Last summer, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 318, a wide-ranging school safety and security bill.
Last summer, Governor Kasich signed, a wide-ranging school safety and security bill. It contained several provisions related to student discipline, including a mandate for each public school to implement a (PBIS) system, a prohibition of out-of-school suspension or expulsion for students in grades pre-K through three for minor offenses, and a requirement for districts and schools to annually report all out-of-school suspensions of students in those grades.
It’s too soon to know whether these changes will have a significant impact on the day-to-day lives of teachers and students. But over the course of the next few years, it’s critical for lawmakers to pay close attention to the data—both numerical and anecdotal—that come out of schools.
A good place to start is a recently released report from my colleagues in Fordham’s D.C. office.is the first scientifically rigorous national survey on school discipline to be published in over a decade. It asked a nationally representative sample of African American and white educators who teach grades 3–12 a series of questions about discipline policy and practice in their schools. The survey data yielded five key findings, but two in particular are connected to Ohio’s recent law changes. First, most teachers reported that discipline in their schools is “inconsistent or inadequate.” Second, although many teachers see value in approaches such as PBIS, they also say that suspensions are useful and appropriate in some circumstances.
Building off of its findings, the report also includes a series of four recommendations for policymakers. Again, there are two in particular that Ohio lawmakers should consider. First, given teachers’ assertions that suspensions can be useful and appropriate, it would be wise to focus on improving the environments to which students are removed (such as in-school-suspension centers or alternative schools). Second, schools need additional resources to hire staff that have the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to respond to student misbehavior and support teachers and principals.
The common link between these recommendations is that schools may need more funding to adequately address the challenges of student discipline. In many states, calling for more funding is a challenge—budgets are already tight, and there are dozens of initiatives and programs vying for state dollars.
Ohio isn’t usually an exception to this rule. But thanks to the most recent, public schools now have $675 million to and address non-academic needs. The that wellness funds can be used to support discipline reform. But several of the allowable uses the law outlines could go a long way toward helping schools improve discipline policies and procedures, and thereby improve the wellness and academic performance of their students. Here’s a look at three.
1) Mental health services
In 2016, NPR published aon mental health in American schools. The are telling: One in five public school students show signs of a mental health disorder, and nearly 80 percent of affected students won’t receive the treatment they need. It seems obvious, but it’s worth saying outright: These undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues can negatively impact student behavior. And based on the survey results from the Fordham study, teachers are desperate for more mental health professionals in their schools to help. In fact, a whopping 40 percent of them listed it as their top choice for how to spend potential additional funding geared toward improving student behavior. Student wellness funds could make this a reality for Ohio teachers. Schools might not hire mental health professionals solely to improve suspension and expulsion numbers, but it seems logical that providing students with the support they need could lead to a decrease in student misbehavior.
2) Mentoring programs
In education circles, there’s a lot of talk—and—about the importance of teacher mentoring. But mentors for students can be just as important. Thirty-three percent of teachers in our survey reported that hiring more teaching assistants to increase the number of adults in classrooms would be their top choice for how to spend additional funding. Obviously, there is a difference between hiring teaching assistants and establishing a mentoring program. But innovative schools could use wellness funding to create a hybrid program, something that would put well-trained adults in classrooms to support teachers dealing with misbehavior and to mentor students who need behavioral intervention and support.
3) Family engagement and support services
This option is closely related to the need for mental health services, as many families lack access to resources that could help their children. Surveyed teachers seem to agree: 14 percent of them called for hiring more social workers to help students and families cope with issues like abuse or addiction. One teacher said, “A couple of high schools I taught at were in desperate need of full-time mental health professionals to support students whose parents couldn’t afford it or didn’t know how to find the appropriate resources and help.” While this teacher specifically mentions mental health, there are plenty of other services that could also improve student behavior, such as academic enrichment or tutoring for bored or struggling students, organizations that provide for basic needs such as housing and nutrition, and programs that. Student wellness funds could help schools connect families with these critical support services. They could also be used to ensure that students who are suspended or expelled don’t fall behind.
I’vethat student wellness funding is an opportunity for Ohio to become a national leader in using integrated support services to improve academic outcomes. Given the survey results from Discipline through the Eyes of Teachers, it seems like wellness funds could also be instrumental in helping Ohio schools improve their learning environments and address student discipline issues. Here’s hoping that districts and schools use these funds in ways that best serve the needs of their students.
School report cards, the primary mechanism through which Ohio maintains transparency and accountability for academic outcomes, have been a hotly debated topic. Critics argue that the ratings track too closely with pupil demographics, some decry the shift to the more transparent and easily understood A–F rating system, while still others are just unhappy with the results. As an annual checkup on schools’ health, we at Fordham strongly support robust report cards, though we too have offeredfor refinement.
Under pressure from traditional education groups, legislators recentlythe creation of a ten-member committee tasked with reviewing the report card and making recommendations for its improvement. The legislation specifies that three members must be district superintendents appointed by their statewide association—a group that has been of the current report card—so it’ll be important that the Senate and House appointees bring other perspectives to the table, such as those of parents, employers, charter leaders, and higher education. Meetings are slated for the fall and the committee must submit a report by the rather ambitious deadline of December 15, 2019.
Our hope is that the committee will recognize and support the strengths of the existing framework. These include the report card’s emphasis on objective measures of student achievement and growth, the use of a transparent rating system (A–F is surely the most intuitive), and the implementation of a user-friendly overall rating. But there still remains room for improvement, and the budget bill directs the committee to investigate several of the most contentious report card-related matters. The following discusses three of the key questions singled out in the legislation and how I believe the committee should proceed.
Question 1: How many years of data should be included in the Progress component? An essential piece of the report card, the uses the state’s “ ” measure to gauge student growth over time. Because value added controls for students’ prior achievement, the don’t correlate closely with demographics, thus offering an important look at school performance apart from pupil backgrounds.
It may sound wonky, but significant debate has emerged around whether Ohio should use a single-year value-added score or one averaged over multiple years. Currently, the state relies on a three-year average. For instance, a school whose value-added scores are 5.0, -1.5, and 0.5 over the past three years would have an average score of 1.3, and this score would be used to determine the school’s value-added rating. The upside of a three-year approach is that, akin to athat smooths stock prices to make larger trends visible, it helps to iron out that arise in yearly results, which have in the past led some to question the measure. The tradeoff, however, is that older data may not reflect current school performance. This is particularly problematic for schools that are undergoing turnarounds and are starting to show stronger results but continue to be dragged down by previous scores.
Proposed solution: Ohio should maintain a multi-year average but modify the calculation by implementing a weighted average that places more emphasis on the current-year score than prior years. This would help to guard against large “swings” in school ratings from year to year—e.g., going from an “A” to an “F”—but also ensure that the most recent performance is more heavily reflected in the results. A straightforward way to do this would be to weigh the most current year at 50 percent and each of the two prior years at 25 percent each.
Question 2: How should grades be assigned for the Progress component? To generate the component’s ratings, Ohio relies on value-added “index scores,” measures of statistical certainty that indicate whether student growth is more or less than what was expected for the year. Ohio wisely translates esoteric value-added index scores into more intelligible school ratings. But the grading scale that determines these ratings has stirred controversy, likely due to the near pass-fail distribution of ratings. In 2017–18, 76 percent of schools received either an A or F on the overall value-added measure, a percentage that doesn’t appear to reflect the wide range of underlying scores. Seemingly dissatisfied with the ratings distribution, legislators recently enacted substantial changes to the grading scale in the state budget (HB 166). As shown in Table 1, the new grading scale—expected to come into effect in the fall 2020 report-card release—lowers the performance standards for each rating, which will in turn inflate value-added ratings across the state.
Table 1: Grading scale used to determine value-added ratings
* This grading scale is likely to be used for the 2018–19 school report cards as HB 166 goes into effect on October 17, 2019 (after the release of the report cards). The scale displays the value-added index scores (the value-added gain or loss divided by the standard error) associated with each rating.
Proposed solution: Value added remains a rigorous and valid measure of pupil academic growth and it’s one of the few measures that doesn’t correlate closely with student demographics. Legislators would be smart not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, given the continuing frustration with present reporting and grading systems, Ohio should transition from its use of value-added index scores (recall, they are measures of statistical certainty) and instead focus on the amount of academic growth occurring in a school—data that are available but not currently used for report-card purposes.
Such a shift, also suggested recently by two Ohio State Universityon this blog, would fundamentally change the question that report cards seek to answer. Instead of asking, how sure are we that students made statistically significant gains/losses, the Progress component would instead ask how much achievement growth is the average student making? Educators, parents, and taxpayers are more apt to care about how much growth happens in a school than questions about statistical certainty. This approach could also support a more defensible rating system: It’s harder to argue with a “D” or “F” if data indicate that the average student slid from the 30th to 20th percentile. It should also allow us to better identify extraordinary high-poverty schools that are helping students make up large chunks of ground (not just eking out a barely positive but “statistically significant” gain).
Question 3: How should the Prepared for Success component be designed—and should additional indicators be added? First appearing as a graded component in 2015–16, is a relatively new feature of Ohio’s school report cards. It has a two-tiered structure: On a “primary” level, when students earn remediation-free scores on the ACT or SAT, an honors diploma, or industry credentials, their school receives credit (i.e., one point). Above that is a “bonus” structure whereby schools receive extra points when students pass an AP or IB exam, or earn college credit through dual enrollment. Although a career-oriented indicator exists— —concerns have been raised that the component focuses too heavily on college-ready metrics. Suggestions for additional have included military enlistment, job readiness “seals,” or apprenticeships after graduation. Debate has also revolved around the possible removal of the bonus structure, and instead placing the AP/IB and dual-enrollment credits on the same “tier” as remediation-free scores, etc.
Three key considerations should be kept in mind as they examine the Prepared for Success dimension. First, policymakers should be careful not to cram too much data into the system and thus create an immense, complicated component. Second, for formal report-card purposes, they should depend on reliable data and deploy metrics that are difficult to “game.” It’s not clear whether the state yet collects sound data on military enlistment or apprenticeships and policymakers should be wary of the subjective as an accountability measure. Third, policymakers should be mindful that post-secondary outcomes—e.g., college enrollment or apprenticeships after high school—are not necessarily in the control of K–12 schools. That is likely why Ohio reports college enrollment and completion rates within this component but it refrains from rating schools based on those data.
Proposed solution: Provided that Ohio collects reliable data, the state should add military readiness and enlistment as a “primary” indicator, especially now that it’s an approved pathway. As for the component structure, shifting to a single tier whereby schools earn one point when students meet any of the seven indicators of readiness—the current six plus military readiness—would produce more interpretable results (e.g., 75 percent of students meet a college-and-career ready target). That being said, the approach removes incentives for schools to encourage their highest-achieving students—perhaps those that earn remediation-free scores earlier in high school—to meet even higher goals such as passing AP or IB exams. While a close call, my own view is that Ohio should retain the bonus structure as-is for the purposes of assigning ratings but it should also begin to report the percentage of students (unduplicated) who meet any of the primary indicators to create a clearer picture of readiness in each district and school.
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As an annual check on the performance of schools, robust and transparent report cards remain critical to a healthy K–12 education system. The current iteration of Ohio’s report cards, which has won praise from national , has important strengths for which the committee should voice support. But it’s always worth examining ways to improve the system, and with some careful adjustments, legislators could create a report card that is more usable for Ohio families and communities and fairer for educators.
 The state’s career-and-technical report cards include such data, but they are self-reported via surveys of high school graduates. ODE that there is no verification by the state or districts to confirm the accuracy of these self-reported data.
In late June, Representatives Robert Cupp and John Patterson introducedthat would overhaul the state’s school funding system. Their proposals have attracted , and legislative hearings are expected this fall. In a prior —the first in this series on school funding—I examined the plan’s price tag, which would add another $1.5 billion per year in state spending when fully implemented. In a state that already spends an average of $12,000 per pupil—just above the national average—the additional outlays could be seen as fiscal largesse.
Yet large spending increases might be warranted if Ohio were experiencing a boom in its youth population, or were facing an influx of “harder-to-educate” children. In recent years, several fast-growing (though historically) states such as and have ramped up state expenditures on K–12 education, presumably in efforts to better meet the needs of their swelling student populations. But is Ohio in the same boat?
Youth population trends
Let’s first consider the trend in Ohio’s overall youth population. Figure 1 shows a decline between 2000 and 2017, after an uptick during the 1990s. At the turn of the century, Ohio had 3.22 million youngsters, age nineteen and below. Yet according to the most recent Census estimates, Ohio today has about 250,000 fewer young people—a decline of 8.6 percent over the nearly two-decade period. In contrast, the youth population in the United States has risen by 2.2 percent from 2000 to 2017, and in Texas it’s increased by a remarkable 22 percent.
Figure 1: Youth population in Ohio from 1990 to 2017
Source: , 1990, 2000, and 2010 decennial census and the 2013–17 American Community Survey (five-year estimates).
With a dwindling youth population, we would expect to see a slide in Ohio’s K–12 enrollments. The following chart confirms that trend. In 2006, for example, there were 1.77 million public school students, but in 2018 there were just 1.66 million—a loss of about 6 percent. Though not included in figure 2, Ohio’s private schoolhave declined, as well. And according to U.S. Department of Education , Ohio is expected to experience additional declines of about 3 percent in its public school enrollment by 2027.
Figure 2: Public school enrollment in Ohio from 2006 to 2018
Source: Ohio Department of Education,
Ohio’s enrollment declines should raise questions about the need for increased expenditures. If enrollments continue to falter, simply maintaining current spending levels (adjusted for inflation) would result in rising per-pupil expenditures. In fact, as my colleague Mike Petrilli has, states with declining student enrollments typically experience larger increases in per-pupil spending than fast-growing states, likely because they can maintain existing spending levels but spread those dollars over fewer students.
Another reason to spend more would be a rapidly growing number of high-need students. Powerful anecdotes about the ill-effects of poverty, along with regular discussions among educators and advocates about the needs of low-income students, can leave a strong impression that poverty is becoming more widespread across the state. Moreover, the “economically disadvantaged” Yet we still need to check reliable data to see whether Ohio is experiencing escalating poverty and other special-needs circumstances that merit additional government outlays.reported by the Ohio Department of Education, suggest (albeit incorrectly) that student poverty is on the rise. (It’s due rather to changes in that have inflated these numbers.) To be sure, too many children continue to face the incredible challenge of rising out of poverty or other difficult backgrounds.
Figure 3 displays census data on childhood poverty as reported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. These numbers reflect Ohio children under the age of eighteen from households with incomes at or below the , which is currently $25,750 for a family of four. The number children in poverty has declined after peaking right after the Great Recession. In 2011, for example, the Census Bureau estimated that 641,000 children lived in poverty, but by 2017, that number had fallen to 513,000. The percentage of Ohio children living in poverty has likewise declined from 24 to 20 percent between 2011 and 2017.
Figure 3: Estimated number of Ohio children under eighteen from families at or below the federal poverty level
Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation, . Note: These poverty numbers differ from the commonly cited “economically disadvantaged” (ED) numbers reported by the Ohio Department of Education. ED statistics are based on a higher income threshold (at or below 185 percent federal poverty) which is used to determine participation in free and reduced-priced meals programs, and they include substantial numbers of higher-income students eligible for subsidized meals via the.
A growing population of students with disabilities and English language learners would likely justify increases in state education spending. Figure 4 indicates that the former population has remained largely flat over the past decade, ranging from roughly 240,000 to 265,000 students (about 15 percent of the total enrollment). Meanwhile, Ohio has seen an uptick in English language learners, with their numbers rising by about 15,000 students during this period. Despite the steady increase, this group remains a small fraction of the overall enrollment—just 2.6 percent in 2018—likely reflecting Ohio’s relatively small foreign-born population, 4.4 versus the 13.5 percent .
Figure 4: Public school enrollment of Ohio students with disabilities and English language learners, 2006 to 2018
Source: Ohio Department of Education,
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Ohio’s student enrollment and demographic patterns should give us another reason for pause when it comes to proposals to significantly boost K–12 expenditures. Unlike our Sun Belt counterparts, Ohio’s school enrollments are waning and the state isn’t experiencing massive inflows of immigrants whose children need specialized supports. Childhood poverty numbers are also on the decline, though that of course could reverse in the event of an economic downturn.
The case for large-scale spending increases based on these numbers is questionable at best. But the state does need to make concerted efforts to fund the education of needier students at higher levels. In forthcoming posts, I’ll take a closer look at Ohio’s current funding model that distributes state dollars to schools, as well as the Cupp-Patterson plan which would alter that allocation model.
 According to the Census Bureau’s (SPM), Ohio’s childhood poverty rate is and has been over time. The SPM makes several adjustments to incomes (e.g., accounting for taxes and government benefits) and yields an alternative measure of poverty.
As executive vice president and superintendent of schools for ACCEL Schools, I’ve had the challenge and opportunity of guiding nine historically underperforming schools – a portfolio we’ve dubbed our “turnaround schools” – as they re-envisioned how they serve their students and not only got back on track, but in some cases became top performers in their cities.
The key to our success has been our three pillars to turnaround. The first two pillars are academics and culture. I think any educational organization is going to say those are basic foundations, but our third pillar is coaching, and I don’t think that’s quite as common. We’ve developed an all-encompassing culture of coaching – beginning with leadership coaching for our principals and flowing down to instructional coaching for our teachers and even coaching for our school office managers.
Unique Challenges Facing Ohio Charter Schools
Charter schools in Ohio can only operate in certain cities, which prevents the creation of charter schools in high-performing suburban districts. As a result, all the charters are local to low-performing districts, with the vast majority concentrated in Northeast Ohio. Our turnaround schools are all urban, and they all serve a largely socioeconomically challenged demographic.
The percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches at these schools ranges from 97 to 100 percent. The racial and ethnic diversity varies more across the schools. In some of our turnaround schools we have no English language learners and in others we have as many as 10 to 15 percent. In terms of students with disabilities, our schools range from 12 to 24 percent.
Demographically speaking, then, pervasive poverty is the only near-universal trait of the student bodies across these schools.
Those economic challenges are mirrored to an extent in the schools themselves, with funding being the number one challenge we faced in turning them around. Charter schools in Ohio are funded at 30 to 40 percent less per student than traditional public schools.
Another big challenge: reputation. Ohio has a very challenged reputation when it comes to charter schools, or as they're called, community schools. That has had an impact on not only student enrollment, but also teacher recruiting and retention.
Outside of that, we are consistently working to stay ahead of the regulatory changes in regard to charter schools that individual traditional public schools don't have to deal with in our state. Those regulations may come from the Ohio Department of Education directly or from each school sponsor. Additionally, each school operates as its own district, which means they are responsible for a substantial list of regulatory items that they are required to submit for each individual school. It’s a very large volume and quite a burden. Ensuring that doesn't take away from resources that would otherwise be directly impacting student learning is a challenge.
Finding Solutions in Coaching
One of the fundamental tenets of our school turnaround theory of action is ensuring that, starting with principals, the work is laser focused on those who they are there to serve, which is students, families, and educators.
Charter school principals in Ohio have a lot on their plate that isn’t directly focused on serving those people. To ease their burden, we work hard every day to take that off their plate. For example, we’ve built out a central office team that works largely on operations, compliance, and reporting on behalf of our schools.
With those nuts-and-bolts issues out of their way, we then ask our principals to re-envision their school community. That's done through a summer institute during which, over a few weeks, principals focus on the academic and cultural framework of their schools. Throughout that process, they receive intensive support and coaching, both internally and through one of our external partners, Insight Education Group.
When we first started working with these turnaround schools, I was a bit surprised to find out that very few of our school leaders had ever worked in a high-performing school before. When you're asking a school leader to do things fundamentally differently than what they’ve been exposed to, the learning curve becomes very steep.
Our partnership with Insight provides an external reference point for what high-performing schools look like, along with a thought partner for our principals. As a superintendent, I made a conscious choice to have no line of sight into what was happening in this outside coaching of our principals. They can be more vulnerable with outside coaches because they’re not their boss or some other authority figure. And the length of the partnership – we’ve been working with them since 2015 now – offers a stability and a deep working relationship our principals can count on.
Lessons Learned and Next Steps
I think one of the more important things we’ve learned over the last few years is that coaching works, not only for principals but for teachers. Our principals did not have deep experience with coaching prior to our model, but they have taken what they were living through with their executive coach and used it as a framework for their coaching of teachers.
Another lesson stems from the fact that we are not trying to replicate a model. Our schools look, feel, and sound vastly different not just from traditional schools, but from one another. To allow for that, we’ve given our principals the autonomy to determine their own path and what their schools will be like through their summer institutes. What we weren't expecting is that there are times when our principals just want a blueprint. Some of them just did not feel strongly about a particular school model, but I think there's value in having principals struggle through that and wrangle with it for a while. But it was eye-opening to learn that autonomy in all areas is not necessarily universally valued by our school leaders.
We've come a long way, but there are definitely areas where we want to keep moving the needle. For our first cohort of turnaround schools, we’re continuously trying to improve our student outcomes, and we’d also like to start thinking a little more broadly, looking beyond the academic and social emotional growth of students with experiences like student government, sports, band, cheer, dance – the sorts of things that are often overlooked in charter schools in Ohio.
We also want to keep growing those schools. As a charter school organization, we’re very aware that full enrollment brings in funding and allows us to do a lot more for teachers, students, and families than we could if we’re under-enrolled.
For our second cohort, which we just started working with this year, we’re expecting the rate of improvement to be accelerated owing to our experience.
This blog originally appeared on SmartBrief.com.
Public education is no stranger to controversy. Whether it’s standardized testing, academic standards, graduation requirements, charter schools or school funding, discussion and disputation are part of the deal. At present, the K–12 issue triggering the liveliest arguments in Ohio is academic distress commissions, or ADCs.
ADCs are Ohio’s current method for driving change in persistently low-performing schools by establishing new leadership in them. Though operating today in just three districts — Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland — ADCs have triggered lawsuits, contentious town halls and a growing cadre of opponents pushing to eliminate them.
In recent months, legislators have labored to figure out what is and isn’t working under the ADC law and how to improve the process going forward. Many hoped the issue would be dealt with in last month’s state budget, but the House and Senate couldn’t seem to get on the same page regarding ADCs.
When lawmakers return from their summer break, both chambers can expect to find ADCs high on their to-do lists. They’ll face an array of details and trade-offs needing to be weighed and resolved as they struggle to craft a new system that (we hope) will work better and with less controversy than the current one. As they struggle, three key lessons should shape their decisions.
First, as Gov. Mike DeWine has made clear, Ohio has a “moral obligation to help children in failing schools.” The districts currently under ADC control have long histories of low achievement, weak academic growth, meager college completions and few students who even reach proficiency in basic subjects. Such schools produce too many graduates who aren’t prepared for college or the workplace, and their communities, families and local employers pay a high price for this, along with the young people themselves.
Lawmakers must ensure that any system they adopt maintains a mechanism for state intervention when local attempts at improvement are unsuccessful.
Second, critics are right to note that lasting, positive change is unlikely without local buy-in. While any new ADC strategy must default to intervention by the state, local leaders must be given both ample warning when things are amiss and a fair chance to rectify matters before the state steps in.
Many promising solutions don’t start in Columbus, but in districts. Consider the positive efforts in the Akron Public Schools around college and career academies and innovative partnerships like the I Promise School. A new ADC system must ensure that local leaders get the first opportunity to right the education ship.
Finally, struggling districts will need assistance if they’re to succeed with major changes. This includes both financial support and technical expertise. Change is hard, and resources will be needed to identify problem areas and craft and execute a plan.
The Ohio Department of Education has information about evidence-based programs that work, and districts should look to these (and other) sources for guidance. While deciding what approach to take should remain a local decision, it’s important for the state to pursue every opportunity to help districts identify proven solutions based on rigorous research.
After years of overheated rhetoric, Ohioans can expect more passionate debates about academic distress commissions when the General Assembly reconvenes. But a solution is reachable if lawmakers commit to giving local districts a chance to improve, providing the resources necessary to do it, and preserving state intervention as an essential last resort if local efforts continue to fall short.
The stakes are high. Poverty and achievement gaps are steep mountains to climb, but they are not insurmountable. Every Ohio child is capable of learning and deserves to be held to high expectations. It is imperative for state leaders to craft a workable school intervention policy. Ohio’s students deserve nothing less.
This blog first appeared as a commentary in the.