The hottest topic of conversation in education circles these days is what the legislature plans to do with academic distress commissions (ADCs), the state’s method for intervening in persistently low-performing school district
The hottest topic of conversation in education circles these days is what the legislature plans to do with(ADCs), the state’s method for intervening in persistently low-performing school districts. Prior to the rush of budget season, the House passed an amended version of , legislation aimed at replacing the ADC model with a school-based, locally-driven intervention mechanism. The House bill is a . There are some provisions that are promising, but others are problematic.
Recently, the Senate Education Committeeto HB 154 reflecting a very different approach than the House. The new language is similar to that the upper chamber considered including in the budget. The Senate would establish a statewide School Transformation Board that would be responsible for overseeing turnaround efforts, as well as new timelines and requirements for districts that earn overall F grades on their state report cards.
Theare still being debated in the Senate’s education committee. But one thing is for sure: It’s very complicated. Here are the answers to some of the most important questions advocates and members of the general public might soon be asking.
What is the School Transformation Board?
The School Transformation Board would be in charge of Ohio’s district improvement efforts. It consists of five members: the state superintendent, the chancellor of higher education, and three members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. The governor’s appointees must have “experience and expertise in education policy or school improvement,” and one of them must belong to a different political party than the governor. The board’s responsibilities include establishing School Improvement Committees, ratifying contracts between districts and school improvement experts and organizations, and approving alternative interventions.
What happens to districts that earn overall F grades on state report cards?
Nothing if the district only earns an overall F for one year, and then gets a D or higher. But when a district receives a second consecutive overall F, the bill stipulates that the district must be designated with “improvement” status. Districts must then create an improvement plan for the entire district and for each of the district’s schools that received an overall grade of D or F. The district board must approve each plan by a majority vote. Districts have the option of contracting with an approved school improvement expert or organization to help them implement their plans.
If a district implements an improvement plan but continues to earn overall F grades, things get complicated. Starting after the fourth straight F, there are two pathways districts could follow, depending on whether they have contracted with an external school improvement expert or organization. If they have signed such a contract, they get additional years to implement their improvement plan. Otherwise, the Transformation Board establishes a School Improvement Committee, essentially taking over control of the district from the local school board.
What must be included in an improvement plan?
The bill outlines several features that each improvement plan must contain. They include evidence-based or evidence-supported strategies for school improvement, academic improvement benchmarks based on student data, a plan for ongoing engagement with community stakeholders, and an implementation timeline. Plans must be approved by the district board no later than May 31 during the school year in which the district was identified as in improvement status.
Districts are required to convene a community stakeholder group for the district and one for each school to assist in creating plans. Members of these groups include, but are not limited to, a parent, a classroom teacher, a member of the business community, and a representative from a nearby college or university.
What’s the role of outside school improvement organizations and experts?
The Senate bill makes it possible for districts to access external expertise and funding. The department must create a list of approved experts and organizations that provide root cause analyses and school improvement supports. Districts are then permitted to contract with one of these entities. If a district chooses to enter into a contract during the first year of its improvement designation, then the department will pay for the entire cost of the contract. Districts that wait until their second year of an improvement designation only get 50 percent of the cost covered. Districts that wait longer than two years to sign a contract are not eligible for funding.
The bill identifies several elements that must be included in contracts, including progress benchmarks. Districts that fail to meet these benchmarks for three consecutive years will no longer receive state funding to cover contract costs. A district is also ineligible to receive such funds if the School Transformation Board determines that it is “not complying” with its improvement plan. In addition, experts and organizations can annually receive no more than 75 percent of their contractual fee; the remaining funds are not awarded until the school is no longer in improvement status. These provisions serve as an important incentive. Districts and the entities they choose to contract with only receive the total amount of state funding they are promised if schools actually improve.
What is a School Improvement Committee?
If a district implements an improvement plan but continues to earn overall F grades, then the School Transformation Board establishes a School Improvement Committee to oversee the district. Committees are comprised of six members: three are appointed by the state superintendent (one of which must have a background in education or education policy), one is appointed by the teachers union (a non-voting member), and one must be from the business community and is appointed by the mayor. The final member is the president of the district’s school board. At the time of their appointment, all members must be residents of the county in which the district is located or an adjacent one.
The members of the School Improvement Committee are responsible for appointing a director to lead the district in implementing a new improvement plan. Like the CEO of an ADC, directors have operational, managerial, and instructional control of the district. This includes powers such as hiring new employees, conducting employee evaluations, creating a budget and contracting for services, and determining curriculum. Directors must convene community stakeholder groups to assist with creating improvement plans for the entire district and for individual schools, and these plans must be approved by the School Improvement Committee. The committee is also responsible for conducting an annual performance evaluation of the director.
Can districts challenge being placed under the control of a School Improvement Committee?
Yes. If the School Transformation Board establishes a School Improvement Committee in accordance with the provisions of the bill, the affected district may petition the board within thirty days for the right to implement an “alternative district intervention option” developed by the district board. The School Transformation Board must hold a public hearing that allows the district board to provide testimony to support their case. The School Transformation Board is the sole authority able to approve or deny a district board’s request. If the request is denied, the district will be subject to a School Improvement Committee.
What happens to districts that are currently under an academic distress commission?
If this bill becomes law, all ADCs will be dissolved. The School Transformation Board will establish a School Improvement Committee instead, but the district will remain under ADC control until the transition to a committee is complete. Like other districts, ADC-controlled districts will be permitted to request a public hearing from the School Transformation Board to petition for an alternative intervention option created by the district board. ADC districts are also permitted to enter into a contract with an improvement expert or organization.
How does a district get out of improvement status?
A district can officially exit out of improvement status if it meets one of two requirements:
- For two consecutive years, it receives an overall grade of D or higher and an overall value-added progress score of C or higher.
- For three consecutive years, it meets all academic benchmarks that were established in the school improvement plan and receives a score of C or higher on the value-added progress measure.
If the bill is passed, when do these changes go into effect?
If passed in its current form, the law applies starting in July 2020. When determining which districts qualify for improvement status, the department is prohibited from using overall grades that were assigned prior to the 2018–19 school year. Because state report cards aren’t released until September and districts need two consecutive overall F grades to be assigned improvement status, we likely won’t know the first districts to be identified until September 2020.
The complexity of the Senate’s newest proposal is evidence of just how complicated and controversial district and school improvement efforts have become in the Buckeye State. The bill is not a perfect solution to the problems that have plagued ADCs since they were strengthened in 2015, but it is certainly the most promising proposal made by legislators thus far. Here’s hoping lawmakers can iron out the kinks and settle on a fix that will have students’ best interests at heart.
Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts on school funding in Ohio. For the previous blogs, see , , and .
One of the central tenets of the much-discussed Cupp-Patterson school funding is that “dollars flow directly to where students are actually educated.” That notion is exactly right. In some respects, the plan works to accomplish that goal—most notably, by shifting school choice programs to a mechanism. But the plan is incomplete as it doesn’t deliver policies that would create fair funding within districts. A true “fair funding” plan would not overlook this critical dimension. Students, after all, attend schools not districts.
For districts with just a few schools of similar demographics, ensuring a fair distribution isn’t likely to be a major issue. But in larger and more diverse districts, achieving that goal could prove more difficult—and may not be happening at all.
In theory, an equitable distribution of funds within a school district should be easier to achieve than between districts across the entire state. Unlike districts, individual schools can’t levy property taxes, and thus schools in wealthier parts of a district can’t raise sums that far exceed their counterparts. Still, funding experts havewhether sprawling urban districts are actually driving extra resources to their neediest schools. The are rooted mainly in teacher that reward seniority. Because schools in prosperous neighborhoods often attract more experienced teachers, they end up spending more than other schools in the district.
This post examines the school-level spending of state, local, and federal dollars in Columbus—Ohio’s largest school district—to see whether it is distributing funds fairly by providing more resources to its neediest schools.
Enrolling roughly 50,000 students, Columbus City Schools encompasses neighborhoods of widely varying wealth. Unfortunately, we don’t have reliable poverty data for Columbus schools due to federal changes that have resulted in all district schools reporting 100 percent “economically disadvantaged” students. However, we can consider whether schools serving higher fractions of black and Hispanic pupils receive extra funds. (Census on Columbus suggest that students from these subgroups are much more likely to be in poverty.)
Figure 1 indicates that Columbus doesn’t systematically direct more aid to schools serving more students of color. While majority-white schools are not noticeably favored, the flat trend line shows that schools serving large majorities of black and Hispanic pupils receive about the same as those enrolling fewer students of color—not a noticeably “progressive” funding system. The school-spending patterns within Cincinnati and Cleveland districts (not shown below) are nearly identical to Columbus.
Figure 1: Relationship between per-pupil expenditures versus percent Black and Hispanic, Columbus district schools (fiscal year 2018)
Source: Ohio Department of Education, . Note: Most district expenditures are tied to specific schools, though some are not. In Columbus, 11 percent of expenditures are reported only at the district level. This figure does not include funding for public charter schools and three district schools that enroll more than 50 percent students with disabilities (the district average is 17 percent). The district’s spending pattern is similar when using ODE’s “ ” measure that adjusts expenditures for school demographics.
Improving funding equity within districts
To divvy up resources in a more equitable way, funding experts likeof Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab and we at have long encouraged “ ” (WSF). This model can be an especially powerful lever for driving funding equity at a district level. Rather than linking schools’ spending to staffing inputs, WSF puts students at the center by tying extra money to pupils with greater needs. Since district funds follow students, district schools that serve primarily high-need students would receive more aid. High-poverty schools can use their extra money to recruit more effective, higher-paid staff—or supplement the staff they have with other resources and supports.
The details vary, but a few cutting-edgearound the nation have adopted a WSF model, including Ohio’s civic and education leaders should continue to push for district funding policies that allocate dollars through a weighted funding model. Although state legislators are unlikely to mandate that districts allocate all of their funds via WSF, they should consider three policy initiatives that could move districts in that direction:
- Require state “categorical” dollars to follow district students to the school they attend. Ohio currently allocates a portion of state dollars to districts based on certain characteristics of their students (e.g., economically disadvantaged or English learning students). These state funds, known as “categorical” funding, aim to provide districts with extra support to serve children with greater needs. That’s a good start. But without a statutory requirement for districts to allocate dollars to the schools actually serving these students, the funds may be sent in the wrong direction. While this suggestion won’t completely resolve within-district inequities, it would guarantee that a certain portion of state funds follow children to their school of attendance.
- Change the method for reporting low-income students. Districts should make intentional efforts to drive money to their poorest schools. But as alluded to above, shifts in federal subsidized meals policy have compromised school-level data on economically disadvantaged (ED) students. When all district schools report 100 percent ED students, it’s harder to target extra funds to schools serving the most low-income students. (For sensible reasons, no state or district, to my knowledge, directly ties funds to race and ethnicity.) To help support WSF at the district level, Ohio policymakers should begin reporting low-income students based on “ ” methods that flag students based on their families’ participation in means-tested programs like SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid. Though not without technical challenges, states such as and have shifted to direct certification, helping to produce a more accurate headcount of low-income students.
- Repeal spending mandates for districts that adopt weighted student funding. One benefit of a WSF model is that it ensures monies arrive at the right school. Provided that safeguards are in place, legislators should consider undoing other spending regulations. Ohio law, for example, places very specific on spending state dollars for ED students. More recently, legislators placed limitations around the use of the funds. These stipulations may be warranted when districts allocate dollars in opaque and seemingly arbitrary ways. But they would become less necessary if districts adopted a WSF model that assures policymakers and the public that money flows to the schools that need it the most.
Equitable funding systems ensure that dollars follow students all the way to the schools they attend. Getting the flow of funds from districts to schools right is an important part of the equation. Next up, we’ll consider funding for students exercising school choice.
When President Obamathe (ESSA) into law back in December 2015, it marked a new day in federal education policy. ESSA provides states and districts with plenty of flexibility, but it retains a few policies from its predecessor—NCLB—related to testing. States are still required to administer annual assessments in certain grades, disaggregate and report results according to student subgroups, and include results in .
Both NCLB and ESSA identify students with disabilities as a subgroup whose results must be reported. During reauthorization debates, disability rights advocates pushed hard to ensure that specific NCLB provisions would carry over into ESSA. Chief among them was the requirement for students with disabilities to be held to the same expectations as their peers, and for schools to continue to be held responsible for their performance. (A very small number of students with cognitive challenges can be tested via alternative assessments.)
A quick look at the history of federal education policy reveals why disability rights advocates were so adamant. Afrom the notes that, prior to NCLB, students with disabilities were “excluded systematically” from participating in state assessments. This policy was “problematic in that testing results provided inaccurate information about school performance, referrals to special education increased, and students with disabilities were subjected to lower expectations.” It wasn’t until NCLB—which built on a foundation already set by the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—that parents and educators had “tangible information” about how special needs students performed in relation to their peers.
The fact that ESSA, a fiercely debated but ultimately bipartisan effort, maintained NCLB’s testing requirements was a huge win. Students with disabilities may need extra support, but they are just as capable of learning as their peers. They deserve to be held to the same expectations. That’s why it’s somewhat surprising that Ohio’s recently passedseems to run afoul of what the special needs community advocated for during the ESSA process.
Ohio’s budget contains a multitude of, including a variety of changes to Ohio’s . Many of these are good news for students and families. But others, particularly those related to student testing, are less clear cut. I’ve already about a problematic change that allows private schools that enroll voucher students to administer an alternative standardized assessment instead of the state exams given to public school students in grades three through eight.
A second change applies to students with special needs who use a voucher. It allows private schools to excuse students with disabilities from taking any standardized tests at all if the school develops a written plan that determines the state tests, as well as alternative tests with accommodations, do not “accurately assess the student’s academic performance.” According to the law, the plan must be developed in consultation with the student’s parents, and must include an “academic profile” of the student’s performance that will be reviewed annually.
The upshot of all this is that private schools now appear to have free rein to decide whether voucher students with special needs are held to the same expectations as their peers. The state already permitted special needs students for whom testing might be inappropriate to. The budget provision goes beyond that. It’s unclear what additional frameworks or rubrics would be used to determine that state tests and the permitted alternatives fail to “accurately assess” student performance. There’s no definition for what accuracy means in this context. And it is downright problematic that the state would imply its chosen tests are inaccurate. How can tests be accurate and fair for public school students—including those with disabilities—but not for those enrolled in private schools?
It’s similarly unclear how parents will be involved in the process. The law stipulates that private schools must work “in consultation” with parents, but there are no guardrails. Can schools that don’t want to test special needs students approach parents with the recommendation that the students opt out of testing? If nothing else, this would allow private schools to avoid the hassle of testing, but it could deprive parents of valuable information.
Finally, there are no provisions outlining what an “academic profile” must contain. If state tests and alternatives that provide accommodations are deemed inaccurate, it’s possible that no test results will be included. That leaves class grades and teacher evaluations which—though meaningful and important—are far more subjective and difficult to compare across grade levels and schools. There are also no requirements for how schools must annually review plans. The process could be thoughtful and based on data and feedback. But it could also become just another box to check off.
It’s true that private schools, by virtue of being privately funded rather than state funded, are not subject to the same laws as traditional district and charter schools. The ESSA provisions relating to special needs students discussed earlier in this piece don’t technically apply to private schools. But voucher students attend private schools using state funds. That’s why they were required to take state tests in the first place—because the state has a responsibility to ensure that these funds are spent well. Fulfilling this responsibility means ensuring that students who use vouchers receive a quality education. The state can’t do that if students with disabilities are being assessed in vastly different ways than their public school peers—or aren’t being assessed at all.
It’s also true that these students are attending private schools by choice. If parents don’t like the way a private school is educating their child, they are free to find a better option. But that’s far easier said than done. Many of thewho used the —the voucher program open to students who have been identified by their district of residence as having a disability—in 2017–18 did so because their families found the services offered by the district to be lacking in some way. Where, exactly, are these students supposed to go?
Moving forward, it will be important for Ohio lawmakers to listen to feedback from disability rights advocates about this new provision. If families and advocates feel that it grants needed flexibility and doesn’t lower expectations for students with special needs, that’s good news. But if it doesn’t—if students with special needs are held to lower expectations than their peers like they were in the days before NCLB—then lawmakers need to make a change.
Bellwether Education Partners, long interested in the improvement of school transportation systems, released no less than three papers on the topic this summer. One of them, “Intersection Ahead,” looks at choice-based racial integration efforts through a transportation lens.
School choice efforts such as charters and vouchers are still a long way from fulfilling their primary purpose—increasing the number of quality school seats for the neediest underserved students—but authors Phillip Burgoyne-Allen, Bonnie O’Keefe, and Jennifer O’Neal Schiess focus specifically on schools of choice designed with another purpose: reducing racial segregation in their cities. They provide three case studies—a magnet system in North Carolina, a “diverse-by-design” charter network in Kansas, and a “controlled choice” model in Kentucky. For each, the authors explain the myriad ways that leaders are trying to facilitate more integrated classrooms, and the many challenges they’re facing. One of biggest issues, and the focus of the paper, is how to effectively and efficiently get prospective or enrolled students to the schools they want to attend. This is an issue for all schools of choice that are trying to achieve any positive end.
Magnet schools enroll students in specialized programs—be it math, science, art, etc.—from larger geographies than traditional school assignment zones, either serving an entire district or multiple districts in a region, with entry often via lottery. The breadth of geographic coverage, and often the quality of magnet schools, ensure that they are attractive to a wide cross-section of students. Some magnets, like the system in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools profiled in one case study, have been engineered specifically to boost integration. Admission, for example, hinges on an index comprising five socioeconomic indicators: household income, educational attainment, English being spoken in the home, homeownership, and single versus multi-adult households. And based on the existing diversity of a magnet school, priority for new admissions is given to students at whatever indicator levels are needed to maintain the desired diversity level. Because these systems exist in tandem with more traditional assignment zone schools, districts must literally drive far and wide to meet students’ needs. Mitigating efforts like staggered bell schedules and efficient pickup locations can help, the report says. But costly and time-intensive routes seem mostly unavoidable, and therefore hamper magnets’ contribution to integration.
The second case study covers Crossroads Charter Schools in Kansas City, Missouri, which are “diverse-by-design,” meaning they’re committed to student diversity in their mission and have achieved a certain level of diversity within their actual enrollment. Location decisions, when those can be controlled, can assist greatly in achieving a charter’s mission of diversity, but can often wreak havoc with transportation. The Crossroads schools are located in a downtown area where space was available but population density remains low. Getting any students to simply attend, let alone a diverse group of them, required the school to create its own transportation network from the start via fundraising and partnerships with other charters. But ultimately, the students bore the cost of increased diversity, not the schools. “The reality is that the low-income student across town has to wake up earlier and catch the bus, whereas a more affluent student closer to our schools might have a parent drive them and get an extra hour of sleep,” said Courtney Hughley, chief operating officer at Crossroads. As with the aforementioned magnet systems, there are ways to mitigate these effects, but they’re largely unavoidable as long as children live far from the schools they want to attend.
The final case study is of the “controlled choice” model in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) in Louisville, Kentucky. The populous and sprawling district has several large school-assignment zones. Residents can only attend schools in their zone, but each has a number of school choices—especially at the elementary level. Individual schools have a “diversity index” that includes average household income, racial breakdown, and family educational attainment. Families rank their choices and are assigned based on those rankings and how their attendance would affect a school’s diversity index. The transportation requirements are, obviously, enormous. JCPS provides all transportation and employs a “depot model,” wherein many students must travel to transfer points and change buses daily to and from school. Without it, the district’s school choice system and diversity efforts would not work. Data show that JCPS’s transportation is more efficient overall than its description might suggest, but much of that financial efficiency rests on the sacrifices of the youngest students in the district—elementary students who must travel farthest and transfer twice each day. Throw in fog, snow, or rain, and those real “costs” surely become apparent.
The key recommendations from the Bellwether—adequate and equitable funding; innovation, planning, and technology; and partnerships among districts, charters, and other community organizations supporting families—make sense. They’d generally make any transportation system more efficient. But a well-funded and cost-effective school transportation system—even one that leads to increases in quality and integration—that requires poor kids to wake up before dawn, transfer buses, and ride for two hours is not a win for families. They’re bearing most of the costs. A better system would include a collection of good schools near every child from which families could choose. But until we achieve that, “efficient” school transportation may, sadly, be the best we can do.
SOURCE: Phillip Burgoyne-Allen, Bonnie O’Keefe, and Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, “Intersection Ahead: School Transportation, School Integration, and School Choice,” Bellwether Education Partners (August 2019).
Across the nation, headlines have trumpeted soaring high-school graduation rates. Ohio is no exception. Lofty rates leave the impression that the vast majority of students are ready to take their next steps in life. But the truth is that too many students exit high school not fully prepared for college and career.
Our new study goes beyond traditional graduation rates (and state test scores) by making use of publicly available state education data that can be used to gauge the readiness of Ohio students. Analyses indicate that less than half of students exit high school well-equipped to take their next steps into college or the workforce.
Key findings for the graduating class of 2017 include:
- 26 percent meet college remediation-free benchmarks on the ACT or SAT
- 5 percent earn industry-recognized credentials while in high school
- 13 percent achieve passing scores on at least one AP exam
- 21 percent earn college credits via dual enrollment
In a first-of-its kind analysis, the report also conducts a deeper dive at regional and county levels. Based on these data, counties are assigned rankings that allow communities to see how readiness in their county compares to other parts of the state.
Click on the report link to view the readiness data from your region and county. We hope this report will spark conversations across Ohio communities about how to improve the postsecondary readiness of Ohio’s young men and women.
NOTE: Today the Ohio Senate’s Education Committee heard testimony on a substitute version of House Bill 154, addressing the state’s academic distress commission paradigm and the ways in which Ohio intervenes in chronically underperforming school districts. Fordham vice president Chad Aldis testified as an interested party. This is the written version his testimony.
Thank you Chair Lehner, Vice Chair Terhar, Ranking Member Fedor, and Senate Education Committee members for giving me the opportunity today to provide testimony today on Substitute House Bill 154.
My name is Chad Aldis, and I am the Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The Fordham Institute is an education-focused nonprofit that conducts research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C.
As many of you know, Fordham has been highly critical of the recent efforts to repeal ADCs. We’ve written extensively on the state’s moral obligation to intervene on behalf of students when districts struggle year after year. At the same time, we’ve also recognized some of the weaknesses of the current approach.
We believe that, overall, the Senate’s changes to House Bill 154 are a step in the right direction. However, there are some areas that could still be improved.
- Local districts drive initial improvement efforts. One of the most common criticisms of ADCs is that they eliminate local control. This bill addresses those concerns by empowering districts to create and implement their own improvement plans after they are placed in “improvement” status and prior to state intervention. The bill sets guidelines for what must be included in these plans, but districts have plenty of flexibility and control.
- Districts—and low performing schools—are subject to improvement plans. Each school district that is placed in improvement status is required to create an improvement plan for the entire district and for each school that received an overall grade of D or F. This is important since many of the most successful intervention efforts in other states have been focused on the school level rather than the district level.
- Districts will have access to school improvement experts and financial assistance. The department is required to create a list of approved school improvement experts and organizations that provide root cause analyses or school improvement supports. Districts with an improvement designation are permitted to contract with these experts and organizations at the state’s expense. This is an important provision that provides districts with access to expertise and financial resources that they don’t have under current law.
- There is accountability for districts that fail to improve. The House’s version of HB 154 would allow districts to continue implementing locally created improvement plans indefinitely, regardless of whether the plans actually improve student learning. That’s a clear abdication of the state’s responsibility to students and families. This bill, on the other hand, requires the state to establish a school improvement committee for districts that continue to perform poorly. This additional, state-level intervention should serve as a strong incentive for districts to implement their improvement plans with fidelity.
- Exit criteria from improvement status is clear and reasonable. In order to shed the improvement designation, districts must earn an overall grade of D and an overall value-added score of C. Including a requirement for value-added is important because it will ensure that districts are meeting important student growth benchmarks.
- Creates a logical path forward for districts currently operating under an academic distress commission. Districts currently under the control of an ADC will transition to a school improvement committee, which is a new—but improved—version of an academic distress commission. These provisions allow current ADC districts to take advantage of the same locally-driven opportunities as other districts, without giving them a free pass to start from scratch after years of poor performance.
- Makes school improvement committee work transparent and accountable. Another common criticism of ADCs is that the CEO wasn’t accountable to or transparent with the local community. This sub bill addresses that complaint by requiring the director of a school improvement committee to appear before the district board and give quarterly reports about the progress of the district.
Areas for Improvement
- Waits for a district to get two consecutive overall grades of F before starting the improvement process. Language that the Senate previously considered began the improvement planning process after only one year, which is a better approach than waiting for two. It’s hard to get an overall F—not many districts do it. It makes sense for districts that do perform that poorly to be required to craft an improvement plan and to have access to additional resources.
- The language related to academic improvement benchmarks within improvement plans is soft. The Senate is right to require student performance be included as part of district and school improvement plans; however, the sub bill (in line 199) uses the word “may” rather than “shall” in regards to the use of academic performance measures from the state report card. Since districts are placed in improvement status based on their performance on state report card measures, it makes sense for them to include these measures as benchmarks in their improvement plans.
- Ability to put levies, especially renewal levies, on the ballot. The sub bill reflects many lessons learned from experiences in Youngstown and Lorain. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to address the funding challenges that arise when a district board refuses to put a needed levy on the ballot as a means of limiting the power of the commission. If this loophole carries over into the new law, it could allow a district board to strangle the important work of a school improvement committee, despite the fact that the board previously failed—after ample opportunity—to improve academic performance.
- Alternative intervention plans aren’t necessary and likely bad policy. Under the Senate’s proposed language, school districts that contract with an improvement expert or organization have up to six years to improve their performance before a school improvement committee is created. But even with all this time to improve, the bill still allows districts to petition the school transformation board for permission to implement an “alternative district intervention option” rather than become subject to a committee. This is unnecessary and a bad idea. If districts have promising, innovative ideas that could improve performance, they should be implementing them as soon as they’re placed in improvement status—not saving them for later.
- Consistency with ESSA. ESSA requires school level interventions for the state’s lowest performing schools. Ohio, while implementing those provisions, has long required district level intervention on top of that. While these requirements can coexist, the Senate requires school level improvement plans as well. It would be wise to make sure that these improvements plan are done in coordination with any ESSA-related improvement plan and don’t put additional bureaucratic duties on the districts and schools.
Improving low performing schools is hard but necessary work. This policy is always going to be controversial which makes it even more important to make sure that you get it right.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have.