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Charter legislation is welcome, but more reform is needed

Via wwwKnowYourCharter.com

HB 2 Analysis

Summary

We welcome the introduction of HB 2. Strengthening the laws on charter sponsors is certainly needed. But there is more work to be done to make sure that comprehensive charter school reform that benefits Ohio’s students and taxpayers is achieved. One of the problems with the current system is that too much money is going to poor performing charters at the expense of kids in traditional public schools. We look forward to working with lawmakers to ensure meaningful accountability and transparency for Ohio’s charter school system.

Provision-by-Provision Analysis

  • After July 1, 2016, the calculation of a school district’s report card rating will no longer exclude the academic performance of conversion charter schools that primarily enroll dropout prevention students age 16 to 22.
    • Good: More analysis of impact is needed before determining.
    • Bad: This may create a disincentive for school districts to create dropout prevention conversion charter schools. If so, it may lead to increased student enrollment in non-conversion charter schools focused on dropout prevention (White Hat).
  • Says conversion dropout recovery schools have to be included in report card data starting next school year.
    • Good: More transparency and accountability
    • Bad: Going after conversion Dropout Recovery schools means only dropout recovery programs run by school districts.
  • Says fiscal officers have to be employed by the school.
    • Good: Operators can’t employee the people looking over the money anymore, as is typically done.
    • Bad: Can still be independent contractor, so could still be connected with operators in some fashion
  • Un-grandfathers fiscal officers from having to be certified. Any that didn’t have to be certified have to be certified by a date certain.
    • Good: All charter fiscal officers have to be certified the same as public school fiscal officers
    • Bad: None really
  • No employee of a school district, vendor, or ESC can sit on the board.
    • Good: Greatly reduces conflict of interest issues
    • Bad: Not clear if operators are vendors. Could see ways of creating business relationships that would let operator employees (or ICs) sit on the board. Also, if trying to build bridges between districts and charters, why would excepting school district people from the board? Appears to only apply to membership on a governing authority for a charter school sponsored by a school district or ESC.
  • Board members have to file annual disclosure statements showing where they may have family members or business associates working with operators or sponsors of school.
    • Good: Reveals the web of relationships between operators and charters
    • Bad: None really
  • Requires the financial reports and enrollment records of the school be filed with the sponsor, board and fiscal officer on a monthly basis.
    • Good: Somewhat better transparency
    • Bad: Doesn’t mention the public, whose money funds these things. Should also require filing of these documents with ODE, where the enrollment records could be linked to funding on a monthly basis.
  • Sponsors have to file annual reports with ODE detailing how they spend money providing oversight of their charters
    • Good: Will let the public see how sponsors do or don’t provide oversight
    • Bad: No real consequences. Department should establish standards and fines or punishment for failing to follow them. This disclosure/reporting requirement should also apply to operators, where the vast majority of funding often goes.
  • Requires the sponsor and charter contract that’s filed with ODE include information about the leasing and purchase of the school building, including mortgage, lease, annual costs of each and the name of the lender
    • Good: This is the Imagine provision, which makes public all leases and purchases of charter buildings
    • Bad: It’s just a reporting requirement, no punishment for excess payments. Information about facilities should also include disclosure of whether the purchase/lease involves close relatives or companies associated with any individuals who are sponsors, governing board members or the operator/employees, i.e. self-dealing.
  • The school’s financial plan is subject to review and approval by ODE. Current schools have to submit the last two plans
    • Good: More transparency on financial statements
    • Bad: None really
  • ODE in consultation with Auditor shall provide guidance and assistance to charters for internal financial controls
    • Good: Provides more uniform and tighter controls over a charter’s internal finances
    • Bad: No consequence for failing to follow them
  • ODE by December 2015 will have a list of operators and all their contracts with schools
    • Good: Much needed transparency on charter school operators
    • Bad: None really. Should confirm that these would be considered public records held by ODE.
  • ODE will establish a report card for charter school operators
    • Good: Finally be able to establish which charter operators are doing good and bad jobs
    • Bad: No specific delineation of which are for profit or non-profit. Should require a minimum performance benchmark before an operator is allowed to renew or enter new contracts to operate schools.
  • Any new or renewed contract between school and operators have to lay out how early termination of the operator works, establish procedures dealing with it, and delineate which property is owned by the operator and which by the school.
    • Good: Makes the operation of the school clearer and more transparent
    • Bad: This is the Brennan provision and tries to deal with consequences of the current White Hat Supreme Court case. The issue is not which private entity (either for profit or non-profit) owns the furniture. The issue is that the property purchased with taxpayer dollars should be owned by the taxpayers who bought it, not the private entities. Should be on guard for the potential that contract termination guidelines could also be used by operators to “fire” their sponsors in order to link up with a more lenient sponsor. Also, there should be additional elements required for contracts between a governing authority and an operator, such as disclosure of financial expenditures, profit margin projection/caps, salaries, etc.
  • Any charter that gets a D or F on report card for performance index or value added (or dropout recovery that fails to meet standards) has to get ODE approval before it can switch sponsors.
    • Good: Prevents sponsor shopping and would force low performers to get in shape. This provision holds the greatest hope for eliminating poor performers.
    • Bad: Not clear what the ODE standard for approval for new sponsorship would be. Could be strong. Could be weak.
  • Requires sponsors of schools using a blended learning model to review to review these plans, including attendance requirements and how the school will document participation in learning opportunities.
    • Good: This seems to be targeted at the attendance findings of the Yost investigation, where some charter schools claimed that missing students were part of a blended learning program (even though the school had no documentation that such a plan was in place).
    • Bad: This is merely an additional sponsor “assurance” required by ODE, which are rarely corroborated or enforced. Blended learning protocol in charter schools should be substantially the same as in traditional public schools, especially with regard to student attendance.
  • Definition of “sponsor” includes an “independent contractor of the sponsor.”
    • Good: While a statutory definition of “sponsor” is useful, including “independent contractor of the sponsor” is problematic.
    • Bad: Allowing a sponsor to outsource its duties and responsibilities to an “independent contractor” can be used as a simple mechanism to avoid accountability. Using an independent contractor may render meaningless the sponsor approval process and other sponsor accountability provisions in law. In essence, independent contractors can go “sponsor shopping.” The phony sponsor knows ahead of time that no work will be required; they’ll just collect the fees and pass most of it along to the independent contractor.
  • Prohibits a sponsor from selling any goods or services to any community school it sponsors.
    • Good: Important provision that reduces conflicts of interests.
    • Bad: This does not prohibit the conflict of interest whereby operators use the school’s operating funds buy goods and services (e.g. curriculum) from related companies the operator has established, i.e. self-dealing.
  • Requires the State Board of Education to make recommendations by December 31, 2015 regarding a) performance standards for charter schools with a majority of students who are children with disabilities receiving special education, and b) the feasibility of removing the exemption from closure for these schools.
    • Good: This is a step toward protecting these students and addressing the lack of meaningful accountability for these schools.
    • Bad: This will be a long process.

Summary

There are positive things in this bill. The strongest provision is probably the ODE approving all sponsor swaps. But there’s a lot that’s not in it that could undermine much of this, such as what the approval standard will be for ODE to allow sponsor swapping. We’ve seen how weak they are now as the Cleveland Transformation Alliance debacle over charter approval worked its way out. There are good steps on transparency, but there’s little accountability attached to the transparency. And the Brennan provision seems like a pretty weak response to the White Hat case. Ideally, the state says the public owns the property; it’s not owned by the private entities using it.

 

Administering PARCC takes over 1,000 pages of instructions

We received a few tips today that instruction books for PARCC testing are very lengthy. Very Length.

Here's just one of the instruction books, for Grades 6-8 Paper-Based testing

That's just one batch of tests, Heres the rest of the Test Administrator Manuals running a total of over 1,000 pages:
2015 Spring Grades 3-5 Paper-Based - 131 Pages
2015 Spring Grades 6-8 Paper-Based - 139 Pages
2015 Spring High School Paper-Based ELA - 113 Pages
2015 Spring High School Paper-Based Math - 117 Pages
2015 Spring Grades 3-5 Computer-Based - 143 pages
2015 Spring Grades 6-8 Computer-Based - Not available
2015 Spring High School Computer-Based ELA - 121 Pages
2015 Spring High School Computer-Based Math - 121 Pages

Test Coordinator Manual For Grades 3-8 and High School Computer-Based ELA/Math
Test Coordinator Manual For Grades 3-8 and High School Computer-Based ELA/Math - 141 Pages

If it requires over 1,000 pages of instructions to administer your tests, you're probably doing it wrong.

Time to Move Beyond Test-Focused Policies

In this Policy Memo, Kevin Welner and William Mathis discuss the broad research consensus that standardized tests are ineffective and even counterproductive when used to drive educational reform.

nepc-policymemo-esea.pdf by National Education Policy Center

BUDGET BRIEFING: K-12 Education

Innovation Ohio has released a 1 page budget briefing covering the main issues contained in the Governor's two year budget.

The Basics

Governor Kasich’s two-year budget includes additional funding through the state’s formula that funds school districts and charter schools, adding about $700 million more to the amount spent on education. However, the increase is offset by continued reduction ($236 million) in reimbursement payments to districts for lost Tangible Personal Property and Public Utility taxes, as well as increases to charter schools and transportation funding, which is wrapped into the formula funding now.

The bottom line is this: even with the modest increases, more than 55 percent of Ohio school districts will see less direct state aid than they saw in the 2010-2011 budget. Despite a record-sized budget of $72 billion, the net increase for education is only $464 million, which remains below inflationary growth levels. The increases generally happen in poorer districts with the cuts coming from wealthier districts, but there are plenty of examples of poor districts seeing cuts (Symmes Valley) and wealthy districts (Green Local in Summit County) seeing increases.

By the Numbers
  • $464 million Net increase to schools out of a record-sized budget of $72 billion (GRF) +$700 million Increase to schools, -$236 million Cut in Tangible Personal Property and Public Utility Reimbursements
  • 323 Number of districts seeing cuts in the 2015-2016 school year compared with 2014-2015
  • 290 Number of districts seeing cuts in the 2016-2017 school year compared with 2015-2016
  • $100 Annual per pupil increase for districts and charters in each year of the biennium
  • 339 Number of districts that have less direct state aid than they did 6 years ago

Significant Policy Changes

Cracks Down On Charter Sponsors, But Not Charter Schools. Some of the changes are helpful, but they nearly all focus on the sponsors of charter schools instead of the schools themselves.

Keeps The Straight A Fund. Continues the Straight A Fund at $100 million a year.

Increases Funding For Edchoice. Expands the expansion of EdChoice vouchers from last year, more than doubling the amount and moving funding to the GRF rather than lottery money.

More Than Triples The Number Of Spots For Early Childhood. Increases to 17,000 the number of students in early childhood programs. Would allow some charters to have preschool kids. Still accounts for barely 1/3 of all preschool students.

Reduces Testing To No More Than 2 Percent Of School Time And Gives Flexibility To Districts For NonReading Tests In Early Grades.

Increases Auxiliary Services And Administrative Cost Reimbursement Payments To Private Schools. Again increases the amount of public funds going to private schools.

Does OTES Serve a Purpose Anymore?

The Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) has been a mess since it was first appropriated by the Governor and his corporate education reform allies in the legislature. Intended to stack and rank teachers based primarily on student test scores, it has come under increasing fire. Not only has the system proven to be ineffective at measuring teacher quality, but its application has been scattershot, unfair and under constant change.

The real deal killer however has been the proliferation of testing that teacher accountability programs have created. What started as a few voices opposed to the avalanche of test requirements, has now become a widespread revolt. This revolt is causing law makers both in the state legislature and DC to take a fresh look at what they have wrought.

The first opportunity in Ohio to do so has come via the Governor's budget, where he builds upon ODE's test reduction report. Gone are SLO's and in their place is shared attribution
(c) Beginning with teacher evaluations for the 2015-2016 school year, if a teacher’s schedule is comprised of grade levels, courses, or subjects for which the value-added progress dimension prescribed by section 3302.021 of the Revised Code or an alternative student academic progress measure if adopted under division (C)(1)(e) of section 3302.03 of the Revised Code does not apply, nor is student progress determinable using the assessments required by division (B)(2) of this section, the teacher’s student academic growth factor shall be determined using a method of attributing student growth determined in accordance with guidance issued by the department of education.
The use of shared attribution is highly dubious. In Tennessee it is leading to lawsuits
Two accomplished teachers will file a lawsuit today in Nashville, Tennessee, to challenge the evaluation of most teachers in the state based on the standardized test scores of students in courses they did not teach. The teachers are joined by their representatives from the Tennessee Education Association and the Metropolitan Nashville and Anderson County Education Associations in the lawsuit, which is being prosecuted by the National Education Association and TEA. The lawsuit argues that these arbitrary, irrational and unfair policies violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Students in Tennessee are being shortchanged because of the state’s arbitrary and irrational evaluation system that provides no meaningful feedback on their instruction,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “This unfair broken system conditions the teacher’s employment on the basis of standardized test scores for courses they do not teach, including some from students they do not teach at all. The system is senseless and indefensible but, worst of all, it doesn’t help kids.”

More than half of Tennessee teachers are being evaluated in the same arbitrary and irrational manner. While most teachers do not teach courses that use standardized tests, a Tennessee statue still requires that all teachers be evaluated substantially on the basis of student growth estimates calculated from student test scores using the state’s value-added model.
In Ohio as Greg Mild at Plunderbund points out, even ODE questions its use
The Ohio Department of Education recommends careful consideration and collaboration regarding the use of shared attribution data for teachers of kindergarten through grade 12, as the intent of the new evaluation system is to capture the truest picture of an individual teacher’s impact on his or her student population.

Ultimately, the use of a shared attribution measure, including the percentage of weight designated within guidelines set in law, is a district decision. Student growth measures should collectively represent each individual teacher’s impact on student learning for his or her particular student population. Therefore, choosing to use shared attribution at any level should not be taken lightly.
Stepping back from the dubious nature of using shared attribution, one really needs to ask what's the point of it all?

If a cohort of educators in a school district, say music teachers, are all going to receive up to 50% of their evaluation based on some global shared attribution number, then only their observations performed by the district are going to differentiate their performance anyway. Why even bother using shared attribution in the first place? Once again OTES, rather than measuring an educators performance will be measuring a school, or districts, demographics and making high stakes decisions based off of it.

It's time the legislature simply scrapped OTES and rubrics trying to tie student growth to individual teachers. Instead, the legislature should once again empower the Educators Standard Board to develop a simple, effective and fair evaluation system - Or - they could just leave the whole evaluation process under local control and stop meddling.

District-by-District Funding Impacts of Ohio Charter Schools

Innovation Ohio has just released a report looking at the impact the Governor's budget will have distrcit funding when increased charter school payments are factored in.
The Basics
Gov. John Kasich's proposed two-year, $72 billion state budget provides only a modest overall net increase in education funding of $464 million, with fewer than half of Ohio school districts (301 of 609) seeing increased funding in 2017.

However, when funding to charter schools is factored in, one in three of those districts will see their increases erased. After charter school deductions, just 200 out of 609 Ohio public school districts see actual funding increases in year two of the proposed budget.

In the last year for which data is available, $380 million in state funding was redirected from higher-performing traditional public school districts to charter schools with poorer performance grades on the state report card. Over a biennium, that’s $760 million going to worse options for kids, or two-thirds more than the Governor’s proposed $464 million increase in K12 education funding.

By the Numbers
  • 301 Districts receiving an overall increase in FY 2017 compared to FY 2015
  • 101 Districts where the increased funding is less than the amount the district lost to charter schools in the 2013-2014 school year
  • $760 million Minimum amount of money sent to worse performing charter schools from higher performing districts over a biennium, based on 2012-2013 school year data
  • $464 million Net increase to school districts through the state’s foundation funding formula in this budget
Their full report with tables showing specific losses to each distrcit can be seen here.
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