Surprise! Charters want even more money.

In testimony before the House Finance committee, Charter school operators and their boosters expressed sadness at the Governor's education budget. Despite school districts having to deduct $824 billion this school year to fund charter schools (most of which are failing), they want more. They argued they should receive

  • $5,704 per pupil, not $5,000, as the base amount (but would not answer the question of whether or not traditional public schools should receive a base amount higher than $5,000).
  • Up to $1,000 per pupil (instead of he proposed $100) for buildings and that online charter schools should also receive building funds

Only 5% of Ohio's students go to a charter school, and much less than 1% go to a quality one, yet charter operators and their boosters want more than 10% of the funding. These aren't fair or tennable requests being made, it is greed at the expense of the majority of students who choose to go to a traditional public school.

What Administrators Are Really Saying About Kasich’s School Plan

From our mailbag.

The Governor’s office deceptively highlighted the minority of Administrators across the state that are actually pleased with Kasich’s plan to make permanent his historic education cuts. What are school administrators among the 60% of districts receiving no additional state funding actually saying about Kasich’s plan?

  • “The statements the governor made are a damn lie.” – Arnol Elam, Superintendent of Franklin City Schools
  • “[We were] duped by Kasich. We got told all the right things, but he didn’t follow through. This is not what we were told.” – Bob Caldwell, Superintendent of Wolf Creek Local School District
  • “Everyone in the room when he [Kasich] announced his budget was misled.” – Roger Mace, Superintendent of Gallipolis City Schools
  • “This is really going to hurt us.” – Becki Peden, Huntington Local Schools Treasurer
  • “It just seems like the rich get richer, and the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves.” – Larry Hook, Superintendent of Carlisle Schools
  • “What the governor and his staff told us in Columbus just was not true… Five of the seven districts will not receive any more money [in fiscal year 2014].” – John Rubesich, Superintendent of the Ashtabula County Educational Services Center
  • “Instead of closing the gap between poor and wealthy districts, it appears to be exacerbated.” – Tom Perkins, Superintendent of Northern Local Schools of Perry County
  • Aurora Schools Treasurer Bill Volsin said his district will receive the exact same amount from the state as it did last year. While state government officials say Aurora will receive almost half a million more in 2014, Volsin and Superintendent Russ Bennett claim that isn’t true. – Auora Advocate, 2/13/13

10 most inaccurate ed reform axioms

The Washington post has a list of the 10 most inaccurate and damaging statements that some school reformers toss around.

Here’s the list:

1. High-stakes standardized test data produce the fairest, most reliable, and least expensive evidence of student comprehension as well as teacher ability.

2. High-stakes standardized tests are updated routinely to eliminate confusing and/or culturally biased aspects, and questions on these tests are comprehensible by any child who can read on grade level.

3. Testing anxiety is rare, affects mostly low-achieving students, and has a minimal impact on test results.

4. High-stakes tests do not take an unreasonable amount of time for students to complete and test preparation does not take an unreasonable amount of instructional time throughout the year.

5. We would coddle and ultimately damage kids who receive special accommodations if we taught and/or tested them according to their ability to read and comprehend English. The fairest way to teach and test high-needs kids is in the same classroom, with the same curriculum, and with the same high-stakes tests (in addition to other high-stakes tests) as kids who don’t receive any special accommodations.

6. Poverty and high class size don’t matter when you have high standards.

7. The Common Core State Standards will significantly increase student achievement while saving taxpayer money.

8. Charter schools are more effective at instructing kids than nearby public schools and can do so for less money without putting financial burdens on nearby public school districts.

9. Parents have more decision-making power at charter schools than at public schools and the upcoming feature film, “Won’t Back Down” accurately depicts how parents are empowered to fix failing schools once parent trigger laws are in place.

10. Business leaders should run public schools and school systems because they are usually successful when permitted to apply a corporate model to public education.

Accountability for vouchers

On the idea of vouchers in the new world of accountability

The rise of testing-based accountability measures immeasurably complicates this argument for vouchers. Under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, public schools have to demonstrate their performance on certain standardized measures in order to receive funding. Race to the Top further centralizes educational affairs by encouraging states to adopt a nationwide core curriculum and by emphasizing a testing-driven component for teacher evaluations. The argument on behalf of such measures is that public dollars demand proof that they will be spent in a valuable way, and standardized testing is, apparently, the best way to establish this value. (Yes, this argument may be flawed in many, many ways, but let us leave that to the side for the moment as well.) If one wants to establish a centralized, federally-run public school system, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top provide a sturdy foundation for that enterprise.

If, however, one wants to support a pluralist, voucher-driven kind education reform, this movement toward standards-based accountability could prove much more problematic. If the premise of this accountability is that public dollars require proof of effectiveness, what is the reason for demanding that a school run as a public institution (that is, a public school) should be held to any different standard than a school run as a private institution? Both would receive tax dollars from state and potentially local and federal governments: why should they be held to two different standards?
Once you've bought into the idea that standardized testing establishes a school's quality, it becomes harder to resist the idea that public money ought to go only to those private entities that have demonstrated their effectiveness in teaching. Moreover, these standards for accountability will, as both Louisiana and federal reforms demonstrate, tend to come from bureaucrats working in central government offices.

Under a universalized voucher program and homogenous standards system, the federal government, which would be the engine that de facto drives education policy under this "reformist" vision, would have increasing control over private schools. Why? Over a period of years, private schools would become increasingly dependent upon government tax dollars, and he who pays the piper picks the tune. Maybe not now, maybe not a few years from now, but eventually legislators and regulators could start placing further demands upon these newly dependent private schools. After all, if education is truly in a state of crisis, shouldn't government be demanding the best from schools in exchange for the taxpayer's hard-earned dollars?

In Ohio, much of this discussion has already begun to happen.

  • A 2009 newspaper report titled "Ohio voucher students must do better on tests "
  • But that doesn't mean these schools [voucher eecipients] — and their students — shouldn't be held accountable.

    That's needed more than ever after the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that voucher students performed poorly on state achievement tests.

    An analysis of about 2,900 students revealed that six in 10 did not pass math, science or social studies, four in 10 failed reading and three in 10 failed writing.

  • A 2010 article titled "Voucher students' test scores lag"
  • Several thousand Ohio students who used Education Choice scholarships to attend private schools are doing no better than students at the public schools they left behind, state test data show.

  • A 2011 report titled "Ohio Vouchers Fail to Raise Student Achievement"
  • The latest data from the Ohio Department of Education showed that students in the state’s voucher programs did not perform better academically than their peers in public schools. In fact, public school students outscored those in voucher schools in many cases.

  • And when voucher students were compared to the much maligned Cleveland Schools, this headline was produced "Cleveland students hold their own with voucher students on state tests"
  • The push is on to expand school voucher programs in Ohio, but new state data suggests that students who attend private schools with the help of taxpayer-funded vouchers don't necessarily fare better academically than the children they leave behind.

    Cleveland public school students often outperformed voucher students on 2009-10 state proficiency tests, according to data from the Ohio Department of Education.

As the article we opened with discusses, tax payers are unlikely to want to see their precious dollars fund private schools, in light of the overwhelming evidence that these private schools are producing results no better, and in many cases, a lot worse than their public school alternatives.

It would be reasonable to suggest that we ought to have accountability for private schools that receive tax dollars. If they cannot produce results as good as, or better, than their public school counterparts, they ought not to be able to continue to receive tax payer assistance.

If we are to continue to pursue a policy of choice, we have a duty to ensure those choices are of the highest possible quality available, and that goes for private schools too.

3rd grade retention plan could cost $500 million

One of the signature policy initiatives in the Kasich MBR is the proposed change in the 3rd grade reading guarantee.

Specifically, according to LSC analysis, the bill (SB316) makes several changes to the third grade reading guarantee beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. Under current law, the third grade reading guarantee requires school districts and community schools to retain in third grade a student who scores in the "limited" range on the third grade English language arts assessment, unless the student's principal and reading teacher agree that the student is academically prepared for fourth grade or the student will receive intervention services in fourth grade. The bill changes the "cut" score and applies the guarantee to all students who do not receive at least a "proficient" (or passing) score on the assessment. The "limited" score, which currently triggers the guarantee, is the lowest of five scoring ranges and two levels below "proficient."

In short, more students will be held back, and less flexibility will be granted to educators in determining if a student who misses the proficient level can proceed to the fourth grade.

None of this expansion is funded, so let's take a look at what this policy might additionally cost cash strapped schools.

In October 2011, a total of 126,569 3rd grade Ohio public school students participated in the Reading Achievement Test. Here are the aggregated results, according to ODE statistics.

Level Number Percent
Advanced 22,987 18.2%
Accelerated 23,619 18.7%
Proficient 28,038 22.2%
Basic 23,574 18.6%
Limited 28,351 22.4%

In recent years the number of students scoring proficient or higher has varied from a high of 67.5% to a low of 53.3%. Remember, according to the new proposal, any student scoring below proficient is likely to be held back and made to repeat 3rd grade.

Again, according to ODE statistics, the median cost per pupil in Ohio per year in 2011 was $9,567.89, with an average of $9,961.57.

Under the new rules, the 51,925 students who failed to reach the minimum proficiency standard would have been at risk of being held back. At a median cost of $9,961 per student, districts could be on the hook for a total of $517,224,925 to fund that many students repeating 3rd grade.

To put that into some perspective, the crisis in Cleveland public schools is caused by a budget shortfall of $65 million. This unfunded manade could pay for that shortfall 8 times over.

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.