Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gov. John Kasich to blame for Ohio Auditor's Mockery of Ohio Dept. of Education?

Lost in Monday's announcement by Ohio Auditor David Yost that Ohio's Department of Education is "among the worst, if not the worst-run state agency in state government" is an obvious question: "Why?"

Well, may I offer an answer -- a failure of leadership in the governor's mansion. Why do I say that?

Because John Kasich is now on his 6th State Superintendent of Public Instruction -- two of whom had to resign amidst scandal. Here's the list:

1) Deb Delisle -- Kasich bullied her into resigning, which ended up OK because she was appointed the Assistant Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education and became among the most respected Assistant Secretaries in history.

2) Stan Heffner -- He took over, but only lasted a few months after the state's inspector general found that he had been lobbying for a private education company he wanted to work for.

3) Michael Sawyers -- He served as interim Superintendent while Kasich searched for a replacement.

4) Richard Ross -- Kasich's former education czar, who infamously once told a room full of Appalachian superintendents that their communities weren't as poor as they claimed, was the longest serving Superintendent. His term was rocked by scandals, as it was found that he was going behind the State Board of Education's back on the Youngstown Plan and he oversaw the David Hansen scandal.

5) Lonnie Rivera -- Served for a few months as Department head, though long enough to pen a response to the federal government's questions about Ohio's charter school grant application that netted the state $71 million to increase high-quality charters here.

6) Paolo DeMaria -- Current State Superintendent who has made several questionable assertions about various education policies.

So, that's 6 superintendents in 5 years. Remember that Kasich's predecessor had two in 4 years, keeping his predecessor's superintendent for his first two years in office.

Notice I'm not mentioning the State Board of Education in this post. Technically, the superintendent works for the board. But in this era of hyper-politicization of the department, it's clear that this choice is the Governor's.

Let me ask you all out there a question: If you had 6 bosses in 5 years, how well do you think your operation would run?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ECOT Fails to Graduate More Students Than All Ohio School Districts ... COMBINED. CORRECTED!!!

I'm not much for anonymous comments to blogs and newspapers. Anyone can pop off and hide beyond anonymity. So I probably won't ever know the anonymous poster here who mocked my ignorance of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) in 2009 and suggested that ECOT -- the nationally ridiculed Ohio virtual school -- actually does a good job because they graduate 5% of all Ohio high school graduates.

Here's the posting from my Courageous Tormentor:

"How pathetic that you state that you didn't know much about ECOT at the time, even though ECOT had been in existence since 2000. 9 years of being blissfully ignorant of the largest online school in the state. Really? It seems to me that you took an interest in Ecot only when it became politically expedient. There is a reason that 5% of the entire state's graduates come from Ecot, and it's not because they were getting the quality education from their home schools."
In 2009, I was still relatively fresh to the charter school thing, having been involved primarily in the David Brennan saga because I was a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal -- Brennan's hometown newspaper. I had heard of ECOT, but until I took to the road in 2009, I didn't know it in detail.

My focus that year was on fixing the funding system for the 1.7 million kids who aren't in Ohio's charters -- a legislative mandate that had been failed to be addressed for about 30 years. When the bill was done, the work won national awards from non-partisan education policy observers. The hearings I held, though, were dominated by charter talk. So I learned a lot more about charters during those hearings.

However, it isn't my actual "pathetic" admission of learning something that troubles me the most about my Courageous Tormentor. It's this idea that because ECOT graduates a bunch of kids it's doing a good job. While ECOT may account for 5% of Ohio's high school graduates, it accounts for about 1/4 of the total number of students who didn't graduate from all of Ohio's school districts combined. more students who don't graduate than (drumroll please) all Ohio school districts combined! If ECOT were the 610th Ohio school district (under Ohio law, charters are treated as districts), it would account for about more than 1/2 1/5 of all non-graduating seniors in this state.

There were 2,918 ECOT kids who didn't graduate in four years, according to the latest state report card, and 1,852 who did. Statewide, school districts failed to graduate 2,626 and graduated 27,748.

That's simply astounding.

So while my Courageous Tormentor may believe that because ECOT has a lot of graduates ECOT works, perhaps the reason there are more ECOT students who fail to graduate so many students than all Ohio school districts put together is because it is ECOT, not my Courageous Tormentor's reviled home schools, that have utterly failed them.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

New York Times: ECOT causes more dropouts than any school in nation

When I was Education subcommittee chairman of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee in 2009, I held a series of hearings around the state about Gov. Ted Strickland's sweeping education policy and finance reform bill. One of those hearings was set in Southeast Ohio -- the heart of Appalachia.

During the course of the hearings, George Wood -- a principal in the Federal Hocking school district -- was asked a pertinent question by my ranking member at the time Seth Morgan. Morgan asked Wood if he knew there would be no additional money, would he take back the kids from failing charter schools.

Wood (who is now Federal Hocking's superintendent) said, without a second of hesitation, "Yes. Let me save the kids." Wood was so concerned about the education kids in his district weren't getting in charters that he would take them back without any funding. There was only one school he called out by name that evening -- ECOT.

I admit, at the time, I didn't know much about ECOT. But the whole world knows about it now. That's because the country's newspaper of record -- the New York Times -- has revealed that ECOT causes more dropouts than any other school in the country. And the guy running it -- William Lager -- is making a ton of money doing it.

Is it shocking that Lager is one of the largest political contributors in the state? Of course not.

My issues with ECOT are no secret. I repeat them in the Times story.

I won't re-hash Ohio's sordid affair with Mr. Lager's cash cow. However, I will say this: It's time for ECOT to close. This school -- the nation's largest run by a for-profit entity -- is a national embarrassment. Their excuse for failing to graduate even 40% of their kids -- that they receive tough kids to educate -- is the exact argument urban districts made 20 years ago at the charter school movement's birth. And it was that argument that drove many into the warm embrace of the "no excuses" movement.

ECOT takes kids from nearly every district in the state, yet it wants to only be compared with urban districts, whose far greater challenges would crush Lager's feeble operation.

The bottom line for me is this: it is a crime that what Lager is doing isn't illegal.

I was beyond encouraged by state Sen. Peggy Lehner's response to the Times. Lehner is the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.
".. at some point, you have to say your model isn't working, and if your model is not working, perhaps public dollars shouldn't be going to pay for it." 
Exactly, Madam Chair.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Guy Who Claimed Charters Don't Cost Districts Money Named State Superintendent

Paolo DeMaria, who rather infamously made the claim in 2012 (video part 8, starting at 7:30) that the way Ohio's charter schools are funded doesn't impact school district bottom lines because school districts have both fully state funded kids and fully locally funded kids, is the state's new Superintendent of Public Instruction.

As anyone who looks at a school finance report knows, all Ohio public school kids receive both local and state revenue. Don't believe me? Ask you local school district whether your kid is fully state funded or fully locally funded. You'll get a crazy look (or crickets on the phone).

The impact charter funding has on local districts is real and significant. Which is why legislators now understand that they have to fix the way Ohio funds its charter schools so it doesn't have as much of an adverse impact on kids not in charters.

Will DeMaria go along with this recent commitment? Or will he continuously, erroneously suggest that kids who go to charters don't impact districts financially? In 2012, his word was gospel. Now, after several years of new thinking on the issue and partnering across ideological lines, DeMaria's out of step.

DeMaria also is of the opinion that more money doesn't improve student performance. This is a classic fallacy employed by many in the free market reform movement. The problem is it compares dollars spent with increases in test scores, claiming that if test scores don't go up at the same rate as the spending, then clearly spending more doesn't matter.

However, dollars are different from test scores (for a detailed explanation of this difference, read this peer-reviewed article). So, for example, if a district spends 200% more today than it did 10 years ago, but test scores are stagnant, that doesn't mean anything. Why? Because the test scores can only go so high, especially given how closely tied they are to poverty. The article I mentioned above explained that according to DeMaria's calculus, test scores would have to be nearly twice as high as the maximum a student can receive in order to equal the same percentage increase as the funding.

In other words, you won't ever see the same percentage increase in test scores that you do in funding. Because they're not the same types of numbers.

DeMaria knows his stuff. There's no question about that. He has the respect of the education policy wonks in Columbus. However, as you can see with his previously cherry picked (or made up) use of data, he has a nasty habit of juicing the ball, depending on his audience.

And while that means he survives well in public service, that's concerning as a matter of public policy.

In his new role as State Superintendent, it will be interesting to see if he manipulates data to further agendas, or whether he'll use his considerable knowledge to make an honest assessment of the state's school system. Given the department's recent history of glossing over data to further agendas, this is a legitimate concern.

I'm hoping for the best.

But I've seen his worst.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Transparency Comes via HB 2

One of the first tangible changes in Ohio's Charter School regime just made an appearance. The first official Ohio Department of Education Charter School Operator database -- required last year under HB 2 -- has been posted.

Now for folks in other states, it may not seem like a big deal that we now track which charter management organizations run which Ohio charter schools. But we haven't done this in the 17 years since charters started running here in Ohio.

Prior to this database, we had to piece together which operators ran which schools through outside sources, industry folks or word of mouth (and we did our best to capture this at

And while this new ODE database doesn't denote which operators are for or non-profit, it does list their address and contact information, bringing much needed transparency.

Considering that last year the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Ohio's charter school operators could sell back the property they purchased for a school to the school, even if the school dropped the operator because it sucked, this is a big step forward for our state (by the way, HB 2 undid that Supreme Court ruling too).

Even though folks in other states will see this as the most common sense of common sense ideas, it's still incredibly important for Ohio to take this baby step toward charter school respectability.