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ECOT Is Lucrative For Columbus Politicians

Plunderbund has some interesting ideas, prompted by a Dispatch article, on how to reform ECOT - Ohio's largest charter school network. Here's the heart of the Dispatch piece
ECOT now has more students than Canton, Dayton, Dublin or Westerville schools. It is the state’s 10th-largest district. And growth came for ECOT despite its consistently low state report-card results: It ranks among the worst-performing schools in the state.

“The growth has been huge,” said Aaron Churchill, who is Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. It has offices in Columbus and Dayton and sponsors charters but criticizes weak oversight and poor-quality schools. “There are clearly a lot of questions about the quality of the education they’re putting out. I’d be curious to know why parents are selecting it.”

ECOT’s tax revenue grew in step with its enrollment, to $112.7 million, 90 percent of which is funded by the state. Charter schools are funded with tax dollars but often are privately run.

According to a state financial audit made public last week, ECOT paid $21.4 million last year to the two for-profit companies Lager formed to serve the school — nearly one-fifth of the school’s total revenue.

IQ Innovations, Lager’s software firm, sells the IQity online-learning platform to ECOT as well as to other schools and districts elsewhere in the country. Altair Learning Management is Lager’s school-management firm, and it oversees ECOT’s day-to-day business, including hiring and firing.
ECOTs poor performance is nothing new to those who have been paying attention, but the criticism coming from the Dispatch is.

Plunderbund has some suggestions to reform ECOT

  1. Change The Leadership: It’s evident, based on the long history of underachievement at ECOT, that new leadership is needed. We recommend that the Governor create a commission to replace the existing ECOT school board. In addition to the school board, ECOT’s management company, Altair Learning, which has received over $56 million dollars over the past 14 years, has demonstrated no proven ability to improve the learning environment in order to improve the graduation rate, so should be fired immediately.
  2. Change The Curriculum: Bolstering the case that the school’s contract with Altair Learning should be terminated immediately is the management company’s adoption of IQ Innovations as the sole provider of an online curriculum. In FY14, IQ Innovations was paid $17.3 million for providing the curriculum for the 6th straight year, upping their total compensation to $69,846,154. Spending just shy of $70 million on a curriculum that is resulting in students demonstrating significantly below expected growth (based on Ohio’s value-added measures) is a gross misuse of public dollars and should cease immediately. Six years of low growth, low achievement, and low graduation rates is more than enough to demonstrate that the curriculum is wholly ineffective at obtaining the desired outcomes.
  3. Open The Books: State Auditor Dave Yost should be called on to immediately conduct a multi-year and comprehensive review of ECOT’s financial operations. With Altair Learning and IQ Innovations having the same principal owner (William Lager, also the founder of the school), Ohio’s taxpayers need to be assured that the contracts between ECOT and the two companies followed all appropriate laws surrounding the use of public monies and any and all contracts were bid appropriately. In addition, Yost needs to conduct a multi-year investigation into ECOT’s attendance and grading practices to ensure that all enrollment numbers have been reported with the highest integrity as it is these self-reported figures that dictate the allocation of taxpayer dollars to ECOT (and away from other school districts).
  4. Parent Takeover: ECOT should be immediately subjected to a parent takeover provision in state law and a non-partisan entity, say StudentsFirst, should be empowered to help coordinate the effort. ECOT will be required to notify all parents of the opportunity, with StudentsFirst serving to help organize the interested parties.
  5. Break It Up: In order to best facilitate a parent takeover and manage the district more effectively, ECOT should be broken up from one large, single school, into regional entities or sub-districts, each of would then be eligible for a takeover by parents, who could then bring in their own management company or more effective charter school organization.
There's some pretty good ideas there. But we're skeptical any meaningful change is going to come. Ohio is at a crossroads with charter schools. We can either have a smaller number of higher performing schools ran by non-profit sponsors, or we can continue to have a for-profit low performing wild west. Any sensible person would ick the former, but sensible people aren't plied with hundreds of thousands of dollars to think otherwise.

Back to the dispatch piece again

And ECOT’s founder, Lager, has spent at least $1.13 million on Ohio campaigns in the past five years alone. Lager could not be reached for comment, and his spokesman said he couldn’t reach him, either.

That’s more — on Ohio politics, anyway — than was spent by David Brennan, the well-known Akron charter entrepreneur who lobbies heavily on behalf of his White Hat schools group. During the same time period, Brennan donated about $820,000, according to campaign-donation records kept by the Ohio secretary of state.

For the past three years, Lager has funneled more than $200,000 per year to mostly Republican officeholders, including William G. Batchelder of Medina, the outgoing speaker of the Ohio House. The largest single donations went to the Ohio Republican Party.

Political contributions also were made through Lager’s two privately held companies. Since 2009, IQ Innovations has sent more than $154,000 to Ohio political candidates and groups. Altair’s contributions totaled about $38,000.
The Dispatch understates the largesse of Lager. We took at look at the campaign finance reports, published on the Secretary of States website (which inexplicably only go back to 2009)

Read more: ECOT Is Lucrative For Columbus Politicians

Top 4 Education Stories of 2014

There were a lot of big education stories in 2014. The 5of8 fight, school shootings continuing to happen is still unacceptable, big increases in local levies due to budget cuts, disgraceful behavior by State Board of Education members, disgraceful behavior by ODE officials, 3rd grade reading guarantee comes online and Ohio's K-12 technology for implanting a lot of policy didn't. Here's our top 4 stories from 2014.

4Common Core Push Back

2014 was the year when resistance to the Common core State Standards became a mainstream phenomenon. Initially 46 states signed up to the standards, but at least 12 of them have repeal legislation pending in some form. In Ohio, the effort to push back against the CCSS began in late 2013, but bubbled all year, right into November 2014, when the Ohio House passed a bill out of committee.

No one expects repeal efforts to land on the Governor's desk in 2015, but with the Governor likely offering himself as a Presidential nominee requiring tee party votes in a primary (some of the most vocal CCSS critics), an incoming Republican legislative class packed with more extreme ideologues due to gerrymandering, and the standards themselves continuing to be burdened by poor implementation, nobody should be surprised to see this issue continue to burn.

3Corporate Education Reform Stalls Out

We saw signs in 2014 that corporate education policies were either failing, or being received by widespread skepticism. When Teach for America, beloved by the monied class, hits trouble you know there's a big shift going on. Perhaps the biggest shift has been the realization that these policies have birthed an explosion in testing that, if left unchecked, leaves scant time for actually educating students.

In Ohio, even the legislature began to wake up to the testing crisis it had helped create, by offering a bill that would reduce testing. That bill, which was far from perfect, would eventually die in the lame duck. We are almost certain to see new legislation introduced in 2015, especially when the Ohio Department of Education issues its report on the exact number of required exams, along with recommendations to potentially decrease that number. That report is due January 15th. The fact that this report will be published right at the legal deadline is a good indication it is going to cause a stir, and has not been an easy task.

The use of Standardized tests for the purposes of teacher evaluations continued to receive body blows too. At the beginning of the year, the American Statistical Association cast grave doubt on its use, and at the tail end of the year, the Board of Directors of the National Association of Secondary School Principals followed suit. Now past the point of implementation and entering the high stakes phase of these evaluation policies, we're going to see an ever increasing rise in calls for reform of the use of Value-Add, as its unfairness and unintended consequences become more and more apparent.

Nowhere was the pushback again corporate education reform more evident than in the Reynoldsburg, where teachers went on strike for 3 weeks to oppose merit pay proposals and over crowded classrooms. With huge community support behind them, the 350 teachers defeated the boards proposals and were able to return to their classrooms with a contract that would deal with class sizes, and forgo a merit pay system proven to be unsuccessful.

2The Flameout of Ed FitzGerald

Once every 4 years, voters in Ohio have an opportunity to reconsider the direction of the State's education policies when they elect a new Governor. Few could argue that Governor Kasich has done tremendous harm to public schools with his draconian budget cuts, union busting attempts and ill-thought out policies (more unwanted vouchers, more corrupt charters, 3rd grade reading laws, trigger laws no one uses, the failing Cleveland Plan, the Columbus Plan that voters rejected, and on and one). This makes the spectacular flameout of the Democratic candidate, Ed FitzGerald all the more galling.

FitzGerald wasn't defeated because of his policy positions. Voters actually preferred candidates who were pro public education as evidenced by the success of electing so many such candidates to the State Board of Education. Neither was FitzGerald defeated because the voters were enamored by the Governor and his record. It was the lowest turnout election on record, with the governor getting barely as many votes as his did in 2010. No, FitzGerald was simply a terrible candidate who ran an even worse campaign.

We considered making this our #1 story of 2014, but in the end, not even this could top our final choice.

1The Charter School Quality Crisis

2014 saw an explosion in reporting on the Ohio charter school boondoggle. A billion dollar business that continues to fail students and rip off tax payers. Charter schools in 2014 weren't any different than 2013, but the volume of reporting finally brought the desperate situation to the attention of the mainstream. Report, after report after report, throughout the year highlighted the corruption, fraud and failure of these schools. Even pro-charter school boosters got in on the act at the end of the year, producing reports showing that Ohio's charters were failing their students.

The year ended with tough talk from the Governor promising to clean up the mess. The question for 2015 will be whether the Governor can follow through on his tough talk and finally deal with this education disgrace that is harming tens of thousands of students each and every year.

New Teacher Recruitment is Collapsing

According to the latest Federal Title 2 data, enrollment into teacher prep programs has collapsed by 9.12% in Ohio. We're not the first to notice this trend, nor is it isolated to Ohio.

The Washington Post reports that Teacher for America may miss their recruitment goals by as much as 25%. Here's part of the memo sent out by the TFA CEO to partners
Dear Colleagues, With a few months to go in our recruitment season, we’d like to share an update on our work, including the patterns we’re seeing among the college seniors, graduate students, and professionals we’re working to recruit. As always, we’d welcome your advice and collaboration.

At this point, we’re tracking toward an incoming corps that may be smaller than the current one, and because demand for corps members has grown in recent years, we could fall short of our partners’ overall needs by more than 25 percent. We understand that this has very real implications for you and your students, and though we’ve still got nearly half our recruitment season to go, we wanted to keep you in the loop.

Today’s education climate is tough—fewer Americans rate education as a “top 2” national issue today, and teacher satisfaction has dipped precipitously in recent years—down from 62% in 2008 to 39% in 2012. Additionally, an increasingly polarized public conversation around education, coupled with shaky district budgets, is challenging the perception of teaching as a stable, fulfilling profession; in turn, we’re seeing decreased interest in entering the field nationwide. (You can read analysis of this trend here in Education Week.) We’ve felt some of this same polarization around TFA. At the same time, the broader economy is improving and young people have more job options than in recent years. Having experienced the national recession through much of their adolescence, college graduates today are placing a greater premium on what they see as financially sustainable professions. Teaching and public service have receded as primary options.

The same pattern of apathy towards teaching was highlighted by Ed Week in a recent article titled Steep Drops Seen in Teacher-Prep Enrollment Numbers
Massive changes to the profession, coupled with budget woes, appear to be shaking the image of teaching as a stable, engaging career. Nationwide, enrollments in university teacher-preparation programs have fallen by about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to federal estimates from the U.S. Department of Education's postsecondary data collection.
[...]
"It is an alarming trend," said Mary Vixie Sandy, the executive director of the California Commission on Teaching Credentials, which enforces the state's teacher-preparation standards. "We are going to see it play out in this year and in the coming year with an increase in demand, and a not very deep pool of teachers to fulfill that demand."
[...]
If an uncertain economy is one likely explanation for the drop, analysts also point to other, less tangible causes: lots of press around changes to teachers' evaluations, more rigorous academic-content standards, and the perception in some quarters that teachers are being blamed for schools' problems.
Ed Week produced the graph below to show some of the trends

Corporate education reformers set about creating a climate of "accountability" to drive out "bad teachers" and replace them with "superstars". All they appear to have accomplished is creating a byzantine accountability system that doesn't work, isn't fair and is actively driving away tens of thousands of potential new teachers.

6 Reasons Why Parent Triggers Are A Waste of Time

Anti-Tax group, StudentsFirst Ohio's lobbyist is upset that not a single parent expressed any interest in pulling a parent trigger in any of the 20 Columbus City Schools that were eligible.
Not a single Columbus City Schools parent has inquired about using Ohio’s “parent trigger” law to force changes at 20 low-performing schools, according to the facilitator appointed to oversee the process.

“No one has contacted us,” said Greg Harris, director of StudentsFirst Ohio, a pro-charter-school organization chosen by the state Department of Education to aid parents on the trigger. “I really assumed there would be some inquiries.”

While some feared a disruptive storm of building takeovers could ensue, 10 weeks after the law went into effect, the result amounts to not even a drizzle: No one is aware of any move by parents to submit petitions to the district treasurer by the Dec. 31 deadline. The response was so anemic that Harris said he fears it will be used to try to repeal the law, which makes Columbus a test site for the trigger.

Any Columbus district school ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state is eligible to be reinvented — including being transformed into a charter school — using the trigger.
Nationwide, parent triggers are rarely pulled, except for where outside agitators looking to profiteer get involved to try to turn a local school into a profit making charter school enterprise. Why is this? Greg Harris thinks it's because parents of students who attended these schools didn't get a letter
While StudentsFirst vowed to remain neutral and not attempt to motivate parents in one direction or another, Harris said he now regrets that his group didn’t mail notices to the thousands of affected parents, which he estimates might have cost up to $8,000.

“Now in hindsight, I wish I had done that,” Harris said. “Not that I wanted to organize the parents, but I wish they were made aware of the option.”
Let's examine the real reasons these parent triggers are rarely pulled.

1. Student Mobility

Low performing urban schools has massive numbers of transitory students. The Fordham Foundation did a massive study on this in 2012, and found
Analysis of the mobility history and test scores of students in the Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Dayton districts who took the 3rd and 8th grade achievement tests in spring 2011 found that the number of school changes over two years is an independent predictor of test scores, with more moves generally indicating a likelihood of lower scores. “The fact that one in six urban K-8 students and one in five urban high school students switched schools during the school year has a negative effect on student performance,” said Mark Real from KidsOhio.org. “It is hopeful that twelve organizations are banding together to understand and discuss these issues.” -
Parents of these students, if they indeed have parents, are simply moving through and are are unlikely to get involved in protracted efforts to "turn-around" or "take-over" a school their child might only attend for 3 months.

2. Maslow's hierarchy of needs

A simple look at the economic demographics of the schools eligible for the student trigger reveals that nearly all the students are coming from disadvantaged background - ie poverty. This shouldn't surprise anyone - we know that academic performance is highly correlated to poverty. Parents working 2 or 3 jobs are unlikely to have the time or energy to engage in some corporate education reformers political fantasy of taking over a school. Their hands are full trying to house and feed their children.

3. Quality Profile of the Schools

It is well understood that parents choose which schools to send their children to based on a wide range of criteria, and not just academic performance. In fact when parents of urban charter schools are asked why they choose that school, safety and convenience are the top answers. Performance index scores are simply not their only concern.

4. Who can read your letter?

StudentsFirst may want to send out $8,000 worth of letters, but in what language will they be written? Non english speaking and ESL parents and students are highly prevalent in these school environments. It's another predictor of challenging academic performance.

5. Students with Disabilities

These schools all have large populations of students with disabilities. Parents of these students barely have the time between work and caring for their child to begin some political school take over process - even if they believed it was needed, which they very well may not. Again, performance index scores are not their only concern.

6. Maybe these schools aren't so bad

A quick look at the performance data for these schools shows they are struggling, but many of the mitigating circumstances have been discussed above. But beyond those mitigating circumstances, many of these schools are showing adequate growth, even if that growth is not enough to propel them to the top of the A-list performance index charts.

In conclusion

Given all these factors laid out, does anyone but the most naive believe that not sending parents a letter is the main reason why not a single one felt the need to engage in the political stunt of taking over a school, whose struggles have very little to do with the administration or teachers of that school?

These parent trigger laws are simply a waste of time. They fail to address the real challenges students from these schools face on a daily basis. Hunger, homelessness, over worked parents, lack of healthcare, English as a second language, disabilities, lack of a safe environment and on and on. They are not struggling because their school is populated with incompetent teachers and administrators who don't know or care about what they are doing. In many cases, those teachers might be the only people who care.

Greg Harris should spend less time on the hall of power in Columbus and more time in the halls of these troubled schools talking to people, maybe then he would understand sending a letter isn;t the solution, and neither are these trigger laws.

Are Failing Ohio Charters Entering the 3rd Act?

A new study of Ohio's charter schools, paid for by the corporate education boosters at the Fordham Foundation, performed by CREDO which is funded by the Walton Family, and performed by the wife of a conservative economist found that:
Overall, kids in [Ohio] charters lose 36 days of math and 14 days of reading to their traditional public school counterparts.

Of the 68 statistically significant differences CREDO found between charters and public schools, 56 showed a negative charter school impact, and 12 showed a positive one
It's a catastrophe for Ohio's charter industry, in fact it is so bad, the conservative author of the study had this to say:
I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And (education) is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed… The policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. We need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools. But I also think we have to have some oversight of the overseers.
When conservatives are saying Free market don't work in education, it seems everyone but Ohio's lawmakers are coming to the consensus that the charter school quality crisis must be dealt with, and dealt with now.

National Charter School Study 2013

#5of8 Row draws strange bedfellows

We reported yesterday on the Ohio State Board of Education's plans to eliminate the 5 of 8 rule. The Boards' Operating Standards Committee met yesterday to discuss the rule and vote it out of committee. It passed 4-3, but those supporting and opposing the measure were not who you would expect.
According to the Plain Dealer
"I've been receiving a lot of feedback," said committee member Kathleen McGervey of Avon, who voted no after she started receiving calls with objections this weekend. "I just wanted a little more time to hear them out."

Board member Sarah Fowler, the vice chair of the Operating Standards Committee from Ashtabula County, also voted against sending the change to the full board. She said emails from constituents Sunday and Monday convinced her to consider the issue further. Fowler also represents Geauga and Portage counties.

Her biggest concern: "Making sure we're not incentivizing districts to not provide certain things for their students."

Also voting no was Stephanie Dodd, of Hebron.
Sarah Fowler is the home-schooler on the board and typically has not been friendly towards public education. The volume of complaints she and other board members have been receiving have clearly been having an effect. Back the the Plain Dealer
Committee chairman Ron Rudduck, Board President Debe Terhar, and members Tess Elshoff and Brad Lamb, of Westlake, voted to approve the changes for full board consideration.
It should be no surprise that Debe Terhar continues to act against the best interests of students, and Brad Lamb was just voted out of office only 7 days ago to be replaced by a veteran teacher, Roslyn Painter-Goffi. The disappointing yes vote was that of Ron Rudduck.

Rudduck received strong backing from educators in the November elections, believing he was a moderate Republican voice with strong pro-public education beliefs guiding his decisions. Educators and concerned parents should call Ron Ruddick and tell him to oppose the elimination of the 5 of 8 rule. You can phone him: (937) 302-8035, or Email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Today, the State board of Education will hear public comments, one of the groups testifying will be the Ohio Education Association - the organization that represents 121,000 teacher in Ohio. Here's why they believe it is critical to keep the 5 of 8 rule.
When the Board votes on the recommendations of the Operating Standards Committee, we ask that you restore this language in Rule 5 for the following reasons:
• Removing the Current Rule 5 language would have the immediate effect of further reducing the educational opportunities that are available to boys and girls in Ohio’s schools.

• Current Rule 5 language already provides significant flexibility to local school districts; there is no compelling reason to change it.

• Without rules requiring Ohio’s schools to provide specific services that meet the needs of the whole child (including school counseling, nursing, library media support, social work, and elementary art, music and physical education instruction), school districts will have the incentive to focus personnel and other resources only on tested subjects.

• Maintaining the “5 of 8” rule demonstrates that the State Board of Education is committed to equal educational opportunity for all of Ohio’s students. If the 5 of 8 rule were eliminated from the Operating Standards, children from low-wealth communities—those who need these services the most—would be the most likely to be deprived of the support they need for a well-rounded education.
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