Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Districts Bill State for More than $200 million in Charter School Funding

There's something happening here.

With apologies to Buffalo Springfield, in Charter School Finance World something really is happening, and it's started at the grass roots.

Starting with Woodridge Local Schools in Summit County, districts across the state have invoiced the State of Ohio for past payments made to charter schools from districts' state funding. Looking at news stories and available public records, I've calculated that about 30 districts have billed the state for more than $200 million in past charter school transfers.

However, that amount is probably higher because on one district, I assumed the invoice was for one year because that was the only figure I could find. But I'm sure the bill was for more years. Meanwhile, on at least 3 others, I couldn't find the actual bill amount, but I know there are invoices.

So we have what could be north of a quarter billion dollars worth of invoices sent to the state by a growing number of school districts.

While some call this a "stunt", I think it's more than that. It's local school districts finally standing up for their kids and against the moneyed interests that have driven Ohio's charter schools into a ditch of national ridicule.

The root of all this stems from the state's funding system, which pits districts against charters and reduces state funding for kids not in charters, sometimes substantially.

All you need to do is look at a finance report from any district and calculate what the per pupil funding amount is before charters get their kids and money, then how much kids in the district get after charters get their money and kids. Kids in some places like Columbus and Cincinnati lose almost 1/4 of their state revenue because charters get paid so much more by the state.

This means local property taxpayers have to make up the difference, or services for the kids in these districts get reduced. And in some locations, there isn't enough local revenue to make up the difference, so overall per pupil funding goes down.

I'm encouraged that Ohio Legislative Leaders on both sides of the aisle recognize this problem and are working to fix it. No parent's choice should adversely impact the educational opportunities afforded another parent's children.

Unfortunately, the current system does just that. Stunt or not, this Invoice Revolution is letting people know about the problem, and that is indeed worthwhile.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ohio's Dropout Recovery Schools Embarrassingly Poor Performing

The data on Ohio's dropout recovery charter schools is so bad I'm wondering if anything can ever really be done to repair this portion of the charter sector. Dropout recovery students are inherently more difficult to reach. Look, I get it. But the performance metrics released last week by the Ohio Department of Education are just alarming, especially considering these schools are "educating" our most vulnerable students in desperate need of high-quality educational opportunities to catch them up to speed.

How alarming is this performance?

Try these data points:

  • There are only two Dropout Recovery Schools (out of 93) that have any kids reportedly accomplishing industry credentials, and only two schools have any kids achieving dual enrollment credit in an institution of higher education. And the percentage of kids that have achieved this are 1.3% or less of the Class of 2014 that graduated from each of the schools.
  • The State of Ohio says a Dropout Recovery School meets its "standard" if 28 out of 210 eligible students graduate ... IN 8 YEARS!
  • The State of Ohio says a Dropout Recovery School meets its "standard" if 8.4% of the school's students graduate in 4 years.
  • The Greater Ohio Virtual School graduated a stunning 3 out of 149 students ... IN 8 YEARS!
  • Out of the 1,100 students eligible to graduate in four years from the state's 13 Life Skills Centers (run by major political donor David Brennan's White Hat Management), only 57 graduated -- 18 of whom came from one school. That's a stunningly low 5.2% four-year graduation rate overall. Eliminating the one Life Skills Center with the 18 graduates drops the average in the remaining 12 schools to an incredible 4.4% -- only about 1/2 of the state's minimum graduation rate.

  • Overall, there were 7,324 students eligible to graduate from Dropout Recovery schools in four years. Only 1,590 did. That rate of 22% is actually 3 percentage points higher than the eight-year graduation rate, which was an amazing 19% (1,527 out of 8,015).
  • Schools "exceed" state standards on four-year graduation rates if they have rates higher than 37%. Only 23 schools met that criterion.
I could go on. But suffice it to say, Ohio's Dropout Recovery Schools, on the whole, are utterly failing at their primary purpose -- rescuing dropouts and graduating them. 

And to add insult to injury, they have very little fear from the state. Why's that? Because a loophole in Ohio law allows even a substandard Dropout Recovery school to continue operations as long as it improves its four-year graduation rate by 10% a year for two straight years.

How that would apply to Life Skills of North Akron, which graduated 0 of its 61 eligible kids, is unclear (because 10% of 0 is 0). However, for Life Skills of Toledo, which graduated 1 out of 48 kids (for a 2.1% graduation rate), as long as the school graduates 1.2 kids in two years, it can remain open.

Only in Ohio.

Dropout Recovery Schools and eSchools are two of the biggest problems in the charter school sector here. It is no coincidence that the state's two biggest political players make their money operating Dropout Recovery Schools and eSchools. 

Let's hope our state's leaders finally take a serious look at both sectors and save the kids who are being utterly failed by these dismally performing schools. 

We have to stop helping the politically active adults who run these things and rescue our state's most vulnerable kids from their thieving clutches.

Friday, January 15, 2016

State Remediation Data Needs a Reality Check

There's a reason so many school districts are appealing the state report card data that just came out for the 2014-2015 school year. One of the major culprits has been the so-called "Prepared for Success" dataset that measures students' participation in college preparation, as well as their performance on the ACT and SAT, how many students remain in college two years after graduation, and a couple other things.

But here's where I start scratching my head. In Aurora, the state data say that about 1/2 of all kids need remediation based on their ACT scores.


Aurora is easily one of the finest districts in the state. Its middle school is a blue ribbon school. Its proficiency and growth scores routinely top the scales.

Yet half of those kids need remediation upon graduation? Really?

Does this even seem possible to you?

Especially considering the good news released last year by the Ohio Board of Regents that found that while college enrollment was up, remediation rates were down? And those remediation rates were down for the class that's included in this new report card dataset -- the dataset that claims the average Ohio district only had about 25% of their ACT takers and an astonishing 3.8% of their SAT test takers test remediation free?

Something's not right here.

I know a little about this. I teach freshman composition at the University of Akron -- a large, urban university. I've heard for years in education policy land that "kids today can't write" and they need all kinds of remediation.

I'm here today to tell you that I simply haven't seen this rampant problem. I just haven't. Are there kids who struggle to write. Yes. Are there tons of kids who struggle? Not that I've seen. At least, not yet. Yes, my sample size is small. But I have freshmen in an open enrollment, urban university. And I have yet to come across anyone whose writing was so bad it's helpless. Some need more help than others, but to be held back a year for remediation? That's simply not needed, in my experience.

I've long been cynical about this sudden need for remediation in colleges. And for good reason. First of all, kids are more prepared for college today than at any point in American history. There are more dual enrollment options, Early College High Schools, AP and International Baccalaureate courses, not to mention a cultural push for college than when I went to school.

Yet this is the generation that's in desperate need of remediation? Something's not right. Either all these programs and efforts are failing. Miserably. Or there's something else going on.

And, in fact, that's what the research indicates. Several studies have shown that basing remediation needs on test scores is flawed, with as many as 1/3 of students being unnecessarily placed in remedial courses.

I think it's a simple matter of money. Why? Because if a university can put a kid in a remediation program, the student has to pay for it but it doesn't count toward their degree. So the university is collecting another 3 (or more) credits on top of the credits the student will have to pay for their degree.

It is certainly coincidental that the rise in calls for remediation coincided with the deep cuts made to higher education from state legislatures, beginning in the late 1990s (in fact, the first instance of "college remediation" popping up in the literature on Academic Search Complete is 1998).

For example, the University of Akron lost more than 23% of its state per pupil support between 2002 and 2011, adjusted for inflation. Overall, Ohio's main four-year campuses lost more than 14% of their state per pupil revenue.

This cut in funding coincided with the steady rise in remedial courses being taken by students, which courses' bonus revenue helped offset the state funding cuts at universities, along with increased fees, etc.

I'm not saying remediation isn't warranted. I'm not saying we shouldn't address the issue head on and aggressively. What I am saying is that 1/2 of Aurora students taking the ACT do NOT need remediation. And that 1 in 4 Ottawa Hills students taking the ACT do NOT need remediation.

And that if these scores are off, couldn't they also be off in places like Lorain, which according to the new report cards, had 20 of their 140 or so students who took the ACT test remediation free? How about the bad rates in Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus, Western Local, etc.?

Sometimes I wish the wonks (like me, I suppose) who put together datasets would step back and think about the results and whether they actually mean anything. If remediation rates are dropping, according to the Board of Regents, how can it be that in the average Ohio school district, only 1 in four ACT test takers and not even 4 out of 100 SAT test takers test remediation free?

Perhaps, as the studies I mentioned earlier show, basing remediation rates on test scores should be re-thought.

A lot.

And, perhaps, you start to understand why so many districts are appealing these report card results.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

First New Report Card Grades Out. What a Mess.

The Ohio State Report Card grades for the 2014-2015 school year are finally out after about a 5 month delay. And only partially out at that (only K-3 Literacy, Prepared for Success and Graduation Rates were released). While there is plenty of data to comb through, my big take away from this is simple: it's a mess, primarily due to the hoopla over the PARCC tests and their opt outs. There are 78 districts that are protesting at least some of the grades released yesterday, with many appealing several.

Probably the most interesting grades released yesterday were the K-3 Literacy grade. Only 65% of Ohio's school districts receive a grade. And those grades weren't that hot with about 85% of districts receiving grades getting a C, D, or F. However, at the end of the day, only 668 3rd graders weren't deemed proficient in reading, according to the state data. That's .5% of the 122,000 students in third-grade last school year in Ohio's school districts. That seems pretty good to me.

Obviously, I'd like to see that number get closer to zero. But having 99.5% of third-graders be proficient seems like as close to a third-grade guarantee as you can get without getting to 100%, which is the percentage that should be all of our goals.

So if 99.5% of students meet the K-3 literacy requirement (proficiency in reading), why are the grades so low? It's primarily due, I think, to how many kids are caught up to proficient in each school year. For example, less than 1 in 4 second-graders that are behind in reading are caught up by the end of the grade, according to the state data.

But what seems most important to me is whether, at the end of the day, a third-grader is reading at the level he or she should by the time he or she finishes the grade. And in 99.5% of the cases, they are.

Charter schools are struggling more than districts, which is pretty much par for the course in Ohio.
 Though even in charter schools, only 5.4% of students are not proficient in reading by third grade. What is remarkable, though, is the concentration. For example, in Ohio's 613 school districts, 33 districts accounted for the 668 non-proficient third graders. Meanwhile, in Ohio's nearly 300 charter schools that were eligible to receive the K-3 Literacy grade (about 100 are exempt dropout recovery schools), 22 accounted for all 508 students who weren't proficient.

First of all, it's amazing that despite having only 9,300 third-graders, charters still had nearly as many students deemed non-proficient as Ohio's districts, which educate 122,000 third graders. But overall, more than 94% of Ohio charter school students were deemed to be proficient in third-grade reading last year. That's not bad. Not as good as districts, but not disastrous either. So that's decent news.

Again, I am comparing districts to charters because every district lost funding to the charter school deduction last year and about 1/2 of all charter students come from outside Ohio's urban centers. In addition, charters are funded by moving money from districts to the charters, not from individual buildings to charters, which means every kid -- even the highest performing in the highest performing building -- loses state revenue to charter school deductions.

There will be time to cull through much of the data released yesterday. But suffice it to say that this may be the most exciting time for Report Card controversy in years, thanks to the PARCC exams, which no longer are around, and the fact that many children were opted out of the exams, which probably has affected schools and districts' scores.

Judging from the appeals and protests, it is very likely that these data will change. Messy indeed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Proper Perspective: A New Cross-Ideological Discussion

Today is a big day, for it is the day that I join forces with Fordham's Jamie Davies O'Leary to bring a new voice to the Ohio Education Policy Debate. We're calling it "The Proper Perspective". It's an effort to bring sound, reasoned policy discussions around common issues of the day. Sometimes we'll agree. Sometimes not. But throughout we will be respectful and work through many of the policy issues we have in many cases just shouted through.

I'm excited because this effort is a natural outgrowth of the coalition building that's been happening in Ohio over the last several years, initiated by the need to improve our state's charter school system, but one I think can serve us well throughout the education policy arena. Without further ado, he we go...

“The Proper Perspective” is a discussion between Jamie Davies O’Leary, senior Ohio policy analyst for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Stephen Dyer, education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio. This joint effort was hatched one afternoon after Jamie and Steve had a lively back-and-forth over email about (what else?) charter school data. Interested in many of the same data points and research questions, they decided to share some of this exchange more publicly, helping both to illuminate trends in Ohio public education and formulate policy recommendations through their insights.
In some areas, they’ll find opportunities to coalesce, and even celebrate. In a state often divided vehemently on public education, there’s value in finding alignment with those you may have disagreed with previously.
In other areas, interpretation of the same facts is bound to diverge. That’s OK. We’ll strive for thoughtful dialogue—backed up with research and data—rather than ad hominem attacks or the same ideological shouting that has marked Ohio’s education reform debate for too long. Thanks for joining us and for listening—to both of us. We hope it will be both entertaining and enlightening.
A decade of performance gains: What does it mean?
In the last ten years, Performance Index scores have improved across the board in Ohio’s traditional and charter sectors. Some charters and districts have shown radical improvement. Others have stagnated, and a few have seen a drop. But overall, it appears that Performance Index scores—a measure of achievement in tested grades and subjects—are rising, which means that schools and districts are improving and that our accountability system is headed in a good direction.
Here are a few data points.
·       In the ten school years between 2004–2005 and 2013–2014, districts saw a 6.8 percent increase in their Performance Index scores, from 92.80 to 99.10.
·       Of the 610 districts that received Performance Index scores in each of the school years, only twenty-three (or 3.8 percent) saw a drop in scores.
·       Big 8 urban districts improved by more than 10 percent, which was greater than districts overall.
·       Big 8 urban districts have a 3.4 percent higher score, with a 6 percent higher poverty rate than charters.

·       In the ten school years between 2004–2005 and 2013–2014, charters saw a 45.5 percent increase in their Performance Index scores, from 53.65 to 78.06.
·       This improvement was achieved despite the average poverty rate jumping from 64.5 percent to 82.2 percent.
·       Of the hundred charters that received Performance Index scores in each of the school years, 14 percent saw a drop in scores.

 Performance Index scores range from 0 to 120.

Jamie Davies O’Leary
It appears that Ohio schools—especially those serving poor kids—have improved modestly in the last decade. Achievement scores have risen among traditional public and charter public schools alike, in some instances by phenomenal margins.
There are multiple explanations for the across-the-board improvements. Ohio’s accountability system—however loathed by some critics—might be doing its job, albeit slowly. Districts may have improved in the face of pressure from the increased transparency and scrutiny schools must face from the school report card system. Meanwhile, the uptick in school choice and competition—charter schools, private schools accepting vouchers, open enrollment, etc.—might be encouraging schools to focus more on meeting students’ needs and thus producing better outcomes for kids. More cynically, perhaps everyone has just gotten better at teaching to the test and improving their scores.
Good news is hard to come by for schools serving poor kids, so I don’t want to minimize these gains. It’s important, however, that we acknowledge that Performance Index is only one metric by which Ohio should gauge the success of its accountability system. Average composite ACT scores (from 2004 to 2013) have barely budged. According to the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), reading achievement is flat (there has been a modest increase in math scores). While we should celebrate those schools that have improved dramatically, much more is needed in many instances. Dayton and Youngstown had the second- and third-highest PI gains (as a percentage) among Ohio’s Big 8 districts, but current PI scores of 75 and 78 (respectively) remain unacceptable. (The statewide average in 2013–14 was around 95.) Poor graduation rates and growth scores corroborate the need for more dramatic efforts in these cities and elsewhere. So let’s not get overly excited about the improvements schools are making along the PI measure.

Regardless, the takeaway for me remains the same: Ohio should stay the course on accountability and resist any attempts to scale back efforts now that the federal Everyone Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) empowers states to change or abandon portions of their respective accountability frameworks. And we’d be wise to study those districts and charters that saw serious improvements (such as the very high-performing Columbus Preparatory Academy, a charter that nearly doubled its PI score). 
Stephen Dyer
Ohio’s school districts – and especially its charter schools – have seen marked student performance gains over the last 10 years.
The biggest improvements were in the lowest performing districts and schools, which indicates that low starting points play a role. But we shouldn’t short-change these schools’ improvement. It’s good news.
There are caveats. For while the state’s charter schools showed the greatest 10-year performance gains, charters had much further to go, having scored about 15% lower than the lowest school district 10 years ago.
The sector’s average Performance Index score has improved an impressive 45%, yet it remains lower than 605 of Ohio’s 613 school districts’. The state’s urban districts, despite having greater proportions of economically disadvantaged students and higher scores 10 years ago (limiting their gain potential) improved by more than 10% on average, which is also impressive.
So while the charter average has improved substantially, it hasn’t been able to make up its performance gap.
It’s important to remember that every district lost at least some students to charters last year and about ½ of charter students no longer come from the state’s urban core. So charter-to-urban comparisons aren’t nearly as obvious as they appear.
Children in districts with greater or similar portions of poor students outperform children in charters too, which means demographics can’t fully explain lower charter scores either.
However, despite the many complaints from me and my friends about the state’s test-heavy accountability system, it is producing some impressive results … on test scores. Other important outcomes like critical thinking, creativity and love of learning remain unassessed.
We can also see how far we still have before our charter school sector provides the kind of systemic quality our kids deserve, reinforcing the urgency of remaining on the quality-based track the state has recently adopted.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Ohio's Education Rank Slips Again Under Kasich

I really try to avoid being political here. But politicians tend to tout their educational bona fides on the campaign trail. A lot. So when Education Week's national Quality Counts rankings come out, politicians trumpet their height or pooh-pooh their depth, depending on where the rankings land.

Well, in Ohio, under John Kasich, Ohio has gone from the 5th best rated education system in 2010 to the 23th best this year -- the only state rated in the top 5 in 2010 to have fallen more than 10 spots, and the only state in the top 5 to now rate outside the top 12.

In 2010, Ohio could crow about its education policy achievements. The state had just passed a landmark education reform plan that won the Frank Newman Award from the Education Commission of the States, reserved for the country's most "bold, courageous, non-partisan" education reform of the year. That package included a new school funding system that the folks who sued the state over its old funding system said put us on the path to constitutionality.

Within months of that passing, we got our 5th place rating -- the state's highest rank ever on the Ed Week report.

Fast forward to this year. 

The state has ditched that award-winning finance system and reforms. In its place, the current governor tried to replace it with one that was so panned in 2013 that the legislature essentially dropped it and adopted a funding scheme from 2005. The state's charter school system has become a national embarrassment. And now, Ohio's education system ranks below Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Maryland, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, Rhode Island, Maine, North Dakota, Delaware, Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa, Washington, Alaska and Indiana. 

In 2010, that list only included Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia and New York.

Now there are issues with Ed Week's rankings, as there are with any rankings. But the Quality Counts report is put out by a serious publication and impartial journalists who look at many measures of success and struggle. It's about as unbiased and quality an overall assessment of the country's education system as you could find.

What could account for the drop? Any one of a number of things have played a part, including a nationally ridiculed charter school system or the state's continued failure to adequately fund education. 

I also have to point this out to all the Evidence Based Model critics I've dealt with over the years. When Ohio passed the Evidence Based Model in 2009, only one other state had it -- Wyoming. But while Ohio dropped the EBM once Kasich took office, Wyoming did not. Today, Wyoming is the country's 8th rated system -- its improvement from 34th in 2010 representing the second-largest rating gain. Meanwhile, Ohio's performance drop is the country's 10th greatest.

Either way, Ohio's leaders have overseen a precipitous drop in Ohio's education system -- a drop that our kids simply can't afford. We simply must do better.

While much of Ohio's education policy air has been sucked up by the debate over charter schools, their efficacy and what to do about them, I hope legislators and leaders take note of our precipitous drop in these rankings. Many of Ohio's education policy struggles stem from our state's charter school disaster. But these rankings indicate that perhaps there's more going on and simply fixing charters is only a small part of what needs done here -- starting with constitutionally funding all our schools.