The US Department of Education, led by the soon to be resigning Arne Duncan, has finally admitted that over a decade of high stakes testing requirements it has promoted has been a big mistake. You can view their mea culpa below in full - but here's the admission
In too many schools, there is unnecessary testing and not enough clarity of purpose applied to the task of assessing students, consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students. The Administration bears some of the responsibility for this, and we are committed to being part of the solution.
They have some advice regarding testing for states, much of which has just been implemented in Ohio:
Principles for Fewer and Smarter Assessments
Assessments must be:
1) Worth Taking
2) High Quality
4) Fair – and Supportive of Fairness – in Equity in Educational Opportunity
5) Fully Transparent to Students and Parents
6) Just One of Multiple Measures
7) Tied to Improved Learning
How we ever got so far off track from these common sense principles is baffling, but what isn't baffling is the need to stop listening to the corporate education reformers who promoted the high stakes over testing of our students and schools.
One of the big promises of Ohio's charters schools, free from regulation and oversight, was to be their capacity to innovate. However, that lack of regulation and oversight has led to constant reports of failure and fraud. But what of the original promise of innovation?
A new report, published by The Learning Accelerator and the Clayton Christensen Institute, casts doubt even on this. The study aims to analyze the current state of blended learning on Ohio, and looked at both traditional schools and charters. This is how the writers describe blended learning
Blended learning entails the fundamental redesign of learning models. Educators around the world are adopting it to help all students be successful in realizing their full potential in college, careers, and life thanks to its ability to enable personalized learning and mastery and its potential to increase access and equity and control costs. Educators want to create a student-centered learning system for all students, and blended learning is the most promising way to do so at scale. Schools are using it to rethink how teaching and learning occurs and to redesign schooling structures, schedules, staffing, and budgets.
With such a bold description you would think Ohio's charter schools, whose mission it is to innovate, would be all over blended learning and leading the way.
Not so much. The study finds that it is traditional public schools that are out front, and by a significant margin, with two-thirds (66%) of school districts using blending, but less than half (42%) of charter schools.
Looking deeper into the study data, the disparity becomes more revealing, and alarming. It appears that charter schools and traditional schools are implementing different blended learning solutions. Traditional schools are using it to expand opportunities and offerings for students, whereas charters appear to be offering a model to reduce teaching costs.
Charters can be seen to heavily rely upon a flex model of blended learning. In the Flex model, online learning is the major aspect of the students path. Students primarily learn online, while being seated in a brick-and-mortar structure. The teacher or aide is available for face-to-face support/structure and facilitates offline activities and group/whole-class discussion on a discretionary or need-be basis.
Whereas, traditional schools using a la carte models allow students to take one or more specific online courses while also taking traditional offline courses. For instance, a student may take an online math course while also taking science, language arts, and P.E. in a traditional offline setting.
The only true innovation Ohio's charter schools have perfected is profit taking, along every other dimension of measure they are being out-schools by traditional public schools.
HB2, the charter school reform bill recently passed by the Ohio General Assembly, legalizes the scale tipping activities of ODE.
The "Chartergate" scandal, reported widely, had the school choice director for the Ohio Department of Education resigning after throwing failing grades for online schools out of charter school evaluations. Without the grades from the pitifully performing e-schools, authorizers could look like they were doing a decent job.
The discovery of this scheme however has forced ODE to include those e-schools in their sponsor ratings.
Needless to say, that got a lot of pushback too. That is, until last minute changes were introduced into HB2.
Part of why the e-schools were left out is that their large enrollments would dominate the ratings, if they were weighted by the number of students.
The compromise gives e-schools part of what they want -- to be counted just as a school, not weighted by enrollment -- but not exactly. Schools will now be counted both ways.
The new rules call for the academic rating of sponsors to be partly done by counting each school as a single unit and partly by weighting the rating by enrollments of each school.
Colleen Grady, the main education advisor for the House and a key player in the adjustments to the bill, said the bill does not spell out the percentages that each way will count, leaving that up to ODE.
That makes how the department decides to calculate the ratings a key issue in the coming weeks.
ODE has already signaled a willingness to fix the sponsors grades, what's the betting that their weightings will now legally benefit terrible e-schools? We won't have long to wait to find out.
With the passage of HB2, the charter reform law, many might be tempted to think we'll quickly see the horrendous quality of Ohio's charter schools to rapidly improve. That won't be the case.
HB2 is written to mostly address the sponsors of the schools, and not the schools themselves. But where the law does address sponsor quality that might impact actually schools, the law is laborious in how it deals with low performers
The law required the Ohio Department of Education to develop, then annually rate charter school sponsors. But as we have seen, this is the first giant loophole the poor quality truck can drive through. ODE is already under intense pressure after it was proven it had manipulated the rating system to give sponsors much higher ratings than they deserve. Without a fair and honest accounting of a sponsors performance, the law cannot operate as many would hope - by revoking poor performing sponsors authority to manage charters.
If, and we contend it will be a big if so long as ODE is packed with charter school cronies and ideologues, we eventually get to a fair, transparent and honest rating system for charter sponsors, the law is still tilted against action. For example, the law:
Revokes the sponsorship authority of a sponsor that receives an overall rating of "ineffective" for three consecutive years, subject to an appeals hearing that is conducted by an officer appointed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and decided by the State Board under specified deadlines. (R.C. 3314.016(B)(7)(b)(ii).)
A sponsor needs to perform poorly for 3 consecutive years, almost an entire school career for a high school student, before any meangingful action can be taken. Even at that point, ideologues at ODE can hear an appeal.
The law also has another brake applied to acting quickly. The law authorizes ODE, for the 2015-2016 school year only, to choose to not assign an overall rating to a sponsor that meets a broad range of conditions. This means that the absolute worst sponsors are likely to avoid any direct consequences until the end of the 2018-2019 school year, and even then have an avenue to appeal to potentially sympathetic ears.
You will note that it requires 3 consecutive poor ratings. Should a sponsor game the system to achieve a satisfactory rating for just one year, the whole clock will resets, and another generation of students will be harmed.
HB2 is a welcome step to improving Ohio's charter schools, and we expect the financial management of the schools to improve, but sadly and most importantly we do not expect the quality of the schools themselves to improve - though the game is now on to make it look like they are - a game ODE has already begun to play.
One of the reasons Ohio's charter schools perform so poorly is because they suffer from a large amount of annual teacher turnover. Classrooms are overpopulated with rookies learning on the job with few veterans to mentor them. This happens because underpaid quality educators get snapped up by traditional school districts, while charter operators like to churn their staff in order to keep payroll low. Everyone but the bottom line is a loser.
HB 2, the recently passed charter school reform bill, will make matter worse.
A last-minute addition to the state's charter school reform bill would block some teachers - those teaching at charters run by for-profit companies - from being part of the state pension system.
The change, which would apply only to new teachers at those schools and not to any current teachers, was a surprise amendment to House Bill 2 on Tuesday and drew angry complaints from some legislators and the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
Details about the change, how it came about and exactly who it would affect were difficult to verify last night as teachers unions and legislators made a flurry of phone calls to sort it out.
It's not complicated to understand why this was snuck into the bill at the last minute. Pushing charter school teachers out of the State Teachers Retirement System, and into social security will save a charter school operator about 8% on their payroll. Employers typically pay 14% into STRS on behalf of their employees, but only 6.2% into Social Security.
Because it will only apply to new employees charter operators will now be incentivized to fire existing staff, who have no union protections, and replace them with staff that are 8% cheaper. Further more, the closing of the door to STRS only makes becoming a teacher in a charter school even less appealing - further damaging the teaching quality.
The Economic Policy Institute took a look at the number of teachers in the workforce. Turns out defunding public education, cutting pay, benefits and job security isn't attractive.
With the September data in hand, we can look at the number of teachers who are starting work or going back to school this year. The number of teachers and education staff fell dramatically during the recession, and has failed to get anywhere near its prerecession level, let alone the level that would be required to keep up with an expanding student population. Along with the dismal shortfall in public sector employment, due to the Great Recession and the ensuing austerity at all levels of government, public education jobs are still 236,000 less than they were seven years ago. The number of teachers rose by 41,700 over the last year. While this is clearly a positive sign, adding in the number of public education jobs that should have been created just to keep up with enrollment, we are currently experiencing a 410,000 job shortfall in public education. Short sighted austerity measures have a measurable impact, hitting children in today’s classrooms.