Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ohio Charter Payments Hit Record High

Today marks the date of the latest state funding payment to school districts. And after several months of lagging Charter School deductions, the first payment in December shows that children in traditional public schools will lose a record amount of money to mostly underperforming Charter Schools.

According to the state report, Charters will receive just under $871 million this year -- an increase of just under 6% from last year, which was just about $824 million. The $871 million is about a $16 million increase over what state legislators told the public it should expect for Charter School deductions.

Chances are, that $871 million will grow over the course of the year because Charter funding is very fluid.

So stay tuned, and watch those state funding reports. They will say a lot. Primarily, they will show emphatically that Ohio has got to stop investing so much money in failing Charter Schools. Leaders should invest in Charters that work, and use the money spent on failing Charters to invest in programming that will help the 90% of kids who are not in Ohio's Charter Schools to better succeed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Howard Fleeter and HB 1 Strike Again

Howard Fleeter, who's had a long, storied history as one of Ohio's most respected and persistent education finance experts, has mined yet another nugget from the state's vast data lode.

As reported in today's Columbus Dispatch (though disturbingly listed under its Politics banner online), Fleeter was able to comb through a set of little known data called a District Benchmark Report -- a requirement made of districts in House Bill 1 in conjunction with the Evidence Based Model.

When we set up this fiscal accountability system, it was intended to provide information about how districts were spending money in order to see whether those expenditures matched the latest research about how best to spend money to improve student outcomes. Here's a contemporaneous explanation of the report.

What Howard did was dig into these reports (whose post-EBM utility was probably considered minimal) and discover what has been known for a while -- that comparing per pupil expenditures across districts is fraught with issues.

Namely, many districts that spend lots of raw dollars per pupil only have discretion over a relatively small portion of those dollars because they are earmarked for poverty aid, special ed, etc. What Howard did was look at how districts spend their dollars on "typical" kids in their districts -- in other words, once you correct for high numbers of at-risk kids in some districts, they're actually spending less per pupil than high-performing districts.

As the Dispatch notes:

For example, in 2011, the most recent data available, Columbus spent $1,905 more per pupil than Dublin. But when spending on poverty and other factors are calculated, Dublin actually spends $1,618 more per pupil to educate a typical student than Columbus.  

In fact, Fleeter’s study said, eight Franklin County districts spend more than Columbus to educate a typical student. 
But the fascinating information doesn't stop there. For instance, Cleveland, which is always castigated for spending so much per pupil, ends up spending barely $8,000 per pupil when adjusted for their non-discretionary spending, not the more than $14,000 the raw data indicate.

I have linked to Howard's spreadsheet so you can see just how profound an impact non-discretionary spending has on a school district's budget.

The report has huge implications for education funding in Ohio. Does this now mean that we base the basic aid amount on the discretionary amount? Does this mean that urban school performance is related to lack of discretionary money being spent there? I don't know yet.

But it does mean that we can't look at $10,000 per pupil being spent in one district that's doing great and $10,000 being spent in one that's struggling and simply assume that the one that's struggling is being inefficient or something. What it means is education finance is complicated and, right now, inaccurate.

Howard's work is groundbreaking for it gets us thinking more about the true cost of educating children and ensuring their success.

And one more thing. (Sorry, but I can't let this go.) The impetus for the Fiscal Benchmark Report, upon which Howard based his work, was House Bill 1 -- the legislation I spent so much time and energy developing in 2009. It won the Frank Newman Award from the Education Commission of the States, created the first instance on record that Ohio's state funds exceeded its local property taxes to pay for schools, and now has resulted in a calculus that can more accurately determine the cost of education at the district level.

I struggle to understand the policy reasons behind why Gov. John Kasich and his legislative allies decided to undo nearly everything contained in House Bill 1. I sure do understand the political reasons.

And that's why Ohio's school funding system has been so hamstrung for so many years -- explaining why an analysis of a data report released by the Ohio Department of Education is listed under the politics page at the Columbus Dispatch. And it's why so many are so cynical that the political parties can ever work together to solve the big issues we face today.

Politics and education simply have not mixed well here. And that has really hurt our children.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sen. Widener's Insult

I know state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, a little bit. We served together in the legislature. I didn't know him well, but I always found him to be maddeningly meticulous about the state budget I saw him shepherd through the House in 2007.

So it floored me when I read recently that he thought using the now $400 million Medicaid expansion surplus on education would have a "minimal impact."

Someone with Sen. Widener's experience has to know that there are only four education funding components that cost more than $400 million -- the basic aid amount, parity aid, special education and Charter Schools. Does Sen. Widener seriously think that he $369 million the state is spending on economically disadvantaged aid is of "minimal impact"? How about the $64.5 million the state's spending on the Third Grade Reading Guarantee? Or the $17.8 million spent on English Language Learners? Or the $69.3 million spent on Gifted Education? Or the $357 million spent on busing? Or the $43.5 million spent on Career Tech Education?

Over at Innovation Ohio, we broke down just how much that money would mean for districts -- essentially increasing their state aid by about 6%. And we showed how $400 million is more than what the state spends on the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, Gifted Education, Career Tech Education, Limited English Proficiency Education and half of the state's six Special Education categories combined.

Look, I know that the $400 million isn't all going to education. But Sen. Widener's idea to give middle income Ohioans a $40 tax cut, while giving millionaires huge tax cuts is, I would argue, of far less beneficial impact than, say, providing universal pre-school in Ohio's 8 major urban districts, or providing property tax relief in rural, poor districts, or providing the technology upgrades districts so desperately need to comply with the new, tough Common Core standards.

But if Sen. Widener really believes that $400 million is of "minimal impact" to districts, I fear that the state will really fail to deliver any meaningful benefit to Ohio's children with their new found surplus. And that would be a crippling shame.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

ODE Happy More Public Money Going to Private Schools

I have to admit that I was a bit shocked to see that the Ohio Department of Education was so excited about the explosion in Voucher programs this year, as Innovation Ohio had predicted.
"The Ohio Department of Education is pleased with the growth of the EdChoice program and the increased opportunities for children to receive a quality education," ODE spokesman John Charlton said."
So the fact that the expansion of Vouchers in the most recent state budget saw the number of private schools taking Vouchers jump from 331 to 444, or that the amount of money going from public schools to private schools as of the year's first October payment increased from $86.6 million last year to $133 million this year -- a 54% increase -- is good for public education in the eyes of the chief overseers of Ohio's public education system.

One complicating factor is this: New research indicates that kids in public schools, when controlling for demographics, perform better than kids in private schools on national assessments. This supports what we have known in Ohio for years -- that kids in voucher schools do no better and many times perform worse than kids in the public schools do.

So is ODE really excited that more kids can go to schools that generally do not perform as well as the schools they are leaving? This mentality reveals why Ohio so desperately needs to have a serious discussion about school choice quality

Because choice for choice's sake does not ensure a better educational experience for kids. School Choice proponents should be fighting for quality educational opportunities for kids. Worse options provide scant opportunity for kids, though it does permit private schools to fill dwindling enrollment on the backs of Ohio taxpayers.

So there's that.

The Artful Dodger

If anyone wants to learn how to avoid answering tough questions, take a look at Ohio Office of Budget and Management spokesman Jim Lynch in today's Gongwer. He is responding to the report I authored for Innovation Ohio that showed school districts have had to go for far more levies and far more additional operating money since Gov. John Kasich took office than the during the similar time frame under Gov. Ted Strickland:

" Office of Budget and Management spokesman Jim Lynch, said, however, data and news reports reviewed by the office indicates the total number of school levies this fall is below the historical average, which holds the same for earlier election cycles. 
'It's easy to be innovative with statistics, to slice and dice data in ways that yield the particular conclusion that serves your agenda,' he said. 'Before you're satisfied with these agenda-oriented reports, ask if the sources have looked across a longer period of time - say 10 years - for some historical perspective.' 
Mr. Lynch said Gov. Kasich has made education a key priority to help improve results in Ohio's classrooms. 
'His Achievement Everywhere Plan, signed in late June, allocates $1.6 billion in new state funds for the next two fiscal years, putting more dollars into Ohio classrooms so that FY 2015 funding levels will exceed FY 2011 actual state spending by $1.39 billion,' he said.
Mr. Lynch simply dismissed what we did without disputing a single thing we did. He actually didn't look at the data at all, citing simply some media reports and nebulous "data" his office had reviewed (from where, he doesn't say). I do give him credit for the "innovative with statistics" line. Get it? Innovation Ohio. Innovative with statistics.

Yup. He went there.

The reason Mr. Lynch won't dispute our report is because it is right. I looked at each levy on the ballot for the two time periods to determine which levy was an ask for new money to fund operations and which was not. I used both the Ohio School Boards Association database and the Ohio Secretary of State's office for the data. I did not include Bond issues, nor did I include renewal or replacement levies. If there were combination levies, I only included the money for operations. Why did I do it this way? Because cuts to the state's operating budget would most directly impact the operational portion of a district's budget. As Ohio School Boards Association President Charles Wilson put it: 
"‘….if you are trying to measure the impact of state funding cuts on the (schools’) main operating budget, Innovation Ohio’s measurement is better because it effectively measures the local operational impact of cuts made in the state’s operating budget.’
Mr. Lynch knows this. Which is why he didn't really dispute our methodology, just impugned the reasons we did it. He said we should look at a 10-year time frame for comparison. Sounds reasonable, except that would tell us nothing about the question we were looking at, which was whether there has been any impact on new money asks for operations as a result of the historically huge cuts Gov. Kasich made in his first budget ($1.8 billion), and only partially replaced in his second (now $515 million cut). 

By the way, three out of four districts still receive less over the next two years than they did in the last budget under Strickland, which, coincidentally, was the first time on record that a larger share of the education funding pie came from the state (as is required under the Ohio Constitution) than local property taxpayers

And Kasich's Achievement Everywhere plan that Mr. Lynch cites was so universally panned that the Ohio Legislature, run by his own party, ditched it this spring for one of their own.

It is true that overall numbers of new levies are about the same between the two governors. However, that number alone is misleading. Which is why you have to "slice and dice the data" (as Mr. Lynch suggests) to determine which levies are increasing and decreasing. What you find is that the only reason the amount of levies are similar is because there were about the same number of additional bond issues under Strickland as there are additional operational issues under Kasich. Why would that be? Because in 2007, Strickland securitized about $5 billion in tobacco settlement money that he put into the Ohio School Facilities Commission. So districts took a run at incredible financing opportunities for new facilities. 

The only reason there are more bond issues under Strickland is because he put $5 billion more into school facilities. The reason there are more operational levies under Kasich is because he has provided hundreds of millions dollars less for public education.

Look, I don't mind Mr. Lynch coming after me or my organization. Because I know it's all he has, and that's his job. When you can't argue the facts, attack the one making the argument. Or Artfully Dodge the question. Whatever works.

But the data demonstrate pretty clearly that state funding cuts have forced School Districts to go for more new operating money more often. And for that, Mr. Lynch apparently has no real answer.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In Ohio, Quality Should Be Job 1

In a recent post by the Fordham Institute, Aaron Churchill takes Bill Phillis -- the legendary public education defender who ran the campaign that ended up having the state's school funding declared unconstitutional four times -- and Join the Future to task for daring to compare Charter School with School District performance.

Note: All calculations in this post come from the new State Report Card, located here.

The rest of Churchill's column makes cogent points about focusing on what works and eliminating what does not. And on that, I completely agree with Churchill. That is the argument I have been making ever since I first spoke about this issue on the floor of the Ohio House.

Unfortunately, though, I have to disagree with a couple of his arguments.

1) "Both authors make spurious comparisons that ought to be dismissed. Both make the mistake of comparing the performance index scores of charter schools to school districts." 

This argument is often made by Charter School advocates. And, frankly, I understand what they're saying: Charter Schools are typically small, one-building operations. Comparing their performance with much larger, diverse districts is unfair, right? Well, except that eSchools like ECOT and the Ohio Virtual Academy -- Charter Schools both -- are bigger than all but about a dozen Ohio School Districts. And there are 161 Ohio School Districts that didn't have 1,000 kids in them last year. So not all School Districts are hulking leviathans.

Most importantly, though, is that Ohio law treats Charters as if they are School Districts for funding and accountability purposes. They are paid like School Districts. They are considered Local Education Agencies for federal funding purposes, just as School Districts are. They are required to have Superintendents and Treasurers, just like School Districts. They have boards that oversee them, just like School Districts. They are, under law, School Districts.

In addition, only one School District did not lose money or students to Charters last year. And 47% of all kids in Charters last year did not come from a Big 8 Urban School District. If Charters take kids and money from every School District, why should they only be compared with 8 of them, especially when 47% of the kids do not come from there?

When you compare Charter with School District performance, the comparison is really not very good for Charters. As Churchill himself points out:

Recent blogs by William Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding (posted on Diane Ravitch’s website) and Join the Future highlight the academic woes of some of Ohio’s charter schools. Phillis writes: “The Department of Education’s ranking of schools and districts reveals that 83 out of the bottom 84 schools are charter schools.” Join the Future exclaims “Out of the bottom 200 districts, just 21 are traditional public schools, the remaining 179 are charter schools!”
2) "At a school building level, 139 of the bottom 200 schools were district schools. Both district and charter schools are therefore guilty of weak results on the state’s “performance index” score."

Well, sort of. I agree that the bottom 200 buildings in the state on Performance Index are populated by both District and Charter buildings. However, Churchill misses the point. Of course there are more District Buildings in the bottom 200, assuming you use Building rather than District-level data to make the comparison. There are, after all, 3,050 Traditional School Buildings in the state that receive the Performance Index rating. There are only 262 Charter Schools that receive a Performance Index Score. There are nearly 12 times as many District Buildings as Charters. Math, as much as performance, dictates that many of the lowest performing Buildings would be District Buildings.

Why do I mention this? Well, because the 61 Charter Schools that do rate in the bottom 200 represent a little more than 23% of all Charter Schools rated by the Performance Index. That means nearly one out of every 4 Charter Schools in Ohio rate in the bottom 200 of the more than 3,300 District and Charter buildings that receive the Performance Index score. Put another way, one in 4 Charter Schools rate in the bottom 6% of all Ohio School Buildings -- Charter and Traditional -- on the Performance Index.

One more thing: The average Performance Index score of the bottom 23% of School Buildings (710 total) is 79.54. The average Performance Index score of the bottom 23% of Charter Schools (the 61 in Churchill's calculation) is 62.57.

Again, this is not to say Charter Schools should be eliminated. What I am saying is that Churchill has a point; it's time to talk about the quality of these things. We have far, far too many unsuccessful Charter Schools in Ohio, especially given that we're going to be spending upwards of $1 billion a year on these schools over the next couple years.

Yes, we must ensure that quality Charters are able to thrive in this state. Unfortunately, though, the average school run by the Breakthrough Schools in Cleveland -- routinely the highest-rated Charter group in the state -- was cut by about $200 in the most recent budget.

I welcome Churchill's call for a new approach to Charter policy in Ohio. However, we must confront how Ohio's Charters have, for the most part, failed so frighteningly frequently. This phenomenon helps explain why the high fliers have been so stifled. And it also explains why some School Districts have struggled. For when kids in Districts like Columbus and Cincinnati who don't attend Charters lose about 25% of their state revenue to the Charter School funding system, isn't that as important an impediment to their success as anything else?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Harmon Strikes Again

I have to admit that I felt extreme pride this morning when I read in my Akron Beacon Journal that Harmon Middle School -- my alma mater -- earned a National Blue Ribbon from the U.S. Department of Education for excellence -- one of 286 schools so honored around the country.

According to the USDOE,

"Founded in 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are being made in students' academic achievement. A National Blue Ribbon Schools flag overhead has become a mark of excellence in education recognized by everyone from parents to policy-makers in thousands of communities. Since the program's founding, the U. S. Department of Education has bestowed this coveted award on more than 7,000 of America's schools."
I have to admit I also smiled with more than a smirk of irony upon learning this. During the 2009 budget bill that I helped develop in the Ohio House of Representatives (House Bill 1), I created a commission that was designed to evaluate and distribute grants to schools that demonstrated creativity in their instruction and environments. I named it the Harmon Commission because of my formative experiences in that remarkable building -- where teachers and administrators were unafraid to try anything, opening up their students' own greatness.

The idea behind the Harmon Commission was to de-emphasize the standardized test and emphasize things not easily quantified. If districts could earn additional revenue by encouraging creativity in the classroom, then perhaps more experiences would be available to more children like those that went on in Harmon. For instance, one year a biology teacher brought a cow to school and raised it on the school grounds, making it a key part of the biology curriculum for 6th grade.

Anyone who was around me during the HB 1 debates is probably sick of the cow story, but I thought it really drove home the message that not all learning is strictly measurable or less valuable because it is not measurable. In many ways, we value non-measurables over measurables. Take football, for instance. This last weekend the Cleveland Browns won a game behind a quarterback who threw three interceptions. That's not unusual for Browns quarterbacks. But all I heard after the game was how "lights out" Brian Hoyer was because of the intangibles he brought to the team, despite the 3 picks.

Why don't we recognize educators and buildings that do the same thing? Who knows. However, I find it ironic that the recognition Harmon has so long deserved only came because they scored so well on the measurables -- test scores. Its greatness has always been its non-measurables. Test scores were the reason my dad left that wonderful building. And I'm sure it drove away other remarkable teachers from Harmon as well.

But I prefer to think of this award as a lifetime achievement award for all the things that made Harmon such a remarkable place for me and so many other graduates. Everything from the plays my dad directed to Mr. Luckay's Ohio Trip to the fact that the building had no walls to Mr. Kmetz's endless energy. It all made the place hum like few others I have experienced since.

So congratulations to Harmon. Part of me wants to think that Deb Delisle, who is the top K-12 Assistant Secretary at USDOE, perhaps remembered something of our endless talks about creativity and Harmon from the time we spent together working on HB 1 while she was State Superintendent here. But as much as I'd like to think that, I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

As for the Harmon Commission?

Even though it was the only thing about HB 1 that Paul Hill of the Center on Reinventing Public Education -- the opposition's chief expert -- agreed was a good idea about the plan, my former colleagues scrapped it. Because apparently the last thing we want to spend money on is a teacher who thinks that bringing a cow to school is a good idea.

And don't forget that the rest of HB 1 was essentially scrapped too, even though the second year of that budget represented the first time on record that the state provided a greater share of education funding than local property taxpayers. Oh well.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ohio Race to the Top Challenges

A recent report outlined the problems with implementing Race to the Top goals in Ohio and other states. The Economic Policy Institute put out the report, which essentially concluded that failure of states, including Ohio, to provide funding to support the Race to the Top initiatives will likely mean that its best promises will fall short.

The report's author included an interview with me during her discussion of Ohio's challenges. Despite our ability to include educators in the drafting of a new evaluation system, the fact that Ohio's on its fourth state superintendent of public instruction since 2010 has hindered implementation, according to the report.

Here is what I consider to be the nut graf of my comments:
“Without money, it’s going to be hard to see any of this work. My guess is the state will not fund a meaningful evaluation system, that it will put in so many loopholes that districts that can’t fund support won’t do it. And the districts that can afford to won’t need it much”
My great concern during this whole process on Race to the Top was I didn't trust this state's willingness to follow through on the program's promise. And to be sure, the program is not perfect and is in many ways flawed. However, a state that is unwilling to fix its school funding system despite four Supreme Court rulings to do so, is not exactly trustworthy on educational investment.

I held out hope that the $400 million we won would fund enough good initiatives that the state wouldn't be able to fail to fund them beyond the life of the RttT grant.

However, given that the state has significantly cut its investment in K-12 education the last two budget cycles, while pouring more money into educational efforts that have failed our kids, my fears have been realized.

It's still possible that some of the positives of RttT can be fulfilled, but it's going to require the state to do a 180. How confident am I they will do this? About as confident as I would be to invade Russia in winter.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Advanced Look at New Diane Ravitch Book

Diane Ravitch is at once the most polarizing and fervent voices in education policy today. Her latest work, Reign of Error is classic Ravitch -- unapologetic, fiercely argued and tough.

Reign of Error picks up where Ravitch left off with The Death and Life of the Great American School System -- her coming out party, of sorts, as the nation's most ferocious defender of its public schools. Ravitch, who served in George H.W. Bush's Department of Education, began as one of education reform's greatest advocates. She pushed Charter Schools, higher standards, and testing as the way to improve America's public schools. However, after years of fighting for those principles, she realized something: They weren't working. So she repudiated her previous stand and has fought tirelessly against what she calls the corporate reform movement.

Do not mistake Reign of Error for an anti-reform screed. It is much more than that. The book calls for all of us to recognize the extreme limitations of judging "achievement" solely through notoriously unreliable test scores. It demands that we raise children holistically, addressing their dietary and health care needs, not just blaming teachers or schools for their children's academic performance when they are unfed and unhealthy. It calls for real investment in education reforms we know work -- the very things that wealthy families demand their own schools provide.

Ravitch provides a warning: None of these solutions are cheap or easy. Nor are they shortcuts to improvement. But the evidence points to these solutions working. Meanwhile, the solutions we are trying (firing "bad" teachers, investing in unaccountable and poor performing Charter Schools, closing neighborhood schools while slashing budgets) aren't working.

Ravitch meticulously picks apart each pillar of the corporate reform agenda from Charter Schools (though she doesn't call for their destruction, just their reigning in) to Virtual Schools to Vouchers.

Full Disclosure: Ravitch uses work I did with Innovation Ohio as the basis for some of her conclusions about Ohio's eSchool experience.

She backs up each critique thoroughly with evidence and detailed analysis. This is a book not easily dismissed, written by one of our country's great thinkers on education policy.

As I read the book, I couldn't help but think of what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835 -- that America's commitment to education for all its citizens, not just landed gentry, was "the originality of American civilization." The Land Ordinance of 1785, authored by Thomas Jefferson himself, set aside the heart of every community for "public" education -- a true revolution coming from our founders who were mostly well-to-do landowners.

The thought that every child in our country deserves the same opportunities as the most fortunate among us is a uniquely American gift to the world -- our great legacy. Ravitch's passion is rooted in this understanding. It is what gives her purpose so much strength. And it is what gives her latest work undeniable potency.

I don't agree with everything Ravitch says, just as all of you don't agree with everything I say. But she must be listened to. Her ideas are clear, concise and based in strong evidence. She does not call for the death of all things corporate; she just demands the same accountability for the corporate reformers as traditional public schools have faced.

Here in Ohio, we have seen repeatedly how political power has trumped common sense on education reform, most recently when the state wouldn't even invest barely $150,000 of a $60 billion budget on a dozen high-performing Charter Schools while millions more were dumped into failing Charter Schools run by big political donors.

Ravitch's best single argument remains her simplest: America must stop doing things that don't work before it can begin doing things that do.

On that, I believe, we all can agree.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

ABJ Details How White Hat Operates Above the Law

Last weekend, the Akron Beacon Journal did another classic Beacon Journal story about Charter Schools by pointing out huge state loopholes for well-heeled political contributors -- loopholes that allow poor performing Charter Schools to simply re-open under new names with little change and remain open for years.

And what it does exceptionally well is explain how David Brennan -- the state's largest individual Republican campaign contributor -- kept his failing Charter Schools open. Here's an extended snippet from the story:

At one time, White Hat Management operated a Life Skills Center for high school dropouts on the northeast side of downtown Canton and a Hope Academy for grades K-8 on the southwest side.
The Hope Academy failed academically and had to close in the spring of 2010.
What transpired over the next few years was reconstructed by the Beacon Journal by tracking school incorporation papers, funding, street addresses and “IRNs,” which are the unique identification numbers the state applies to each school so that it can track enrollment, academic performance and funding.
When Hope Academy on Garfield Avenue Southwest closed in the spring of 2010, department records show that its name and IRN were wiped from the books.
But the building didn’t miss a beat. A new elementary school, Brighten Heights, opened months later. The legal paperwork creating Brighten was handled by lawyers at Brennan’s law firm, Brennan, Manna & Diamond LLC of Akron.
However, while the school name was new, the IRN wasn’t: It was the same number — 142901 — used to identify Life Skills of Canton the previous year.
But the Life Skills Center on Cleveland Avenue Northeast hadn’t closed, either. Signs suggest it had been renamed Brighten Heights high school.
After the disappearance of Hope, state records show that enrollment at IRN 142901 — the old Life Skills school — surged and funding doubled from $1.5 million to $3 million in 2010-11.
What changed? For this year, IRN 142901 included elementary school children.
The next year, it changed again. IRN 142901 returned to Life Skills of Canton, and a new school called Garfield Academy with its own IRN opened in the old Hope Academy building.
After one year, Brighten Heights ceased operations.
Through three school years, the elementary building on Garfield Avenue Southwest had three different IRNs, was a failed Hope Academy, the elementary campus of Brighten Heights K-12, and then Garfield Academy.
And through it all, White Hat managed all schools, retaining more than two-thirds of the staff. Lawyers associated with Brennan created each new school and managed each name change. School board members for Hope, Life Skills, Brighten and Garfield appear to have never changed.
Even more disturbing is White Hat's utter contempt for accountability.
Charter schools are nonprofit organizations that receive public money, are audited by the state and are expected to comply with state public records and open meetings laws.
However, the Beacon Journal was unsuccessful in gaining meaningful information from any of the Canton charter schools or White Hat.
For example, in an attempt to understand whether the board members exercised any power in the closing and opening of schools, the Beacon Journal asked a Garfield employee for board-member contact information. The employee said board information could not be given out. “You’d have to call our corporate office [White Hat] for that information,” she said.
Attempts to interview a White Hat representative for this story began on Aug. 13 and have been unsuccessful. The company would accept only written questions. A request for the names and contact information of board members was answered on Aug. 23 with a list of lawyers instead.
A search of federal tax reports and Web sites for the schools suggested five names as board members. Messages seeking comment from persons believed to be those board members have not been returned. 
Imagine if any of this had happened at a traditional public school? If you couldn't reach the school board members, or the superintendent, treasurer, business manager, or anyone else? Imagine that outrage.

Imagine if any traditional public school was graduating barely 6% of its children in four years, the way White Hat's Life Skills Centers do on average. Then imagine if all we expected for that traditional school to remain open was less than a percentage point improvement, as Life Skills Centers will be allowed to do under the state's new dropout recovery school "standards."

Again, all we heard at the beginning of the Charter School movement in Ohio was how traditional schools only gave us excuses for failure, not successfully educated children. Now, Charter School operators like White Hat won't even give excuses; they just take our hard earned tax dollars with impunity.

They don't have any time to answer questions. Because under the current system in Ohio, they don't have to.

They know they can get away with anything. Because the state lets them.

This needs to be stopped. Because it is shameful.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Plain Dealer Confirms 10th Period Analysis from March

A story in today's Plain Dealer confirmed what we wrote here at 10th Period in March -- that much of the alleged "increase" to education funding in the most recent Kasich Budget will be eaten up by increases to Charter Schools.

Back in March, the House version of the budget showed that 263 districts would get cut, relative to last school year, which was a record-setting cut year by the way -- the final year of a $1.8 billion cut. More money was eventually put into the Senate and final versions of the budget than in the House version, but not a ton more.

As a result, the Plain Dealer concluded that nearly 200 districts would get cut. And these districts aren't all urban districts. They include places like Upper Arlington, whose performance can only be matched by a handful of Charter Schools.

Which brings me back to the whole "only compare us to Big 8 Urban districts" canard that Charter School advocates demand on performance. If 190 districts will get less money because of Charter Schools, why should Charter School performance only be compared with 8 of them?

Just asking.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Urban Charters Don't Resemble Urban Districts

After I read the Columbus Dispatch story that laid out just how much Ohio's Charter School experiment had failed, especially in relation to solving any urban education issues, I decided to look closer at this question: Are Charters really comparable to Big 8 urban buildings? The most basic question I could think to ask was, "How many kids from the Big 8 schools actually make up the populations of Big 8 Charters?"

One would think that the Charters in the Big 8 take nearly all their kids from Big 8 districts, right? That was the point, after all, to give kids in urban districts the opportunity to "escape" those urban districts, right? Well, that's actually wrong. Charters located in Big 8 districts take substantial numbers of children from surrounding districts, including high-performing suburban districts.

Looking at finalized Ohio Department of Education data from the 2011-2012 school year (the same set I used to look at how much money is sent from higher performing districts to poorer performing Charters earlier this year), it reveals that of the Charter Schools that took any child in 2011-2012 from a Big 8 urban district (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown), only 125 took 90% or more of their kids from those Big 8 districts. Even among Charters that took at least 10% of their kids from a Big 8 district, less than half (48%) took 90% or more of their kids from the Big 8 district.

I was frankly stunned by these results. Even some of the highest performing Charter Schools in the state take a relatively small percentage of kids from the Big 8 district in which they reside.

For example, Columbus Preparatory Academy, which routinely ranks high on accountability measures, only took 49% of their children from Columbus City Schools. The school took about 42% from South-Western, another 5% from Hilliard and kids from Bexley, Dublin, Olentangy and Westerville. So is it fair to hold up Columbus Prep's performance and compare it with Columbus City's?

Other examples are the ISUS academies in Dayton, which tend to perform very well compared with Dayton. They took between 70% and 75% of their children from Dayton. They took a good portion of children from suburban Huber Heights and Kettering. So is it fair to compare ISUS' performance with that of Dayton when 1 in 4 kids don't come from Dayton? Yet their performance always is compared with Dayton.

And here's another thing: There were 355 Ohio Charter Schools in 2011-2012. If only 125 of them take more than 90% of their children from Big 8 Districts, is it fair to compare their overall performance with Big 8 Districts' performance, as the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools and others insist? I mean, barely 35% of Charter Schools took 90% of their kids from Big 8 urban districts, yet these advocates insist that Ohio's Charter School performance be compared with Big 8 urban districts'.

Hardly seems fair to me.

Oh, and one other thing: Nearly 58,000 of the 108,000 children in Charter Schools during the 2011-2012 school year came from Big 8 urban districts. That means a little more than 53% of Charter School children came from Big 8 districts in that year, and, importantly, 47% did not. Last school year, the percentage was almost exactly the same.

Is it fair to compare Charter School performance with Big 8 performance when nearly 1/2 of children in Charter Schools come from districts other than Big 8 districts and when barely 35% of Charters take more than 90% of their children from Big 8 urban districts?

This sheds additional light on the Dispatch story from over the weekend. The Dispatch was comparing Big 8 performance with Charters that are located in the counties in which Big 8 districts are located. And the Dispatch found the Charter performance wanting. Given how only a fraction of the Charters the Dispatch examined had more than 90% of their kids coming from Big 8 districts, how poorly did the Charters really perform compared with their traditional public school counterparts?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Dispatch Brings the Wood

It's been a long time coming, but the Columbus Dispatch -- a newspaper that once infamously wrote how great it was that a couple Charter Schools were he highest rated schools in the state while ignoring that the bottom 113 were also Charters -- has finally come to the only logical conclusion about Ohio's Charter School experiment. It has failed.

In a story titled "Charter Schools Failed Promise", the Dispatch does its own analysis of data that has frankly been in front of them since Charters first opened two decades ago. But, to their credit, better late than never.

"Sixteen years later, charters statewide performed almost exactly the same on most measures of student achievement as the urban schools they were meant to reform, results released under a revamped Ohio report-card system show. And when it comes to graduating seniors after four years of high school, the Big 8 performed better ... But what started as an experiment in fixing urban education through free-market innovation is now a large part of the problem. Almost 84,000 Ohio students — 87 percent of the state’s charter-school students — attend a charter ranking D or F in meeting state performance standards."
The most important thing the Dispatch did is its own work. It didn't rely on the Fordham Institute, or Buckeye Institute, or the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools for their side, then turn to the teachers unions or education advocacy groups for their side. 

Instead, it looked at the data and reached its own conclusion. 

Bravo to Dispatch reporter Bill Bush. A reporter's job is to call balls and strikes. Too often, reporters are afraid to do that and let one side call ball and the other call strike. But Mr. Bush knows his strike zone. He also knows a down-the-middle fastball.

Do I wish he had mentioned that every non-Charter School kid in Columbus loses about 1 in 4 state dollars to Charter Schools because the state pays them so much more per pupil? Sure. Do I wish he had mentioned the incredible lobbying power Charters have exercised over the General Assembly for 16 years, which allowed Charters to run wild? Absolutely. Do I wish he had mentioned how Charter Schools are approaching $1 billion a year in cost, and all but one school district lost money to them last year? Certainly. Do I wish he had mentioned that the majority of students in Charter Schools do not come from Big 8 districts? Of course.

But I'll take it. 

Maybe this is another brick removed form the protective wall too many Ohio Charters have built up over the years, insulating their profits -- and them --  from scrutiny. What Ohio has done on Charter Schools is inexcusable. No state has so carelessly and shamelessly thrown so much money down such a deep rabbit hole. And the ones who have been hurt the most are children, both those in Charters receiving inferior educational experiences, and those not in Charters whose experiences have been lessened by the state's infatuation with these mostly failed sideshows.

Again, there are a few really, really good Charter Schools in this state -- schools that can make differences in children's lives and serve as models for improving education everywhere. But there are far too few given this state's enormous investment. The time has come to undo much of which has been wrought on our state. We need courage, strength and more reporters who aren't afraid to call a down-the-middle fastball a strike.

For all I wished was in Mr. Bush's story, ultimately, the most important thing he did put in at the end:

Meanwhile, the state’s charter-school rolls expanded again this year. Statewide, 52 charters are set to open, 17 of them in Columbus. The state approved three new Internet charters — where students work from home on computers — despite their persistently poor performance across the board.
Ohio's Quixotic hunt for windmill dragons has got to stop. And soon.

Monday, August 26, 2013

New Report Cards Slightly Better, Still Flawed

The Ohio Education community remains abuzz over the new state report cards issues last week. There are a few things to like about the new report cards, though because they remain mostly reliant on standardized test scores on a few subjects in a few grades, they give a far, far from complete picture of our children's educational attainment.

But let's start with the positive. There are several groups of categories that are based on value-added data. The state's Value-Added Measure (VAM) is notoriously opaque because it remains a proprietary calculation. So it's hard to figure out the metrics that go into the calculation. However, value-added measures hold much more hope for true analysis of achievement than straight test scores. On Performance Index scores, for example, I can predict what three out of four districts would get. Not as easy to do with VAM.

VAM looks at what the expected learning growth would be for a particular child or cohort, then sees what the growth actually was. If the child exceeds expectations, the VAM score is good. If they fall short, then it's bad. That's really oversimplified, but in a nutshell that's how VAM works.

What we've seen around the state on the new report card is the VAM scores of districts were really low in some traditionally high-performing districts, like Hudson, which got a D on the VAM scores for the bottom performers. Meanwhile, traditionally poorer performing districts, like Barberton, scored As in that category. Some with the measures for Gifted, Special Education and the other VAM categories.

What I'm hoping is that this new look at growth, rather than score, will help traditionally ridiculed districts start to demonstrate what is almost certainly true -- many are performing miracles in incredibly difficult and trying situations.

However, we should be careful to jump quickly down the throats of wealthy, suburban areas who aren't seeing great growth among the most vulnerable students attending those schools. That's because the calculation is based on an examination of the bottom 20% of scores, which in Hudson are probably much higher, on the whole, than in Barberton. So while Barberton receives high marks (and rightly so) for growth, perhaps Hudson's growth is equally impressive, even though it may not be as great an improvement.

Is growing a child from 40 to 60 more impressive than growing one from 70 to 80? I don't know. But that is a nuance that the state should try to account for in future calculations. And frankly, using sophisticated statistical analysis, it's possible to do that.

Now for the problem, and it's a problem nearly all metrics have: they are based on standardized tests taken in a few courses in a few grades. And they give nowhere near a complete picture of a child's educational experience. We need to be measuring more meaningful things, such as critical thinking, creativity, love of learning, etc. But all we do is a few core subjects.

But at least with VAM, we are negating a bit the utter dependence test scores have traditionally had upon a child's home life.

The other amazing thing about the new report card is that even though the worst 25% of Charter Schools are no longer included with the other Charter Schools, Charters' overall performance remains far worse, on the whole, than traditional public schools. I blogged about this today over at Innovation Ohio.

In short, here's a graphic to help illustrate the point:

The bottom line is this: far too many Charters are doing worse, costing more and draining far too many resources from the traditional public schools. If 60% of your grades are D and F, isn't it time to completely re-think what you're doing? Just saying.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kids in School Districts Get Hit Again

Over at Innovation Ohio we've shown how three things will conspire to remove even more money from kids in traditional public schools than is being removed already.

Charter schools will receive a nice boost in per pupil funding, as well as the removal of the eSchool moratorium and 49 new brick-and-mortar schools this year. Doing estimates based on their per pupil funding in the latest budget, as well as average enrollment at these schools, shows that Charters could well remove another $124 million from kids at traditional public schools this year.

That's up to nearly $950 million from $824 million last school year, when kids in traditional schools lost 6.6% of their state revenue because Charters removed so much money from their districts' coffers.

Remember that under the state's new report card system, 60% of Charters' cumulative GPAs are Ds and Fs while nearly 55% of traditional districts' cumulative GPAs are As or Bs.

The state has to start cracking down on these mostly failing schools so our few great Charters can thrive and our traditional schools can start implementing programming that can make a real difference in our children's lives.

But instead, giving little regard to the quality of the Charter School, the state is now increasing their number by nearly 15%. And chances are, most of those schools will be failing. But at least we have to wait 5 years to shut them down. So there's that.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

One-Party Rule = More Property Taxes

We've posted a fascinating graphic over at Innovation Ohio that pretty well proves how unwilling Ohio's current leadership and GOP have been over the years to reduce the reliance on local property taxes to pay for school. Here's the chart:

What this proves is that the only time state share has been reduced has been when the Supreme Court orders it, or other political parties are involved in the process. One-party GOP rule has not, on its own, reduced the need for property taxes to pay for education in Ohio.

And just as a point of pride for me, the only time on record that the state provided a larger share of education funding than local property taxpayers was the last year of the Strickland Administration, which was covered by the House Bill 1 budget bill that I worked through the House.

That bill contained the Evidence Based Model, as well as many other education reforms that ended up earning Ohio the Frank Newman Award from the Education Commission of the States for the country's most bold, innovative and non-partisan education reform of 2009.

The next year, Gov. John Kasich eliminated the Evidence Based Model, cut $1.8 billion in education funding and has instead presided over a record number of new-money operating levies equaling a record $1.34 billion.

But in the above chart I see hope. Because it wasn't that long ago that the Ohio legislature actually provided a greater share of education funding than local taxpayers. So a return to that ratio is never more than one budget, and committed state leadership, away.

Dyer Joins Education Policy Fellowship Program

I really hate tooting my own horn, which seems strange coming from a former state legislator, right? But I'm pretty proud to be starting the Education Policy Fellowship Program this Friday. 

I was chosen as one of 200 policy leaders nationwide to participate in the 10-month Program through the Institute for Educational Leadership -- a Washington D.C. non-profit, non-partisan organization that has sought to develop education policy leaders since 1964.

The program will be run locally out of Cleveland State University's Center for Educational Leadership. In addition to several local seminars, the program also will include participation in two national Educational Policy Leadership forums at the Army War College and Washington, D.C.

According to the Institute for Educational Leadership, the program is a 

"professional development program for emerging and mid-level leaders. These professionals work in public, non-profit, and private sector organizations, but they all share the same professional passion: education.  

EPFP produces graduates who possess the capacity to contribute to the formulation, implementation, and debate about education and related policies in a particular state and at the national level."

I can't say how thrilled I am to be joining with other policy professionals to better figure out how to improve our children's educational experiences. This will be very exciting! I will post updates about information and other things I learn during the course of the year. 

I wanted to thank Innovation Ohio and the Center for Educational Leadership for their support of my participation in the program.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

NY Test Scores (Literally) Unbelievable

The first New York test scores using the Common Core standards were release this week. And I have to say that the results are literally unbelievable. Only 31% of kids throughout the state of New York passed. An amazing 5% of some subsets of children passed.

This reveals my love-hate relationship with Common Core. I love that my son is learning pre-algebraic concepts in second grade. But I hate how the tests make it look like our schools are failing.

Does anyone really, I mean really, believe that more than 2 out of every 3 children in New York State are failing? Or that only 5% of some subsets pass? Or that the schools in New York State (which consistently rank pretty well in EdWeek's rankings) are really that bad?

Some officials in New York State are trying to temper the rhetoric, calling the results "a new baseline". But is it really? We were told months ago that only 30% of kids would pass these new tests. If 30% of the kids passed my wife's exams, or my exams, or we told our deans that we were expecting 69% failure rates, the universities for which we work would say the tests are unfair and must be re-written.

Test distribution generally should follow a bell curve that looks like this:

Most of the grades should cluster around C, with a few failures and a few As. What does it say when your bell curve is basically clustered around F? It means your test isn't fair. Unfortunately, these results will result in serious consequences for kids in New York, as well as their schools.

I have no doubt that eventually the teachers and kids in New York will adjust to the new tests and the distribution will eventually even out. But will it be too late? And what happens when they do? Will these tests be called too easy?

High standards don't mean that more than 2 out of 3 kids have to fail. High standards and normal test scores are perfectly compatible.

What this reveals is a deep-seated belief that's has been around since the infamous A Nation at Risk report -- that our public schools are failing. Any indication they aren't means our measures are "too easy". Maybe. Just maybe, our public schools aren't all that bad.

Maybe, instead, it's the tests that suck.

I'm just saying.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Politics and Education's Volatile Mix UPDATE

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned today after emails were leaked recently that showed his staff -- while he was commissioner in Indiana -- changed their state's report card system and a prominent donor's Charter School went from a C to an A.

Bennett's resignation indicates there may have been more to this story than even that. But I'll leave it to the facts that come out in the ensuing days to determine that. What I'm really chilled by is how this story unfolded.

The first I heard of this story was a couple days ago. And it sounded an awful lot like what goes on in Ohio with David Brennan and other big money Charter School operators here. Their sway over Ohio politicians is well documented here and here.

However, I saw shortly after the story broke that Bennett explained his actions to Rick Hess (of the conservative American Enterprise Institute) here. And the explanation at least sounded plausible. The new report card system did not properly calculate test scores for schools that did not have 11th or 12th grades, like the Charter School that Bennett's department worked so hard to help.

Now Bennett's quick resignation makes me wonder if this is all to this story. I was a reporter with a pretty good BS meter, after all. And, in fact, according to Ann Hyslop's blog, I have good reason to have my radar on.

But let's just say, for argument's sake, that Bennett's explanation is exactly what happened.

If Indiana was able to fix a problem with a new accountability tool because a well-connected Charter School operator told them there was a problem, does it mean they are rigging the system for that operator? Or does it mean they are fixing a flaw in the system?

Coming from Ohio, where Charter School operators do stuff like this a lot, has so built up my cynicism about this stuff that rigging becomes my immediate reaction. But what if David Brennan pointed out something that was a problem with Ohio's new accountability system that happened to benefit his schools? Would that make the problem NOT a problem? And would the system get fixed? Or would the politics dictate a scandal?

I think what this incident points out is just how poisonous education policy has become thanks to big campaign contributions. Everything officials do now is questioned if it benefits big contributors, even if the change is potentially good.

Let me call it the Ohioification of Education Politics. In Ohio, this practice of rewarding big campaign contributors is so ingrained that it is second nature around here. So big political contributors like Ohio Charter School operators keep getting more and more money while school districts' coffers are consistently drained to do it. Tell me something I haven't known for 15 years, right?

This is why School Choice advocates who fight for quality school choices in Ohio are up in arms and face such a struggle to make necessary changes to the education policy landscape here. If Bennett had done what he did in Ohio, there would have maybe been a story or two somewhere, but there is no way he would have resigned. No way. His story would have been enough to keep him on the job.

But in Florida and Indiana, where the politics haven't been nearly as big, centralized and entrenched as Ohio's, that's too much. Don't worry, though, give those states a few more years and a couple David Brennan types and pretty soon people like Bennett will be able to survive such accusations.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Farewell Terry Ryan

I have had my run-ins with Fordham's Terry Ryan over the years, no doubt. Most recently we went a couple rounds on Diane Ravitch's blog. However, I always respected the heck out of him, even though his occasional tunnel vision on School Choice and other issues drove me nuts. As I'm sure mine did for him.

But his farewell posting at Fordham's Ohio Gadfly really nailed the state of Ohio's education policy landscape, in particular his frustration with the politics behind too many of Ohio's education policy initiatives. Most recently, it reared its head during the debate over whether to start differentiating Charter School funding based on success.

I've cut and pasted Terry's 12 lessons below -- just the titles, for space sake:

1) Ideas matter over the long haul, but campaign cash and raw interests carry the day in the near term.
 2) No one welcomes accountability.
3) Yet accountability is really important.
4) School choice empowers parents.
5) The state budget is a terrible venue for revamping education policies.
6) Education governance in Ohio is broken.
7) Today, city-based school reform is the most exciting development in Ohio education.
8) Really good schools can make a huge difference in the lives of kids.
9) Risk taking should be rewarded and encouraged.
10) Teachers need to be recruited, nurtured and rewarded.
 11) Ohio needs to rewrite its charter school law.
 12) Ratcheting back the rhetoric around school reform could do some good. 
I would quibble with a couple things. Sorry, Terry. Couldn't help myself!

It's not entirely accurate to say that no one welcomes accountability. Teachers unions signed onto the new Teacher Evaluation System that was developed in the Ohio Educator Standards Board and provided up to 50% of a teacher's evaluation to be determined by test scores. High performing Charter Schools all but begged to have their funding tied to success in the last budget. But the state wouldn't do it. So there are responsible parties on both sides of the spectrum that do, in fact, welcome accountability.

And as for School Choice empowering parents, in Ohio it only empowers the parents who take those alternative educational opportunities. Far more parents choose to remain in the traditional public schools than don't. And, unfortunately, right now that choice is hampered by the state's Charter School funding system because every kid not in a Charter School gets about 6.5% less state revenue than the state says they need to succeed. In Cincinnati and Columbus that amount is about 25%.

Imagine the exciting things that could be happening in those two cities if kids there had 25% more state funding?

Ultimately, though, Terry's overall perspective -- that too much politics is involved and the state needs to reward teachers while fixing things that are clearly broken -- is a perspective we all should take to heart.

I hope Terry finds a good foil in Idaho. My only regret is we weren't able to partner on some of the many things we agree on here. Terry's brand of forceful, yet reasonable advocacy for free market reforms will be missed. Fordham will be challenged to replace him!

I often lament that it was well-heeled politicos rather than Terry who implemented Charter Schools in Ohio. I think we'd be a lot better off had the state listened to Terry rather than their campaign contributors.

As for Idaho, I've been to that amazingly beautiful state a few times and have seen the Snake River Canyon several times. I offer this as a suggestion to Terry and his family: Have yourself an Idaho Spud - not the potato, the candy bar. It's amazing!

Powodzenia, my friend.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cutting through the Rhetoric

Here's my letter to the editor for one of my local newspapers, the South Side Leader:

To the editor:What the Ohio General Assembly did last week to education is extremely troubling. While legislators are trying to fool the public into thinking that somehow they increased money for education, in fact, school districts are receiving $515 million less than they received from the state three years ago.
Three out of four Ohio school districts have less state revenue than they did then, including Green ($1.4 million), Manchester ($1.3 million), Mogadore ($389,000), Springfield ($1.1 million), Copley-Fairlawn ($2.8 million), Coventry ($760,000) and Revere ($3.5 million).And these cuts don’t include the additional money districts will be losing to charter schools, 70 percent of which will rate an F on the new report card. Currently, every kid not in a charter school loses 6.5 percent of their state money because charters remove so much from districts. Nearly every dollar sent to a charter from a South Side News Leader-area district goes to one that performs far worse than the district.
Finally, every district will be subject to losing money to private school vouchers, even if the school is highly rated.
In short, this budget represents an attack on public education. In the 2010-11 school year, 50 percent of the revenue for education came from the state — the first time that’s happened in three decades. Today, that number is back down to about 47 percent.
The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled four times that the state’s duty is to reduce the need for property taxes to pay for schools. This budget will continue to increase the need. Since 2011, a record $1.3 billion in new levy money to fund operations have been before Ohio voters as property taxpayers continued to foot the bill for our legislators’ constitutional failure.To add insult to injury, since the state decided to eliminate state support of property tax cuts in this budget, anyone who voted for it will have voted for what could be the largest property tax increase in state history.
Stephen Dyer, Green (Stephen Dyer is a former District 43 [now District 36] state representative and current education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, a Columbus-based think tank.)
What's amazing, is this letter could be written about most every area of the state. Yet that's not what many are saying, accepting $1.8 billion less for education as the state's new funding reality. I fail to understand how it can be with a budget that has billions more in revenue than the one from three years ago.

Monday, July 1, 2013

OH Turns Corner on Charter Schools?

One of the most important Education Policy developments coming out of this recently passed Ohio biennial budget wasn't even contained in the budget itself. It's contained in the reaction to it.

As I have reported at 10th Period, the budget disproportionately helped poorly performing Charter Schools, especially those of major campaign contributors. In fact, schools run by David Brennan and William Lager received 38% of all the increase to Charter Schools, even though they only have 9% of the schools. In addition, those two major Republican Party financiers (between the two of them, they've given about $1 million since 2008, mostly to legislative and executive branch leaders) received 19% of all the state revenue going to Ohio's Charter Schools.

A growing coalition of high-performing Charter Schools and Charter School quality advocates have had enough, though. And in the Akron Beacon Journal yesterday, they finally spoke up. Take this quote from Greg Harris, Executive Director of Students First Ohio -- the Ohio arm of conservative Education Policy darling Michelle Rhee:

"Harris has only one explanation for how funding would be distributed.
“A lot of times it has to do not with how well your school is performing but how well your lobbyist is paid,” he said.
We need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on [low-performing schools] and, more importantly, we need to stop wasting kids’ lives,” said Greg Harris, a school reform lobbyist and director of the Ohio chapter of Students First, a national advocacy firm that promotes quality school choice.
Harris and other charter-school advocates lobbied Ohio senators a month ago to increase the investment in the state’s highest-performing charter schools.
The charter-school movement was meant to offer better choices for parents, who would invest in the best options by enrolling their children in high-performing schools.
“Twenty years into the [national] charter movement there are no more excuses,” Harris said. “Our funding policies have to be reformed accordingly. And that is not reflected in this [state] budget.”
Financially rewarding the lowest performing schools undermines the entire movement, Harris said.
But that’s what the next two-year state budget would do. 
 Or try this comment from the top-rated group of Charter Schools in the state:
“Not only will high-quality charters not get funding, but low-quality charters could get a boost. That can’t be right. No legislator in their right mind would get behind something like this,” said John Zitzner, president of Friends of Breakthrough Schools, the marketing and fundraising arm for Citizens Academy East and other top-performing charter schools.
I can't emphasize enough how momentous these comments are for the progress of School Choice in Ohio. I can't think of a time in the history of this state where any Charter School advocates have dared suggest that Brennan's ability to benefit from state legislators didn't also benefit those who didn't contribute millions of dollars to politicians. But perhaps enough is enough. Here's how the Beacon story concluded, perhaps nailing down the explanation for this new-found anger within the Charter School community:

The biggest winners in this budget are dropout recovery programs that cater to high school students.
Brennan operates at least 17 such facilities, with two in Summit County and one in Stark. Each of the 2,476 students who attends the centers, most of which are named Life Skills, would bring in an additional $1,438 on average under the proposed budget. That’s a $2.41 million bump, or 10.7 percent of the entire $22.6 increase in basic state aid for Ohio charter schools.
Life Skills serves about 2 percent of the state’s charter-school population.
These Life Skills facilities, like all dropout recovery programs, are also some of the state’s least regulated charter schools. They’ll be the last to receive a grade under the new report card. Academic standards for measuring these schools won’t be determined until the end of next year.
While these programs attempt to educate the most challenging of students, they often have graduation rates in the single digits.
In order to remain open, these dropout recovery programs would only need to improve graduation rates by as little as one percentage point to meet regulations added to the budget by the House.
An amendment later added by the Senate calls for dropout recovery programs to receive “separate report cards that do not include letter grades and are subject to separate closure standards.” 
Exactly. This is how it has always worked for Brennan. The difference is today, even Charter School advocates are fed up with the games. Time will tell whether that's enough to change the conversation in Ohio from one of Choice for Choice's sake to better Choices. As I've said over and over again, in Ohio we could invest heavily only in the high-performing Charter Schools and still have enough money remaining to fund universal pre-school throughout our state.

Even though it seems like this budget is miles away from that outcome, perhaps it's a lot closer than we think. Now it is up to the legislators and Gov. John Kasich to heed these reasonable calls for temperance on the investment in poorly performing Charter Schools. The chart I have inserted below shows the percentage of state funding Ohio's kids who aren't in Charters have lost to Charters since the program's inception. You'll see it's pretty much been a steady increase since 1998, topping out last year at about 6.5%.

That means every child not in an Ohio Charter School loses, on average, 6.5% of their state revenue because Charter Schools remove so much money from school districts. And the vast majority of that money goes from districts that perform better than the Charter School to which they lose the money. Yesterday, that trend may have started to change.