Voucher demand falls

We have previously reported how the last budget expanded the availability of vouchers from 14,000 a year to 60,000, and how little demand there was for them. This year demand for vouchers has fallen even further.

The Department of Education received nearly 600 fewer applicants to the Educational Choice scholarship this spring compared to last year
The 16,848 students whose families submitted applications by last Friday's deadline comes in short of the 17,438 who did so a year ago and still far below the 60,000 limit on vouchers. ODE also held a second application window last fall that brought the total applications to 17,516 for use in the present school year.

Let's look at the graph

If parents in school districts that are struggling are rejecting the voucher option, why would the legislature think expansion of vouchers into districts where schools are excellent, prove to be any more popular?

School choice proponents need to begin to understand that the vast majority of parents choose public schools, and that choice deserves the same vigorous support for-profit education receives from the "choice" community and Ohio's current crop of legislators.

Charters and their supporters failing our kids

ODE has finally released the full school report card, though only in spreadsheet format, and it comes with a warning

ODE will not publish PDFs of the Local Report Cards until the investigation by the Auditor of State is concluded.

We thought it would be useful to compare how effective traditional public schools were versus their charter school counterparts. The results are staggeringly bad for charter schools

Report Card Rating Traditional Schools Charter Schools
Academic Emergency 3.4% 18.8%
Academic Watch 4.6% 15.6%
Continuous Improvement 10.4% 27.3%
Effective 21.4% 15.6%
Excellent 41.0% 7.4%
Excellent with Distinction 14.4% 1.1%
Not Rated 4.8% 14.2%

61.6% of all charter schools in Ohio are less than effective, while that can only be said of 18.4% of traditional schools. If the purpose of charter schools was to be incubators of excellence, they are doing a very poor job, with only 8.5% of them hitting the excellent or better rating. Indeed, if you truly want to see excellence, you have to look at traditional public schools, where over 55% are rated excellent or better.

If "school choice" organizations in Ohio had any integrity, the choice they would be urging in almost all cases, would be for parents to choose traditional public schools. In the vast majority of cases, their advocacy of charter schools are an advocacy of miserable failure, at huge tax payer expense.

Diane Ravitch spoke to this issue in Columbus yesterday

Proficiency testing and charter schools were billed in the late 1990s as solutions to a broken public-education system. Now, they are part of a failed status quo, said Ravitch, 74, an author and U.S. assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush.

Proficiency tests have changed — from something that assesses students to something used to punish teachers and schools, said Ravitch. And after a decade of poor results from charter schools, she said, the charter movement and high-stakes testing have proved to be failed national experiments.

Also at the same event, Greg Harris, the Ohio director of the 65,000-member charter-school advocacy group StudentsFirst

...charters were supposed to provide an experiment in innovation, and though many have failed, many others are working.

“The parents are making these choices” to go to charters, Harris said. “These are parents from high-poverty backgrounds who are making major sacrifices to get their kids out of failing schools.

“We agree with her that bad charter schools should be closed, but why close good ones?”

Parents are often steered into these choices by corporate education reformers and their boosters, like StudentsFirst, the most ironically named group of all. And when parents aren't being steered into wrong choices, it's because they are using factors other than quality to make their decisions, as we noted in this article.

ODE shifting rhetoric in wake of scandal

It's hard not to feel dizzy with all the spinning that is occurring in the wake of the brewing attendance scrubbing scandal ODE is embroiled in. Stan Heffner, the State Superintendent appears to have taken a new position, when the fallout from the high stakes are pointed at his department

With all the mania about improving student test scores, and now the apparent cheating on school-attendance reports, state schools Superintendent Stan Heffner says there’s too much emphasis on district report cards.

“If you focus on doing right by kids, you’ll do OK on your report card. But if you worry about doing well on your report card first, there is no guarantee that your kids are getting what they need,” Heffner said yesterday following remarks about Ohio’s education system before the Columbus Metropolitan Club.

“The report card over time has just taken on way too much importance.”

Just a little over 2 months ago, he had quite the opposite view, in testimony to the House education committee

We should not let the failure of Congress to reauthorize ESEA stop us from seizing the chance to secure a waiver to implement common sense reforms. The new system will change the standard by which schools are judged – moving from mere minimum competency to needed college and career readiness for all students. This means raising the bar, and some schools and districts may initially not look as high performing in the new system. Change can be difficult, especially when districts and schools have been told for years that they are "Excellent" or "Effective." Last year, over half of Ohio’s schools were rated "Excellent" or "Excellent with Distinction.” Yet, 40% of Ohio graduates entering our public universities required remediation before taking first-year, credit-bearing courses in English and mathematics.

It is unfair to students and their families not to provide them with a complete assessment of their academic progress. And, it is unfair to fault local educators who are working hard and have responded to the current system that the state has given them. When the new Local Report Cards are released, parents and the community will have a clearer and more comprehensive view of how their schools impact student performance.

Not a word uttered about the report card taking on too much importance, indeed, he was testifying in order for the report card to take on even more importance. Why the sudden change of heart? Toledo Public Schools might be hinting at the answer

When TPS officials first acknowledged the test score manipulation, they argued that state direction was unclear. Don Yates, president of the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, said Friday that the test reporting process has been confusing for years, with rules at times unclear or directions inconsistent.

"I don't have any indication that TPS has done anything that was not fully communicated back and forth with folks within ODE, and certainly internally," Mr. Yates said. "I don't think [ODE direction] has been clear, and I don't think it's been consistent."

District officials point to past publicity about removals of test scores, called scrubbing, that they say failed to produce inquiry or direction from the education department, as evidence the department never clearly opposed the practice.

Has ODE, yet again, been asleep at the switch when it came to oversight responsibilities, or worse still, allowing the scrubbing with a wink and a nod?

Whatever all the ongoing investigations discover, Stan Heffner is not the only one having second thoughts about the shift to high stakes, Rep Stabelton, the chair of the House education committee is too

Rep. Gerald Stebelton (R-Lancaster), who is leading the process to develop the report card change, said he agrees with Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner's comment earlier this week that the report card might be becoming too important and is pressuring districts to achieve a high ranking.

"I don't disagree with that," he said in an interview. "I think what we need to focus on is educating these children and educating them to the best of our ability using a maximum amount of school time to do that as opposed to, perhaps some districts are choosing to direct their focus primarily to achieving a good score on a test. That's probably not a good idea.

"I think if you're directing, especially in elementary grades, if you're directing your attention to achieving a passing grade on a test, you're probably losing the culture of an excellent classroom where the culture breeds creativity and breeds a desire for learning as opposed to repetition."

Every policy prescription being passed or proposed over the last two years has been focused on the high stakes need to pass one form of test or another. Whether it's for a 3rd grade reading guarantee or a teachers career impacting evaluation.

Now we need to wait and see whether this new change of heart when it comes to school ratings is going to be reflected in new legislature, or whether policy makers and their enablers are going to have short memories, and long brooms with which to sweep the current imbroglio under the rug.

Opportunity Knocks

Here's a new one for the ol' Reformy Thesaurus: the "Opportunity Culture" in education.

Sure sounds good, doesn't it? Who doesn't want our American kids to have more opportunities in life? Except--oops--this campaign, rolled out by Public Impact, is actually about opportunities for "teacherpreneurs" to make more money by teaching oversized classes--and of course, for school districts to seize that same opportunity to save money through "innovative" staffing models.

How did this exciting window of opportunity emerge? Public Impact explains:

Only 25 percent of classes are taught by excellent teachers. With an excellent teacher versus an average teacher, students make about an extra half-year of progress every year--closing achievement gaps fast, leaping ahead to become honors students, and surging forward like top international peers.

That's a whole lot of leaping and surging. Unfortunately, it's based on a faux statistic, sitting triumphantly on a pyramid of dubious research, prettied up with some post-modern infographics. Like other overhyped blah-blah of "reform"--the "three great teachers in a row" myth, for example, or nearly every "fact" in Waiting for Superman--it's a triumph of slick media slogans over substance. A quick look at the Opportunity Culture Advisory Team tells you what the real purpose of the OC is: cutting teachers, privatizing services, plugging charters and cultivating a little astroturf to cover the scars.

The Opportunity Culture's bold plan begins with a policy recommendation: Schools should be required by law to identify the top 25% of their teachers. Then, once that simple task is completed, OC suggests ten exciting new models for staffing schools, beginning with giving these excellent teachers a lot more students (plus a merit pay carrot) and ending with enlisting "accountable remote teachers down the street or across the nation" who would "provide live, but not in-person instruction while on-site teammates manage administrative duties and develop the whole child."

[readon2 url="http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/teacher_in_a_strange_land/2012/05/heres_a_new_one_for.html"]Continue Reading...[/readon2]

Superintendents say proposed school grading system gets F

The proposed new Ohio school district grading scale isn’t getting enthusiastic support by some local superintendents.

“I don’t understand what our state is trying to do to our public schools,” Elyria City Schools Superintendent Paul Rigda said. “What do they want from us?”

It's a good question.Let's take a look at what the state intends to do. The table below analyzes how schools using the current rating system will be allocated new grades. For example, only 94 of 1452 schools currently rated as "excellent" will receive an "A" grade, 4 of them currently rated "Excellent", will receive a "D", which is sure to come as a shock, though perhaps not as shocking as the 2 schools currently rated "Effective" which will receive an "F".

Overall Grade
2011 Performance Rating A B C D F Grand Total
Academic Emergency - - - 40 119 159
Academic Watch - - - 145 58 203
Continuous Improvement - - 72 322 44 438
Effective - 182 464 193 2 841
Excellent 94 1227 127 4 - 1452
Excellent with Distinction 130 186 - - - 316
Grand Total 224 1595 663 704 223 3409

You can view the entire list of simulated school ratings, here (xls).

How does this happen? Well, the state has decided to change not only the grading system, because apparently parents aren't smart enough to differentiate between "excellent" and "Academic Emergency", a move described as "Insulting" by one suprintendent, but to also change how grades are calculated. The new formulation will rely heavily upon test scores.

  • Percentage of State Indicators Met
  • Performance Index (based on test scores)
  • Achievement and Graduation Gap (based on test scores)
  • Value-Added (based on test scores)

As we have talked about at length before, there's a significant element of socioeconomic factors that affect these results.

According to an Excel regression analysis of ODE data on the new system at the district level, demographics (poverty, income, property valuation, teacher salaries, educational attainment levels, etc.) produce an R-squared value of .48 for the new system vs. an R-squared of .45 for the previous system. The closer to 1 (or -1), the stronger the correlation.

Under this new system is it likely that at least 70% of schools will see their ratings drop.

“What system is this,” he said. “What’s the point?”

With the increased focus on school district ratings, he stated it has been some what of an uphill battle to keep teachers and staff focused.

By having to keep the teachers motivated and pumped up, in lieu of increased pressure by the state to perform on standardized test, the district is finding it hard.

He simply tells his staff to look to their students as their motivation.

“They are doing all of this (winning awards and honing their skills and talents) because of their education,” he said. “It’s taking a lot of work to keep them (teachers and staff) pumped up.

Motivating students and staff isn't the only problem. It may also have a deleterious effect on house prices, at a time when prices are already depressed

Obviously no one is arguing that the ONLY reason that people pay 214% more to live in New Albany is because of its schools, but let’s face it, it’s a huge selling point. You’ve seen the billboards advertising otherwise uninteresting, treeless tract houses in recently-converted farmland trumpeting access to “Dublin schools!” That will no longer mean much.

Under the new plan, parents seeking “the best schools” for their kids in Central Ohio would no longer look at Dublin, Upper Arlington or New Albany. In fact, the only top-rated district remaining in the entire region is Granville, 40 miles away in Licking County. Better get ready for a long commute, moms and dads! The same challenges face Cuyahoga county parents. Where home buyers previously had seven “top-rated” districts to choose from, now they only have two. Sorry North Olmsted, sorry Mayfield.

The obvious concern with this plan is the impact it will have on levies. Despite recent success in passing crucial levies, voters might be less inclined to continue to support schools they see as having been downgraded, or not rated "Excellent". When the state is rolling back its financial support for public schools, forcing them to rely more and more upon local sources of funding, this seems counter to that, in effect helping to cut off all sources of money leaving only drastic cuts as a means to balance already broken budgets.

Education News for 03-09-2012

Statewide Education News

  • State switching to new system of grading academic performance (Dispatch)
  • Ohio is about to lose nearly 95 percent of its “excellent” schools. Last year, 382 school districts and charter schools received an A, or excellent rating, on state-issued report cards. If a new evaluation system the state plans to start using this year had been in place, only 22 would have gotten an A — just one in central Ohio (Granville). In Franklin County, 11 of the 12 districts that earned A’s on last year’s report cards would drop to B’s, and one, South-Western City Schools, would fall to a C. Read More…

  • Schools from across Northeast Ohio, nation offer support to Chardon students (Plain Dealer)
  • CHARDON — Students at Chardon High School need only look to the hallways in their building to find encouragement. Banners, sympathy cards and private notes of well wishes from their peers at high schools and colleges throughout the region and across the country adorn the walls, offering support to help cope with the shootings Feb. 27 that left three students dead. The signs -- from schools like Aurora, Chagrin Falls, Mentor and Westlake -- carry messages like "We Support You," "We are all Hilltoppers," "Our hands hold you, Our hearts love you" and "One Heartbeat." Read More…

  • Ohio to toughen school, district rating system (Dayton Daily News)
  • There will be far fewer As on this year’s state-issued report cards under a new, more rigorous school rating system the state plans to start using. Only three of the 28 school districts in Montgomery, Greene, Miami and Warren counties that received Excellent or Excellent with Distinction ratings on last year’s report cards would get an A under the new system — Oakwood, Miami East and Mason. Last year, 382 school districts and charter schools in Ohio received the equivalent of an A, or excellent rating, but only 22 would have gotten that top grade if the new evaluation system had been in place. Read More…

Local Issues

  • Cleveland Mayor Jackson brings schools to forefront in 'State of the City' speech (Cleveland Business)
  • As he has in recent years, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson closed his annual State of the City address today by bringing to the forefront his effort to improve Cleveland's schools. He spoke in the address of plans for the lakefront and Public Square, and he ticked off a long list of accomplishments, including the financial stability of the city. But Mayor Jackson found his voice, one businessperson in attendance said, when he spoke about education. Read More…

  • Hathorn’s first report card: Good but not yet excellent (Vindicator)
  • Judging by the report card issued by the Youngstown Board of Education to Superintendent Connie Hathorn last week, one would not accuse the city school district’s policymakers of grade inflation. In their evaluation of Hathorn’s first year at the helm of the troubled city school district, board members rated the top administrator a 7 out of a possible 9 points across six categories, or roughly a B grade for “commendable” good work. Read More…

  • Special-needs restraint called means to safety (Dispatch)
  • To keep everyone safe, schools need to be able to restrain and isolate special-needs students when they become violent or disruptive, a national educators group says. And using “seclusion rooms” — sometimes called timeout rooms or quiet rooms — has allowed students whose disabilities once kept them from attending public schools to do so, the American Association of School Administrators said in a report released yesterday. The report was, in part, a response to a bill introduced in Congress in December that would limit the restraint or seclusion of students. Read More…

  • Lunch becomes a moneymaker for Springfield City Schools (News-Sun)
  • SPRINGFIELD — Springfield City Schools are figuring out ways to make more lunch money while saving taxpayer dollars. The district makes about 8,500 meals for its own students. Now, it’s also making 800 meals for other programs, including Springfield Head Start, Springfield Catholic Central, Clark County Educational Service Center and OIC of Clark County, said Chris Ashley, supervisor of food and nutrition for the district. Read More…