of what's happening in Ohio classrooms? Well, I'm afraid that on that account, the report cards would get a big, fat F.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

USDOE Calls Ohio Charter Program "High Risk", puts Special Conditions on Nation's Largest Federal Charter School Grant

It what appears to be a first for the U.S. Department of Education, Ohio has been designated a "high risk" state for charter school oversight, which means the federal government will assert far more authority over how Ohio distributes the $71 million it received last year through the federal Charter School Program grant, which was the largest given last year.

When the grant was given, many immediately questioned how it could have happened, given the fact that Ohio's well-told story of struggling charter schools was well known. The person who sent in the application, David Hansen (husband of Gov. John Kasich's chief of staff and presidential campaign manager Beth Hansen) was forced to resign for illegally doctoring a new charter school accountability regime to benefit politically powerful online charter school operators. It was this regime that was the foundation for the USDOE grant.

There were other sleights of hand that many people identified in the application. However, while USDOE found that there were no "significant inaccuracies" in the state's grant (leaving open the possibility that inaccuracies did exist), there were several problems with Ohio's history with charter schools in general that forced the Department's hand. Specifically, the letter cites the following concerns:

  1. The Hansen affair
  2. Ohio congressional leader concerns
  3. Issues found in previous audits of ODE's capacity to implement federal charter school programs (the only available audit I wrote about here in some detail)
  4. Implementation issues of the additional oversight functions prescribed by House Bill 2 that could impact the state's ability to administer the grant
In addition, the feds urged ODE to "put into place additional mechanisms to help earn the public's confidence in its ability to act as a proper steward of its Federal grant funds on behalf of Ohio's families and students."

The feds also went out of their way to "strongly encourage" the state to put special mechanisms in place to increase transparency between non-profit charter schools and the for-profit entities with which they contract. The feds also made explicit that no online schools can receive the funding. The feds also expressed so much concern about Ohio's miserably performing dropout recovery schools that they told ODE that the feds themselves have to approve all grants given to dropout recovery schools.

The feds wrapped up by expressing confidence that ODE will be able to administer the grant. But they warned that if they fail to meet these special conditions, the state will be subject to strict penalties. They especially pushed ODE to work toward creating "the rigorous oversight of authorizers that was described in ODE's approved grant application."

While I'm glad Ohio will have the opportunity to use this federal money to expand higher performing charters, it is once again a reminder of just what a backwater we have been on charters and how far we have to go.

To add insult to injury, a charter school chain that has some of the highest performing charters in Ohio was rejected for sponsorship in Mississippi -- yes, THAT Mississippi -- this week for not being high performing enough for that state to sponsor.

When the best performing schools in your state aren't high performing enough for Mississippi, you've got problems.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Youngstown Plan Steers Clear of Privatization. For Now.



The recently released plan for Youngstown City Schools had some encouraging things in it. A commitment to wraparound services. An idea to create a high school transition school for students entering high school. A professionalization of the workforce. A serious attempt to engage parents in their children's learning.

And, importantly, no obvious expansion of the mostly failing school choice experiment in Youngstown. Half the kids in Youngstown charters go to schools that perform worse overall on state metrics than Youngstown.

As we at Innovation Ohio suggested last month, Youngstown CEO Krish Mohip should follow evidence-based practices turning around Youngstown schools while trying to avoid the non-evidence-based practices, like relying more on school choice, which in Ohio, has not worked out as promised.

And, it looks like, for the most part, Mohip did stick to those principles. And while some of the stated plan goals are simply unrealistic (which I'll get to later), overall there is much to like with the initial plan.

Now to the details. The most glaring omission is one that Cleveland also neglected in its transformation plan: ask the state for more money to implement the plan. The problem in Youngstown is that I don't see the citizens of Youngstown passing a 15-mill property tax levy to make up for the state's lack of investment the way Cleveland's residents did.

So, for example, how will Mohip possibly be able to provide quarterly performance reviews of 100% of the district's teachers in two years -- a laudable goal -- (let alone weekly instructional feedback) with no additional funding to hire the necessary supervisors to conduct these reviews? Or, how will Mohip ensure that 85% of parents attend open houses in two years when there's no additional funding to pay for outreach coordinators who can be active in the city's neighborhoods? Or how will Mohip ensure all Youngstown children have a personalized learning plan in two years without any additional funding for the coordinators to organize such a massive undertaking? Or how will he pay for his proposed 9th Grade Academy to help kids transition to high school?

Again, all of those goals are laudable. They should be tried. But without additional state resources, it's going to be a struggle for Youngstown to meet them without radically altering job scopes for scores of district employees -- adding new responsibilities to already overloaded staff. Youngstown simply doesn't have the community resources of Cleveland, which was able to utilize substantial foundation and non-profit assistance to do many of the things Youngstown now wants to do.

But that doesn't mean the district shouldn't try.

It is also interesting that currently, 87.7% of the district's teachers are considered to be high performing and the plan's stated goal is to get that number up to 95% in two years. So while much of the plan entails doing more effective teacher evaluations (modeled after what Baltimore has been using for a few years), honoring exceptional performance, and requiring weekly, quarterly and annual teacher/leader feedback, the data suggest it's not teaching, for the most part, that's letting down Youngstown's kids.

In other words, if you were going to pour resources into Youngstown City Schools, the data suggest pouring tons of resources in a new teacher evaluation and tracking system may not be as critical, especially with no apparently new funding coming down the pike.

This brings me to another concern: the plan's call to review employee compensation to ensure "regional competitiveness." What if the review finds that Youngstown teachers make more than comparably prepared professionals? Does than mean Mohip will start ripping up contracts and paying teachers and other professionals less as he begins expecting more from them? Again, no indication one way or another yet.

But given this plan's origin in trying to primarily expand charter school options, it is indeed encouraging that there is no mention of "school choice" or "vouchers" or "charter school" in the 22-page document. That could be because a $71 million federal grant, which was largely intended to expand charters in Youngstown, has been held up by the U.S. Department of Education for several reasons. And once that money's freed up, it will be invested in Youngstown, as originally intended.

Or it could be that Mohip looked at the data and found that, unlike Chicago where he came from, there simply is not a critical mass of high performing charters in Youngstown. And maybe he is thinking that the best hope for parents and their children is to improve the Youngstown City Schools rather than hoping Ohio's nationally ridiculed charter school sector can ride in on a white horse (or White Hat, as the case may be).

That's a good sign that Mohip is actually paying attention to the realities on the ground in Youngstown. That's not to say there aren't some pretty unrealistic goals, even with unlimited funding, which Youngstown does not have.

While the Youngstown Vindicator's coverage called the plan "realistic," here are a few examples that left me scratching my head:

  1. The plan calls for 90% of district buses to pass State Highway Patrol inspection the first time. This year. Last year, 0% did.
  2. This year, the plan wants half of the district's employees' performance to be monitored through a data management system. Last year, no one was. As a City Council member in a community that is shifting to a new data management system for human resources for just a few score people, I can tell you this won't be an easy lift.
  3. Have 1/2 of all district teachers this year provide effective instruction as per the Baltimore system, which has yet to be adopted by the Academic Distress Commission. Again, adopting a new system during the year and expecting 1/2 of teachers (again, 87.7% of whom are already high performing, according to Mohip's report) to understand, adopt and excel with it is quite a lofty expectation.
  4. Ensuring that all kids' test scores and growth are measured every year from K-8, even in grades that aren't currently tested starting this school year seems like quite a lift. It costs the state about $760,000 a year to administer the tests it already does give to Youngstown students. Would the several additional batteries of tests the plan calls for be paid for by the state, or would Youngstown have to pay for them? Stay tuned.
  5. Going from 0 kids taking the PSAT to all sophomores taking it this year seems like a tough thing to achieve, if for no other reason than it costs $15 a student, which could prove a tough fee for parents to handle.
  6. There are several aggressive test score improvement goals throughout the plan that seem very challenging, such as increasing some proficiency rates by nearly 2-3 times in just a few years. Given test scores' nearly linear relationship with poverty, and Youngstown's distressingly high poverty level, it's tough to see these improvements happening, regardless of effort.
Although these goals seem destined to fail, it's good to shoot for the stars. Why not? 

But I have a couple long-term concerns. First of all is the legislation that took control of Youngstown from the people of that city and gave it to a state-appointed CEO requires great report card improvement in order for control to return to the people. And while the goals outlined by Mohip could lead to that improvement happening in a few short years, chances are without the necessary funding, the results will fall short -- sometimes far short -- of the goal. 

If these goals aren't met, then what?

Will Mohip turn to the ideologues? Will the test score pressure become too much for Mohip to resist the call of our state's mostly failing school choice options? Will whole swaths of teachers and principals get fired? Will cooler heads prevail?

We'll see.

But for now, it looks like the Youngstown CEO is moving in the right direction. And given where he could have gone (firing teachers, ripping up contracts, turning the keys over to Ohio's many failing charter school operators), that's a positive development.

Friday, September 9, 2016

When an F isn't an F

Yesterday, I posted about how Donald Trump was visiting a Cleveland charter school that received an F on the state report card for student growth -- a grade I called "failing" in several press accounts. And, in fact, I found it curious that Trump would visit a Cleveland charter with such a poor student growth grade given that Cleveland is the only area of the state where there are several high-performing charters.



I suggested that it was because Ron Packard -- a notorious political operative in the education space -- ran the for-profit company that operates the school. And, right on cue, Trump shouted out Packard at the beginning of his speech. I'm willing to bet that a Packard donation will show up in Trump's next campaign finance report.

Anyway, some charter advocates, especially Aaron Churchill at the Fordham Institute, pushed back against my characterization of the Cleveland charter as "failing" because it's only based on one year of data. And the previous year, the school performed well.

As I've said before, I really respect Aaron, but he's trying to do a do-over here on Ohio's accountability system -- a system he and Fordham pushed to have in place.

Fordham and Aaron championed our state's switch to an A-F report card system because "The A-F grades provide a clear and transparent way of reporting whether a school is academically strong, weak, or somewhere in between." This is also the same group that announced that the drop in state scores last year for many schools due to the PARCC exams and tougher Common Core standards was a better indication of how the students (and schools) "actually performed." (I vehemently disagreed with that assumption, by the way.)

Unless, it appears, Donald Trump decides to visit a charter school with an F in student growth. Then they'll make excuses.

Look, you're either for tougher standards and what the fallout from those standards entail, or you're not. You can't be saying that the tougher standards show us how kids are really doing, then claim they really don't in a school you'd like to see perform well. You can't say the A-F report card gives Ohioans a more transparent way to understand how schools are serving kids, then say the report cards don't in a school you'd like to see perform well.

I've said repeatedly that basing performance solely on test scores, as Ohio (and the country) currently does, is folly and wholly unfair to schools whose performance shouldn't be judged on how kids do during a few hours of testing when they spend more than 1,000 hours in school. But we have this high-stakes system in place. And it is there in no small measure due to the shaming of our public schools, which has been perpetrated by Fordham and others over the years.

And under the system Fordham and other reformers have trumpeted for years, the charter Trump visited yesterday failed to grow student learning as effectively as the Cleveland Municipal School District. And, in fact, the school got an F, which is a failing grade in anyone's book.

Fordham and others in their camp don't get to suddenly adopt a nuanced approach to school performance just because the schools they like failed.

I welcome the more nuanced approach and understanding of school performance. And I'd be less skeptical if Fordham and other education reformers hadn't spent the last 20 years trying to get the no excuses, un-nuanced system we have in place today.

In the words of Mike Brady from A Very Brady Sequel, "Caveat Emptor."

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Trump Makes Point that Charters are Better Options by Visiting Poor Performer

Donald Trump has told the African-American community that "your schools are a disaster", so he has said Charter Schools are the answer. He's trying to demonstrate that today when he visits the Cleveland Arts & Social Sciences Academy in Cleveland.

Here's the thing. The school Trump is visiting received an F on the state report card for student growth -- the most important measure to most charter school advocates. Cleveland -- an urban district Trump has derided collectively -- received a C on the same measure. Visit www.KnowYourCharter.com to find all of the school's performance metrics.



Oh, and the state pays the charter school more money per pupil than Cleveland ... for worse student growth measures.

What's sad is that Cleveland is the only place in Ohio where a case can credibly be made that charters are in any significant way living up to their promise. The Breakthrough Schools and ICAN schools are performing very well. As charter school advocates have noted, that's in stark contrast to the rest of Ohio where 40% of its charter schools are in "urgent need of improvement."

So why would Trump visit a school with an F in the most important performance metric when he had plenty of much higher performing options? Perhaps it's because the school he's visiting is run by a for-profit company called Accel Schools Ohio. Accel is an imprint of Pansophic -- a charter school firm started by K12, Inc. founder Ron Packard. Packard has an infamous reputation for political gamesmanship.

If I wanted to make the point that charters can give kids hope where none before existed, I wouldn't go visit an Accel School. I'd visit a Breakthrough or ICAN school. However, if I wanted to make hay with a potential political contributor with experience in education politics, I would visit Ron Packard's school.

However, this choice doesn't surprise me given Mr. Trump's clear ignorance of the state of education policy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

NEW Cleveland Transformation Plan Report: Slow, Non-Uniform Progress, but Many Challenges Ahead

Today, we at Innovation Ohio released a comprehensive look at the so-called "Cleveland Plan". The initial look we took at the plan in 2012 led to a report that caused some much needed changes to the legislation. Our newest follow up was meant to re-examine the plan, how it's working, how it needs improved and, ultimately, some ways to fix it.

Complicating this whole thing is the specter of a teacher strike. The tensions around the union negotiations will, inevitably, color how the sides view our report. But I want to make something clear: This report was done to examine how the plan is working so that the people of Cleveland understand how important it is to pass the district's levy renewal this November. One of the major flaws with the Plan was the state never put additional investment into its components' success. So the local community has had to step up to a much greater degree than it should have had to. And it will still need to do that.

It is a credit to the people, businesses and philanthropies in Cleveland that they have stepped up for Cleveland's kids thus far. And while the labor issues pose a real threat to the Plan's future, the potential for the Plan to usher in a new era of better, more accurate teacher evaluation and pay structures should not be understated. There is great hope here, but the district and its teachers need to work this out. Quick. Because there's little question that if the levy fails in November, even the modest improvements the district has seen will quickly fall away.

We went out of our way to not use district or union data in the report (and we got plenty of it), sticking rather the state data so that we couldn't be accused of siding one way or another. While I certainly spoke with and interviewed both sides, I chose to use state-reported (and national) data to do the analysis. There will be things in the report both sides will like and not like. But I did my best to, on the data, stick with a neutral party. Though I know some will suggest otherwise. That comes with the territory.

Here's our summary of the report:

"For the first time in decades enrollment in Cleveland public schools has increased. Graduation rates have also increased and proficiency test scores have improved relative to other large urban school districts.
These are a few of the positive developments in the Cleveland schools, but many challenges still remain. Fourth grade reading and math scores have seen a slight uptick, but are still very low nationally. Excessive state funding cuts and prolonged tension between the districts' teachers and administrators have made the path forward difficult. 
Our latest report examines these successes and challenges of the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools."

Monday, August 22, 2016

Testing the Boundaries: Part II - What Can Outliers Teach Us?

We've spent 12 years obsessing over two things: tests and achievement gaps. Yet it appeared that the efforts have been for naught, as the achievement gap has continued to grow.

However, there is some good news. The state's poorest districts saw the biggest percentage improvements in their test scores over those 12 years. The bad news is that improvement, while slightly narrowing the raw score performance gap between rich and poor districts, widened the state's relative performance gap. Meaning, it wasn't big enough to make a difference, relatively speaking, because high performing districts also significantly improved their scores.

You can see the problem in the following charts. Pay attention to what happens between the Suburban, very low student poverty and Urban, very high student poverty categories. You'll see impressive improvement among the poor category, which includes Ohio's so-called "Big 8" urban districts -- Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown. These are the districts state lawmakers have targeted for years as "failing" kids. Though, looking at the raw score improvement, one can't be anything but impressed by the 12-year jump.




Here's the problem: All districts improved, even the wealthiest districts. So despite the state's poorest districts' impressive improvement, all the other districts' improvement was enough to widen the relative performance gap so that the wealthiest districts made up a significantly higher proportion of top 10% mini-PI scores in 2014-2015, and the poorest districts made up a significantly higher proportion of the bottom 10% mini-PI scores.

But it cannot be ignored that Ohio's maligned, urban districts improved their math scores by more than 21%, and the improvement among all districts with high or very high poverty saw scores jump by 20% or more. That's impressive. But it wasn't enough to improve their status among Ohio's districts. And, in fact, they dropped in comparison with their wealthier brethren.



So what gives? Why did a 20% improvement lead to the widening of the achievement gap? A major reason is the upper limit of the mini-PI score. The upper limit of the PI score is 120. That's the maximum score any district could receive. And while some districts get close, getting a perfect 120 is probably impossible. So in the 2003-2004 school year, the average PI score for the OGT math score in the state's wealthiest, suburban districts was 102.84 -- a mere 18.16 points from perfection. So the greatest percentage improvement they could have was a bit more than 17%. The average for the state's poorest, urban districts was 68.26 -- 51.84 points from perfection. So the greatest percentage improvement they could have was 76%. 

In the intervening years, the wealthiest districts went up to an average of 112.25 -- an amazingly close 7.75 points from perfection, or more than 1/2 of their maximum percentage improvement. And the state's urban districts went to 82.26 -- less than 1/3 of their maximum percentage improvement. 

So what this meant is more suburban districts performed at an elite level, while the state's urban districts, which performed much better, remained mired in the bottom 10% of mini-PI Scores.

But this doesn't mean there aren't outliers. Take Lakota in Sandusky County -- classified by the state as a rural, poor district. In 2004, their OGT Math score placed them 511 of 608 districts. Not good. But in 2015, their score jumped so much that they are now in the top 1/3 of districts. Or Maplewood in Trumbull County. In 2004, they were in the bottom 1/2 of Ohio districts on OGT math scores. Now, they're in the top 5%.

In fact, the greatest rank jumpers in the state were the rural districts. They made up almost 1/2 of the greatest rank improvements. 

Here's the other problem: They also made up about 40% of the greatest rank fallers too.

Tellingly, no urban district was in the top 10% of climbers or fallers.

Again, is there something interesting going on in the districts with the greatest improvements? Or something awful happening in the fallers? Or is it just statistical noise -- a true outlier? One would have to go to the district and see what, if any, change has led to the relative improvement. But given the predictive force of poverty on these scores, normal statistical variation would seem to explain much of this difference.

What does all this mean from a policy perspective? Well, it means that if improvement or performance slippage can be explained in large part by statistical variation, should we be granting kudos or shame to districts that grow or slip? It'd be easy to devise a method to reward districts that show dramatic improvement on scores, even if their relative performance to other districts remains low. Likewise, it can be easy to punish districts that slip. But should we, given what we know about statistical variation in these cases? There will always be outliers -- districts that out- or under-perform their demographics. But if there's one thing variation means it's that over or under performance could, in fact, be nothing more than yet another expected statistical result of standardized testing. Every district has their strong or weak classes pass through the system.

In other words, a district's score may not be indicative of the actual quality of their educational program. Yet, under our current accountability system, it is the dominant determinant of a school or district's quality.

But that doesn't mean these score changes mean nothing. Figuring out what they mean is a great challenge, but one that must be unlocked in order to understand how, if at all, they should inform our nation's education policy.


Tuesday
Testing the Boundaries
Part III - Finding Excellence through the Noise

Last Week Tonight Takes on Ohio Charters. I Have Flashbacks.

On John Oliver's Last Week Tonight show last night, the host spent a good 20 minutes talking about charter schools, and, of course, singled out Ohio's sad, sordid history on the subject -- a history I am proud to say is changing in no small measure due to the work at Know Your Charter and pro-quality charter advocates.

So when I saw the stories of double dealing at Richard Allen academies, or the repeated references to CREDO studies singling out Ohio's horrible past, or the many other scandals at Ohio charters, I suffered flashbacks I didn't enjoy. There was even a trip to the way back machine from 2000 showing the infamous David Brennan declaring that schools are a business and if they're run like a business, they'll run properly ... unless Brennan runs the schools, given that his routinely perform the worst of any big Ohio charter chain.

But I digress.

I was surprised that Oliver didn't get into the fact that Brennan and William Lager, who runs the infamous Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- the nation's largest, for-profit K-12 school that doesn't even graduate 4 out of 10 kids, have given more than $6 million to mostly Republican politicians since the charter program started in the late 1990s. And schools run by them have collected one out of every 4 charter dollars ever spent in this state.

While I welcome the continued scrutiny on Ohio's charter past, I would hope that Oliver returns to Ohio over the next year or so to examine how even the "Wild, Wild West" of charter schools can be tamed. But, as I've said before, we still have a ways to go before Oliver could do that. But I'm hopeful that for the first time in years, there's a realistic shot he may be forced to do just that.

Someday.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Testing the Boundaries: A Series on Ohio (and the Nation's) Achievement Gap. Part I: After 12 years, Ohio's Performance Disparity Between Rich and Poor Districts has Grown Worse. Now What?

One the worst traps we can fall in as analysts is to ignore the big picture. Lately, I've been guilty of this -- dealing with short term, juicy topics while eschewing the forest in front of my face.

So I decided to look at 12 years of Ohio Graduation Test data and see how different districts fared each year. The OGT results are listed separately on the Ohio Department of Education website.

The results blew me away; after more than a decade of test-focused reform, Ohio's achievement gap between its wealthiest and poorest districts has gotten worse, not better. What now? Well, I'm going to do my part: namely a blog series on exactly that: How do we determine academic success and why aren't we closing the gap?

The data that inspired this series comes from the OGT data put out by the Ohio Department of Education. I chose OGT data because that's been the least volatile state-administered test. ODE lists the percentage of students who scored advanced, accelerated, proficient, basic and limited for each year's testing. Then, using the state's Performance Index formula (I didn't include the new "Advanced Plus" category for the calculus. Again, for all you nerds out there.), I was able to crunch those four categories into a single, mini-Performance Index (PI) Score so I could more easily see how districts were improving.

I then looked at the districts' improvement on the raw mini-PI score and how they ranked each year among the 608 districts that could be compared each year. I didn't include the island districts or College Corner.

Then I looked at their typeology. While the typeology numbers and definitions have changed slightly over the years, the typeology tells you the kind of district based on community make up and poverty. Here's the most current typeology chart:


The typeology make up is interesting in and of itself. For example, you can see that about 2/3 of Ohio's school districts are in small towns or rural communities. Yet 2/3 of Ohio's school kids are in suburban and urban districts.

This explains Ohio's struggle with school funding to a great extent. Because ways you can make a formula work for rural districts will likely hurt suburban and urban areas, where most of the kids are.

But I digress.

Again, I used the typeology chart to determine which typeologies tended to score better than others in each year. They I looked to see how they improved (or didn't) between the 03-04 school year and the 14-15 school year.

The results aren't really surprising. The wealthiest categories (3,5 and 6) rated the best. The poorest (categories 1, 4, 7, and 8) did the worst. What is surprising is this: The achievement gap between the rich and poor districts is growing more pronounced after a dozen years of test obsession.

For example, on the 2003-2004 Math OGT, category 6 (very wealthy, suburban districts like Ottawa Hills) made up 46.7% of the top 10% mini-PI scores. In 2014-2015, that had jumped about 10 percentage points to 56.3%. Meanwhile, the poorest urban districts (category 7, which includes districts like Euclid and category 8) made up 38.3% of the bottom 10% scoring districts, and 6 of the 8 Big 8 urbans (category 8, which is Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) scored in the bottom 10%. On the 2014-2015 OGT Math, all the Big 8 urban districts score in the bottom 10% and 56.6% of the bottom 10% of scores come from the state's poorest urban districts.






The same general breakdown and change has occurred on reading scores, though not quite as dramatically. But the disparity still has grown significantly between the wealthiest and poorest districts.

So even though urban districts only make up about 9% of all districts in the state, they make up nearly 60% of the 60 lowest scoring districts in the state. Likewise, the state's wealthiest suburban districts (category 6) account for 7.6% of all Ohio districts, but make up about the same 60% of the 60 highest performing districts.

It is equally telling that in neither 2003-2004, nor in 2014-2015 did a single urban district score in the top 10% on either OGT category. And only 1 wealthy suburban district scored in the bottom 10% of either test in either year (Gahanna on 2003-2004 Reading).

What does all this mean? Well, it appears that, generally speaking, 12 years of test-focused accountability has grown the achievement gap between the state's wealthiest and poorest districts, not shrunk it. But I want to ask a different question: Can this disparity ever shrink?

We've known for years about the powerful connection between test scores and poverty. And we've tried to mitigate the problem by using value-added scores, or some other statistical pretzel, but the fact remains that the data produced by test scores has as much (if not more) to do with poverty than classroom performance. 

This calls into question our whole test-based accountability scheme. For example, if no Big 8 Urban district scored outside the bottom 10% on this set of OGT scores, is it a failure of the Big 8, or merely a confirmation that the tax and census data showing the extreme poverty in these communities is accurate? And if that is so, is it fair to hold these districts, buildings, teachers and even communities liable for the district's performance?

And if these scores are measuring poverty rather than quality, should we be opening the doors to more and often poorer performing choice options in these districts?

And if test scores aren't cutting the mustard, what can? And at what cost?

These are all questions I'll be exploring over the next several days as I dig into this series. But I think it's important to recognize that the state and nation's poverty achievement gap, if we keep measuring it through tests, may never close. We may only get a true assessment of our nation's education system when we stop using subject-based standardized tests to measure achievement.

Monday: Testing the Boundaries
Part II - What Can Outliers Teach Us?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Donald Trump Acts Like the Last 30 years of Ed Reform Never Happened

I've deliberately tried to stay out of the wild and wacky 2016 presidential race here. Primarily because education policy has been largely buried underneath the pile of mess that has become the daily 2016 campaign grind. However, Education Week put out an interesting blow-by-blow of Donald Trump's most recent comments about education. The conclusion?

He's big on school choice.

In fact, he spoke in Milwaukee this week and clamored for more school choice -- in the city where school vouchers began. Milwaukee has had choice for two generations of students. And Trump didn't see any irony when he decried the struggles of Milwaukee's schools, despite two generations of choice.

But what really struck me was when Trump told the Wisconsin audience:

"On education, it is time to have school choice, merit pay for teachers, and to end the tenure policies that hurt good teachers and reward bad teachers. We are going to put students and parents first."
It's time we have school choice?

Huh?

We have had school choice in America since the late 1980s -- 1968 if you include the magnet school movement. We have a $37 billion charter school industry that makes its money off school choice. Charters are in 43 states and D.C. We even have an entire major urban school district -- New Orleans -- being nothing but a choice/charter district. We've had school choice so long in America that we're able to study the long-term economic impact they have on kids and communities -- which has been primarily a negative one. And the returns on charter school performance are not good, especially in Ohio.

What is Trump talking about?

And merit pay for teachers? We have that in several districts right now. And it's not working out so great, especially when the issue goes to voters. When Ohio Republicans passed Senate Bill 5 in 2011, teacher merit pay was the core of the issue. Ohioans voted against merit pay by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The early returns on merit pay's successful improvement of student outcomes is also not good. And even the free market bastions at the Harvard Business Review say merit pay doesn't work, no matter the system, even in the private sector.

And eliminating teacher tenure? Again, not a new idea. Once again, there's little to no evidence that ending tenure improves student achievement. As the Brookings Institute pointed out in a 2014 study, the years prior to teachers getting tenure (usually 4-5 years depending on the state) tend to weed out the vast majority of struggling teachers. The researchers found that "in the fifth year of their careers, only 27 percent of the bottom quarter of teachers, in terms of their value-added, remained employed at the school where they began" -- the lowest retention rate of any teacher performance tier. We can debate the effectiveness of judging effective teachers by student test scores, but the Brookings study demonstrates what teachers already knew -- really struggling teachers tend to leave before they ever get tenure.

While I'm not shocked that Trump has taken these positions, I am shocked he's speaking like they're new, or we don't have them. He also said in Detroit that Detroit needed school choice. Detroit has abundant school choice. Yet Trump acts like there isn't any?

What's clear to me is that Trump probably doesn't know what he's talking about, but even if he does, the ideas he's articulated for education are nothing new, exciting or especially innovative.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

National Bureau of Economic Research: Charter Schools Decrease Future Students' Earnings


In a devastating new paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the authors find that charter schools overall have a negative impact on students' test scores and future earnings. That means if you send your child to a charter, the data shows that decision will likely dim your child's economic future. And even the higher performing charters generally don't improve students' future earnings.

Not good news for the nation's charter school sector, which also was hit recently by the NAACP coming out against for-profit operators running these schools, while calling for a moratorium on new ones.

Here are the NBER authors' findings:
"We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings. No Excuses charter schools increase test scores and four-year college enrollment, but have a small and statistically insignificant impact on earnings, while regular charter schools decrease test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings. Using school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings. In contrast, high school graduation effects are predictive of earnings effects for both low- and high-value added schools."
Worse, they conclude that it appears that in high-performing charter schools, the schools have focused so much on improving math and reading scores that they've de-emphasized arts, foreign languages and other "soft skills", which ends up hurting students in the long run because students need these skills to achieve in the market place. The authors theorize that this could be why high-performing charters do improve scores, but have zero impact on earnings.
"Much more troubling, it seems, is the possibility that what it takes to increase achievement among the poor in charter schools deprives them of other skills that are important for labor markets."
Far from being an attack on charters, the paper is a sober, scientific look at what many of us are seeking: a determination of whether education actually improves kids' lives in the long term. And it also helps bring greater clarity to the question of whether improving test scores will mean anything in children's adult lives.

I've always thought it silly to conclude that America is failing because our students score in the middle of the pack (or toward the bottom) on international tests. We still are the world's dominant economy and military force, not to mention its creative and innovative hub. To say our public schools didn't have a lot to do with our country's nearly 8 decades as the world's powerhouse is extraordinarily unfair, or at least intellectually dishonest.

What this report also tells me is that focusing on test score improvement does not necessarily mean we will be improving the economic lives of our citizens. For if we do it by leaving behind the subjects that have separated our educational system from the world for decades, we'll be improving our test scores by limiting our students' future.

It also tells me that three decades into the charter school experiment, charters may not be providing the long-term benefit to our society that many hoped they would. And it certainly shows (again) that investing $1 billion in nearly 400, as Ohio does, seems unjustified. Investing in our state's few high-quality charters and dumping the poor performers seems like the obvious solution.

But seemingly obvious solutions have eluded our state's leaders for so long on this topic that I would fully expect it to continue.

Monday, August 15, 2016

For First Time Ever, Fewer Ohio Kids Attend Charters than Previous Year. Yet Funding Still Grows. Here's How...

For the last two years, the stories about Ohio's mostly failing charter school system have been numerous and compelling. In addition, the scrutiny has meant that websites like Know Your Charter have shined a fresh light on Ohio's charter school performance issues. The result has been the state's first enrollment drop at charters since the 1998 bill creating them passed.

However, there was NOT a commensurate drop in overall funding to the state's charters. How could this be? Especially given many charter school advocates' pleas for a "money follows the child" system? If money truly "followed the child", shouldn't a reduction in the number of children create fewer, not more charter school resources?

Of course.

However, in Ohio, we don't have that system. Instead, we have a system that has Ohio's legislature and governor protect the funding for the state's charter schools, whose operators have given millions to re-elect them.


In the 2015 budget, Gov. John Kasich signed into law provisions that gave charter schools significantly more additional facilities funding (even for e-schools, which - by definition - don't have facilities), as well as bonuses for graduation and third-grade reading guarantees. The budget also deducted funding from charters for regional Educational Service Centers, just like ever other school district. (By the way, remember this fact the next time anyone says the only way to fairly compare charter performance is between charters and school buildings rather than districts, for they're paid and treated by the state as districts.)

The result was that charter schools' bottom lines were sufficiently bolstered by their 88% increase in add on funding to provide a modest increase in overall funding, as well as a 2.6% increase in per pupil state funding. So despite a significant drop in enrollment (and a far less significant drop in base funding to charters), the legislative add ons allowed for charter schools to keep their historically perfect record of annual, overall funding increases, regardless of macroeconomic realities.



The legislative add ons will continue for this next school year as well. So I would fully expect Ohio's charters to continue receiving more funding than previous years, even if their overall enrollment continues to drop.


Here is the chart showing how Ohio charter funding has continued growing, regardless of year or economy.