In early February, Chalkbeat published an analysis of New York City’s graduation rate, which rose to nearly 76 percent in 2018—a 1.7 percent increas
In early February, Chalkbeat published anof New York City’s graduation rate, which rose to nearly 76 percent in 2018—a 1.7 percent increase compared to 2017. The article notes that although city officials have as evidence of growth, it may actually be due to recent state policy changes that provided additional pathways toward graduation. One of these changes allowed students to graduate with lower scores on the five state tests—known as Regents exams—that they must pass to earn a diploma. The other allowed students to substitute one of the five exams with an alternative test. Although neither were new for the Class of 2018, a whopping 1.2 percent of the city’s 1.7 percent increase can be solely accounted for by students taking advantage of the alternatives.
For some pundits and advocates, that’s not a problem. One of the driving forces behind expanding the number of pathways to a diploma is allowing more students to graduate.show that students with a high school diploma earn more than those without one, and higher rates of unemployment, poverty, and incarceration. It’s not surprising that policymakers would support systems that maximize the number of students receiving a diploma.
But there are two sides to every coin. More students may get a diploma when graduation pathways are broad and less rigorous, but these students may very well end up struggling in college and the workplace because they haven’t mastered important content and skills. Significant majorities of college instructors and employers havethat recent high school graduates are arriving at college or the workplace with gaps in their preparation. Job openings and unemployment numbers by the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that the skills and preparation of jobseekers don’t match the needs of employers. And the most recent from the National Student Clearinghouse found that, within six years of starting college, 11 percent of students had not earned a degree or certificate but were still enrolled, and another 30 percent had dropped out entirely. A good chunk of those dropouts are students who had to take remedial courses because they weren’t prepared for college-level work, and that most remedial students never go on to graduate. is similar: 27 percent of incoming college students require remedial coursework, and only 33 percent of Ohio students earn at least an associate degree within six years.
The upshot of all this data is that there are thousands of adults who are struggling mightily in college and the workplace because of a gap between what their high school diploma says they’re ready to do and what they’re actually ready to do. One way to fix this would be to set rigorous graduation requirements: Policymakers could make sure that high school diplomas are a meaningful indicator of the basic academic skills that colleges and employers look for, and schools could provide students who are struggling to meet those benchmarks with a ton of support and remediation. Graduation requirements shouldn’t be unrealistically high, but they shouldn’t be nonexistent either. States should set a reasonable bar for academic mastery and then stick to it.
Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of what Ohio has done. In fact, many in the Buckeye State are calling for easier graduation requirements and more expanded pathways. The state’sasserts that “students should have multiple ways to demonstrate what they know and are able to do.” that passed late last year put in place for the classes of 2019 and 2020. And a long-term from the Ohio Department of Education and the State Board of Education would give students a of graduation pathways ostensibly to make school more “personalized” to their interests.
But there is a serious problem with Ohio’s recent changes and proposals. Despite assurances to the contrary, these expanded pathways are not rigorous. The alternatives put in place for the classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020 allow students to graduate based on non-academic measures like attendance and volunteer hours—things that have nothing to do with the basic academic skills that both employers and colleges look for. The proposal being debated by the state board isn’t any better. The “Culminating Student Experience” option that is outlined within the proposal is the educational equivalent of Harry Potter’s—it can be anything to anyone, from a portfolio of art works to a science fair project. There are no guardrails to ensure that what it’s used for is beneficial for students. ( for a more in-depth look at what the culminating student experience requires of students.)
As my colleague Brandon Wright, easing expectations can seem like a victimless act Data show that adults with high school diplomas are better off, and so it seems compassionate to weaken graduation requirements and give as many students as possible a diploma. But doing so ignores the laundry list of issues that graduates face when they’re handed a : remedial college classes that cost money and waste time, struggling to keep up with better-prepared peers, and difficulty finding and keeping a well-paying job. These are serious problems that can negatively impact the same outcomes a high school diploma is supposed to make possible.
Even worse, students are left to deal with these consequences largely on their own. The moment they’ve earned their diploma and been counted in the graduation rate, they’re no longer the K–12 system’s problem. That’s great for policy leaders who want to use high graduation rates in their rhetoric, and for administrators who are concerned with short-term results that prove they know what they’re doing. But for students who have to navigate college and the workplace armed with a meaningless diploma? Not so much.
Jeremy Kelley of the Dayton Daily Newslast week that state legislators are mulling revisions to Ohio’s Academic Distress Commission (ADC) . This district turnaround model was already overhauled once in after for more decisive state action in what the has called its “academically imploding” school district. Among other reforms, the resulting requires the five-member distress commissions to hire a CEO who is vested with managerial authority and is responsible for creating and implementing a turnaround plan. In recent years, Youngstown and Lorain school districts have been under ADC oversight with a third commission established in in fall 2018.
In anlast week, I argue that the state shouldn’t walk away from its obligations to students in long-troubled districts. The outcomes of students attending these districts are nothing short of tragic: A paltry three in ten reach proficiency on state reading and math exams, and just one in ten goes on to earn college degrees. Speaking about East Cleveland, a member of the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial board :
“Students continue to roll through demonstrably substandard schools without the education they are promised and our society owes them.... The leadership East Cleveland has provided for its students is abysmal and the sooner the state steps in to try to right the ship, the better.”
The need for bold change in dysfunctional districts is clear, but sadly there has also been nonstop political strife in theunder ADC oversight. Part of the turmoil can be traced to imperfections in state law. To ensure the smoother functioning of the ADCs, Ohio lawmakers need to carefully mend the ADC statute.
Below I offer five ideas on how to do this, drawing on lessons from Massachusetts, one of the few places where the state has undertaken successful district-level interventions. Rigorousby Harvard researchers reveal strong academic gains for students attending Lawrence School District—the first Massachusetts district to go into state receivership—while spotlight mechanisms driving the success.
First, require deeper engagement from the state superintendent. Ohio ADC law demands little from the state’s education chief. He or she is tasked with only two key duties: appointing three members of the ADC and appointing the commission chair. Beyond this, Ohio’s superintendent has almost no responsibility and faces little accountability for the success, or lack thereof, of the ADCs. This has predictably led to uneven involvement from the state superintendent and the Ohio Department of Education. In itsof Youngstown, for instance, ODE pinpoints numerous , but nowhere does the agency commit to actions that might solve them. In stark contrast, Massachusetts’s education commissioner has been highly engaged in supporting district turnarounds. In , the former (and late) Commissioner Mitchell Chester championed and, when necessary, publicly defended the work in Lawrence and two other that were subsequently put into state receivership.
To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of the superintendent or state education agency—it’s a reflection of current law. For the ADC model to succeed, Ohio’s leadership needs to be more heavily involved. The following are a few ways to revise the statute to better ensure this happens:
- Require the state superintendent to appoint the CEO, rather than the ADC. This would follow the Massachusetts approach where the district receiver—equivalent to Ohio’s CEO—reports to the commissioner. In fact, Commissioner Chester assured communities in his that the “receiver reports directly to me, and held accountable for improving education.” This change would create a clearer chain of command between the state superintendent and the CEO (which should really be renamed “receiver” to indicate the temporary nature of the position).
- Require the state superintendent to work with the CEO in crafting the turnaround plan. Massachusetts reads: “The commissioner and the receiver shall jointly create a turnaround plan to promote the rapid improvement of the chronically underperforming district.” Here in Ohio, the state superintendent has no statutory duty to assist the CEO in plan development. Changing this portion of ADC law would encourage more ownership from state leadership regarding the direction of the ADC, and potentially unlock important resources that ODE can bring to bear to help with implementation.
- Require the state superintendent’s annual evaluation to include ADC engagement. ADCs are nowhere mentioned in the superintendent’s current rubric, and as such, there is not a statutory or accountability-driven reason for the state’s education leader to focus on district turnaround efforts.
Second, provide the CEO with more time to create an improvement plan. Current Ohio law requires the CEO to submit a district turnaround plan to the ADC within just ninety days of appointment. That’s not nearly enough time to engage community leaders, probe district strengths and weaknesses, seek feedback from families and citizens, and craft a workable plan for improvement. Oneof the Lawrence turnaround noted that the district receiver, Jeff Riley, took five months to formulate an improvement plan. That process laid the groundwork for a strategy that, among other things, included , , and a new teacher system that garnered buy-in from leadership. Creating a winning turnaround plan takes time, and Ohio law should provide a longer timeline instead of demanding a pace that is likely to generate either superficial solutions or community distrust.
Third, limit the number of districts under ADC oversight at the same time. Though ODE has many highly talented individuals, the state education agency likely faces constraints in providing the intensive supports needed for successful district turnaround. Current Ohio law doesn’t place a limit on the number of districts that can be under ADC supervision, and lawmakers should consider instituting a cap. Massachusetts, for instance, limits receivership to a maximum of 2.5 percent of districts at a given time, and just are presently in receivership.
Fourth, require rigorous evaluations of ADC performance. In the aforementioned Dayton Daily News, a union leader criticized the ADC model by casually remarking, “It doesn’t work. That’s it.” But the truth is we have no idea whether ADCs are leading to better pupil outcomes in Youngstown or Lorain. We can review their report cards and get a face-value sense of progress, but that’s a far cry from studies such as those done in or where analysts applied rigorous empirical methods to carefully examine the impacts of district-level turnarounds. Without any requirement in law for evaluation, or budgetary provision to support such research, policymakers have no clear way of deciding whether to stay the course on turnaround plans or shift gears.
Fifth, suspend the powers of the school board when under ADC control. Ohio law allows the local school board to remain intact while under ADC oversight. Sadly, what we’vefrom Lorain and Youngstown is that the local boards, though weakened, will do everything in their power to undermine the CEO and ADC. Aggrieved by their loss of power, these sued the state repeatedly to block the ADCs, and just this month the Lorain called on the governor to dismantle the ADC. Meanwhile, the Youngstown board—which still has taxing authority—has argued publicly with the CEO over whether to put a renewal on the ballot.
Having two governing bodies working at cross-purposes prevents ADCs from functioning properly. Though likely to be contentious, state legislators need to ensure that the ADC and CEO have clear governing authority. There are a few potential ways to modify state law to this end. First, legislators could clarify that the ADC and CEO assume the powers of the school board. This would follow Massachusetts, which declares that the receiver has “all the powers of the superintendent and school committee.” Another approach might permit the state superintendent or state board of education to remove the local board under certain conditions and procedures. Finally, the boldest, though politically riskiest, alternative would require in statute the suspension of the school board until the end of ADC governance, an approach that generally takes. Should Ohio lawmakers pursue this last option, they could also revise ADC law to require more, or all, of the commission seats to be filled by local citizens appointed by the state superintendent or city mayor to ensure on-the-ground input.
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District turnarounds aren’t for the faint of heart, but the Massachusetts experience reminds us that it’s not impossible. Done well, state actions can catalyze changes that result in higher pupil achievement in districts that have struggled mightily. To improve the chances of success—and to expedite the return of local governance—Ohio legislators need to make important revisions to the academic distress commission statute. If ADCs result in much-improved performance in locales like Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland, national leaders might just start talking about the “Ohio Miracle.”
Creating smart, coherent education policy is painstaking work; there are technical, budgetary, and political challenges at almost every turn. But it is some of the most important work that state leaders can undertake.
As Ohioans prepared to elect a new governor in late 2018, we at the Fordham Institute began rolling out a set of policy proposals that we believe can lead to increased achievement and greater opportunity for Ohio students.
With that election done andadministration well underway, we are proud to present our full roster of policy proposals for your consideration.
These proposals aim to ensure that Ohio can thrive well into the future in a global economy where knowledge, talent, and technical skills are at a premium. Ohio has a long proud history as one of the nation's engines of growth, but today faces challenges such as a large "talent gap." To better understand this gap, only 43 percent of working age Ohioans have postsecondary certifications today. By 2025, it is estimated that 64 percent of in-demand jobs will require such credentials. A strong K-12 education system is a key to closing this enormous gap.
We believe that if Ohio policy leaders adopt and implement the education policy proposals outlined here, more Ohio students will be on a surer track for success in school--and in life.
You can download the full document here or you can dig into each individual proposal .
“On strike for our students.” “Our kids deserve more.” So say the picket-line placards of teachers’ unions. The message is clear: Supporting the unions and their demands also helps students. But how true is this?
An analysis by economists Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willén calls into question whether teacher unionization benefits students in the long run. They study the adult outcomes of children exposed to changes in state laws from 1960 to 1990 that encouraged union formation and collective bargaining. With enactment of “duty-to-bargain” statutes, most states began requiring school districts to negotiate with unions over wages, hours, and working conditions. Wisconsin was out the gate first with a duty-to-bargain law in 1960, and Nebraska was last in 1987; seventeen states have not passed such a law.
To undertake the study, Lovenheim and Willén use employment data of thirty-five- to forty-nine-year-olds in the 2005–12 American Community Survey (ACS). They rely on information about adults’ age and state of birth to determine the number of years they would have been exposed to duty-to-bargain laws during their K–12 school years (if at all). To isolate the impact of collective bargaining, researchers compare the differences in the outcomes of students from the same state (before and after duty-to-bargain) to differences in the outcomes of those educated in non-bargaining states over this period. This method helps control for states’ demographic and economic trends, and they also account for a few major policy changes that occurred during this period, such as school finance reforms. They also perform analyses under varying assumptions about interstate mobility during individuals’ school years, and conclude that “any [statistical] bias from post-birth mobility is small.” “Taken together,” the authors claim, “these results provide extensive evidence that supports the causal interpretation of our estimates.”
The results are not pretty, for males specifically. For men exposed to ten years of schooling under duty-to-bargain laws, the study finds significant reductions in adult wages of $2,134 per year. In relation to the average annual salary of men in the ACS data set of $54,296, this represents an earnings loss of 3.9 percent. The wage losses are especially acute for African American and Hispanic males who lose on average $3,246 per annum, equivalent to a 9.4 percent loss relative to the average African American or Hispanic male’s salary. Troubling also are findings that collective bargaining led to fewer work hours per week, which the analysts tie to lower labor market participation rates. Men who were partly exposed to collective bargaining—for instance, their state enacted changes when in fifth grade—also had depressed annual wages, though of smaller size. For example, the wage loss for males exposed to five years of duty-to-bargain laws was $1,729 per year. Thankfully, the analysts found no long-run impacts on females; they also found no clear effects of collective bargaining on high school completion.
Why the negative labor-market outcomes among males? It’s hard to be sure, especially in absence of state exam data during this period. But the research suggests that collective bargaining may have resulted in lower non-cognitive outcomes among male pupils. Based on an analysis of the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which includes data about young people’s sense of self-esteem, locus of control, and more, Lovenheim and Willén conclude, “We see consistent evidence that exposure to a collective bargaining law negatively impacts non-cognitive scores among men.”
This study finds that teacher unionization and collective bargaining dimmed the earnings power of one generation of male students. Perhaps things are different today as states have stronger accountability mechanisms than during the era of this study. But the findings do remind us that we should at least eye the political messages of teachers’ unions with greater skepticism.
SOURCE: Michael F. Lovenheim and Alexander Willén, “The Long-run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining,” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy (forthcoming). An open-access version of the paper is available here, and a summary was also published in Education Next
In late 2014, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released a report finding lackluster performance among Ohio charter schools. Since that time, the state’s charter policies and the sector itself have evolved significantly.
But has the performance of Ohio charters improved in the wake of these important reforms? Or is the sector still struggling to keep pace?
On Tuesday, February 19, Margaret E. (Macke) Raymond, Ph.D., the Director of CREDO at Stanford University and Chunping Han, Senior Research Analyst, were in Columbus to discuss the findings of a brand-new CREDO study that examines Ohio charter performance from 2013-14 through 2016-17.
You can view video of the event here: