Since 2005, Ohio has intervened in persistently-low performing school districts by establishing new leadership via an
Since, Ohio has intervened in persistently-low performing school districts by establishing new leadership via an (ADC). In 2015, the law was to and lessen the power of local school boards. These changes resulted in a and calls to abolish ADCs altogether.
Despite public pressure from districts, lawmakerson how to improve ADCs during the most recent budget cycle. That’s not surprising, given the vastly different proposals put forth by the , the , and the . When lawmakers return from summer break, it will be no small feat to reconcile these diverse proposals into a workable law.
But it’s not impossible. The wisest way for policymakers to determine which provisions to keep and which ones to toss is to considerand in other states and districts. Learning from others’ mistakes and triumphs will be critical to creating an intervention framework for Ohio that will be both effective and less controversial than its predecessor.
Though not the only state worth examining, lessons from Tennessee’s turnaround models could be instructive for Ohio policymakers. The Volunteer State has intervened in struggling schools since 2012, when they introduced two separate models: The(ASD) and (iZones). The ASD is a state-run district that directly manages some schools and turns others over to select charter management organizations. iZones, on the other hand, are subsets of schools that remain under district control but are granted greater autonomy and financial support to implement interventions.
The(TERA) at Vanderbilt University has been following these reforms closely since their inception. Though their work that iZone schools were improving student outcomes and ASD schools weren’t, published in December found more uneven results in later iZone cohorts. To aid Tennessee lawmakers in improving both models, TERA researchers published a —based in part on their rigorous research into iZone and ASD schools—that identified evidence-based principles for states seeking to improve schools.
Tennessee’s turnaround efforts aren’t perfectly aligned with Ohio. Tennessee focused on individual schools, while Ohio has been focused on districts. But TERA’s brief should still prove useful for Ohio lawmakers looking to reboot ADCs. Here’s a look at three lessons Ohio could learn from Tennessee.
1. Start with assessment and engagement
The TERA report contends that identifying and addressing barriers to improvement is a crucial aspect of effective school turnarounds. One of the key ingredients is conducting a comprehensive needs assessment. Many school turnaround efforts are rightly focused on outcomes like student performance, value-added scores, and graduation rates. But assessing the daily experiences of teachers and leaders also matters. The vast majority of school turnaround research indicates that feedback from students, parents, educators, and community members is vitally important to improvement efforts. In fact, proactively engaging stakeholders is a make-or-break aspect of school turnaround. Critics of Ohio’s ADC paradigm have loudly argued that they believe the current model hasn’t fostered positive community engagement. Whether that’s. But either way, Ohio lawmakers would be wise to build provisions into the new law that require comprehensive needs assessments and multiple opportunities to gather meaningful stakeholder feedback. Both the Senate and the House offered assessment and engagement provisions in their respective proposals. All policymakers need to do is agree on a method that will ensure quality data and feedback from a broad range of stakeholders.
2. Empower educators
Almost every piece of literature on school turnarounds emphasizes the importance of recruiting, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers. Research shows that iZone schools were able to attract and keep more effective teachers than the ASD, likely through retention bonuses. In addition, principals in iZone schools earned higher salaries than principals in comparison schools, a difference that appeared to reduce principal turnover.
Differential pay structures are controversial, so it’s unlikely that Ohio lawmakers will include them in a new ADC law. But they could include another important and often overlooked aspect of teacher policy: empowering educators through leadership opportunities. The TERA brief notes that existing research points to “distributed leadership”—an approach described as effective principals empowering assistant principals, department heads, and teachers to lead school reform efforts—as a good strategy for school improvement. Given that much of the criticism of Ohio’s current ADC model is that it disempowers local leaders, state lawmakers should ensure the new law gives districts a chance to craft and implement their own improvement plans prior to state intervention. Both the House and the Senate proposals contained provisions that would do so. By keeping these provisions, lawmakers would open up crucial opportunities for teacher leadership.
3. Don’t be afraid of external partners
The Ohio Senate’s proposal for changing the ADC model included the opportunity for districts to contract with school improvement organizations at the state’s expense. The goal of this provision was to provide districts with access to experts who could help create and implement high-quality improvement plans. The TERA brief mentions something similar. It notes: “Leaders in schools that successfully turned around their performance were given support in developing and implementing effective, research-based leadership capacities, in some cases through external partners.” Given this finding, and the common sense idea that districts may need assistance to drive significant change, it would be wise for lawmakers to keep the Senate’s provision regarding school improvement organizations in their new proposal.
District and school turnarounds are not for the faint of heart. It would be easy for lawmakers to throw up their hands, abolish ADCs, and get out of the school improvement game all together. But as Governor DeWine has, the state has a “moral obligation to help intervene on behalf of students stuck in failing schools.” There are positive ideas within each of the proposals before the General Assembly, and even more promising possibilities in the research and recommendations of groups like TERA. It’s going to take some effort, but Ohio lawmakers are more than capable of finding a model that will work in the best interest of students.
The first twoin my series about school funding looked at big-picture questions of how much Ohio currently spends on K–12 education, and whether increases of the magnitude proposed in the Cupp-Patterson are warranted. Funding levels, however, shouldn’t be the only concern, as policymakers also need to consider whether funds are distributed fairly.
One of the central problems the Cupp-Patterson plan identifies is that four out of five Ohio districts do not receive state funding in accordance with the “formula,” a mechanism that is supposed to ensure fair allocations based on districts’ ability to raise local revenue. Instead, most districts’ state funding amounts are affected by the cap or guarantee—more on them later—a more arbitrary way of distributing funds. The Cupp-Patterson plan thusthat “the formula doesn’t work.”
But is Ohio’s funding system actually dysfunctional and leading to an unfair distribution of funds? Let’s take a look.
The overall funding system
In a system that is fair to school districts, one would expect to see a mostly even playing field in overall expenditures between poor and wealthy districts—or even one in which poor districts spend more to compensate for the higher needs of the pupils they serve. The following charts explore whether this is the case in Ohio.
Figure 1 shows the relationship between districts’ spending (including state, local, and federal dollars) and the median income of their residents. We notice that higher income districts—the points toward the right side of the chart—typically spend amounts comparable to low-income districts. In fact, there is virtually no link between district spending and median income, as indicated by the nearly flat trend line.
Figure 1: Relationship between resident income and per-pupil expenditure, Ohio school districts
Source: . Note: Though not displayed, a weak correlation is observed between district spending and property wealth; similar results also emerge when looking at spending and student enrollments.
Another way of examining the fairness question is to divide districts into wealth quartiles—e.g., the top and bottom 25 percent of districts in median income—and compare spending. Figure 2 shows the results. We see that Ohio’s poorest districts spend much more than the wealthiest ($13,186 versus $11,586 per pupil). Some of the funding advantage is due to federal grants, such as, which steer more aid to poorer schools. But as we’ll see next, the state funding program is the primary driver of these results.
Figure 2: Per-pupil expenditure by districts’ median income quartile
Note: The first quartile represents the poorest 25 percent of districts, while the fourth quartile represents the wealthiest 25 percent in median income. The average per-pupil expenditure for each quartile was calculated by weighting the number of students in each district.
The state funding program
While wealthy districts can and do generate far more in local funds, the state can compensate through its allocation formula. This is what happens in Ohio. When focusing on state contributions alone, a clear pattern emerges in which the state’s poorer districts receive more assistance than wealthy ones. As indicated by the downward sloping line, figure 3 shows that low-income districts tend to receive more state assistance, and vice versa. Figure 4 displays a similar relationship when examining property wealth.
Figure 3: Relationship between median income and state foundation aid, Ohio school districts
Figure 4: Relationship between property wealth and state foundation aid, Ohio school districts
Source: Ohio Department of Education, FY 2019 June #2 . Note: The state foundation aid includes the core opportunity grant, categorical funds (e.g., for students with disabilities), transportation, and several smaller components. It excludes state funds that are designated for charter schools and private-school scholarships, along with property-tax rollback reimbursements.
Caps and guarantees
Overall, Ohio’s funding system does a reasonable job offsetting differences in district wealth. But as pointed out in the Cupp-Patterson plan, the formula isn’t strictly adhered to. Instead, most districts are on a “cap or guarantee.” Caps limit annual increases in state funding, even if districts are enrolling more students (or wealth is declining). In fiscal year 2019, the cap withheld $478 million in state aid to 162 of Ohio’s 610 districts. Guarantees are the opposite: Relative to the formula prescription, they “overfund” districts that are losing enrollment or experiencing increasing wealth. In 2019, Ohio spent $257 million in guarantee aid for 339 districts.
What if caps and guarantees went away and the formula was allowed to work unfettered? Figure 5 shows that this would improve, albeit modestly, the fairness of the state distribution model. The inverse relationship between property wealth and state funding levels becomes stronger, as evidenced by the higher r-squared statistic. (The link between median income and state aid, not displayed, is virtually unchanged.)
Figure 5: Relationship between property wealth and state foundation aid (without caps or guarantees), Ohio school districts
To some, this may be surprising, as thearound caps has focused on fast-growing but wealthy districts such as Olentangy and New Albany that would see a bump in state funding. But many capped districts are not as wealthy. Columbus, Dayton, Middletown, and Maple Heights, for instance, are withheld state funds due to the cap. Dayton is an interesting example of how the cap works against districts with an eroding or slow-growing tax base. Although Dayton has lost enrollment—which should reduce its state aid—it also has declining property values, thus boosting its formula-prescribed amount. Due to the cap, however, the district isn’t fully compensated for these losses in local wealth. Meanwhile, there may be misconceptions that all guarantee districts are shrinking and poor. Some are—East Cleveland receives the most total guarantee funds—but dozens of wealthy districts receive extra subsidies via guarantee (e.g., Mason and Grandview Heights).
Removing caps and guarantees would ensure that all districts receive funds according to the same formula, and it would also better direct dollars to the places needing state resources most. That’s a fairer system. Surprisingly, however, the Cupp-Patterson plan doesn’t fully solve the problem. While it ends caps, the plan doesn’t appear to eliminate guarantees permanently.
How could the state unwind both of these policies? A phase-out process would likely be needed to give districts on the guarantee time to right-size their budgets. It would also make the cap-removal process more manageable from a state budget perspective. The table below offers a simple roadmap of how such a process might work. The top half shows that districts on the guarantee would gradually receive less extra aid during the phase-out. Meanwhile, the bottom half shows that the state would pay districts on the cap more of the withheld funds over this period.
Table 1: Illustration of a phase-out schedule to remove guarantees and caps
*This is the total amount spent on guarantees in FY 2019. †This is the total amount withheld due to caps in FY 2019.
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Ohio’s funding system isn’t “unfair” as some of itsallege. In fact, in analysis of expenditures, it recently awarded Ohio a respectable “B” rating for funding equity, right around the national average. Claims like “the formula doesn’t work” aren’t quite right. The overall funding picture indicates that poor districts usually receive amounts on par to well above those of affluent ones. Much of this levelling is the result of the state’s funding program.
A more accurate claim, however, is that “the formula isn’t used.” On that count, Ohio has work ahead to improve its fairness to all districts by funding them according to the same formula without the unneeded distortion of caps and guarantees.
 Per House Bill 166, the use of the funding formula has been temporarily suspended for FYs 2020–21. Districts’ funding amounts are generally based on FY 2019 allocations when the cap and guarantee were in place.
About a month ago, Governor DeWineOhio’s into law. The final version contains a . Some of them—related to , , and —have been well-covered by the media. Others have slipped by unnoticed, even though they could significantly impact Ohio families.
For example, consider the changes made to voucher policy. In Ohio, the private school choice sector is big and complicated. The state hasthat serve thousands of students. Most of these changes didn’t enter the budget picture until late in the game, when the a massive and needed expansion of income-based , the program that offers state-funded scholarships to low-income students. The majority of their additions made it into the .
Tucked among these many provisions are a couple that alter testing requirements for private schools that accept voucher students. Under, private schools were required to administer state exams to any student that attended via a voucher. Schools that had at least 65 percent of their total enrollment made up of voucher students were required to administer state exams to all of their students. The schools were also required to report the results to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), which was supposed to the scores, distribute them to parents, and post the results .
Thanks to, these testing related provisions are about to change. Now, private schools that enroll voucher students will have the option to administer an alternative standardized assessment instead of the state exams given to public school students in grades 3–8. This change covers schools that must test individual voucher students, as well as those that are required to test all students because they meet the 65 percent threshold. Schools will still be required to report the results to ODE, and the department’s compilation and aggregation duties appear to be the same.
The law specifies that alternative exams will be determined by ODE, and it does not appear to limit the department to picking just one alternative. That means it’s possible that private schools could have a list of options from which to choose, much like. The upshot of all this is that, once the budget goes into effect, voucher students in Ohio will no longer be required to take the same state exams that the vast majority of their taxpayer-funded peers do.
This change wasn’t widely debated—at least not outside the—but it was likely made in response to two common complaints by voucher advocates. The first is that more private schools would be willing to accept voucher students if they weren’t subject to state testing mandates. Private schools are zealous in protecting their ability to choose their own curriculum, materials, and assessments, and consider administering the state test—even to a small number of students—an infringement on their autonomy.
The second complaint is that state test results are not an accurate picture of how well private schools serve their voucher students. Several studies—including afocused on Ohio and published by Fordham—have found discouraging achievement results on state exams for students who use a voucher. that, because private schools aren’t subject to state accountability measures, they might take state tests less seriously, and that could be why student performance is lackluster. It’s also possible that misalignment between the standards and content taught in private schools and what is tested on state exams has depressed results.
Now that private schools have the option to use an alternative assessment, Ohio should have a better indication of whether there’s any weight behind these claims. For example, if advocates are right about why some private schools refuse to accept vouchers, then the option to use an alternative test—one that’s not created and controlled by the state—should increase the number of schools that are willing to participate. If that doesn’t happen, this complaint will be.
Yet permitting the use of an alternative exam will also make it far more difficult to compare student results. Sure, it’s possible for ODE to crosswalk these exams. But nothing in law requires them to do so, and comparing the results of two different tests is not an apples-to-apples comparison, no matter how good the crosswalks are. Without data from the same exam, policymakers won’t be able to accurately determine whether students who use a voucher perform better or worse than their peers in traditional district or charter schools. Nor will parents be able to tell whether scholarship students at one private school fare better than students at a school which administers a different test.
These are big losses, not just for policy wonks and researchers, but also for Ohio families and taxpayers. Vouchers are an integral part of a robust school choice system, but they’re still a taxpayer-funded option. The state has a fiscal responsibility to ensure that these funds are spent well, and that means ensuring that students who use vouchers are receiving a quality education compared to their public school peers.
The state also has an obligation to provide quality, easy-to-understand information to families who are interested in voucher programs. EdChoice, for example, serves low-income students, many of whom are stuck in persistently poor-performing districts. These students and their families deserve clear, actionable information that will help them make an informed decision about whether using a voucher will lead to improved outcomes. Academic offerings and outcomes might not beparents , but they do matter—and the changes included in the budget could make it more difficult for parents to get the information they need.
Only time will tell whether the budget’s changes to voucher testing requirements will be a boon or a bust for Ohio families. But lawmakers should pay close attention to the impacts of this seemingly small change.
A new study from Georgetown University reaffirmed an uncomfortable but familiar finding: Socioeconomic status has a significant effect on students’ long-term outcomes, regardless of their academic performance in kindergarten or the quality of the schools they attend in K–12.
Lead researcher Anthony Carnevale and his team did not look at specific students, but at long-term education trends in specific income quartiles. They started with data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: Kindergarten (ECLS-K) from spring 1999 to inform their demographic and socioeconomic analysis, and to determine children’s reading and math skills from the earliest point. Ultimately, they chose math scores as their main basis of academic achievement across all data sets. They also used the annual American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau to gather data on race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), jobs and occupations, educational attainment, and other status markers. Other data sources included the national Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (buying habits, household income, etc.), the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (high school math performance, postsecondary access, and early labor market outcomes), and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (comparing differences in environment based on race, ethnicity, and SES).
In short, millions of data points were combined to build a picture of “typical” students at different points on their K–12 path. Researchers then compared the trajectories of different types of typical students starting at similar points of academic achievement in kindergarten—both high and low—to determine how their circumstances did or did not affect their trajectories into adulthood.
The key findings, extrapolated for today’s students: 1) Family resources matter. Among the affluent, even a kindergartener with test scores in the bottom half has a seven in ten chance of reaching high SES status as a young adult. But a disadvantaged kindergartener with test scores in the top half—across all racial and ethnic groups—has only a three in ten chance of reaching the same high SES level. 2) Where students start is often a function of outside factors. Only about a quarter of the lowest-SES kindergarteners have top-half math scores, compared to three-quarters of the highest-SES kindergarteners. Children’s early scores also vary by race, but mainly because black and Latino children are twice as likely as white children to come from the lowest-SES families. 3) All children can improve their academic standing through primary school, but their chances of improvement correlate to SES status. By the eighth grade, fewer than one in five of the lowest-SES kindergarteners with bottom-half starting math scores will move up to the top half, compared to more than two in five of the highest-SES kindergarteners. 4) Higher-SES students are more likely to maintain high scores than their lower-SES peers, and white and Asian children are more likely to do so than black or Latino children. 5) Achievement patterns are largely set by the time children enter high school, especially for the lowest performers. Most tenth graders who scored in the bottom math quartile will still score in the bottom quartile in twelfth grade. 6) High school achievement sets the stage for college attainment—but family class plays an even greater role. The highest-SES students with bottom-half math scores are more likely to complete a college degree than are the lowest-SES students with top-half math scores. 7) Education can be a lever for upward mobility. The lowest-SES tenth graders with top-half math scores are twice as likely to become high-SES young adults as their peers with bottom-half math scores. Disadvantaged students who show promise can achieve, but their chances are better with interventions—the earlier the better.
Carnevale and his team generally paint a depressing picture of the outcomes awaiting today’s kindergarteners, especially poor students and students of color. But they found hope amid the meager amount of mobility in their data. Their recommendations—expanding pre-K, strengthening academic interventions, early career counseling—are good but mostly “extracurricular.” That is, their model assumes that all educational settings are equal, or at least equally benign, and that help for typical students to break out of the identified patterns must be adjunct to regular schooling. Such interventions will also cost a lot of additional money.
But research has shown that the very best schools and teachers are already capable of boosting achievement for most students and that specific inputs within a school’s day, year, and budget are especially helpful for initial low-performers. Boosting pre-K support for disadvantaged children is one thing, but we already spend billions annually to move the achievement needle for all students within existing K–12 structures. We should be looking first and foremost for solutions that make use of what already works in our schools. And what doesn’t work should be ended or changed first.
SOURCE: Anthony P. Carnevale, et. al., “Born to Win, Schooled to Lose: Why Equally Talented Students Don’t Get Equal Chances to Be All They Can Be,” Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (July 2019).
Worker skills and employer needs are often misaligned. Young people, for instance, may leave high school or college with a sturdy grounding in math and English, but ill-equipped to manage a customer database, take a patient’s vital signs, or handle a piece of machinery. In a way, this is predictable: Schools, secondary and post-secondary alike, are typically geared towards imparting broad academic knowledge applicable to a wide range of professions, but not necessarily job-specific skills.
What can policymakers do to change this? In a recent paper, Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute proposes that governments should more heavily subsidize on-the-job training, especially for young people (including those in high school and recent graduates) on non-four-year college pathways. To this end, he proposes a $10,000 per trainee grant program that would be paid to private employers. Cass reasons that businesses are the logical place to train workers, as they know the skills needed for their jobs. Yet, apart from subsidies, they are often reluctant to bear the training costs because they risk losing their investment when workers leave.
As envisioned by Cass, the program would allow employers to spend their grant funds flexibly. The training doesn’t necessarily have to occur “in house”; the organization may wish to spend its grant to enroll workers in community college courses, trade-union apprenticeships, or training programs done in concert with other employers. Among other policy details, he suggests that subsidized trainees be employed at least part-time and that limits be placed on the duration of the training period. The proposal suggests guardrails to ensure that highly educated “trainees” aren’t being subsidized (e.g., law associates). Last, high-school students would also be eligible to participate if they are employed at least part time and taking courses through their high school, career-technical center, or community college.
All this sounds promising, but the age-old question of how to pay for it still looms. On this front, Cass bravely suggests that governments should reduce expenditures on higher education to free dollars for worker-training grants. (Colleges, however, would recover funds if employers select them as training providers.) As support, he cites the large skew in outlays dedicated to higher education—about $150 billion per year in federal and state spending—in comparison to the relatively small allocations for job training. Though apt to ruffle feathers in higher education, Cass concludes: “A rebalancing is in order. Shifting funding…may appear unappealing at first, but is best understood as a reallocation from one training provider to another.”
The Cass plan dovetails nicely with our ownthat Ohio make greater investments in employer-led training. Should state legislators run with the idea, this paper is a must read as it adds more fodder for thinking about policy design and implementation.
Source: Oren Cass,, Manhattan Institute (2019).