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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Gov. John Kasich to blame for Ohio Auditor's Mockery of Ohio Dept. of Educationt?

Lost in Monday's announcement by Ohio Auditor David Yost that Ohio's Department of Education is "among the worst, if not the worst-run state agency in state government" is an obvious question: "Why?"

Well, may I offer an answer -- a failure of leadership in the governor's mansion. Why do I say that?

Because John Kasich is now on his 6th State Superintendent of Public Instruction -- two of whom had to resign amidst scandal. Here's the list:

1) Deb Delisle -- Kasich bullied her into resigning, which ended up OK because she was appointed the Assistant Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education and became among the most respected Assistant Secretaries in history.

2) Stan Heffner -- He took over, but only lasted a few months after the state's inspector general found that he had been lobbying for a private education company he wanted to work for.

3) Michael Sawyers -- He served as interim Superintendent while Kasich searched for a replacement.

4) Richard Ross -- Kasich's former education czar, who infamously once told a room full of Appalachian superintendents that their communities weren't as poor as they claimed, was the longest serving Superintendent. His term was rocked by scandals, as it was found that he was going behind the State Board of Education's back on the Youngstown Plan and he oversaw the David Hansen scandal.

5) Lonnie Rivera -- Served for a few months as Department head, though long enough to pen a response to the federal government's questions about Ohio's charter school grant application that netted the state $71 million to increase high-quality charters here.

6) Paolo DeMaria -- Current State Superintendent who has made several questionable assertions about various education policies.

So, that's 6 superintendents in 5 years. Remember that Kasich's predecessor had two in 4 years, keeping his predecessor's superintendent for his first two years in office.

Notice I'm not mentioning the State Board of Education in this post. Technically, the superintendent works for the board. But in this era of hyper-politicization of the department, it's clear that this choice is the Governor's.

Let me ask you all out there a question: If you had 6 bosses in 5 years, how well do you think your operation would run?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ECOT Fails to Graduate More Students Than All Ohio School Districts ... COMBINED

I'm not much for anonymous comments to blogs and newspapers. Anyone can pop off and hide beyond anonymity. So I probably won't ever know the anonymous poster here who mocked my ignorance of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) in 2009 and suggested that ECOT -- the nationally ridiculed Ohio virtual school -- actually does a good job because they graduate 5% of all Ohio high school graduates.

Here's the posting from my Courageous Tormentor:

"How pathetic that you state that you didn't know much about ECOT at the time, even though ECOT had been in existence since 2000. 9 years of being blissfully ignorant of the largest online school in the state. Really? It seems to me that you took an interest in Ecot only when it became politically expedient. There is a reason that 5% of the entire state's graduates come from Ecot, and it's not because they were getting the quality education from their home schools."
In 2009, I was still relatively fresh to the charter school thing, having been involved primarily in the David Brennan saga because I was a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal -- Brennan's hometown newspaper. I had heard of ECOT, but until I took to the road in 2009, I didn't know it in detail.

My focus that year was on fixing the funding system for the 1.7 million kids who aren't in Ohio's charters -- a legislative mandate that had been failed to be addressed for about 30 years. When the bill was done, the work won national awards from non-partisan education policy observers. The hearings I held, though, were dominated by charter talk. So I learned a lot more about charters during those hearings.

However, it isn't my actual "pathetic" admission of learning something that troubles me the most about my Courageous Tormentor. It's this idea that because ECOT graduates a bunch of kids it's doing a good job. While ECOT may account for 5% of Ohio's high school graduates, it accounts for more students who don't graduate than (drumroll please) all Ohio school districts combined! If ECOT were the 610th Ohio school district (under Ohio law, charters are treated as districts), it would account for more than 1/2 of all non-graduating seniors in this state.

There were 2,918 ECOT kids who didn't graduate in four years, according to the latest state report card, and 1,852 who did. Statewide, school districts failed to graduate 2,626 and graduated 27,748.

That's simply astounding.

So while my Courageous Tormentor may believe that because ECOT has a lot of graduates ECOT works, perhaps the reason there are more ECOT students who fail to graduate than all Ohio school districts put together is because it is ECOT, not my Courageous Tormentor's reviled home schools, that have utterly failed them.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

New York Times: ECOT causes more dropouts than any school in nation

When I was Education subcommittee chairman of the House Finance and Appropriations Committee in 2009, I held a series of hearings around the state about Gov. Ted Strickland's sweeping education policy and finance reform bill. One of those hearings was set in Southeast Ohio -- the heart of Appalachia.

During the course of the hearings, George Wood -- a principal in the Federal Hocking school district -- was asked a pertinent question by my ranking member at the time Seth Morgan. Morgan asked Wood if he knew there would be no additional money, would he take back the kids from failing charter schools.

Wood (who is now Federal Hocking's superintendent) said, without a second of hesitation, "Yes. Let me save the kids." Wood was so concerned about the education kids in his district weren't getting in charters that he would take them back without any funding. There was only one school he called out by name that evening -- ECOT.

I admit, at the time, I didn't know much about ECOT. But the whole world knows about it now. That's because the country's newspaper of record -- the New York Times -- has revealed that ECOT causes more dropouts than any other school in the country. And the guy running it -- William Lager -- is making a ton of money doing it.

Is it shocking that Lager is one of the largest political contributors in the state? Of course not.

My issues with ECOT are no secret. I repeat them in the Times story.

I won't re-hash Ohio's sordid affair with Mr. Lager's cash cow. However, I will say this: It's time for ECOT to close. This school -- the nation's largest run by a for-profit entity -- is a national embarrassment. Their excuse for failing to graduate even 40% of their kids -- that they receive tough kids to educate -- is the exact argument urban districts made 20 years ago at the charter school movement's birth. And it was that argument that drove many into the warm embrace of the "no excuses" movement.

ECOT takes kids from nearly every district in the state, yet it wants to only be compared with urban districts, whose far greater challenges would crush Lager's feeble operation.

The bottom line for me is this: it is a crime that what Lager is doing isn't illegal.

I was beyond encouraged by state Sen. Peggy Lehner's response to the Times. Lehner is the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee.
".. at some point, you have to say your model isn't working, and if your model is not working, perhaps public dollars shouldn't be going to pay for it." 
Exactly, Madam Chair.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Guy Who Claimed Charters Don't Cost Districts Money Named State Superintendent

Paolo DeMaria, who rather infamously made the claim in 2012 (video part 8, starting at 7:30) that the way Ohio's charter schools are funded doesn't impact school district bottom lines because school districts have both fully state funded kids and fully locally funded kids, is the state's new Superintendent of Public Instruction.

As anyone who looks at a school finance report knows, all Ohio public school kids receive both local and state revenue. Don't believe me? Ask you local school district whether your kid is fully state funded or fully locally funded. You'll get a crazy look (or crickets on the phone).

The impact charter funding has on local districts is real and significant. Which is why legislators now understand that they have to fix the way Ohio funds its charter schools so it doesn't have as much of an adverse impact on kids not in charters.

Will DeMaria go along with this recent commitment? Or will he continuously, erroneously suggest that kids who go to charters don't impact districts financially? In 2012, his word was gospel. Now, after several years of new thinking on the issue and partnering across ideological lines, DeMaria's out of step.

DeMaria also is of the opinion that more money doesn't improve student performance. This is a classic fallacy employed by many in the free market reform movement. The problem is it compares dollars spent with increases in test scores, claiming that if test scores don't go up at the same rate as the spending, then clearly spending more doesn't matter.

However, dollars are different from test scores (for a detailed explanation of this difference, read this peer-reviewed article). So, for example, if a district spends 200% more today than it did 10 years ago, but test scores are stagnant, that doesn't mean anything. Why? Because the test scores can only go so high, especially given how closely tied they are to poverty. The article I mentioned above explained that according to DeMaria's calculus, test scores would have to be nearly twice as high as the maximum a student can receive in order to equal the same percentage increase as the funding.

In other words, you won't ever see the same percentage increase in test scores that you do in funding. Because they're not the same types of numbers.

DeMaria knows his stuff. There's no question about that. He has the respect of the education policy wonks in Columbus. However, as you can see with his previously cherry picked (or made up) use of data, he has a nasty habit of juicing the ball, depending on his audience.

And while that means he survives well in public service, that's concerning as a matter of public policy.

In his new role as State Superintendent, it will be interesting to see if he manipulates data to further agendas, or whether he'll use his considerable knowledge to make an honest assessment of the state's school system. Given the department's recent history of glossing over data to further agendas, this is a legitimate concern.

I'm hoping for the best.

But I've seen his worst.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Transparency Comes via HB 2

One of the first tangible changes in Ohio's Charter School regime just made an appearance. The first official Ohio Department of Education Charter School Operator database -- required last year under HB 2 -- has been posted.

Now for folks in other states, it may not seem like a big deal that we now track which charter management organizations run which Ohio charter schools. But we haven't done this in the 17 years since charters started running here in Ohio.

Prior to this database, we had to piece together which operators ran which schools through outside sources, industry folks or word of mouth (and we did our best to capture this at

And while this new ODE database doesn't denote which operators are for or non-profit, it does list their address and contact information, bringing much needed transparency.

Considering that last year the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Ohio's charter school operators could sell back the property they purchased for a school to the school, even if the school dropped the operator because it sucked, this is a big step forward for our state (by the way, HB 2 undid that Supreme Court ruling too).

Even though folks in other states will see this as the most common sense of common sense ideas, it's still incredibly important for Ohio to take this baby step toward charter school respectability.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Ohio Teacher Data: Charters Flooded with First-Year Teachers

One of the signs of a healthy charter school sector is whether teachers want to teach in the schools. Teachers are like the canary in a coal mine; if they flock to the school, it's probably doing all right, regardless of the test scores; if they don't, well, perhaps the performance data means more.

So even though charter schools overall perform worse than Ohio's local public schools, perhaps teachers want to teach in them because of the innovative environments they create, regardless of performance data. And if the schools can attract those kinds of teachers, perhaps the performance data will turn around for these schools.

After all, charter schools were started by teachers who wanted to do their thing without as much bureaucratic intervention.

What's fascinating is that in about 15% of Ohio's charter schools, the average teacher experience is 0 years. What's that mean? It means the typical teacher in these schools have never taught before. That's just stunning, frankly. How stunning?

Two of the 3,127 traditional public school buildings that reported teacher data have an average teacher experience of 0 years. There are 59 charters out of the 289 charters that have average teacher experience data listed at the Ohio Department of Education whose average teacher experience is 0. That number could be higher because about 100 dropout recovery charters aren't included in the state's building-level teacher data. So out of Ohio's 3,415 schools that reported teacher data to the state and have average teacher experience of 0 years, all but 2 are charters.

So what that tells us is in many cases, charters are populating their teacher ranks with freshly minted teachers who couldn't find jobs in their local public school districts. In other words, Ohio charters are the stepping stone to a public school job, not the destination.

This is not the case everywhere, though. There are 19 charters with average teacher experience levels that are 10 years or greater, which is about 5% of all charters. About 84% of local school buildings have that level of experience.

In fact, 0 is the most frequently reported average level of teacher experience in an Ohio charter (the mode, for you statistical nerds). For local public school buildings? Try 12. The average level of experience in an Ohio charter is about 6 years. In local public schools, it's about 13.

Much of this, you may say, is driven by pay. The median Ohio charter pays its teachers, on average, $33,905. In a local district building, that's $55,815. However, take the level of experience into account (at this point experience remains the biggest cost driver on teacher salaries) and the numbers don't seem so disparate. The average starting salary in Ohio (remember that Ohio charters are filled with starting teachers) is $33,096. So considering that most teachers in Ohio charters are on the lower end of the experience spectrum, that salary isn't far off. In other words, beginning teachers may actually make about $900 a year more in a charter than the average Ohio district.

And while charter proponents may jump on the fact that charters spend about $1,400 less than local public schools, as I've pointed out in this space, because charters don't pay for busing and are exempt from many regulations, they could spend the same per pupil amount in the classroom as districts, if they would spend what districts do on administration. Instead, charters spend about $1,000 more per student on administrative, non-instructional costs.

I should say that more experience doesn't necessarily mean better teaching. According to Linda Darling-Hammond's work, the evidence indicates that while experience tends to trump inexperience, after about 5 years, the experience factor is far less determinant of teacher quality.

In other words, a 15-year teacher is probably more effective than a first-year teacher. But the performance difference between a 15-year teacher and a 5-year teacher is far less noticeable, if it's there at all.

We see this play out in Ohio's experience. Some of the highest performing charter schools in the state, like Columbus Prep and the Intergenerational School in Cleveland, have an average teacher experience level of 5 years.

However, more unsettling is that 199 of the 289 charters reporting teacher data to the state -- about 70% -- have experience levels less than 5, which means in about 70% of Ohio charter schools, the research tells us that teacher inexperience is likely having an impact on teaching quality. And that could be helping to drive down charter performance.

Ultimately, though, these state teacher data tell us where the destination schools are for teachers -- where they want to be. And in the many cases, it appears that here in Ohio charters are NOT the places they seek. Charters are, instead, their fall back.

Making charters more of a destination for the state's brightest and best teachers should help these teacher experience figures as teachers enter the charter and stay for many years, creating the innovative and awesome teaching environments these schools were originally intended to foster.

Until that happens, it appears that Ohio charters remain fall back options for Ohio's teachers, not the kind of place they want to spend a career. And that's a problem.

Monday, March 28, 2016

New Proper Perspective: Even if You Hate Testing, Opting Out Can be Worse Under Current System

 Does Opting Out of state testing help or hurt kids?

I know that you were especially concerned about opt-outs in Northeast Ohio after hearing that Lorain would be hit hard. Indeed, that district was. I was surprised, and glad, that the vast majority of Ohio districts didn't see grades plummet from low participation rates; still, it's alarming to see a school like Indianola K–8 (a Columbus arts magnet program in my own neighborhood of Clintonville) receive an F on Performance Index because of its number of opt-outs. Based on your discussions with superintendents, do you think the opt-out movement is gaining or losing steam? How can we make parents more aware that it's hurting their schools, their districts, and historically underserved kids, for whom accurate and reliable data systems are most important? 

I too am concerned about the opt-out problem. I believe that more opt-outs are going to become the norm, at least judging from discussions among folks with whom I'm allied. I'll be curious to see if more conservative folks, whose opposition to Common Core seemed to drive some opting out last year, will continue with the new regime. What many of the opt-out parents don't understand is that opting out can really hurt their schools and kids. That's because opt-outs hurt districts' Performance Index (PI) scores. If PI drops, that matters because the scores are used for many purposes, from determining which districts qualify for new charter schools (which, interestingly, are the devil to many of the same opt-out people) to determining whether a school has to be reconstituted or closed. If these consequences are triggered, we theoretically want them to be based on performance, not lack of participation. 

As a parent of an eleven-year-old with test anxiety, I get that people don't like all the testing. But we still need a way to determine how kids are doing. Where you and I may diverge is whether the tests should determine things like whether a school or district is punished, or even closed. But that's another perspective for another day. Under the current accountability regime, though, there is little doubt that opting out hurts kids and schools overall. As I've said before, testing isn't the problem; kids have been tested since we started educating them. What we do with the testing, and how it can lead to serious consequences for students’ educational opportunities—that's the source of my side's greatest objections.

I imagine that the PARCC tests drove opt-outs last year, so I’m hopeful that this year—with AIR assessments that are shorter and developed directly by the Ohio Department of Education with the input of Ohio teachers—parents will have less reason to conscientiously object. We’re on the same page regarding the fact that opting out really hurts schools and kids. For folks that dislike charter schools (or vouchers), that’s an interesting point to raise to them regarding the importance of full participation so that schools and districts don’t wrongly wind up on the charter/voucher eligibility lists. I’m pro-charter and pro-income-targeted-voucher, but if that argument works for the opt-out crowd, so be it. They need to consider the consequences of their decisions. To me, there’s also a moral argument worth pointing out to parents. As my colleague Robert Pondiscio has pointed out, “Those most likely to be negatively affected by the opt-out impulse are low-income children of color, for whom testing has been a catalyst for attention and mostly positive change.” But for parents who feel strongly about standardized testing, how can they be convinced otherwise? Even when evidence points to the damage of opting out—to their schools and to the accountability system as a whole (and specifically to poor students)—is that enough to change their minds?

I think educating parents is a big part of this. In my district, we had zero opt-outs last year. That was primarily due to some good, vigilant administrators nipping issues in the bud. I think we have to explain to the viscerally opposed parents that standardized testing has been and will be around for a long time. It is, after all, difficult to find purely original tests. Their objection, which I believe to be well founded, is centered on the use of the standardized tests for accountability purposes. After all, every report card measure (except graduation rate) simply represents a different way of breaking down the test scores, whether for student growth or demographic group. 

However, it only measures how kids perform during a few of the thousand hours they spend in school over a year. I think deemphasizing the test score in the accountability structure and including better, more sophisticated assessments of things like love of learning, creativity, critical thinking, practical skills and other very important, yet currently un-assessed measures, will engender more confidence in the accountability system.

But we have to explain to parents that the SAT, ACT, SSAT, and PSAT are all standardized tests that have high stakes attached to them. That doesn't mean we should fix those high stakes to every test, but Ohio's assessments are certainly not out of character with those other commonly accepted tests.