Dispatch must apologize

The school attendance erasures issue continues to be a scandal that isn't. Despite finding nothing more than bureaucratic missteps in his first interim report, the State Auditor has now released a second interim report that has found no evidence of wrongdoing at a further batch of schools.

Just two weeks before school districts across Ohio ask voters for more money, state Auditor Dave Yost reported that his team has not uncovered any more evidence of scrubbing student attendance data.

In the latest update, Yost said auditors examined records at 81 schools in 47 districts and cleared all but eight of the 81. Testing at those eight buildings as well as 15 other buildings from the first interim report is still underway, Yost said. A final report is due sometime around Jan. 1.

Twenty of the 81 schools examined in this round had reporting errors but not enough to suggest scrubbing.
“Odds are most districts are reporting their attendance data accurately and they’re not scrubbing,” Yost said at a press conference Tuesday.

Again, simply some bureaucratic missteps caused by "the sheer complexity of the accountability system" as the Auditor himself describes it, in his conclusion.

This is a far cry from the irresponsible reporting and opinionating that the Columbus Dispatch has engaged in for a number of months now. Time and time again they have failed to wait for the evidence, and instead jumped to conclusions and made inferences that turned out to be incorrect.

Rather than bemoan the slipping away of a potential Pulitzer, they surely thought they were earning, they ought to have some serious introspection on how they could have gotten a story so very wrong and caused Ohio's schools systems so much trouble.

They have slandered and smeared thousands of public school employees up and down the state with their reckless allegations and accusations. They need to apologize and accept responsibility.

Second Interim Report on Student Attendance and Accountability System

UPDATED: Auditors Interim Attendance Report Released

The Auditor of State has released his interim report on the school attendance erasures issue.

The first observation from reading this 57 page document, is that very few schools have been completely investigated, and of those that have, little if any wrong doing has been found.

Instead what has been discovered are significant levels of bureaucratic oversights, in many cases excused by the complexity of the system designed by multiple layers of state and federal law.

The practices of Toledo are a good example

After news reports that Columbus CSD altered student attendance data, Toledo CSD publicly announced they too scrubbed attendance data. Toledo CSD officials indicated they understood these practices (i.e., removing students with a high number of absences) to be allowable. AOS met with representatives of Toledo at which time Toledo CSD explained its practice of removing students with five consecutive days of unexcused absences and a total of 20 unexcused absences throughout the school year. Toledo CSD has been using the “5/20” rule for withdrawing students since 2001. However, until 2005, Toledo CSD actively removed these students throughout the school year. In 2005, Toledo CSD lost several high‐level administrators to Cleveland MSD. Toledo CSD subsequently hired new administrators and in 2006 the local report card ratings fell since the “5/20” rule for withdrawing students was no longer in place. After realizing lower report card rankings, Toledo CSD administrators decided to reinstitute the “5/20” rule for withdrawing students in the following school year. However, instead of withdrawing students throughout the school year, Toledo CSD waited until after they received the first report from the Secure Data Center from ODE during the reporting period projecting the district’s report card rankings. Toledo CSD informed AOS that they removed all students that met the 5/20 criteria, regardless of assessment test score results for the affected students. However, AOS is still investigating these claims and will report its results later.

Cleveland's prevalent practices of removing truants also appears to fall into this category of bureaucratic non compliance, rather than "cheating"

Based on the information gathered to date, it appears evident that none or virtually none of the student files previously requested will include necessary supporting documentation related to the attendance event causing the student to be pushed to the State during the 2010‐2011 school year. Additionally, it appears Cleveland MSD potentially removed truant students under code 71 without full completion and documentation of truancy due process.

Again, the auditor has yet to fully complete an investigation of this district, noting "AOS is currently obtaining electronic data in an attempt to determine the impact of Cleveland MSD processes and procedures on accountability reporting and we will report results in a later report."

In Marion, another district the Auditor looked at, again no wrong doing was found

During the course of testing, AOS noted numerous instances of students being automatically transferred to the Marion Digital Academy during the 2010‐11 school year. As such, these students were included on the list of those students being pushed to the State and excluded from District report card results.
AOS identified 46 students transferring to Marion City Digital Academy during the 2010‐2011 school year with no parent or guardian initiation or approval included in Marion CSD’s student files.

Just more bureaucratic mis-steps. And more in Campbell City Schools

AOS tested Memorial High and Campbell Middle Schools at Campbell CSD (Mahoning County), identifying 11 (High School) and 29 (Middle School) students, respectively, that did not have supporting documentation available in the student files to support breaks in enrollment related to the following withdrawal reasons: Verified Medical, Truancy, Expulsion, and Homeschool.

And once again the Auditor notes, "AOS is continuing to investigate these retroactive withdrawals and will report further results later."

Forgive us for being unimpressed both with the how these interim findings are not matching up with a lot of the breathless allegations of "cheating" claimed by some in the media, and also by the sloth like progress being made by the Auditor of state.

It appears that the vast number of attendance erasures might in fact be legitimate, but simply not supported by documentation, as districts had poor policies and procedures in place to record and store the documentation. Furthermore, ODE, despite it's claims to the contrary have not been clear on what is required

The results of our statewide assessment indicate that there are a number of areas requiring centralized, improved ODE guidance and immediate clarification. ODE should use this report as a management tool to identify critical Accountability systems and weaknesses requiring enhancement to aid Ohio schools in Accountability determinations and reporting.

The Auditors list of recommendations is replete with calls for legislative changes, indicating that the current system is inadequate, and not the fault of districts

To strengthen and foster consistency in the reporting of approved homeschooling, ODE should consider requesting the General Assembly to amend the authorities and powers of ESC’s to approve homeschooling for all Ohio school districts, including city and exempt village districts.
The General Assembly should provide authority for ODE to collect personally identifiable information, such as student names, to enable ODE to work cooperatively with the Ohio Juvenile Court system and DYS tracking and reporting truant students.
The General Assembly should establish a single statewide student information system so that all data is uniform, uniformly reported, and accessible for data mining. Alternatively if such is not feasible the General Assembly should require ODE to approve the Student Information System used by each district in the state to ensure it meets requirements.
EMIS monitoring functions should be performed by an independent agency or commission appointed by the General Assembly.

Not mentioned anywhere in this report - how any of this has adversely affected student education. Neither does the Auditor indicate what the cost might be both to districts and to the state if full compliance and his recommendations were implemented.


Acting State Superintendent Sawyer just released the following statement

Good morning:

As anticipated from our communication yesterday, here is a link to the Auditor of State’s Interim Report on Student Attendance Data and the Accountability System released this morning. The report also is available here on our Quick Links page. We are pleased that the report shows that most districts visited to date by the auditor’s staff are compliant with legal and reporting requirements. However, as the report indicates, the investigation is ongoing and the Auditor’s Office will continue to review attendance data for all schools. Regardless of your participation to date in the ongoing investigation, I encourage you to read the interim report to reinforce the attendance policies, administrative guidelines and reporting requirements required by your school or district.

Next Monday during their regularly scheduled meeting, the State Board of Education will hear a report from the Auditor of State’s Office, which will result in discussion related to the impact of the interim report findings and the Local Report Cards. I will update you next week on the status of the Local Report Cards and access to the Secure Data Center.

Thank you,

Michael L. Sawyers
Acting Superintendent of Public Instruction

Final Interim ADM Report 10052012

Education News for 07-13-2012

Statewide Stories of the Day

  • Senate explores limits to schools’ use of restraints (Dispatch)
  • WASHINGTON — Violently restraining and secluding problematic students in small, inescapable areas actually increases assaults and behavior problems, experts yesterday told a Senate committee that is considering legislation to curtail the practice. Many schools rely on seclusion and restraint to control students with behavior problems, especially minorities and those with disabilities, according to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Read more...

  • Officials stress literacy — by reading to preschoolers (News-Sun)
  • SPRINGFIELD — A new law requiring children to read on grade level to move past the third grade has made literacy at an early age more critical than ever for Ohio families, according to local officials. State Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, and Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly visited Creative World of Learning, a local child care center, to read with preschool students and stress the importance of literacy skills Thursday morning. Read more...

  • Lisbon holding out hope for an ‘A’ (Morning Journal)
  • LISBON -While the school district is currently expected to receive a B on the next state report card, it could still earn an A by the time the report cards are issued next month. School Superintendent Don Thompson reported at this week's school board meeting preliminary results have the district receiving an "effective rating," or B, but they could end up with an A, or "excellent rating" once the value-added component is figured in, which has yet to be done. Read more...

Local Issues

  • Pay-to-play at Frontier tabled; lunch costs to increase (Marietta Times)
  • NEW MATAMORAS - The Frontier Local Board of Education tabled a proposal to charge a participation fee for sports Thursday and voted to increase student lunch prices by a quarter. The agenda for the board's regular meeting Thursday included an item to approve an athletic participation fee of $25 per sport, with an annual maximum of $50 for one student and $75 for one family. The subject was broached at the June board meeting, but Superintendent Bruce Kidder and board members said Thursday they hadn't received any input from residents about the policy. Read more...

  • Brecksville-Broadview Heights school board will continue with negotiations (Sun News)
  • In response to the July 11 announcement that the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Education Association had taken a strike authorization vote, the Brecksville-Broadview Heights school board said it will continue to negotiate with the unions on a fair and equitable contract. The vote does not mean that the union is on strike or will strike. It means that if the board forces a contract on the union, the union could give a 10-day notice and then strike. As of now, the board has not forced a contract on the union. Read more...

  • West Geauga School District earns award for financial reporting (News-Herald)
  • The Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting has been awarded to the West Geauga School District by the Government Financial Officers Association of the U.S. and Canada for its comprehensive annual financial report. The award is the highest form of recognition in the area of governmental accounting and financial reporting and its attainment represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management. Read more...

The diminished power of the press

The governor wasn't the only big loser last night. In fact, he probably wasn't even the biggest loser. That accolade might well be laid at the door of Ohio's print media. In usual tradition, each of Ohio's major newspapers made their endorsements to both fanfare and derision, but as the State Troopers Association notes not so ironically on the Facebook page

Ohio State Troopers Association (O.S.T.A.)
Newspaper Endorsements: Building a Better Ohio trumpeted the endorsements of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Columbus Dispatch. A review of the clout of these endorsements discloses the Dispatch endorsement produced a 36/64% vote against Issue #2 in Franklin County. The Plain Dealer did even worse, helping Issue #2 to a better than two to one thumping and the Cincinnati Enquirer endorsement preceded a 42/58% vote against Issue #2.

Is it any wonder that the printed media is looking so economically unstable. The real endorsements were found in the millions of social network pages that served as a peoples press.

Quite. But that is not all. Plunderbund, in their long SB5 reaction piece makes mention of this too

The irrelevancy of newspaper endorsements

Building a Better Ohio made much to do about getting the endorsements of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Columbus Dispatch.

Here’s the splits on Issue 2 for those counties:

Cuyahoga: 31% (endorsed position)/69% (against endorsed position).
Franklin: 36%/64%.
Hamilton: 42%/58%.
The Dispatch and Plain Dealer saw their endorsed position perform substantially worse in their home counties than they did overall. How is endorsing a position that is opposed by roughly two-thirds of your customer base smart business?

Let’s also not forget that it was many of these media outlets who called labor “foolish” for risking an all-or-nothing political gamble on a referendum campaign, even as polls at the time showed them with twenty-point leads. That was the main argument for a compromise… because Issue 2 was too divisive. Issue 2 won by almost the same margin as Ted Strickland did against Ken Blackwell in 2006. Nobody called Strickland’s election “divisive” with those numbers.

Keep in mind, there wasn’t a single newspaper in Ohio that endorsed Issue 3, either. There is nothing in the 2011 results to suggest that these endorsement brought about anything but cancelled subscriptions.

We raised this question, with the Editor of the Dispatch, Ben Marrison, about newspapers making endorsements and how they might cause readers to question the partiality of the Dispatch's reporting. The reply

@jointhefutureOH Newsroom doesn't make endorsements. We just write stories.

We replied "@dispatcheditor Yeah, but do you think readers really make a distinction? Newspapers should get out of the endorsement biz, and just report."

Given that newspaper endorsements no longer appear to carry any influence, and rightly run the risk of alienating readers, subscribers, advertisers and raising doubt on the partiality of reporting, should newspaper endorsements be cast into the dustbin of history? We believe they should be.