Wednesday, September 25, 2019

New IO Report: More Money for Vouchers, Less Oversight of Charters

I have to admit, I was shocked at how quickly the Ohio Legislature and Governor forgot about the ECOT scandal -- the largest taxpayer ripoff in state history. Because the most recent budget that passed actually loosened regulations on charter schools.

More amazing still is the state's going whole hog in on Vouchers for families making as much as $100,000 a year. Just an unrelenting pursuit of the public funding of privately run schools. We've put out a new report at Innovation Ohio that details many of these provisions. But here's the most striking chart in the whole thing, as far as I'm concerned:

That's right. The average per pupil funding of private school students -- many of whom never really attended Ohio's public schools -- is now almost $2,000 more per pupil than the what the 1.7 million students in Oho's public school system receive.

Remember that in the landmark Zelman U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled Ohio's Cleveland voucher program constitutional, then-Chief Justice William Rhenquist said it was not a violation of the constitution's Establishment Clause because in large part the program was deisgned to help students in failing schools and the per pupil amount was a pittance compared with what public school students received from the state.

Now that 95 percent of Ohio school districts lose at least some funding to private school vouchers and the average per pupil funding for these programs far outstrips the average funding for public school students, it's right to wonder whether the current Ohio voucher program would meet muster under the Zelman decision.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Charter Schools' Overrepresentation of Failure, Underrepresentation of Success

Every time I write about the state report card, I do so with some trepidation because I don't think they're a true barometer of success, as I've said on many occasions. However, I do believe they can show us general trends about 50,000 foot views on students success.

In this vein, I'd like to point out one extraordinary thing from yesterday's release of the state's new report card: Ohio's charter schools, which represent about 10 percent of Ohio's school buildings, make up about 40 percent of Ohio's school buildinsg that received overall F grades.

Factoring out charter schools shows that among the 3,029 non-charter school buildings made up the remaining 208 F buildings, or not even 7 percent of Ohio's public school buildings. Ohio's charter schools? A full 36 percent of them received overall F grades.

But even the degree of F grades are striking. Of the 45 Performance Index percentages that are below the 33rd percentile, 35 are charter schools, which means about 10 pecrent of all charters are below the 33rd percentile on Performance Index scores -- the state's index of proficiency.

Of the 71 school buildings that received zero gap closing points, 45 were charter schools, which means that nearly 13 percent of all charters received zero points for closing achievement gaps.

The opposite trend continues on the positive end -- few charters occupy top performance positions.

Of the 281 buildings that received A grades for Performance Index, only 9 were charter schools. Again, charters are about 10 percent of all buildings, but only are 3 percent of the top scoring buildings on proficiency.

Meanwhile, of the 1,144 school buildings that received an A on Gap Closing, only 40 (3.5 percent) were charter schools, which means only about 11 percent of Ohio charter schools rank among the state's best schools for closing achievement gaps.

Shall I continue?

Needless to say, it should concern many that Ohio charter schools dominate the bottom rankings among Ohio's school buildings and appear only 1/3 as frequently as their numbers suggest they should on the top end of the performance scale.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

New Report Cards tell Similar Story

The new state report cards are out and they tell a lot of the same story they always have, namely Ohio's public school districts outperform Ohio's charter schools in nearly every way. Again, nearly all Ohio school districts lose funding and students to Ohio charter schools. So this isn't just an urban question.

Overall, two-thirds of Ohio school district grades are A, B or C. Two-thirds of Ohio charter school grades are D or F.

Meanwhile, Ohio’s local public school districts receive As in Gap Closing between disadvantaged students and those without disadvantages at three times the rate of Ohio's charter schools, had a 20 percent better rate of As in student growth and even outperformed charter schools in charter schools’ best-performing measure – student growth among the lowest-performing students.

Ohio charter schools had a stunning 93% rate of F grades in meeting performance benchmarks and nearly half of all Ohio charter schools received F grades in closing achievement gaps between the most at-risk students and those who are more advantaged. Perhaps the greatest difference can be seen in Performance Index performance (the one number that encapsulates overall proficiency) where 43% of charter schools received an F grade and only 6 of Ohio’s 608 school districts received an F.

As for school districts, they improved their percentage of As in 8 of 14 graded categories and lowered their rate of Fs in 11 of 14 categories. The biggest area of improvement came in graduation rates and closing achievment gaps. However, their biggest drop off was in student growth where last year nearly 1/2 of all districts received As. This year, only 13 percent did. We'll have to look at that more closely to discover why.

Only 4 districts received overall grades of F this year -- at 0.7%, a far better rate than Ohio charter schools' 28%. However, one of those 4 is Youngstown, which is under the Academic Distress Commission. This means that the district will now have to transition to a mayor-appointed academic distress commission Jan. 1 through a complicated process. So that's another issue that could perhaps be fixed through the apparently fast-moving distress commission reform now being discussed in the Ohio Senate.

But overall, Ohio's districts are improving in far more measures than they are slipping, and the continued strong showing in closing achievement gaps is encouraging.

However, this is where I reiterate again that these report cards are almost singularly reliant on scores earned on standardized, high-stakes tests that are notoriously tied to poverty. So while we're seeing improvements, the fact remains that the poorer your students, the less successful you will appear on this report card. That has always been true and will likley be true as long as tests that are taken for a few days during the year and are great at measuring poverty continue to be used to judge the 180-day educational experiences of children.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

No Han Solo: What’s missing in Ohio’s newest school funding attempt

When the long-awaited school funding simulations were released Friday by state Reps. John Patterson, D-Ashtabula, and Robert Cupp, R-Lima, for their Fair education funding plan, people didn’t really know how to respond. Yes, it called for an annual spending increase of $718 million statewide for schools.

That’s good.

But did Ohio’s suburban districts need to swallow up more than 1/3 of that increase while the state’s biggest urban districts only got 5 percent of the increase? And flat funding Northern Local in Perry County – the district that originally sued the state over its failure to properly fund education? How is that “fair”, as the plan’s authors claimed?

Something didn’t seem right. The formula Cupp and Patterson talked about made sense. Figure out what students need. Then fund it. The elements they picked (teachers, mental health, etc.) all made sense.

So why were wealthy, suburban districts getting more than 1/3 of the increase?

One explanation is that Ohio has held down increases in suburban districts through so-called “gain caps” for years.  This allowed the state to continue investing in districts that couldn’t raise local revenue – not enough state investment there, by the way, but this Robin-Hooding has happened for decades.

So if you’re eliminating gain caps – one of the hallmarks of the Cupp Patterson plan – you’re going to see large increases in districts that have been capped for years. In many ways, you are essentially making up for 30-40 years of Robin Hooding.

But the issue is more complicated than that.

Ten years ago, I was in the exact same position as Cup and Patterson. I was the chair (they are co-chairs) of the Primary and Secondary Education Subcommittee of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee when then-Gov. Ted Strickland introduced the Evidence Based Model of school funding – the state’s first real attempt to cost out education and pay for it since the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the state to do so in 1997.

In much the same way as Cupp-Patterson, the original EBM initially poured millions into wealthy, suburban districts while doing much less, relatively speaking, in poorer districts.

Yet by the time the formula left the House and eventually became law for a couple years, the plan did the best job of distributing revenue to the most needy districts the state had ever seen. And it won the prestigious Frank Newman Award from the bipartisan Education Commission of the States.

What happened?

We found Han Solo.

Let me explain.

I have always contended that the reason the Star Wars prequels failed to garner the widespread love of the original three was because the second prequel didn’t have Han Solo (or a character like him) – a wisecracking, street smart character who didn’t quite buy all this Jedi/Force/Destiny stuff. He was grounded in the real world. He was the guy audience members who weren’t buying the magical part of the movies could relate to.

You didn’t need to believe in the Force to believe in Han Solo. Because Han Solo was us.

Back to school funding.

The EBM’s Han Solo was the Education Challenge Factor – an index that calculated a school district’s extra-curricular challenges (and I don’t mean football teams). It took into account a district’s relative poverty and its parents’ educational attainment level – what we’ve known for years is the single most important determinant of a student’s success. Those were merged into a number that we applied to many of the formula elements.

 Why did we decide to apply the ECF to the formula elements? Because it’s hard to find, for example, teachers who want to teach in districts where the parents don’t value education that much and will more likely impede than support  learning. Likewise, it’s easier to find those teachers in wealthier districts with more supportive parents. We applied it to many of the other formula elements, but that's the reason why. It's generally harder to overcome poverty and other barriers in districts with more of it.

The ECF did a lot of the heavy lifting for the EBM – leveling out a lot of the original inequities in the formula.

The Cupp Patterson formula doesn’t have a similar mechanism to account for the more difficult challenges districts that are poor and whose students don’t have much support from parents face in finding talent and overcoming those barriers, especially in districts that are the most challenged.

So, for example, the Cupp Patterson plan assumes it will be just as easy to find the mental health professionals the formula envisions in Olentangy, Cleveland and New Boston. And those professionals will be equally successful in all those places.

That’s probably not an accurate assessment.

What effect would the ECF have on the Cupp Patterson plan? I’m not going to use dollar figures here because I don’t know which elements of the formula the authors would want to apply it to. And I’m using ECF figures from 10 years ago. I don’t want to suggest that Cupp and Patterson have to figure out how to find even more money than they currently have. 

However, what I can do is show how the distributions work under the current Cupp Patterson plan and how it would work if you applied the 10-year-old ECF to all of a district’s funding (which is not how it would work, but this is just an exercise). Here’s the result:

What you’ll see is that instead of only receiving 5 percent of the formula’s benefit, the state’s Big 8 Urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) would see about ¼ of the benefit with an ECF. Likewise, poor, rural and small town districts would see about 1/3 of the benefit.

Meanwhile, the state’s wealthiest suburban districts would see a small bump, or even a slight cut, depending on the category.

I want to be extremely clear: I am not saying this is how the distribution should look.

What I am saying is that this is a lot closer to what a fair distribution resembles. And since this is being dubbed the “Fair” education funding plan, it would appear that an ECF-like mechanism could significantly improve its fairness.

As this formula works its way through the legislature, it is important to realize that the funding simulations released Friday will change. That’s a given. And there are major challenges to find the additional revenue the plan calls for.

The only way to ensure that the most benefit goes to the most in need of those resources is to do what the Cupp Patterson plan states as a goal – develop a fair education funding formula.

The current plan does the best job since EBM of calculating the elements of student need. 

What the plan is missing is Han Solo -- something to bring everyone around to it. But there’s still time to release him from the carbonite.

You just have to march into Jabba’s Palace and do it.