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.