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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ohio Charter School Sponsor Ratings: School Districts have Highest Academic Achievement

While I have concerns with how the overall grades are being calculated in Ohio's new charter school sponsorship ratings, there's something really interesting happening in the area that is most important in my mind -- academic performance.

Try this: The only recipients of an A, B, or C in academic performance are school districts and Educational Service Centers. While it is also true that these public entities sponsor far fewer charter schools, the performance shouldn't be overlooked.

It appears that the more charters you sponsor, the worse your rating. Which isn't surprising, given Ohio's overall poor performing charter sector.

But it should be made clear that the 33 charter school sponsors that receive As, Bs and Cs on academic performance are all public entities.

Equally telling?

All 33 are rated ineffective or poor. Which means the state would say that the 33 highest rated charter school sponsors in academic performance would be banned from opening new charters, or in the case of the poor rated sponsors, would have to immediately shut down.

I'm not sure that how the accountability system should work.

Ohio Sponsorship Ratings: It Pays to be a Bureaucrat

The new Charter School Sponsor ratings are out, and there are a ton of poorly rated sponsors in Ohio -- a result nearly everyone foretold.

However, one of my concerns about the new system, which the historic House Bill 2 instituted, has come to fruition, though not as dramatically as I thought it might.

The new system called for sponsors to be graded in three, equally weighted areas: Adherence to quality practices, as outlined by industry standards, compliance with current law and rules, and academic performance. If they rated poorly, they wouldn't be allowed to sponsor schools anymore. If they were deemed "ineffective," they wouldn't be able to sponsor any new schools.

My concern had been that if the sponsor was great at dotting i's and crossing t's, they would be able to get away with lousy academic performance. If you get two As and an F, that's a B- average. So my concern was sponsors with poorly performing schools could remain as sponsors simply because they could jump through the other two bureaucratic hoops.

The new data indicate that is happening in some cases. And in others, sponsors with great academic performance are being deemed ineffective because they don't follow the bureaucratic process -- an equally concerning outcome in my view.

For example, the only 5 sponsors to receive an effective rating -- the highest given this year (there is an exemplary rating that no sponsor reached) -- all received Ds on their academic performance. But they made sure that they dotted their i's and crossed their t's. So they got the highest rating.

One of those -- St. Aloysius Orphanage -- has been banned from opening new schools in Cleveland because of their schools' awful academic track record there. It's not a good look for the state to say a sponsor is among the state's best while the state's second-largest district has banned it from operating. Again, if the academic portion were weighted 50% and the other two at 25% each, then that problem wouldn't be as great.

And on the other hand, there are 8 sponsors with As for academic rating -- 7 of these sponsors are school districts; one is an Educational Service Center. Yet all are rated as ineffective or poor, overall, because they aren't meeting the industry developed quality standards.

Does this system disproportionately harm school district sponsors? I think it's a question that needs asked. It certainly appears that charter sponsors aren't being rewarded enough for good academic performance -- which is, let's face it, the most important aspect of a sponsor's job -- or punished enough for poor academic performance.

But am I glad that sponsors are finally being rated? Yes. It's a positive step. But there are serious concerns with the current calculation that lead to incongruities that need addressed. I hope the state takes up these concerns and fixes them quickly.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Taxpayers, Kids Win. Ecot Loses Lawsuit. May Have to Repay $60 million.

Three years ago, I met with a group of folks concerned about the state of Ohio's charter schools. The group included members of the traditional public school and charter school advocacy world. During the part of the discussion when we tried to identify the biggest problems with charter schools, eSchools came up. But within minutes, the group shot down the idea of going after eSchools. That's because the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow's William Lager had grown so powerful, thanks to his significant campaign contributions. After all, Gov,. John Kasich had recently spoken at ECOT's graduation.

Lager had said while introducing Kasich at that commencement that "you will find no leader more committed to the ECOT idea than Governor Kasich."

"We'll never get anywhere," I remember someone saying about trying to take on eSchools. I didn't think much differently. Going after ECOT seemed an insurmountable political hurdle.

No more.

Word came out a few minutes ago that ECOT's lawsuit has failed. The school, which claimed to be the nation's largest, now may have to repay Ohio taxpayers more than $60 million of the $109 million it received last year because the state determined ECOT could only verify it had 40 percent of the 15,000 plus kids it claimed. The state still pays ECOT so much per pupil that even with this cut(and including all of its revenue streams), ECOT can still clear as much as 22 percent profit after paying all of its staff.

Now I know ECOT will use every maneuver to overturn this ruling from Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French. There will be appeals.

But what a day this is for Ohio's kids and taxpayers.

Since Lager opened ECOT in 2001, Ohio's taxpayers have sent the school $903 million. If the state's recent determination that ECOT was overpaid by 60 percent last year were applied over the last 15 years, Ohio taxpayers have sent about $540 million for kids that ECOT never really had. That's a staggering figure. And it's not outrageous to make that assumption because ECOT was nailed by State Auditor Jim Petro during its first year of operation for the exact same thing.

And what have we received for that? Certainly not high-quality education. ECOT earned only Fs on the new state report card -- something it also achieved two years ago under the less difficult state report card regime.

But here's the outrageous data point: According to the New York Times, no school in the country failed to graduate more kids than ECOT. Not a single school.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of ECOT's failure, here are a few examples:

  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend all grades in the Norwalk school district.
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend Bexley.
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend 455 Ohio school districts
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend every school district in each of these Ohio counties: Vinton, Monroe, Carroll, Morgan, Harrison and Noble.
  • Enough kids fail to graduate ECOT to fill Community Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. or Cleveland Central Catholic's new stadium.
  • Enough kids fail to graduate ECOT that their number would rank among the nation's 200 largest high schools
It is criminal that a school this adept at failing has succeeded so richly at fleecing Ohio's taxpayers. You want to know why elections matter? This, my friends, is why.

I applaud the Ohio Department of Education for finally standing up to the bully. I applaud those in the legislature on both sides of the aisle to stood up for kids and against the adults who would fail them while robbing their parents blind. I applaud those pro-charter school reformers who stood up for quality choices for Ohio's kids rather than more bad ones like ECOT.

Most of all, I applaud the members of the media and advocates who have banged this ECOT drum for 15 years. And while for too many of those years the drum's beat was lost on the winds of political power, today it was heard.

Loud and clear.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ohio Senate Passes Bill that Could Close State Agencies En Masse. Gift to ECOT?

I'm not usually Conspiracy Guy. But when Senate Bill 329 -- a bill that would force state agencies to sunset every two years and would have to be renewed or closed then -- passed the Ohio Senate today, I started wondering, "Is this a gift to ECOT?"

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- the nation's largest K-12 school run by huge political contributor William Lager that received all Fs on the state report card while failing to graduate more kids than Newark City Schools has students -- was hit this week by the Ohio Department of Education for only being about to account for 40% of the approximately 15,500 kids it was paid to educate last year.

ECOT has been embroiled in a contentious lawsuit with the Ohio Department of Education, who they claim is unfairly trying to find out if the $109 million the state paid them last year was actually justified.

Why do I think 329 has something to do with ECOT? First of all, the bill's sponsor is Bill Coley, yes, the same Bill Coley who almost cost Ohio's kids $71 million in federal funding meant to grow high quality charters because ODE submitted a rule 3 weeks late.

Is there a better warning shot fired across ODE's bow than a piece of legislation that threatens their very existence, unless Ohio legislators (who are the largest recipients of Mr. Lager's largess) say they can exist?

Again, I'm not Conspiracy Guy. But am I alone in thinking these dots seem awfully closely connected?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ohio: ECOT Overpaid by 60%. Still is Paid Enough to Clear 22% Profit

Well, it appears what had been long suspected -- that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow has been substantially overpaid by state taxpayers -- is true. The Ohio Department of Education has determined that ECOT -- the nation's largest K-12 school -- really isn't, for it has only
40% of the kids Ohio's taxpayers funded last year.

However, even with that potential 60% cut in pay, ECOT would still have enough money to pay for all their school personnel and still clear 22%!!!

Let me say that again: ECOT could have their state aid cut by 60% and still clear 22%!!!

Last year, ECOT received $109 million from the state. They paid all their school personnel -- teachers, administrators, programmers, etc. -- $47.5 million. If they were cut 60%, then they would have about $4 million less than that. However, the school also receives $11.8 million in federal funding and another $5.5 million in "other, non-tax" funding, according to ODE records.

So they would clear -- all told -- more than $13 million, even with a 60% cut in state funding!!

Even if their other sources are cut by the same percentage, ECOT would still be able to clear at least 6% profit.

As I've said many times, we as a state pay eSchools waaaay too much money, especially given their dismal academic performance. Let's hope the legislature takes note and brings eSchool funding more in line with their cost structure rather than their profit motive.

Ohio Report Card Results Defy Belief

I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I believe in high standards for our kids. I like that my 6th grader was learning pre-Algebra concepts in 3rd and 4th grade. But don't think for a moment that this new state report card is anything but artificial grade deflation.

Grade deflation happens all the time. For example, I know that at one time, the Harvard Business School would fail students in the bottom 25% of their class, even if those students scored over 90% or something on their class assessments.

That's called grade deflation. It's every bit as pernicious as grade inflation.

It doesn't prove you have high standards. If you're a teacher, it proves you're a jerk. If you're a school, it proves you have some sort of tough guy complex. If you're a state, it proves you're trying to further the narrative that Ohio public schools are failing and need reformed in dramatic ways.

Is it a coincidence that giving more Ds and Fs to districts will potentially allow hundreds of more districts to be available for brick and mortar charter schools to open (it's currently at 39 districts) after the 2017-2018 school year?

Well, dear reader, I leave that analysis to you.

As I've said many times, if I created a test in my University of Akron course that I knew most kids would fail, I wouldn't be allowed to give the test. Because it's an unfair assessment of my students' understanding of the course material.

Yet we allow Ohio leaders to get away with saying "we're raising standards" to explain away the historically bad performance of Ohio's school districts -- a performance Ohio school districts have never replicated in nearly 20 years of high stakes standardized testing.

If you think it's really about higher standards (mind you, we've had these standards in place for two years now and passed them when I was in the legislature), then explain this: Not a single school district in this state received a higher performance index score this school year than they did in the 2013-2014 school year.

Not one.

Is that really possible? That no school district in the state is doing a better job today at preparing kids for these tests than they were three years ago?

How do you know that the score drops don't mean a lot? Because school districts generally rank about where they always have -- wealthier ones on top, poorer ones on the bottom.

This leads to all kinds of statistical nonsense. For example, Cleveland's performance index score dropped by more than 27%, yet their state rank was the exact same as the 2013-2014 school year. Meanwhile, Firelands Local in suburban Lorain County had a slight smaller, 26% score drop. Yet Firelands had the state's largest single rank drop -- from 161st to 528th (out of 609 districts).

And there are districts like Athens, which had a greater than 10% drop in their performance index score, but actually improved their state rank by more than 125 spots.

Overall, the biggest percentage score drops happened in the districts with the lowest scores already, with the bottom 10% of performance index scores in the 15-16 year seeing their scores drop nearly 25% since 13-14. Meanwhile, the state's highest performing districts this year only saw an average 6.2% score drop -- 1/4 the dip of the poorer districts. The median score dropped 13% and the number of scores over 100 (out of 120 maximum) dropped from 288 districts in the 2013-14 year to 48 this last year.

Another issue is each successive standardized test has dropped scores. Again, not surprisingly. The last year of the OAAs was 2013-14 and districts did how they traditionally have done -- very well. In the 14-15 year, we had the PARCC exams and scores dropped some then. Last year we had the AIRs (after complaints about the PARCC), and now we have the worst results ever. However, it's important to remember that the majority of school district grades remain A, B or C.

What we have here is artificial grade deflation posing as "tough standards." The standards have nothing to do with it. It's testing regimes kids aren't used to taking, coupled with tests that most kids were expected to do poorly on in the first place.

If teachers were giving these tests, they'd be fired. Deservedly so.

But when we attach real consequences to these results (a district's performance index score rank determines whether charter schools can open in that district, for example), our leaders accept them as little more than a "real" indication of how districts are doing because it fits in with their now 30-year-old narrative that the nation's public schools are failing.

And while in a few, isolated cases that narrative is true, in the vast majority of cases, nothing could be further from the truth.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ohio Report Card Drives Down Performance. So What?

Amid all the hue and cry over Ohio's new, obtuse and downright head scratching Report Card results, it might be helpful to look at how performance has changed over the four years that Ohio has implemented its much-praised A-F grading system.

What is clear is that each year, report card grades stay the same, or get worse for all school and district types. However, the biggest performance drop -- by far -- has been for Ohio's school districts, which saw their percentage of Ds and Fs more than double over the last four years.

Meanwhile, Ohio's charter schools have had a nearly 40% greater jump in their failing grades than Ohio's much-maligned Big 8 Urban school buildings (the Big 8 school districts are Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown). Four years ago, Ohio's charters and urban buildings had almost exactly the same percentage of D and F grades and today, charters have 5 percentage points more D and F grades.

The charts below show the percentage of As, Bs and Cs each group of schools and districts received each year since 2012-2013 and their percentage of Ds and Fs.

Today, about 7 out of 10 Big 8 Urban building grades are D or F, which is not good.  However, 3 out of 4 charter grades are D or F, which is worse.

Meanwhile, even though charters did the best they had ever done in the 2012-2013 school year, with 60% of their grades being D or F, that result is still the mirror opposite of school districts' worst performance.

What's that mean? It means the best charters have ever done is having 6 out of 10 grades be D or F. The worst districts have ever done is have 6 out of 10 grades be A, B, or C.

The only constant between the 2012-2013 report cards and the 2015-2016 version is Ohio charter schools continue to be vastly outperformed by their school district counterparts (remember that all but 2 Ohio school districts lost students and funding to charters last school year). And now, unlike four years ago, we can say that Big 8 Urban buildings -- overall -- outperform charters in a meaningful way.

Regardless of school type results, what these historic data show is just how illogical the report card has become. Does common sense tell you that school districts today are twice as ineffective as four years ago, or even that 3 out of 4 times, charters are failing?

To hear the report card defenders, all this indicates is that our standards are getting tougher.

Never mind we've had three different state assessments the last three years. Don't think that matters? In 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 we had the same tests. Is it a surprise that the results are nearly identical each year? Now they are wildly different.

Never mind that it is illogical to assume that worse grades mean standards are tougher or results are more accurate -- a narrative thread I strongly oppose.

Never mind that if I developed a test in my class that I knew significant numbers of students would fail (like we were told these new Ohio assessments would do), I would be disciplined for developing a bad, unfair test.

What matters most to Ohio policymakers, it appears, is that we are finally getting some data that indicate Ohio school districts are failing kids almost as often as politicians have been telling us they have been failing for years. If the report card is meant to support a political narrative that public schools are failing kids and we need more choices, regardless of those choices' quality, then the report cards are doing that job better than ever.

But if they're meant to actually give the public a better, more accurate notion of what's happening in Ohio classrooms? Well, I'm afraid that on that account, the report cards would get a big, fat F.