Tuesday, December 11, 2012

White Hat Associate Now Ohio House Ed Policy Aide

Last week, when I attended a House hearing on education funding, I picked up information that Colleen Grady, who was a State Rep for about 2 months in 2008, was now the Education Policy Aide for House Republicans who was setting up all these hearings.

I didn't think much of this, until I re-read the story the Columbus Dispatch wrote last year detailing how cozy House Republicans are with David Brennan, the notorious owner of White Hat Management and the single largest donor to Ohio Republicans over the last decade. The head of White Hat is Thomas Needles, who was Gov. George Voinovich's Education Czar who turned his work creating Charter Schools under Voinovich into a lucrative career serving as Mr. Brennan's right hand man within days of leaving Voinovich's administration in 1998.

House staff members ran a number of charter-school-related amendments by Brennan's lobbyists. On April 19, nine days before the initial House budget changes were unveiled, lobbyist (and Needles associate) Colleen Grady sent Lisa Valentine, the top education policy adviser for the House Republicans, her opinion of 11 different amendments. Among the responses:

"Definitely no. Operators would object vigorously. Looks like more breakthrough schools stuff," she wrote, referring to a group of Cleveland-area charter schools. (Note: The Breakthrough Schools are among the finest Charter Schools the state has, by the way.)

"This one is good."

"Thank you. This is great."

"Might be nice to delete the Senate amendment starting at line 307. We could fix what they messed up."

So Brennan has been able to put one of his own as a top policy person in the Ohio House, less than one year after his cozy relationship with the Ohio House caused such a furor that even Charter School advocates blushed. Here's what Terry Ryan of the Fordham Institute said of Brennan's changes to Charter School oversight in last year's budget:
"What (the House) is proposing isn't a charter school. It's a corporate, private school, and the state simply funds it," Ryan said.

Then, I looked at Grady's LinkedIn profile and discovered she has been on staff with the Ohio Republican House Caucus since April, confirming the information I was told last week.

Grady has done work around Columbus since her 2008 defeat by Matt Patten for various education policy shops, including Fordham and even on her own, penning a report with the Ohio Association for Gifted Children (a group that gave me their service award in 2009) last year. That report basically said that excellence was too easy for schools to achieve in Ohio because how could a school be excellent if it wasn't serving every child?

I think that's a good question, actually.

However, the report did not mention that despite this supposedly "easy" school rating system, nearly half of all Charter Schools rate D or F on the report card. The Grady-OAGC report, I think, gave the Ohio Department of Education and others who have been complaining about how well public schools rate the ammunition to develop House Bill 555, whose most recent simulation indicates that as many as 85% of school districts were overrated by the prior system.

After the Grady Report, no one would bat an eyelash at that result, depsite its highly dubious outcome. However, if more schools are poorly rated, more districts would be opened up for Charters and Vouchers, further draining money from local school districts, who then must pass more levies to make up the difference.

Remember that every child in Ohio who does not attend a Charter School receives 6.5% less state revenue because of how Charter Schools are funded in this state.

The development is troubling because Grady, judging from the earlier Dispatch story, is hostile toward Breakthrough Schools, but is supportive of David Brennan's schools. Again, the Breakthrough Schools are among the finest Charters (or any schools, for that matter) in the state. Their excellent track record is, in many ways, what gave comfort to some people about allowing local revenue to go to the Cleveland Charters because Breakthrough would be getting the money, not the shadier Charter outfits. If Brennan's schools are able to get local revenue in next year's budget (which I'm sure will be attempted), he can actually thank Breakthrough for setting the precedent.

Ohio's trouble is not Breakthrough; it's that not enough Charters here resemble Breakthrough. Too many resemble Brennan's Life Skills centers -- a dropout recovery school operation which graduates 11% of its kids on average. The average of the state's other Charter dropout recovery schools is more than four times that.The dropout recovery standards currently in House Bill 555 (about 7 years after they were first ordered by the General Assembly) would allow dropout recovery schools to remain open as long as they improve by 10% per year (for at least 2 consecutive years) their graduation rates and percentage of kids who pass all high school testing before they are 22 years old. In Life Skills' case, that would entail about a 1% increase in graduation rates. So Life Skills would have about 20 years or so to catch up to the average Charter School dropout recovery program, assuming the law remains in place that long.

If the House's top education policy person is as hostile to some of the best Charter Schools in this state as her previous work indicates, it throws a wet blanket on the positive statements made last week by Students First about how Charters and Traditional Public Schools should be held to the same standards.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Amstutz Delivers

I have to admit something. When Ohio House Finance Chairman Ron Amstutz announced earlier this year that he would be heading up a committee that would hear testimony about how to develop a new school funding formula, I was extremely skeptical. I know Amstutz a little bit. He gave my farewell speech from his side of the aisle when I left the House (much to his enjoyment, I imagine).

I've always known him to be a good, trustworthy guy. But I figured his leadership team wouldn't let him hold the hearings, especially close to an election, allowing people all over the state to remind everyone about the $1.8 billion in education cuts Amstutz passed through the General Assembly last year.

But I was wrong. Amstutz has held hearings. They have been more scripted than ones I held during the House Bill 1 debate in 2009. But that's a matter of style, not necessarily substance. I like letting people talk and speak their mind, even if it means I have to stick around for hours and hours. Amstutz, being, shall we say, wiser, prefers succinct expedience.

From one former journalist to another, I have to say that Amstutz has delivered a substantive series of hearings. Yes, they have been overwhelmingly dominated by one side of the argument. There has been no real counterpoint to the Eric Hanusheks, Rick Hesses, and other conservative education reformers, which would have really given the hearings much needed balance. During the House bill 1 debates, the conservatives would not testify before my committee, except for Terry Ryan from Fordham Institute, even though I invited them to do so. Paul Hill, from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, met with me in my office and spent about an hour eviscerated my work on the EBM. But ultimately, Mr. Hill, like the others, chose instead to testify publicly only in the Senate.

Yes, there have been several extremely misleading pieces of testimony during Amstutz's hearings, especially from former Ohio Department of Education official Paolo DeMaria about how Charter School funding works. But you know what? It's been done in public and Amstutz has not been afraid to stick his neck out there.

As the only one in this state who can really relate to Amstutz's current responsibility of overhauling a school funding system, I applaud his willingness to face the scrutiny like an adult. I really respect him for it, though I strongly disagree with much of what's been put forward at these hearings.

I think Amstutz really wants to get this right. I think he is a grownup in the room, especially about being sensitive to the number of property tax levies state budget cuts have caused. However, I also know his leadership team and their feelings toward public education. I hope Chairman Amstutz's methodical, thoughtful approach wins out next year as the new funding system is shaped.

Again, I find myself extremely skeptical.

However, Ron Amstutz has surprised me before.

Perhaps he will again.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

National Charter Group Praises HB 1

I read in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today that the National Association of Charter School Authorizers wants Ohio and the nation to follow the lead of former Gov. Ted Strickland through 2009's House Bill 1: Shut down bad operators.

NACSA said this was the first time it had called for such state laws, praising Ohio as an example of what happens when state legislators impose greater accountability. It said Ohio shut down 19 poor-performing charters after tougher laws in 2008 and last year.
I'm trying to figure out where exactly the tougher laws were passed in last year's HB 153, especially since the Ohio House let David Brennan literally write the Charter School law. Perhaps it's the fact that the current General Assembly didn't revert back to more lax closure standards?

No matter.

What the national organization is doing is once again demonstrating for all of us here in Ohio that the environment over Charter Schools is vastly different outside Ohio than here. Outside Ohio, Charter School advocates are calling to drum out poor performers so the good ones can thrive. In Ohio, choice for choice's sake, regardless of how good the choice is, is lauded. I have said on the House floor and in other venues that we should fight for better choices, not more bad choices.

Or, as NACSA put it:

...Bad charters give good charter schools a bad name. NACSA said that, nationally, 900 to 1,300 charter schools now rank in the lowest 15 percent of schools in their states, holding back high-end charters and impeding overall public-education reform.

I have long stated that Ohio's Charter School experience has been so corrupted by political ambition that it is nearly impossible to judge how Charters are working in Ohio. They simply weren't set up as a true reform measure; they were devised as a political wedge -- something unique to Ohio.

One of the measures in HB 1, which I helped shape in the Ohio General Assembly, was a provision that made it easier to close down poorly performing Charter Schools. I wanted to do more, frankly. Currently, every Ohio child loses 6.5% of his or her state revenue to the Charter School funding system.

I wanted to potentially see more money go to good Charter Schools (in Ohio, that's not a ton) at the expense of these poor performers (in Ohio, that is a ton). I always felt you could have far more effective Charter School system with far less money being drained from Ohio's traditional public schools if the state would take the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on bad Charter Schools, put a chunk of that into good Charter Schools, and put the rest back into the traditional public schools that are frankly cleaning most Ohio Charter Schools' clocks on performance.

If you took the 23 Charter Schools in this state that performed better than the average district Performance Index Score on the latest report card (again, there are more than 300 Charter Schools in Ohio), and added all the state money together that goes to them, it's about $50 million. Again, the state spent $771 million last year on Charter Schools. So you could probably reduce the program to $200 million, only fund really cracker jack programs that work collaboratively and cooperatively with local school districts, and provide instant property tax relief of more than 2 mills to the average school district's taxpayers.

And you could do it without raising taxes. You do it by raising standards.

However, Ohio's Charter School establishment was dead set against closing any Charters for any reason in 2009. And that was primarily because of the political power Charters have wielded for years. So we settled for making it a bit easier to close Charter Schools that were the worst of the worst. At the time, about half of all Charter Schools rated the equivalent of D or F on the state's report card, so you can imagine what the worst of the worst would be. Today the D or F rate is about 40%, thanks in no small measure to the tougher closure standards

In any case, I'm glad Ohio's being singled out for strength on this issue (for once). I hope the General Assembly takes note and builds upon Ohio's leadership role here. We'll see.

Monday, October 8, 2012

EdWeek Column Re-Print, Expanded Version

Last week, a column of mine ran with three other education policy experts in EdWeek. However, while the EdWeek editors did a fine job boiling down my column (and my colleagues'), I wanted to provide you the expanded version, which did not appear in EdWeek. But it will appear here. You should also remember that I wrote this prior to the Chicago strike being settled, in case the timeline in it confuses you. For those who are interested, I have also linked to my fellow authors' expanded versions on their websites at the bottom of the column.

The Fast and the Furious

By: Stephen Dyer

"I look at the Chicago Teachers Strike and really feel bad for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Chicago’s teachers and especially the kids of that great, proud city. I only lived in Chicago for a year, but it was the first place I ever fell in love with.

While the strike is a terrible thing for everyone involved, I think if folks in Chicago had taken a lesson from our experience in Ohio, especially on teacher compensation, it could have been avoided.

In 2009, I was the lead legislator on a comprehensive, statewide education reform plan that dealt with teacher compensation, accountability and a brand-new school funding system. It earned the 2010 Frank Newman award from the Education Commission of the States for being the country’s most bold, innovative and non-partisan education reform of 2009.

I learned much during the development of that plan. But most importantly, I learned that many well-meaning education reformers make three basic mistakes that lead to all kinds of headaches when trying to implement the reform.

Many reformers move too fast, too unilaterally and too confidently. As a result, they alienate people who could be their greatest allies: Teachers.

If teachers buy in to what you are doing as a reformer, it enhances the reform rather than weakens it – a claim many reformers have made to me over the years. Cleveland reformers didn’t even engage its teachers on that city’s recent reform plan until after they introduced it to the non-profit and business communities. Somehow, teachers unions are seen as the roadblock to reform, despite the fact that the centerpiece of most reformers’ efforts – Charter Schools – came from a teachers union.

In 2009, Ohio took a different approach. We gave teachers a broad framework in which to develop a new evaluation system, but it was they who developed the details. The plan they developed even had test scores count up to 50% of a teacher’s evaluation.

By the way, I’m still not sold on using tests that were designed to measure the level of student knowledge to also measure teacher excellence.  There are evaluation tools that do this, like observation and peer-review, but a student test is not one of them. Yet.

While certainly some of a child’s test success can be attributed to teaching, much can also be attributed to demographics. I analyzed Ohio test data and found that I could predict test scores in nearly 3 out of 4 school districts based on a few demographic measures like poverty and education attainment levels of parents. Others also have demonstrated that demographics or any one of a host of other issues other than teaching impact these scores.

Does this mean that the test scores of their students should not be considered in the evaluation? No. Does it mean we maybe should use sophisticated statistical analysis to try to control for demographics when calculating test scores so we find the true value of those results? Yes. We’ll find examples (as I did in Ohio) of children doing less well than their demographics indicate they should be doing, and we’ll find examples of students soaring in some of the most traditionally ridiculed districts.

Many teachers, and even their unions, have bought into the idea that test scores should count for something, just not everything. And this brings me back to the mistakes many well-meaning reformers make: moving too fast, too unilaterally and to confidently.

If reformers listen to teachers and seriously include them in the discussion over the change in their profession, they can become the reformers’ greatest allies – look at Denver’s experience. In Ohio, the statewide teachers unions bought into the teacher compensation system that they helped developed, and as a result it is serving as a blueprint around the state.

But this buy in won’t be instant. The state’s Educator Standards Board (made up of teachers and administrators) took about 2 years to develop the standards, but the result was an incredibly rich, detailed evaluation system that has a real hope of improving the profession.

And because the system was developed with teachers, not dictated to them, the chances of this system being successful rather than resented is much greater. Yet despite all these attributes, some Ohio reformers weren’t satisfied. They wanted teachers to have tests count for “at least” 50% of an evaluation, not “up to” 50%. Which brings me to the issue of reformer confidence.

I am still looking for the peer-reviewed, objective, longitudinal study that demonstrates tying teacher compensation to student outcomes substantially improves those outcomes. The first study done in Tennessee showed zero impact on student outcomes, and they offered up to a 33% bonus for high test scores.

So why the fascination with the “at least” 50% idea?

This allegiance to ideas that may or may not end up working to improve education is perhaps many reformers’ greatest blind spot.

While many reformers seem bent on blaming teachers for the system’s “failures”, nearly all those reformers were taught by a public school teacher how to think creatively and critically enough to want to reform education.

And there are many ideas that peer-reviewed research has shown would have a great chance of working, like smaller classes in early grades, which could increase the likelihood of graduation for kids in poverty by more than 100%.

Many reformers forget that teachers are proud people who want to be great at what they do. Dismissing their ideas, or worse yet, not even entertaining them, is a terrible mistake because it alienates a proud, committed group of people.

Mayor Emmanuel knows how to negotiate. His experience in Congress and the White House should give him the direction to work this out.

Treat it like a budget: resolve what you can now, and on the issues that cannot be resolved today, pledge to work with Chicago’s teachers on workplace and compensation reforms. Set up a commission where teachers have a strong voice. Give them 18-24 months to meet several broad goals on compensation and workplace changes that are based on peer-reviewed, objective research. Then commit to implementing and, most importantly funding those agreements.

While the development of this kind of plan could take longer initially, with the teacher buy in this process promises, the district likely will be farther along in 5 years than it would be if terms were dictated.

Chicago reformers will be surprised just how willing Chicago’s teachers are to be part of the solution. So both sides should end this thing and move forward together."
Here is Dr. Paul Thomas of Furman University's expanded take.

Here is Dr. Andrea Kayne Kaufman's expanded take.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I Speak in Cleveland. Car Gets Broken Into.

It's not too often that irony truly enters our lives. Tonight was one of those nights for me.

I was speaking about school funding to a group of folks at a church on Cleveland's east side this evening. After a great night of talking and sharing ideas with one another about how to improve education for folks who have little hope in their lives, I walked out into the parking lot and noticed my car's dome light was on.

I could have hit myself in the head for leaving a door ajar for two hours, I thought. Now I'd need a jump. Then I came around to the driver's side window.

It had been smashed three times, my door opened and my GPS stolen.

I could have been angry, I suppose, though I felt more stupid than anything else. How many stories have I heard about people's cars being broken into for GPS devices?

But then my thoughts turned to the (likely) kid or kids who did this. They weren't born wanting to break into my car in a church parking lot so they could steal a $100 TomTom. Something drove them to it. Maybe it was drugs. Maybe it was an initiation. Maybe it was a desire to have a GPS.

Whatever it was, it was desperation.

There is too much desperation in Cleveland and communities around my state and in my country. Desperate acts from desperate people. This is beyond politics. No tax cut, no program can wipe out this kind of desperation.

The only things that stand a chance are a parent's love and an education.

That's it, my friends.

This is why I fight for states like Ohio to properly fund public education. This is why I rail against the who want to destroy what Alexis de Tocqueville called the "originality of American civilization" -- Public Education.

Because the only hope the kids who broke into my car tonight have lies in Jefferson's dream for Ohio and the rest of America -- the idea that all of us, regardless of where we live, have access to a great public education.

We failed our kids tonight. I failed our children tonight. For when children choose to break into cars parked in church parking lots, that's my problem. It's your problem. It's our problem. We failed these kids.

This is why we must fight, fight, fight, fight to get the funding and services kids like those who broke into my car tonight need. For then, perhaps, their desperation can turn to hope.

And that, my friends, is our greatest gift.

Not the TomTom.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lottery Two-Step Alive and Well

I've been on vacation for the last few weeks with my family. It was great fun and very, very hot. But I'm so glad to be back in Ohio where it's, well, very, very hot. Like I never left.

Back to work...

Remember not long ago how Ohio School Districts were told that gambling interests would come to their financial rescue? Well, my friends at www.plunderbund.com noticed something interesting: despite record Ohio Lottery profits, school districts are seeing no additional revenue. How is this?

It's something I call the Lottery Two-Step. Others more familiar with government finance-ese will understand it as "supplantation". When the Lottery was created in the 1970s, one of it's major flaws of its creation was not restricting the ability of politicians to supplant General Revenue Fund money in schools.

What does that mean? It means legislators and governors routinely remove General Revenue Fund money from schools and replace it with the same amount of Lottery money, which means schools receive zero additional financial benefit from the Lottery money. It also means that other areas of the budget receive the benefit intended for schools by the People of Ohio.

I should make it clear this is a bipartisan problem, though some have been more willing to admit what the state does than others who deny it. The fact is that the language of the Constitution does not forbid the Lottery Two-Step.

Another interesting tid-bit in the Plunderbund post, though, is the amount that was accumulated by the Lottery this year. It was $771 million -- a record. What's fascinating is that Charter Schools received a total of $771 million from the state this year too.

What's that mean for traditional school districts? Even if the state weren't supplanting General Revenue Fund money with Lottery money, all the Lottery money is eaten up by Charter Schools anyway.

So either way, school districts receive no additional benefit from the Ohio Lottery, whose funds (and resulting additional financial benefit) were intended to serve as a financial savior for traditional public schools.

The Lottery Promise made four decades ago in Ohio reminds me of this exchange from the movie version of Charlie Wilson's War:
“A boy is given a horse on his 14th birthday. Everyone in the village says, “Oh how wonderful.” But a Zen master who lives in the village says, “we shall see.” The boy falls off the horse and breaks his foot. Everyone in the village says, “Oh how awful.” The Zen master says, “We shall see.” The village is thrown into war and all the young men have to go to war. But, because of the broken foot, the boy stays behind. Everyone says, “Oh, how wonderful.” The Zen master says, “We shall see.”
Will Ohio's leaders ever treat the Lottery money the way it was originally intended?

We shall see.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

School Funding Hearings Begin

I admit. I was wrong.

The Ohio House will begin what is promised to be a series of special hearings on education funding today. I will attend and report back what I see.

When the House announced earlier this year that they would be tackling this issue a few months before everyone in the House was up for election, I was exceedingly skeptical. It takes courage to go around the state talking about education funding after making massive cuts to education in the last budget. So I though these would never happen. While surprised, I'm thrilled they are happening. Chairman Ron Amstutz should be commended for following through on these initial hearings. I always worked well with him in the House (he gave my farewell speech), and I know he's sincere about wanting to fix this problem. So I'm glad his sincerity won out over crass political cynicism. At least for the moment.

Now, I don't know what the hearings will be like. Will they be substantive? Will they allow anyone who wishes to speak? Will they be hijacked by one interest group or another? Will they serve an agenda (like justifying giving everyone $6,000 and telling them they can attend any school they want), or support the Founding Fathers' vision (including Thomas Jefferson) of public education being the heart of every Ohio community, which Alexis de Tocqueville described in Democracy in America thusly: "the originality of American civilization was most clearly apparent in the provisions made for public education"?

What I hope they become is a serious inquiry into how to properly fund our schools (including traditionals, charters and eschools), using the best, peer-reviewed research available. Since Gov. Kasich eliminated the Evidence-Based Model in the last budget (as well as about $2 billion in funding), Ohio remains the only state in the country without a funding model. That cannot continue for another two years.

The new model should help kids succeed, not simply spend the same pot of money differently. I would hope some property tax relief could result, for continuing to rely more and more on property taxes to fund schools is untenable. Finally, I hope the new system has even more evidence that it will improve student success than the EBM did.

That's what our kids deserve.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Study: Previous School Funding System gets an A

In the Dispatch this morning, it was reported that the Education Law Center at Rutgers gave Ohio's school funding system a pretty good grade. Unfortunately, the highest grades it received were while the Evidence Based Model of school funding was in place. The current administration eliminated that model this year, so now Ohio has no distribution formula.

The study looked at 2009 -- the year the EBM was put in place.

The report classifies Ohio's system then this way:
"Only 17 states have progressive funding systems, providing greater funding to high-poverty districts than to low-poverty districts. This is a small increase over the 14 progressive states in 2008. The most progressive funding systems are in Utah, New Jersey and Ohio."
As the Ohio House, to their credit, starts examining what a new system should look like, one thing they should do is look at the components of previous systems that did work, and incorporate them into the new system. The EBM was not perfect. But it did earn Ohio accolades for being innovative, creative and fair.

Finally, it would have been fair for the Dispatch to have mentioned the EBM in today's story. I'm not surprised it didn't, but the implication the story gave that Ohio's current system, which has no distribution formula, would receive a similar A grade for distributive fairness misinforms the public on the eve of one of the more important landmarks in Ohio's long, sordid school funding history.

And that's unfortunate.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

More Ohio Charter War Collateral Damage

Today's Columbus Dispatch held a story about a situation that frankly never should have come up in the first place.

A Charter School in Cincinnati wanted to buy an old building that was owned by CPS. However, a deed restriction CPS put in there didn't allow the district to sell to a Charter School.

Yet the operators of Theodore Roosevelt Public Community School bought it for $30,000 and started to run the school out of it. CPS sued in 2009 to block the sale, based on the deed restriction. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the Charter's right to buy the building based on a state law giving Charters first crack at old school buildings.

This situation epitomizes why the Charter School Wars are harmful. First of all, it makes perfect sense for Charters to buy old school buildings that districts no longer need. One of the major issues in other states (like New York) is the lack of space Charters have.

However, this seemingly common sense marriage makes zero sense when the existence of Charter Schools put the local district in financial jeopardy. In Ohio, the way Charter Schools are funded means that every kid not in a Charter receives about 6.5% less state revenue than they otherwise would.

In the Theodore Roosevelt situation, according to the April 27 state payment forms, it receives $1,765,386.74 for the 218.13 kids it educates. That means the state pays Theodore Roosevelt $8,093.28 per pupil. After Charters like Theodore Roosevelt receive their state money, CPS is left with $2,445 per pupil from the state.

When you add the financial issues to the fact that Theodore Roosevelt is in Academic Emergency (an F) on the state report card, has a Performance Index Score of 57.2 (which rates worse than all but about 45 of Ohio's 3,625 school buildings) and has neither met Adequate Yearly Progress nor its Value Added benchmarks, you begin to understand CPS' reluctance to have Theodore Roosevelt taking its kids.

The person who started Theodore Roosevelt, Roger Connors, came from Riverside Academy, which is one of the Charters that is operated by White Hat Management -- the outfit started by Ohio's Charter School Godfather David Brennan.

Let me ask one question: would the Ohio Supreme Court be hearing this case after a three-year court battle if the Charter School funding scheme in Ohio wasn't so off kilter? Or the state had higher standards for Charter School performance? Or the goal of Charter Schools was to help, not compete with local school districts? Or the creation of Charter Schools hadn't been born out of hyper-partisan rhetoric and action?

Think about it: A school district has a building it won't use anymore. A Charter School wants to come in and operate a school there. It should be a foregone conclusion, if there was a true sense of cooperation between the two systems, that this would happen.

Instead, districts try to keep out Charters and Charters try to figure out how to wiggle their way into districts.

The outcome of the Cincinnati case isn't what really concerns me. What troubles me to no end is that 13 years into the Charter School experiment in Ohio we're having three-year court battles over whether a Charter School can operate in a school building a district no longer wants.

There have been some fences mended on this issue over the last few years, but the Cincinnati case proves one thing to me: thanks to the way Columbus politicians have hamfisted this issue for years, there is a long, long, long, long way to go before Charters and Traditional Public Schools can trust one another or work together collaboratively.

And that is truly unfortunate for the children of this state.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wonder Why There's a Charter School War in Ohio? Look Here.

If you have ever wondered why the Charter School issue in Ohio is so fraught with discord, look no further than what the Charter School lobby was able to pull off on the so-called Cleveland Plan.

Part of the Plan included a private-public partnership called the Transformation Alliance. Originally, it was going to have a say on who could start Charter Schools in Cleveland and who couldn't. It was going to allow a community's voice to have a say on which Charter Schools should be operating in the city. After all, Ohio does call Charter Schools "Community Schools."

It was met with some wariness by Charter School advocates like Terry Ryan of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. But to his credit, he publicly stated this:
"Fordham—which expects to authorize one school in Cleveland in 2012-13—would willingly be the first to go through a vetting process led by the Transformation Alliance. We would see this as an opportunity to partner with the mayor and the Cleveland school district in working to create more and better school options for children and families who badly need them. Maybe together we can help Cleveland reverse its decline, while giving children and families better school choices."

So while Fordham was concerned about the Alliance, they were willing to work together with the Cleveland community to make sure it worked. Sounds like a reasonable approach, right? Well, that's not how David Brennan's people felt. Instead, they held up the vote on the Cleveland Plan so long, it's now delayed until next week, placing the possibility of a levy passing to fund the Plan in jeopardy.

And what did their lobbying produce? A substitute bill that effectively renders the Alliance powerless to do anything about bad Charter Schools.

There are currently 9 Charter School sponsors operating in Cleveland, which is a bad thing, according to national Charter School experts quoted in the Plain Dealer.
"Cleveland is unusual in having nine different agencies approving charters in one city," said Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. "Too many authorizers is not a good thing."
Yet the only sponsors that will ever be examined by the Alliance under this new language authored by the pro-Brennan forces are sponsors whose sponsorship agreements are approved or renewed in the next five years. Why do I focus on five years? Because the new language sunsets the Alliance after five years of the effective date of the legislation not from the date of the Alliance's formation. Period.

As an aside, many charter sponsorship agreements have 5-year terms.

Look for a mad rush of sponsorship renewals and applications in Cleveland between the passage of the bill and the effective date of its implementation (90 days, unless it's passed as an emergency measure, which there aren't the votes to do). If every sponsor does that and makes agreement's term run for five years, the Alliance's Charter School oversight function will be rendered moot.

In addition, the Alliance's sign off authority has been reduced to simply a recommendation that is made to the Ohio Department of Education, which may choose to heed it or not. For now it has the sign off authority the Cleveland community so clearly wanted. So ends the effort to establish more local and community control over Charter Schools in Ohio. I guess "Community School" is a misnomer.

In addition, no Charter School sponsor will have to go through the Alliance process more than once.


So if the Charter School sponsor is approved one year and opens 40 Charter Schools, and all of those are failing, the sponsor can keep opening schools in Cleveland and the Alliance will have nothing to say about it.

And the Alliance won't have any oversight of e-Schools, one of which enrolls more kids than any other Charter School in Cleveland.

Finally, the pro-Brennan Charter Advocates were able to get the Cleveland folks to agree to this arrangement: the standards upon which the Alliance will judge whether sponsors can open new Charter Schools will be developed by the Alliance, the Ohio Department of Education (generally more friendly to Charters) and a "statewide nonprofit organization whose membership is comprised solely of entities that sponsor community schools and whose members sponsor the majority of start up community schools in the state".

That means that the Alliance's voice, and therefore the Cleveland community's voice, will be out-voted 2-1 by folks outside the community when it comes to the development of these standards.

While these will be "based on" national standards developed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (they don't have to be the actual national standards), the standards for determining Charter School efficacy will not necessarily be those accepted nationally, only "where possible" and they will only apply to a specific school's "model, mission and student populations."

And the coup de grace is this: Charter Schools in Cleveland will be able to receive local revenue, both operating and capital revenue, as they have been able to do in every iteration of the Cleveland Plan. And they will be able to do this with no impact on their state aid payments.

So while school districts like Cleveland lose state aid because of their ability to raise local revenue (which is called a "charge off"), that rule will not apply to Charters that receive local revenue.

By way of example, if CMSD needs $5,000 a kid to educate its children, but it can raise $2,500 locally on property taxes, the state will provide CMSD $2,500. Charters get the full $5,000 -- the argument being that since they can't raise local revenue, they shouldn't get the local revenue deduction. Of course this ignores that the per pupil amount is how much it costs to educate the kid in the district, not at the Charter School, which has far fewer and smaller expenses. But that's another story.

However, under the Cleveland Plan, even if Charters can now receive $2,500 in local revenue, the state will continue paying them the full $5,000. So a Charter will now get $7,500 per kid, while CMSD will only get $5,000.

Again, Cleveland kids lose about $3 million a year in per pupil state aid simply because Charter School state aid payments are so much larger than state aid payments to Cleveland. Yet Cleveland Charter Schools will receive these larger payments ($7,344 per pupil rather than the $7,084 per pupil the same kid receives in CMSD after Charters get their money) and local revenue to boot.

If this doesn't serve as the gateway for Charters to receive local revenue statewide in next year's school funding formula, I will be stunned. This effectively opens the door to an additional $8.5 billion that Charters will be able to tap potentially starting next year. And they won't have ANY of their state aid payments reduced, like school districts do, if Cleveland is the model.

All in all, under this new iteration of the Cleveland Plan, Charter Schools will receive now all the benefits (more revenue) with very little (if any) meaningful additional accountability.

If you want to to know why Ohio's Charter School Wars continue, I give you Exhibit A. It simply doesn't happen like this anywhere else.

And it makes life very difficult for the increasingly more vocal Charter School folks who really want to develop great, creative ideas that can really help kids and be upscaled throughout the system. I think there is such potential for the idea of Charter Schools as small incubators of creativity that can help develop system wide change for the good. But only if it doesn't hurt the kids who remain in the traditional public schools, and only if the incubators are actually working and working collaboratively.

In Ohio, every kid in the public schools receives, on average, about 6.5% less state money per year because of how Charters are funded by this state -- substantially cutting into their educational experience. And only 23 of the 300+ Charters in the state would rate in the top 1/2 of all school districts on the Performance Index Score. Ohio's public school kids generally perform better than kids who go to private voucher schools as well, even in Cleveland. Meanwhile, some of the worst Charters in the state (which serve the state's neediest kids) can remain open indefinitely for no apparent reason.

This, my friends, is why Charter Schools are met with such resistance in this state. It may seem odd to folks from outside Ohio who are used to more collaborative and cooperative models. But Ohio's way of doing things is wholly unique.

Until the political sway of the Brennan-backed Charter School Lobby is abated, I fear the Charter School movement will remain a force for discord and division in this state, not the cooperative and helpful force for real reform that it could (and should) be.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Delisle Confirmed by U.S. Senate

Former Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Deborah Delisle was confirmed last night by the U.S. Senate to oversee K-12 education as the Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education for Elementary and Secondary Education.

Outside being a proud moment for Deb and Ohio, it is one for me as well. When HB 1 was introduced in 2009, Deb was appointed about the same time. She had to get caught up to speed quickly and she did. She led the state's effort to win the $400 million Race to the Top grant, which was no small feat considering how short a time she had spent at the Department.

In addition, she chaired the Ohio School Funding Advisory Council and was masterful at keeping that diverse group of folks on track. As a result, Ohio's citizens have the most accurate, thorough and complete examination of education funding this state has ever seen. There is little doubt that the OSFC report will have a lasting impact on Ohio's future funding system.

During the work we did together on HB 1, I found Deb to be smart, tough, and unwilling to allow obstacles to overwhelm her creativity. And she was incredibly funny. The children of Ohio were lucky to have her as their leader. Similarly, this country's children are lucky now to have her advocating for them now.

Good luck, Deb. I know you'll do great!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

UPDATE: Dispatch: Vouchers Popular. Popular = 3/4 of Slots Remaining Open?

Note: I overlooked a sentence in the Dispatch story that mentioned the 60,000 vouchers, as pointed out to me by the reporter. So now it's just the headline writer who thinks that having about 3/4 of vouchers remain unfilled means it has proven popular. My apologies to Jennifer Smith Richards for the oversight, though I made it very clear in my original post that it was not she who wrote the headline.

Remember when state leaders trumpeted how great it was that the number of EdChoice voucher slots were increased from 14,000 to 30,000 this school year and 60,000 next school year? Why, then, are only 17,438 vouchers being used next school year -- an increase of maybe 500 from last year, according to the Columbus Dispatch story?

Even more interesting: this school year represents the first school year since the EdChoice voucher program started where less money is being transferred to private schools from public schools through the vouchers than the previous year. It equates to about a 5.4% cut in the EdChoice voucher program.

So if more than four times as many parents could have chosen to use vouchers next year as two years ago, why is it then that only about one-third did? And is the Dispatch headline -- "School-voucher Programs Prove Popular" -- really true?

Not once in the Dispatch story was it ever even mentioned that 60,000 vouchers could have been taken next year. Perhaps if it had,  So the question is: Why didn't the headline writer write something different. Something like this perhaps?

"Parents More Satisfied with Public Schools than Politicians"

Or something like that.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cincy Enquirer Tackles School Funding

The Cincinnati Enquirer took on the broader issue of school funding in Ohio (and Kentucky) in a Tuesday editorial. While its point -- that communities and schools need to do a better job of supporting one another -- is an important one, the saddest part of the editorial for me was this section:
But fixing education is about more than passing tax levies. Behind the financial crisis is a crisis of confidence.
This is a resignation to the idea that passing levies is schools' only hope: The state is a lost cause.

Earlier in the editorial, the writers noticed that within a year the number of school districts that reported budget deficits went from less than half to two out of three. What changed? The state made massive cuts and federal stimulus money dried up. And while the Enquirer made the connection, they simply left it at that.

No demand for the state to live up to its constitutional obligation and reduce the reliance on property taxes to pay for schools. No suggestion to have the public demand such things of their state legislators or Governor. No reminder that for 15 years the state has been required to develop a funding formula that accurately measures the needs of students, then significantly reduces property taxes to pay for those needs. No reminder that the state instead has responded by not having a funding formula for the next two years and slashing state funding by nearly 20% relative to inflation over the last 10 years. And yes, no mention that with the Evidence Based Model, the state had promised to provide up to $400 per $100,000 home in property tax relief over the next 10 years, but the legislature reneged on that promise almost as soon as it was made.

The answer for the Enquirer is this: Districts and communities need to develop better public relations so they can pass more levies, thus increasing our reliance on property taxes to pay for schools.

I know some may think I'm beating a dead horse here, but I learned something from one of my life mentors: If they're getting away with it, it's your fault. State leaders can only get away scot-free from their constitutional obligations if we let them. So let's not let them. This is exemplified with the Cleveland Plan, whose only source of new revenue would come from a massive, new levy in November, whose passage is certainly questionable. Not a single penny is being asked of from the state.

Do I think communities and districts need better partnerships to develop a better likelihood of levy success? Of course. More important, though, is a renewed effort to hold state lawmakers and leaders accountable for forcing districts and communities to make pre-emptive cuts so they can perhaps pass levies that still won't provide adequate resources for every kid in Ohio to receive a world-class education, as they deserve.

However, I understand where the Enquirer is coming from, given Ohio's struggles with this issue.
It is also time for communities to realize that they, not the state or federal government, are the only short-term salvation for local schools, and that educational stability is a key foundation for economic recovery, and continuing to build a strong citizenry.
More stable than that? What the state's framers envisioned: a thorough and efficient state system of education that the state, not local communities, is responsible for funding and leading.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cautious Optimism in Cleveland

Progress was made yesterday on the Cleveland Plan, as Mayor Frank Jackson agreed to the Cleveland Teachers Union's proposal to base layoffs first on teacher evaluations, then on tenure and seniority.

While a big step, major hurdles remain on the following issues, according to the Plain Dealer account:
The two sides remain far apart, however, on Jackson's push to wipe out all previous contracts and start fresh with new contract negotiations. The union also disagrees with Jackson's proposal to give district Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon broad powers to lay off or fire teachers to remake any failing school.

Union President David Quolke likened those items to Senate Bill 5, the controversial state law that limited collective bargaining but was repealed sharply by voters in November. Quolke objected to Jackson seeking to have the disputed provisions introduced in the legislature this week, instead of trying to resolve them with the union first.

"The legislation should not be introduced with these two Senate Bill 5 pieces," he said. "We do not believe if we're having productive dialogue that we should jump to legislation." 
Again, as I've said before, why the Mayor and other Cleveland Plan supporters put anything remotely resembling SB 5 into their plan a few months after SB 5 was defeated by more than 20 points at the polls, I will never understand. It seems politically tone deaf to me.

Regardless, it was a good sign that the Mayor was willing to listen to the teachers about their significant movement on the layoff provision. While tenure and seniority will still play a roll, the teachers' compromise effectively eliminates tenure and seniority. That's because those two provisions will only come into play if teachers' evaluations are the same. Evalutions will determine all but a few layoffs, for the likelihood of two teachers' evaluations being exactly the same seems remote to me.

It is impossible to overstate how significant a concession this is for Cleveland's teachers.

The Plain Dealer story did not mention other concerns with the plan, like giving local revenue to Charter Schools, but if yesterday's agreement is any indication, it looks like Mayor Jackson and the Cleveland teachers are working together toward a better day for Cleveland's kids.

And that is a good thing.

Monday, March 12, 2012

New Report Card: State of State School Overrated

Apparently, Gov. John Kasich's choice of State of the State venue was overrated.

Kasich caused a tizzy when he chose to move the annual speech to Wells Academy in Steubenville, citing how it is doing great things despite budget challenges -- not so subtly suggesting that money doesn't matter as much to academic performance as commitment, vision and innovative adaptability to tough budget times.

However, Ohio's proposed waiver from No Child Left Behind contains a new Report Card system that State Superintendent Stan Heffner claims will give Ohioans a clearer indication of its schools' performance. And under that new system, Wells Academy goes from an A on the report card to a B.

Is this evaluation really more accurate? Or is it the result of a ham-handed evaluation tool that hurts schools like Wells Academy, which overcome demographic challenges to be considered great enough to host an important gubernatorial address?

The new Report Card is based largely on standardized tests, which are tremendously influenced by demographics. Under this new system, a building and district's ratings are even more dependant upon their demographics than the prior system, which was pretty well dependant upon demographics as well.

Note: According to an Excel regression analysis of ODE data on the new system at the district level, demographics (poverty, income, property valuation, teacher salaries, educational attainment levels, etc.) produce an R-squared value of .48 for the new system vs. an R-squared of .45 for the previous system. The closer to 1 (or -1), the stronger the correlation.

This could explain why Wells Academy now rates a B rather than an A because its demographics are not favorable. So if the evaluation system's more dependant on them, Wells will seem less successful under that evaluation. But is Wells, in fact, less successful than the Governor and nearly every other education observer in this state thought? And if the new system made a mistake on Wells, what about the other districts and buildings?

For the issue isn't just at Wells Academy. Of the 3,409 school buildings rated under the old system, more than 77 percent rate worse under the proposed system, according to ODE projections. And that's assuming that the Excellent with Distinction buildings under the old 5-point Report Card, which equates to an A+, would rate the same under the new 4-point system the department's assuming (which doesn't include A+, just an A). So it's probably an even higher percentage.

Only 40 buildings improve, which means that barely 1 percent of buildings were underrated by the old system. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of buildings were overrated. Can that even be possible?

Meanwhile, more than 83 percent of school districts were overrated, while none, that's right, not a single Ohio school district was underrated by the previous system.

I hope folks ask a simple question: "Was the old system that off?"

Roosevelt Elementary in Springfield (right in my backyard here near Akron) was an "Effective" building under the old system, meaning it rated a B. Under the new system, it's an F. Three ISUS Charter Schools in Dayton were rated Excellent under the old system, an A. Under the new, they all get Ds.

Meanwhile, the only schools that actually improve under the new system are 40 schools that improve from Academic Emergency under the old system -- an F, to a D under the new system. No building improved more than one step. And no building rated above an F in the old system improves under the new system.

One would think if you were creating a more accurate system, there would be corrections in both directions, certainly not all in one direction.

Charter Schools' rating changes are interesting. While 83 percent of school districts saw their grade levels drop, only 55 percent of Charters saw them drop (perhaps because more of them rated poorly under the old system and had less room to drop). Meanwhile, 45 percent of Charters stayed the same or improved under the new Report Card, though improvement was relegated to previously failing charters.

One side effect of this is that fewer Charters would be up for closing under the new system, assuming the same standards that applied under the old report card are transferred to the new one.

The performance differences remain stark between Charters and Districts. Only 10 percent of Charters rate B or higher on the new system (nearly 3 in 4 rate D or F), with some of the better thought of Charters slipping from As or A+s under the old system to Bs in the current one, like Wells Academy did on the Traditional side.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of school districts rate B or better on the new report card, with about 10 percent rating D or F.

Despite these clear questions about the new Report Card's methodology, all I really care about is this question: Now what?

What's the state's plan to improve these schools, since the Ohio Constitution and State Supreme Court have found education to be a state responsibility in Ohio? Will cutting more money from the state budget help districts be more innovative? Can the improvement happen with the same amount the state's spending, just with better, more focused programming? Will local taxpayers have to tax themselves at higher rates so districts have the necessary resources to meet the tougher standards certain to come down from the state? Will districts be able to pass levies now when they are considered B and C districts rather than A and B districts?

These are just some of the many questions the state and districts now face.

Again, I would like to see a system that rates districts not so much on their proficiency rates, which are so heavily influence by demographics, but upon their relative success in overcoming those barriers. So, for example, a Performance Index score of 82 may be phenomenal in some districts, but in the wealthier ones, that would be a terrible score. So the district where 82 is great should have that score weighted to account for their greater challenges.

In other words, Wells Academy should take its rightful place as a source of pride for the community and state, not relegated to the above average. It's difficult to understand how one of the best schools in the state is now merely one of the good ones.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Study: Grads Don't Need all that College Remediation

Here's something interesting. It appears that all those High School graduates taking remedial courses their first years in college don't really need it. From the story in Inside Higher Ed:
The research, which analyzed data from a large, urban community college system and a statewide two-year system, found that up to a third of students who placed into remedial classes on the basis of the placement tests could have passed college-level classes with a grade of B or better.
So who told these students they needed remediation? Standardized tests. In particular, the COMPASS and ACCUPLACER exams (from ACT, Inc. and College Board, respectively). According to Inside Higher Ed:
The accuracy of placement tests has been the subject of little research, the researchers said. But the new studies suggest that colleges should reconsider how they use the tests to decide which students need remediation.
What is so troubling is enrollment in remediation courses in college has a significant impact on the student finishing college.
... remedial education is a black hole from which comparatively few students ever emerge. Only 25 percent of students in remedial classes will eventually earn a degree from a community college or transfer to a four-year college, research has found.
Once again, research has demonstrated the limitations of standardized testing. This is why making these things even more high stakes is potentially dangerous. Tests can be quite helpful when used as evaluative tools to improve and direct instruction.

However, extrapolating their results to the extent that it permanently affects students' academic careers or other non-evaluative measures is extremely problematic.

IO Warns: Caution in Cleveland

At Innovation Ohio, we just put out the first comprehensive, independent report on the proposed Cleveland Plan for transforming its schools.

Far from an anti-Plan screed, the report points out some very positive aspects of the reform agenda, like universal pre-school for 3 and 4 year olds, or Early Childhood Academies.

However, there are some major problems with the plan, such as granting significant authority to an un-elected board governed by folks outside the district, giving local tax revenues to Charter Schools and unnecessarily re-fighting the Senate Bill 5 War. At IO, we offered potential solutions to address each of these fatal flaws in the plan.

As this plan develops, 10th Period will keep close tabs. Here is the IO Press Release in its entirety, which gives a good synopsis of the report:

Innovation Ohio Says Cleveland School Plan Needs Work

Think Tank Both Praises and Criticizes Reform Plan
Columbus: Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank headquartered in Columbus, today released an analysis of the education reform plan recently put forward by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. Governor Kasich has indicated the plan might serve as a model for his own education reform effort, which presumably will include the new school funding formula he promised but so far has failed to deliver. The analysis is available at www.innovationohio.org.
IO said an analysis of the “Cleveland Plan” is important given Ohio’s history of expanding Cleveland education experiments, such as private school vouchers, state-wide. “If Governor Kasich is intent on using the Cleveland Plan as a model for other Ohio school districts, then it’s critical that we get it right,” said IO President Janetta King.
The analysis found a number of “things to like” about the Cleveland Plan, including:
  • Innovations such as a Global Language Academy, an Environmental Science School, Early Childhood Education Academies in every neighborhood, and an English Immersion School for all children for whom English is a second language;
  • A focus on high-quality preschool education, as well as on college and workforce readiness; and
  • A series of proposed changes to state law that would, for example, give the Cleveland Metropolitan School District flexibility to manage its fiscal assets and close loopholes in existing law that allow poorly-performing Charter Schools to continue operating.
IO said other ideas, like adoption of a year-round school calendar, support for high-quality Charter Schools, and the aggressive pursuit of talented teachers, “have potential, but need more work and further fleshing-out.”
But Innovation Ohio said several Cleveland Plan ideas are fatally flawed as currently written and should either be modified substantially or jettisoned entirely. Among these are:
  • A proposal to allow the transfer of local property tax revenue to Charter schools;
  • The transfer of school oversight and other functions from the Cleveland School Board (accountable to the Mayor) to an unelected and less accountable “Cleveland Transformation Alliance”;
  • A weighted per pupil funding formula with “money following the child” that, in IO’s view, would inevitably end up short-changing either students or schools;
  • Several proposals relating to teacher compensation, collective bargaining and accountability, which IO says are exact replicas of provisions in last year’s Senate Bill 5, which Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected with 61% of the vote in November.
Said IO President Janetta King:
“IO congratulates the authors of the Cleveland Plan for thinking outside the box and being willing to go big. Nothing is more important to Ohio’s future than our schools and our kids. That’s why education reform is so important, and it’s why all of us who truly care about our state, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives, liberals and moderates alike–must be willing to embrace change and challenge the status quo.
“But our goal cannot be change for the sake of change, or change that can’t work and will only make things worse. So Innovation Ohio has tried to be constructive in our analysis. Where we’ve been critical of the Cleveland Plan, we’ve offered alternative ideas and proposals that we believe are more likely to achieve the desired goals.
“But we recognize that we don’t have all the answers. Frankly, neither do the people who put the Cleveland Plan together. And that is why we believe any serious school reform discussion should and must include the voices of professional educators, parents, and other members of the community. We hope their exclusion will be rectified in the weeks and months ahead.
“So what is Innovation Ohio’s bottom-line take on the Cleveland Plan? We believe the Plan as written is a reasonable place to start, but would be a terrible place to end up. It needs work and IO stands ready to help any way we can.”