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4 Big K-12 Issues We Expect In The State Budget

The Governor is set to announce his biennial budget on Monday, February 2nd. Based on conversations, reports, and needs, we expect a lot of K-12 policy to be included in it. Here's a run down of what we expect to see.

1Testing Reforms

We expect to see the elimination of a wide range of testing requirements. Without doubt the increase in testing requirements throughout public education has caused widespread backlash. Students have come under increasing stress, many to the point of illness, and teachers have lost vast amounts of instructional time to testing and test prep.

We reported on ODE's recommendations for testing reduction, and we expect to see many, if not all of those recommendations in the budget. We would not be surprised to see the legislature go even further

Lawmakers heard State schools Superintendent Richard A. Ross’ recommendations on cutting the time students spend taking standardized tests and said they will look to expand on them.

“It’s a good set of recommendations,” Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Centerville and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said, “I think that we may be adding on to some of the recommendations. I see us expanding them as opposed to throwing any of them away. I think the ones that are out there are solid.”

Reducing the amount of testing is likely going to cause all manner of knock on effects, especially for teacher evaluations, where much of the increased testing has come from. The alternatives being discussed, while substantially better for students, might continue to be unfair for educators. The legislature should stay away from using shared attribution - i.e. using a group rating for an individual teacher. Teachers should be evaluated on their own performance.

2Charter School Reforms

You can't open a newspaper, or click an education news story link without hearing about the failure and fraud in Ohio's education sector. It is so out of control that even the GOP legislature and the Governor are expected to act. How far they go will be a real test. Since the inception of charter schools over 15 years ago, the for-profit operators have been shoveling money to Republican politicians to inoculate themselves against such times as they face now.

The Governor and law makers have a good set of suggested reforms to work from, including ideas from Fordham foundation and legislation introduced by Democrats in the previous General Assembly. The noises coming from the Republican controlled house are not encouraging though

The first crack at reforms was made yesterday by a pair of Cleveland-area representatives who introduced a bill that would prevent sponsors from selling services to the schools they sponsor, eliminate “sponsor-hopping” by poor-performing schools seeking to re-open, and require contracts with management companies to detail ownership of books, furniture and other assets.

House Bill 2, by Reps. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, and Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, seeks to eliminate conflict-of-interest problems by requiring a school treasurer to be independent of the management company or sponsor. It also would prohibit school employees or vendors from serving on school boards and require board members to disclose any family members doing business with the school.

The bill also would require the Ohio Department of Education, starting in July 2016, to publish an annual performance report of charter school operators.

“This is not a witch hunt on charter schools,” said Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville. “ This is something we need to do to make it a little more fair and balanced and make sure there is more transparency and accountability.”
Not exactly strong stuff, and misses addressing dozens of other real performance and accountability problems charter schools have presented. Public pressure during the budget process will be crucial in getting some meaningful reforms - otherwise we will just be kicking the can down the road for another 10 years - and that's just too much lost opportunity for students.

3Funding

With the improved economy we would not expect to see further cuts to K-12 funding as we have seen in the previous 2 budgets. Indeed we'd like to see some catch-up dollars in this budget. However, the Governor has been promising more income tax cuts for Ohio's wealthiest, so any increases in K-12 foundation funding will be modest at best. This is simply a case of bad priorities.

A likely source of increased funding will come through the continuation of the Straight A Fund - the mini- race to the top grant program the Governor introduced in the last budget. That budget allocated $250 million in total, spread across two funding rounds. We expect more of that.

How schools are going to be funded is still a big question. We've been operating without a funding formula since the Governor ditch his predecessors evidence based model. These things are very hard to create, and we've heard of very little consultation with anyone happening. We suspect whatever the Governor introduced (and his last attempt was a disaster his own party discarded) will be vastly changed during the budgeting process. A lot of words to say we just don't know.

What we do know is that it would be very hard to send even more money to the voucher programs - with 60,000 available, barely 20,000 are being used. Thoughts of sending more money to charter schools should also be off the table this go around given all the negative attention charters have received for bilking tax payers.

4Common Core

We don't anticipate any changes to be introduced by the Governor regarding Common Core. He's a strong supporter, even going so far as to call other Republicans who oppose the standards, liars. That doesn't mean there are forces in his own party that might look at the budget process as a vehicle to attack common core. We doubt those efforts will succeed, but it should be interesting to watch.

Those are the big items we expect to see addressed. There will undoubtedly be other policies pieces introduced too. We'll be reporting in depth during the whole process - stay tuned.

Taxpayers should not be paying for phantom students

After releasing his report on Charter school attendance, the Auditor appears on Captiol Insider and had this to say, according to the Dispatch
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said he was left “speechless” by the discrepancies in attendance his investigators found during surprise visits to 30 charter schools.

Half of the schools had significantly lower attendance than they had reported to the state. Investigators found no students at one school.

Yet the former prosecutor’s 56-page report released last week said he did not determine whether the schools were cheating and couldn’t say whether they had bilked taxpayers, Dispatch Reporter Catherine Candisky notes.
It almost doesn't matter. Of course we must still demand a real investigation, and if fraud has been occurring arrests and indictments must happen, but what the Auditor truly revealed is the massive on-going over-payment to charter schools for students they are not teaching.

If Charter schools are regularly teaching <100% of the students they claim to have, they should not be receiving 100% of the state aid, transferred from local school districts

. These millions of dollars in over-payments due to lax reporting and oversight are bad for taxpayers and terrible for traditional public school students who are being deprived of funding they should be receiving if these charters were billing correctly.

The legislature needs to take a long hard look at how and when money is transferred to charter schools and ensure they are only being paid for student that are actually in their classrooms. No more payments for phantom students

Ohio Charter schools bilking taxpayers for students that don't attend

Before we get to the details of the Auditor of States report titled "Report on Community School Student Attendance", we want to acknowledge the Auditor for carrying out these surprise visits to charter schools to determine the legitimacy of their reported student attendance counts.

The substance of the Auditors report should alarm everyone. A random inspection of 30 schools found that a majority of them are significantly over reporting their student attendance, and consequently receiving significantly more money than they are entitled to. Money that is being drawn from local school districts.

Just how bad is this problem?

One school literally had no students in attendance, despite reporting to ODE that they had 152! When questioned about this, according to the report, "The Director indicated the Academy was engaged in a set of weeklong practice tests for the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) the week of October 1, 2014. Once the testing was completed each day that week, students were permitted to leave."

The Auditor did another follow up visit a month later, the result indicate fraud on a massive scale

*The Academy’s calendar did not indicate practice testing for the OGT would be taking place the week of October 1, 2014.
*The Auditor of State’s office made an unannounced follow up visit on Monday, November 3, 2014.
*AOS reviewed the OGT practice test documents and related answer sheets from the week of October 1, 2014. AOS noted that the test booklets were from 2004. Each booklet had a student’s name on it along with the answer sheet.
*The number of students present did not correspond to the number of tests given on each day.
*AOS also performed a head count at 10:15 a.m. accounting for 37 students.
The report goes on to detail dozens of charter schools massively over-reporting their attendance in order to receive more money than they are entitled to, many of them giving all manner of weak excuses.
AOS also identified one community school whose educational plan in the sponsor agreement did not authorize a blending learning program; however, management informed AOS during an interview that the school was in fact employing a blended learning curriculum with some student learning opportunities provided in the classroom and some provided online.

Lastly, AOS identified one community school operating a blended learning program as authorized by the sponsor in the educational plan; however, there was no evidence that the community school provided the blended learning declaration to ODE required under Ohio Rev. Code §3302.41(A).
This indicates that not only are the schools themselves operating in a very questionable manner, but their sponsors are asleep at the wheel, and not actively monitoring them.

The magnitude of the potential fraud is staggering, and would be the largest financial scandal in the history of Ohio. Steve Dyer did the math

Yost came up with several recommendations, including more frequent counts, better reporting and practices that allow sponsors and the state to better flag potential issues. But the point is this: We've had charters for 16 years in Ohio. We've spent now about $8.3 billion on them (through the first January payment report). If the headcounts have been as off as they were during this random audit, which was an average of 28%, during the life of the charter school program, then we've paid $2.3 billion for kids that weren't even in the charter schools.
This level of potential fraud requires a statewide investigation and referrals to county prosecutors. Both Charter operators and their sponsors should be held liable to repay all monies they have received for students they have not taught.

Any doubt that the charter experiment in Ohio is out of control can be vanquished. Reform cannot come soon enough.

Here's the Auditors report.

Report on Community School Student Attendance Counts

When public schools get more money, students do better

Beginning 40 years ago, a series of court rulings forced states to reallocate money for education, giving more to schools in poor neighborhoods with less in the way of local resources. Critics such as Eric Hanushek, an economist at the Hoover Institution, argued these decisions were simply "throwing money at schools." His research found that there was little correlation between how much schools spent and how well their students performed on tests.

It's a view still held by many politicians today, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.). "We spend more than any other state in the country," he said a year ago. "It ain't about the money. It's about how you spend it -- and the results."

More recent research, however, has found that when schools have more money, they are able to give their students a better education. A new study on those who went to school during the school-finance cases a few decades ago found that those who attended districts that were affected by the rulings were more likely to stay in school through high school and college and are making more money today.

The authors, Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, released a revised draft of their as-yet-unpublished paper this week. The benefits were most obvious for students from poor families. They found that a 10 percent increase in the money available for each low-income student resulted in a 9.5 percent increase in students' earnings as adults. A public investment in schools, they wrote, returned 8.9 percent annually for a typical pupil who started kindergarten in 1980.

The findings are evidence that public schooling can be a way for children who grow up in poverty to overcome their circumstances, Johnson argued.

(Read more at the Washington Post).

Toxic Testing. Hyperbole or Actuality?

Submitted by a Hilliard City School teacher

Toxic testing. Hyperbole or actuality? You decide. Merriam-Webster defines toxic as “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation.” Students have taken tests since the invention of school. So what’s with the “toxic” label you’ve heard recently? It cannot be understated that teachers do not abhor tests. Tests are an integral part of the learning process, helping teachers to understand where their students are with presented concepts and helping to inform continuing instruction. Assessment is essential to a teacher’s purpose. We want to know whether students “get it” or not.

However, children today face a barrage of tests, both standardized and teacher-created, that reaches a level of absurdity. Beyond the tests teachers create for their students, there are: Common Formative Assessments (in each core subject with Pre and Post tests), district level diagnostic tests (MAP, SRI, etc.), SLO tests (in every “non-tested” subject with Pre and Post tests), and who could forget the impending PARCC Assessments? This year, students will face two testing sessions of PARCC in Reading and Math, while some grades also face PARCC-like tests in Science and Social Studies. This grueling testing schedule leaves precious little time for the learning that is supposedly being measured.

It is not just the increase in the number of tests, but the lack of valuable, if any, information useful to teachers sounding the alarm. Teachers receive a Scaled Score (in the case of OAAs) that tells them nothing more than whether a student passed or failed, and whether by a little or by a lot. Even this useless information does not arrive until the summer after the students have moved on to yet another year of testing. If the results did tell teachers something of value, there is nothing they could do to help those students. It is an exercise in futility.

Despite the lack of instructional value in state test results, students are subjected to high-stakes decisions based upon them. School districts, forced to comply with mandates, assign students who scored below a set Scaled Score (again in OAAs) to remedial classes or in the case of third graders, retention. There are high-stakes for high achieving students as well. Often, cut-off scores are used as prerequisites for placement in advanced classes. Additionally, high school students are required to reach a minimum score to be eligible for a diploma. These stakes are real, and their toll is high.

Within this toxic sludge of tests, students are being smothered and their education is being stolen from them.

Incorporating Stakeholder Feedback when Developing Value-Added Models

In light of the ODE report suggesting we're over-testing students, this study titled "Anticipating and incorporating stakeholder feedback when developing value-added models" offers further means to address the explosion in testing.
Abstract: State and local education agencies across the United States are increasingly adopting rigorous teacher evaluation systems. Most systems formally incorporate teacher performance as measured by student test-score growth, sometimes by state mandate. An important consideration that will influence the long-term persistence and efficacy of these systems is stakeholder buy-in, including buy-in from teachers. In this study we document common questions from teachers about value-added measures and provide research-based responses to these questions.
The study found four key issues that consistently came up with regard to the use of value-added for teacher evaluations:
1. Differentiated Students. How can the model deal with a teacher who has students who are different for some reason (e.g., poverty, special education, etc.)? Will that teacher be treated unfairly by the model?
2. Student Attendance. Will teachers be held accountable for students who do not regularly attend class?
3. Outside Events and Policies. How can the model account for major events (e.g., school closings for snow) or initiatives (e.g., Common Core implementation) that impact achievement?
4. Ex Ante Expectations. Why can’t teachers have their predicted scores – the target average performance levels for their students – in advance?
These questions still persist today, and are larely unanswered.

Here's the full report.

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